Stock Thoughts


I truly, truly believe that stock is perhaps the most underrated cooking necessity on earth.

This is sad, because stock is painfully simple to make:

1. Cook any kind of meat with bones (chicken, turkey, ham, whatever).
2. Put the bones, skin, and leftover bits of flesh in a pot. Cover with water. Cook on low heat for several hours. If you are lazy, or don’t have time, however, you can start on medium high heat until the water is getting hot (don’t boil), then turn the heat to low and cook for an hour or so. It’s still going to be better than canned.
3. Pour your stock through a collander.
4. Make sure a bowl is under collandar–nothing is more unpleasant than watching your stock go down the drain. (I know this from personal experience.)
5. Let stock cool, pour into 1-quart freezer containers and freeze.

When you want stock for your soup, just pop one of those containers in the microwave for five minutes to loosen, then add the stock when the recipe calls for it. Don’t worry–with the heat and all, it WILL MELT. Very quickly. So quickly that if you’re not careful, you’ll end up with incidents like the Cauliflower Disaster below.

You will make all your friends jealous.

I can cook things besides soup, but not today

Blogging and cooking are hard to do when you have a full-time job. But WHAT is more important in life than cooking and writing?

Here is Tuesday’s meal:

Bacon, Leek, and Potato Soup (this was GREAT)

Cook in stock pot until beginning to brown but not crisp:
8 slices bacon, cut into 1” pieces

Drain some of the fat off the bacon and save for another tasty dish. If I were my grandmother I would keep a jar of it by the stove but since I sit all day instead of hauling hay and building fences, I just put it in the fridge.

Add to bacon and sauté:
3 leeks, mostly white part only, coarsely chopped

Peel 4-6 russet potatoes and cut into 1 – 2” pieces. Add to leeks and bacon.

Add about 1 quart poultry stock (I used pheasant here, but not many people have that lurking in the freezer), potatoes, chopped fresh or crumbled dry sage, salt, pepper, and 2 bay leaves to pot. Cook on medium low to medium heat, covered, until potatoes are tender. Add whole milk or cream until soup is thinned to whatever consistency you prefer. (I’m a broth fan, so I add a cup or so.)

The Cauliflower Chronicles, Part II

The cauliflower soup is improving with age, but I’m beginning to forget the recipe. Before I forget, here it is:

2 onions, chopped, sauted in goose fat or bacon
2 thick slices ham, chopped
3-4 cloves chopped garlic
2 heads cauliflower, stems removed, cut into large flowerets
2 quarts goose or other poultry stock
Whole milk or half and half
Fresh sage, salt, and pepper
Okra, sliced

Saute onions in fat on medium heat. Add garlic. Add cauliflower and stock. Cover and cook until cauliflower is very soft. While cauliflower is cooking, heat up ham in separate skillet. When cauliflower is done, puree in food processor. Add remaining ingredients and cook until okra is cooked but still somewhat firm (or as soft as you like it).

Pics to follow.

The Cauliflower Chronicles, Part 1

Despite the, um, burning, the cauliflower soup turned out well. Probably the goose fat leftover from Christmas helped. Here’s how it went down—we will forget the slight scorching incident ever, ever happened.

Here’s Part I of the Cauliflower Soup Chronicle:

That’s the beginning, outside of the cauliflower: goose fat and Prague ham. There’s a QUART of that goose fat, rendered from the goose I cooked over Christmas, five days before my wedding because I wanted to—what? impress my date with my cooking? give myself a nervous breakdown? Anyway, I discovered why goose is no longer as popular as it once was. It’s fabulously delicious, but it cost $65 to feed four people, with nothing except the fat and a couple of quarts of stock to speak of left over. Of course, that fat is reason enough, I suppose, so I shouldn’t complain. And the meat was great. And it took two days to prepare. And it was like one giant turkey thigh and some roast beef rolled into one. And I’ll probably do it again.

Okay, I gotta work on the mailing list for Fred’s art show in March, so I’ll have to finish this saga tomorrow.

Calabasa!!!

Well, the movie plan was ditched once again, this time because WFW forgot that he had agreed to meet a friend at 9:00 to play trivia at a local pub. So he got his calabasa soup at last.

The soup was both a success and a learning experience. First, the basic recipe, then the gory details.

Calabasa Soup

1 lb. hot Italian sausage (turkey or pork, but beware the turkey–see below)
Olive oil (or could use bacon fat if you’re using turkey) for sauteing
1 large chopped onion
2 cloves minced garlic
1 large calabasa, seeded, basted with olive oil, roasted at 350 for about an hour, then scooped out
Enough chicken or other poultry stock to cover ingredients
Spices (adjust amounts below as needed)
Cumin (1 – 2 tbsp)
Cayenne (1 tsp or more to taste)
Cloves (1/2 tsp)
Salt and pepper to taste
Brown sugar (1 – 2 tbsp, depending on the ripeness of the calabasa)
Red pepper flakes (1 tsp or more to taste)
Cardamon (probably optional–about 1/2 tsp)

Saute onion over medium heat in large stock pot until onion, not stock pot, is translucent. Add garlic. Add sausage and brown. Puree calabasa and chicken stock in food processor or blender. Add to pot. Add spices and cook over medium heat for about 30 minutes. I suspect this would be best served the next day.

That’s what you should do. Now for what I actually did.

The ingredients in all their glory are to the left: the calabasa, prepared two nights ago when poor WFW gave up his movie; the hot Italian turkey sausage, which was neither hot nor really sausage (more on that below); the ubiquitous onion and garlic.

To the right is the turkey sausage beginning to brown. A lot. Note the hamburger/potato smasher to the left, which belonged to my grandmother and which I burned recently by leaving the handle too close to the stove eye.

This is what happens when you try to brown turkey sausage from the Farmer’s Market. Apparently there is NO FAT in turkey sausage. I suspose this is one of those things that should be painfully obvious since turkey sausage is one of those healthy things and because I bought it in an effort to, well, stave off the plumpness that is descending, but STILL.

And to the right is the half-cooked turkey sausage, removed from the pot before it had completely burned and stuck to the bottom. I added the onion and olive oil to the pot and scraped the sausage bits off the bottom to avoid further disaster. There was a moment when I contemplated frying some bacon in the bottom to add more delicious flavor, but it felt like too much trouble. Next time: Pork.

A friend–the first person besides WFW who has been told about this blog–suggested we add a Fred-O-Meter (Fred = WFW) to gauge the effectiveness of a particular cooking effort. It would be based on how many helpings he had. Despite the turkey sausage incident, this was still a 3-bowl success.
The only problem with the Fred-O-Meter is that he likes EVERYTHING I cook. He even liked Sunday’s spice mix, which he said tasted exactly like barbecue potato chip salt.
I felt a surge of triumph. I gave myself a high-five.

Nuttiness

I’m going to start all this with kale, chicken, and wild rice soup. I have been married just over one month and am enjoying a wonderfully creative time in the kitchen. My husband does not cook—unless you count broiling steaks or opening cans of sardines to eat with mustard, crackers, and beer—but he will eat anything except Brussels sprouts and rutabaga. So he’s the perfect guinea pig/victim for these culinary experiments.

I feel I need to precede this with a little bit about myself and what I’m up to. My husband Fred and I are embarking on this marriage adventure a bit late in life—I’m 41 and he’s 46, and neither of us has been married before. One day when Fred sells his paintings for a lot of money I’ll quit my day job and cook all day, but until then I’m hanging on to my medical insurance and retirement account.

But back to the kale. I wanted to start this blog because I wanted to chronicle our first year of married life in food. Nearly every night I cook something new and because I almost never use a recipe, and when I do I always change it, I can’t remember some good things I’ve made lately. So I want a record somewhere, and on the Internet seems safer than inside the demonic innards of this evil Being that pretends to be a computer but was clearly spawned in the pit of Hell.

Anyway, on Thursday I had some chicken thighs and wanted to make a soup because it was chilly here in Atlanta (i.e., below 60). So here’s what I came up with:

–Cook wild rice according to directions, enough to make 2 cups cooked rice
–Sauté 2 medium or 1 large onion in olive oil
–While onion is sautéing, coarsely chop 4 stalks chopped celery. Once onion has sautéed, add celery and sauté a little longer
–Mince 4-5 cloves garlic and chop 6 boneless, skinless chicken thighs into bite-size pieces.
–Once onions and celery are tender, sauté everything until chicken thighs are lightly cooked—white on the outside but not brown
–Add about 1 quart stock (I used turkey stock frozen from Thanksgiving. I am lazy so I thaw it by putting it in the microwave on high for five minutes then dump the semi-frozen result directly into the pot.)
–Add salt, pepper, sage, and bay leaf.
–Cover and simmer until your frozen stock has melted and the chicken is done—10 to 15 minutes.
–In the meantime, remove stems and chop the kale—not too fine, maybe 1-2 inch pieces.
–Add cooked rice and kale. Stir up just so that kale has wilted and you’re done.

I served this with grated Parmesan cheese but it did not melt well into the soup. I would either use a very coarser grater or a very fine one next time, or perhaps try a cheese that melts a little better, or leave it off.

Although the whole thing sounds horribly healthy, it was actually pretty good. The wild rice and kale together had a nice nutty flavor.