Monday, April 05, 2010

Stocking Up

The freezer was getting empty, and I had to have more veal stock.

The link above goes to the recipe I use: Michael Ruhlman's "Elements of Cooking". It's not a cookbook, it's not a pictorial... it's a freakin' glossary. In reality, it's a food-nerd's book, an overview of the main components of cooking, and a big fat glossary of cooking terms. It's sort of a crib sheet of the ultimate food-nerd's book, Harold McGee's "Food and Cooking," which I've barely flipped through.

But Ruhlman's right about stock: It's important. It's umami. It's body to sauces, and the base of soups. If a recipe calls for a half-cup of stock, and all you've got is a can, use water instead. I do use some of the boxed stocks (Wolfgang Puck's or Emeril's when they're on sale, Kitchen Basics other times, although it's pretty flavorless). But I don't use their veal -- in fact I don't think I've seen veal stock from Kitchen Basics or Emeril.

I've loved what veal stock -- neutral flavor, gelatine body -- has done for my sauces, especially Chinese cooking. It's worth the time, and really, time is all it takes. Veal bones are pretty cheap, even if they're more than pork or beef.

What takes the most time? Finding the darn bones!
Forget the supermarkets: Jewel and Dominicks' have got nothing that doesn't come out of a box and sell by the dozens. Even my trusty local Garden Fresh let me down -- and they've got a real butcher that actually cuts up meat... but they don't do much veal. So I went to the place I got it from last time: Fresh Farms in Wheeling.

And just like before... they've got 3-4 pounds wrapped up, some "Veal Soup Bones" and some "Veal Neck Bones". So I throw them in the freezer, and next time I'm in the neighborhood, time to get some more... and a third time and I've got the 10 pounds I need, finally.

So I picked a day I was going to be doing a lot of cooking anyway, got up early and started roasting bones before I finish breakfast. Oil some baking sheets, roast the bones at 450F until they're brown and toasty. Drop them in a pot, deglaze the pans with some water to go into the pot, and more water to cover. Simmer in a 200F oven for 8 hours, then add carrots, onions, celery and tomato paste, fresh parsley, thyme and pepper, and a couple more hours.

Ruhlman's book says that it should be down to about two quarts from the original 10-12. No way. I don't know if that's because the oven is sealed too well, and the steam doesn't evaporate? Maybe it's a little cool? I have no idea. So I strained out the bones and veg, put it back in the oven, and left it overnight. Still lots more than 2 quarts, but I can live with that. Chilled overnight so I can skim the little bit of fat off, and I've got about 5 quarts in the freezer of jiggly, tasty stock, apportioned from quarts down to ice cubes.

Mmm... what to make next? Tracks, apparently, I'm off on a business trip for the rest of the week... but when I get back, Sue will be off on a trip, so I'm planning on the Taiwanese steamed fish with black beans and scallions from the latest Sauveur.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Easter Counter-Programming

Sue was hoping that Netflix had "Jesus Christ Superstar" on their streaming plan -- no dice. I could show "Life of Brian" for her family... but I get the feeling the language and full-frontal nudity may be out of the question for some of my nieces and nephews.

But what I really wanted to talk about is the alternative to Easter food. What's with ham, anyway? Jesus certainly didn't have any. Not at the last supper, nor the one before that.

I've always hated ham (jamon iberico and prosciutto are another thing altogether, but as Alton Brown says, "That's another show."). So since we've started hosting Sue's family Easter, I've come up with alternatives. Last year was an Indian chicken pilaf (made with Kosher chicken for my future daughter-in-law, an no butter *sigh*). This year, it's b'stella, from one of our favorite cookbooks, "Cooking Under Wraps" By Nicole Routhier (ISBN 0688108679, currently out of print, but you find a used copy, snatch it up!). I've made this dish before, and it's one of the most fragrant, rich dishes in the world. Chicken poached with cinnamon and black pepper, then mixed with sauteed onions, garlic, ginger and spices, cream, cilantro and mint; scrambled eggs made with some of the poaching liquid; all enclosed in phyllo with almonds, sugar and cinnamon. Sweet, spicy, wow. But it's a kitchen-killer: I'm on about four pots and pans so far, and I haven't melted butter for the phyllo yet.

I'm betting this will be gone... and the ham will have lots of leftovers. I'd rather it were the other way 'round, though.