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The following 101, on homemade bone broth, comes from HOMEGROWN member Cynthia, the smart cookie behind the blog A Life Beyond Money. Thanks so much, Cynthia, and please keep the good ideas simmering!

Bone broth makes (almost) everything better. It is chock full of all sorts of incredible health benefits, it tastes amazing, and it can turn a so-so dish into an OMG-this-is-the-best-ever meal. It is also one thing that money just can't buy. The stuff at the store is a weak imitation of real, from-scratch bone broth. Store-bought varieties don’t have the same full flavor or the sexy gelatinous goodness, and they’re often full of ingredients of a questionable nature. Fortunately, the real deal is crazy easy.

Making bone broth can either be a pricey, although worthwhile, endeavor or one of the most frugal things you can do. The costly way involves buying bones at the market for $3 a pound and big bags full of veggies. The frugal way involves salvaging ingredients to squeeze every bit of nutrition out of good food that you have either arduously produced or purchased from a good farmer. Either way, by making it at home instead of buying that awful stuff at the grocery, you'll be rewarded with incredible flavor and superb nutrition.

WHAT YOU'LL NEED

» bones (these can be saved from other meals or purchased)

» veggies or veggie scraps

» seasonings, as desired (you can add wine, peppercorns, salt, etc. to taste)

» apple cider vinegar (white will do in a pinch)

» stockpot or crockpot

» spoons/ladle

» strainer

» cheesecloth (optional)

WHAT TO DO

If you choose to buy your bones, you have the luxury of picking the specific bones that make the very best broth. Veal bones of any kind are great to use, as are beef knuckle bones or feet. These are the highest in cartilage and will give you a good Jell-O-type stock. If you are making chicken stock, you can't go wrong with chicken feet.

Whenever I cook bone-in meat, I save the bones. If I only have a small quantity, I toss them into the freezer until I have more. The Thanksgiving turkey carcass is the perfect amount for a big batch of broth. While it doesn't give me the most high-cartilage bones, it is free and reduces waste. The photo below shows some chicken bones and cartilage I've saved.

Some people buy veggies for making bone broth, typically onions, carrots, and celery. I tend to use veggie scraps to eliminate waste and cut costs. Since a lot of nutrients are found just under the skin, veggie peelings are very nutritious. As I prep veggies for cooking, I place the trimmings in a bag in the freezer to save for when I make broth. Freezing the veggies will make the broth a bit cloudier, but for home cooking, I've never felt the need for crystal clear broth.

Things I save include: carrot peels and leaves, onion skins and root ends, celery leaves, potato skins, tomato skins, sweet potato skins, squash peels, rosemary stems, mushroom stems, garlic skins, pepper stems, corn cobs, and pea pods. You can also use veggies that are past their prime but not molded or slimy. Cabbage-family veggies will dominate the flavor of a broth, and beets will turn it red, so use discretion when adding these to your broth. See some of my veggie scraps below.

To get the best-flavored broth, you'll need to roast your bones. Put them in a greased baking dish. If you are using beef bones, rub the bones with a bit of unflavored tomato paste or sauce before roasting. (See below.) The tomato will caramelize and add great color and flavor.

Roast the bones in the oven for 30 minutes at 400 degrees F or an hour at 350. If you have large chunks of carrots, onions, or celery, roast them with the meat for a richer flavor. Make sure the veggies turn a dark brown but not black. You want caramelization, not charcoal. Below is a shot of tomato-sauce-smothered bones after roasting.

Place the roasted bones and veggies in a large pot on the stove or in the crockpot. Add a bit of warm water to the roasting pan. Use a spoon or spatula to scrub off all of the toasty bits from the pan. (See below.) This is high-flavor goodness, so you want to get it all. Dump the water and flavored bits over the bones. Cover with cool water. Add seasonings as desired, such as salt, pepper, bay leaves, parsley, etc. You can add a bit of wine, if you like. Add a tablespoon of vinegar per quart of water. The acid in the vinegar will help pull out the minerals in the bones, giving you a more nutritious, gelatinous broth.

If you are using a slow cooker, set it to low, cover it, and don't remove the lid. If you are cooking your broth on the stovetop, set the heat to medium-low and check after half an hour to make sure it is gently simmering but not boiling. Cover and allow it to simmer away for hours. At a minimum, bone broth should simmer for 8 hours, but it is not unreasonable to allow it to simmer for up to 24 hours. Some people even have perpetual broth simmering, removing broth and adding bones as needed. A slow cooker is perfect for allowing broth to simmer all day and night, but don't leave the stove on while you sleep. Pictured below, top: chicken broth simmering; bottom: bone broth simmering.

After your broth has cooked for 8 to 24 hours, turn it off and let it cool slightly. Pour it through a strainer to remove the bones and veggie scraps. If you want a clearer broth, strain it through cheesecloth. You can compost the veggie scraps and save the bones for a second or even third batch of broth. After a very long cooking time, or after a few rounds of broth making, bones become quite soft and can be composted or worked into the garden. Pictured below, top: chicken broth, before the fat has been skimmed off; bottom: ditto for beef broth.

Pour your broth into containers and refrigerate overnight. The fat will rise to the surface. Once it is cool, you can easily remove it from the top in one piece. (See below.) Save this flavorful fat for cooking. 

Check the consistency of your broth. Ideally, when cold, it will have the consistency of Jell-O. That means you extracted lots of gelatin from the bones. Once you reheat the broth, it will turn to liquid again. If the cold broth is runny, it doesn't have a high gelatin content. Next time add a bit more vinegar, use less water for the amount of bones, or cook it longer. Don't worry, though. Even the worst from-scratch broth is better than the pale, weak stuff available at the store.

WHAT TO DO WITH BONE BROTH

Use your broth in soups and stews. Use it to make gravy. Cook your rice in it. Simmer veggies in it. Drink it as a nourishing beverage. Add it to casseroles. Use it to make stuffing. Rehydrate dried veggies, especially mushrooms. Enjoy incredible flavor, incredible nutrition, and the pleasure of reducing food waste.

• You might also try Rachael’s recipe for Super Healing Carrot Ginger Soup.

• Use homemade chicken broth in Elizabeth’s Garden Chicken Tortilla Soup.

• Once you’ve made chicken broth, you can can it using Robert’s method.

SPEAK UP!

Got a question for Cynthia? Or a tip to share? Post it below and keep the conversation rolling! If you’re curious to learn more about happy meat, don’t miss the Grass-Fed and Pasture-Raised Meat 101. If you’d like to cherry-pick your broth bones, you might think about buying a whole pig, with Camas’s excellent help. For more snout-to-tail resourcefulness, check out Cynthia’s 101 on ways to use bacon grease and Mary Elizabeth’s 101 on rendering lard. If you’re into saving scraps, check out Anne’s 101 on making pectin 101, Cynthia’s 101 on five ways to use apples, and this group effort on putting leftover pumpkin parts to good use. Don’t miss Cynthia’s other 101s on making tote bags from t-shirts, roasting coffee, making dandelion coffee, and smart uses for stale bread. You can always find more things to make, craft, plant, grow, cook, preserve, and simmer in the HOMEGROWN 101 Library.

PHOTOS: ALL BY CYNTHIA, EXCEPT CANNED STOCK, BY CHRISTENE

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great post!

good to know the tips

  I have made stock for years but never added the vinegar or roasted the bones .

  GOOD info :)Sharon

This is a terrific post--thanks, Cynthia!  I make beef stock, chicken stock, and vegetable stock and really can't decide if I prefer overnight in the crock pot or all day on the stove.  I guess it just depends. I've never used the 'fat lid' that appears when I store my stock in quart jars after straining--but I do appreciate how it keeps the stock fresher longer.

I have salmon bones and will try fish stock next.

Since I have a wood cookstove for heat, I use that... saves electric . I keep the fat with the stock as well as bits of meat . I toast steel cut oats, rice and amaranth in a cast iron pot ,add seaweed and toast that, then add the stock and put on a tight lid to steam the grain . :)Sharon

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