February 25, 2003

Stock 101

On Saturday it was stock making time. I was almost out of all of my frozen stock, and Carol wanted to learn how to make stock -- so, off to the store we went for supplies and several hours of simmering.

Stock is such an important part of French cooking that I'm not sure what I'd do without it. Homemade stock is always preferable to canned (which has far too much salt in it), although you can get by with canned stock for lots of applications. There is one exception -- brown beef stock can basically only be made at home.

We made brown beef stock (2 gallons), light chicken stock (1 gallon), and brown pork stock (1 quart). Here's my general purpose stock making guidelines:

For 1 gallon of stock:
- 6-8 lbs of main product (ie, beef bones, chicken bones, mushrooms, etc). 1 gallon of water weighs 8 pounds, and the general rule is equal weight flavoring and water
- 1-2 lbs of vegetables. The standard is onions, carrots, celery in a ratio of 2:1:1 (A)
- spices/herbs in a package. The standard is 8 peppercorns, 1 tsp thyme, 1 bay leaf, 5 parsley stems. If you don't have parsley stems, don't use the leaves, which put off too much green coloring (B) (C)
- 2 T tomato paste (for brown stocks) or 1/4 C white wine or dash of vinegar. (D)

The procedure:
1) For Brown stock, brown the main ingredient well in a 400 degree oven (about an hour). For Light stock, blanch in boiling water, drain, rinse.
2) add main ingredient to water
3) For Brown stock, brown the vegetables in the same pan you used for the meat. At the end of browning, add tomato paste, brown that as well.
4) Add vegetables, wine/vinegar, vegetables, spices/herbs to pot
5) Simmer for desired time. Skim to remove surface scum and grease. (E) (F)
6) Strain. Cool. Remove solidified grease from top. Freeze in ice cube trays.

Here are some notes:
A - you can use other vegetables. For white stock, sometimes people use parsnips instead of carrots.

B - Generally speaking, you don't want to get carried away with flavorings because you never know what you'll use the stock for. Some would argue that even including thyme/bay leaf counts as flavoring. So, you can leave these out if you wish.

C - Normal recipes call for wrapping in cheesecloth. I use a coffee filter, which is much cheaper and easier to come by in most kitchens.

D - Acid helps clairification. If you have some sort of produce with acid in it, the stock tends to self-clairify a bit.

E - Don't boil too strongly. A slow simmer is best.

F - 1-2 hours for vegetable and fish stocks. 3-4 for smallish bones like poultry. 5-6 medium bones like veal or oxtails. 10-12 for thick knuckle bones.

We used oxtails for our beef stock, which are very flavorful and heavy with gelatin. As a result, we didn't need to use a full 1:1 weight ratio. For our chicken stock, we used chicken wings which also make a very heavy stock. We used standard vegetables and flavorings, as I wanted to show Carol the basics.

After the oxtail stock was done and strained, I ran a 2nd stock from the same ingredients. This is known as remouage or "re-wetting" in French. The resulting stock is weaker. However, I take this second stock and reduce it down to about 2 cups. This results in a very heavy beef glace which can be used for enriching sauces. It is incredibly thick and rich and sticky -- and you can't buy it anyplace. Plus, you just got two produces for the price of one!

Our pork stock was browned in a pot (because we had such a small amount of meat we were using). Also, I went ahead and flavored the stock with garlic and rosemary. This is because this tiny amount of stock had one purpose only -- a BBQ sauce the next day. This non-traditional stock was a nice change from the more "boring" other ones we were making.

All in all, it was very successful!

Posted by dowdy at 10:15 AM

February 22, 2003

Tandorri Lamb

I've been jonesing for lamb recently, but haven't had a good excuse to cook it. A whole boneless leg of lamb is almost four pounds of meat -- and somewhat difficult to use as leftovers. But on Friday I finally gave in and made some for Carol and myself.

In a food processor combine
- 4 red jalapeno peppers
- 1 bunch green onions
- juice of two lemons
- handful of cillantro leaves
- 4 garlic cloves
- 2 T curry powder
- 2 T cumin
- 2 T paprika
- 1 T tumeric
- 2 tsp salt
- 2 C plain yogurt
- 5 drops red food coloring (you can omit this, but it does give the meat that classic red color in a way that the spices alone will not do)
Blend until smooth. Should be a lurid pinkish/orange color.

Unwrap the lamb (it often comes in a mesh bag), flattening it out. Open up the interior and butterfly the meat until a more or less even thickness. Flip over to the outside and shave off the majority of the thick fat and any silverskin.

Place the lamb in a marinade for at least 30 minutes, or up to two hours. I avoid leaving it too long because the acid in the lemons and yogurt can make the meat a bit mushy. Traditionally it is often marinated overnight, but then again, traditionally the lamb is also cooked well-done.

Build a fire on one side of your grill. I used chunk charcoal plus some tabasco wood barrel shavings (no real reason for the later other than I had them to hand). You want a medium high fire.

Shake off excess marinade from lamb. Grill lamb for 5-10 minutes per side, or until you have a nice brown color. Then move the lamb to the offset side of the fire, baste with remaining marinate, cover the grill, and cook to your desired done-ness. Medium will take about 20 minutes.

To serve with this I made saffron basmati rice (which will be used with the leftover lamb to make a berriani later this week).

And, what I call "hack" nann bread. I used a commercial bread dough, which I thawed well and cut into 8 pieces. I rolled these out flat and long -- I try to get them as thin as I can. I placed them directly on a baking stone in a 450 degree oven with the convection fan going. Turned once or twice with tongs to ensure even baking over about 10 minutes.

When the bread came out of the oven, just before serving I dipped each piece that was going onto the plate in clairified butter.

Other modifications to this can include adding seasame seeds, cillantro, garlic, poppy seeds, or other kinds of nuts to the top of the bread, either just prior to baking, or added after dipping in the butter. You can also roll these ingredients into the bread (after rolling thin, add the ingredients, fold over the bread, roll thin again). If you get real carried away with the toppings, you might want to bake on a sheet pan on top of the baking stone to avoid things getting onto the stone.

The bread is much better if you make it from scratch and include yogurt in the dough, but after a long week of work the "hack" approach works out fine.

Posted by dowdy at 08:44 AM

February 20, 2003

Caramel Sauce

Several folks have sent in email asking how to make caramel sauce. It's easy, quick, and lots of people are impressed by it. It's also a great make-ahead part to a meal.

1) In a large (2.5-3 qt) heavy bottom sauce pan combine 1 C white sugar and enough water to moisten. You can use no water if you are used to this, or lots of water if you are new at it. More water will just take longer to cook out.

2) Place on medium heat until the sugar melts and begins to boil. Continue cooking until carmelization starts -- at this point, stir or swirl the pan to keep even browning happening. BE CAREFUL! Sugar is very hot and will stick to your skin, giving you a burn like no tomorrow.

3) When the amount of browning that you like has happened, turn off heat, add 1 C heavy cream with your hand WELL AWAY from the top of the pot. It will foam/boil/sputter like crazy. This is why you use a much larger pot than you think you will need.

4) When cooled down a bit, you can add a) flavorings b) more cream if you think it is too thick.

When cool enough to not melt plastic, pour into a plastic squeeze bottle. Caramel sauce keeps very well, on the counter for at least a week. The amount of sugar is so high that nothing really can grow in it, and the opening to the squeeze bottle assists here as well. To re-heat, simply place the squeeze bottle in a container of hot water (I usually use one of those 32 oz plastic cups you often get for free with Large Drink Purchase).

I usually take the sugar to a pretty dark brown, but you can adjust this to your liking. The sugar continues to cook a bit after adding the cream, so it will darken more, while the cream itself will lighten it. I find that the end color is about the same as when I added the cream, maybe just a tad darker.

Posted by dowdy at 03:46 PM

February 19, 2003

James Beard

My friend Sean did a dinner at the James Beard House in NYC a while back. He said it went very well. Here's the incredibly fawning announcement.

Hopefully this link will remain valid -- the Statesman took down the V-Day link I did earlier. Bleah.

Posted by dowdy at 09:40 AM

February 18, 2003

Baby Back Ribs

or, alternately titled, fancy BBQ. I did enough things different from my typical all-day BBQ that I'm almost willing to call this one special.

I don't normally cook baby back ribs. In a long-slow smoke normal spare ribs almost end up the same, and cost about half as much. But, for shorter cooking times, or smaller groups of people (ie, two), baby backs can be a quick weeknight or half-day affair.

I used my Weber to smoke these, offset from the fire on one side, with a fair amount of smoke from hickory chips. I'd guess the fire was running around 275, or maybe 300 at times, and the ribs stayed on for four hours.

I skinned the ribs first, and rubbed with a basic rub. For the sauce, I made up a vinegar based sauce with standard spices. I then added about a quart of apple juice, 1 small can of tomato sauce, and some honey for sweetness. I kept out darker colored items like molasses, brown sugar, and worchestershire sauce that I normally add to sauces I use for BBQ beef. I let this cook down for about half an hour, and then removed a cup of it to use as a mop for the ribs. To the mop I added half a cup of salad oil. I mopped the ribs about every half an hour after the first hour.

I strained the sauce, returned it to the saucepan, and simmered it down to a medium thickness. Just before serving, I added a quarter of a pound of butter and mounted it in. It cut the sourness perfectly -- it was one of the better "from scratch" BBQ sauces I've made in a while.

As a side, I made a huge batch of Real Caesar Salad. The dressing is very simple:
- 1 egg, raw. Tradditionally supposed to be coddled, but I've found little difference unless making the dressing on the lettuce.
- 1 T worchestershire sauce, more to taste if you wish at the end.
- salt, pepper
- whisk or blend, adding in 1/2 olive oil and 1/2 salad oil until it has thickened a bit. I usually take it up to a light mayonaise consistancy.
- juice of two lemons, which thins it back out to dressing

Toss romain hearts with the dressing, parmasagn cheese, and fresh made garlic croutons. It's a great salad, and except for not tossing the dressing directly on the lettuce and building it up that way, it's "officially correct." Just about nobody makes Caesar Salad this way -- it most often has wine vinegar instead of lemon and omits the egg and/or worchestershire sauce, and adds who knows what else.

I don't mind other items in the salad (really great tomatoes from the garden, chicken, anchovies, thin strips of grilled steak, etc), but generally don't change what's in the dressing -- or if I do, I call it something else.

Picture in the extended entry...

here you can see the neat stack of ribs, the pile of salad (note: greater in size than the amount of meat), and the sauce.

Posted by dowdy at 08:12 AM

February 14, 2003

Steak Chasseur

I had a pretty good day at work yesterday, so I decided to reward myself with a slightly more complex dinner than I normally would make. But none of it was very difficult because of things I keep on hand.

Sauce Chasseur is the French parallel to the Italian cacciatori and means "hunter." Traditionally the sauce or dish contains things that a hunter would find while out on the hunt:
- mushrooms
- herbs (most often tarragon)
- shallots
- tomatoes
- wine or liquor (from his flask, I expect).
For a slightly more elegant style, I made the sauce as a reduction rather than thickening it with roux or other starch. This does require, however, homemade stock rather than canned or base-derived ones. Both contain salt which (as we shall see below) makes a straight reduction come out too salty.

A small amount of butter, chopped shallots, 4 small semi-dried shitaki mushrooms, a medium sprig of tarragon, peppercorns were heated in a small (2 1/2 C) pot. Once slightly cooked, I added about half a cup of wine, and a cup and a half of oxtail stock. Brought it to a boil, skimmed off the top and left it to simmer.

After half an hour of cooking, I strained out the liquid into a bowl, rinsed the pot, and returned the stock to it. This I left simmering and reducing. The final goal was about 4 tablespoons of sauce. You will note that I didn't add any salt -- the reduction obviously will concentrate that, so you want to leave it to the end. The other issue is that meat stocks contain salt from the meat, so they may be salty enough in heavy reductions.

While all of this was going on, an enormous potato was roasting in the oven at 375, having been poked all over with a knife and given a light coating of olive oil to make sure the skin came out crisp.

Once the potato was nearing completion (about an hour and 15 minutes) I heated up a heavy skillet with some rendered duck fat. Highest heat. Salted and peppered a 1.25 inch thick rib steak and added it to the pan. 5 minutes on side one, 4 on side two (with the heat reduced to medium at that point).

Placed the potato and steak on an extra large heavy plate, spooned the sauce around the steak, slit the potato and added a dollop of butter, salt, and pepper. I let it rest for 2 minutes before I couldn't take it any more and began to eat.

To drink, a 1999 S. Anderson Cab. It was a bit thin, so I didn't feel badly about drinking it so young.

Posted by dowdy at 08:25 AM

February 12, 2003

V-Day in Austin

Don't even think of trying to get a table at this late date, but my friend Sean's place in Austin has another nice writeup -- this time on the subject of prix-fixe menus on Valentine's Day.

Jean Luc's Bistro Valentine's Day Story

Sean says they started getting calls as early as October this year. His place was packed last year -- both on Valentine's Day and the next night as well.

Posted by dowdy at 08:23 AM

February 08, 2003

Fancy Dinner

I haven't made a fancy dinner for Carol in a while, so Friday night I did so.

First course was a cajun inspired shrimp bisque. I had some leftover shrimp stock in the freezer, which I cooked with some bell peppers, onion, and celery. Tossed in some pre-cooked rice and let the whole thing cook down for a while. Then I blended it, strained it out, reduced it, adjusted the seasonings with cayenne pepper and salt. Then I added heavy cream and mounted the result with lobster butter (again, I had some in the freezer).

To serve this, I also made some very small savory cream puffs, which I filled with a garlic/shallot/tarragon sautee of shrimp. These went in the middle of the soup bowl.

In keeping with the southern theme, the main course was maple glazed boneless pork chops atop rounds of garlic toast, mixed sauteed vegetables, a "weed salad" and thin strips of jicama. I plated these all towered together, in a sort-of homage to tornados Rossini. The pork ended up being overcooked, which was the only thing I was disappointed with. The contrast of the textures of the veg and salad turned out very well.

With this dish, there was certainly the danger of heading into "confusion cuisine". I used the jicama and chayote squash as part of the veg in order to work with the sweetness from the sauce (both have an apple-ish potato-ish taste and texture), but maple, plus southwestern vegetables, plus southern sense was perhaps a bit too much. Flavor wise everything was fine, and the plating didn't turn out too badly.

To finish off, some very simple apple tarts, with basic vanilla ice cream and a bourbon caramel sauce. These were also good, although I should have thinned out the sauce with a bit more cream. As it was, it was a bit too much like candy in terms of texture.

The extended entries now has pictures of each dish. Also, for some reason people keep asking how long these things take for me to do. Prep and non-during service cooking was about an hour and 15 minutes. The only thing that needed to be cooked "live" was a pork chops and veg that went with them.

I don't usually make prep lists for basic dinners, but there were a few things I didn't want to forget this time around...

- fine dice veg for main
- prep salad for main
- prep jicama for main
- prep dressing for main
- make pate a choux and cook
- prep shrimp for filling, herbs, shallot, garlic

- make bourbon carmel sauce, into squirt bottle
- cut and lemon apples v/ thin slice
- make tarts
- glaze tarts w/ apricot

- veg rice and stock for soup

- blend/strain soup
- mix up galze for main

- cream and butter soup
- sautee shrimp and fill
- plate soup
- chervil on top

- cut toasts for main
- broil & garlic butter
- spice chops
- cook chops & in oven
- sautee veg
- add glaze, reduce, into squirt bottle
- plate main
- toasts
- ring form, veg
- pork
- salad
- hicama
- glaze around

- cut tarts
- caramel on bottom
- small ice creams

Posted by dowdy at 09:59 AM

February 06, 2003

Jerk Chicken

Apparently, I'm on a spicy food kick right now. I got some chicken the last time I was at the store and wasn't sure what to do with it. Now that it isn't raining every day, I guess doing something on the grill is starting to seem like what I wanted to do. Also, I had some Red Stripe beer in the fridge, so what else would one make?

- 1 chicken, cut up into pieces

Grind up:
- 4 thai bird chilies
- 1/2 onion
- 6 garlic cloves
- 2 T oregano
- 2 T basil
- 4-5 whole allspice berries
- salt, pepper
- lime juice
- 1 T oil
into as smooth of a paste as you can get. Marinade chicken in the mixture for at least an hour. Grill over medium heat until cooked to your liking.

Posted by dowdy at 08:37 PM

February 04, 2003

Green Curry

I had a hankering for curry the other day, and more specifically coconut milk based curry. So, tonight, I made a beef curry in a Thai style. This is a quick throw together meal, except for the simmering time.

- 1 lb beef chunk, cut into 1 inch cubes
Brown these well in a 3 qt pot or pan. Meanwhile, in a food processor, grind up:

- 3 anaheim chilies, destemed and deseeded
- 2 serrano or thai "bird" chillies, tops cut off, seeds left in (I like heat, you can remove the seeds and ribs if you wish)
- 1 bunch green onions
- 1 inch cube of ginger, peeled
- handful of cillantro
- juice of 1 lime
- 1 T fish sauce
- 1 T cumin powder
- 1 T "curry powder"
- 1 T corriander powder
Blend well into a paste, then add half a cup of water and mix again until fully combined. Dump the resulting paste into the hot pan, once the meat is fully browned. Allow to sizzle for a moment, make sure the liquid level is up to at least 3/4 of the way up the meat -- covering the meat is OK. Add more water if needed.

Reduce heat to a simmer, cover the pan. Let stew for 1.5 hours, or until the meat seems to be getting close to being done. Check for seasonings (mine needed some salt and more lime juice). Then add to the pot vegetables that you'd like. I used:
- 1 can mini corn (whee!), drained
- 1 can straw mushrooms, drained
- 1/2 lb fresh pea pods
Cover again and simmer until the vegetables are cooked close to your liking. Then add:

- 1 can coconut milk
Leave uncovered and let return to heat slowly. Don't boil it too briskly at this point or the fat may separate out of the coconut milk. Simmer for another 5 minutes.

I served it over basic steamed rice, and garnished the top with some more cillantro leaves. Had I been thinking when I was at the store, I'd have also used some crushed peanuts -- but I wasn't, and so I didn't.

Posted by dowdy at 03:03 AM

February 02, 2003


Yesterday morning I decided to drown out the sounds of CNN with that of a meat grinder. Bratwursts, to be specific.

Used about 3 pounds of pork belly, and another 2.5 pounds of beef chunk rib meat. You need sausages to be around 30% fat. Chuck is fairly fatty (around 20%) and pork belly is uncured bacon, so it's probably closer to 50% fat, sometimes more. It's an easy way to obtain fat content in sausage. Most commercial recipes call for "pork jowl fat" which if you ask for it will get you nothing but strange looks from most butchers. Pork belly is cheap and widely available at Asian meat counters. Plus, I love saying "pork belly" especially if I can say "pork bellies are up in active trading."

I ground the meat once through the coarse plate, sprinkled with salt, a pre-mixed seasoning, and a cup and a half of water. Then ground again through the fine plate, mixed the whole thing up with my hands, and prepared to stuff. You mix the seasonings in after the first grinding because this gives you some free blending as you do the second grind.

I used medium pork casings -- boy were these long! I figured I'd need two, so I cleaned them out. I couldn't even fit all of one of them on the stuffing tube. But, I need not have worried -- what I could fit managed to hold all six and a half pounds of the sausage -- wow. This was around 2 dozen links or so.

I froze 3/4 of the batch and cooked up the rest by simmering them long and slow in a mixture of chicken broth, onions, butter, and hot sauce. I then quickly grilled them to color the outside and then returned them to the broth. This is a fairly traditional way to cook brats. Ate on buns with homemade potato salad that was heavy on the mustard.

Why special? You try stuffing 6 pounds of sausage yourself via a KitchenAid. One hand on the sausage to keep it from falling off, and the other feeding sticky meat mixture into the too-small opening. Today, I got on line and purchased a push stuffer -- which holds 3 pounds of meat at a time, meaning that basically two pushes would have gotten all of the meat stuffed.

I've decided to add homemade sausage to my standard set of BBQ batches, and if I'm going to do this, the stuffer is an absolute requirement. I honestly think I'll make sausage much more often this way.

Posted by dowdy at 11:55 AM