Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Real Beef Stock: A Must!

I feel like it's been too long since I've updated... I was pretty much addicted from the first post.  Plus, I have several recipes that are waiting to make it on the page.  A mini-update: trying out some different formatting... we'll see what sticks!  Regarding the lighting issue, I switched out my standard CFLs for 'natural light' ones.  As you can see below... it's made a huge difference!  Not perfect or even ideal, but come-on... it's a working kitchen, not a studio!  (yet)



Moving forward... homemade beef stock!



This is the first time I've made it... oh what I've been missing!  If you've made stock before, you know how relatively easy it is... I don't know why I was afraid of/confused about doing it.  It's rich and beefy... everything you'd expect from homemade stock.  Look for my trial-run of French Onion Soup soon!

INGREDIENTS:

Beef Bones: 3 lbs.  I used neck and also shank that had nice meat and marrow on it.  Ask the butcher at your grocery store about purchasing beef/soup bones. 
Onion: 1 lb... about 2 med yellow or white onions, rough chop.
Carrot: 1 lb... about 4-6 carrots, rough chop.  Don't bother peeling... just wash them well.
Celery: 1 lb... about 8 ribs, rough chop.  Do you see the pattern?  I typically use the ratio 1:1:1 being 1 gal water,1 lb meat, 1 lb total of vegetables (carrot, celery, and onion trio).
Mushrooms: 1 lb of stems, rinsed well.  I had made a huge batch of stuffed mushrooms a week prior and had frozen the stems.  You can use less or more... or whole mushrooms if you don't have a handy bag of frozen stems!
Garlic: 1/2 bulb... more if you like.  Crush the cloves on a cutting board with the side of your knife to easily remove the skin.  (I'll have to put up a demo of this... super simple, but visuals don't hurt!)  I prefer whole crushed cloves in my stock, not chopped or minced. 
Rosemary: 1 med stem, FRESH!
Thyme: 1 med bunch... about 12-15 stems, FRESH!!
Sage: 6-7 leaves, FRESH!!!
Bay Leaf: 4-5 leaves (dried).
Water: 3 gallons-or-so... depends on the size of your pot, amount of ingredients, etc.  Not an exact science!
On-Hand: xvoo
**Note: I choose not to add salt or pepper to my stock since I always add those ingredients when I'm using the stock for a recipe.  I like that homemade stock is all about the vegetable, herb, and meat flavorings concentrated on their own... you can always enhance the stock later with salt and pepper.

PROCESS:

1) Place bones on a baking sheet and roast in a pre-heated oven @ 450 for about 7-8 minutes in the upper portion of the oven.  Flip the bones and roast another 7-8 minutes until a nice golden/caramel color starts to show.  You don't want smoking-hot bones... and don't char them.  That's my opinion, anyways.
2) Toss carrots, celery, and onions with just a bit of xvoo to lightly coat them and prevent burning.  Layer vegetables on a tray... 2 trays if it's getting crowded (you want to roast, not sweat these veggies) and roast them @ 450 for about 10-12 minutes.  A bit of charring on the edges is fine.  Also, roasting the veggies is optional if you don't want to take the time... you can just add them raw to the stock pot.
3) Add bones, roasted vegetables, and all other ingredients to the stock pot.  (I prefer an enameled stockpot because there is less chance of metallic-related flavor contamination.  I also recommend a MINIMUM of a 16-quart size.)  Fill the pot with water to about 1/2 inch from the rim.  Place lid on pot and set the burner on high... it'll take about 30 minutes to get a rolling simmer.
4) Reduce heat slightly to med-high and remove lid.  Stir pot.  Let simmer for 3-4 hours.  You can go longer or shorter depending on how light/dark/rich/mellow you want the stock.  I've read about 'muddying' stock by cooking it too long, but I'm not quite sure I believe that.  If it exists, my palate is not trained to detect it.
5) Turn heat off once stock is at your desired richness.  Use a large slotted spoon to remove the bones and veggies into a bowl; discard.  **Tip: place a paper grocery bag inside your garbage liner and dump discarded contents directly from the bowl.  The paper will help absorb the heat, liquid, and smell so that you don't end up with a sloppy bag of trash to haul outside.
6) After stock has cooled a bit, pour through a fine mesh strainer (ideally a conical/chinoise strainer... it's amazing!) into another pot or large bowl.  If you lack in large pots or bowls, do this in batches and container each stained batch of stock as you go.  Freeze conatiners of stock until you're ready for them.  EASY!


Saturday, December 26, 2009

Crab Cake Appetizer on Christmas, 12/25/09.

First, brief blog update.  A few things I've learned/am trying to figure out after my first official post:
- I hate the word 'blog'.
- I still have no clue how to effectively organize my posts for good content and to keep you (and me) reading.
- Photo-albums... tons of photos, not sure yet where the 'upload your photo album' button is.
- Photo-quality may be an issue... my kitchen lacks in great lighting... most cooking will be done in dwindling natural light... warm hues will slightly alter colors in the photos... oh, and shadows may be a problem.  I'll do my best.
- I need to determine approximate servings in my recipes.
- What is my personality?  What's my shtick?  Does it matter?  Do you want to know what I look like?  (okay... the last part is probably 2 years and hundreds of readers/followers too early... I'm sure anyone reading this already knows... and hopefully loves/adores me.)
- If you have comments, suggestions, concerns, failed/successful attempts at what I'm writing about, please share them in the comments!!  



Crab cakes were delicious!  I've done crab cakes several times in the past... and they've always been over-salted.  I used to saute onion, celery, and bell pepper in butter and white wine... but not this time.  I've been reading about 'no-filler' crab cakes and decided it was time for a change.  So, here's how it went down...

INGREDIENTS:

Crab: 32 oz (2-16 oz cans) lump crab meat... I bought mine at Costco (love me some Costco Wholesale Warehouse... not trying to plug, just the damn truth!).
Basil: 1/2 c or more... chiffonade and a couple slices down the middle so you don't have 1-2" long basil 'hairs' that pull out of the cakes when eating them.  FRESH is a must... duh.
Scallion: 1/2 c, thinly sliced (again, I am partial to a bias cut).
Mayo: 1 c... make sure it's plain mayo, not 'sandwich spread'... only reason is you can season it to your preferences.
Dijon: 1 tbsp.
Eggs: 2 whole large.  I like eggs w/ brown shells... the seem real-er.
Crackers: 1 c or so, crushed into a powder.  Lumps/pieces are okay in my book until I'm proven otherwise.  I've read about saltines, Ritz, etc... I just used some plain butter crackers I had on-hand.
Cayenne Pepper: 1/2 tsp or so.  If you like more, add more.
XVOO: 1/4 c, more or less... a couple thin-streamed 'rounds'... avoid glugging it into the mixture.
On-Hand: s&p
**Note: No Old-Bay seasoning was used in the making of these crab cakes.  No reason... I just didn't have any on-hand and it happened to not land on my grocery list.

PROCESS:

1) Put all ingredients into a glass or plastic bowl (metal bowls run the risk of altering flavors on delicate/sensitive ingredients... take no risks).  Season w/ a good pinch or 2 of salt and fresh ground black pepper.
2) Gently combine the mixture w/ one hand... two hands if you're not dexterous enough... while turning the bowl to assist in mixing without 'mashing' or 'mushing' the crab.
3) At this point, you can either refrigerate the mixture or cook the cakes immediately.
4) In a heavy-bottomed skillet or shallow pan (I prefer good ol' black cast iron), melt a few tablespoons of unsalted butter on med-high heat.
5) Form cakes in your hand with about 1/3-1/2 c of the mixture.  Add cakes to the pan as your make each one... do not overcrowd the pan.  You'll need room to flip the over.
6) After about 4-6 minutes of sizzling, flip them over for another 3-5 minutes.  If you're not sure they're done on one side, lift up the first cake with a spatula for a peek.  You want a rich, golden-brown color.  If it's turning black, the heat is probably a bit too high.  Also, if you've browned them well but they seem soft/undone inside (you've probably made them too large for pan-frying), pop them in the oven at 325 for about 10 minutes.
7) Serve immediately.  Here's a brief recipe for a divine 'tartar' sauce to go with them... make it before-hand and chill it:

ACCOMPANIMENTS:

Quick/Delicious 'Tartar' Dip
- 1/2 c. mayo, plain
- 1/2 c. sour cream, full-fat (always!)
- 1 tbsp. Dijon
- 1 tbsp. horseradish sauce
- 1 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
- 1 tbsp. roasted garlic
- zest of 1 lemon
- 2 tbsp. lemon juice (fresh!)
- pinch of kosher salt
- fresh cracked pepper... a couple good dashes
**mix it all together and chill... easy!!

FURTHER THOUGHTS:

- Old Bay: what is the secret?  What contributes to the magic?  Must find out...
- Breadcrumbs v.s. crackers.  Toasted v.s. fresh.  Wheat v.s. white??  Definitely not.
- Other ingredients to enhance/lift the crab: celery?  garlic?  dill?  ???
- Ooooh!  Just thought of avocado... that would be incredible somehow.  Maybe alongside the cakes in a simple salad w/ greens and a citurs vinaigrette?
- Going Asian... not my area of experience... but think of fresh ginger, garlic, soy sauce, rice vinegar, chili sauce, toasted sesame seeds, panko... must try this next time!

Friday, December 25, 2009

First Post: Beef Bourguignon, 12/24/09. Whew!!

Yes, inspired by the movie Julie & Julia... this recipe, that is.  This blog is my method for documenting the trails and tribulations in my cooking... in the effort to become better... and in the effort to remember... and in the effort to eliminate a pile of random scribbled-on pieces of paper.  Oh, and to bring myself into the year 2000 (not a typo).


I sought out several variations on this recipe, as I've never cooked it before and the movie made it seem like a complicated task.  It wasn't, for me at least.  I read over Julia Child's classic, looked at Ina Garten's take... and went from there with my own spin.  This is how I begin any recipe that I've not tried... or one that I have tried and either forgot or, well... forgot.  Is a well-established short-term memory normal?

INGREDIENTS:

Beef Chuck: 3lbs or so... cubed and patted dry.  I left all the fat on the meat, which will be the first thing I do differently next time.  My only complaint with the meat was getting too much gristle/blubber... I hate that.
White Onion: 1 lg/2 med, rough chop... I honestly don't remember how much onion I used... probably 1 lg.
Carrot: 4-6 large carrots, freestyle chop... just don't make them too big or too small.  I did a bias cut (my favorite cut) at about 1/4 inch thick.
Mushrooms: 16-24 oz, freestyle chop.  I used the 24 oz. creminis from Costco... the whole package.
Bay Leaf: 3-4... I left mine whole, not crushed.
Thyme: small bunch... make sure it's FRESH!  This is key, in my opinion.
Tomato Paste: 1/2 small can or so.
Roasted Garlic: 1/2 bulb... or more if you like.  I didn't use raw... I'm in a phase where everything calls for roasted garlic.
Bacon: 1/2-1 lb cubed/rough chop... I used 1/2 lb, but you can't go wrong with more bacon.  I couldn't find slab bacon so I used regular sliced... but will make sure to locate slab on my next attempt.
Red Wine: 3/4-1 bottle... I reserved a 'sampling' glass... not a bad idea.  I used a French blend we had on hand, it wasn't the classic Burgundy.  I would seek out the Burgundy next time.
Beef Stock: 2-4 c, depending on if you save a glass of wine to drink from the bottle you'll be emptying into the pot.  HOMEMADE stock is mandatory!!  It's incredibly easy... recipe to follow.
Pearl Onions: 1 or 2 16oz. bags of frozen... or fresh if you're nuts.  I used 2 bags of frozen... maybe someday I'll try the fresh approach to see how it differs.
On-Hand: kosher salt, fresh ground black pepper, unsalted butter, all-purpose flour, xvoo.

PROCESS:

1) Cook bacon over med-high heat in a heavy-bottomed pan (enameled cast-iron is ideal... go buy one!).  When bacon has browned nicely, transfer to a plate with paper toweling to absorb remaining fats.
2) Season beef cubes w/ salt & pepper (s&p from now on) and brown in the same pan on the same heat setting.  Do this in batches and, as the movie (and Julia Child) says, do not overcrowd the pan.  Brown on at least 2 sides (this was sufficient for me) and transfer to another plate with paper-toweling.
3) Add onion to the same pan (with all the fats and well-browned bottom that will be in the pan) and season with a nice dash of salt... then cover for 2-3 minutes or so.  This will release water from the onions and will help turn the browning in the pan into a rich liquid.
4) Add carrots, mushrooms, and bay leaves.  Season with a dash of salt and stir the mixture several times for the next 4-5 minutes.  Season with fresh ground black pepper.
5) Add back the beef and bacon along with the garlic, tomato paste, pearl onions, and fresh thyme (whole stems can be picked out after cooking).
6) Now for the liquids: add most (or all) of the bottle of red wine and finish with beef stock until all ingredients are nearly covered over.  Season again with s&p, stir to incorporate all ingredients, bring to a simmer, and put the lid on with a slight gap for steam to escape and the stew can reduce without drying out.
7) Transfer pot to a pre-heated oven... bottom rack... at 325 for 2 hours or so.  At 1 hour, take it out, stir, test for flavor of liquid and doneness of meat.  Continue cooking until meat is fork-tender.
8) If it's necessary to thicken the liquid once cooking is completed, create a roux: equal parts flour and butter (start w/ 2 tbsp. of each).  Melt butter, add flour, whisk into paste, add liquid from the pot (one ladle at a time) and continue whisking until the roux is a creamy consistency.  Let cook for 1-2 minutes, then add mixture back to the pot and stir to incorporate.

ACCOMPANIMENTS:

Mashed Butter Potatoes: Yukon Gold potatoes (skin-on), whole milk, unsalted butter, s&p.  Simple.  Perfect with the rich beef gravy!
Green Salad: field greens, cucumber, scallion, creamy homemade Gorgonzola dressing.  An oil & vinegar based dressing would be lovely, also. 
Dessert: Christmas cookies & milk... although something with chocolate and/or fruit would make sense.  Next time! 

FURTHER THOUGHTS:

- Marinating beef a day or two beforehand would help tenderize and flavor it... though a liquid marinade could affect the ability to brown the meat properly.
- Crisp, crumbled bacon added to individual servings would be marvelous!
- Possibly incorporating fresh sage and rosemary... a classic trio with thyme... might be worth a shot.
- Fresh egg pasta in lieu of potatoes would be amazing!