Monday, February 4, 2013

This Month's Topic: Stew

Just a reminder that my blog has moved to

This is the last double-posted entry.  This blog will be closed soon.

Seeing that we're still in winter, I figure that stews would be a natural progression.  Plus, if you've been making soups at all, stews are pretty much the same in both ingredients and protocols.

  • Throw stuff in pot
  • Cook long time

There are some differences, though.  In meat-based stews:

  • More meat, less water
  • More vegetables, cut into larger chunks
  • Replace noodles with other starches (potatoes, quinoa, rice)
  • Starches as a side (i.e., pour stew on said starch)
  • Thickening agents (roux, corn starch)

I'll spend a little time, not much, on meat-based stews.  I'll probably spend more time on vegetarian stews, which will employ more vegetables, starches, and in particular, lentils.  I'll also dive into some tips to add flavor, as well as some grocery tips.

Stews can be done on the stovetop, in the oven (in a dutch oven), and in a slow cooker.  I'm generalizing here (surprised?), but it seems to me that times for each go something like this:

  • Stovetop: 2-3 hours
  • Oven:  2-3 hours
  • Crockpot:  5 hours on high, 8 on low
  • Pressure Cooker:  ask your grandma.

To brown, or not to brown?

In the meat-based stews and recipes I've found, they vary.  Some say just throw the meat in the pot, others say to brown the meat first, and others say to coat the meat in flour and then brown.  The verdict?  I don't know.  I think this boils down (pun intended) to the amount of time you have.  On one hand, browning on the stovetop or dutch oven might help the meat cook faster.  On the other, time is your friend here.  The longer you cook meat (at a low temperature, that is), the more tender the meat will be.  Some will argue flavor.  In other words, if you brown the meat, you will add flavor to the stew.  I might argue that this is overrated.  There's plenty going on here, with the liquid, vegetables, and spices, that I would think the benefit is minimal to moderate.  Regardless, if you do brown the meat, it is imperative that you deglaze the pot with liquid (water, stock, wine) and scrape (read: this is not for a nonstick pan) the bits off (that stuff is where the flavor is located; it's called fond.  Who went to cooking school?  Not this guy!), making sure this liquid gets to be part of the party (i.e., if you brown the meat in a pan and put it in a slow cooker, make sure this liquid gets added).

Next week, some stuff on roux, and my one and only meat stew recipe (with adaptations, of course).

Monday, January 28, 2013

One month down, 11 or more to go?

My last entry for the month will deal with lighter soups.  They will primarily have an Asian feel to them, as my base soup will be with coconut milk, and whatever you do to tweak it will probably have Asian overtones (or even Caribbean).

Coconut Lemongrass Soup with Tofu

  • 4 cups of vegetable stock
  • 1 can of coconut milk
  • Canola oil
  • Lemongrass*
  • Ginger* (minced or grated)
  • Cumin
  • Garlic, Carrot, Celery**
  • Curry leaves (or Bay leaves)
  • Lime Zest
  • Lime Juice
  • 1/2 brick of extra firm tofu, drained and cubed into 1/2 inch cubes
  • Scallions
  • Salt and pepper (to taste)
Ingredient notes:  You can use fresh lemongrass, but I really prefer using the chopped up lemongrass that comes in a tube, which can be found in the produce section of your grocer.  Ginger is usually something that I can find fresh on a regular basis, but lemongrass is hard to come by at chain groceries, so the tube works well.  I think it's imperative that for this recipe you use fresh and not dried spices.  The flavor buzzword here is "bright," meaning that you want a light, refreshing flavor that can only come from using fresh spices.  Curry leaves can be found at your local Indian grocer (more on this next month).  Otherwise, use bay leaves.

  1. Drain tofu by removing from package, wrapping in paper towel, sandwich between two plates or cutting boards, and add a weight to the top.
  2. Heat up oil in a pot.
  3. Add garlic, carrot, and celery (not a lot of each) and sauté for a few minutes.
  4. Add cumin (light on the cumin), ginger (a LOT), and lemongrass (a LOT) and stir.
  5. Add stock and coconut milk.  Add zest of one lime and curry/bay leaves.  Bring to boil, reduce to simmer.
  6. Simmer for 15-30 minutes.  While simmering, remove tofu from paper towel and cube.
  8. Puree/blend.
  9. Add tofu and turn up heat to medium to heat through.
  10. Add lime juice, salt, and pepper.
  11. Serve, sprinkle with scallions.
Note that the juice of the lime was added at the end, while the zest was added during the cooking process.  While not having done random, double-blind testing with placebos, I've been told that when you put acidic juices in the mix early and let them cook, they start to get bitter and alter the flavor.  When added at the end, you don't worry about that happening.

Zestfully clean!


It might be good to invest in a zester.  There are two varieties: a grater/microplane and a ribbon zester (see photo).  They're good for finely grating things you'd rather not bite into and/or wouldn't work well in a traditional box grater.  The zest from lemons and limes would be a good example.  When you're zesting citrus, do not go all of the way through the fruit to the flesh.  The white part is bitter and should be avoided.  Just get the colored (e.g., yellow, orange, green) matter off of the fruit.  This is where the essential oils are stored.  The ribbon zester is useful if you want to make it look decorative or are planning to put it in a bag (e.g., a spice bag for cider).  Otherwise, carefully peel the rind off with a knife (or vegetable peeler?) and remove before blending.

Two ways you can change this recipe up to suit your needs:

Meats - replace tofu with meat or fish.  I think shrimp would be great with this meal.  If you're adding chicken or beef, add at the beginning and adjust the cooking time.  You may want to brown the meat with the vegetables and cook for 30 minutes (note that this may force you to alter if/how/when you puree the vegetables, and you would definitely have to grate the ginger using the microplane).  If you're adding shrimp, add the raw shrimp for the last 5-10 minutes of cooking or until their pink.  Cooked shrimp, just add a few minutes before serving to warm through.

Spices - I could see variations using curry powder/paste and red chilies to make it a little or a LOT hotter.  It would definitely tip from a greenish color to a red/orange color, which would look spectacular.

I may try to play with this in the near future.  I'll let you know how it goes.

Next month:

Stews, a relative of soups, and lentil dishes.

Monday, January 21, 2013

I want your psycho, your vertical stick

Just a reminder that my blog has moved to

I will double post until the end of the month for my scheduled posts; however, any non-scheduled posts will no longer be published here.

...stick blender, that is.

Photo credit: some amateur

The 'stick' blender, or immersion blender if y'all like your words fancy, it probably one of the greatest inventions for soups.  There's nothing wrong with a blender, but let's compare methods:

  • Blender Method:  pour or ladle hot soup from pot to blender.  Turn on blender (make sure the lid is on).  Puree to desired consistency.  Stop blender.  Wait before opening lid (just trust me).  Pour contents back into blender.  Repeat, if necessary (usually the case because one generally makes more soup than a blender can hold).  Stare at soup that still remains in blender.  Feel shame.
  • Stick Blender Method:  Move soup pot so that immersion blender can reach (may not be necessary; if that's the case, at least turn off the burner).  Insert blender into soup.  Turn on blender and move around until desired consistency is reached.  Remove blender.  Lick blender blades (unplug first, unless you feel lucky).

I could easily say that of all of my wedding gifts, this one gets the most use.  Soups, stews, hot sauces, shakes, you name it.  A well spent $30-50 bucks by someone.  Actually, that someone was me.  It was on our registry but, as registries go, you get a little crazy with the gun and sign up for everything and then some.

But I digress.  While not a parent (yet), I've heard that these things are great for when you want to play drug dealer with your kids, only with vegetables.  Pureed vegetables in sauces and soups are a great "gateway" to the harder stuff, like grilled, steamed, and raw vegetables.

In previous posts I've rambled about stocks and broths, and went on record as saying, "store bought stuff is OK, sorta."  So, today I'm going to discuss a few soups where this is the case and even include some "recipes."

Tomato Soup

  • Carrots, onions, celery, garlic - diced*
  • Italian seasoning
  • 28 oz. can of crushed tomatoes
  • 1 cup of heavy cream** (allow to come to room temperature, or as close as possible)
  • 4 cups of stock (chicken or vegetable)
  • Olive oil
  • 1-2 Bay leaves
  • Fresh Basil (optional)
  • Salt and pepper (to taste)

  1. Chop up vegetables.  (How many?  Whatever you have, but at a minimum one carrot, one rib of celery, any size onion, and a few cloves of garlic.  How fine?  Per my rant, if you're using a blender, who cares.  If you're using a stick, then get them pretty tiny, but don't stress about it.)
  2. Heat up some olive oil in a pot.  Sauté vegetables briefly (a few minutes).
  3. Add seasoning (How much?  A couple of shakes from the container.)
  4. Add tomatoes
  5. Add stock (Note:  waste not, want not.  I add the tomatoes, then pour some of the stock into the can to get the rest out.  Wapner at 4...Wapner at 4.)
  6. Add bay leaves.
  7. Stir.  Bring to boil, reduce to simmer.  Simmer for at least 30 minutes.
  8. REMOVE BAY LEAVES!!! (see next step.)
  9. Blend soup using preferred or available method (hopefully, you removed the bay leaves).
  10. Add the cream by tempering.  Put cream in a bowl or large measuring cup.  Add a ladle of soup to cream and mix.  Add another ladle of soup and repeat.  Pour mixture back into pot.
  11. Chop up basil and a) add to soup or b) serve with soup at table.  Season with salt and pepper.  If you're feeling naughty, add a slab of butter and melt it in.

Serve with any or all of the following:  crackers, Parmesan cheese, crushed red pepper flakes

Now, about that cream.  You can use heavy or light whipping cream.  In all honesty, if you use these, the tempering step is probably not necessary.  You can also use half-and-half or whole milk.  In my opinion, if you want to use lowfat or skim milk, save yourself the time and energy and don't use it at all If you do use anything other than cream, you'll have to temper it before adding or else it'll get all grainy in texture.  Blech!  If you up the amount of vegetables and blend really, really well, you might get it to work with the lower fat options (or no milk at all) and still be rich.  Adjust by adding another cup of stock, if that's the case.  I've never used silken tofu, but I'm sure it would work just fine as a substitute.

You want Butternut Squash Soup?  Dice up a butternut squash and cook with the vegetables.  Cut back on the tomato (14 oz. can instead of 28).  Add sage to the list of seasonings (and use fresh sage instead of basil).  Cook a little longer (definitely more than 30 minutes).  The cream is totally optional, as the soup will be really thick from the squash.

Pumpkin soup?  Same thing.  Even easier when you use canned pumpkin.  Add some nutmeg and allspice.

Hopefully, you're starting to see the method to my madness.  To date, I've given you two recipes that you can make 6 soups from.  I'm sure there's more (avocado soup, etc.).  This is where you can start to get creative.  Start with a basic recipe, and begin to play around.  Are my basic recipes the best?  Probably not.  But that's ok.  It's a starting point.  It's why I don't (usually) give specific amounts.  Feeling timid?  Ease up on the spices at first (i.e., you can always add spice and heat, but taking it away is difficult), Google a quick recipe for reassurance.  Long story short: practice and the occasional failure are going to be your best friends.  And really, unless someone ends up in the hospital, cooking failures aren't that bad (and when you primarily cook vegetarian, you gotta really screw up to give someone food poisoning).

It figures that I'd launch a blog where I spend a month on a topic during a month with a solid 5 weeks (then again, 7 months have 31 days, but whatever).  A few more recipes next week.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Chicken Noodle Soup

Just a reminder that my blog has moved to

I will double post until the end of the month for my scheduled posts; however, any non-scheduled posts will no longer be published here.

Finally, here are a few recipes.  First, I'm going to share what I usually do when I make chicken soup, much of which I've already discussed in the last post.  You'll need:
  • Whole chicken, cut up
  • 1 onion
  • 2-3 carrots
  • 2-3 ribs of celery
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled
  • 1-3 tsp. Italian seasoning
  • 1 tsp. tomato paste
  • 1 pkg. egg noodles
  • 1-2 bay leaves
  • salt and pepper (to taste)
Per my last post, it's your choice.  If you want crunchier vegetables, add them later.  Otherwise, put everything in a pot (except the egg noodles, salt and pepper), fill with water, bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook for 2 hours.  Remove the chicken, bay leaf, and large vegetables (if you went that route).  Let the chicken cool for 10 minutes or so, and then start removing the meat from the bone.  You can coarsely chop the meat or pulse it in the food processor, then add it back to the soup.  Save any leftover meat for whatever you'd like (see previous post for commentary on this).

Now, the noodles can be a point of contention on several fronts.  I use egg noodles.  Why?  I like them, and that's how I was raised on homemade chicken noodle soup.  Use what you like.  I've tried acini de pepe, which is a pasta that looks like peppercorns (think large couscous, only with semolina flour instead of durum). In fact, that's what acini de pepe translates to (source).  The second point is how to cook them.  I prefer to boil them separately in fresh water, then drain the noodles and add to the soup shortly before serving.  Other people just throw them in the soup and let the soup cook them.  Not sure how I feel about either way.  Just what I've done.

What else can you do with this?

Italian wedding soup

There's a story here.  For several years my family would go out for Thanksgiving.  For my Downriver readers, this meant going to Crystal Gardens for their buffet (we also did Portofino, but that was usually for Easter).  My grandma became fond of the Italian wedding soup they served with the dinner.  She looked forward to it every year.  Needless to say, she became rather upset when they didn't serve it one year, to the point that when the manager was canvassing the patrons asking if everything was ok, she laid into him (or her...I forget).  The look was precious, as the manager was probably not used to being scolded for removing something from the menu (bad service, yes...85 year-old grandma up in his grill about Italian wedding soup...not likely).

The following year I hosted Thanksgiving (for a mental picture, I want to say 2002 give or take a year).  Never cooked a turkey before, so for insurance, I made as many freakin' side dishes as possible.  Included in this was, you guessed it, Italian wedding soup.

Sounds intimidating, doesn't it?  Not just soup, not just a national soup, but a national soup for a joyous occasion.  Two words:


That's it, really.  Brown up some loose Italian sausage (hot or mild), and throw it in the soup.  You may want to use a different pasta (like acini de pepe), and you may want to throw in some greens (e.g., chopped kale).  You may also want to make little meatballs with the sausage, too, but now we're talking sausage, eggs, breadcrumbs, and so on.  I say keep it simple; just don't smash up the sausage too much while you're browning it.

So, there.  You now have two soups.  Let's make is a quick three and call it a day.


Same as the chicken soup recipe, with a few changes.  First, just use the broth, no meat.  Definitely throw in the veggies later rather than sooner (I'd say let them cook for about 20 minutes before serving).  Also, add a bunch of veggies besides the ones we've been talking about:  zucchini, yellow squash, spinach, green beans.  Add a large can of crushed or diced tomatoes.  Use another pasta (shells, penne, mostaccioli).  Finally, add a can of kidney beans. 

Once again, you could use store bought stock for the base of any of these, but since the meat broth is kinda like the main attraction here, only do so when you're pressed for time.  I might use it for minestrone, but not the other two.

Next time, soups where store bought stock/broth is encouraged!

Friday, January 11, 2013

Moving soon...

My time on blogger lasted a little over a week.  I'll publish my scheduled posts here, but they will overlap with my new blog.  Please point your browsers to :

Sorry for the inconvenience.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

In case anyone cares...

My old blog on cooking (which consisted of ~10 posts between 2007 and 2009):

Nothing spectacular there, just figured I'd post it.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Making brock...or stoth...

Like I said, making stock is different from making broth.  Broth is based more on the meat while stock is based more on the bones of an animal.  For all practical purposes, most of y'all are going to have some combination of both.  Take Thanksgiving, for example.  I had a turkey carcass (two, actually, but that's a story for November).  One I used for the dinner itself that I stripped down pretty well.  The other was, well, backup, and I ended up using that for leftovers.  Hence, I left a fair amount of meat on the bone on purpose, because I knew I'd be using it for stock/broth.

What do you need?  Here's some items, with commentary:

  • Meat and bones - if you're making chicken based liquid, I'd get a whole chicken, cut up (can usually be found in the meat section of the grocer).  For beef, I'd go with a tough cut of meat because a) it's less expensive, and b) you'll cook it long enough for it to be tender, and c) it's tough because it has more connective tissue, which, well, dissolves into gelatinous goodness.  How much?  Depends on how much you want to make.  Generally speaking, get your largest pot, put the meat it in, and fill it 1/2 to 3/4 full of water.  If it looks like you have more meat than water, you've got too much.
  • Water - Seriously, I'm sure someone is on record saying that distilled or spring is better than tap or well.  What water should you use?  The stuff out of your faucet.
  • Vegetables - whatever you have lying around.  While I guarantee that fresh vegetables make a better brock, you're going to use the stuff that's a little old to throw on a salad but not so old that it makes compost.  The key ones are going to be carrots, onions, and celery, and celery is going to, in my opinion, provide the most flavor.  
  • Herbs/spices - again, whatever you have lying around...within reason.  One thing you should get is a jar of bay leaves.  Throw in one or two.  I tend to lean toward Italian-y herbs (i.e., oregano, basil, etc.), and even some Italian seasoning would work (because dried herbs lose their flavor over time, and you probably bought the huge bottle of it during the Clinton administration, so use it up here).  Pepper, maybe some dried or fresh parsley, and that's about it.  I'd hold back on the salt for now, for several reasons.  First, it depends on the purpose: if you're making soup, you can throw it in at the end.  If you're making it to have on hand for another recipe, you don't know if that recipe calls for salt and, if so, how much.  If you don't salt now, you don't have any guesswork to do.
  • Bonus items - again, these are a few things I might throw in because I'm feeling a little 'randy':  Tomato paste (a teaspoon or a good squirt from a tube), garlic (those little cloves at the base of the head...heck, I often skip taking off the parchment), and crushed red pepper.
That's it.  Throw it all into a pot, bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and then wait.  How long?  How much time do you have?  Minimum: at least an hour.  Better:  2-3 hours.  Best:  6+.  

When you're finished, use it immediately, or cool it down, store in containers (at least 2 cups in size), and freeze.  You should probably pick out all of the solids (especially the bay leaves), and you might want to consider straining it.

The rest of this post is some random, stream-of-consciousness thoughts that come to mind that may or may not help you or answer questions that you may have.  Again, once you have the basics down as a rough structure, the rest of it is play.

How to chop the veggies?  If you're making stock to save, keep 'em big and chunky.  That way, they'll be easier to pick out.  If you're making soup, it depends.  On one hand, if you chop them and cook them for hours, they'll be pretty soft.  If you use big chunks, then pick them out, and then chop up some fresh ones for the soup (e.g., chicken noodle), then they'll have a bit of crunch left in them.

Do I make stock?  Rarely.  Here's why.  You need bones, and lots of them.  I very rarely eat meat at home, so the time it would take me to collect enough bones to make stock would be measured in years. In the meantime, I'd have to store all of that in the freezer.  Not worth it for me.  However, if you eat meat frequently in your home, don't...cut back a little you should be able to pull it off in a reasonable amount of time (i.e., months).  Pretty much the same process as above, but you're definitely looking at 6+ hours of cook time.  In some of my research it was suggested to roast the bones in the oven first.  Not sure if it's worth it.

What about veggie stock?  Your site is supposed to be about being a vegetarian?  Not really.  In fact, this is one point where I really don't care about whether or not I'm eating an animal.  First, stocks and broths are a great example of recycling, so if I get two or more spins out of a carcass, I could care less.  This is also where I find bouillon to be quite useful, as well as store bought stock.  However, it's the same idea minus the meat.  Save all of your roots, stems, peelings from your veggie scraps, throw them in the freezer until you're sick and tired of looking at it, and throw it in a pot.  You probably want to throw in some of the whole vegetables I mentioned earlier, definitely add garlic, up the spices, and definitely add some tomato paste.  This is too much work for me, because you have to consider that many of the veggies you're peeling would need to be scrubbed well...before you peel them.  Plus, I compost all my scraps and don't throw them away, so no guilt there.

Fish stock?  Again, bones, scales, and the gray, ugly part of a salmon filet?  Not worth it for me.  Buy some or use fish sauce (a little goes a long way with that stuff).

What to do with the meat?  Chicken:  put it in chicken soup (duh); put it in the food processor and pulse to desired consistency, or chop it by hand.  Also good for chicken salad, chicken tacos, chicken enchiladas, chicken pot get the picture.  Same for cow (although beef salad sounds gross..mayo and cold chopped beef).  Regardless, it'll be tender, moist, and ready to go!

Making it healthier.  I paused before writing that, because while everyone poo-poohs animal fat, we need fat in our diet and obesity rates in this country are eerily correlated with the introduction and production of low-fat foods.  However, if you want to cut out some of the calories, refrigerate the liquid for a day.  The fat will coagulate at the top.  Skim it off, and then freeze.

Finally, it does kinda boil down (pun intended) to freezer space.  If you've got the space to store scraps and the space to store frozen stock/broth, go for it.  Otherwise, make it as needed for soups or buy it.  As I said in my last post, buying it is OK, particularly if it's not the star of the soup (e.g., tomato soup, etc.).

Alright, next week, we'll actually talk about soups.