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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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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.

Welcome to the Choose Cooking Blog

It seems you can buy any cooking oil you want in the grocery store these days as long as its Extra Virgin Olive Oil.

‘Extra Virgin’ means it is fragile and unrefined to protect its delicate flavor. It is produced from a single type of olive rather than a blend of several olive varieties making it more expensive than other oils. Extra Virgin Olive Oil can be used for short term medium to medium low sauteing and baking and most are safe to use up to 325 degrees, depending on brand. At this point the oil may begin to smoke and break down into trans fats, creating free radical molecules with potential health effects.   One thing that most of us will agree on is that trans fats are bad for health and to be avoided.

Manufacturers recommend (and I agree) the best use of Extra Virgin Olive Oil is for finishing dishes – added at the end of cooking for a healthy flavor boost, drizzled over a soup or entree, in salad dressings, dipping oils, and pestos to name a few. Better choices for medium temperature cooking are grapeseed oil, coconut oil, and pure olive oil (a blend of virgin and refined oils). Save EVOO for uses where its delicate flavor can be appreciated. Your health and your wallet will thank you.  Click here for an excellent resource for information on oils and uses by temperature on the Spectrum Organic website.   More on this topic later!