The Best Homemade Stock You’ll Ever Make

Trust me. Making stock is not only effortless, it is far more delicious and nutritious than anything you can possibly buy. In less than 5 minutes you can have a stock underway, one that will pull more than its weight beyond a mere soup base. A well-made stock is the key to tasty sauces and gravies. It can be both the foundation and byproduct of cooking beans and whole grains, a secret ingredient used by upscale restaurants, and always found in my Thanksgiving stuffing. For centuries, the nutrient-dense elixir has pulled families through famine and restored thousands from illness.  Today, stock is on the short list of recommended foods for cancer patients for its retention of minerals and vitamins otherwise lost to other cooking methods.

For Step-by-Step instructions on making homemade stock from http://www.sharemykitchen.com see link below

What is stock, again? Stock is made using water to extract flavor and nutrients from bones and vegetables, which are strained from the finished product. The emphasis here is bones, which impart protein and natural gelatin, adding minerals, deep flavor, color and body to the liquid. Use bones from poultry, pork, beef, seafood, and crustacean shells, ideally raised organically to avoid antibiotics (choose sustainable wild caught seafood from cold waters).  Broth, often confused with stock, is more about using some source of meat, poultry, etc. with or without bones, along with vegetables, some or all of which may then be strained and used for other purposes.

How do I make it? Toss cut vegetables with their peelings & trimmings, herbs, leafy greens – even lettuce – into an oven-proof pot. Use up waning produce and roasted vegetable leftovers for more flavor and nutrients. Add your choice of bones and fill the pot with 4 – 6 cups of water or up to 1” over the top of the ingredients.  Put your uncovered pot in the oven preheated at 180 – 200 degrees, for 2 – 3 hours (if using chicken or fish bones), and 8 hours if using beef bones.  Denser bones need longer time and vegetables only need an hour or two when used alone. So, if using beef bones add your vegetables within the last 2 hours for best results.

There are no strict rules, so use what you have on hand. Traditionally onions and carrots are used for sweetness; tomatoes (paste, puree) for color; garlic for sweetness and flavor; peppercorns for spiciness; bay leaf and celery for savory depth. You can still make a delicious and healthful stock with only onions and their papery skins, trimmed roots and chicken pieces with bones and without effort.

Cool, strain, and chill the finished stock.  You can remove any congealed fat for long term storage or leave it on for short term use as a protective cover in the fridge. Store stock in small airtight containers in the freezer, or reduce the volume further through evaporation on the stove top and make concentrated ice cubes. Chef Michael Ruhlman recommends to NOT add salt to the stock, and not heat over simmer or the results may become cloudy (hence the low temperature oven). Agitating the ingredients will break apart the vegetables and you’ll lose the stock that these fragments have absorbed when you strain them out.

Why do I want to make it? You’ve paid for the meat and produce so why not use it all? Rather than add this unutilized bounty to landfills, take a tip from upscale restaurants that routinely make stock each day to draw from for their amazing sauces. It is also an economical use of valuable full-flavored scraps, the likes of which cannot be purchased in commercial flavor bases. Plus, the best commercial bouillon or flavor bases don’t contain the gelatin or minerals from bones which contributes nutrients and rich flavor. And count on lots of sodium from commercial products, something we don’t want in our food.

Give me more reasons. Food scraps can be packed with nutrients as well as a surprising amount of flavor.  See this link for useful tips. Your food waste add up: A family of four loses an estimated $1,600 per year on wasted food, almost 20 pounds per person per month in the United States. More surprising findings:  “Getting food to our tables eats up 10 percent of the total U.S. energy budget, uses 50 percent of U.S. land, and swallows 80 percent of freshwater consumed in the United States. Yet, 40 percent of food in the United States today goes uneaten.” If nothing else, consider the money spent on supplements meant to replace the nutrients thrown away each meal.

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For those who prefer step by step instructions, here’s an alternative method on the stove top. Take advantage of seasonal produce for higher nutritional content (choose organic produce as much as possible to limit pesticide exposure). Fall offers choices of late summer and early winter produce with high antioxidant content including cabbage, root vegetables, broccoli, dark leafy greens, squashes, onions, and garlic – all of which are beneficial for disease avoidance.

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Edible Sunscreen

Rainbow Foods Spiral Photo from the Internet, copyright not found

I have to admit I wonder about some odd things. This week CNN reported that July 2012 is officially the hottest month recorded in over 100 years. This got me thinking: how is it that plants can stay out in the blazing sun day after day without burning to a crisp? It’s not like they can pull up roots and run for shade. Plants need protection from the sun just like we do. They survive thanks to color pigments, which along with nutrients from the soil enable them to withstand their harsh environment.

You’ve heard these terms before: beta carotene, chlorophyll, and lycopene, members of an extensive  group of plant compounds known as antioxidants. We hear and see these terms so much that we are becoming numb to them.  The take home message about antioxidants is they are among the plant’s weapons of survival. When we eat plants these benefits are conveyed to us which, along with other nutrients from our food, strengthens our ability to fight disease in our own challenging environment.

Experts advise us to eat ‘from the rainbow’ each day.  Pick a day to sample from the yellow colored fruit and vegetable group, and another day from the blue group – each has their own contributions. The orange group lends protection to the skin, such as peaches, carrots, cantaloupe, butternut squash, pumpkin, sweet potato and mango. We know this because if you eat too much beta carotene (from the orange group) your skin may actually turn orange. Red fruits and vegetables help protect from sunburn, including watermelon, tomatoes, and red peppers.

The Archives of Dermatology Research reports that by eating more cocoa, onions, apples, and grape seed (through grapes & grapeseed oil), as well as drinking more tea, you can reduce your risk of skin cancer. These foods contain polyphenols – another group in the antioxidant arsenal that may even reverse skin tumor growth.

If you enjoy lessons from nature a must read is “Wild Health” by biologist Cindy Engel, Ph.D. from the University of East Anglia. She and colleagues studied animals and plants in the wild to determine how they heal themselves. Some animals self medicate, others know which plants will heal wounds. And who would believe that trees, such as those favored by the giraffe, can sense an animal coming and produce a bitter tasting chemical in their leaves to discourage the predator from lingering? Meanwhile these trees are also releasing scents that are carried on the wind to warn others of their species that danger is near.  I distinctively remember my socks being blown off while reading this book. There is much to respect about plants. In many ways our survival depends on them.

All Over BRUNCH!

A delightful chance meeting with Chef Gail Gand, left, at the launch of “Chef’s Move to Schools”, Washington, DC June 2009. Joy Rupe, right.

Chef Gail Gand is a lovely and gracious person. You may know of her as a James Beard Award-winning pastry chef, Food Network star, restaurant owner or cookbook author. Her book, BRUNCH! was just released in 2009 when I happened across it while planning a Mother’s Day event that year. I couldn’t have imagined that I would ever meet Gail but in fact I did – at the launch of Chef’s Move to Schools initiative in June at the Whitehouse.

One thing that Gail and I share is a love of brunch. Hardly any other meal can swing with such finesse from sweet to savory and elevate the humble egg to such heights. A much loved institution, brunch is most notably egg-centric. Classic menus include eggs in various forms from quiche, omelets, frittatas and strata, poached eggs, eggs Benedict, and stuffed eggs to infinity and beyond. Accompaniments include seasonal fruit, smoked salmon and steak, ham, bacon and sausage, all forms of toast, muffins, crepes, scones, waffles, and pancakes. Brunch is a wonderful way to entertain on a weekend and can be as casual or elaborate as you wish. As a late morning meal, one of its finer qualities is ample time for preparation.

In BRUNCH! Gail takes traditional breakfast staples and makes simple enhancements that don’t require additional time or add complexity.  Immediately you see that she is a teacher as her instructions are clear and to the point. She includes simple techniques that are easy to master – a trait that all of my favorite chefs share.

Brunch is not complete without a specialty drink to set expectations. Iced Coffee with Cinnamon-Coffee Ice Cubes and Tangerine Pink Grapefruit with Mint are two of my favorites from BRUNCH!  I made Gail’s Torta Rustica (below), a multi-layered, pastry covered dish that includes mushrooms in garlic butter, sautéed creamed spinach, roasted red peppers, scrambled eggs, ham, and mozzarella. Click on the photo to see the layers. It was a delicious meal made complete with a side of fresh fruit and a glass of champagne.

Chef Gail Gand’s recipe for Torta Rustica from her book BRUNCH!

I often rely on a crustless quiche for my week day breakfasts. It takes about an hour and a half on Sunday to prepare then I just reheat a slice during the week for a delicious, protein-packed meal.  Without the traditional crust I’m free to choose from various whole grain breads with more fiber and higher quality nutrients than usually found in a pastry crust.

If you would like to learn how to make pastry crust, scones, turnovers, and doughnuts, Gail’s BRUNCH! book is a great primer.  Visit her website for information about her other books.  Also, I’ve posted decorating ideas for a brunch buffet on the Photos tab.  Need a brunch recipe? Just post a request.

More Cheese, please….

I have to confess, I’m a big cheese fan and the holidays are coming. Yes, the two are connected – what other time of year can you count on for cheese in some form or another everywhere you go? You’ll see it in cubes and on crackers, diced and in slices, in dips, with chips on display for the snackers.  Plan on cheese in parfaits, in breakfast and spreads, in salads, in sandwiches and gift baskets ahead.

My friends are rolling their eyes about now since it is July and I’m already thinking about the holidays. But they know I’ve got a planning gene, and in my way of thinking the best way to ensure maximum cheese exposure is to start planning now.

I will surely be making a Baked Goat Cheese Dip, a proven winner on the holiday table. Just three ingredients – four if you include some sort of garnish – are all it takes and you’re on your way to stardom. Start with 2 – 8 oz. logs of soft goat cheese in a baking dish that you can serve in. Crumble one log and pour half of a 24 oz. jar of a good marinara sauce over cheese. Crumble remaining log and add more marinara to taste (I usually use about 16 – 18 oz of sauce).  Bake at 350 degrees until brown and bubbly, about 20 – 25 minutes.  Serve with thin slices of crusty bread or garlic toast.  Something green, like torn fresh basil or parsley makes a nice garnish.

I also plan on sliced soft Goat Cheese on Crostini (aka garlic toast) topped with fig jam and a salty ham like prosciutto, finished with a drizzle of honey.  Then there is ricotta cheese with so many uses – it makes a nice spread with a little honey, a touch of vanilla and pinch of salt mixed in (some add grated lemon zest). I serve this with fresh berries, or on breakfast waffles along with some chopped pecans, fresh orange slices and a sprinkle of cinnamon for a tasty and pretty presentation.  Soft goat cheese mixed in equal parts with cream cheese is a good base for mini sandwich spreads that are easily changed up by layering with various jams and jellies, sundried tomatoes packed in oil, chopped nuts, pesto, or chopped olives. Red pepper jelly and toasted pecans is a favorite combination. The goat cheese and cream cheese mixture works as a dip for bread sticks as well, that have been wrapped in a thin slice of ham.

A Holiday Buffet Star – Gorgonzola and Pear Spread with Pistachios

Nuts are abundant during the holidays, too. I take 2 pecan halves and stick them together with the goat cheese / cream cheese mixture and slices of guava paste. Then there is the Gorgonzola and Pear Spread, pictured above, a buffet magnet if there ever was one. The simplified version is to take ½ – 1/3 cup crumbled gorgonzola cheese, 8 oz. cream cheese, 2 oz. sour cream and one drained can of pears in 100% juice (save juice).  Combine cheeses and sour cream at room temperature. When soft add about 2 tablespoons of pear juice or more to taste and mix well. If you have it, add some chopped pieces of pear paste (available in Whole Foods and some grocery stores). Add chopped pears, saving a few for garnish with other fruit and chopped nuts, if desired. Serve with some nice quality crackers. While I’m thinking of it, you can substitute the pear theme in this spread with fig preserves and fig paste, or other fruit combinations.

For a quick dessert, combine cream cheese and peanut butter (2:1 ratio), add some maple syrup to taste, and thin if needed with a little whipping cream for a no-bake parfait. Top with real whipped cream and drizzle with maple syrup for an incredibly rich and creamy dessert. Here’s another – combine Greek yogurt (about 1 cup) with 2 tablespoons of cream cheese or mascarpone, a teaspoon or two of brown sugar and a squeeze of lime juice. Adjust flavors as needed then drizzle over fresh chopped mango and sprinkle with crumbled ginger cookies and flaked coconut. Serve in layers in a parfait glass for some holiday class.

You can substitute mascarpone for cream cheese, or Neufchatel in any of the recipes above, and know that we’ve not even scratched the surface of ways to use these cheeses. Look for obsessive ways with Parmesan and other cheeses in blogs to come. Season’s greetings! It will be here before you know it.

For the Love of Cherries

Photo, from the Internet: Gilbert W. Arias/Seattle Post-Intelligencer / SL

As far as I’m concerned there are only two seasons in Florida – avocado and cherry.  We are well underway in peak season for cherries this June through July, and it is with great enthusiasm that I welcome the prettiest, most delicate and pampered of cherries, the US-grown Rainier.  Unlike the magnificent dark purple Bing cherry which we are blessed with in abundance during those two months, there will be nothing but stems and pits of the Rainiers’ by the weekend.  At most they are available for barely 7 days in the grocery store and they are priced to sell: a mere $4 per pound ($5 – $6 at season’s start).

The Rainier is a cross between a Bing and a Van cherry– two sweet-red varieties – creating a “creamy-yellow flesh, which gives the blush of the skin a sunny undertone” says Seattle Post-Intelligencer Food Writer Hsio-Ching Chou.  This new variety was developed in 1952. These Rainiers are grown in California, but they are much smaller than the ones grown in the Northwest, especially in Eastern Washington. All Rainiers are picked by their stems and placed, not dropped, into the picker’s basket since they bruise easily.  This is only cosmetic damage that doesn’t affect their taste.

When the very unfairly short cherry season ends, be sure to look for cherries in dried form.  Tart cherries in particular have been linked to several health benefits. They are high in antioxidants which aid in blocking pain and inflammation in the body and may also help in exercise recovery.  Add cherries to your cereal, yogurt, and baked goods. Frozen cherries are an excellent addition to smoothies, as is the tart cherry juice (look for tart cherry juice in health food stores in concentrate form).  Another bonus – cherries are among the fruits with the lowest sugar content, also referred to as ‘low glycemic’, which means they have less impact on blood sugar.  Add berries to this category, along with apples, pears, and kiwi.

For more tips and information on cherries, go to http://choosecherries.com.

Flavor Enhancers – The Magic of Vinegar, Part 2

For something that is almost effortless to make, vinaigrette is a versatile and potent sauce. Ingredients typically on hand in the home kitchen can be combined in myriad ways using oil, acid, seasonings, and ‘accents’.  For the simplest vinaigrette, start with oil and acid in a ratio of 3 to 1; in other words 3 parts oil to 1 part acid. Lighter tasting oils seem to work better in higher ratios than the heavier oils, but let your tastes be the guide.

Below are some examples of basic ingredients to give you a taste of how broad the possibilities can be. As a guide I’ve indicated typical measurements in each group for safe experimenting.  Learning how to use this basic sauce “will ratchet up your entire cooking repertoire” says Michael Ruhlman, one who is on the short list of my favorite chefs.  How can a simple salad dressing be such a big deal? The use of vinaigrettes may be more wide spread than you realize. Consider that you can cook vinaigrette and drizzle the mixture over grilled meats or vegetables. Another form is a marinade to impart favors to food before cooking.  While you may not think of oil and vinegar when added separately in a dish as a vinaigrette, in effect you’ve just made one.

Preparing smaller quantities of vinaigrette allows you to make it fresh and change up the flavors more often. Plus, it will be infinitely better than any store-bought brand, not to mention much healthier.  Feel free to mix ingredients within the same category. For example, use both vinegar and lemon juice instead of just vinegar, or part extra virgin olive oil and part walnut oil. There are no rules. If you choose fruit as an accent, blueberry and cherry tend to do well with lemon juice, strawberry with balsamic vinegar, and raspberry with lime juice. A couple of my favorite recipes are below.

Vinaigrette’s Basic Ingredients:

Oil (use in ¼ cup increments): Olive, extra virgin olive, grape seed, avocado, sesame, macadamia, flax seed, hemp seed, hazelnut, tea, soy bean, walnut, almond, peanut, safflower, sunflower, canola, corn, cottonseed.

Acids (use in 1 tablespoon increments):  Citrus juice (lemon, lime, orange, grapefruit), vinegar (white, white wine, red wine, balsamic, rice, apple cider, malt, coconut, cane, and flavored vinegars).

Seasonings (dried, use in ¼ teaspoon increments):  Cumin, coriander, allspice, cloves, cinnamon, smoked paprika, garlic powder. Use in ½ tsp increments for granulated sweeteners: brown sugar, maple sugar, white sugar. Use 1 tsp increments for liquid sweetener:  maple syrup, honey, agave nectar. To taste:  flavored salts, pepper, cayenne.

Accents (use with abandon):  Fresh herbs, minced (mint, basil, rosemary, cilantro, chives, oregano, etc), fresh vegetables, minced (shallot, ginger, garlic, bell pepper, onions, avocado, tomato), fresh fruit, minced (watermelon, papaya, pear, blueberry, raspberry, strawberry), roasted vegetables, minced (peppers, shallots, onions, chilies), sauces and pastes (mustard, peanut butter, toasted sesame oil, Worcestershire, soy sauce, fish sauce, hot pepper sauce, fruit jelly, mayonnaise, hoisin, coconut milk), and salty elements (Parmesan cheese, anchovies, minced chorizo).

Once you have assembled the ingredients consider the texture. Blend or ‘emulsify’ the mixture for a creamy texture using an immersion blender (if so, you can chop the accents instead of mincing before hand), or simply shake your vinaigrette in a covered jar for a looser mixture. Taste it. If the acid is too pronounced, add a little more oil. Too much oil?  Add more acid. If the flavor isn’t *bright* enough, a pinch of salt may do the trick. Remember that acid can be balanced by sugar and bitterness can be balanced by salt. Usually just a little will do.

Joy’s Favorites: 

Spinach Salad  Dressing (emulsified using a immersion blender): ¾ cup extra virgin olive oil, 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar or champagne pear vinegar, 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice, 1 teaspoon sugar, 4 teaspoons honey, 2 tablespoons crumbled cooked bacon, and to taste: salt, pepper, garlic powder.  To the spinach salad I add sliced purple onion, toasted almonds, hardboiled egg, sliced mushrooms, and dried cranberries. Pour dressing over.

Steak Salad Dressing (emulsified using a immersion blender):  ¾ cup extra virgin olive oil, 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar, 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce, 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard, 2 teaspoons grated Parmesan cheese, and to taste: salt, pepper.  On a bed of torn romaine lettuce I add sliced cooked steak, diced tomatoes, sliced purple onions, and croutons. Pour dressing over.

Another great combo? Peanut oil, chunky peanut butter, ginger, hot chili, rice vinegar, and a pinch of sugar. What a great salad dressing!

Flavor Enhancers – The Magic of Vinegar

Vinegar is as old as time itself, a likely byproduct of the Big Bang. Technically the result of decomposing foods and the beverage once known as wine, vinegar is the substance that made the world’s first batteries possible. Aside from being the go-to solution for dissolving lime deposits in teapots and thousands of other household uses, vinegar has an alter ego in the culinary world.  Still used to preserve foods today, vinegar, or more specifically a liquid form of acid, can literally transform a dish from just good – to WOW!

Most condiments have some sort of acid, if not vinegar as an ingredient: mustard, mayonnaise, chutneys, salad dressings, barbecue sauces, peanut dipping sauce, and hot chili sauces to name a few. Try to make a tasty catsup without vinegar: use all the other ingredients including tomato paste, water, sugar, salt, and a pinch of onion powder. I guarantee you’ll not be squirting it on your French fries.

What acids do is balance the sweet and saltiness in foods with their tremendous power to brighten flavor. It isn’t always necessary (or even desirable) to taste added vinegar and most of the time just a little will do. Chances are you are enjoying unperceptable vinegar in these foods: cream soups, dessert sauces, jams and jellies, bouillon, gravy mixes, and ‘spices’, the catch-all term to protect secret seasonings used by food manufacturers. What do all these foods have in common? Salt, sugar, or both. It is the magic of vinegar that bridges the gap between two opposite ends of the flavor spectrum.

How do I use Acids?

Acids can alter the texture of foods by breaking down their fibers and changing chemical bonds.  Little Miss Muffet used vinegar to transform her milk in to curds and whey. Similarly, lemon and lime juice is used in ceviche, a raw seafood dish that is ‘cooked’ by the acid in citrus and made more appealing to eat. Besides vinegar and citrus juices, other ingredients that impart acid to a dish include mustard, pickled products, sour foods like cherries and tamarind, wine, cultured dairy such as yogurt and sour cream, and goat cheese. Any of these foods can be used in just a small amount to vastly improve the flavor of your dish.

As for vinegars, apple cider, champagne vinegar, rice vinegar, and white wine vinegar are perfect with milder foods including white fish, chicken (white meat), shellfish, and vegetables. Lemon and lime juice can also be used successfully with mild foods.  Red wine vinegar compliments heartier dishes nicely where beef, pork, chicken (dark meat), and fatty fish like salmon are used.

And the king of vinegars – balsamic – is in a class all by itself, known for its very bold flavor and smooth aged sweetness.  The longer it ages the sweeter and thicker it becomes. Use balsamic vinegar with grilled foods or where you want to feature its wonderful taste as in drizzled over summer’s ripe strawberries. Buy the best quality you can. The more you feature vinegar prominently in a dish the more obvious cheap vinegar will be.

Flavored Vinegars

This innovation takes vinegars of all kinds and imparts another flavor through steeping and aging. Fruit flavored vinegars that are based on balsamic vinegar offer the better of two worlds – a marriage of savory aged wine and sweet ripe fruits. These delicious vinegar inspires endless uses. I enjoy them as a dressing for a garden salad or added to sauteed vegetables.  Just a splash can transform fruit juices such as apple cider or orange juice to an amazing, refreshing drink.  Coming in part 2, fabulous vinaigrettes.