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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Taking Stock of Stock

I always buy my chickens whole.  If I'm roasting it...well, I leave it whole.  With other preparations, I cut it up.  There are advantages to buying whole chickens.  They are cheaper.  You know where all the pieces came from, and there is someting to be said about that.  The biggest resaon, I believe, is that when you cut them up yourself, you have all kinds of parts to throw in the freezer for a future stock.  At any given time I will have a bag of backs, necks, and wing tips in the freezer.  Cuttting up a chicken is fairly easy.  Follow the dotted lines, or joints and cut there.  I begin with cutting out the back first. It gives me a flatter bird to work with and I can actually see the joints.  Cut through the joints Cut the thigh away from the leg.  Slice the wings from the breast.  Done.

Now, in the world of stocks, there are many options.  You have your bouillon cubes....very salty.  I usually keep some around if I need to boost flavor in certain dishes.  Just check the salt profile of the dish before adding anymore salt.  They have their place in the pantry.  There are also the canned broths and stock boxes.  The low sodium canned  broths are cheaper and convenient.  If you simmer a can or two with a mirepox of carrots, celery, and onion for about an hour, you'll have a fairly nice fortified broth/stock.  The boxed stocks are pretty good.  They do most, no all, of the work for you.  I use them when I don't have the leisure of stock making.

NOTHING beats a home made chicken stock.  When a lazy afternoon of nothing is on the agenda, it's the perfect way to make something useful, delicious, and aromatic.  When I have accumulated about 1 to 1 1/2 pounds of chicken parts in the freezer, I set about the joy of stock making.  I also use this as a way to clean out the vegetable bins the refrigerator. With the vegetables, I don't even bother to peel them.  The onion skins have tons of flavor and impart color.  Same goes with the carrots...use it all!  Don't waste anything.

There are two basic types of chicken stock; dark &; light.  The method for both is the same, but the preparation is different.  For a dark rich stock, I'll roast the chicken pieces and vegetables at 350 for about 45 minutes until sweetly caramelized.  Richly roasted caramelized food equals flavor. The method after this step is the same.
Put the chicken and vegetables into a high-sided stock pot or dutch oven.  Cover with cold water to cover by an inch.  Add a sachet of parsley, bay leaves, peppercorn, and thyme.  Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and skim the scum. NEVER stir or it will cloud. That is a cooking school mantra.  Let it simmer away for at least two hours.  Four is better, but check water levels and add as needed.  Two will do.
Drain through a cheesecloth, discard solids, and cool down rapidly.  Store in the refrigerator or freeze.

A perfectly made stock will be will jiggle, in a good when-it-melts-it-will-be-fantastic kind of way.  It is not brothy.  It is like chicken jello.  A beautiful thing to gaze upon and behold.  When you cook with it, the richness of the collagens and the depth of flavor will blow your mind!  It actually melts  and transforms into stock,.  Using this kind of stock will transform a humble soup into something devine.  It will elevate any dish that requires....stock.  And that's what cooking should be. It should elevate and transform the palate.

Or, most importantly, cooking should just make food taste damn good; and be fun!
And that's what a proper stock will do.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Miller Family, Please: Colonoscopy & Food

Ok, so maybe I am the only one who could turn my partner's colonoscopy into a food escapade.  He couldn't eat for an entire day.  I have to/must eat all day long.  It is all I think about.  Last night while he was , shall we say, "cleansing" and drinking sprite, I was simmering a beautiful Pho on the stove-top...all for my selfish pleasure.  When it was ready and I was ready to eat, I excused myself to the second floor of the house to inhale a most intense, aromatic, herbal, and spicy Pho.  It was fantastic.  The best one I have ever made....guilt.  At 3:00 a.m. I got up and ate an entire bag of barbecued potato chips...and some leftover cold Pho.....guilt.  At this point, he couldn't even drink water, while I slurped away at the bottle next to our bed.  His bottle was removed to save temptation.

The next morning, I snacked on some cookies with my coffee while we readied ourselves for the trip to bountiful.  Mr Miller AND his driver, please, a nurse announced.  Sign in and register.  I had to sign a "driver" confirmation form.
Next to Relationship?  I wrote roomate/partner.  Pretty bold move for this particular lobby full of people.  Checked out the snack machine for his...favorite snacks to have upon release.  We were now ready for what would lie ahead.

They called him back.  They called me back.  They sent me back out to wait.  After waiting for what seemed like about 5 minutes longer than I thought it should take, a nurse announced:  The Miller Family, please! 
That was me.

We held hands while the nurse dis-connected him to all the stuff.  I asked him how he felt.  I asked him if he was hungry.  He said he wanted Sir Pizza, still in his hospital gown.  We talked about Sir Pizza, Rally's, Sonic...Rally's Extra Crispy Fish Sandwich and large Coke won out.  The best fish sandwich he's ever had?  You bet!

The best Pho I ever had? Yep!

Almost everything is about food.

His colonoscopy was clean & perfect.

Monday, December 28, 2009

A Thomas Keller Three Way

A Thomas Keller Three Way:
Thomas Keller is one of the most renowned Chefs  in America, if not the world.  His restaurants are lauded, awarded, and reservations are coveted.  The French Laundrey, Bouchon, and ad hoc at home  cookbooks represent these restaurants wonderfully.  Yet, thay also represent Thomas Keller's progression as a cookbook author and his well meaning intent to teach the common folk how to cook his food.
I have all three cookbooks.  I love these cookbooks.  Can I cook from them?  Let me count the ways; yes and,
Let's start with the French Laundrey.  Beautiful cookbook.  Beautifully photographed.  I tried really really hard to cook from it and to want to love to cook from it.  But, good God, was that really his intent?  For "us" to follow the recipes and duplicate &; master them.  Some of the titles seem very harmless and approachable, like Peas &; Carrots ( will get back to that).  Others, like Bellwether Farm Baby Lamb-Five Cuts With Provencal Vegetables &; Braised Cipollini Onions And Thyme Oil.  Wow!  I mean, wow!  He is a  VERY meticulous chef.....VERY.  So, every recipe is meticulously mapped out.....say Peas  Carrots.  I happen to love peas and carrots, so I took a closer look at this recipe. You have to buy, kill, and steam a whole lobster for about 3 ounces of meat per serving.  You have to make paper thin crepes in which to capture the lobster filling, then braise, puree, and strain fresh ginger and carrots to create a jus.  The "peas" are pea shoots lightly dressed in a perfect vinaigrette.  Ok, now,  to assemble:  Lightly wrap the delicate crepe around the lobster meat and place artistically on carrot/ginger jus.  Top with lightly dressed pea shoots.  It is the size of a match box.  After all of that trouble, I would have to go through a Sonic drive-in to eat.  I have never been able to cook from this cookbook.

Bouchon is a much more approachable way to take his cooking to the masses.  Very French bistro style, casual, rustic (for Thomas Keller), and somewhat do-able.  I have actually made several recipes from this cookbook.  The Croque Madame, a devine french twist on ham & cheese, with Spanish ham, gruyere cheese grilled, topped with an impecably poached egg & Mornay sauce, then broiled until brown.  Delicious and fabulous.  AND do-able.  I have also made the Frisee salad with bacon lardoons dressed in a warm bacon vinaigrette topped with a poached egg.  I see a theme here.  I came across the classic French bistro fare:  French Onion Soup.  I thought, yes, a soup from this book I can manage.  Reading the text was devine...mouthwatering .  I wanted it, I wanted to make it, until I got the part where I needed to simmer the onions a day ahead for 5 hours for the perfect consistency.  5 HOURS.  Even on a cold winter Sunday afternoon when I would want the house to smell amazing, I would never simmer anything that long, tending to it like a ward nurse trying to keep her patient alive.  That's as far as I got with that one.  Still, a beautiful cookbook, beautifully photoraphed and lovingly put together, except for the10 missing pages in the back before the index.

  Then along comes ad hoc at home.  I recieved it last fall from my partner.  Now, here's a cookbook with teeth.  For the average Joe with a yearning to cook well.  Thomas Keller finally got it.  A cookbook that is approachable.  I have made many recipes out of this book   His chicken dishes are sublime.  A little work, yes.  Most require an overnite brining period, a long rest in the refrigerater to dry the skin, and an hour or two on the counter to come to room temperture.  His Buttermilk Fried Chicken &; Roasted Whole Chicken on a bed of Root Vegetables are examples.  Perfectly succulant and deep with flavor and love.  I have done his Peppercorn Crusted Beef Tenderloin, cooked to perfection through his recipe.  The Carmalized Sea Sacllops, sweet and crispy on the outside.  My favorite recipe thus far from this cookbook is Nante Carrot Stew, a simple side dish.  Simply fresh carrots braised in carrot juice with a hint of cumin and curry.  The color alone, amazing.  He is a brilliant chef.  His cookbooks are beautiful.  Everyone should have all of them. Just know what you're getting into. Buy them, read them, read them again,  plunge in, forge through, and reap the rewards.  You will be glad you did.

My Nante Carrot Stew

A Steaming Bowl of Pho

One my favorite taste sensations is a bowl of steamng hot Pho, rich with aroma and flavor of star anise, cinamon,clove,pepper, ginger, and lemongrass. I could drink the broth alone, and have. But, the add-ins, the treats are what truly makes the Pho sing. It is 8:00 a.m. and I am thinking about tonight's Pho. I have Mise en Place'd everything; the thinnly sliced onions, jalapenos, fresh cilantro, basil, and fresh made pasta (from the weekend). Fish sauce, lime juise, cane sugar and ultra thin juliene of carrot is mixed and chilling.
That is the importance of Mise en Place'...everything in it's place, mind in order. When I get home from work today, All I have to do is simmer the broth and add the ingrediants. Siracha sauce and Hoisen to the side to finish.
I can taste it now.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Sailing Away On......

I LOVE Christmas! I love everything about it, but most importantly, I love the food. The appetizers, the snacks, the dinners, the roasting, the aromas. And so it goes as another great Christmas lies at bay. A sweet memory with stains on the floor from too many mixing and batterings and frying. Pasta making has flour all over well...all over. AND all of it makes me very happy.
"I wish I had a river..."
This my first heart and passion and clean kitchen will return.