Monthly Archives: January 2009

beautiful, beautiful stock

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omg. i just made the BEST stock. in fact, this is one of the better things that i’ve made lately and it didn’t even have bacon in it. every cook needs some basic stock skills in his or her repertoire. i have experience making beef, shrimp, turkey, and have even perfected my own chicken stock. but never, ever (and i don’t know why) have i even attempted to make a vegetable stock. maybe i just always fell back on the chicken stock, believing that it would just impart so much more flavor than any anemic vegetable could give up. boy, was i wrong.

 

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 i can’t even begin to tell you the dreamy aromas going on in my house while this was simmering. it starts with some basic veggies, then you add a few that you may or may not have on hand. amazingly, i had most of what i needed (including the coriander seed because i’m married to some who uses them for a very special version of hot wings, which i will try to post before the big game), but did have to go to the market for the fennel bulb. despite the long list of ingredients, the whole process takes about 30-40 minutes and it is sooo worth it. i will never go back to canned or boxed again.

i used some of the stock right away for some  homemade soup, which i will tell you about very soon. the rest is in my fridge–i will wait to strain it until the morning, then use up right away for another purpose or freeze. really you can and should give this a whirl. even if you think this is too involved, cut yourself up an onion, carrot, and a few peppercorns, simmer it in some water for 20 minutes and never go back!

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Homemade Vegetable Stock (adapted from la tartine gourmande)

 

(For 1.5 quarts stock) 

You need:

  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 onion, cut into large wedges*
  • 1 garlic clove, smashed
  • 5 to 6 coriander seeds
  • 5 to 6 fennel seeds**
  • 2 to 3 thyme twigs
  • A few peppercorns
  • 1 fennel bulb, cut in big pieces
  • 1 leek, cleaned and sliced
  • 2 carrots
  • 2 celery branches
  • Salt
  • 6 cups water

Steps:

  • Peel the vegetables and cut them in big pieces.
  • In a large stockpot, heat the olive oil and add the onion, garlic and spices. Cook for a few min, without browning.
  • Add the vegetables and cook on medium to low heat for 10 min, until soft.
  • Add the water and season with salt. Cover and bring to a simmer, and cook for 20 min. Remove from the heat and let rest for a few hours (or even overnight in the fridge) for the flavors to develop even more. Strain the broth and use when needed. It keeps well in the fridge for a few days.

 *i left the onion peel on intentionally to add flavor AND beautiful color to the stock

**i didn’t have any fennel seed, nor did i miss it

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tri ricotti

of course i just made that up. i don’t think there exists a plural for ricotta besides, well, ricotta. but this weekend in in my house there did exist ricotta prepared 3 different ways. i guess you would call it a horizontal making and tasting of cheese. i think ricotta is not considered REAL cheese, but made of a byproduct of making cheese-whey. but i’d like to think that i made cheese, since i’ve never attempted that before, so i’m callin’ it a cheese.

ricotta #1

the first version was made with milk and buttermilk brought to temperature (175 degrees to be exact), captured with a deep-fry or candy thermometer. here it is first put in the pan, then as the curd came to be just at the 175 degree mark as promised.

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i then ladled the curds into a cheesecloth-lined fine mesh colander and allowed it to drain for 5 minutes before i checked on it. i was glad i did because the instructions said to drain it for 15 minutes or longer if you like a drier ricotta. well these curds were arid after those first few minutes. i still had some whey hanging out in the pan so added a little more back in. it was a very fine curd and i was pleased as this was my introduction into cheesemaking and it was actually edible! i put some honey on it and went to town.

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ricotta #2

the second version required milk and cream in a pan and when that comes to rolling boil (yes a rolling boil, which seems so counter intuitive when you think of all the puddings and milk based sauces that you have spent hours of your life trying not to scorch or burn!), at that precise moment it is removed from the heat and some lemon juice is added.library-2481library-2485

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it was just like magic. these beautiful fluffy cloud-like curds appeared out of nowhere and presented themselves to me. i ladled them out into the same cheesecloth and colander set-up as before. i tend to go for the larger curd cottage cheese, too so these were definitely my kind of curds!

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ricotta#3

the third and final installment in the ricotta chronicles turned out to be my favorite. i don’t know if i was getting good at this or if the method just lent itself to such ease and convenience that it really spoke to me. not that any of the ingredients to make ricotta are esoteric in any way, but i kinda like the idea that i can always make a fresh batch with only milk and regular ol’ distilled white vinegar from the pantry. all that was required was that i heat up some milk to about 180-185 degrees, add the proper amount of vinegar and stir for about a minute. this is what happened next:

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i dutifully covered it with a clean dishcloth and let it sit, off the heat and untouched, for about 2 hours.library-2507

i then carefully poured the mixture over the same cheesecloth set up as before and these were left before me:library-2517

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light and airy, yet moist and fat curds that danced on the tongue and tickled my mouth and I made them! now all i have to do is figure out how to use them; let’s see, gnocchi, lasagna, cheesecake!

here are the recipes in the order from above. really, no one ricotta is better than the others. it’s only a matter of what taste and consistency you prefer, not to mention ease of preparation. but they are all pretty easy to make if you ask me. remember too that you get out of it what you put into it, so use premium, fresh, and preferably organic dairy products as the taste of them will intensify and really come through in the ricotta.

ricotta #1

adapted from 101 cookbooks

1 gallon  whole milk
1 quart buttermilk

combine both milks into a large nonreactive saucepan over medium high heat, preferably a thick-bottomed pan if you have one. you will need to stir occasionally, scraping the pan bottom, to avoid scorching. you will notice curds starting to rise to the surface.

line a fine sieve colander with a large piece of cheesecloth that has been folded numerous times – place the lined colander over a large bowl or sink.

when the mixture reaches about 175F degrees, you will see the curds and whey separate. the curds are the solids-the whey is the liquid. ladle the curds into the prepared sieve. allow them to drain for 15 minutes minimum. store in an airtight container for up to 5 days–it is best used as soon as possible.

makes about 4 cups.


ricotta #2

adapted from paula lambert

  • 1 gallon whole milk
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • salt, optional*

prepare a sanitizing solution of 1 quart of water and 1 tablespoon of household bleach.*

rinse a large stainless steel or enameled stockpot or soup pot with the sanitizing solution and pour the milk and cream into the pot. place over medium-high heat and bring to a boil, stirring as necessary with a sanitized spoon so the milk doesn’t scorch on the bottom of the pot. reduce the heat to low and stir in the lemon juice. continue stirring slowly until the milk curdles and white curds float to the top. remove from the heat and cover. wait for 5 minutes while the curds solidify slightly and become firmer.

rinse a colander and a large piece of muslin or several layers of cheesecloth in the sanitizing solution. wring out the cloth to release the excess water. line the colander with the cloth and set the colander in the sink or over a large bowl.

using a sanitized perforated spoon, gently ladle the curds into the colander. Let the whey drain for 30 minutes, or until the ricotta is still moist but fairly dry.

after about 15 minutes, lift the edges of the cloth toward the center of the colander to loosen the cheese from the cloth and facilitate draining. if the ricotta is still too liquid and runny in texture after 30 minutes, gather the edges of the cloth together using 1 hand, wrap a piece of kitchen string around the gathered cloth to form a bag, and tie it closed. hang the bag containing the cheese from the faucet or the handle of a kitchen cabinet door and allow the excess whey to drip from the bag into the sink or a bowl.

if adding salt, transfer the ricotta to a sanitized bowl and stir in the salt. place the ricotta in an airtight container and store it in the refrigerator. use within 5 days.

makes 3 1/4 cups

*note: i did not sterilize the cheesecloth, pan or spoon in this preparation. i did not add salt so i would have the option of using the ricotta for a sweet or savory application.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ricotta #3

1 gallon whole milk

1/3 cup plus 1 teasoop distilled white vinegar

1/4 teaspoon salt*

rinse inside of a heavy-bottomed non-reactive pan with cold water. it is said that this helps prevent milk from scorching. place milk in pan over medium heat, stirring occasionally. attach a candy or deep-fry thermometer on the side of the pan. the milk will start to bubble and steam will rise from the pan. you want it to reach 180-185 degrees, near scalding temperature, just before it comes to a boil. check the temperature with your thermometer.

when it reaches the correct temperature, take the pot off the burner, add the vinegar and stir gently for only one minute. add salt, if using. you will notice curds forming immediately-cover with a dry clean dish towel and allow the mixture to sit undisturbed for a couple of hours (can be left all day while you are at work!). 

when the ricotta has rested for 2 hours or more, take a a few layers of cheesecloth and place them inside a colander. gently pour the whole of the contents into the prepared colander. place the colander with ricotta inside of a larger pan or sink so it can drain freely. Let it drain for two hours or so depending on how creamy or dry you want your cheese to be. refrigerate in an airtight container. it will keep for up to 5 days. ricotta does not freeze well.

 

 

makes 4 cups

* i did not add salt so i would have the option of using the ricotta for a sweet or savory application.

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new skills

i am always up for trying new things–especially when it comes to food. we had a few folks coming over for dinner so i decided to try my hand at developing a few new skills this weekend. i know, i know, you are not supposed to try new recipes or dishes out when you are having company but we have a few good friends that are, thankfully, willing and eager to participate in my culinary experiments.

i searched high and low at the farmer’s market over the weekend for beets because i wanted to attempt to roast them for a pretty and healthful salad. they always look so beautiful and appeared simple to prepare, yet it was something i had never done. apparently, however, i was too early for them locally. my market had some already from a local farmer (and on sale!) so i got lucky on that front. i am so totally amazed that these:

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became these:

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gorgeous! and really simple. peeling and slicing them does require some patience, however. i roasted them at 375, unpeeled and untrimmed, drizzled with a touch of olive oil and salt and pepper. i staggered the roasting time by size, i.e. putting the larger ones in first, then adding medium ones after 20 minutes, then the smallest 20 minutes after that.  i had started them on a jelly roll pan lined with foil–i was nervous about the beets ‘bleeding out’ all over the oven. i ended up pulling the foil up all around them like a package once the little ones were in, effectively steaming them for the last 20 minutes or so to soften them up. all told total cooking time was about an hour. they have a reputation for staining everything in site, especially the red ones so, being a nurse, i just happen to keep rubber gloves around the house that i use for just this type of thing. i also washed my cutting board and knife right away after slicing just in case. then i just added the little jewels to a salad of mixed greens and toasted walnuts with a bit of balsamic vinegar and olive oil drizzled around. fantastic.

my other newly acquired skill was steaming mussels. i cannot resist them and they are something we order in a restaurant whenever it is on the menu. it is actually pretty strange that i had never attempted them, given how much houston and i love them.

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they were shockingly simple to make. the set up is reminiscent of stir fry. everything happens so fast that having everything ‘mise en place’ is critical. the actually cooking time was about 10-12 minutes. served with a fresh baguette and some decent wine and hoppy beer, a good time was had by all.

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steamed mussels

adapted from tyler florence

 

Ingredients

  • 3 pounds mussels
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 2 leeks, white parts only, finely chopped*
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 bunch fresh thyme
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Directions

Rinse the mussels under cold running water while scrubbing with a vegetable brush. Remove the stringy mussel beards with your thumb and index finger as you wash them. Discard any mussels with broken shells.

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil and 1 tablespoon butter in a large pot over medium heat. Add the leeks, garlic, and thyme and cook until the vegetables cook down to a pulp, about 5 minutes. Add the mussels and give everything a good toss. Add the white wine. Cover and steam over medium-high heat for 10 minutes, until the mussels open. Stir occasionally so that all the mussels are in contact with the heat. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons butter and a drizzle of olive oil to the sauce remaining in the pot and swirl to incorporate. Season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with the parsley and serve immediately.

*i added 3 sliced shallots and a few bay leaves to the garlic and thyme and substituted 1/2 bulb of very thinly sliced fennel for the leeks because i had purchased some cauliflower fennel soup at the farmer’s market to round out the meal and it turned out nicely to bring all the flavors together. not to be wasteful, i also added some of the fennel fronds to the parsley and a squeeze of lemon to finish off the mussels. the fresh herbs really added some brightness to the whole dish. i fried some panko covered fennel in a bit of olive oil to doctor up the soup a bit. you can’t go wrong if you deep fry it! 

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the budget

this time of year always seems to bring out the accountant in all of us. as the government attempts to figure out what we’ve all known all along, i.e. you can’t spend more than you have, we try to do that at home too. this weekend my brand new husband, houston, announced that we should try to go through the entire weekend without going to the grocery store while still managing to eat well. i thought this was a great idea, but what he didn’t know is that we actually do this type of thing all the time. if it is not obvious by now, i am doing most of the cooking, shopping, planning and prep of our meals. i am not complaining. on the contrary, it is one of the most satisfying things that i do. although you will find that i like to make food that takes hours simmering, requires that i learn a thing or two while doing it, and generally makes enough for 10-12 people so we can invite our friends to bring wine and beer, this weekend we will hunker down, regroup, and be creative emptying out the pantry.

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our first meal after the declaration of a new budget was one houston’s famous egg scrambles. he is famous in his family for finding things in the fridge, chopping them up into bite-sized gems and throwing it all together in a scramble for breakfast, sometimes unashamedly cooked in the drippings the bacon just left behind in the pan moments before. what’s not to like? later that morning we found a beautiful cut of country style ribs in the freezer that we had purchased at the farmer’s market from one of our favorite meat farmers, Richardson Farms. houston sliced her up and put the gorgeous meat into the crock pot with garlic, onion, green chiles and some tomatillo salsa from the fridge. although it was very spicy, we were able to tone it down as we ladled the pork morsels, with their lovely chile gravy over some plain steamed rice. i will post the recipe as soon as i can get him to write down exactly what he did!

not to be outdone, the next morning i put together one of my favorites, huevos rancheros. having a well-stocked pantry makes challenges like this a cinch, really. living in texas also gives us a special advantage: ready access to latin foods. i heated up a favorite brand of  salsa from mexico, added some cumin and other spices with a touch of olive oil. then i topped sauteed corn tortillas, also kept well in the freezer, with some doctored up black beans, over easy eggs, the warm ranchero, with just a smattering of shredded cheese to round it out. i truly felt like the frugal gourmet. here’s the result:

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we shall see what we come up with for sunday dinner but more than likely it will be, as it should be on a budget, leftovers which almost always taste better the second day anyway!

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