Casting (Soupy) Spells with Other’s Ingredients

We went out for pho the other day.  As typical, there was about two gallons of soup on the table and when we were done there was about a quart of broth remaining.  (*burp*)  My wife suggested we take the broth and use it as a soup base.

She leveled up with that suggestion.

And the results were…  I heated the remainder of the soup and added 3 carrots and 2 stalks of celery roughly chopped [1].  I then added about 1/4c – 1/3c of barley (which was eye-balled, so impossible to be exact).  After letting that cook for 10 minutes I added 2 boneless chicken breasts which I had quartered lengthwise.  I then let that cook for 15 minutes.

Once the chicken was cooked, I removed it from the pot and shredded it.  I found that using two forks (one to hold, one to pull) is a great way to do this, especially with steaming hot ingredients…

The chicken was returned to the pot, 1 cup of peas were added, and probably a cup of water was added to get a better balance of broth-to-chunks.

The result was fantastic.  Happiness was conjured, resurrected from leftovers.  And with our different spicing preferences, the soup averaged out to a nice flavor neither hot nor weak.

[1] 1/4″ – 1/2″ slices.  I typically cut the carrots in half (i.e. half the length, not lengthwise).  I then cut the smaller part in half lengthwise and chop it.  I then quarter the thicker part lengthwise and then chop it.  That, more or less, gets even chunks.

Advertisements

“Instant Soup”, Marrow and Fatness — Homemade Stock and Broth

[Editor’s note: I do not actually advocate that you make this recipe. After reading The Compassionate Carnivore by Catherine Friend, I basically stopped eating chicken entirely — unless I know that it came directly from a small, local farmer. Chickens are a bit different from other livestock raised for butchering in that in the industrialized, factory style they are routinely “de-beaked” to prevent them from pecking one another; something which isn’t an issue so much with pigs, cows or sheep. Apparently terms such as “free range” or “cage free” have not been regulated sufficiently to require that either eggs or meat sold under these labels come from animals which were not de-beaked. Which means it is basically impossible to get ethically sourced chicken unless you buy it directly from a farmer.

With the hope that someday ethical farming is one day normative as it was just 100 years ago, I include not only this recipe, but instructions on what exactly to buy as if one were shopping in the grocery, not simply buying whole birds from a farmer.

Again, please don’t actually make this unless you are certain you know how that chicken was raised. Alternately, you can adapt this recipe using ox tail and similar bits to make beef stock and broth — just remember the resulting separated fat is not schmaltz and not kosher, if you care.]

1 O God, You are my God;
Early will I seek You;
My soul thirsts for You;
My flesh longs for You
In a dry and thirsty land
Where there is no water.
2 So I have looked for You in the sanctuary,
To see Your power and Your glory.

3 Because Your lovingkindness is better than life,
My lips shall praise You.
4 Thus I will bless You while I live;
I will lift up my hands in Your name.
5 My soul shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness,
And my mouth shall praise You with joyful lips. (Psalm 62 (LXX))

Growing up, I used to hear the word “schmaltz” or “schmaltzy” a lot. Usually in relation to bad acting or an over the top broadway show. But I never knew where the word came from or what it really meant. Back before my wife became a strict vegetarian, I started making my own stock and broth in huge batches and freezing it, and that’s when I found out what schmaltz really is — and why you wouldn’t want your art  to ever be compared to it.

Making sauces, soups, glazes and gravy can be a huge hassle and a huge time sink. At least, this is true if you prefer not to open a can or carton full of shockingly thin, yellow liquid every time you need a shot of umami and thickening power in a dish. [1] Rendering the water out of things can take quite a long time. But every good culinary spell caster should have this trick up their billowing robe sleeves. “Instant soup” — no not that powdered nonsense, and not bouillon, either. Salt licks are for cows. There is one variety of faux beef bouillon I use for making pho at home, but that’s another show post. So why did I bring up schmaltz? Well, the great thing about making your own stock and your own broth is that you get a third fantastic cooking substance which comes along for the ride for free. Schmaltz. You’ve heard about all these trendy places that have started serving potato frites which have been fried in duck fat, I’m sure. Well? There’s a reason for this trend. Cooking with the rendered fat of poultry adds amazing savory to dishes. And should you ever need to serve a kosher meal, this will be essential since you can’t use butter or lard (not just pork lard, the fat of all hoofed animals was forbidden to be eaten).

So let’s make our own stock and broth (and schmaltz). What do we need to do? Well, first you need a caldron. No, your pasta boiler is not big enough. In fact, unless you routinely cook for more than 10 people at a time, you don’t own anything big enough for this task. If you already own a turkey frier, that will work. When I was making this a few times a year, I just went to a restaurant supply wholesaler and bought myself a huge, cheap, aluminium pot. Mine is roughly fourteen inches high, and of about the same diameter. It has a flat bottom, flat sides and a flat lid. It has two stout handles. That’s about it, feature wise. If you are going to commit to making your own stocks and broths routinely, it is worth the investment — and it isn’t all that much. Why do you need such a big vessel? Well, it only is really instant soup if you do this every great once in a while and then pull the results out as needed “in an instant”. If you’re spending every fourth Saturday making small batches, that kind of takes the wind out of the whole thing.

OK, you have your pot. Now you need chicken. In an ideal world, you’re buying whole chickens (with all the internals intact and all the weird bits included) directly from a farmer. If this is the case, then all you need to do is quarter anywhere from two to four birds (depending on size of batch and your pot) and put them into the pot. Then add just enough cold water to cover them. The water has to be cold. If you drop bones into boiling water, the gelatin won’t actually come out into your stock, it will instantly congeal inside the bones and the whole operation will be a huge waste. If your farmer was kind enough to include the “giblets”, don’t save them for gravy, just include them here.

In a less than ideal world, you do this. Go to a reputable butcher, or at least the meat counter in a reputable grocer. Because the world we live in has been distorted by so much black magic, people are utterly obsessed with the white meat of chicken. Why is this the known result of black magic? Because white meat has less flavor and less nutrition than dark meat. The only reason people prefer it, is because skinless, boneless chicken breasts look pretty for the sorts of people who buy into all the “eat first with your eyes” presentation nonsense. I will grant that you can’t just throw food onto a plate with no consideration for appearances. But if you use “plate” as a verb, I will hurl magic missiles at you, and if it takes you longer to arrange the food than it did to cook it, I will laugh at you. Why does this business about white meat matter? Well, aside from being the cause of the truly heinous industrialized chicken factory, it also means that, believe it or not, whole chickens are more expensive than packs of dark meat parts. Well, some dark meat parts. Legs are still pricy because people like to fry them. Wings, for reasons I will never understand, are pricy because people like them, for reasons I will never understand, slathered in hot sauce (if ever there was a mode of cuisine that ought to be vegetarian, since you can’t taste the meat at all, it is the Buffalo wing). But chicken thighs are almost completely ignored by the American diner and you can get enormous “family packs” of them for extremely reasonable prices. If your world isn’t quite so black, you can also ask the butcher if they still have the chicken backs, which nobody ever seems to want [2], and mention that you’d also be willing to buy keels, necks and giblets if they are at odds for what to do with them. If you can become known to your butcher as the sort who is not only willing to buy the odd bits, but is interested in the odd bits, you may find yourself in a budding friendship which has fantastic consequences for your wallet and your kitchen. Because Americans insist on eating only pretty, lean meat (that comma is important), butchers find themselves with a lot of stuff they don’t have much use for — even products like scapple have been fading from the marketplace, making these things even harder to get rid of. Stock and broth makers can step in and reap the benefits and help prevent waste. Again, once acquired, put your bits into your big pot and cover with cold water.

Apply heat and bring the whole thing up to a gently rolling boil. This may take a while. You’ve got a lot of cold mass, here. Be patient. Once you have your simmer, begin checking fairly often for when the meat will easily come off the bones and tendons. If you want to make stock and broth separately, at this point you need to take the meaty pieces out, remove the meat, and then return the bone and tendon to the pot. If you’re just making a flavorful stock, you can skip this step. [3] For the stock, you want to continue this gentle boil until you find that the bones break far more easily than the size of the bone would suggest and the tendons no longer actually hold anything together. This means you have rendered all the gelatin from these parts and there is nothing left to do. You will need to remove all the bits, somehow. If you have a second large vessel, and a big screen strainer, this is easily done. If not, this is going to be tedious — good luck. Actually, I would have a plan for this before you get started.

Lastly, you now need to get this to cool down as quickly as you can. This is mostly for safety reasons. You just created a low acid, nutrient rich liquid environment that is nice and warm — just the kind of thing that bacteria love. If you can get your vessel of liquid into a big cooler surrounded by ice packs or ice, that might be ideal. Once the liquid is cooled, you should notice two things immediately. The first is a thick layer of schmaltz floating on the top. This can be scraped off and saved. The second is that the liquid shouldn’t be a liquid anymore. In a cool state, this stock should have so much gelatin in it that it starts to actually set up like a dessert. If this is not so, and you don’t have any noticeable thickening at all, something went wrong and you should go get more chicken bones and try again (with the same liquid). If you have some thickening, but not much, you can just very gently drive out some of the water by re-heating for a long time and then re-cooling. Once the schmaltz is skimmed off, transfer the stock into as many small containers as you can spare. Small is better because you’re going to need to freeze most of this, and it can’t be instant soup if you have to defrost a huge block just to get a cup or two you can use. In fact, if you have room for lots and lots of ice cube trays, that’s a really sweet hack to employ at this stage.

So what do you do with stock? Remember that stock is not broth, and broth is not soup. If you separated the meat and other bits as described above, your stock will have very little flavor of its own. It exists to thicken. It can not only be used to make soup, by being combined with a flavorful broth, but it can also be used to speed up gravy making, or to improve the mouth feel and texture of sauces and glazes. But, if you have small, frozen blocks of stock and small frozen blocks of broth in your freezer, you can make “instant soup” the likes of which no one has ever tasted before by simply heating the two together in a pan.

[1] Yes I often post recipes calling for cartons of vegetable broth or tomato soup. For whatever reason, commercially available chicken broth is absolutely awful, while other kinds of basic soups are very good. So this derision is for chicken broth specifically.

[2] Sign of how rapidly industrialized meat took over. When I was a kid, just 25 years ago or so, packages of chicken backs were right out in the case next to everything else. We used to buy them to use as bait when we went crabbing in the tidal flats of coastal New Jersey.

[3] For the broth, in a smaller pot sweat coarsely chopped carrots, celery, white onion and any other savories you enjoy. Once soft, add your chicken meat and enough water to cover — hot water is fine in this case. Bring to a simmer and let it sit more or less until you’re too bored to tolerate it anymore. Add salt and any seasonings. Chicken broth is so popular because it is such a blank canvas. You can keep your base very simple with just salt and pepper or pre-prepare a deeply complex flavor profile. At some point, start putting the stick blender to the whole thing and when the result is smooth, take it off the heat, cool it and store it.

Paella — but you can call me Goulash

When I was a kid, a family friend once entered the room with a bowl of some sort of food.  When I asked what it was he gave me a sinister look and declared “Goulash…”.  I’ve since looked up goulash, but whenever I see a mixture of stuff that is tomato-rich, I think of him.

I think this (http://www.simpleveganrecipes.co.uk/index.html?recipe=recipes/vegan-paella-recipe.html) was one of the first vegan recipes I made from this book.  It is good enough to repeat and I think the presence of the cashews makes a nice crunch and adds a good flavor.  This was the amusing recipe I was thinking of that lists spices in the directions that aren’t in the ingredients list and the ingredients were very out of order.  I have fixed that below.

  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1/2t chili powder
  • 12 oz. (300g) brown rice (1 cup)
  • 3 cups (800ml) of vegetable stock
  • 6 fl.oz. (150ml) dry white wine (or substitute with 1 tbsp vinegar)
  • 1 can (454g) chopped tomatoes
  • 1/2t tarragon
  • 1t basil
  • 1t oregano
  • 1T tomato puree
  • 1 red and 1 green pepper, roughly chopped
  • 3 sticks celery
  • 8 oz. (200g) mushrooms, sliced
  • 2 oz. (50g) mange tout [1] topped and tailed
  • 4 oz. (100g) frozen peas
  • 2 oz. (50g) broken cashew nuts (about 1/2 cup)

In a large, heavy saucepan saute the onion in 4T olive oil.  Add chili powder and the rice and cook for 4-5 minutes.  Add vegetable stock, wine, tomatoes, tarragon, basil, oregano, tomato puree, . Simmer for 10-15 minutes. Add peppers, celery, mushrooms, mange tout and cook for another 30 minutes until the rice is cooked. Add peas, cashew nuts, salt and pepper. Heat through until peas are ready and serve.

[1] The other fun I had was “mange tout”.  Being silly I wondered “what’s a mangy toot?”  It’s unripened pea pods for the not French among us.

Non-Loaf Vegan Nut Roast

While I based this recipe very heavily on this (http://www.simpleveganrecipes.co.uk/index.html?recipe=recipes/vegan-nutroast-recipe.html), I am going to write it according to the minor changes I made.  The printed version is a little funnier because it reads “bread made into crumbs” while the online recipe reads simply “breadcrumbs”.  Since I make a fair amount of bread, I used actual crumbed bread.  I think the various chunks of bread provided a more interesting texture than if I had used packaged breadcrumbs.  Of course, with the latter it is also difficult to tell if they are truly vegan.

  • 1t olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped small (but not diced)
  • 1 grated carrot (I shredded it with a peeler)
  • 1 green pepper, chopped
  • 1 stick of celery, chopped
  • 2oz. sliced mushrooms, chopped — about 1/4 cup
  • 8 oz. chopped mixed nuts — about 1 cup
  • 1 oz. (25g) wheat flour — about 4t (I’ll confirm later and update)
  • 5 fl. oz. (125ml) vegetable stock
  • 2oz. (50g) breadcrumbs — about 1/4c
  • 1T Mixed herbs — I used rosemary, sage, and basil at 1t each
  • 1/2t salt (or to taste)
  • 1/4t pepper (or to taste)

Preheat oven to Gas Mark 5 / 190 °C / 375 °F.

Heat the oil in a pan and saute the onion until translucent (5-10 minutes). Add pepper, celery and mushrooms and saute for 2 minutes — only trying to bring them up to temperature. Add the grated carrot and saute for one more minute. Remove from the heat, add the flour and stir. Add vegetable stock, nuts, breadcrumbs, mixed herbs and a little salt and pepper, and mix well. Grease the inside of a loaf tin. Put the mixture into the tin, pressing it down with a spoon. Bake for 40 minutes.

As with so many adventures, my very first step (bite, in this case) resulted in a “this isn’t what I bargained for”.  For some reason, I was expecting something more like a “meat loaf” from this, but it was nothing like it.  This was a “roasted nut casserole”.  I think the next time I will subject the nuts and mushrooms to a joy ride in the Machine of Whirling Blades to get a more granular texture out of them.  Perhaps that would help it be more “loafy” in texture.  An Ooze of Vegetable Broth (aka a gravy) might help as well.

Endlessly Absorbing Grain (+3 against curries)

This past Wednesday I needed to prepare a dish to take to a pot luck dinner which was occurring after Lenten Vespers. The parish I attend is overwhelmingly dominated by Palestinian, Lebanese and Syrian families. I neither know how to cook the food of The Levant nor would I want to go toe-to-toe with some of the mothers and grandmothers who can. So, for these kinds of events, I turn to the vegetarian fare of “The Sub-continent” aka India. At least as a starting point. Almost nothing I cook could ever really be seen as an attempt to produce an “authentic” ethnic dish.

So, the plan for this past Wednesday was roasted vegetables, legumes and barley in a coconut milk curry. Pause to store provisions, memorize spells and tune your weaponry, this is going to be long.

1 cup hulled barley
1/2 cup yellow dal
1/2 cup green lentils

Combine with five cups of water in a Dutch oven, bring to a boil, cover and put into a 375 degree oven for an hour.

1 can heavy coconut milk
1 cup tomato soup (I like the tomato and roasted red pepper in a carton stuff, myself)

Place this in a small sauce pan over low heat.

Work in these spices. I grind them all in a coffee grinder to a fine powder both to “wake up” and reduce textural impact.

red pepper flake
smoked paprika
garam masala
muchi curry
turmeric
coriander
cardamom
cumin
garlic powder (not salt)

I use a fairly balanced amount of each, and not much of any. If you want to get precise, I’d start with 1/8 teaspoon of all, if that seems under seasoned after 15 minutes of simmering, go up to 1/4 teaspoon of each.

What follows had been prepared previously

roughly chop a balanced amount of each of these items:

yellow sweet onion
red onion
several garlic cloves
zucchini
baby carrots (can be left whole, or roughly chop big carrots)
celery
fresno peppers
orange or yellow bell pepper [1]
brussel sprouts (whole or halved if fairly large examples)

Combine with a small amount of oil and salt into Dutch oven 425 degree heat, uncovered, for at least an hour. You’ve got a lot of water to drive out, here. Stir every 10 or 15 minutes so that neither to top nor the bottom get burnt. Basically continue this until you worry they’ll get absolutely mushy. You’re doing dry cooking, so you aren’t losing any nutrients anywhere, just driving out water which is tasteless and has no nutrition.

This kind of vegetable combining and roasting is one of my “staple” techniques. I make fairly large batches of this and then re-use it in many ways. Most of the previous batch got rendered down into sauce by pureeing it and adding stewed tomatoes and basil.  I deliberately leave it without seasoning or spice to keep it as versatile as possible.
~~~
Returning to real time…

Fold some of this vegetable mixture into the red curry such that it is neither sparse nor overwhelming. combine this with the lentil and barley mixture.

Ideally, served with naan or some other similar flat bread and eaten with the hands, but as it has grain in it, you can just dive in with a spoon.

What you are supposed to end up with is a kind of thick stew of red sauce in which you find vegetables, grain and legumes. But I needed to make this in the early afternoon, and services were at 6:30. So when I was done, I put this into the serving dish I was going to use, and put it back into the oven at 200 degrees. I should have put it in covered. I was worried it would get watery if I did. What ended up happening is that the barley sucked all the water out of the coconut milk and the soup and so what I served, instead of being a very loose, saucy kind of stew, was a thick, sticky, almost spreadable kind of situation. And most of the color cooked out of it, too, so it was all brown.

It was still tasty, just not what I set out to serve. The good news, I guess, is that it was easy to spread into a piece of pita bread and eat.

[1] Colors equate to specific sweetness levels. Green are bitter. Red aren’t as sweet as orange or yellow.