How to Get Rave Reviews: Start with Homemade (Chicken, or other) Stock

I started this blogpost last night, first drafting the recipe and then deciding the lead-in (narrative) part would have to wait until today. Since I was scheduled to attend a workshop at East Line Books in Clifton Park, NY this morning on Food and Travel Writing, led by Alison Stein Wellner, I knew it would be later in the day that I’d get back to it. I am now glad it happened that way. As I’d hoped, the info-packed session “pumped me up” again for writing. Not only the foodblog, but for other food-related literature as well. And maybe, just maybe, I might find myself returning to a get-published (as in other-than-self-published) frame of mind.

It’s been a long time since potential acceptance by magazines and journals held any allure for me. I simply want to write. And cook. And do art. And spend time with family and good friends. Alison, however, through one of her short writing exercises, managed to tease out of me an idea for a series of articles that I not only want to write but feel compelled to share with anyone who’ll listen/read. Seeking publication in a relevant magazine might be the best way to do that.

One simple question from Alison, “What fascinates you about food and travel?” – with ensuing suggestions about possible directions our pens might take us in from there – set everyone in the room scribbling. Her best advice: “Write about what fascinates you,” because to do otherwise means you’ll begin to hate it. It will become as much drudgery as any of the worst 9-to-5 jobs you’ve ever held.

This “new” topic fascinates me. Unfortunately, I can’t share it with blog readers right now. It requires nurturing, planning and lots of time (and work) to come to fruition. (If I had time, I’d be signed up for Alison’s workshop at the Capital Region Arts Center next weekend, June 2nd. She’ll be covering The Business of Freelance Writing!)

In the meantime, now that I’ve worked up your curiosity, how about a return to Chicken Stock?
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If you’ve been reading this blog for a few months, you’ve probably noticed that I mention the use of boxed stocks in cooking up batches of my soups (and I do love making soup!). I’ve discovered a couple brands that I like. They’re not high in sodium (some sodium-free), plus they’re pretty tasty. So I wasn’t necessarily gung-ho for stirring up a pot o’ the homemade stuff. But reading a relatively new, food-related book changed my mind.

Here’s what I wrote about An Everlasting Meal in my “journal” of books I’ve read (yes, I have a list of every book I’ve read, i.e., completely finished, since 1995; had to do it since I found I couldn’t remember which I’d read and sometimes would begin to read something, only to realize I’d read it a year or two before!):

Adler, Tamar. AN EVERLASTING MEAL: COOKING WITH ECONOMY AND GRACE. Scribner, 2011. Essays on food. Beginning with “How to Boil Water,” Adler caught me up in her beautiful prose. Which often reads like poetry. How about the title of the next chapter, “How to Teach an Egg to Fly”? In which she says to the reader, “A gently but sincerely cooked egg tells us all we need to know about divinity. It hinges not on the question of how the egg began, but how the egg will end. A good egg, cooked deliberately, gives us a glimpse of the greater forces at play.” There are recipes too but not always in a real recipe format. She wants her readers to learn what to do with foods without need of a cookbook. She wants us to love food; not waste it; share it with others because it’s about nourishment and, thus, relationships. A truly wonderful book. Highly recommended, whether you like to cook or not.

A small part of Adler’s desire not to waste the gifts of the earth includes saving the ends, peels and odd chunks of aromatics, as well as bones of fish and fowl and animals, for stocks that add gusto to future meals. I now freeze many of these bits of leftovers and otherwise not usable veggies (except maybe in compost), later to stew up the most delicious stock! Below is the chicken one (to be followed by a future post, with pictures, for a soup that was a mega-hit at the Women Writers and Artists Matrix Weekend in Saratoga earlier this month), but it’s not the only stock I’ve created since reading this exquisite book.

After serving a seldom-seen dinner on our table (lamb), I managed to find time to toss the bones, aromatics and water into a pot, then strain and freeze the results. Last week, I made one of my hubby’s favorite meals, Braised Stew Beef (it makes its own gravy) over noodles. Instead of cooking it down with water added to the extra-large frying pan, I poured in one of the thawed containers of lamb stock. Rave reviews ensued.

You too could get rave reviews. Not from the New York Times food critic, but from someone whose opinion matters more to you. Start with homemade stock.

MARILYN’S HOMEMADE CHICKEN STOCK
Yields one really, really large stockpot full of delicious liquid!

Prelude to Ingredients: Collect & freeze, over a few weeks or a month, the following –

  • Chicken bones, with any amount of meat still stuck to them (or none at all)
  • Ends cut away from onions, shallots, leeks, carrots, celery, garlic (and maybe more, depending upon your own taste and judgment)
  • Onion, carrot, celery and garlic peelings, pieces and leaves

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon olive or canola oil, with a dab of butter added
  • 2 carrots, unpeeled, cut into 2 or 3 pieces
  • 2 small celery stalks, unpeeled, cut into 2 or 3 pieces
  • 1 to 2 onions, peeled and quartered
  • 3 garlic cloves, cut in half
  • all of “Prelude” ingredients listed above – minimum of a 1 gallon zip-lock bag of the veggies; plus at least bones equivalent to 2 chickens, whether chicken parts or whole birds (it’s good to include some bones with bits of dark meat on them, for good flavor)
  • a few grape (or cherry) tomatoes (but only if you have them and wish to include them), halved
  • water to cover all ingredients, and then some… (filtered water is better than tap water, especially if you’re on public water that’s chemically treated – but it’s not required)
  • 1 teaspoon peppercorns
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons sea salt (or kosher, if preferred; but you can use table salt, just not the whole 2 teaspoons in the latter case)
  • 3 or 4 small sprigs of dried thyme
  • 2 small sprigs of dried rosemary
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons of dried parsley
  • ½ teaspoon lemon zest (optional, but a nice touch)

Process:

  1. Sauté the carrots, celery and onion in the oil/butter for about 2 minutes – in a large stockpot. (I lightly salt these at this time too.)
  2. Add garlic to pan; continue to sauté for about a minute more (do not burn the garlic or you’ll have to start over!).
  3. Add the rest of the vegetable items (peels, ends, etc.), along with the grape (or cherry) tomatoes, if using, and the batch of chicken bones. Cover with water – enough to bring it to at least three inches over the ingredients.
  4. Toss in peppercorns, salt, thyme, rosemary, parsley and lemon zest (if using).
  5. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.
  6. Allow to simmer for a minimum of 2 to 3 hours. You’ll want water to reduce gradually as flavor intensifies.
  7. When the stock meets your own taste-bud test, turn off the heat and let sit for a bit.
  8. After about 20 minutes, strain through a sieve and distribute stock amongst containers in which to freeze – perhaps retaining some to make soup immediately, or use for braising a chicken or other dish.
  9. When cool enough (it’s wise to sit containers in ice bath to get it there- much safer, foodwise), place in freezer for future use. Make sure you’ve marked containers (with labels) with info about what’s in it and date it was frozen!

Sorry – didn’t think to take a picture of the strained stock. Besides, I’m sure all my readers have an idea of what that looks like! Stay tuned, however, for the next post – in which this stock helps to transform butternut squash, pumpkin puree and sweet potato into a thick, savory soup that you’ll want to inhale (it’s that good).

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HOT DOG! Frankly, Any Dog with “The Works” Deserves this Meat Sauce!

My Aunt Naomi owned, at different times, at least two restaurants in Gloversville, NY decades ago. I don’t remember what the first one was called (any of my relatives recall?), but the second retained the name, I think, of the previous owner, Helen’s Lunch. I know it was located on Main Street, several blocks up from the downtown section. It was a big deal for me when I was old enough to walk it on my own from my Andrews’ relatives’ house. Probably the former name served well enough, since one of my aunt’s daughters was named Helen and she worked in the restaurant as well (along with her sisters, Snookie [Ruth] and Joan). There was no question that a big attractions at both eateries was Aunt Naomi’s hot dog sauce. People traveled from miles outside G-ville for those dogs, topped with mustard, onions and The Sauce – The Works!

My mother (Dolly) once told me that her sister learned how to make this meaty condiment from “an old Greek lady” but I’m not sure if the recipe was ever written down before I cornered Mom in my kitchen, in front of the stove, a note pad and pencil in my hands. My Aunt Naomi (the sister with whom she felt closest, despite a 13-year difference in ages) taught Mom how to cook up the sauce, and for years we enjoyed it whenever Dolly made a batch. Mom would whip up a potful for a picnic and bring along a couple small-portioned, frozen containers’ worth, so we could pull them out of the freezer at a later date for eager consumption. At one time, the stuff was even bottled for commercial sale, but it was the late 60s and opportunities for widespread advertisements weren’t as wide and diverse as they are now, what with Facebook, blogs, Twitter and more. It had a small, loyal, local following (my dad even sold it in his tiny, corner grocery store on Second Avenue in the South End of Albany), but it certainly didn’t earn my relatives a fortune. I think the enterprise came to a close when Aunt Naomi and Uncle Corley pulled up roots and moved to Arizona, where they remained for several years.

Uncle Corley, cousin Helen, Aunt Naomi, 1950s, in their restaurant

I picture Dolly standing beside Naomi in front of a stove in their more youthful times, pretty much the same as when I was wresting details of the recipe from my mother decades later. But I don’t think Mom would be writing anything down, unlike me, who grabbed her hand occasionally to stop her from dumping an ingredient in the pot – so I could measure it. My mother cooked by “feel” and experience, as many home cooks did and still do. She’d witnessed her sister’s cooking for years, having spent lots of her childhood and teen years in Gloversville at the Andrews home. In fact, her eldest niece by Aunt Naomi was only five years younger than she was – so in some ways, Naomi was a bit of a mother figure.

Mom's favorite picture of herself, at 16, outside Bleecker stadium in Albany (during World War 2).

All her later life, Mom fantasized about living in Gloversville, but it never happened. Still, at least one week of each summer was spent with Aunt Naomi and Uncle Corley, and I loved it. I loved the food: delicious, basic food to fill the tummy. I loved the company. And, for a kid, it felt special that my aunt ran a restaurant!

Whenever I pull together a “cauldron” full of Aunt Naomi’s Hot Dog Sauce, I tend to double the recipe that you’ll find below. Like Mom, I want to ensure there’s sauce for another time or two. Small portions freeze well, which is the way to go so you can boil, fry or grill up just a few frankfurters and not worry about whether or not you’ll use the rest up before it sits in the fridge too long (Bill says I should work for the FDA [federal Food and Drug Administration] since I take seriously all those warnings about how long one should hold on to leftovers!). While Bill could eat hot dogs several times a week (especially the all-beef variety), I cannot; ergo, the freezer strategy. All in all, I prefer those small portions because I think of hot dogs with this special sauce as a treat, not something included weekly in a balanced diet.

The reason I decided to give priority to creating a blogpost centered on this recipe, rather than the at-least-a-half-dozen other posts for which I’ve taken recent pictures, is because hubby Bill remarked to me last week, “I’m in the mood for hot dogs. How about it?” When I suggested that, if he waited just a few days, there could be some of this sauce to add to his mustard and onions, there was no question that I’d better get to it soon.

I made almost double this recipe but, unfortunately, discovered I didn’t have as much paprika as I’d thought. Checking the spice rack, I found almost a whole container of Smoked Paprika, which I subbed for close to half of the regular spice. Tasting it, I noted the difference and – to balance out to what I thought would be closer to my aunt’s sauce, or at least cover some of the “smoked” flavor – I then added about a tablespoon of garlic paste (from one of those tubes now available in the produce section of many large grocery stores). For me, this almost made up for the difference in taste resulting from the substitute. (I’m not a fan of smoked spices, but perhaps you’d like it better.) As for my husband, he thought it was great, true to what he’d tasted when Mom made it (he never got a chance to sample Aunt Naomi’s). Go figure.

I'm mashin' and choppin" away!

Something to remember: Mom always emphasized that the “secret” to this recipe was to keep mashing down the meat until it was fine in texture. She said this allowed the flavor of the spices to really soak in, for all the flavors to meld together. I’ve used a masher, but a metal spatula or chopper does the job best.

 

AUNT NAOMI’S/MOM’S HOT DOG SAUCE
Yield: enough to top a couple dozen franks, or probably more, depending upon how much you heap on!

Ingredients

  • 1 to 1½ lbs. ground beef
  • 1 small onion, minced
  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • ⅓ cup plus 1 tablespoon paprika
  • ¼ cup plus 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • water, to cover from start of cooking

Process

1.  Sauté onion in oil in a large saucepan until just turning translucent.

2.  Add ground beef and fry until browned, continuously mashing beef to break it down to a fine texture.

3.  Add paprika and chili powder, stirring in thoroughly.

4.  Add water to cover beef mixture and to about 1 inch above.

5.  Simmer sauce for 1 to 1½ hour, stirring occasionally, until most of the water is cooked away. (I continue to mash the beef up occasionally during this stage too.) If you prefer the sauce to be spicier, add a little more chili powder before simmering is finished.

6.  Serve on hot dogs in buns. (I prefer New England style buns, toasted on both sides.) Tastes especially good with mustard and, if you like them, chopped onions (I don’t do raw onions – migraine trigger!).

Bill goes for "The Works"!

7.  If you choose to freeze in small amounts, reheat later by adding a small amount of water to the pan with the frozen block of sauce. It’ll cook down/heat up well.

My choice: just the dog with the sauce and a little mustard both below and atop the dog

 

Honoring My Ancestors: Christmas Eve 2011, Recipe #2 – Goląbki (Polish Stuffed Cabbage)

Here’s the second “main dish” I prepared for our Christmas Eve buffet this year (see previous post for the first recipe, Pierogi in a casserole form, which also describes two other ways I’ve dished those little dumplings up in the past – including the version Mom learned from Dad and his mother). I doubled the recipe below when cooking up the Christmas batch, with a few revisions as noted. Doubling gave me enough to freeze to give to my brother for a future meal as well as for ourselves. In fact, we had Bill’s sister over for dinner a couple nights ago and served her stuffed cabbage too! She toted home some leftover goląbki (gwum-kee) along with mashed potatoes.

 

Even though Dad’s family was the Polish side, I remember vividly how many of Mom’s family members were wild about them – even to the point where, on one of our get-togethers in Schenectady’s Central Park in the late ’50s, it was requested that Dad make them. It didn’t matter that it was a picnic where hot dogs, hamburgers and salads generally prevailed. It was an opportunity to eat George’s gwum-kees! No one made them like my father, who learned from his mom, Nana Zembo. He showed Mom how to create them. I had to corner my mother one afternoon when she was in her late 60s, standing beside her at my stove, to get the ingredients and cooking process into writing. I didn’t want the family recipe to disappear.

Central Park, Schenectady, NY, toasting marshmallows under the golabki pot - left to right: Marilyn (me), Uncle Arch, Aunt Ann (in back at table with Dad, Uncle Corley), cousin Gary, brother George, cousin Archie. 1950s.

I’ve even written a short story, “Gerta’s Path,” which takes place in my grandparents’ old neighborhood in Albany, NY, and features goląbki. It’s theme? …how you serve up love.

Dad, Europe, World War 2

 

NANA ZEMBO’S GOLĄBKI (Polish Stuffed Cabbage)
(Makes from 20 to 30 stuffed cabbages, depending on how large your cabbage is!)

 Ingredients
  • 2 large heads of cabbage
  • ¼ to ½ lb. salt pork
  • 2 cups cooked rice (cooked it in beef broth this time, only difference from the original recipe)
  • 2½ to 3 lbs. ground chuck (actually, I used 80% beef as it’s a bit healthier)
  • up to 1 lb. loose pork sausage (optional; also, I use about ½ lb.-too much more makes meat stick together more than preferred)
  • 3 or 4 eggs (generally use 3)
  • Salt, pepper, garlic powder (or paste, my preference), 1 tsp. each or to taste
  • 1 large can tomato puree
  • 1 large can water (use puree can)
  • 2 large onions, peeled and sliced

Process

  1. Cook cabbage in boiling water until pliable (1 to 1½ hour). Test core for doneness; do not poke leaves. (I cut around the core of the cabbage before placing them in the water. It’s lots easier to pull leaves away for filling later on.)
  2. While cabbage cooks, dice salt pork into small cubes, first cutting away grizzle from back of pork. (Alternatively, pork can be ground in food processor after removing grizzle.) Fry until crisp and brown.
  3. Mix hamburger, pork (if using), eggs and rice with salt, pepper and garlic powder (or garlic paste).
  4. Add salt pork from fry pan, including the grease to the meat mixture.
  5. Line bottom of a large oven roaster pan with outside pieces of cabbage that possibly softened too much for filling.
  6. Fill each cabbage leaf with meat mixture, folding over to close four times (side closest to you, then sides on left and right, followed by the side furthest way – thus covering all the mean mixture inside).
  7. Place filled cabbages in pan, folded side down, layering as necessary.
  8. Pour puree over stuffed cabbages; then pour water over everything.
  9. Distribute sliced onions over the top.
  10. Cook in pre-heated 350º oven for 1½ to 2 hours, until done (slice one stuffed cabbage in half to determine if meat inside is sufficiently cooked—and check cabbage to be sure bulkier pieces are tender enough for eating).
  11. Serve with mashed potatoes as a side dish. I also enjoy a side of wax (yellow) beans with them.

    Nana Zembo

The ABCs of Beef Stew

Maybe more stewing in that red cauldron than beef? Marilyn's apron, bought in Salem last month, says "Witchy Women"!

Even while feeling pretty lousy, sometimes one has to cook. Aside from the great chicken-based soup that my friend Judy brought over (having read on Facebook how a nasty bug had me by the throat) – maybe because her gift gave me the energy! – I still had to brave the kitchen once the 102 degree temperature subsided. And there was this fabulous, new, bright red, heavy-bottomed Dutch oven just waiting to be filled with something delicious. (I’d been eying the more expensive pots, priced upwards from $100, when I came across this not-to-be-missed deal at $40 in BJ’s!) Plus I hadn’t gotten around to freezing some stew beef that required consumption pronto.

So I rallied long enough to first peruse a few cookbooks for ideas about “slowcooking” the stew without using my slowcooker. Not that I was averse to the slowcooker– love it — just that I HAD to get that red beauty into my oven! My two main research books turned out to be The Slow Cooker Bible: Your All-in-One Guide to Successful Slow-Cooking (a Publications International, Ltd. edition, no author noted), out of which I’d recently made something called Mexican-Style Shredded Beef, and a favorite of mine, Make it Fast, Cook It Slow: The Big Book of Everyday Slow Cooking by Stephanie O’Dea (Hyperion, 2009). I probably glanced through a few more, but who remembers when the brain was more concentrated on an irritating cough? Besides, I was likely going with my usual basic beef stew, only desiring some idea about how to start it on the stove and then move it to the oven – temps and time frames were crucial.

Here’s what I came up with, which was much appreciated by Bill. I’d love to say I adored it too but must confess that my taste buds were a little muted at the time. Still, I enjoyed it, the aroma – while simmering – permeating whatever smelling sensors were still working! That’s got to say something…

As for the ABC title of this blogpost– well, this time I remembered to take pictures at almost every stage of the recipe, so it reminded me of the step-by-step ABC books of childhood. Maybe A is for Appetite, B for the Beef and C for Cooking as Healer (it sure felt good to be doing it). On the other hand, you could say I left out the last letter, poor ol’ Z, because we were so anxious to sit down to indulge our appetites that I forgot to snap a last shot of the served-up stew! (Don’t worry- there IS a photo of the finished stew in the pot!)

Ingredients:
– 1.5 lb. boneless chuck stewing beef
– ½ cup flour (can be gluten-free flour)
– ¼ tsp sea salt
– ½ tsp. pepper
– 1 tsp. dried parsley
– ½ tsp. dried thyme
– 1 tbsp. olive oil
– 2 tbsp. butter (salted)
– 2 medium-sized onions
– 2 tsp. celery seed (or 1-2 stalks celery, diced)
– 2 tsp. garlic paste (or 2 garlic cloves, minced)
– 1 14.5 oz. can diced tomatoes, plus 2 diced tomatoes (latter is optional; I had them on hand)
– 8 oz. baby-cut carrots (or 4-5 medium carrots cut to “baby-cut” size)
– 20 oz. “baby” Yukon Gold potatoes (or potatoes of choice)
– 1 cup frozen green beans, slightly thawed
– 1 cup frozen or 1 15 oz. can corn

Pulling the stew recipe together barely needs words to describe it along with these pictures, but here goes…

Pre-head the oven to 300 degrees. Make sure your cubed stewing beef is of fairly equal size- about 1-inch cubes are best.

Combine flour, sea salt, pepper, parsley and thyme in a plastic ziplock bag. Add the beef. Zip closed and shake until beef cubes are well-coated.

Add olive oil and butter to a warmed Dutch oven, melting the butter. (I like using heart-healthy olive oil but have read it has a lower heat ceiling than other “oils” so I add butter. OK, I just like using butter. I love butter, although perhaps not as much as a famous Southern Food Network star who happens to be a favorite food idol of mine, especially for her creativity.)

Brown the beef in the oil/butter (note that you should have a empty bowl ready for when you’ll remove the meat for a short while). Make sure you reserve any leftover flour mix for later thickening.

While beef is browning, chop onions and tomatoes (if using) into large chunks.

When browned, remove beef from the pot to bowl. Add onions to the pot (can add a little more oil or butter if there’s not enough moisture left) and sprinkle with a little more salt, if desired. Add chunked tomatoes, garlic paste (or minced garlic) and celery seed. Stir and let saute for about 2-3 minutes, then add canned diced tomatoes. Stir and let come to a simmer.

Meanwhile, with a fork or whisk, mix together the flour mixture left from coating the beef (about 2 tablespoons worth), 2 tablespoons of water and 2 tablespoons of the the sauce from the pan – until smooth. Add this to the pan while stirring. This will slightly thicken the sauce as it cooks throughout the process.

Once brew returns to a slight bubbling, return the meat to the pan.

Add potatoes and carrots.

Cover the pot.

Remove from stove and place in pre-heated 300 degree oven. After about 1.5 hours, reduce oven temperature to 275 degrees. Cook for another hour.

At the end of the hour, take the Dutch oven out of the oven, open and stir in green beans and corn. Add up to a quarter or half cup of water (or beef broth) if stew appears to need it (mine didn’t). Check to determine doneness of potatoes. Re-cover and return to oven for an additional 15 to 30 minutes, depending upon doneness of potatoes. Then remove pot from the oven, add additional salt and/or pepper seasoning if desired, and serve it up!

Of course, the cook gets to substitute items in her own cauldron. Maybe you’d like to add a little rosemary to the brew, or a pinch of cinnamon (which, in my opinion, always goes with a tomato sauce!). Peas instead of green beans, or use both. Be your own KitchenWitch – cast a spell over your family and guests with whatever creative innovations you might come up with!