Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Cape Ann Sou'Wester

When I bought this hat from Lee Valley Tools (no, I don't work for them) a few years ago, I imagined I'd need it for those times when I gardened out on my deck in raw rainy weather – harvesting spinach in March, or the last of the mesclun lettuce in October, that sort of thing. As it turns out, it's a terribly useful garment on a day like this one, as a Nor'Easter sweeps through New York City. I have buckets strategically placed around the apartment, and downgraded my expectations for the survival of items in the basement. But nothing made me feel better about facing the weather than strapping on my Cape Ann Sou'Wester. With this hat, and the rest of me wrapped in a good sturdy wool scarf and trench coat and boots I don't really care about any more, I didn't need an umbrella. I marched out into the rain and made the two long blocks to the subway without incident – the chinstrap kept the Sou'Wester on, the flannel lining stayed snug and dry, and it didn't really matter that my face got a little wet. This hat kept the misery of wet windy foul weather at bay. I know that when I wear it I am going to get either envious looks or some wisecrack about the Gorton's Fisherman.

As the weather keeps getting more fickle and the seas rise around New York City, I wonder – should I invest in some waders? Perhaps that inflatable one-person evacuation boat I bought after 9/11 isn't such a bad idea after all...

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Importance of Broth

My dad gets embarrassed when people compliment his perfect houseplants. ("All I do is get rid of the dead leaves," he admits.) But deadheading your houseplants is the kind of task that seems insignificant at ground (or flowerpot) level, but in the big picture makes a big difference. Same for homemade broth. Sure, you can cook with store-bought broth. But the results will be tremendously better with homemade broth, and the time-intensive project can be done if you can check the stove a few times during other big projects such as doing your taxes.

Here are my three recipes for vegetable, chicken, and beef broth. Health bonus: I've found that using homemade broth allows me to reduce the milkfat and/or meat in the soups I cook; the broth provides all necessary flavor and body.

Roasted Vegetable Broth
Clean the pots, pans, off-season clothing, etc. out of your oven (skip this step if you live outside NYC) and turn it on at 400F. Fill a roasting pan with peeled and halved onions, carrots, celery stalks, a head of garlic (unpeeled), and whatever root vegetables you have lying around; I like to use a few paste-type tomatoes (i.e. Roma) too. Toss everything with a quarter cup of olive oil and a tablespoon of salt and roast for one hour, checking at 30 minutes to turn things over with tongs so they brown on more than one side.

In your 6-quart slow cooker or largest soup pot, place a few cabbage leaves (the outer, tougher leaves  are perfect), a few stems of parsley, four cloves, three bay leaves, celery foliage, an ounce of dried porcini, and a few sprigs of thyme (lemon thyme is particularly nice). If you have potato peelings or mushroom stems left over from cooking something else, add those too. Add the roasted veggies and enough water to cover. In a slow cooker, cook on Low for six hours (I've left it overnight up to eight hours and all was fine). In a pot, cook on low heat for four hours, stirring occasionally. Pour broth through a colander into another pot and press down on the cooked ingredients to extract more liquid from them. Pour into jars and cool; freeze in plastic bags or use within a week. (The longer the broth sits, the more you'll have to stir it up – veggie broth separates more than other broths.)

Chicken Broth
Can you get your hands on a stewing chicken? It makes all the difference. If not, use bone-in and skin-on chicken legs and wings. Tie a handful of fresh parsley and dill between a few leek leaves and put at the bottom of your largest pot. Add two onions, peeled and halved – stick three cloves in each half. Add a few bay leaves and a few sprigs of fresh thyme. Place the chicken, cut into pieces (using legs/wings? leave them whole), on top of the veggies and herbs and sprinkle with a tablespoon of coarse salt. Pour in water until everything's covered by an inch or two. Bring slowly to boil, and reduce to simmer; for the next half hour or so skim off the foam that rises to the top and discard. Put lid on the pot with a little room for steam to escape and cook on low heat for five hours. Add four peeled and halved carrots (or a cup of peeled baby carrots) and cook one hour more. Strain as in veggie broth instructions, above; the chicken meat will probably be pretty cooked out at this point so just discard it.(Tip: to make lovely succulent poached chicken breast, add skinless boneless breast meat to the broth while it is still hot, cover the pot, and cook on low temperature for about fifteen minutes or until chicken is no longer pink inside; skim off foam that rises to the top. You'll end up with extra-chickeny broth!) Refrigerate overnight and remove fat that rises to the top; then bottle and use within three days, or freeze in bags and use within a month or two.

Beef Broth
Get a few pounds of beef bones. If they have any meat on them you're ready to go; probably they won't, so get a meaty shank bone too. Extra credit: Oxtail! Put these in your roasting pan along with a few carrots and onions and roast at 450F for one hour, turning over with tongs at the half hour mark. Put a handful of fresh parsley, a few bay leaves, three smashed cloves of garlic, five cloves and ten peppercorns and a few sprigs of fresh thyme between a few leek leaves and tie shut (or use a piece of cheesecloth) and place at the bottom of your largest pot. Add the vegetables and then the bones on top and sprinkle with a tablespoon of coarse salt. Pour the fat out of the roasting pan and pour in some boiling water; stir with a wooden spoon to loosen any baked pieces at the bottom of the pan, and then pour this liquid into the pot. Top up with water until everything's covered by an inch or two. Bring slowly to boil, and reduce to simmer; for the next half hour or so skim off the foam that rises to the top and discard. Put lid on the pot with a little room for steam to escape and cook on low heat for 6-10 hours. Strain as in veggie broth instructions, above. Refrigerate overnight and remove fat that rises to the top; then bottle and use within three days, or freeze in bags and use within a month or two.

Note on freezing broth: I like the freezer zip-style plastic bags you can get in almost any supermarket. The quart size or larger will do; fill them 75% to allow for the expansion of frozen water, and squeeze out as much air as possible before sealing. I like to clean out the bottom of my freezer and put in my cookie sheet, and then the bags of broth flat on top of that, separated by pages of an old catalog (this prevents the bags from sticking together while freezing). The flat frozen bags can be stacked on top of each other or lined up like books in the freezer.

Recent favorite recipes for broth, from Epicurious: Roasted butternut squash soup (vegetable, omit cream; chicken, use milk instead of cream; I used only a few cloves of roasted garlic since I could depend on the broth to provide plenty of presence), acorn squash veloute (chicken or vegetable, halve all spices), chocolate-infused chili (vegetable; I add roasted peppers and corn to this recipe, as well as sauteed zucchini).

Snowed-in Brunch

(This article was first published in the Park Slope Food Coop's Linewaiter's Gazette, Volume EE, No. 4, p. 10.)

Working from home during a major snowstorm this winter, I made myself a good brunch from odds and ends and wanted to share the ideas with you. Try this some quiet winter morning when you are at home with tasks interruptable by trips to the stove. These recipes serve two, but you may want to eat something extra if you will be shoveling snow.

Whoops Rosemary Salt
On a recent trip to the Park Slope Food Coop I bought fresh rosemary and a bag of salt, which landed at the bottom of my carry sack and became friends when the salt bag split. I saved the salt from the bottom of the sack and am keeping it in a jar on my kitchen counter. It's a nice addition to almost any savory winter cooking. Try it yourself with half a stem of fresh rosemary stirred into a quarter cup of salt and save in a sealed container to let the flavors develop.

Mesclun with Bottom of the Mustard Jar Salad Dressing
Take a mild-flavored mustard – you know, that jar in the back of your fridge with a teaspoon or so of mustard at the bottom that's been sitting around way too long. Add one minced garlic clove, a tablespoon of lemon juice and two tablespoons of a good olive oil. Put the jar lid back on and shake vigorously until blended. (If you have a fresh lemon, add a teaspoon of its grated rind too.) If the mustard is really dried out, reconstitute with a teaspoon of hot water before you add the other ingredients. I used a Maine Maple Champagne mustard from Stonewall Kitchens.

Meditative Potatoes
1 russet potato, peeled and cubed 1/2 cup cherry tomatoes (slightly wrinkled are OK) 1 tablespoon olive oil1 tablespoon walnut oil 1/4 tsp Whoops Rosemary Salt (see above)
Boil the potatoes until they are barely done. Heat the oils in a nonstick pan over medium heat and add potatoes. Russet potatoes are not good for hash browns—they fall apart too easily. But you can make it work. Just don’t stir them. Let them sit for a few minutes. Turn them over gently with a fork, one by one, as each side browns to your liking (this is the meditative part). Use any remaining oil in the pan to coat the uncooked sides. After about 15 minutes the potatoes should be nicely done on all sides. Remove potatoes from pan, leaving some oil behind, and put them in a bowl to keep warm. Turn up heat to high, add cherry tomatoes and salt. Cook until cherry tomatoes are a bit puckered and start to split. Add cherry tomatoes to potatoes and stir gently to combine.

Poached eggs
Fill a pot with 2” of water and 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar. Bring to a boil. Have two fresh eggs ready, each one cracked into its own small dish. Once water is at a full boil, turn off heat, quickly add a teaspoon of Kosher salt, and then slip in each egg. Put the lid back on the pot and let sit for three minutes. Remove eggs with a slotted spoon and gently tilt to pour off water – or blot on top with a paper towel.

To assemble brunch: Toss two servings of mesclun with a teaspoon of the dressing. (You want the greens barely flavored.) Serve each salad in a low bowl or plate, topped with the potato-tomato mix, and a poached egg on top of that. Nice accompaniments are fresh citrus and a hot cup of coffee. And a snow day, of course.