Saturday, May 31, 2008

Stock vs. Broth

Students are always asking what the difference is between chicken stock and chicken broth. "If I can't find broth and only have stock, is it okay to substitute?" The short answer to that question is a simple 'yes'. However, there is a difference if you are talking about home made or restaurant quality stock and broth.


Both stock and broth start with the same basic foundation: water, onions, celery, carrots, black peppercorns and a bouquet garni (a fancy French term for parsley, thyme, and a bay leaf). Broth is then enriched with the meat of a chicken-usually a whole chicken. The mixture is simmered and strained (and the chicken is great to use for something else-enchiladas, salad, etc.). It should be light with a clean and clear flavor.


Stock starts with the same ingredients but rather than simmering it with the meat of the chicken, stock is made with bone and lots of them. Sometimes a chef will roast the bones and vegetables in the oven first then add them to the stock pot with water, creating a much deeper flavor. The bones have a lot of natural gelatin in them so they give stock a richer 'mouth feel' and more body. Restaurants will usually but up a huge pot of stock every morning and this is what makes the food you eat, when you are out, taste so amazing.


It's really simple to make your own stock. It takes time but no real work. When it is done, you can cool it down and store it in small, airtight containers in your freezer and then have it on hand when ever you're making soup, sauces, risotto, pasta, etc..


That said, I know most people will tell me they just don't have time to make their own stock (although, trust me, when you're home one day working on a thousand other things, your stock could be simmering away on the stove). Luckily there are some decent alternatives. First, go to a market or butcher where they make stock in-house. Here in San Francisco that could be Whole Foods, Bryan's or Antonelli's. If you don't have access to store made stock, the supermarket brands vary widely. I prefer the Swanson's Natural Goodness broth, organic if you can get it. It is low in sodium which is ultra-important for stock. You should always use salt free or low salt stock when you're cooking so that you can be in control of the salt in your food. If you add salty stock to a soup and simmer it on the stove for an hour, trust me-it'll taste like a salt bomb by the time it is done cooking.


Here is the recipe I give out at school. Again, if you want a deeper, richer stock roast the bones and veggies in a 400 degree oven until they are really well caramelized-1 hour+. Add them to the stock pot and proceed with the recipe. Any decent butcher will sell you chicken bones, even if they don't have them in the case. Also, with any stock, you should refrigerate it in an airtight container but no longer than 5 days-after this be sure to put it in the freezer.


Homemade Chicken Stock
5 pounds chicken bones (necks, backs or carcasses)
one 5 pound stewing chicken
3 onions, peeled and coarsely chopped
3 carrots, peeled and cut into 1 inch pieces
2 stalks of celery, cut into 1 inch pieces
bouquet garni (1 sprig parsley, 1 sprig thyme and 1 bay leaf)

Rinse the bones and chicken and remove any excess fat. Place in a large stock pot with enough cold water to just cover the bones. Bring to a simmer and skim off all gray 'scum' which will rise to the top while cooking. Once stock has come up the simmer, add vegetables and bouquet garni and stir to combine. Simmer for 3-4 hours, skimming the top as necessary. Do not let stock come to the boil.

Strain the stock through a colander into a large container. Cool completely in an ice bath. Refrigerate, covered, for up to 5 days or freeze in 1 cup portions.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Healthy Snacks-are they worth it?

So I picked up three boys from school today to take them to baseball practice (a.k.a.-time to dig in the dirt, push my friend, and stare at the sky). Being the good 'culinary mom' that I am, I packed some healthy snacks-blueberries and hard boiled eggs. Perfect for boys dragging on a Friday-a little protein to bring them back to life, right? Well, they were thrilled and excited-"YUM" they exclaimed. I handed them each one plus a paper bag for the shells. They diligently (I thought) peeled their eggs, ate them all, then shoveled in the blueberries. We arrived at practice and when they got out of the car to change into their baseball gear, I looked at my back seat. It was not the first time I over-estimated a bunch of six year olds but, crushed up egg yolk, egg shell and blueberries in the back seat of a Volvo is not a pretty sight. What was I thinking???

I try not to buy those convenient '100 calorie' packs (do you recognize the ingredients in those things?) but, today, I would have traded that back seat for a bucket-o-junky, and tidy, snacks in a heartbeat

When you have to do it, what do you feed your kids in the car??


Kosher Salt-Pinched, not Shaken

One of the first things I teach my students is to make friends with kosher salt and to salt their food as they are cooking. Salt is such a critical ingredient for a good cook-it is really what separates okay food from mouth watering food.

I use kosher salt as my cooking salt across the board. I keep a salt cellar on my counter (you can use any small cup, ramekin, dish, old boot...ha ha!) and it's always within arms reach of my stove top or work surface. Kosher salt should never live in a salt shaker-it should be 'pinched' into your dishes, not shaken. It is pure salt with nothing added to it-no iodine and no additives to make it flow freely from a salt shaker. If you taste it side by side with table salt (you know, the kind with the little girl and the umbrella?) you will notice a dramatic difference. One thing you have to remember when using kosher salt-it is HALF as salty as table salt. The flakes are bigger (making it easier to pinch) so, by volume you are getting half as much kosher salt when you measure it. This means when you use a 'pinch of salt' you need to be generous. I would say my 'pinch' is about 1/4 tsp.

Salting your food while you cook it as opposed to after you cook it is something one learns in culinary school and it is when I had one of those 'ah ha' moments. I tasted soup I'd made with out salt, thinking I'd salt it afterwards like my mom always did (sorry mom!). It was fine-kind of flat but okay. The next time I did it I salted it as I cooked-while sweating the vegetables, after adding the broth, and again at the end. WOW! The difference was amazing-I could actually taste all the ingredients distinctly as opposed to just 'soup'. Salt brings out the natural flavors of an ingredient, be it sweet or savory, so leaving it out really doesn't do justice to the things you are adding to your recipes.

You will make better food if you use kosher salt and salt as you cook...it's just that simple.

Sea Salt, Fluer de Sel, Pink Salt, Smoked Salt ,Truffle Salt....stay tuned! I will add another post on the 'fancy' salts soon...



Phyllo Dough-Don't Be Afraid

I was raised with a grandmother ("Noni") who could tame a box of phyllo dough with her eyes closed. Back in the day she even made the dough from scratch, an art seen in very few places anymore. The dough is made from flour and water, no fat, and stretched incredibly thin so when it is used in dishes such as baklava and spanikopita, it is layered with butter to create flakes that crackle deliciously on your teeth when you bite into it.

Many people cringe at the thought of using the dough. It is a bit touchy and it can tear and break but, what most people don't know is that it is incredibly forgiving. A tear or hole in a piece of dough can easily be remedied, especially when the dough is often folded over on itself several times. When taken out of the package, it should be left unrolled and covered (I use a sheet of plastic wrap and a damp towel) so it doesn't dry out while you are using it. Pull out only the sheets you are using, leaving the rest covered, as you make your recipe.

I told my bookclub I'd bring an appetizer tonight and since our host, Kathy, is making paella I thought I'd fill my phyllo do with something spicy. I made up the recipe below. It's quick, fantastic and has a serious kick. I hope you too 'get your phyllo on' and make up a batch.


Spicy Shrimp Phyllo Triangles
5 tbs butter, divided
1/4 cup minced onion
coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
2 jalapenos (1 red and 1 green, if you can find them), stemmed, seeded and minced
2 tbs tomato paste mixed with 2 tbs water
1 tbs flour
1/4 cup heavy cream
2 tbs water
1/4 cup sour cream
1 tsp chili sauce (I like Sriracha), optional
3 tbs minced cilantro
1 pound bay shrimp (use part crab meat and part shrimp, if desired)
4 tbs olive oil
1 box frozen phyllo dough, left out to thaw at room temperature

Heat 1 tbs of the butter in a medium saute pan over medium heat. Add the onion with a pinch of salt and cook, stirring, until soft and translucent. Add the jalapenos and cook, stirring, until peppers start to soften, 1-2 minutes more. Add the tomato paste/water mixture and stir well to combine. Sprinkle with flour and cook, stirring, 1-2 minutes, until flour is no longer visible. Add the cream and water and, using a whisk, combine the mixture until smooth. Stir in the sour cream, chili sauce and cilantro and season to taste with additional salt and pepper. Remove mixture from heat and cool. Stir in shrimp and let mixture cool completely.

Melt remaining butter, add the olive oil and remove from the heat. Remove the phyllo dough from the package, unroll it flat, cover with plastic wrap and top with a lightly damp towel. Remove two sheets of the dough, leaving the rest covered, and set them horizontally on your work surface. Brush the first sheet with the butter/oil and top it with the other sheet, brushing it as well. Using a sharp knife, cut the sheets, from top to bottom, into 6 strips. Place a spoonful of the shrimp mixture on the bottom of each strip and then fold the strips like a flag, forming a triangle, to encase the filling. Brush the outsides of each triangle with the butter/oil and place on a baking sheet. Repeat with additional dough until the filling is gone. At this point the triangles can be covered and refrigerated up to one day, or frozen up to one month (freeze them on the baking sheet then, when frozen solid transfer them to a zip top bag-bake 5-7 extra minutes but don't worry about defrosting).

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place the baking sheet in the center of the oven and bake until golden brown, 10-12 minutes. Transfer to a serving platter, let cool a couple minutes so you don't burn your taste buds off, and enjoy. Mmm...that's good!

Makes 36 Triangles

It's Not That Easy Being Green...

...but it IS worth it! Ever since I read Michael Pollan's Omnivore's Dilemma I have been more aware of what I put in my body and what I feed my family. It is the book I recommend more than any other-if you have not read it, click the link, buy it in paperback, and get through it this summer. You won't regret it for a minute.

My friend, Christine Gardner, has started a web site called More Green Moms and it is something else you should not miss. Less than a year ago Christine took it upon herself to begin researching all things green, with the goal being to 'green' her own household. The project took on a life of its own and now we can all benefit from it. For the good of your own health, your family's health and our earth, take the time to read Christine's site and take the steps you need to green your our household.

Start small-getting rid of all those plastic water bottles-and do it in steps. I am in no way there yet myself but I've been totally enlightened by Christine's information, the links on her site (check out the cosmetic's database), and the thorough speech I heard her give at our school (you can download it here ).

Next time you are grocery shopping, think hard about what you are adding to your cart. Did those peaches fly thousands of miles from another hemisphere to get to you? Is that container recyclable? Did that cow eat grass, as nature intended, or was it 'trained' to get used to corn instead? Do the best you can-changing everything at once is difficult, expensive and can be frustrating. Educate yourself, take small steps, and pay it forward. Share what you learn with a few friends and maybe one day we will all reach Christine's goal of "leaving a softer collective footprint on our planet".

Welcome!

Mmm...that's good! The phrase every cook hopes to hear after making a dish. It makes it all worth it-someone takes a bite, maybe it's even you, there is a short pause and then you hear it, "mmm...that's good!'.

This blog is my way of sharing with you all things good: recipes, restaurants, cooking classes, web sites, and lots of tips and tricks. I've been teaching cooking for nine years and am thrilled to have a way to keep in touch with my students after they're gone.

I am also a busy mom. You know the type-carpools, lunch boxes, playdates and committee meetings. I live in a big city and do all I can to keep from becoming the typical 'soccer mom' but, I do drive a Volvo wagon so, make of it what you wish. I will update this site as often as I can. Most of my posts will come from my daily experiences as a mom and cooking teacher but, I also want to answer your questions so shoot 'em at me!

I am constantly a resource for my friends, those with and without kids, answering the questions 'what should I make for dinner', 'where should I go for dinner', or 'what should I make to bring to this dinner party'. My hope is this blog helps answer some of those questions too.

Welcome to "Mmm...that's good!" and happy cooking....Jodi
 
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