Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Reducing Stocks for Flavor and Food Storage

Last time, I introduced you to the concepts of homemade brown stock. I find homemade stocks to be superior to store-bought canned stocks, but they are labor intensive. If you just haven't had enough fun while making your own stock, and are a complete glutton for punishment, you can reduce your stock to create two other flavor vehicles and enhancers: demi-glace and glace de viande.

When making stocks, I don't normally reduce them. Very few recipes require it. Their are a few advantages, though. Stock reductions have more concentrated flavor, take up less storage space, and can be stored for a much longer time. This makes them a wonderful solution for long-term food storage.

Just to remind you, the last step of making the brown stock was to reduce the stock down to about 3 quarts of liquid. You may also recall that I don't normally do this. I find that I can just freeze the stock at this point and it's just fine. To make the demi-glace and glace de viande, however, you should reduce the stock to about 3 quarts before proceeding.

You'll be much happier if you heed my earlier warnings and don't add any salt when making your stock. The salt concentration will be way too high when it gets reduced, otherwise.

Making a Demi-glace

A demi-glace is used as a base for sauce espangole, one of the five French “mother sauces” as codified by French chef Auguste Escoffier. It can be used as a base for other sauces as well, or used on it's own. Because it is labor intensive to make, many cooks will substitute it with a simple jus liĆ©.

To make a demi-glace, reduce the stock by half (again), and cool. A cooled demi-glace will solidify into a gelatin-like substance that can be cut into large chunks, wrapped in plastic and frozen. In the regrigerator, a demi-glace will keep for about six months. In the freezer, it will keep almost indefinitely.

Sometimes, the demi-glace will be gelatinous, but not completely solidify. In that case it should be frozen in a plastic zipper lock bag or other plastic freezer container, much like a regular stock.

Making Glace de Viande

Glace de viande, or “meat glaze,” is a dark brown, gelatinous, flavoring agent bordering on bouillon. I use it much the same way as bouillon, using it to flavor soups and sauces.

To make glace de viande, strain the hot (and still liquid) demi-glace again and reduce over medium low heat to it's maximum. As it reduces, you can transfer the liquid to a smaller, more sturdy, saucepan. The last hour or so of reduction should be done over very low heat. All of the free water is being removed and it can burn if you're not careful. The glace will get very dark and thick, like molasses. Bubbles will form on top like they do with caramel. You'll know you're nearing the last 15 to 20 minutes when the bubbles break, but no steam escapes. If there is any fat left in the mixture, it will separate and should be removed with a spoon.

The mixture is fully reduced at this point and will be as thick as caramel. Remove the glace de viande from the saucepan to a clean bowl to cool. Use a spatula to scrape as much off the sides of the saucepan as you can.

A cooled glace de viande will become a rubbery solid that can be stored in a loose jar or open bag in the refrigerator almost indefinitely. You don't really need to freeze it, although you can.

There will be a lot of glace left over in your pan. In order to recover it, and clean your utensils, place the spoon and spatula back in the saucepan and fill it with water. Bring it to a boil, remelting the glace. The sticky stuff should now be off the utensils, making them easier to clean, and the liquid can be used as stock.

Making stock, demi-glace, and glace de viande are pretty labor intensive, as you can see. I think the results are worth it, though. I certainly wouldn't want to make it very often. That's just too much, even for me. Once or twice a year, though, will improve your sauces and add to your food storage skills.

Photo credit: Silvia McCabe

Sunday, November 28, 2010

How to Make a Brown Stock

Nearly a year ago I blogged about making turkey stock. It was essentially a quick, white stock using turkey bones. You can also use chicken or whatever you have lying around. As part of my independent cooking training (a.k.a. trying to teach myself how it works) I decided to try making a brown stock, or Fond Brun.

The difference between the French white and brown stocks is both simple, and substantial. The basics are that in a brown stock, you bake the bones first, browning them and rending some of the fat. This gives the stock a darker color and, I suppose, a richer flavor. They are also quite often made with beef bones, instead of poultry. Chicken bones are often added, however, when not enough beef bones are available. Because it's right after Thanksgiving, I used turkey bones, mixed in with the other bones I'd saved over the year (more on that, further down).

Buying bones from a butcher to make your own stock is probably not cost effective. Bones are getting pricey, these days, although I can't figure out why. I'm not sure making brown stock is cost effective, either. It takes a very long time to cook, so the electricity costs are probably substantial when compared to the cost of canned beef stock. Glutton for punishment that I am, though, I had to try it.

If you're going to take the time to make stock, make a lot. It takes just as much time to make a little as a lot. I don't know how many pounds of bones or vegetables I actually use, but my stock pot gets pretty full. I sometimes, worry that I've overcrowded things, but its always turned out fine. I think I got about 4-6 quarts of stock when all was said and done, this time. Not bad when you consider the only thing “extra” I paid for was the electricity.

Here's how I make it work. Instead of buying bones, save the bones from various roasts and the like you cook from time to time. You can also save unused trimmings from vegetables. Just pop them in a couple of plastic bags and freeze them until you have enough saved up to make stock. In this case, I used bones from roast pork, beef, turkey, and chicken.

As for the vegetables, some people like using broccoli stalks, some stay away from them. I like them. Celery is great, but be careful about celery leaves. They are very strong and bitter and many cooks advise to stay away from them. Stay away from vegetables that may dissolve in the water or add starch, like potatoes or cauliflower. The classic brown stock uses carrots, onions, tomatoes, leek and celery.

Although included in the classic French brown stock, I do not use tomatoes, partly because I never have any left over and partly because it just seems wrong to me. I also do not save the root ends of onions or celery, as dirt is often hiding in them. I don't like dirt in my food.

The classic brown stock is seasoned with thyme, bay leaf and peppercorns. This seems odd to me because a good stock, properly made, will be nearly flavorless. In his book, Complete Techniques, Jacques Pepin describes stock as the “hidden and modest friend” that enables a cook to produce a well-finished sauce. It's a vehicle for flavor, having no identity of it's own. In spite of this, I still add a couple of bay leaves.

Do not add salt to the stock! If you reduce it, the concentration of salt will overpower everything.

Equipment needed
Jelly roll pan or roasting pan
Stockpot, Dutch Oven, or other large cooking pot
Slotted spoon or tongs
Strainer or chinois
Kitchen Knife
Skimmer or large spoon

About 10 pounds of bones (more or less), cut into 2-inch pieces if possible
About 2 pounds of vegetable trimmings, carrots, celery stalks, onions, broccoli, leeks and, if you must, tomatoes.
2 bay leaves
Cooking spray

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Spray a large a large jelly roll pan or roasting pan with cooking spray. Add the bones to the pan, spreading them out evenly over the bottom. Cook in the over for 1 1/2 hours, turning over halfway through. They will be very brown. Add the carrots and onions to the bones and return to the oven, cooking for 1 more hour.

Remove the bones and vegetables from the oven and transfer them to a large stock pot. Use a slotted spoon or tongs so the fat drippings are left in the pan.

Pour out the accumulated fat drippings in the roasting pan. The solidified juices left in the pan (fond or glace) are what we're after. Pour a bit of water into the pan and place over the stove. Bring the water to a boil and, using a metal spatula, scrape the fond off the bottom of the pan, allowing it to melt into the water.

Add this water to the stock pot. Fill the pot with additional cold water, leaving about 1 inch of head space for safety. Slowly bring the water and bones to a boil over medium high heat, then immediately reduce the heat to low, or medium low, and gently simmer for one hour. Skim the top to remove any scum or foam that may accumulate. This is the albumin from the bones, along with a little fat and other impurities. If this is not skimmed off, the stock will be cloudy and less digestible. If the stock is boiled too fast, the albumin will not separate and the fat will emulsify back into the stock, increasing the calories.

Add the remaining vegetables and gently simmer for 10 hours, even overnight. During the cooking, water will evaporate. Replace it it periodically to the keep the same level of liquid. It is better to have more liquid than less. If the liquid is over-reduced with the bones, a lot of the glace will stick to the bones and be lost.

Remove the pan from the heat and strain it through a very fine mesh strainer.

Normally you would return the liquid to a clean pot and boil it down, reducing the stock by about 1/4, or to about 3 quarts. I find this step unnecessary unless you are planning on reducing it further to make a demi-glace, or glace de viande (I'll teach you more about those, next time).

Let the stock cool a bit and then put it in the refrigerator overnight. The remaining fat will solidify on top and can be removed the next day.

I like to store the completed stock in zipper lock freezer bags, laid on their sides in the freezer, about 1 to two quarts per bag. Laying them flat to freeze lets you store the frozen stock upright, later on.

If you want to, return the bones (not the vegetables) to the pot and fill it with water, simmering gently for another ten hours, just like before. You can even re-brown the bones and add more vegetables if you want to. It won't be as rich as the stock made the first time, but it's still very good. Except for the electricity and time, it's also more or less free.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Mormon Coffee

Pero Instant Natural Beverage 7 ozThis guest post comes from my friend, and fellow food blogger, Mark Hansen.

We Mormons often refer to ourselves by the scripture that calls believers a “peculiar people”.  We are that, indeed.  One of our quirks that makes a lot of other people scratch their heads is our “Word of Wisdom”, particularly the part that prohibits drinking tea and coffee.

Over the years, there’s been much debate over the interpretation of this injunction, which we call the “Word of Wisdom”, but nonetheless, it remains, and the faithful follow it, often not fully aware of why.

That discussion is not where I’m going with this, trust me.

Because, here, in our food blogs, we’re not about theological debates.  We’re all about food.  And this particular letter of our law has led many of us to partake in alternatives.  For example, rather than drinking traditional teas, many of us will often indulge in herbal teas, mints, lemons, etc...

…And it has also earned a wink and a nod to the product known as Pero, or in some circles, “Mormon Coffee”.  It’s made simply from four ingredients: malted barley, barley, chicory and rye.  It’s a powder, and you mix it with boiling water.  I, myself, like it with a bit of honey.  I also like it made with milk, but I think I like it better with just honey.

Well, today, I thought it would be fun to try some twists, just for fun.  All of these were mixed just as the directions said, but with a bit of honey added to taste.  I experimented a little, and tried various amounts and combinations.  I came up with four that both my son and I really liked.

Spice Pero

This one was the first one I tried, and it took me three attempts to hit amounts that I liked.  I started with, as the instructions on the carton state, a heaping tablespoon of Pero powder in my cup.  To that, I added a little more than a quarter teaspoon of cinnamon, and a little less than a quarter teaspoon of nutmeg.  I boiled up some water and poured it in.  I added the honey last of all.

I found that stirring it for a longer time really helped the flavors to settle in.  This one was interesting, and complex.  The sweet would hit me first, and then the richness of the dark Pero.  Finally, the zing of the cinnamon would dance in.  The final result was tasty and unique.

Pero with a Punch

This one took a couple of tries, too, because the first one was way too hot!  Again, I put the heaping spoonful in the cup, and then shook in a short sprinkle of cayenne powder.  In went the water and then the honey.  I really liked this one.  It had edge.

Peppermint Pero

I wasn’t sure how to get the mint into the drink.  My first thought was to use a mint tea bag, but I didn’t have one of those.  But, I did manage to find a peppermint candy!  We ground that up with the back of a spoon and dropped it in the cup with the Pero powder.  The fact that it was candy added some sweet to it, and the aftertaste of the mint really shone through.  I still did add some honey, as well.  My son and I both thought this was our favorite.

Some Final Hints

Don’t just heat the water, boil it.  If it’s not that hot, it won’t dissolve all of the powders, and steep the spices.  Also, the longer you let it sit, stirring, steeping, and cooling, before you drink, the more settled in the flavors get.  Often, by the end of the cup, it tasted its richest.

I sure had a lot of fun trying these out, and found some flavors that I’m sure to keep using all through the long cold winter.

Thanks for the great tips Mark! I like to sweeten my Pero creole style, with a little molasses. It's also great sprinkled over vanilla or chocolate ice cream. I don't think Pero tastes like coffee, but it does have the same toasty appeal, without the caffeine.

Mark dishes on dishes in dutch ovens at Mark's Black Pot and on Mormon life at Mo' Boy.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

How to Store Rice

As many rice varieties as there are, when it comes to food storage they can be boiled down (Sorry. Bad joke.) to two basic kinds: white rice and brown rice. Cooking and storing them are very similar, but there are some important differences that should be noted.

About Rice

As a cereal grain, rice is one of the most important staple foods for a large part of the world. It is second highest in worldwide grain production, right after corn. Most corn isn't grown for human consumption though, so, as far as humans are concerned, rice is a big deal.

As the seeds of the rice plant are first milled, removing the touch outer husks, we are left with what we think of as brown rice. Further milling to remove the bran, bran residue, and cereal germ, leaving only the endosperm, gives us white rice.

Nutritionally, brown rice packs more punch than white because of the fiber and other nutrients found in the bran and germ. There is also a small amount of fat in the germ, meaning that brown rice can spoil more easily than white rice. For this reason white rice is favored by most long-term food storage experts.

White rice is sometimes buffed and/or treated with glucose, flour, or talc to improve it's appearance. It can also be enriched with various compounds to improve it's nutritional content. Many of those methods involve dusting it with powders that wash right off when you rinse the rice to clean it so, I don't think it's worth bothering with.

Rice is a good source of protein, but it is not a complete protein. It needs to be combined with other protein sources such as beans, soy, nuts or seeds to complete the essential amino acid profiles as found in meat. Classic beans and rice, without the meat added, is an excellent vegetarian protein source.

Storing Rice

All rice is best stored hermetically sealed, with the oxygen removed, in a cool, dry place. Simple oxygen absorption packs can be used when storing, but I don't know that they are especially needed with white rice, unless you plan on keeping it for a very long time. I believe in rotating my food storage, eating what we store, so when we do it right, it never lasts more than one year.

Cool means around 70 degrees Fahrenheit or less. Even under those conditions, brown rice will start to go rancid in about 6 months. Storing brown rice below 60 degrees, or even freezing it, will extend the shelf life considerably. White rice will last between one and two years, without freezing.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Lentil Tacos

My daughters are “sometimes” vegetarians. They like eating hamburgers, hot dogs and other foods that carnivores enjoy, but only on days when they don't have to think about where it came from. Other days getting them to eat anything that came as the result of killing an animal is like negotiating with an emotional terrorist.

“What's for dinner, Dad?” they ask.

“We're having meatloaf tonight.”

“What? No! I can't eat that. A cow was murdered for this, Dad!”

“You ate the hamburgers we had the other day and went back for seconds. This is the same kind of meat. You've liked my meatloaf in the past. What's the problem?”

“Oh, Dad! You just don't understand!” and they dash off to their rooms crying like little banshees and making me feel like I've broken their hearts by killing the family dog.

They certainly got one thing right in that conversation. I don't understand.

At times like this it's helpful to have a few vegetarian recipes up your cooking sleeve. In this case, it's a taco made with lentils instead of murdered cows.

Equipment needed:
Large frying pan with lid
Kitchen knife
measuring cups and spoons

1 tablespoon Cooking Oil
1 medium Onion, finely chopped
2 cloves Garlic, finely minced
1 cup Dried Lentils, rinsed and sorted
2 teaspoons Chili Powder
2 teaspoons Ground Cumin
1 teaspoon Dried Oregano
2 teaspoons Paprika
2 1/2 cups Vegetable Broth, or water
1/2 cup Salsa
12 Tortillas
Lettuce, shredded
Tomatoes, chopped
Sour Cream
Queso Fresco, or other cheese, grated

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook until the onion is soft and translucent. Add the lentils, chili powder, cumin, oregano and paprika. Cook and stir for one minute, allowing the spices to bloom.

Add the broth and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover and simmer until lentils are tender, about 25 - 30 minutes. Uncover and sit in the salsa. Cook about 6-8 minutes more, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is thick and some of the lentils start to break up.

Spoon about 1/4 cup of the mixture into a tortilla shell and top with the tomatoes, lettuce, sour cream and cheese as desired. Enjoy!

Makes 6 servings.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Couch Tomatoes

Aren't fresh, garden ripe tomatoes wonderful things? Too bad you can't get something that good at the grocery store. Tomatoes can be had year round at major grocery stores, but they don't often have much flavor. Canned tomatoes make a good substitute and are best canned in their own juice. Other tomato based products are sometimes called for in recipes to add richness and depth to the dish.

Tomato Sauce
There are all kinds of variations of tomato based sauces. Usually they are served as part of the dish, not as a condiment. Tomato sauces are quite common for use with meat and other vegetables, and are probably best known for pasta dishes.

Sun-dried Tomatoes
Sometimes tomatoes halves, sometimes smaller pieces, dried tomatoes are often packed in olive oil. Sometimes they are sold loose. You can easily make your own if you have a food dehydrator. It's a lot less expensive that way, as well. They're great in salads, sauces, stews and pasta dishes.

Tomato Paste/Puree
Packed with rich tomato flavor, tomato paste is often used to add flavor and color to sauces, soups and stews. Sun-dried paste is slightly sweeter and more mellow in flavor than traditional reductions.

Tomato Powder
Beyond canned pastes and sauces, tomato powder is an interesting long-term food storage option. It is normally mixed with water to dilute it to the desired thickness. It can also be added strait to soups stews in lieu of tomato paste.

Crushed Tomatoes
Whole and diced canned tomatoes are great products, but crushed tomatoes are available as well. They are particularly useful in sauces, soups, and stews, lending a smooth, thick consistency. Add a few herbs and spices, such as basil, garlic and black pepper, crushed tomatoes make a delicious and quick tomato soup.

Photo credit: Agata Urbaniak

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Sauteed Pork with Mustard Sauce

Normally I'm not excited by a large cut of meat as the centerpiece for a meal. Don't get me wrong. I'm no vegetarian. Meat for meat's sake has just never been my style. Having said that, sometimes it's nice to to enjoy a simple cut of meat, pork in this case. In this case, simple means French cuisine.

Isn't “simple French cuisine” an oxymoron? Normally I would think so.

Sauces are a big deal in French cuisine, along with with herbs, cheese and wine. The idea of “mother sauces” is a core principle. Simple variations on the mother sauces create all kinds of wonderful dishes. The tradition of mother sauces has continued into modern times, and this recipe is no exception. It uses a mustard sauce, a simple variation on a basic cream sauce.

I think this dish works very well as a Sunday night dinner, because of it's nature. It would work equally well as a weeknight dish, though. It takes less than 30 minutes to make and doesn't dirty a lot of dishes in the preparation. It's a great example of a “one pot” dish. The pork is served with tomatoes to brighten the dish, but they aren't required.

Equipment Needed:
Meat tenderizer
Kitchen knife
Frying pan
Kitchen tongs (optional)

4 medium Pork Loin, about 7 oz. each, or use pork chops
Salt, as required
Ground Black Pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons Cooking Oil
2 1/2 tablespoons Butter
2/3 cup Cream
2 tablespoons Grainy Mustard
2 tablespoons Lemon Juice
8 Cherry Tomatoes
4 sprigs Fresh Italian Parsley, or dried

Tenderize the pork by hitting it with a meat tenderizer until it has a uniform thickness. Score the fat around the pork with the tip of a knife. Make 3 - 4 cuts into the fat, cutting partway into the meat, to cut the sinews. Sprinkle a little salt and pepper over both sides of the pork.

Heat the oil in a frying pan over medium-high heat. Saute one side of the pork until golden brown. Turn the pork over and saute until the other side is also golden brown. Once browned, reduce the heat to medium low until pork is cooked through. Take the pan off the heat and remove the pork. Set aside.

Pour the oil from the frying pan and remove any excess oil with paper towels. Use tongs so you don't get burned. Put the butter in the pan over medium heat until it melts. Add the cream. Mix in the mustard and lemon juice. Bring to a boil and let it cook until thickened slightly. Return the pork to the pan.

Transfer the pork to serving plates, pouring the remaining sauce over the pork. Garnish with tomatoes and parsley. Enjoy!

Make 4 servings.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Thank You for your Feedback

I just want to say thank you to all those who participated in our recent survey. Based on the results, over the next few weeks you'll be seeing some changes to the site, and the frequency of certain kinds of posts. I hope you like the changes. If there's anything else you'd like to comment on, or request, let me know by commenting below.

Photo credit: Jeffery Chen