Tuesday, July 31, 2012

A Little Summertime Treat

Feel like you're so hot you're just going to melt? Yeah, me too. Cooking doesn't seem like much fun right now, and even eating can sometimes be a chore in this kind of weather, so I thought I'd lighten it up today by  sharing a quick and easy recipe.

Watermelon is great, and I often just cut the green globe in half and attack it with a spoon, but sometimes I want a little variety, and salting fruit (or any of my food) has never really been my thing. So when I'm feeling adventurous, but not adventurous enough to move around, I like to dice or ball a whole watermelon (this means I can share or there will be some for later) into a lidded Pyrex bowl, juice a lime over the whole thing (or use the equivalent amount of bottled stuff), and mince a bunch of mint on top. Mix it all up (or shake it, if you're lucky enough to have a Pyrex bowl), and dig in. The lime and mint give the watermelon a delicious flavor, and you've achieved culinary interest without turning anything on.

Stay cool out there.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Making Stock in Three (or Four) Simple Steps

For most of us, the weather isn't quite right to be making broth or any food that would require it, but I've been having problems in the kitchen lately, so I'm going to teach you how to make stock in three or four simple steps, even if it will be several months before you actually want to.

The first step to making great home-made, waste-free stock is collection. All those weird little bits of vegetable tops and peelings are great for this, as are meat scraps and bones. Since you won't actually be eating the solid food you put in your stock, the rooty tops of onions or unchewable ends of celery are fine for this. Rotten or moldy food is not okay though; reducing waste only goes so far, better to compost anything questionable. If you're a vegetarian, you can still make great stock, just leave out the meat. I like to save bits of onions, celery, and carrots in my freezer, along with whatever bones I'll be using. As soon as I have a full carcass and at least a few good-sized vegetable chunks, I make stock. Other collection possibilities include tough mushroom stems, tomato peels and ends, garlic cloves (whole, not chopped), potato peelings, corn cobs, the green part or root cluster of leeks, and any herbs you fancy. Some people like to put bits of fruit in their stock as well, but I have yet to experiment with this.

Once you have all your bits collected, it's time to pull out a large pot and start them simmering. I like to brown any root vegetables I have in a bit of fat from the meat (a dollop of oil works too) to help enhance and strengthen the flavors. Once everything is fairly caramelized, I toss in the rest of the bones, add two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar to draw minerals and nutrients from the bones(white vinegar works too, but won't do any flavor favors), and cover the whole pile with water. Alternately you could throw a bit of wine in, but pick either wine or vinegar, as they don't mix well. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and
leave for two to six hours. I like to go as long as possible, but do whatever you're comfortable with. It's best to have a ratio of one or two times the water that you do to solid ingredients. Any more and the flavor will be weak.

The last step to making stock  (or second to last, depending on your dining plans) is to strain it. I fish out larger chunks with tongs and a slotted spoon, then pour the stock through a colander, then a mesh strainer, and then through cheesecloth over a mesh strainer if there are still little bits floating around. While you're straining the stock (two pitchers work great for this, just rinse them out as you pour back and forth) get a friend to wash out the stockpot and get it ready to go for you. That way the finished broth can go right back onto the stove to become the base  for a delicious soup.

While I'd like to think I'm the kind of person that can make stock and soup in the same day, I'm not, and I doubt the rest of humanity can pull it off either, so handy step number four is to reduce and store the stock in some fashion. To reduce, simply simmer on a low temperature to evaporate some of the water. When you have it down to a manageable amount, or your desired consistency, pour it off into a container to cool, then put it in the fridge. Come back in an hour or two and skim the fat off the top. If you'd like, you can use this for frying food, but I usually get too lazy and just compost it. If you concentrate the stock down really well, it's handy to freeze the stock in ice-cube trays. Once it's frozen you can pop out the cubes and store them in a glass container in your freezer to just use as you need.

Congratulations, you've just made home-made, waste-free stock. Enjoy.

On a side note, I'm the kind of person who hates loosey-goosey recipes like this. I want exact measurements, precise temperatures, and cooking times listed to the minute. However, making stock from a specific recipe has proved too time-consuming and frustrating for me. When you have to make a bouquet garni and then fish it out of a pot after cooking it for six hours, homemade stock looses its appeal, which is really a shame, because it's delicious. So now I just take what I have on hand and use it to make a variable stock that is still quite tasty. It's hard to mess up making stock, so take this opportunity to throw caution to the wind, and have fun making a kitchen staple that conveniently uses bits of waste from previous meals to produce a magical, healthful, scrumptious broth.

P.S. If you need stock but haven't made any yourself,  Better than Bullion comes in a glass jar with a metal lid, tastes great, and is additive-free.