Thursday, September 11, 2014

Part Two, Cooking like a Pro

Today, I'm going to talk about stock.  Forget those do-nothings on Wall Street, they live in a make-believe world trading concepts mixed with hopes and dreams interspersed with a smattering of publicity skillfully crafted to mislead and deceive.  I'm talking about real life.  How to make food that you cook for yourself, your family and your friends (if so inclined) taste better and be more nutritious.  And  make no mistake, one of the GREAT secrets of restaurant cooking is the making and incorporation into the foods you serve of the one single greatest concept in cooking, the making of stock. 

Let me tell you a story.  I used to eat meat on a regular basis.  Never beef, that's just unbelievably gross, but poultry and pork.  One Thanksgiving about ten years ago my Nephew Jason invited my then wife and myself over to California for Thanksgiving.  We went, my Niece served an acceptable turkey, and something she called gravy.  I tasted it, it was salty, metallic and just nasty.  I asked how she prepared the gravy and she informed me it was a Costco chicken gravy product in a quart container and you just add water.  I asked why she didn't use the turkey parts to make stock for gravy and was informed that the turkey carcass was tossed and Costco gravy was easy.  Sigh, a sad commentary on America as a whole, convenience products replacing better tasting nutritious foodstuffs.  Needless to say I went to the local Walmart (because they are open on Thanksgiving and for NO OTHER REASON) and bought a cooler and took her turkey carcass home with me back to Mesa.  My, at that time wife, thought the whole thing to be preposterous, but then again, that's just one minor incident in a multitude of reasons we are no longer together.

Anyway, when I go to a Chinese restaurant to eat, I can always tell what kind of restaurant it is by the smell.  If it is a good one, they have pots of bones simmering on their stoves pretty much every day to make good stocks with which to make the sauces for their entrees.  Cheap ones use sauce base out of a jar and use a lot of soy sauce to hide the metallic taste, and the result is dark salty sauces on their stuff.  One visit places for me.  I like food that tastes good.  It is easy to achieve, it just take a little time and effort.  And that is not the American way anymore.  Fast food, fast shortcuts and fast lifestyles make for poor nutrition and an overall complacency of the American populace.  The Gilded Arches et al have record growth, and profits. 

I digress.  As usual.  To the matter at hand.  Stock.  Stock is the easiest thing to make, the greatest use of material in your kitchen and the absolute most incredible enhancement of both flavor and nutrition possible.  All made with what most of Americans throw in the trash.  Yeah, it's true, for the most part, stock is made with garbage.  First off we need to make some assumptions about how you shop and how you prepare your food at home.  I assume that if you are not buying organic produce, meats and stuff, then you do take the time to thoroughly wash everything you buy in acidified water before putting it in your fridge.  It's easy, fill a clean sink with water, add juice of a lemon and a half cup of apple cider vinegar and a drop of baby shampoo.  Oh shut up, it isn't toxic and won't kill you, and it helps with the acids to get in and break down surface pesticides.  No method will get it all, but this helps.  Next, get and keep a couple of big freezer storage bags and put in your freezer.  Whenever you prepare foods for cooking, there is going to be waste.  Carrot tops and peels, celery tops, and wilted leaves and the bottom you cut off, onion skins, squash ends, you know, trash.  Put it all into one of the bags, close it tight and freeze it.  When you are tired and lazy and stop and the local store on the way home from work and buy a rotisserie chicken, eat it all but save the bones and throw in the other bag.  All the bones you get, freeze them.  I guess that if you eat different meats, use different bags for each.  I won't mention here about how nasty beef is for you and how you should never eat the stuff, but if you do, keep the bones.  Now, some day when you have nothing planned and are not going to the movies or the lake, and want to try baking bread or some other stuff in the kitchen, now is the time to make stock. 

Take a large stock pot and put a layer of trash out of your vegetable trash bag in the pot.  Now take all the bones from the bone trash bag and put it in.  Fill the pot about two thirds full of bones and veggies.  Add a dozen bay leaves, stems and stalks from parsley and fresh herbs that you might have used.  Big sprigs of rosemary, and a dozen peppercorns as well.  Fill the pot to within an inch of the top and put on high heat.  When it comes to a boil, turn down to medium and use a skimmer, or spatula or whatever and skim off the foam that builds up.  You need to do this every ten minutes or so for a half hour, and the only reason to do it is to keep the stock clear.  The foam is fats from the meat breaking down and they foam at first, then after awhile they make a sort of cloudy solution that is to many, unappealing.  After that first half hour, cover, turn down to simmer on low, and let it cook for a few hours.  The longer, the more flavor.  All the spices and herbs that you throw in give the stock subtle nuances of flavor adding character and distinction to the final product.  Here again, so many possibilities, a virtual plethora of flavors and profiles that can be achieved using this basic technique.  But back to the process, let it cool a bit and put a big bowl or another stockpot into the sink and a colander in that and pour the stock mix into that.  Now, pretty much all the trash, really is trash and can be composted or thrown out.  Composting is good.  Well, except for beef bones.  Did I mention before how unbelievably nasty and toxic beef is?  Anyway, let the stuff cool, strain through a fine mesh strainer and put it into small plastic jars that you can buy cheap at the dollar stores.  Put tape on them and label what it is and the date and freeze.

Now comes the fun part.  Use that stock to make soup.  Use it to make rice, or cook pasta in,  Or cook potatoes in.  Or use it as a base for baking bread.  OR, use it to make Ramen noodles and just throw out those little toxic chemical laced packets of artificial flavors they include with the packs.  Or, well, the sky is the limit.  Good cooking starts with good ingredients.  If you use fake artificial crap to make your food, it will taste artificial and crappy.  That's how it works.  The big food industry has a whole host of chemicals that they add to processed foods and those things are used to enhance what flavors remain, to mask the flavors of other additives and to suppress the gag reflex of putting the crap in your mouth.  Okay, that last one is just a theory of mine, but it does make sense, most of the processed food and especially Mickey D's food pretty much all makes me gag.

For me, since I cook all the time anyway, making stock is just and extension of improving the basic flavors of the staples with which I live on.  Since I really eat meat only rarely, I still make vegetable stocks all the time.  And I make spicy ones, herby ones, ones with lots of sweet spice undertones and just a whole host of various flavor profiles that make my cooking in and of itself, something to behold. 

Do the same with yours, just do IT!

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