The Ease of Making Stock

Since Claire and I have been married, I have taken to making stocks. The first time we had roasted chicken for dinner and I was left with a perfectly good carcass after extracting all the meat from it, I realized that instead of just throwing it away, I could make chicken stock with it. I soon realized that I could also buy beef bones from the Mexican grocery store for cheap, and so was soon making beef stock as well.

Making my own stock is far cheaper than anything in the grocery store. Not to mention the flavor is far superior to any of the canned/boxed stocks. And finally, I know exactly what is in the stock…no preservatives and no ingredients in which a Ph.D is food science is required. The only down side (and I really don’t think it is one) is that it requires a lot of time in order for the flavor to develop, but it is largely unattended time.

Making a chicken stock is slightly different from a beef stock so I will give instructions on both.

For Chicken Stock.

I usually wait until I have two chicken carcasses (I also save the necks as I clean the bird) to use before I make a batch. You can also ask a butcher for chicken bones, and I am sure they will sell them to you for cheap.

For two carcasses, you will need about one onion chopped, one medium carrot chopped, and one stalk of celery chopped. This is referred to as a mirepoix (the traditional ratio in a mirepoix is 50% onion, 25% carrot, 25% celery). Since the stock will be simmering for a long while, you will want large chunks. Also, the mirepoix will be strained, so there is no need to worry about the beauty of your knife skills here.

I put the defrosted bones in a 6 quart stockpot and cover with cold water (for every pound of bones, you will need roughly one quart of water). Bring to a boil over high heat. As the water heats up, you will notice scum rising to the surface, skim it and throw it away. The scum is basically extra fat and coagulated proteins that if left, will cloud the stock.

After the water is boiling, add a chopped mirepoix, along with herbs and spices. For herbs and spices, you can use: thyme, bay leaves, peppercorns, parsley stems, whole cloves, and/or garlic. Remember: the goal is to have a stock that tastes primarily like chicken, plus the stock serves as a base for soup, so chances are you will flavor it later with the herbs you want.

Turn the heat to as low as you can get it and let it simmer away for at least 4 hours. If during the process you notice the water level getting too low, add more water in order to keep the bones submerged.

Strain the stock through a fine mesh strainer. Cool the stock as quickly as possible.

To store the stock: I measure out two cups worth and put it in a quart sized Zip-loc bag. I lay the bag flat on a cookie sheet and freeze. This way I can pull the stock as needed in portions that I need.

For Beef Stock.

I buy beef bones from Cardenas, Mexican grocery store. They are labeled “beef bones for soup,” and cost only 99 cents a pound. I also know that Stater Brothers sells them, if you ask, but they are slightly more expensive.

With beef stock, you begin by roasting the beef bones in a 375°F oven for at least an hour, probably more like 90 minutes depending on how many bones you get, turning as needed to brown on all colors. Make sure the bones are in a single layer in a roasting pan (I currently do not have a roasting pan, so I use a cast iron skillet).

Put the bones in a stockpot and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil over high heat. Drain the fat from the roasting pan, leaving a little in the pan. As the water is coming to a boil, sauté the mirepoix in the roasting pan. Add one tablespoon of tomato paste, or one medium tomato chopped. Deglaze the pan with either a little red wine (you can use water also). When the water is boiling, add the sautéed mirepoix.

Follow the directions for the chicken stock, except allow the beef stock to simmer at least six hours, preferably ten hours. The longer the beef stock is able to simmer, the more gelatin is extracted from the bones, giving the stock a richer mouth feel.

I have grown to love making stocks. The house smells so good all day as the stocks simmer. I get excited about the dishes that will result from the stock. Finally there is something really fascinating and cool about watching over the course of a day basically bones and water and a little heat turn into a stock that is incredibly rich in flavor.

Also should you want more information, any good cookbook (like Joy of Cooking and/or How to Cook Everything) will have instructions on making stock.

I hope you try making your own stocks. Let me know if you have any questions, and I would love to hear how they turn out.

Bon appétit!

Tasting Vellum’s 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon

This past Sunday, I had the privilege of being invited to taste Vellum’s 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon.

This is only Vellum’s second wide release; they released a 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon back around the Spring of 2009. Vellum’s 2007 was well received as evidenced by the fact that they won a silver medal at the 2010 World Wine Awards presented by Decanter Magazine. I have been able to enjoy a few bottles of the 2007, thanks to my dad. I remember first trying the 2007 at Christmas of 2009. We also enjoyed a few bottles this past Fall, and I loved tasting the evolution of the wine as it aged.

Vellum is run by two men: Karl Lehmann, the winemaker, and Jeff Mathy, the proprietor. I went to high school with Jeff Mathy who was two years ahead of me in school. His brother, Kevin, and I were in the same class. Both of our fathers are in Rotary together, and it was my dad who first reconnected me with Jeff.

Vellum’s goal is to create a great Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon in the Old World tradition, meaning they want a wine that is superbly balanced between the fruit, the oak, the tannins, and the land.

The 2008 Cabernet is actually a blend, composed of 77% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Petit Verdot, and 8% Merlot, further contributing to the Old World wine-making style.

Here is how Karl and Jeff describe their 2008:

“The 2008 VELLUM opens up with heady aromas of raw cocoa, warm forest floor and brambly dark fruit. This impact on the nose lingers to a seamless transition in the mouth melding with intense flavors of strong cassis, espresso grounds, graphite and a finish of winter spices. The palate is broad at every point and falls front to back with a signature supple airiness completing in a very long warm finish.”

I am still learning and growing in training my nose and my palate to discern the subtle nuances of the wine, but I can say that the wine did have a very noticeable cocoa aroma. Once in the mouth, the wine did show a great balance of fruit and oak. Finally after every sip, the wine lingered in my mouth yet kept me wanting to go back. The 2008 is more refined than the 2007, which makes sense as Jeff and Karl have a year under their belts.

I enjoyed being at the tasting and hearing both Jeff and Karl talk about the wine, from the pH level in the wine, to the plot of land that they grow their grapes on, to the fact that 2008 was a winemaker’s year. Jeff explained that there are vineyard years and winemaker years. In vineyard years, the vines produce amazing grapes, and it is the job of the winemaker to let those grapes speak for themselves. This was the case in 2007 – Vellum’s inaugural vintage. However, in 2008, it was a winemaker year, meaning it took both Jeff and Karl’s skill to coax the flavors out of the grape. With the 2008 Cabernet, we get to see the talent of Karl and Jeff in making an amazing wine. And if 2008 is any indication of what is to come from Vellum, I think it is safe to say that Karl and Jeff will be major players in the California Cabernet scene in years to come.

If you have a chance, I encourage you to order a bottle. The wine is great for special occasions, and compared to other top California Cabs, Vellum is priced reasonably. They only produced 900 cases, so order a bottle before it is too later.

Thanks Jeff and Karl for another great wine!

Cheers.

Please note: the pictures are taken from Vellum’s blog and are used by permission.

The Simple & Valentine’s Day

Claire and I recently joined a small group at the church (Restoration Covenant Church) we have been attending. We have only met twice, but are excited about sharing in each other’s stories. As a small group we are working our way through A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller (author of Blue Like Jazz).

We discussed the first three chapters on Tuesday, paying special attention to the author’s note. Donald Miller writes:

“If you watched a movie about a guy who wanted a Volvo and worked for years to get it, you wouldn’t cry at the end when he drove off the lot, testing the windshield wipers. You wouldn’t tell your friends you saw a beautiful movie or go home and put a record on to think about the story you’d seen. The truth is, you wouldn’t remember that movie a week later, except you’d feel robbed and want your money back. Nobody cries at the end of a movie about a guy who wants a Volvo.

“But we spend years actually living those stories, and expect our lives to feel meaningful. The truth is, if what we choose to do with our lives won’t make a story meaningful, it won’t make a life meaningful either. Here’s what I mean by that” (p. xiii).

I love a movie/story that elevates me beyond my mundane, and at times boring, life. But here is where I struggle: I want a Gladiator-style life not my current humdrum existence of cooking for 250 fifth graders, which can involve heating up canned marinara. So I look elsewhere. I think about other places I could work. Better places. Places where I could get better training. Places where I could cook for people who actually appreciate food.

I equate boring with bad, and if I am honest, boring is a place where God is not. Therefore, to find God, I must find something more exciting. Instead of looking for and finding God in my present situation, no matter how boring, my attention immediately shifts elsewhere. After all, I want my life to count. Like Donald Miller, “I just hope I have something interesting to say” if He asks me what I have done with my life.

Which brings me to February 14.

The temptation is to do something big. To “wow” Claire with my romantic, sensitive side, from the flowers to gifts to notes, but especially to dinner. If there is a night to pull out all the stops, it’s Valentine’s Day. I did not realize this until Tuesday night at small group, but I was right back to the same struggle on a micro-scale.

Saturday night, Claire and I had done something “big” – we dined out at Farm Artisan Foods in Redlands, CA, spending a lot more money than we are accustomed to.

Therefore, on Monday, dinner was to be kept on the inexpensive side. I went with what I would describe as our favorite simple dinner: roasted chicken and potatoes and fresh sautéed asparagus. The total for the ingredients was probably under eight dollars, but in no way tasted cheap or boring.

For dessert, we had homemade chocolate pudding which I had made on Sunday for a family birthday celebration. The recipe that I used is the recipe from the restaurant I used to work at. The Los Angeles Times published the recipe back in October 2009. It is a wonderful pudding and tastes so much better than instant or store bought. The pudding has a deep chocolate flavor, which is smoothed out by the use of white chocolate. It is simple and very nostalgic.

Despite the simplicity and ordinariness of the meal, the evening was still very special. I did do some things to make the evening different than others, like buying flowers, setting out extra candles, and setting the table with extra care.

So maybe the simple and the ordinary do not have to be boring. Maybe as a way to rise above the boring and mundane, I need to stop more often and prepare myself, like I did on Valentine’s Day to notice the extraordinariness of the moment. This does not come easy or naturally, as my robotic-like habits are hard to break, not to mention safe, much like driving a Volvo. But if I long for a life of meaning, I am beginning to believe that it is finding the Relational God in all moments. If I can slowly train myself to do this, I wonder if I will discover that the mundane is actually fraught with extraordinariness.

Michelle’s Turkey Burgers with Lemon Mayonnaise

For Christmas my parents and Ty Hoad gave Claire and I a gas grill, which has been great as I love to grill, but fooling around with charcoal takes a lot of time. Since Christmas, I have been wanting to make some homemade burgers, which Claire was all for, save for one caveat: “Make them healthy.”

So much for the burger idea, I thought, as the key to a great beef burger is a meat to fat ratio of around 80-20, which will keep the burger moist and flavorful. My dilemma was solved thanks to Food & Wine and a slide show of burger recipes. When I saw Spike Mendelsohn’s turkey burger recipe, I knew that this was my opportunity.

To be honest, I had never thought about using lean ground turkey (a meat to fat ratio of 93:7), as I feared that the patty would be too dry. I figured that this recipe had a few things going for it that might produce a flavorful, moist burger: 1) The recipe comes courtesy of Chef Spike Mendelsohn who is currently on Top Chef All-Stars, and owns his own burger restaurant, Good Stuff Eatery, in Washington, D.C. 2) The recipe was served to the Obamas, in which the First Lady obviously enjoyed it enough for Chef Mendelsohn to name the burger after her. 3) Finally the addition of celery and apples, I thought, probably helped to keep the burger moist.

I asked Claire what she thought of the recipe, wanting to make sure it sounded appetizing to her. As it turns out, she grew up on ground turkey, and thought the recipe sounded intriguing enough. Therefore, last Tuesday, I went ahead and made the burgers, and the finished product could not have been better.

The burger was still really moist and tender. In fact, since the recipe makes four patties, we reheated the patties the next night for dinner, and they were still really moist. The patty was bursting with flavor—citrusy, sweet, spicy, yet the turkey was not over powered in the least.

I made my own homemade lemon mayonnaise to go with the burger. Making homemade mayonnaise is super easy if you have a food processor. Plus it tastes a lot better than the store bought stuff, and is made with ingredients that most people already have on hand.

We topped the burgers with mild cheddar slices, fresh green leaf lettuce, tomatoes, sautéed onions, and the homemade mayonnaise. I also bought some sweet potato fries to bake off in the oven. Were they as good as deep-fried? No, but the idea was to be healthy.

Food & Wine suggested serving a Chianti with the burger, and thankfully, I had a bottle. We enjoyed la MaiaLina Chianti 2008, which I bought from Wine Exchange for only $7.99. The wine was dry and slightly earthy yet still had some nice fruit flavors as well.

After the meal, Claire and I were both satiated, yet did not feel gross, like I sometimes do after eating a burger and fries. This burger is definitely a recipe that will be featured at the Camp’s house again.

Here is the recipe from Food & Wine’s website:

Michelle’s Turkey Burgers with Lemon Mayonnaise

Recipe by Spike Mendelsohn

TOTAL TIME: 45 MIN

SERVINGS: 4 servings

Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1 onion, halved and thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped celery
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped Granny Smith apple
  • 2 scallions, thinly sliced
  • 1 small canned chipotle in adobo, minced
  • 1 1/2 pounds lean ground turkey breast
  • 1 tablespoon minced flat-leaf parsley
  • 2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/3 cup reduced-fat mayonnaise
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon chopped thyme
  • 4 whole-wheat hamburger buns, split and toasted
  • 4 iceberg lettuce leaves
  • 4 tomato slices

Directions

  1. In a nonstick skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of the canola oil. Add the sliced onion and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until golden and softened, about 25 minutes. Transfer the onion to a bowl. Wipe out the skillet.
  2. Heat 1 tablespoon of the canola oil in the skillet. Add the celery, apple and scallions and cook over moderate heat until softened, about 8 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and add the chipotle; let cool. Stir in the turkey, parsley, 1 teaspoon of the lemon zest, 2 teaspoons of salt and 1/4 teaspoon of pepper. Shape the mixture into four 1/2-inch-thick patties.
  3. In the skillet, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon of canola oil. Add the burgers and cook over moderately high heat, turning once, until no longer pink inside, 10 minutes. (You can also grill your burgers, which is what I did.)

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, mix the mayonnaise with the remaining 1 teaspoon of lemon zest, the lemon juice and chopped thyme and season with salt and pepper. Spread the lemon mayonnaise on the top halves of the buns; set the burgers on the bottom halves and top with the caramelized onions, lettuce and tomato. Close the burgers and serve.

Best-Ever Brownies: Cocoa Brownies with Browned Butter and Walnuts

If you are like me, you probably grew up on brownies made from a box. While there is nothing wrong, per se, with brownies from a box, homemade is certainly better. Or maybe this is just my culinary neurosis speaking: too ashamed to serve brownies from a box, plus made from scratch brownies are hardly much more complicated than a mix.

So when the February issue of Bon Appétit arrived, Claire took one look at the cover and emphatically exclaimed, “You NEED to make THOSE.” Those being what Bon Appétit called on the cover, “Best-Ever Brownies. Warning: You Will Eat the Entire Tray.” When I looked at the recipe, I found that we actually already had all the ingredients save the walnuts in our pantry, which saved me from having to break the bank to buy ingredients.

Last Wednesday having the day off from work, I decided to surprise Claire with the brownies for dessert.

Do they live up to the hype? I think so. These are some of the best brownies I have had. The top crisped up nicely. The brownies were fudgy and chewy, but not too fudgy as we could still eat them with our hands. They were rich, which is good as it prevented us from eating the whole tray. The browned butter and walnuts added a nuttiness and earthiness that helped to cut the richness.

Here is the recipe from Bon Appétit, February 2011 (also available on-line here).

Cocoa Brownies with Browned Butter and Walnuts
Makes: 16 brownies
Time: 40 minutes active time (plus a couple of hours too cool)

Ingredients

  • 10 tablespoons (1 ¼ sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 ¼ cups sugar
  • ¾ cup natural unsweetened cocoa powder (spooned into cup to measure, then leveled)
  • ¼ teaspoon (generous) salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 teaspoons water
  • 2 large eggs, chilled
  • 1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon unbleached all purpose flour
  • 1 cup walnut pieces

Note: The recipe requires you to add things quickly; therefore, I strongly recommend having everything measured out before. You can combine the sugar, cocoa powder and salt in one bowl, and have the flour ready to go in another bowl. In the profession, this is called mise en place, which translated means “everything in place.” You will dirty more bowls in the process, but your cooking will be more organized, clean and efficient.

Procedure

  1. Position rack in bottom third of oven; preheat to 325°F. Line 8x8x2-inch metal baking pan with foil, pressing foil firmly against pan sides and leaving 2-inch overhang. Coat foil with nonstick spray.
  2. Melt butter in medium saucepan over medium heat. Continue cooking until butter stops foaming and browned bits form at bottom of pan, stirring often, about 5 minutes. (Personal note: The difference between brown butter and burnt butter can be a matter of seconds, so watch the pot carefully.) Remove from heat; immediately add sugar, cocoa, 2 teaspoons water, vanilla, and ¼ teaspoon (generous) salt. Stir to blend. Let cool 5 minutes (mixture will still be hot).
  3. Add eggs to hot mixture 1 at a time, beating vigorously to blend after each addition. When mixture looks thick and shiny, add flour and stir until blended. Beat vigorously 60 strokes. Stir in nuts. Transfer batter to prepared pan.
  4. Bake brownies until toothpick inserted into center comes out almost clean (with a few moist crumbs attached), about 25 minutes. (Personal note: I pulled mine at 23 minutes. Every oven is different, so start checking around 20 minutes. Nothing is worse than an over-baked brownie.)
  5. Cool in pan on rack. Using foil overhang, lift brownies from pan. Cut into 4 strips. Cut each strip crosswise into 4 brownies.

Do Ahead: Can be made 2 days ahead. Store airtight at room temperature.

Bon appétit!