Saturday, October 4, 2008

My favorite time of the year...

One of my favorite times of the year is the transition from summer to fall. It's still warm during the day (but not oppressively so), and the evenings are deliciously cool, making more cozy fare much more attractive.
One of my favorite dishes for cool/cold nights is a gratin, in tonight's case, a potato gratin.
Gratins are really easy to make (all a gratin is, really, is vegetables with a little liquid, baked slowly until a crust forms and the liquid thickens), and they taste sooooo good.

For tonight, I wanted to make a potato gratin, so after I went to the brewing store for beer ingredients, I swung by my local grocer for the ingredients.
To make a potato gratin, what you need are:
potatoes (3-4 med/lg potatoes)
a garlic clove
a good hard cheese, like gouda or gruyere
salt + pepper

What you do is pretty simple. You combine a cup of cream with a cup of milk in a pan, and add a crushed garlic clove. Warm that gently over low heat and leave it be.
Slice the potatoes thinly (a benriner or mandolin works best), and then in a gratin pan (or a pie pan for that matter), put a ladle-ful of the warm milk in the bottom of the pan, and then a layer of potatoes. Add a little more cream, and then fresh ground pepper, and some grated cheese. Another layer of potatoes, then cream, pepper and cheese. Lather, rinse, repeat, until you've either used up your potatoes or the pan is full. Put some more grated cheese over top so that you'll have a nice crust, and bake the whole shebang for about an hour at 350deg F.

What you'll get is heaven in a pan:

What's more, it's not just good food, it's a good test of character. Any person who doesn't like potatos au gratin is probably not someone you need to spend time getting to know in the first place. (After all, who doesn't like cheese, cream and potatoes?)

Sunday, September 28, 2008

The Stock Answer...

Chicken stock is a funny thing. It's one of the core ingredients in cooking, whether making a soup, a sauce, a casserole, whatever; yet most people don't make it, but rather buy the stuff in the can (or in box). Personally, I don't have a problem with that, although this guy does. But even though I don't think it's a hanging offense to use the canned stuff, I think homemade stock is superior, and since it's pretty easy (if somewhat time-consuming) to make, it's probably something everyone should know how to do.

I also wanted to do stock today as a blog post because I figured it would be a good excuse to laze around the house, baby-sitting the stock, and recovering from my run this morning. No such luck.
But I did manage to squeeze in all the steps necessary, so maybe that shows you can make stock-making fit your schedule.

Stock is really just "parts", plus aromatics, herbs, and water. I get my parts by cleaning out the freezer periodically. Backs, wings, giblets (minus the liver), those leftover chicken thighs I never got around to using, whatever. I've got roughly 8-12 lbs, and they're all destined for the pot.
The aromatics I'm using today are the "trinity" of celery, onion, and carrot, the herbs are a combination of parsley, thyme, and tarragon (I couldn't find bay leaf in my pantry, and it'll be fine without it), and the water is Cary's finest straight from the tap.

I'm following the recipe in James Peterson's "Sauces" cookbook for Brown Chicken Stock, but you really don't need a recipe for stock. In the most basic terms, you take your chicken parts, you rinse them off, and then put them in a single layer in a roasting pan.

Preheat the oven to 400deg, and pop the parts in for 20 minutes. Once they start getting golden, add the aromatics and stir everything up. Put it all back in the oven for 45 more minutes.

When the parts come out, they'll be nice and brown and smell really good. Then you take out your parts and put them in a stock pot (I used a 16qt, the book calls for a 25qt, you decide). Then you skim the excess fat from the roasting pan, put it over two burners on top of the stove, and turn up the heat. Add about a quart of water to the pan, and bring it to a boil, and scrape all those nice brown bits from the bottom of the pan.

Once you've got the pan deglazed, you (carefully) pour the water into the stock pot, and then you add about 8 more quarts of water. Bring it to a simmer and let it simmer for about 30-45 minutes, add your bouquet garni, turn the heat down to low, and leave it be for about 3-4 hours. Then you turn off the heat and let it cool.

Once you're done, just strain it with a colander to get all the big solids out, and then strain it thru a mesh strainer to get any finer solids out. What you do at that point is kind of up to you, but what I did was take about 8 ziploc freezer bags, and divvied up the stock among them, and froze the bags.

So that's it. Easy peasy. Your house will smell really good, and the next time you make something that calls for chicken stock, rather than reaching for the can, you'll thaw out some stock, and it'll taste 100 times better.

Marathon thoughts...

I just ran 18 miles this morning as part of my marathon training (and let me tell you, 18 miles is a long, long way), and as I ran, I thought about blog postings that I could do (since I am completely out of gas right now), and while I'm making chicken stock right now for a posting later today, I figured I'd also do a brain dump of various things that occurred to me on the run.

1. Living in an area with 3 major universities and numerous smaller schools means that you see a diverse group no matter where you go, even in Umstead Park at 7am, and unfortunately, they're all faster than me. (At least, the group of Kenyans I saw this morning were just smoking fast, and I saw them several times in my route, and they never looked tired).

2. Most people are very friendly when you're out running, and the ones that aren't probably are just tired.

3. Chafing is an unfair fact of life, and no matter what steps you take to prevent it (from strategic band-aids to different shorts, whatever), you will always chafe somewhere.

4. If I didn't have my shuffle, I'd go totally bat-crazy running long distances. I'm always impressed at the playlist I end up with, since I have enough music on there that each run is likely to have something different.
The bands I have on my shuffle: (in alphabetical order) Beastie Boys, Beck, Ben Folds Five, Breeders, Clash, Clinic, Dixie Chicks (ok, that one's embarassing), Drive-By Truckers, Elvis Costello, Fleet Foxes, Franz Ferdinand, Garbage, Girl Talk, Green Day, Guided By Voices, The Hold Steady, Jay-Z, Johnny Cash, Kathleen Edwards, The Knack, Loretta Lynn, Lucinda Williams, Muse, The New Pornographers, Nine Inch Nails, Old 97's, Outkast, Pearl Jam, Pixies, PJ Harvey, Public Enemy, REM, Raconteurs, Radiohead, Rolling Stones, Sleater-Kinney, Spoon, Superchunk, Ted Leo, Throwing Muses, U2, White Stripes, The Who, and finally, Wilco.

I think that's a pretty good mix, and it's interesting to go from one genre to another in one song. I've often thought this kind of trainwreck playlist would be a good radio format, but clearly, no one else does.

5. Finally, just because you're tired after a long run, don't expect sympathy from non-running members of the household. Trees still need planting, kids still have activities, and laying on the couch recuperating doesn't typically figure into things.

Next up, chicken stock.