Monday, April 2, 2012

Everybody has a stock recipe

I know I've been there when we turned chickens into chicken, but I don't remember much beyond the slaughter and the plucking of feathers. I do remember refusing to eat chicken foot anything. I don't care how much it's been boiled or sterilized, I know where those things have been.

I've heard enough good things about bone stock that I decided to try to make it. Over the years I've had mostly failures. It'd be too greasy, it'd have a terrible taste, or it just looked so bad I wanted nothing to do with it.

I broke it down to basics by going with what I know for menudo.(0) It contains at most one animal joint with some meat, hominy, and greasy gritty cattle guts. Since I've been eating it from babyhood, this is normal food. I don't enjoy the tripe, so I just put one big chunk in for the flavor and then dump it when the food is ready to serve.

So, back to the stock. I decided to start small, with a batch of drumsticks. Chicken legs don't have a whole lot of fat, and they have quite a bit of bone and some tasty meat.

I did all the standard things, and had the tools: a skimmer, cheesecloth, a spoon to catch the meat, and a cleaver for the bones. I really, really like marrow.

Taking the skin off was simple and it went well. I finally figured out that the foam that forms while it's boiling is a mixture of blood and fat, so that's why my earlier attempts had failed. I hadn't taken enough of it out. That stuff can be tasty, but not in stock.

Once I got the meat off the bones (and really forks and scissored tongs are the way to go with that). I chopped the big bones in half and tossed them back in the pot.

One neat trick I read was to put in a half cup of lemon juice. This lightens the flavor and the acid leaches more calcium off the bones. Whether that actually makes a nutritionally significant difference, I don't know. I do know that I can taste the difference when I've done it and when I haven't.

After having done that a few times, I mustered up my courage and added a chicken breast for more meat.(1) From there it was a simple step to getting the separate chicken parts, and then finally a whole chicken.

There are some good reasons for cutting up the chicken yourself:

  1. Bone bits - Commercially processed chicken is going to be full of little bone bits that you might or might not catch while digging the cooked meat out off the bones. This can also happen while you're cutting things up, but you're also not likely to be using a huge saw on a deadline while you're doing it.
  2. You get more meat. I was really surprised at this.
  3. Skin and fat for schmaltz and gribenes. (that's a whole other post. Or you can go here)
Other tips that work however you're doing it:
  1. Precut the meat into chunks, while still on the bone. I think the flavor gets in more, and you don't have as much work to do getting it off the bone later.
  2. A timer is essential. You want to cook the meat long enough for it to get flavored, but not so long it's rubbery and tasteless. I usually go for about an hour after the water starts boiling again.
  3. Take the meat's temperature.
  4. Don't be snobby - go ahead and use commercial bouillon to give it a good flavor. This is a great marriage saver.

I have a gallon. Of this stuff. On my stove. Now what?

I use it for lots of things. Most of it goes into the tortilla mix. I generally make tortillas three to four times a week. It takes about two weeks to use up all the stock, so I'll freeze half in a large container and just dip the measuring cup into the other container during the week. It takes about two days for the frozen stock to thaw in the fridge if you don't help it in the microwave.

Other uses are gravy, cheese soup (or really any soup that calls for a can of the soup and a can of water). I've cooked Ramen noodles, pasta, and steamed veggies with it in the microwave.

The really big hit is chicken enchiladas. After frying the tortillas, you'll have about a quarter cup of hot oil left over. Turn off the stove. pour in a half cup of stock, and chili powder to taste. If needed, add some flour to thicken.  It takes about 15 minutes to settle in and mix well. Now you have delicious homemade enchilada sauce.

0. The word "menudo" translates to "small change", or really, "leftovers". More here.
1. January is absolutely the best month to buy chicken. Superbowl Sunday means everyone wants chicken wings, so the rest of the chicken gets sold at ridiculous prices. I got 10 pounds of chicken breast at $.39/lb. If I had a freezer, man...

Friday, July 29, 2011

Salty Sugary Asparagusery

A simple & quick side. It's one of my standbys for all occasions. You can whip these up in 6 minutes from a standing start.

Put 1/2lb asparagus into 1/2 quart boiling salted water for 2-3 minutes until they are bright green. Throw them into the strainer, then put the back in the pot over the same heat. Add 1tbsp soy sauce and 1tsp sugar and roll it all around until you smell the sugar burning / carmelizing. Serve hot with a pat of butter.

What's going on here

Soy is an ancient mix of salt and savory. Caramelized sugar starts to bleed into savory territory as well. Add in the veggie bitter and texture of asparagus and you get a side dish that is surprisingly complex but flexible, equally good with bloody red meat, risotto and boiled chicken.

Frozen Summer Goo

No cooking, not much worry about the right

measurements, have fun tasting as you go.

It’s cold and gooey and tastes like summer.

I had fun inventing it and using up my ripe bananas.

2 large ripe bananas

½ cup un sugared applesauce

½ cup or so, un sugared chocolate powder, any kind you have

2 to 2 ½ cups walnuts

¾ to 1 cup slivered almonds

Sugar replacement of choice (Just like Sugar,

palm sugar, or even brown sugar) taste as you

go for how much to add.

Cut up and smash the bananas in a bowl and add the applesauce. Add the chocolate and mix well. Continue mixing and tasting and add enough sugar replacement to taste good but not too sweet.

After everyone agrees the batter tastes good, add the nuts and mix well.

Use a large cookie sheet lined with wax paper and smear the whole mess all over it until it is only one nut high and looks like peanut brittle would when spread out.

Cover with more wax paper and place in freezer for several hours. Overnight is best, because it’s solid and breaks easily. (It’s solid enough in about an hour.) When removing it, peal off the wax paper from the top and the bottom to break off a chunk. (Don’t EVER try to cut with a knife when frozen solid).

A non- chocolate non- nut variety would be:

Butterscotch bits in stead of chocolate; don’t melt them, just use less applesauce or more bananas.

Cherries cut up instead of walnuts

Teeny tinny marshmallows instead of walnuts

Any dry cereal instead of almonds

Any mints crushed up and sprinked on top after the goo is spread on the tray.

So, lots of ways to make summer goo, and a fun mess. Have fun!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Almost Instant Tamales for the Anal-Retentive Lazy Engineer

Tamales were a Christmas tradition in our family. Right along with the tree, the turkey, the ham, and the rosettes. And lots of um, discussions.

What wasn't a tradition was making them. My grandmother made her own enchilada sauce, beans, tortillas, fruit preserves, and grew a chunk of the food we ate, but I don't remember her ever making tamales(0). Every year someone would come around selling his grandmother's tamales. We'd get a good six dozen and be set. Later, when the tortilla/tamale shop opened up, we'd get a box of six dozen.

I remember not finding any decent tamales when I moved to Lubbock. It became my 'thing' to get a box of tamales at the store and pack it in my carry on bag on the trips back to school. I've since found Pedro's to be acceptable, but it was the first time I'd encountered open ended tamales.

So about fifteen years ago I started trying to make my own. This was before the "just look it up" stage of the internet, so I had to find books or packaging that would tell me how to do it. I've still got the recipes that were printed on the corn husk and masa bags in my serendipity book.

Just about everyone else who's blogged or written about making tamales tells you it's a Big Ordeal: it's so labor intensive and involved that you need a crowd of people helping you get it all done. And because it's such a big investment, you'd better damn well make several dozen so 1) there's enough for everyone, and 2) you don't have to do it again for a while. Hence the term "tamalada", which is essentially a tamale making party.

I agree with some of this. If you're going from pig to products in a weekend, then yeah, it's a Job. If you're looking for the taste without a whole lot of hassle, refill your drink and keep reading.

Tamalada for One

The filling The filling can be any damn thing you want. Growing up my parents used to buy "sweet tamales", which were filled with sugared rice and raisins. I couldn't stand them, but my younger siblings sucked them down. (Something they now deny). I was chatting with a coworker about making this year's batch and he mentioned his grandmother's "sweet tamales": pinto beans with brown sugar. I experimented with beans and maple syrup and I may have to kill the man. It's addictive.

Anyway, If you're going to make about a dozen tamales, you'll need about two cups of filling. These things are kind of like small pies or pastries - you'll use up a lot more dough than stuffing. If you find you've run out, find some leftovers and use that.

The dough So the basic recipe tends to be 2 cups masa(not cornmeal), 2 cups warm water or broth, some salt, some baking powder, and 1/2 to 2/3 cup lard. I've used shortening, I've used lard, I've used olive oil. The type of fat doesn't appear to me to affect the taste, but leaving it out altogether does. The cooked dough has a harder time coming away from the husk, and it's drier while eating. Also, fat in the shell blends better with any fat in the filling.

The wrap This is where it gets fun. You can order online, or find in any Mexican store, huge bags of corn husks. The cheaper packages have them all stuffed in willy nilly. More expensive brands have them unfolded and sorted, approximately the same size. Either way, you need to soak the things for a while. The minimum is about an hour(1). The hotter water the better.(2)

Sorting through the husks is time consuming, unless they've been presorted. Even then you're now on the clock - It's time to get that dough spread on the husk and the filling in and it all folded over.

Spoon method: This has you holding the husk in your hand, using the back of a spoon to try and evenly spread the dough over about a four or five inch square. The first few times you try it you will fail. It can be done but takes a lot of practice.

Spreader method: There is a tool that looks like a cement worker's smoother outer that you can get for about $8. This makes the job a little easier by giving your hand even pressure, but this still takes quite a bit of practice.

Press method: Plop a blob of dough on the husk. Fold it over, making a square. Get a spare husk and place it over any exposed dough. Smash with a tortilla press. Try not to smash too hard, as the husk will break and you've lost a husk.

I use what I call a Spreader-Press method: I do the prep I'd do for the press, and use the spreader to smash, and then cut and spread on open spots as needed.

This year I spotted something new - parchment tamale wraps. They look for all the world like corn husks, but completely uniform.

From Tamalada for One

Suddenly life got a lot easier. The wraps were 10 inches long, and wide enough to let me make a 5 inch square with the spreader press method.

This gave me a nice, uniform stack.

From Tamalada for One

So, having gone from hours of soak'n'sort time to "dip this thing for five seconds to get it wet", I decided to take the next logical step: using plain old parchment paper. Worked like a charm.

From Tamalada for One

By this time (about an hour and a half. The kids were home and I stopped a lot to take pictures) the leftover pork roast I'd been simmering in enchilada sauce was ready, by which I mean falling apart if you so much as looked at it funny.

Once more unto the dough!

Then to the pot!

From Tamalada for One

Steam for 90 minutes. I use a lot of water in my tamale pot because I don't like refilling it. This means I need to prop up the floor of the stack with a colander, but I'm not making five dozen at a time, so I don't care. You'll know the tamales are done when the wrapper peels away easily from the cooked dough. The dough should spring back at all points when you poke it with your finger. Any dents and it goes back in the pot.


What's that? Where's the almost instant part? Well, when you have uniform, stackable tamale wraps left over, you can 1) find something else to put in them, or 2) Freeze them!

I had to interrupt a tamalada years ago due to illness. Since the wraps were already made, I put them in the freezer. Then forgot about them. About six months later I ran across them and decided to try it out. They defrosted well, cooked up just fine, and the rest is history.

You still need to do the initial 90 minute steaming. You can break tradition all you want, but physics and chemistry don't care who you are.

For the full set of the tamalada pictures, click the pic.


0. Dad says that when he was a kid, the tamales were part of a family task where the pig became tamales, chicharrones, ham hocks, chitlin's, bacon, and lard in a weekend.

1. I had good results one year using food dye in the husk's soaking water to color code the tamales by filling. With the colors we could tell right away what was inside.

2. Fortunately they can be stored in the refrigerator in the soaked state for about a week. After that they fall apart.

BONUS!Now this lady has it together!

DOUBLE BONUS! I am not worthy:

Thursday, September 17, 2009

"You want to put WHAT on WHAT?!"

That's the response you're going to get when you propose this for breakfast:

pancakes with fresh feta cheese and honey.

That's what I said, that's what my sister said, that's what everybody else I know said.

But. It tastes great. Granted, you need to actually like feta cheese for this to work. But hey, you don't like it, that's more for me.

Well, I'm lazy. I don't always get the feta, but pancakes are cheap and easy to make. I assuage my mom-nutrition guilt by adding milk powder and an extra egg to the mix so the kids get some protein. (Though when I ran out of eggs and substituted applesauce and brewer's yeast, breakfast was a hit!)

Anyway, I needed to add protein for myself, so I dug out the cream cheese and started making sandwiches out of them. Yum.

But it was lacking the sweet. Enter cream cheese on one side, spreadable honey on the other. Very, very good, and not drippy at all.

Monday, May 25, 2009

easy barbecue sauce

one can enchilada sauce
about half a can of ketchup.

What's going on here?
Shoot, just look at the ingredients.  Then find those obsessive posts about the perfect barbecue sauce. Except for the whiskey and coffee, which should be going into you anyway, there's not a hair's difference.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

It's in the bag

I still do cakes by the cup, mainly because it all gets eaten in one day, so no leftovers to deal with.

Experiments with dried eggs and lethicin granules were a success! I used the Deb-el powdered eggs and granular soy lethicin from my local health nut store.

The original "Cake in a mug" recipe calls for a box of cake mix and a box of pudding to be combined, then split up in approximately one-cup portions. You then add one egg, one tablespoon of water, then one tablespoon of oil for one little cake.

This makes about five cakes total. This means you add the equivalent of five eggs and five tablespoons lethicin to the original cake mix and pudding recipe.

Now your "instant cake" recipe is one cup mix, and two tablespoons water. It comes out pretty thick, so I don't think there's harm in adding a little bit more water if you want to pour easily.

Speaking of pouring: There's really no need to muss up too many dishes making four cupcakes or a single serving cake. Just get a quart sized zipper bag and put the water and mix inside. Smoosh as necessary to mix thouroughly. Cut off a corner to pour the mix into the cupcake papers or little bitty cake pan, or even the coffee mug.