A warm obsession

November 5, 2013

I have, for reasons that elude me, become slightly obsessed with hot sauces lately. I like hot sauces; I like hot foods. I have also, as it happens, run out of all the various chili sauces I bought on various visits to Mexico.

It finally only occurred to me a couple of weeks ago, after seeing piles of habenero, serrano, and jalapeno chilies at the farmers’ market, I could actually make these sauces myself. I am a cook, after all. I think I just answered my own question.

So far, after several experiments, I’ve come up with two recipes I like a lot. One features serrano chilies and the second, jalapenos with brightly flavored mint and cilantro.  Each recipe makes about 1 pint.

Serrano hot sauce

20 Serrano chilies, chopped
1 medium white onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, chopped
2 medium tomatoes, chopped
1 tbsp olive oil
1 heaping tsp toasted ground cumin
1 heaping tsp smoked paprika
2” length of dried orange peel
1 tsp salt
2 cups water
½ cup rice vinegar

-Saute onions in oil with salt over medium heat until translucent
-Add chilies, garlic, and tomatoes and cook for about five minutes
-Add cumin, paprika, and orange peel and cook for about three minutes more
-Now, add water and increase the heat until it begins to boil. Reduce the heat back to medium, and let the vegetables simmer away until most of the liquid has evaporated, stirring from time to time
-When the water has largely evaporated, add the vinegar and let simmer for a few minutes more
-Pour the mixture into a blender and whirr it for about 30 seconds until smooth. Now, strain the puree through a wire mesh and transfer the results to a sterile pint jar. It’ll keep in the refrigerator for a few months
-If you’re going to keep it around for a while, process the sealed jar in a boiling water bath for 30 minutes

Green hot sauce

5 medium jalapeños, chopped (and deveined and seeded, depending upon your tastes)*
1 medium white onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic
1 tsp salt
1 bunch mint, stems removed
1 bunch cilantro, stems removed
2 cups water, plus about a quarter-cup more
½ cup rice vinegar
1 tbsp olive oil

– Saute the onions and garlic in the oil, with the salt, in a non-reactive pot until the onions are translucent.
– Add the jalapeños and the quarter-cup of water, allowing to come to a boil. Let simmer for a few minutes.
– Now, add the two cups of water along with the chopped herbs. Stir them up so that the herbs and onions and jalapeños are nicely mixed together and bring the liquid to a boil again. Turn the heat down a bit to a gentle boil and let the mixture cook until almost all the liquid has evaporated.
– Add the rice vinegar and turn the heat to low, allowing all the ingredients to simmer together for three or four minutes.
– Now, pour the contents of the pot into a blender and run on high for 30 seconds.
– Strain the sauce through a wire mesh to remove seeds and fibrous bits, into a sterilized pint jar, and seal.
– This will keep for a few months in the refrigerator or, if you don’t plan to use it for a while, process in a boiling water bath for 30 minutes, to keep it for several months. 

*Note: jalapeños, at least for chili aficionados, aren’t particularly hot but it’s worth tasting them beforehand to see how hot they actually are before committing to a certain number. More important, most of the heat in a chili is found in the white membrane that lines the interior, and then in the seeds. Remove some or all of that, and you tone down the heat substantially. But this is hot sauce so, why would you do that?

 

Advertisements

Dance 10, Looks 3.

August 5, 2013

Butter, olive oil, mayonnaise, and anchovy paste. In eggs. These aren’t your average eggs, these are Craig Claiborne’s stuffed eggs. I finally made them tonight after bogging down in my months-long project to cook and rewrite my way through his Kitchen Primer and I’m eating a few of them now as I write this.

They’re not just loaded with fat, mind you, but along with that anchovy paste is Worcestershire sauce, and chives. These things, which are quite tasty, are like little egg white boats filled with umami. Lemon juice and salt – of course – push the umami right over the edge. Really, they’re very good. But with all that anchovy paste, a tablespoon mixed into just six egg yolks, the yolk filling – creamy and salty and flavorful – is a less than appetizing shade of brown. Not even a deep, library-walls-lined-with-leather-brown but more of a left-overs-in -the-back-of-the-fridge-for-the-past-three-months kind of brown. They’re really unattractive.

I know, I know. It’s shallow of me to criticize a dish solely on the basis of its appearance, especially when I know how good they taste (and especially given my recent infatuation with Catalan cooking which is entirely brown, except for those parts of it that are sort of beige colored).

I suspect Claiborne knew this and so, at the end of the recipe, he recommends decorating them with capers or truffles cut into little shapes. I’m not making that up. Star-shaped slices of truffle, while adding to the flavor, aren’t going to help these things look any more appetizing.

So, do I add the recipe to the blog I’m writing about Kitchen Primer? I will, for two reasons. One, they do truly taste very good. Two, the recipe is a good illustration of Claiborne’s tastes. But now I’m on the lookout for some rather more attractive recipes. Or just something that isn’t brown.

Pickling, freezing, and remembering

June 26, 2013
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Washing cucumbers before brining.

Each summer I promise myself I’ll put up some of the amazing produce that shows up in our farmers’ markets here in San Francisco. And why wouldn’t I? Some of the fruits and vegetables have such short seasons – figs, for example – that it’s worth the effort to keep them around a little longer. In truth, however, I rarely ever get around to it. This year, I promised myself, would be different.

I promised myself the same thing last summer, too, as I recall and then promptly left the country for three months, pretty much missing the entire summer growing season. Given my track record so far, I’m impressed with what I’ve been accomplishing so far this summer. I’ve been making pickles and freezing strawberries. OK, that’s not exactly a pantry full of staples for the year ahead but, hey, it’s a start.

I made my first batch of pickles a couple of weeks ago. Let me clarify this: I made my first batch of pickled cucumbers a couple of weeks ago. Yes, I cook for a living, have written a great deal about cooking over the years, and have put up a fair amount of other pickled vegetables and kimchi over time, as well, but I’ve never gotten around to making a simple pickled cuke.

My experimental batch – two jars – is sitting in the refrigerator as I write this, and I was pretty pleased with them over all. Pleased enough, at any rate, to plunge ahead even farther. Right now, as I write this, a stock pot filled with pickling cukes and brine, weighted down with a heavy saucer, is sitting in the refrigerator, brining away so that its contents can be turned into flavorful pickles for later on.

Somewhere along the line, as I planned that first batch, it occurred to me to flavor them with lemon grass, the long, citrusy herb so favored in Southeast Asian cuisine. I added coriander pods to the mix, as well, and the results are lovely. Fresh and light tasting, I have to admit however that I wanted them to have a bit more punch. With this new batch, a larger batch, I’m going to add ginger, garlic, and chilies to the lemon grass and coriander mix.

Pickles aside, I’m also preparing strawberries for freezing. I have one one-gallon bag of berries already tucked away in the freezer, awaiting their future as ingredients in smoothies and muffins, or whatever else occurs to me, as the strawberry season fades away (In California, it never really fades away, as locally grown strawberries continue to show up in the market pretty much throughout the year, but they lack much flavor and certainly aren’t worth bothering with).

Freezing produce, however, brings a multitude of memories. When I was 11 or 12 years old, my family moved back to Arkansas from California, after buying my grandmother’s tiny farmhouse and land. My parents, eager to escape the crush of life in urban California, had visions of getting back to the land and, with a copy of the book “Self-Suffiency” and a subscription to Mother Earth News, we jumped into small scale farming, replete with livestock and what seemed at the time like an enormous garden.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Strawberries drying on a rack before being frozen.

Eager to put up much of what was coming out of the garden, my mother spent hours blanching and freezing vegetables. Corn, beans, and probably quite a few other things, as well, made their way into the freezer while my mother sweated it out in the humid Arkansas summer heat. I live in San Francisco now; it’s a little less intense. Still, I seem to remember her choosing to freeze our harvest rather canning it because it seemed easier. On the other hand, freezing is actually better at preserving flavor and nutrients. Whatever her motivation, it was the better choice nutritionally.

I bought three pints of berries at the farmers’ market today and brought them home, where I washed and trimmed them, cutting them in half. They’re drying on a cooling rack right now. When they’re completely dried, I’ll arrange them on baking sheets so that they’re not touching one another, and then pop the whole tray into the freezer. Once the berries are frozen solid, I’ll pour them into another gallon zip-lock bag and stash them back in the freezer for the months ahead. Freezing them individually this way insures they don’t clump together into a large, unmanageable clod. I can pull out a handful of individual berries, to be tossed into whatever dish I want them for.

The novelty of nothing new

February 5, 2013

Here’s a suggestion for the culinary equivalent of a parlor game: take five ingredients, any ingredients, and devise a dish utilizing those ingredients. Now, come up with another one. And another one. And another one. Continue doing this until either a) you’ve exhausted all the possibilities or, b) you’re simply exhausted.

What shall we call this fun, new game? Marketing!

pizzahut

Promotional photo for Pizza Hut’s new Big Pizza Sliders.

Pizza Hut’s big commercial entry in this year’s Super Bowl commercial extravaganza – apparently to much fanfare on Pizza Hut’s part – was an exciting new addition to their menu, Big Pizza Sliders. In other words, little, tiny versions of the same thing they’ve been selling since 1958.

This approach is hardly new. As a friend of mine often jokes – scoffing, mind you – Taco Bell’s menu selection is the same ingredients (tortilla, meat, and cheese) packaged and repackaged into various versions over and over again. In fact, if you look at pretty much any chain restaurant menu, you’ll find it’s a fairly standard approach. Kentucky Fried Chicken – excuse me, KFC – sells chicken. They sell many versions of chicken because, after a while, sales begin to drop as customers’ interest wane and it becomes imperative to make that chicken look like something potential customers have never had before. At the same time, they have to be consistent in their offerings so that customers will know exactly what they’ll get, no matter which branch of the restaurant they’re visiting. Remember the 600-calorie Double Down with 1600 mg of sodium? Two pieces of fried chicken sandwiching a filling of bacon and cheese. Apparently, it’s still out there, shoring up the 290-calorie potato wedges and the 800-calorie, 64 oz Sierra Mist soft drink because how else will you make it from lunch to dinner without 1700 calories to fuel your afternoon?

But I digress.

Companies like Pizza Hut which, along with Taco Bell and KFC, is part of the enormous Yum! Brands conglomerate, have to generate revenue. They’re not in business to feed people, they’re generating revenue by feeding people. And it’s a lot of revenue. Last year, pizza restaurants in the US generated more than $36 billion in sales. In 2011 Yum!, alone, generated $1.3 billion in profits worldwide. How do they do that? Paradoxically by offering both consistency and novelty.

This is an issue faced by just about every food producer in the marketplace. Budweiser – the American one, not the Czech one – has very little new to offer its customers so much of its effort goes into packaging, rather than contents. Coors, another iconic American beer, faces the same problem. Its customers don’t want the product to change but the company still needs to maintain existing customers’ interest and draw in new consumers, as well. Its response to this quandary six years ago was to add a temperature sensitive label to the bottle.

Consumers tend to keep their refrigerators set to between 40º and 45º F,” reported the trade journal Packaging World back in 2007, “so the label color starts to change around 48º F and is at full color between 40º and 44º F, indicating the beer has reached the perfect temperature.”

In other words, novelty labeling nothing new.

Still, the buzz generated by something as mundane as making a teeny version of something customers have been ordering for the past 55 years can be substantial. Pizza Hut’s Facebook page was filled posts and commentary about its planned giveaway of samples of the Big Pizza Sliders.

Comments ranged from negative (“I called there’s a limited quantity and its only pepperoni they will be ready and its small like a biscuit! Always a catch!”) to the disturbingly enthusiastic (“Hope everyone enjoys the Big Pizza Sliders today. Another simple, hand held variety option from Pizza Hut!”), which leaves me wondering just how many shills are populating Facebook feeds.

When you’re selling the same old thing, any publicity, evidently, is good publicity.

Saving the planet with jalapeño poppers

February 1, 2013

Looking to save the planet? Apparently, jalapeño poppers will take care of that.

Browsing around on line, I ran across a recipe geared towards that great orgy of sports and entertainment, the Super Bowl. “Cheap, Sustainable, Delicious: Jalapeño Poppers” the headline promised.

Sustainable? While the article didn’t mention what, exactly, made them sustainable, it did look like a nice, easy recipe for a popular food that can contain upwards of 50 ingredients in commercially, mass-produced versions (Sodium Hexametaphosphate, anyone?). Compare that to the recipe’s nine ingredients, all easily pronounced and requiring no reference materials, and – yes – they are, in comparison, sustainable. But really, is that the draw? And, really, does making Super Bowl snack decisions based on perceived sustainability make any sense?

One of my guilty pleasures over the past couple of weeks has been watching the breast beating and cries of remorse over quinoa. The problem? Apparently, new first world demand for the vile little grain has risen so much that it’s now priced out-of-range for the Bolivian and Peruvian people who have relied upon it for centuries as an important source of protein.

“Quinoa was, in marketing speak, the ‘miracle grain of the Andes’,” reported the Guardian last month,”a healthy, right-on, ethical addition to the meat avoider’s larder (no dead animals, just a crop that doesn’t feel pain). Consequently, the price shot up – it has tripled since 2006 – with more rarified black, red and ‘royal’ types commanding particularly handsome premiums.”

Premiums that Andean peasants can’t afford.

In our drive to find food, or just about anything really, that doesn’t harm the planet or ourselves, we go to bizarre lengths. Importing grains from thousands of miles away seems perfectly reasonable to otherwise smart people, despite the fact that there are countless meatless sources of protein available to us here in the United States. (Who am I to criticize? I think nothing of buying Chilean wine and Indian tea.)

The problem I have with those jalapeño poppers? It’s not the recipe. It’s certainly not the encouragement to make something from scratch. It’s the heavy dose of dogma (season to taste). For anyone looking to reduce their carbon footprint or to simply live with slightly less impact on others around them, cooking from scratch is the way to go. For anyone who simply likes real food, rather than something frozen in a pouch, cooking from scratch is the only way to go.

So, enjoy the Super Bowl. Enjoy the poppers. But, for everyone’s’ sake, go easy on the dogma. That stuff’ll kill ya.

Cooking in Catalan

November 26, 2012

For someone who’s not terribly fond of mushrooms – I like their flavor, don’t get me wrong; it’s the texture that wigs me out – I was quite happy with the mushroom soup I made for Thanksgiving dinner last week. I was even happier that I made it from a recipe in one of the Catalan-language cookbooks I brought back from Spain in October.

I can’t speak Catalan and my reading skills in that language are comparable to, say, a four-year-old just learning to read at all but, thanks to Google Translate and my Catalan-English dictionary, I managed quite nicely, thank you. And the soup was quite good, too.

Cooking is not unlike sociology and learning one’s way through the cooking of another culture is rather like a sociology intensive. Language and food and taste and the various oddities that surround the cooking style of a culture all offer glimpses into a culture. Bring those elements together and you come away with more than just a nice bowl of soup; you’ve learned a bit more about the world around you.

Take, for example, Thanksgiving’s soup: Sopa de Bolets or, mushroom soup. The Catalan are supposedly quite wild about mushrooms. Certainly, every book I read about the food of Catalonia went into some detail about the vast expeditions undertaken by the average Catalonian to favored, secret mushroom gathering grounds in the deepest, darkest reaches of the country. I spent three months there over the summer – hardly prime mushroom growing season – so I wasn’t able to experience that aspect of Catalan culinary life, but I will say that mushroom recipes abound in Catalan cuisine.

The problem with making recipes from other cultures, too, is that you can never quite get all the ingredients called for. When cooking time arrived, I wasn’t without anything but nothing I used was actually from Catalonia. The recipe, for example, called for rossinyol and dried cama mushrooms, neither of which, to the best of my knowledge, grow here in California. But, for that matter, it’s not as if I used Californian mushrooms, either. The dried mushrooms I used – porcini and morels – I actually purchased last year in Mexico City’s San Juan market (I did use fresh creminis and another type – I forget which). I used Italian olive oil rather than Spanish or Californian, for that matter, although the tomatoes were from California, as was the garlic and the almonds and the bread and the onions.

The soup was lovely and I took particular pleasure in making the sofregit – Catalonia’s answer to the sofrito – but, of course, one wonders how the ingredients might have tasted in a Catalan-made version. If there’s one thing I’ve learned through increased opportunities to travel the past few years, familiar foods do taste different in different countries. Terroir, I suppose, with different soil conditions and weather and any additional factors all coming together to determine whether or not an onion is sweeter or more pungent than its relatives overseas or the valley over the mountain range.

And, yet, reading through the recipe in Catalan, and cooking it up and serving to it my family and friends, did – if only briefly – transport me back to Barcelona. Struggling with Catalan (“What is ametlles again? Oh, right. Almonds.”) and then tasting the rich, earthy results in a holiday meal let me share my Catalan adventure with friends while giving me a chance to review some of the Catalan language I might have otherwise forgotten.

And, if nothing else, it made me think of Barcelona, and Catalonia, and Spain and, maybe, just maybe taste a little of the place again.

Quality since 1086

July 9, 2012

Des de 1086

This morning, I stopped by my neighborhood dairy – lleteria in Catalan – to buy yogurt. It was the first time I’d been by there. I picked up a few cartons of plain yogurt, paid my bill, and took the stuff home with a couple more stops by the bakery and the bean store, where one goes to buy beans that are already cooked and waiting to be added to other dishes. It wasn’t until I got home and unpacked everything that I glanced at the reciept. Beneath an idyllic picture of what I assume is the ad agency’s version of the company’s headquarters – a lovely, rustic, stone farmhouse located at the foot of a mountain – was the line “des de 1086,” or “since 1086.”

That’s got the brand I usually buy back in San Francisco beat by about 1100 years, give or take.

Gazpacho, linguistics, and supply-and-demand

July 9, 2012

What does it mean when an item is sold for less than the price you’re used to paying? It’s a quick little lesson in the laws of supply and demand, is what it is.

I found myself in a Spanish supermarket yesterday, conducting my first real grocery shopping expedition since arriving in Barcelona last week. My list of things to buy was short: tomatoes, a cucumber, a pepper, bread, onions, garlic, and vinegar and olive oil. You may recognize these as the ingredients for gazpacho which, given the July heat here on the Mediterranean coast, was my goal for the day.

Vegetables were the easy part. I bought what I needed, including bright red tomatoes from Almeria, on Spain’s even hotter southeastern coast. I found them at the Mercat Llibertat, the public market near my temporary digs in Barcelona’s Gracia neighborhood. There were plenty of choices to choose from as far as fruits and vegetables and meat were concerned, but if I was going to buy olive oil and vinegar, I would have to go to the other side of the market, which contained a supermarket rather than the open stalls run by independent vendors.

I made my way to the store’s selection of oils and vinegars and what I found surprised me: everything was cheap. Cheap, in other words, in comparison to what I was used to paying back in San Francisco. Suddenly, my yardstick for determining the potential quality of the product I wanted was gone. Was a three euro bottle of olive oil as good as, or worse than, an otherwise cheap 12-dollar bottle back California?

Brand names didn’t help here as I wasn’t familiar with them. A quick glance at the vinegars didn’t help, either. I wanted a nice bottle of sherry vinegar but, again, they were all cheap in comparison to what I would have paid back in the States. Instead, I left the store with a few other purchases, and decided I needed help.

I found the help in a small xarcuteria and butcher shop just behind the market on the Placa de Llibertat. In broken Spanish, I asked a woman working there if there were a place nearby to buy high quality olive oil and vinegars. There is, she said, and – thankfully – slowly, she directed to another shop two blocks away.

For some reason, I’m surprised by people’s generosity with foreigners. I don’t know why it surprises me: I take great pleasure, myself, in giving directions or offering help to foreign visitors to my own city. For the past several days, people have been enormously kind and patient with my poor Spanish even going so far as to politely correct my grammar – explaining the proper way to get my point across.

Just a day or two ago, I was walking down Carrer d’Asturies, a narrow pedestrian-only street lined with bars and shops and restaurants, and stopped at an ice cream shop for something to drink. The woman behind the counter took my order for an orxata, the rich but thin rice drink which I knew from Mexico but which, to my surprise, originated in Valencia (The Mexican version is typically flavored more generously with cinnamon).

“Puedo tener un orxata gran,” I said, dramatically blowing my cover with everything from my pronunciation to my accent.

She smiled, got my drink, and then handing it to me, explained that in Spanish, I didn’t need to use the indefinite article and that “puedo tener orxata” was, actually, the correct way to ask. She also, I think, noted that I was mixing languages. “Gran” is Catalan for large and, indeed, the sign I was reading from was in Catalan, but I was ordering in Spanish so “grande” would be the correct choice. All the while, she was smiling and this was no rushed correction. She was taking time out for me and I was grateful.

But back to my search for good oil and vinegar. I found the shop to which the woman at the deli had directed me. Inside the small shop, the store’s lone employee greeted me from behind a small counter, surrounded by high shelves filled with bottles and cans of numerous foodstuffs.

So far, I begin nearly all my conversations in Spain with “Hola! Mi español es muy malo.”  The store clerk, of course, would have none of it and cheerily lying through his teeth, complimented me on the  fracturing of his language. From there, I continued to the point of my visit: “Buscando bueno aceite y…” and I stopped because I realized I had forgotten the word for vinegar.

“En inglés,” he encouraged me.

“Buscando bueno aceito y vinegar para gazpacho,” I said.

“Vinagre?”

I felt like an idiot. “Si. Vinagre.”

He just smiled and directed me to a shelf filled with bottles of both. I was surprised by the small difference in prices at his shop and those at the supermarket. His prices were a few euros more, but the selection was better and the products were from smaller producers. He began pointing out a few that were better for gazpacho. He suggested one bottle of oil in particular.

I asked – I forget how – if its flavor was fruity but he said I wanted something a little more astringent, peppery. I bought the oil – 750 liters for about nine euros – and a bottle of sherry vinegar for about four.

Back in California, of course, I’d been buying different olive oils for their different flavors. Less assertively flavored oils are better for cooking but I do like the variety others offer, too. Some are simply better for salads or for flavoring various dishes but, as olive oil isn’t the culinary staple it is here in Spain, the prices reflect the smaller quantities – and variety – available there.

That’ll take some getting used to but it also means being able to sample a larger variety of oils and vinegars here without breaking the bank, or sin hacer saltar la banca.

Cooking Stock to Enhance Your Social Status

January 2, 2012

At this very moment, I have about six pounds of beef bones roasting in the oven and my kitchen smells nourishing and meaty. I picked up the bones at my butcher’s when I was buying a roasting chicken and some linguiça sausage. The reason? Stock, of course.

Beef, vegetables, and water en route to becoming brown stock.

There are plenty of reasons to make stock. First, there’s the pleasure of telling people you’re making stock which always seems to impress them. Stock? they ask, eyebrows cocked perhaps as they raise you up a notch on their list of People Who Know How to Cook. Your status rises even more when they learn that you’re not simply boiling the dregs of that chicken you had for dinner two days ago but that, instead, you went out and specifically purchased the necessary ingredients for the sole purpose of boiling them.

There is also the fact – nearly as important – that a good stock enhances your cooking. Stocks add depth to soups and sauces or, when reduced, even make for the most simple of sauces in themselves.

What I’m preparing is a brown stock, the color of which is obtained through roasting the ingredients beforehand. In a hot oven, the ingredients caramelize which adds not only flavor but color to the stock. Roast the bones to a nice deep brown and the color transfers gloriously to your stock, enriching whatever you decide to add it to later on. You can roast the vegetables, as well – onions, celery, carrots, for example – adding even more flavor and color although I’m not doing that this time. I want something a little more neutral since I’m making the stock simply to have on hand rather than for a specific dish.

I won’t salt the stock, either, preferring to leave that to whatever dishes I decide to include it but I am adding some seasonings: bay leaves, black pepper corns, a few whole cloves, and a few dried morel mushrooms.

Not to be overlooked, of course, is what is arguably the most important ingredient: water. Cold water. Cold water’s important for a couple of reasons. First, cold water helps to draw the juices from whatever you’ve tossed into the pot (That old reliable, Joy of Cooking, suggests soaking the ingredients in the same cold water before hand to draw out even more flavor). Second, cold water from the tap will be free from many of the odd flavors hot water can pick up as it travels through the pipes to your sink.

How much? The amount of water should be at least equal to the other ingredients. Many recipes will tell you to add enough water to just cover the ingredients; others will tell you to add only a little more, a couple quarts, perhaps. The point of all this, needless to say (and, yet, here I go) is to produce a stock rich with flavor, not something watery and flaccid.

Pot size matters, too. Of course it does. The pot should be large enough to hold all the ingredients so that the liquid simmers and bubbles and flows around them easily. I have two stock pots: a six-and-half-quart and a 24-quart. As six pounds of beef bones, even cut into small pieces, will just about fill the smaller pot by themselves, I’ve chosen to use the larger one. With tremendous presence and self-importance, it occupies a substantial portion of my stovetop, indifferent to whatever need I might have for the other burners. I will roast dinner tonight.

Once all the ingredients are combined in the pot, crank up the flames and bring it all to a boil, skimming off the scum that often develops on the top (There are different opinions about this. If you want a clear stock, the scum must go as it can cloud the liquid but there are nutrients and flavor in the scum, as well, and if you’re not looking for a clear stock – or are simply feeling lazy – stir it back in, I say).

Once it’s reached the boiling point and you’ve decided what you’re going to do with the scum – or not do, as the case may be – reduce the heat to low and leave the stock, partially covered, to simmer gently for a few hours. Maybe even four or five hours. Why not? The liquid will reduce over time and it’s up to you to decide whether you want to replenish it so that you end up with the same amount of stock as the water you began with, or if you want stronger flavored stock, which will be the result of the liquid’s reduction.

Once your allotted time has passed and the stock tastes right, strain it through a fine wire mesh or a couple layers of damp cheese cloth into a bowl and let it cool for a little while. From there, put it into the refrigerator so that the fat will coagulate at the surface and be easier to remove (you can always scrape it off and use it for cooking, adding yet another layer of flavor to whatever else you make). Once that’s done, transfer it to smaller containers of about a cup each and pop into the freezer to be used as needed.

You’ll have a great stockpile of flavor just waiting to be added to future meals as well as the satisfaction of lording it over others.

Relatively Easy Brown Stock

  • 6 pounds raw beef bones, cut to 2-to-4-inch pieces
  • 4 quarts cold water
  • 2 to 3 carrots
  • 2 yellow onions
  • 2 stalks celery
  • 2 to 3 bay leaves
  • 8 whole black peppercorns
  • 4 whole cloves
  • Olive oil

Heat oven to 400 degrees

  1. Rough-chop the vegetables into a few pieces each – don’t bother to peel them – and, along with the beef bones, in a large bowl drizzle with the olive oil and toss until everything is coated. Transfer the mixture to a large jellyroll pan or some other large sheet with raised edges (otherwise, the oil and juices from the bone and veg mixture will drain onto the floor of your oven thereby destroying your credibility as A Person Who Knows How to Cook) and place in the middle rack of the oven. It’s important to keep all the ingredients spread out in a single layer so they brown rather than steam, as they will do if they’re piled together.
  2. Let the mixture roast for about 45 minutes to an hour, depending upon how brown you want them to be. When done, remove from the oven and transfer to a large stock pot.
  3. Scrape the brown bits and crunchy pieces from the pan and put those into the pot, too. Snack on any particularly appetizing looking morsels of meat or vegetables as you do so. You’re the cook; this is your right.
  4. Add the water and seasonings.
  5. Bring to a boil, skimming off the scum that may rise to the surface. When the liquid is at a full boil, reduce the heat and let the mixture simmer for the next four or five hours.
  6. When done, drain the liquid through a fine wire mesh or through a couple layers of damp cheese cloth into a bowl and let cool. Scrape off the fat that rises to the surface and transfer the stock to smaller containers that can be frozen. If you choose not freeze the stock, you can keep it in the refrigerator for about three or four days.

The Decline of the American Empire

August 26, 2011

Thanks to Steve Dugger who cooks and plays music on California’s north coast.