Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Roasted Chicken Stock

Chicken stock is something I like to make a few times a year and freeze it in ice cube trays to use later on. I use it for when I'm feeling under the weather or just feel lazy and want a quick and light meal. Like most everything I write about here, it's healthy and has lots of flavour.

Everyone has their own way of making it. My way is pretty standard, but I try to put my own little trademarks on it, if you can do that. Preferably, I like to roast the chicken first before throwing it in the stock pot. This helps to darken the stock. I always used powdered turmeric to add another healthy element to it (http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=78) and to add the yellow(ish) color to the stock. Yes, believe it or not, it's one of the ingredients which helps give any chicken stock or soup you buy in the grocery store it's yellow color.

I just happened to find some fresh turmeric at the Calgary Farmers Market a few weeks back, so this time I could put a new twist on my stock. I found it at The Silk Road Spice Merchant (http://www.silkroadspices.ca/about). Most times, fresh is the way to go and I would like to think fresh turmeric is an even healthier way to use it. Dried is already ground up for you but if left for a long period of time, like anything else it loses it's flavour and health benefits. If you have the root, it lasts a lot longer but is harder to deal with. It's rock hard, so I believe the best way to deal with it is to grate it with a microplane, a good sharp one, and press hard on it. Don't lose the tips of your fingers while doing it though. That may screw your soup up, especially the color.

If you are using a whole chicken, I was always told there are two ways to do it. Drop a whole chicken into the pot with whatever else you are cooking it with, herbs, spices, vegetables. The French call the vegetable part of this equation mise en place, which means "putting in place" or defined by the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) as "everything in it's place." Sometimes it's also called mirepoix. Depends on the preparation or cooking method. At any rate, have your vegetables ready to go when you put the chicken in the pot. Crank the heat up, cover it and boil the life out of everything for an hour. I'm not a big fan of this as I like passive cooking methods rather than hijacking the flavour out of your ingredients. The other (easy) way is to bring the pot up to a boil, cover it and let it sit for about 8 hours. I don't normally suggest doing this, but it does work if you have to run out the door. I have however, found a happy medium for these two. Bring the pot up to a boil and then turn the heat down to a simmer for about 2-2 1/2 hours.

If you are going to roast the chicken first, strip as much of the meat off as you can before shoving it in the oven. This will darken the bones and help add more flavour and color to the stock. And you can have a chicken sandwich while you're waiting too! You can do this with a turkey carcass as well if you want to make turkey soup with any holiday leftovers.

Roasted Chicken Stock

- About 4 lbs (1 3/4 kg) raw chicken (or turkey) bones (backs, feet, ribs, wings, necks). I usually throw in one or two carcasses as a general rule.
- EVOO or canola oil, if roasting the bones
- 2 large onions, chopped.
- 2 large carrots, chopped
- 2 stalks celery, chopped
- 1 leek, cleaned well and chopped
- 2 - 3 cloves of garlic
- 2 - 3 sprigs fresh thyme
- 2 - 3 sprigs fresh rosemary
- small handful of parsley, curly or flat leaf Italian
- 8 - 10 whole peppercorns
- 2 - 3 bay leaves
- 1 red chili
- 1 teaspoon fresh grated turmeric
- 18 cups cold water (4.5 litres) or whatever comes close to filling up the pot you are using.

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

2. Add oil to large roasting pan and rub it around so the carcasses don't stick to the pan. Add bones and roast in lower rack of oven until golden brown, about 15 to 25 minutes. Stir often to ensure even browning. Browning the bones will give a rich flavoured and dark coloured stock. Skip the browning step if you want a chicken stock with a mellower, more subtle flavour. Try to get as much of the skin off as you can, but you don't need to waste a whole lot of time doing this.

3. Transfer bones to a stockpot. Add the vegetables and herbs. Add enough cold water to cover and bring to a boil over high heat. As the water comes to a boil, skim the scum off that floats on top. If you don't have the time for this, you can do it later when the stock cools.

4. When the water comes to a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer stock very gently, uncovered, for at least 2 hours or up to 4 or 5 hours if you want a more concentrated flavour. Leaving the pot uncovered will help reduce the volume of stock, thus concentrating it.

5. The liquid should barely bubble; if the stock boils it will be cloudy. Don’t stir it or push down on the bones either. This will make it cloudy as well.


6. Strain the stock through a fine sieve (you could use cheesecloth while doing this if you like too) and cool. Transfer to shallow containers so the stock cools quicker. When cooled to room temperature, seal with plastic wrap or in airtight containers. Store in the refrigerator for up to 2 days or freeze until ready to use. Skim off any remaining fat from the top of the stock before using. Makes about 16 cups, but yield depends on how long you simmer the stock.

When it's all said and done, there are different ways to serve this. Normally I don't have a plan, I just plan as I go. Bring the soup to a boil. This may take a little time if you are using frozen cubes. Most times I will add rice noodles or spaghetti broken into smaller pieces. Sometimes I don't. Depends on how I feel that day. Then I add some broccoli.


And after a while I will add some diced red pepper. Also, I will add sea salt when I reheat it only as to not have it reduce on me and become to salty. I add the chicken near the end as it is already cooked. Sometimes I will even drop in an egg and let the heat of the soup cook it while I wait for it to cool down. Stir before eating and it will spread itself throughout the soup.


Needless to say, Mrs. Urban Eater and her strong dislike for undercooked eggs didn't agree to the egg thing. Her loss.

This is a great little meal for a cold day or whenever you feel like eating light and hanging out on the cook watching TV or doing some reading. I ate this soup while writing one of the blogs on here. This is another meal idea which is quite versatile and you can pretty much add almost anything that would go into a soup with this. Meat, seafood, vegetables, whatever. I also use it to make risotto or stir-frys. It's healthy and a good way to help make yourself feel better (http://www.sixwise.com/newsletters/05/12/14/does-chicken-soup-have-healing-powers-1.htm)

When making the stock, feel free to throw in a parsnip or turnip if you like as well. They're good for you and the flavours won't overpower anything else in the pot. Some people even throw in a yam or sweet potato. It's up to you.

Mrs. Urban Eater's Christmas Party

Mrs. Urban Eater had her company Christmas party last night at The River Cafe (http://www.river-cafe.com/index.php). Nice place, nice setting on Prince's Island just off of the downtown core in Calgary. Nice view of all the buildings lit up against the dark sky (not exactly going green with that, but nevertheless it looked cool) as you sit at your table. About 50-60 people there having a good time, nice to see.

As we walked in the door, they had servers handing out a nice Bordeaux, 2005  St. Julien Fiefs de Lagrange, a tasty sauvignon blanc, 2008 Sancerre Alphonse Mellot 'La Moussiere', NV Gaston Chiquet Brut Tradition 1 er Cru Champagne and I believe it was orange and ginger snap martinis with vanilla bean infused vodka. I grabbed a glass of the red and so did the wife. While we were visiting with everyone, the hors d'oeurves were being brought around by more servers. Halibut and Shitake mushroom Potstickers, Brie de Meux Filo, halibut cakes, red lentil hummus served on red fife wheatbread and there were a couple of other ones which I didn't partake in as I didn't want to ruin my dinner. There was also an oyster bar with fresh oysters from PEI (Malpeque) and Vancouver Island.

The dinner was served after everyone passed on their holiday wishes. My meal started with roasted carrot soup, then a field green salad, and the main was roasted sablefish which the wife also had. A good selection of mains to choose from made it hard to figure out what to have. Everything on the menu looked so good, but I have never ate sablefish, so I thought it was time. Didn't disappoint. I would definitely order it again and so would the wife.

I had some pics of the restaurant, but the cell phone camera doesn't take great shots in a darker atmosphere. Too bad. I just wasn't going to walk around a party to which I am a spouse, not an employee, and in a nice place like that with a camera. Might be a liiiiiittle bit tacky.

It was a nice party, lots of fun and interesting conversation. We had to leave as I phoned our babysitter, next door neighbor Maria, and she told me O was still awake and playing (at 9:45 at night, well after her bedtime) but everything was good. It was best we got home to settle her down for a long sleep. When we arrived, she was out cold. A nice way to end the evening. It sure is nice to have a babysitter who is a mother to 3 great kids and a new grandmother to watch little O. Very reassuring.

Little O's Menu

As this may be my last blog before Christmas, I will let you know she will be eating whatever is made at the in-laws place. Turkey, ham, perogies, mashed potatoes, whatever she likes she can eat. All of this and the fruits we have been feeding her up to now. We're hoping she will gain about 2 pounds as she only weighs 18 1/2 pounds now. The doctor says according to the growth chart, she should weigh about 22-23 pounds (about 10kgs). He isn't too worried about it as she is healthy and happy, so at this point that's all that matters.

Side note: yesterday I was having some issues with this site (spell check not working right) and some of the content was a little skewed, including a sentence which I actually took out and then magically reappeared! I tried to fix it and re-publish. My apologies if it looked kind of strange. I knew what the problems were, but thanks again K for noticing.

If I don't get another one out before Christmas, have a great holiday everyone. This will be our first as a family so I'm looking forward to ours. Enjoy yours and cherish it.

Merry Christmas. If this offends you, too bad. It's my blog and I can say whatever I want. :)

Quote of the day:

"A first-rate soup is more creative than a second-rate painting"
- Abraham Maslow (1908-1970), Professor of psychology at Brandeis University, founded humanistic psychology and created Maslow's hierarchy of needs.


Until next time, good eating everyone.

Mark

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Eggs en Cocotte, Or Let's Just Call Them Fancy Schmancy Eggs

I like my eggs. I like the way they taste, I like how many hundreds of healthy ways you can cook them and how they can add a nice touch to almost any dish they are in. They got a bad rap in the '80's for adding to peoples cholesterol problems, but that was turned around and they were proven to be a good addition to your diet a couple of years ago.

I never quit eating eggs even though my dad had cholesterol issues and still does. I'm a firm believer to which if a person eats healthy at least 80-90% of the time, then all bad things which come from a poor diet will decrease and possibly go away. There's no way Mother Nature would make something like an egg available for us to eat and make it bad for you, unless human intervention has added things to it to make it unhealthy.

What makes them even better is they are extremely versatile. We all use them in all facets of cooking: baking, cooking in the oven and on the stovetop, pasta, etc. Eggs can also be used in food as a binder in certain dishes which require a "glue" to hold them together as well such as burgers, crab cakes and ravioli. Eggs are more than just over-easy or sunny-side-up.

This dish is one of my favorite dishes for eggs, besides Eggs in Purgatory (poached on tomato sauce). You can add almost anything you want, within reason, and the eggs will lead you down the garden path to a taste eggstravaganza! All kidding aside, this is a pretty healthy and great way to have a wonderful eggsperience.

When you try this dish, it is an old French way to cook the egg. The dictionary (audioenglish.net) explains it like this: "egg cooked individually in cream or butter in a small ramekin."
Wikipedia: "Shirred eggs (also known as baked eggs, or in French, oeufs en cocotte) are eggs cooked in a manner which results in a firm white but soft or runny yolk. The name comes from the dish in which the eggs are cooked." Both are a little different explanations but really mean the same thing: a brilliant way to eat eggs.

I used to make this years ago for myself, but that was no fun. Now, I can make for Mrs. Urban Eater and soon little O. It was a slightly difficult to do as the wife likes her eggs hard, bouncing off the wall hard (I think she was trying to change Wikipedia's definition). So I had to open up the door and let the steam escape to put mine in as I like my yolks runny to dip my toast in. It still worked out, so both of us were happy with the outcome.

When making this dish, be creative and think about what eggs go with or what you think you would like to eat with your eggs. I did a take on lox and cream cheese in one and blue cheese in the other. I could have added a sprinkling of walnuts and some pear slices to the blue cheese, but I chose not to be overly creative. Both are very simple to make but offer beautiful flavors and compliment the eggs so you can serve them to your spouse, parents, in-laws or whoever you want to impress for breakfast.

Eggs en Cocotte

- 2 teaspoons crumbled blue cheese
- 8 slices smoked salmon lox
- 2 thin slices red (Spanish) onion
- 6-8 capers per ramekin. I don't give measurements for this as you shouldn't use spoons to take capers out of the jar. Us a fork or the opposite end of the utensil as to not take any of the brine with the capers.
- 1 teaspoon cream cheese, Mascarpone or crème fraîche.
- 4 eggs
- sea salt and fresh ground pepper
- 2 sprigs of chives, chopped
- 1/2 teaspoon butter for the ramekins. I always use just enough to make sure none of the ingredients will stick to keep the fat down to a minimum.


1. Heat the oven to 375FºF/190ºC. Into the bottom of each of two buttered ramekins put a spoonful of one of whatever you choose like blue cheese, smoked salmon, etc. Gently crack an egg in on top. Top with a spoonful of cream cheese for the salmon. Season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle over the chives now or you can wait until they are out of the oven.


2. Set the ramekins in a baking dish and pour hot water in the dish to come half-way up the sides of the ramekins. Bake until cooked, but still jiggling if you like your eggs rare, about 5-7 minutes. If you like them done so the yolk is still a just a little runny, you'll need about 7-9 minutes. Keep your eye on the whites and not the yolks. The yolks will stay yellow, so don't be fooled waiting for them to turn color. Serve with buttered toast soldiers for dipping.


Take a look at those yolks, still nice and yellow. BUT, they are juuuust a little runny. I should have taken a picture of Mrs. Urban Eaters as well. Hers were the same color but like rubber, just the way she likes 'em. My toast soldiers wouldn't have stood a chance with her eggs, so she had regular toast. She's no fun.

On a health note, I used butter because EVOO may have made everything stick to the ramekin because of a low smoke point, so butter was the choice to go with. Besides, eggs and butter are a tasty combo. Just make sure you keep the amount to a minimum.

Try this way of cooking eggs and get creative. Eggs don't have to be boring or cooked in an unhealthy manner. They also don't need to be cooked all by themselves. Add some personality to them.

Little O's Menu

She can't get enough of those mini croissants, I tell ya. But that's alright though. It fills her up. The French can't be wrong about those things. They are pretty damn tasty. We have been giving her those for breakfast or for snacks along with the raspberries, some blackberries and blueberries alone or with yogurt. She now has 4 little teeth to chew with so she has to learn how to use those little choppers somehow.

Another idea for snacks we started to utilize is Garden Veggie Straws we bought at Costco. I'm not to sure where else to get these as there isn't a lot of info on the web about them, but the big people in the house like them too. She has been nibbling on them for the past few weeks and they are a good little space filler between meals. Here is a little blurb about them which is one of the only ones I could find (http://www.foodsourcefile.com/diet/healthy-treats-veggie-straws-are-like-french-fries-in-taste), and here is another on (http://productreviewratings.com/2010/01/veggie-tale-twist/). The second person seems a little all over the board with what they like or dislike, but at least this gives you an idea of what they are. We only feed her 4 or 5 at a time as we aren't too sure yet if there are any bad things happening with them. Good enough for me right now. They're a lot better than a lot of other junk out there which you have to carry around for an emergency snack fix.

Tonight is Mrs. Urban Eater's company Christmas party. We will be dining at The River Cafe (http://www.river-cafe.com/index.php) on Prince's Island in downtown Calgary. Should be interesting as always and we're both looking forward to it. I'll let you all know what we had and how it was next time.

Today's quote:

"When arguing with a stone, an egg is always wrong."

- African proverb


Until next time, good eating everyone.

Mark

Monday, December 20, 2010

Meatballs!

First, I would like to say a big Thank You to all of the people following me on this blog. There are only 16 followers on the actual blog (feel free to add your name to the followers list if you like), but there are others following from other sites such as Twitter, Facebook, 12 Tomatoes and so on from various countries all over the world. It's nice to know there are people following and I hope I am offering good advice and ideas. I welcome any and all feedback (good, bad or indifferent) from anybody out there. I do get feed back, but not a lot. My good friend K in Toronto sends me emails with interesting little tidbits and I am grateful for that. Keep them coming in K!

Second, for all you trivia buffs and to all who hate winter, December 21st is the winter solstice in the northern hemisphere, meaning it only gets better from here. The days will start to get longer now as the sun will be at it's lowest point in the sky. I love winter as there are a lot of good things coming from snowy weather: Skiing, Christmas, The movies 'Uncle Buck' and 'Planes, Trains and Automobiles" amongst other great movies being played on every second channel for a few days over the holidays, and my most favorite day ever: Little O's first birthday on New Years Day! This Christmas will be our first together as a family. It'll be so much fun.

There will be a lunar eclipse tonight, and correct me if I'm wrong, but I think it will be the only one on this day for the next 80 years. Take a peek into the sky tonight if you can. I decided to make something round, meatballs, to celebrate the occasion.

Meatballs are something I make once in a while. That's why I try to make them so full of flavour they will be too good to eat all of the time. Every Italians mother or grandmother has some kind of meatball recipe they have passed on to someone in their family for generations. This is one I will pass on to little O when I force her to start cooking on her own.

I have tried about 20 different types of meatball recipes, and I believe this one is the best one I have made. I'm still tweaking it a little, but not a lot as it's pretty tasty right now.

Ingredients

- 1/2 cup chicken or vegetable stock
- 1/3 cup diced yellow onion
- 2 clove garlic, minced
- 1/3 cup Italian parsley, finely chopped
- 1 lb (.45 kg) lean or extra lean ground beef
- 1 lb (.45 kg) ground pork
- 1/2 lb (.23 kg) veal. If you can't find veal (or don't want to afford it), just use 1 1/4 lb (.57 kg) of both beef and pork instead. 
- 1/3 cup plain breadcrumbs. Use fresh bread and chop it up in a mini chopper if you can. 
- 2 eggs
- 1/3 cup Parmesan cheese, finely grated
- 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes. Use as much or as little as you feel comfortable with. 
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- 1 Tablespoon fresh ground pepper
- EVOO
- Tomato sauce, enough to cover all or at least up to half of the meatballs when cooking them in a pot or saute pan.

Directions

1. Place the stock, onion, garlic, and parsley in a blender or food processor and puree.
2. In a large bowl, combine the pureed stock mix, meat, bread crumbs, egg, Parmesan, red pepper flakes, and salt.
3. Combine with hands until mixture is uniform, do not overmix.


4. Put a little olive oil on your hands and form mixture into balls a little bit larger than the size of golf balls. If you want bigger ones to use as a meal on their own, make them double the size.
5. Preheat oven to 425F (220C) and place baking sheet(s) in the oven to preheat as well.
6. When oven is ready, take the sheet out and place the meatballs on it. You should hear a sizzling sound at this point. Put back in oven to cook for 30-35 minutes or until the temperature in the middle of the meatballs reach 140F. You can grease the pan if you like, but this only adds more fat and the balls should have enough already to aid in them not sticking. Using a Silpat is a good idea as well and so is using a good quality baking sheet. If the sheet is hot enough, they shouldn't stick anyways.


7. While meatballs are in the oven, heat the tomato sauce in a large pot or saute pan.
8. Transfer the meatballs to the pot with the tomato sauce and simmer for one hour.


9. Serve alone or over pasta.



Yield: About 18-20 meatballs

By the way, I made a bigger batch than what this recipe says, so that is why there are so many in the pictures. I almost always serve this with spaghetti, but also like to eat them alone with sauce over top.
I have also cooked these by frying them in olive oil to and it takes about 15 minutes to brown them. Just make sure to move them around to brown on two sides. If you're going to try it this way, you will need enough oil to come up about an inch from the bottom of the pan. This is a very good way to do it, but I'm trying to keep the fat down here, so in the oven they go. If you like them to be browned before going in the sauce, doing it in the pan is best. They will brown a little in the oven, but not a lot.

One little hint is to use a bigger bowl than you need as to accommodate the meat moving around. When rolling the meat into balls, try to use one hand to roll them and the other to do anything you need to do with a clean hand. It's not always easy, but it works. It's nice to make meatballs and not kill anybody with ecoli or any other food-borne illness. Also, don't be worried when making these meatballs if it seems there is too much liquid to hold them together. It works fine and the meatballs stay together, just be careful with them and handle them gently. You can try to add 3/4 of the stock mixture first to see if the meat isn't too wet, but you may overmix the meat. Just be careful and do what you are comfortable with. If they are too wet, add a little more breadcrumbs.

Little O's Menu

This week, we had O eating whole organic raspberries. She really gets into these. At first she makes a funny face as they can be a little tart, but she keeps on chewing. I baked off 6 organic sweet potatoes this week for her as well. These are a big hit and never fail to please. We mix the pieces up with some green beans from Grandma's garden and maybe a few little chunks of steamed broccoli or asparagus along with a little EVOO, sea salt and fresh ground pepper. She now likes to eat them all by hand and it gets a little messy, but that's the way the cookie crumbles, or in this case that's how the sweet potato gets mushed all over the place.

For breakfast or a little snack, for the past month she has been eating mini croissants we get from Costco. She loves these and they are helping her keep up the fat content in her diet. Just have to be careful. As we all know they are full of butter. This is good to help fatten her up, but too much butter means she may have to have angioplasty by the time she is 6. Keeping our eyes on that one.

Mrs. Urban Eater and I have gone back to eating the yogurt, organic granola and berry thing for breakfast again. I usually pour a little flax oil over top as well. You have to be careful about flax oil as it is a natural laxative, so wade into those waters very carefully! We are still working towards the smoothie again as well, but at least we are ingesting lots of berries this way instead for now. Loaded with antioxidants, berries are healthy anyway you can get them in your stomach, liquefied or whole.


For snacks, I made a baking sheet full of 70% dark chocolate and roasted almonds. The Greeks call this Anomala. Usually, you make them into individual pieces, but I made it into bark instead, meaning pour everything onto a baking sheet, let it cool and break it up into pieces.

Here's the directions:

Roast whole almonds in the oven for 12-15 minutes at 350F. Take out when done and let cool. Remember they will keep cooking as they sit, so stir them around a little to help cool them off. Break up the chocolate into small pieces so they will melt faster. You can temper the chocolate if you like to keep it from turning white in places, but I chose not to. Put the chocolate into a double boiler set-up. I used a glass bowl over top of a sauce pot. Make sure the water doesn't touch the bottom of the bowl directly as the chocolate will melt easily by residual heat from the steam. Stir until chocolate is melted and add the almonds. Stir again and pour over a cookie sheet covered with parchment paper. Let cool and break into pieces. Almonds are a very healthy addition to everyones diet as they are high in manganese, vitamin E and magnesium, just to name a few of the good things in them (http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=20). Dark chocolate is also good for you as it is full of antioxidants, which is what you want to in your diet (http://longevity.about.com/od/lifelongnutrition/p/chocolate.htm). All around, it's a good, healthy way to have a snack.


My camera ran out of juice as I was making this so my apologies for not having more. Here is the finished product as it sits in a Tupperware container just out of the fridge. A real Hallmark moment, but it tastes soooo good no matter how the picture looks.

 I went with Lindt 70% cacao this time. Be careful as to not buy cheap chocolate. Buying a good quality chocolate is important, especially when it is one of the key ingredients. On the other hand, you don't want it costing you $5.00/100g to make either. Also, try to use equal amounts of each when making this. 500g of one ingredient equals 500g of the other.

Today's quote:

"Nothing spoils lunch any quicker than a rogue meatball rampaging through your spaghetti."
- Jim Davis, American actor, 1915-1981.

Until next time, good eating everyone.

Mark