Adios, Amigos! Pero, Hasta Luego…

Back in 2010, a dear friend running a Minnesota CSA asked me to start a blog, to help their customers figure out what to do with all that gorgeous produce. Now, some 10 years and 700+ posts down the line, it’s time for a metamorphosis. It’s been fun – in fact it’s been a tremendous joy, but I feel I’ve done all I can with a plain old blog – So here comes the next generation of my online passion and presence.

It was initially called KGNG Chef, and if you go all the way back there, you’ll see that I was, ummm, not as good at this as I am now. Shortly after inception, I mentioned that ‘Urb an’ Monique were headed north,’ in a social media message – those euphemisms for Eben and Monica stuck, and we became UrbanMonique. It was tongue in cheek, and cute, but, bottom line? If after 10 years one still has to explain why we’re called that, and people still kind of nod and say, ‘oohhhhhkay…’ it’s probably time to become a bit more plain spoken.

We’ve had a gas here, and I’ve learned a lot, and I like to think I’ve gotten better at what I do. Along the way we’ve gathered a whole lot of friends and followers, from literally all around the world. We’ve received official recognition and kudos from Basque, French, Spanish, and Mexican tourist bureaus for promoting home cooks to make authentic dishes from their honored cuisines. We had a lady in Walker, Minnesota ask what a jalapeño was, and then exclaim, ‘we’re Minnesotans – we only eat white food,’ (it’s not at all true, but it was funny). I’ve been accused of blasphemy by a New Mexican resident for claiming Hatch and Anaheim chiles are essentially the same beast, (They are, but it’s all about terroir and venerable seed stock, and yes, Hatch chiles are superior.) I’ve mailed corn meal to Australia and Norway, so followers there could make corn bread like I’d written about.

The shape of things to come - www.ebenskitchen.com

The next iteration of my chosen avocation will be much more straightforward in name – It is Eben’s Kitchen, and before Monica fans utter cries of dismay, let me explain – M will still be here, and she will contribute as she always has – no change there. That said, the lion’s share of what shows up on the page here is my baby, and always has been – M would be the first to tell you that. Secondly, she is an amazing jewelery designer and maker, with a focus on reworking 20th century beads and metal, (that she finds in some very interesting searches), into unique pieces with a contemporary flair. We have also built her a new website, Canary Pitcher, that she is very excited about, as am I – Her primary passion and focus will be there going forward.

The famously irascible cook and author Richard Olney once wrote this – ‘Improvisation is at war with the printed word. It either defies analysis or, in accepting it, finds its wings clipped.’ It is the spirit of that passage that has prompted me to shift gears. I’ve matured considerably as a recipe developer, and while that’s great, it’s still a pretty one dimensional achievement. What I write and what you have in your kitchen, or decide to do, are often quite different. If I’ve harped on anything over the last decade, it’s been the exhortation to do your own thing, to branch out from what I presented. That’s a thing I’m proud of, but again, writing it only goes so far.

Eben’s Kitchen will be much more multimedia, encompassing posts, images, video, and dare I say it, even some classes offered here in our kitchen and garden, and eventually, stuff for sale too. This will be a full bore website, much broader in scope, and much more capable of sharing my passion in the kitchen. UrbanMonique will not go away, for the record – There’s too much history and love and fun to just shelve it – it will, in some form, be linked to the new site as well.

Eben’s Kitchen will make its debut soon, so please stay tuned, and please do follow it too. In order to bring things full circle, the first thing to go up there will be a collaboration with my Tribal Sister, Christy Hohman, the one who urged me to start this whole thing back in 2010 – it’s going to be a great debut.

Asian Chicken Lettuce Wraps

We belong to a great local CSA outfit called Dandelion Organic. Even though we grow produce and preserve a fair amount of that, there are plenty of things we don’t have or can’t get in winter – That’s where an outfit like Dandelion really comes in handy. We crave fresh veggies in the dreary months, when supermarket fare is often less than stellar. Seeing a box of local, fresh produce really lifts our spirits, and it certainly sparks creativity in our kitchen. When M added a head of really gorgeous lettuce to our last order, she said ‘lettuce wraps,’ and I got busy.

Are you one who sneers at lettuce? If you’re of the opinion that lettuce, like celery, is a tasteless veggie, you’re not all that wrong – far too much of what we find in grocery stores is a pale shadow of the real deal. Like commercial apples not so long ago, what you find in stores is iceberg, romaine, and one or two varieties of leaf – they’re usually not local, and they’re not grown for taste – they’re made to travel and store well, and that’s why they generally suck. The image below underlines this trend. That’s a field of iceberg lettuce – Study that and ask yourself, when was the last time the iceberg you saw in the store looked like this?

A field of iceberg lettuce

Lettuce is a member of the daisy family – Asteraceae. It was first cultivated in Egypt around 3,500 years ago, grown for seeds that produce cooking oil, (and in some places still is). It was initially a plant 2 to 3 feet tall that looked like a mutant head of Romaine. Lettuce spread quickly, courtesy of the Greeks and Romans, and by the first century AD, had taken root across the known world. China leads world cultivation these days, by leaps and bounds in fact – And yes, it’s still grown in Egypt. There are six major cultivars – Leaf, Cos (Romaine), Crisphead (Iceberg), Butterhead (Boston or Bibb), Celtuce (Stem), and Oilseed. From those big branches stem hundreds of varieties, many of which are imbued with marvelous taste and texture – And you can grow many of them, so do – Make a salad from lettuces out your own garden, and you’ll know it’s wonderful stuff.

Common Lettuce Varieties

Lettuce, (and plenty of other leaves), have played a part in cooking and eating pretty much since us apes went bipedal – Food has been cooked in, plated on, served with, and wrapped in them – and still is. Little bites of meat, fish, poultry, or starchy vegetables wrapped in leaves, especially lettuce, is ubiquitous throughout Asian cuisines. I love such things, because you get a purer taste of what you’re eating than you would with something starchy, like bread, tortillas, pancakes, masa, or any of the other myriad sandwich wrappers employed – it’s also generally pretty darn healthy and remarkably tasty.

Celtuse, or Stem Lettuce

The challenge comes in finding lettuce strong and tasty enough to do the job. Romaine will work, but it usually tastes like cardboard. What you want is something from the Butterhead cultivar – a lovely head of Butter, Boston, or Bibb lettuce. These are robust enough to handle being stuffed, are far prettier than most other varieties, and taste great. They can be a bit pricier than simpler stuff, but if you get 12+ wrappable leaves out of a head, it costs about the same as dozen tortillas.

Butterhead Lettuce, AKA Butter, Boston, or Bibb

Chicken is a great protein for doing up an Asian inspired wrap dish, but so would fresh, firm tofu, fish, pork, or beef. If you use meat, it doesn’t have to be fancy – there’s a marinating step in this recipe, so even tougher cuts will get some time and help toward breaking down tougher tissues. A lot of the chicken lettuce wrap recipes out there advocate breast, but I do not – that is about the most expensive piece you can find, and the standard American white meat chicken breast hasn’t much flavor – yes, a marinade will help fix that, but why not use something that has some? Skin on, bone in thighs are the trick – Lots of flavor, cheap, and easy to prep – and a lot more authentic to boot.

As for that marinade – Rather than go for something point specific, I built a reasonably faithful mashup that holds true to regional cuisines and is a bit exotic to us Americans. Thai, Vietnamese, Japanese, Chinese, and Korean cuisines all use soy sauce, albeit they have specific variations they prefer – those are worth checking out, as they’re quite distinct. Hoisin sauce also crosses several borders, it’s often thought of as a generic Asian barbecue sauce. Rice wine and sesame oil are ubiquitous as well.

Notes –

1. Since this is a marinating recipe, you’ll need to allow time for that.

2. I pickled or dressed some of the veggie filling options, because we like that sort of thing- you don’t have to if it doesn’t float your boat – I included recipes just in case, as well as for peanut sauce.

Urban’s Asian Inspired Chicken Thighs

Chicken and Marinade:

1 1/2 to 2 Pound Chicken Thighs (Bone in, skin on – if you go boneless/skinless, a pound is plenty)

1/2 Cup Light Soy Sauce, (as in, light versus dark, not ‘lite’ as in abomination)

1/4 Cup Hoisin Sauce

2 Tablespoons Rice Vinegar

1 Tablespoon Sesame Oil

1 Tablespoon Agave Nectar

1-3 fresh Serrano Chiles

1” chunk fresh Ginger Root

2 fat cloves fresh Garlic

1/2 teaspoon Fish Sauce

Rinse, stem and dice chiles – you can field strip the membranes if you’re a heat weenie.

Peel and mince the garlic and ginger.

Combine everything but the chicken in a non-reactive mixing bowl, whisk to incorporate, and allow to marry at room temp while you prep the chicken.

Bone in, skin on chicken thighs – where the flavor is.

Remove skin and extra fat from thighs, then debone – the skin will pull off easily from one side, and the bones are mostly loose – a little careful paring will free them.

Field stripped chicken thighs

Toss your bones and skin into 6 cups of water with a little onion, celery, and carrot and you can simmer up some stock to have on hand for whatever – Most of the fat in chicken skin is unsaturated, BTW.

Cut the chicken into roughly 1/2” slices across the short side of each thigh.

Pack the sliced chicken into a bowl or storage container and pour the marinade over it – work it in so that everything is well coated. Marinate refrigerated for at least 2 hours, and 4 to 6 is even better.

Lettuce and Fillings –

10-12 leaves Butter Lettuce

1 Cup Mung Bean Sprouts

1 packed Cup Savoy or Napa Cabbage

1/2 Cup Carrot

1/2 Cup Sweet Onion

1 Cup cooked Thai cellophane noodles

1/2 Cup Roasted Peanuts, rough chopped

1/2 Cup Cilantro, rough chopped

Rinse and pat dry sprouts.

Slice cabbage into roughly 1/2” shreds. If you like this dressed, add 1 tablespoon of roasted sesame oil, and 2 teaspoons of rice vinegar, and toss to coat.

Slice carrot into roughly 2” matchsticks, and onion into 2” pieces

Pour boiling water over noodles in a mixing bowl and steep for a minute or so, until they’re al dente. Pour out hot water and rinse noodles with cold water, then drain. Place in a bowl with a teaspoon of avocado oil and mix by hand to coat the noodles.

Put the onions and carrots in a small non-reactive bowl, and add

1 Cup White vinegar

1/2 teaspoon Celery Seed

1/2 teaspoon Coriander

1/2 teaspoon Turmeric

Whisk with a fork to incorporate and let the mix marinate at room temperature

If you like peanut sauce, here’s my fave version –

1/2 Cup smooth natural, unsweetened Peanut Butter

2 Tablespoons Light Soy Sauce, (See above, not ‘lite’)

1 Tablespoon Rice Vinegar

1 Tablespoon Agave Nectar

1 Tablespoon fresh Lime Juice

1-2 teaspoons Sriracha Sauce

2-3 Cloves fresh Garlic

1 Tablespoon fresh lime juice

1/2” fresh Ginger Root

1-3 Tablespoons Warm Water

Peel, trim, and fine grate ginger and garlic.

Combine everything but the water and whisk with a fork to incorporate.

Add water, about a tablespoon at a shot, until you each the sauce consistency you like.

Allow to marry for 30 minutes prior to serving.

Sautéing Asian marinated chicken thighs

When you’re ready to eat, set all the fillings out in bowls so folks can load up at the table.

Separate lettuce leaves, then gently wash in cold water and pat dry with a clean towel. Arrange on a platter.

Pour out most of the marinade, but leave the chicken well coated, and some of the goodies too.

In a large skillet over medium high heat, sauté the chicken until fully cooked, stirring and flipping steadily, about 4-6 minutes. This is also a great thing to stir fry in a wok, if you’re of a mind.

Urban’s Asian Chicken Lettuce Wraps

Transfer chicken to a serving platter, top with a few chopped nuts and some cilantro, and dig in.

Spaghetti alla Carbonara

In 1972, my family spent a month touring Italy. We stopped, of course, in Perugia, where my older sister was studying abroad, at the Università per Stranieri di Perugia. We stayed at a hilltop hotel with a rather large dining room. One night, Ma and Pa went out by themselves, and my older Bro and I had dinner there – That was the first time I experienced Spaghetti alla Carbonara.

The plates were, for a 12 year old, huge. A lady at the table next to ours showed us the right way to do things – grab some pasta with a fork, spin that into the bowl of your spoon, then pop that lovely stuff into your mouth. The stuff was stunningly good, and it became an instant favorite for me, but try as I might, I couldn’t finish. First the waiter looked appalled, and asked if I didn’t like it. I denied this, just said it was too much, but the process was already underway. Next came the head waiter, then the maitre d’, and finally, the Chef. With all these guys gesturing and beaming, I finished that damn plate. Ever since, I’ve been more judicious about my intake, and well that I should be – This is seriously rich stuff.

Carbonara is another of those fascinating dishes that are hard to pigeonhole. It’s a Roman thing, in all likelihood – and the locals have heartily embraced it as such. It’s delightfully simple, stemming from the pasta/cheese/pepper family of dishes, like cacio e pepe – maybe more like pasta alla gricia, since carbonara must have cured pork to be authentico. While the roots go way back, this is not an old dish. Carbonaro means ‘charcoal burner,’ and lead to the sobriquet, ‘coal miners pasta,’ but that is probably poetic license.

Carbonara appeared in Italy post World War II, because quite frankly, there was little or no eggs or bacon in that war torn collection of city states prior to the war. There was plenty of both afterwards thanks to the presence of American GIs and their vast supply stores. I think the Carbonara moniker came about because pepper and diced bacon kinda look like coal, if one is being imaginative. This line of reasoning is substantiated by the notable absence of the dish in Ada Bono’s seminal 1930 work, La Cucina Romana – If carbonara had been part of the scene, I guarantee it would have been in her book – and it did appear in Elizabeth David’s 1954 edition of Italian Food. In any event, Italians loved it, and so did the GI’s.

Like any seminal dish, there are a lot of potential rights and wrongs around making Carbonara, I mean come on – it’s Italian cooking, OK? In Italy, 90% of the time you encounter it the meat will be guanciale, the pasta will be spaghetti, the cheese will be Pecorino Romano, and the only other ingredients will be eggs, black pepper, and salt – anything else will be received akin to putting pineapple on their pizza.

Guanciale

Guanciale is worth checking out, but it can still be a bit hard to find here in the states. It is cured pork from the jowl or cheek, notably porkier and fattier than bacon or pancetta. The magic lies in the fat, which melts beautifully when it’s cooked, adding marvelous depth of flavor and mouth feel to a dish. Americans tend to use bacon for Carbonara, which is fine, really, especially if it’s really good bacon – sure they frown on this in Italy, but even pancetta can get you looked at funny over there. I think you should use what you like, but trying a cured pork product you’ve not had before should be on your dance card.

While the pasta you deploy doesn’t have to be spaghetti, it should be something with a hefty surface to volume ratio – that’ll allow the simple and relatively small amount of sauce involved to fully deploy. Folks have been known to double the sauce and use something like penne, and while that would technically be wrong, I’d snarf it down.

Pecorino RomanoParmigiano Regiano

The cheese should be Pecorino Romano, but if you like parmigiano regiano, use that – Just know that they’re very different things – Pecorino is a salty, sharp, almost smoky sheep’s milk cheese, while Parmesan comes from cows – it’s nuttier and funkier stuff.

If ever there was a dish that wanted the best, freshest eggs you can find, this would be it. The taste and the appearance of the dish depend on great eggs, because they constitute most of the sauce – a watery, pale supermarket egg is not going to make great carbonara. Most cooks use whole eggs, while some employ only yolks, and either is fine, really.

As far as other stuff in carbonara goes, everything I’m about to mention does not go into the dish according to purists, and I feel strongly that you try the traditional dish at least once – After that, do what you like – it’s your kitchen. Some folks deploy a little cream in their sauce. Veggies from peas to broccoli and leaks to mushrooms have made their way into the mix. One thing you must never, ever do, however, is buy and eat anything from the store called ‘carbonara sauce’ – knowing what is likely in that stuff to make it shelf stable, it should be obvious that it’s not something you want in your pasta.

Mise en place for Spaghetti alla Carbonara

Spaghetti alla Carbonara

1 Pound Dry Pasta

4 Large Eggs

8 Ounces Guanciale, (Pancetta or bacon are fine too)

1/2 Packed Cup Pecorino Romano Cheese

1/2 Packed Cup Parmigiano Regiano Cheese

Fresh Black Pepper

Cut your pork into roughly 1/2” cubes.

Grate cheese.

Fill a large pot with 5-6 quarts of water, then add 4 tablespoons of kosher salt and bring to a boil over high heat.

Add the spaghetti, allow the water to return to a boil, then reduce heat to maintain a rolling boil.

Cooking Spaghetti alla Carbonara

Boil pasta until it’s al dente, about 6-9 minutes.

In the largest skillet you’ve got, sauté the pork over medium heat until the fat is rendered out and the meat is crisp, about 3-4 minutes. Turn off the heat and slide the pan off of the burner.

Crispy pork for carbonara

Reserve 1 cup of past water, then drain the pasta into a colander.

Egg and cheese mix for carbonara

Crack the eggs into a small mixing bowl, then whisk – add the cheese and whisk to fully incorporate.

Slide the skillet back onto a burner on medium and let it heat back through for a minute.

Add the pasta and half the reserved pasta water and use a couple of forks to incorporate that with the meat and fat – a lot of the water will evaporate and that’s OK.

Spaghetti alla Carbonara

Pull the skillet off the heat again, then add the egg and cheese blend and the rest of the pasta water, and use the forks to quickly incorporate everything – work quickly to get the pasta coated with the egg and cheese mix, and take care that the eggs don’t sit on the bottom of the skillet and scramble – if you get a little of that effect, don’t worry – we’re all human, it happens, and it’ll still be delicious. It’s your kitchen.

Spaghetti alla Carbonara

Season the pasta liberally with fresh ground black pepper, take a picture, then portion onto plates or bowls and serve pronto. Every time I spin a fork full of this lovely stuff, I’m right back in that dining room in Perugia.

Spaghetti alla Carbonara

Italian Beef

Michael Whyte and I have been friends on social media for over 10 years. We are an example of what’s great about social media – we’re friends who wouldn’t have met otherwise. We keep track of one another’s lives, and I can say I have genuine affection for the man – Heck, I proudly wear one of his band t shirts. We met via music and guitars, although exactly how I do not recall, (and I doubt Mike does either). He lives in Rockford, Illinois, and I in Ferndale, Washington. We have not yet met face to face, although I hope to correct that. In addition to music and guitars, we share a love of family, community, and growing and cooking great food. We also both lost our Moms during the time we’ve known each other, and that’s where today’s post comes in.

Michael has pretty much been a musician his whole life, and I for most of mine. While I can sing and play, (even at the same time), and have a ridiculous volume of lyrics and guitar licks stuffed in my head, I’m sadly not much of a songwriter. Michael on the other hand very much is. He is currently part of the Blue Healers band in Rockford, so if you’re in the area, check it. We share a strong drive to create, often through music and writing. We’ve both worked blue collar jobs for most of our days, and prefer that – especially if it gets us outdoors. We both recall our childhoods with affection, and a fair share of those memories focus on food and gardening.

My Mom was born Marjorie Jean Langston in 1923, although she never used her first name. She was raised in Billings by parents of English/Scots/Irish descent, who came through Canada and the American south before landing in Montana. She left home at 18 to do her part for the WWII war effort, and headed down to the Fort Douglas army base outside Salt Lake City, where a high school friend was already working. Pretty early on she asked what there was to do for fun and who she should meet – She was told dancing and Tom Atwater, who was a fine dancer. Even though her mother told her not to be dazzled by a guy in uniform, they were married a few months later at the base. Mom did a lot of supporting dad’s education after the war, but also raised four kids, mostly in Concord, Massachusetts, and became an artist of some renown on two coasts in her lifetime. She passed away in 2015, at the ripe old age of 92.

Mom was not a fancy cook by any stretch of the imagination, but she admired a great deal about good food. She put three squares on the table for a family of six for many years. Her culinary bible was The Joy of Cooking, which now occupies a place of honor in my kitchen. She greatly admired and often attempted dishes by Julia Child, as did so many budding cooks in the 1960s, (She also introduced me to Julia at WGBH, it that’s another story). That said, she baked bread and cinnamon rolls regularly, canned produce she grew in her vegetable garden, (she made stunningly lovely gardens in general), and was quite open minded about exploring cuisines that were pretty out there for the times. I know that my interest in world cuisine and being adventurous came from her, without a doubt.

Mike’s Mom was Lenore Lazzaro. Her Pappa hailed from the Piedmont, in the northwestern shin of the Italian boot, and her Mom from Ireland, by way of Canada and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. She started working for the USPS in the mid 1960s and did so for most of her working life. Lenore learned to cook when she was just a kid, to help feed her three younger siblings. She certainly inherited both Italian and Irish roots to her cooking. Mike says, ‘she just always loved to cook,’ and that passion has passed to him. He wrote, ‘When I was a kid we lived on a small chicken farm. We always had a large garden. She and her cousin and her Italian aunts made fresh pasta. She did her own canning. I rarely remember having food from cans as a kid.’ Their farm was on the northwest edge of Rockford, and some of it remains – The house and barn are there, as is the chicken coop, although that’s been turned into a garage. Lenore passed away last May at the age of 84.

So when I saw Michael post about making Italian beef recently, the light bulb atop my beady little head lit up brilliantly. We had a nice back and forth about it after I asked for his recipe, wherein he mentioned that this was a dish that had come to him from his Mom. I asked if I might write all this up, and he replied, ‘It would be an honor,’ – and indeed it is.

So, about that ethereal stuff – First off, what we’re talking about is a well cooked and seasoned hunk of beef that is then enjoyed in as many permutations as you have imagination. You can begin that journey as we did – a nice thick slice, with some fresh pasta and veggies on the side, but you could also go straight to Italian beef sandwiches without a trace of guilt. While you’re highly unlikely to find an analog of this dish in Italy, it’s a hallmark of the cuisine of Italian immigrants who landed in the American Midwest, firmly centered in Illinois. For scholars of the sandwich, Chicago is the Holy Land, and arguments as to who’s version is best can get, shall we say, rather animated. While some troglodytes have been known to claim that this sandwich derived from a French Dip, I beg to differ – French dip is, at its best, pedestrian, whereas a great Italian beef sandwich is a thing of sublime deliciousness – and of course, the beef is key.

The cut used is traditionally a top or bottom round, wet roasted in rich, (preferably home made), stock, with a properly hefty degree of garlic and dry spices onboard. Doing things this way will notably reduce the weight and size of your roast, and can even lead to people claiming it is dry, but that should never be true – Italian beef is meant to go with the incredibly rich jus that this cooking method generates – Whatever you do, make sure you combine the two and you will be more than happy, trust me.

As for method, purists will demand that the roasting be done at exactly 350° F, and you can certainly do that, placing your beef in a braiser or Dutch oven. That said, even if this is how many of the famous makers do theirs, we at home can do the deed in a slow cooker and achieve splendid results as well.

Here is what Michael had to say about how he does his version, followed by a point specific recipe that’s our swing at things. Between the two, you’ll get a good idea of what’s involved, and from that you can develop one that’s distinctly yours.

“Pretty much what you’d expect, with one exception: top or bottom round, onions, peppers (red and green), lots of garlic, a mix of dried herbs and spices, 3 to 1 beef broth to chicken broth (the chicken helps keep the metallic taste that the beef sometimes has at bay), a sprig each of fresh thyme and rosemary and a bay leaf (remove all at end), a couple healthy shots of Worcestershire sauce, a dribble of juice from a jar of pepperoncini and…here’s the secret…1/2 to a full cup of black coffee! Season and sear the roast, everything into the slow cooker, and about 5 hours later it’s done. The dry dressing mixes that a lot of Italian beef recipes call for are just too salty for my taste. I prefer to control the salt by mixing my own – My mom never used those mixes, either. I don’t know if my recipe is exactly like hers, but the coffee was definitely her contribution. Crunch the garlic and use a LOT.”

As for the dried Italian blend, I’ll just say that this should be as individual as possible. There’s some good guidelines for what makes a mix ‘Italian’, but that’s not gospel – you should go with what pleases you best. Here’s what we use these days as our All Purpose Italian Dry Blend – Feel free to tweak that as you see fit, and then call it yours.

2 Tablespoons Basil

2 Tablespoons Turkish Oregano

2 Tablespoons Lemon Thyme

2 Tablespoons Chive

2 Tablespoons Savory

1 Tablespoon Marjoram

1 Tablespoon Rosemary

1 Tablespoon Chile Flake

You can pulse this stuff in a food processor or spice grinder, or just patiently work it through a single mesh strainer. There’s nothing wrong with having the blend somewhat rustic, as opposed to a perfectly uniform powder – process until you reach the consistency you like, then store in a clean glass container.

Italian seasoning blend

Urban’s Italian Beef

3-4 Pound Top or Bottom Round Roast

4 Cups Beef or Chicken Stock, (or a blend as Mike does, if you prefer – homemade of course)

1 Red Bell Pepper

1 Green Bell Pepper

1-2 Onions (whatever variety you like)

1 Head fresh Fennel

8-12 Cloves Garlic

4 Tablespoons Italian Seasoning Blend

2 Turkish Bay Leaves

1 Cup Black Coffee

1/4 Cup Pepperoncini Juice

1/4 teaspoon Worcestershire Sauce

1/2 teaspoon Kosher Salt

1/2 teaspoon ground Black Pepper

Peel, trim and rough chop onions.

Smash, trim, and peel garlic.

Stem and devein peppers, then rough chop.

You may, if you wish, sauté the peppers and onions for a bit to get some deeper flavors into them.

Sautéing peppers and onions prior to slow cooking

Step, peel, trim and rough chop fennel.

In a dry, heavy skillet over medium high heat, sear the beef thoroughly on all sides.

Searing the beef roast

Transfer beef to a slow cooker, then add stock and all other ingredients.

Italian beef ready for a slow cook

Cook on a medium setting 3-4 hours, until you reach an internal temperature of 135° – 140° F.

Pull the beef out of the stock and let it rest for 10 minutes before slicing or shredding.

Homemade Italian beef

Do not toss the stock! This is liquid gold, and it’s critical to enjoying the beef for additional meals. It also makes an exceptional base for soup or stew.

Italian beef stock - liquid gold

If you like slices, the stock will make amazing gravy with very little work required.

Whatever you make for subsequent meals, reheat stock in a heavy pan large enough to handle the stock plus whatever beef you want to use. You can slice or shred as you please – Then reduce heat to low and immerse the beef in the stock for at least 30 minutes, up to a coupe of hours – The longer you reintroduce them, the better your results.

Italian beef sandwich

If you’re doing Italian Beef Sandwiches, know that there’s a bunch of variations on this theme, each a favorite of someone and often debated hotly – Just go with what sounds best to you, and to heck with the naysayers. The most common, (and in my opinion, most delicious), additions are a giardiniera mix or pickled sweet peppers. Some folks like cheese, and that’s fine too. If you want more onions, tomato, and shredded lettuce, then do that – it’s your house. I like a little homemade Italian salad dressing on mine from time to time. The bread should be a nice, fresh Italian loaf, sliced thick but not too thick. Here are some of the more common ‘official’ variants.

Hot Dipped means Italian beef with gardiniera, and the bread slathered with hot stock.

Sweet Dry is Italian beef and sweet peppers, no extra stock.

A Soaker means the bread has been generously dunked in hot stock, with sweet peppers or gardiniera.

Cheesy is just that, with provolone or mozzarella.

Cheesy Garlic is beef and cheese on grilled garlic bread, (and it’s freakin’ delicious)

So there you go, with big love to Michael’s Momma for a wonderful dish, and a lifetime of fond memories. When you make it, offer up a little thanks to Lenore.

Boston Brown Bread

If you’re from New England, and specifically Boston, you know all about Boston Brown Bread – Pared with Boston baked beans and fresh cole slaw, it’s graced many a Saturday night supper throughout New England.

The B&M company, not to be confused with the huge British food conglomerate, has been making baked beans and brown bread for over 150 years, and there’s a reason they’re still around doing just that .

A lot of folks, even locals, think that B&M is a Massachusetts based enterprise, but it ain’t so. Way back in 1867, George Burnham started a canning business and was joined by Charles Morrill – and Burnham & Morrill was born. B&M has been a fixture in Portland, Maine at One Bean Pot Circle, ever since.

Their rightfully famous beans are still slow cooked in brick ovens, and their brown bread is The One, as far as I’m concerned. Brown bread cans are filled with batter and the product is baked therein – and that’s just how you can do it at home.

In the 19th Century, Brown Bread was poverty food throughout the British Empire, although it eventually gained cache for the health benefits of the mixed flour used to make it. It eventually crossed the big pond and became a staple for the colonists, then a sentimental favorite. Keeping in mind that lobster was also once considered ‘poverty food,’ I don’t think there’s a stigma attached to liking brown bread.

Boston Brown Bread is a great recipe for folks who are nervous about bread baking – It’s easy, fast, and almost foolproof – Brown Bread is steamed, rather than baked, and requires very little prep time.

If you’ve never tried it, do. Served hot with fresh butter, ham, baked beans, and cole slaw, you got that legendary Saturday Night Suppah – And it’s great the next morning, too.

 

Boston Brown Bread

1 Cup Whole Milk

1/2 Cup Whole Wheat Flour

1/2 Cup Rye Flour

1/2 Cup Corn Meal

1/3 Cup Dark Molasses

1/2 teaspoon Baking Soda

1/2 teaspoon Baking Powder

1 teaspoon Vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon Allspice

1/2 teaspoon Orange Zest

1/2 teaspoon Sea Salt

1 Tablespoon Butter for greasing cans

NOTE: there are folks, (even B&M), who make this with raisins or currants within – I’m not one of them, but if you are, you can add a quarter cup to this recipe.

there are also purists who pull eschew the addition of flavorings such as vanilla, allspice, and orange zest – I’m not one of those, either.

 

Rinse and dry two 28 Ounce metal cans with one end of each cut off.

Move a rack to the bottom third of the oven and heat the oven to 325° F.

Choose an oven safe pot or dish deep enough so that you can fill it with water to about halfway up the sides of the cans. Boil enough water on the stove top to fill that pot or dish.

Lightly coat the insides of the cans with vegetable oil.

In a mixing bowl, combine wheat flour, rye flour, cornmeal, baking soda, baking powder, allspice, and salt.

Add the molasses, milk, vanilla and zest to the dry ingredients and thoroughly combine.

Divide the batter evenly between the prepared cans. Cover the top of each can with a double thickness of aluminum foil and tie securely with kitchen string. Place the cans in your deep pan and slide that into the preheated oven.

Carefully fill the pan with boiling water to about halfway up the sides of the cans.

Bake for 70 to 75 minutes. At seventy minutes, remove the foil tops. When the edges of the bread begin to pull away from the sides of the cans, you’re there.

Remove the cans from the oven, place on a wire rack to cool for 1 hour before sliding the bread out of the cans. If the bread is a bit sticky, a thin bladed knife run around the can will free it up.

Don’t forget to have plenty of fresh, local butter on hand…

Gratin Dauphinois

Simple is best in the kitchen, especially a busy home kitchen, with life, family, world crises and whatnot a constant maelstrom. In the winter, that means comfort food, and with next week’s forecast calling for single digit temperatures, high winds, and snow, something rib-sticking is on my mind. We’re finishing up the last of 2019’s excellent local beef with a lovely brisket, and that requires an inspired side dish. This is where a classic French gratin dauphinois comes into play.

I like cooking aphorisms that make sense. I’ve got a small handful of them that I use when something in the kitchen frustrates me. This happened the other day, and the mantra I turned to was this – Whenever you feel moved to cook simply, do so. A dauphinois is a perfect example of that concept – good potatoes and dairy with seasoning, cooked low and slow – it really doesn’t get any better.

You’ve certainly made something like a gratin dauphinois – scalloped potatoes, for instance. Like Pommes Anna, dauphinois is French cooking at its best – simple, rustic, regional fare that strikes the bullseye. Any and every culture that has dairy and potatoes in their quiver has combined them in myriad ways. Of course all that glorious French cheese starts with great milk, a thing we’re also blessed with here.

Gratin dauphinois is potatoes, milk, cream, a soured cream of some sort, butter, garlic, a bit of nutmeg, salt, and a little cheese on top – you don’t want more than that, ‘cause if you do, it’s literally another dish altogether, (and not quite comme il faut, oui?) What you’ll end up with is super tender potatoes in a distinctly garlic infused cream sauce – c’est magnifique. There are many variants of the dish, but the all important roots are the same – good, local ingredients, simply treated.

In this culinary iteration, ‘dauphinois’ refers to the region, roughly 550 km southeast of Paris, in the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence. Most locals still refer to the area as the Dauphiné or Dauphiné Viennois, even though the modern political iteration is broken up into three smaller departments. Back in the 1200s it was a sovereign country called Albon – The Count from thereabouts had a dolphin on his coat of arms and was nicknamed le Dauphin – and there ya go. Tucked between national parks and mountains south of Lyon and north of Grenoble, it is a stunningly lovely area. Oh, and they grow and eat a variety of potatoes in the Dauphiné, too.

What this dish wants is what we here in the states generically call a baker – a floury, relatively soft variety that will readily soak up all that dairy and garlic. Over there, popular varieties might be an Agatha, Marabel, Mona Lisa, or Caesar – Here, a good old Russet, or pretty much anything else labeled as a baking variety will do just fine – Maybe, sooner than later, we Yankees will get to the point of having varietal potato choices again.

They also make excellent cheese in the dauphiné, naturellement. Reblochon, Saint Marcelin, and Beaufort cheeses all come from here. While the first two varieties are soft, Beaufort is a cow’s milk cheese from the alpine Gruyère family, a yellowish, somewhat firm cheese with a grassy nose and a distinct gruyère tang – and it melts really well, hint, hint. Over here, any good gruyère would certainly do for a topping cheese.

The cooking steps you’ll use are what makes a gratin dauphinois truly unique. Raw potatoes are poached in milk and garlic, then very gently steeped in cream and seasonings, before a final bake. Some swear by slicing the potatoes very thin, rubbing a shallow baking dish with butter and garlic, and then popping everything into the oven for a low and slow bake. You can certainly do that, but I believe the method I’ll share here make a superior dish.

Urban Gratin Dauphinois

2-3 Baking Potatoes

3 Cups Whole Milk

2 Cups Heavy Cream

1 Cup Crema (yes crema, because it’s far closer to crème friache than sour cream, and readily available these days)

1/2 Cup Gruyère Cheese

2 fat cloves fresh Garlic

1 Tablespoon Unsalted butter

1/2 teaspoon Kosher Salt

1/2 teaspoon ground White Pepper

2 finger pinch ground Nutmeg

Rinse potatoes and slice to 1/4” thickness, preferably on a mandoline. If you don’t have one, take your time and make your slices as even as you can – that helps the dish cook evenly quite a bit.

Leave the sliced potatoes submerged in a bowl of ice cold water while you finish prep.

Smash, peel, and end trim garlic.

Rub a baking dish in the 9” x 12” range with the smashed garlic, then set garlic aside.

Rub the dish evenly with the butter.

Grate the cheese.

Combine cream, crema, salt, pepper, and nutmeg in an adequately sized mixing bowl and whisk to incorporate.

Add milk, smashed garlic and the potatoes to a large sauce pan over medium heat.

When the mixture begins to simmer, reduce the heat to just maintain that.

Simmer potatoes for 12-15 minutes, until they just turn fork tender.

When they’re there, remove them from heat and carefully pour off the milk – Leave the potatoes and garlic in the pan.

Preheat oven to 350° F and set a rack in a middle position.

Add the cream, crema and seasoning blend to the hot potatoes.

Put the sauce pan on a burner over medium low heat.

Let the pan heat gradually through – you don’t want a simmer here, just a slow, even heat. If the pan starts to simmer, reduce the heat.

Let the mixture steep for 10 to 15 minutes, until the potatoes are fully fork tender, but not falling apart.

Carefully layer the potatoes into the baking dish.

Pour the hot cream blend over the potatoes, then garnish with the grated cheese.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the top layer of spuds is golden brown, and most if not all of the cream mixture has been absorbed.

Serve piping hot.

Tortilla Soup de Urbán

Our recent post on bone stock covered the process of making a big batch to store for a while. Our favorite versions of stocks aren’t nearly so involved – They’re the quick, simple stocks made most often from a chicken carcass, maybe a turkey, some fish, or fresh veggies. Recently, M got the crud, and was jonesin’ for tortilla soup. That is not only serious comfort food, it’s actually been proven to be good for you when you’re sick. She had some at several local restaurants, but they weren’t quite cutting it – It needed our mojo to be just right.

Tortilla Soup

You wouldn’t be terribly out of line in assuming that tortilla soup is something invented to appease Gringos, but it ain’t necessarily so. While there are claims that the dish originated in the American Southwest back in the 1960s, there are far more, (and far older), roots in Mexican regional cooking. The dish is popular in Mexico City, as well as generally throughout central Mexico, where it’s called Sopa de Tortilla. Add beans and it’s Sopa Tarasca. Leave out the chicken and it’s Sopa Azteca – There are a bunch more variants, of course. It’s a sure bet that the folks that begat Tex Mex and Southwestern cooking brought their recipes with them from down south.

As with so many touchstone dishes, there isn’t really one master recipe, which is good – The one you love will do. Tortilla soup is so popular and so good because it comes in so many varieties, in so many homes – It’s made most often because there are things in the kitchen that need to get used, like a leftover chicken – We don’t make it exactly the same every time here, and I don’t believe most Mexican cooks do either – The consistency lies in a few fundamental ingredients. What needs to be in there? Homemade stock, chiles, aromatics, tomatoes, proper herbs, and crisp corn tortilla strips, far as I’m concerned.

Your stock will most times be poultry, but pork or veggie wouldn’t be out of line either. Chiles are a must, and those do need to be a dried, venerable variety – Pasillo, Ancho, Guajillo, Colorado, Chipotle, Mulato – whatever floats your boat. Those add a depth and richness of flavor, (and various levels of heat), without which tortilla soup is just soup. Check out our Chile page for the scoop on what each is packing. Any great soup needs an aromatic base; here I think onion and garlic are the must-haves. Tomatoes should be tasty, and fresh if possible – no mass produced red cardboard. Most folks call Mexican oregano and cumin the must-have herbs, but you can certainly cut that back to just cumin and sub something else you love for the oregano, like we do. The tortilla strips could be from corn tortillas that need to get used – Often enough, that’s another trigger that leads to this lovely stuff getting made.

Meat isn’t necessary in tortilla soup – remember that Azteca version I mentioned. If you do add it, it should really be something that needs to get used up. A chicken carcass with some meat on the bones is probably the primary trigger for whipping up a batch. You could use turkey, or pork, or fish if you wanted or needed to. Again, there really isn’t a ‘classic’ version of tortilla soup – it’s as individual as Mamma’s bolognese. So, here’s my swing at this heavenly stuff. The method we employ yields wonderful depth and breadth of flavor, which is really what it’s all about. If you’ve got homemade stock at the ready, good for you – You can go down to the part that reads, For the Tortilla Soup – Just in case you don’t, we’ve throw in a recipe for that too.

Homemade Chicken Stock

This recipe is a perfect opportunity to go explore your local Latin grocery. You’ll find the chiles, crema, queso, veggies, tortillas, herbs, and maybe even a chicken there.

Sopa de Tortilla Urbán

1 Fat and Happy Roasting Chicken – you’ll want about a pound of meat for the soup, plus the whole carcass for stock.

3 medium White or Yellow Onions

3 Fat Carrots

5-6 Stalks Fresh Celery

5-6 Cloves Fresh Garlic

2-3 dried Ancho or Pasilla Negra Chiles

4-5 large fresh Tomatoes (or a bunch of little guys – You want around 2 cups worth)

4 Tablespoons Tomato Paste

1 Tablespoon Lemon Thyme

1/2 teaspoon ground Cumin

6-10 Corn Tortillas

For the Toppings – 

2 ripe Avocados

1 pint Mexican Crema 

Fresh Mexican Cheese – I recommend Cotija if you want something that won’t melt much, and Chihuahua otherwise.

The day before you’re ready for soup, go and get your ingredients.

Mire Poix

Rough chop one onion, 1 carrot, and a couple celery stalks, (AKA Mire Poix)

Stuff a fresh chicken with the mire poix, and spread the rest across a low sided baking dish or cast iron skillet, and set the chicken on top of that.

Roast the chicken and enjoy a great meal.

Next day, strip all the meat you can, (light and dark), from the carcass – pull or shred that as you’re doing the deed. 

Set that meat aside in an airtight container, in the fridge.

Preheat your oven to 350° F and set a rack in the middle position.

Arrange the carcass along with the veggies you stuffed it with on a baking sheet or shallow roasting pan. 

Add a couple of cloves of trimmed, peeled, and smashed garlic.

Smear 3 or 4 tablespoons of tomato paste evenly over the carcass.

Roast all that for 30-45 minutes, until the bones are lightly browned.

Rough chop another onion and the remaining carrots and celery.

Remove the pan from the oven.

Add all the roasted stuff, the freshly chopped veggies, and a couple of Turkish bay leaves into a 16 cup stock pot.

Add 10 cups of fresh water to the stock pot and set it over a medium high flame.

When the stock starts to boil, turn it down to maintain a low simmer. 

Let everything cook for at least 3 hours, and as long as 6 hours.

Homemade Chicken Stock

Set up a colander in or above another stock pot or mixing bowl large enough to handle 6-8 cups of liquid.

Carefully pour the stock through the colander, and discard all the solids – You’ve cooked pretty much everything out of that stuff by this point, so it can sure go into your compost pile.

Cool the stock by filling a stoppered sink as high as you can with a 50%-50% mix of ice and water, around the freshly filled stock pot.

Drop the temp of the stock to below 70° F within 2 hours, and from 70° F to under 40° F within 4 hours after that – Total cooling time, 6 hours or less.

Refrigerate the stock overnight. This will allow a lot of the suspended solids to drop out of the solution, and also allow the fat to rise. In the morning, you’ll find clearer stock with a nice, solid layer of fat on top.

Use a wide slotted spoon or handled strainer and carefully skim off the layer of fat, and discard that.

This stock is now ready to make soup. You’ll need 8 cups for the tortilla soup. You can freeze the rest in sanitized quart mason jars, leaving at least 2” headroom for expansion.

Tortilla Soup

For the Tortilla Soup

Preheat your oven to 350° F, with a rack in the middle position.

Peel and trim a whole onion, then cut in half.

Rinse tomatoes and leave them whole.

Trim and peel 4 cloves of garlic, leaving them whole.

Arrange onion, 3 tomatoes, and garlic on a baking sheet.

Roast veggies for 30 minutes, then remove from heat and allow to cool enough to handle.

Dice the 4th (and 5th if you like lots) tomato, and set aside in a mix en place bowl.

In a cast iron comal or skillet over medium heat, toast your whole chiles – lay them flat, pressing them down with a spatula, for about 15 seconds, then turn and repeat – Do this for two turns on each side, total of about a minute, tops – Don’t over-toast!

Dice roasted onion and set aside in a mis bowl.

Add toasted chiles, roasted tomatoes, and garlic to a blender vessel with 2 cups of chicken stock.

Pulse this mix into a smooth purée, about 1 minute, tops.

In a soup or stock pot over medium heat, add the purée and the diced onion. 

Cook for about 8 to 10 minutes, whisking steadily. The purée will reduce notably, to a thick sauce.

Add remaining 6 cups of stock and about a pound of shredded chicken, stir to incorporate.

When the soup starts to simmer, reduce heat to just maintain that.

Add lemon thyme and cumin, stir to incorporate.

Preheat oven to 400° F, with a rack in the middle position.

Slice tortillas into strips about 1/4” wide by 3” or so. 

Bake strips until they’re golden brown and crispy, about 3-5 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool a bit.

Soup should simmer for 30 minutes to fully marry and develop flavors.

Grate chihuahua or cotija cheese.

Peel and cut avocado into roughly 1/2” cubes.

Serve soup hot, with tortilla strips, cheese, and crema for topping.

Tortilla Soup Toppings

You might also like more chopped fresh onion, or even fresh pico de gallo, crunchy iceberg lettuce, fresh diced jalapeños, fresh tomato, and fresh cilantro for additional toppings, and if you do, you should have them.

Well, tequila, of course!

Split Pea Soup

Great ingredients make great soup
Great ingredients make great soup

If you’ve ever lived in the southern part of the U.S.A., then you’ve likely experienced the tradition of eating black-eyed peas, (AKA, Hoppin’ John), on New Year’s Day – Doing so is believed to be not only a harbinger of prosperity in the new year, but a pretty decent hangover cure as well. Other anointed foods for New Years include pork, corned beef and cabbage, whole fish, and even ring shaped eats.

Here at UrbanMonique, we went to bed quite early on New Year’s Eve, but we still like to hedge our bets. As such, we decided it was a perfect night for M’s stunningly delicious split pea soup. That decision was made all the easier by the fact that we had leftover ham from Christmas, (including a gorgeous bone), and some amazing pea stock we froze back in the summer after harvesting snap peas from the garden. Split pea soup kinda gets a bad rap for the same reason Brussels sprouts do – Lackluster cooking, or overcooking, leads to less than stellar results – We’re here to shatter that reputation.

Ham glam shot
Ham glam shot

I hail from New England, where split pea soup has always been quite popular. Legend has it this dish was introduced to the region by southward migrating Québécois, but the ubiquity of split peas throughout many cultures may dispel that. Cultivars of Pisum sativum have been favored by humans for millennia – Romans and Greeks were growing them as far back as 500 B.C.E. – Given their propensity for far flung travel and conquest, it’s a safe bet they got them from somebody else. And in any age before modern food preservation, it’s a sure thing that drying peas was standard practice, as it still is today.

Harkening back to my comment about lackluster versions of split pea soup, it’s no surprise, frankly, when we recall the old rhyme, ‘peas porridge hot, peas porridge cold, peas porridge in the pot nine days old.’ Lets face it, if that was good eating, we’d all still be doing it. Starting out with high quality, fresh ingredients will quickly dispel that nightmarish vision. Your journey toward that end must start with the peas themselves. Many of us have a bag of the little green guys in our pantry, straight from the store – It’s just as likely that said bag of peas has been in your pantry since the Pleistocene era too, right? If so, that’s a problem right off the bat. Dried peas, beans, etc will last a very long time, if stored properly, but left in the original plastic bag and tossed onto a shelf in the pantry doesn’t qualify as ‘proper’. The main adversary for split peas is oxygen, and that’s the case for pretty much all legumes, pulses, etc. The solution is a decent quality, air tight container – With those in use, you can easily get 3 to 5 years of storage, and if you add an oxygen absorber, like Oxy-Sorb, which is specifically made for the purpose, you ou’ll easily extend your shelf life to 10 years or more. Oxy-Sorb is great stuff, cheap, and readily available, by the way – A 100 pack costs about ten bucks, delivered from numerous online sources, and big chain grocery stores sell it as well – Same goes for decent quality food storage vessels, (and frankly, you’d be hard pressed to do better than quart, half gallon, or gallon mason jars for that job.)

As with all great soups and stews, great split pea soup depends on carefully chosen components and a specific process of assembly. It is a simple dish, but nonetheless, there are definitive steps that need to be followed. As always, this begins with the essentials, (other than peas, of course) – That’s good ham with a nice, big bone, fresh aromatics, stock, and seasoning. As for the latter, all too often what’s used for split pea soup is what’s suggested on the plastic bag they come in, AKA, water. While water sure works, stock is so much better, and is key to great soup.

Homemade, great leftovers - All you need to get started.
Homemade, great leftovers – All you need to get started.

Vegetable or chicken stock will work great, and if you’ve been keeping up with class, then you’ve taken opportunities to make and freeze stock along the way. As mentioned previously, back in July we had a bumper crop of snap peas, and took steps to harvest and preserve those – In so doing, the inspiration for pea stock hit me and we made some – It was and is incredible stuff – a lovely translucent green, with a scent redolent of fresh peas, even when defrosted some six months later – There’s a testimonial to why we freeze, dry, can, or otherwise preserve great home grown food, if ever there was one, (That doesn’t mean you need to have matched us overachievers – Use what you’ve got – Homemade preferred, but store bought is just fine.)

And while we’re talking homemade, if and when you get a nice bone, never, ever throw it out. Sure, your critters will love ’em, but your house made stocks and broths will love ’em even more. As for aromatics – It’s a safe bet that in too many home kitchens, the carrots, onion, garlic, celery and the like might be a bit long in the tooth by the time you get around to using them – In a word, don’t do that. The French have it right when they go to the market almost daily – If it’s worth making and eating, it’s worth fresh ingredients – Don’t buy the big bags of bulk carrots, onions, etc – Go to the market frequently, and poke, prod, smell, and look when you shop – Reject the rubbery, the off colored, or too soft, and carefully pick fresh stuff – That is one of the real joys of shopping, so take advantage.

And finally, there’s seasoning. I’ve said this before and will again – If you’re buying herbs and spices from the grocery store, you’re missing out. If you’re using spices from a cute little revolving wheel thingy, and the spices came with that, and you got it when you got married, you’re fired. Herbs and spices have very bit as much a shelf life as other foods, and less so than some – they’re good for 6 months or so, if they’ve been prepared and stored properly. If your wheel o’ spices is out where sunlight hits it on a regular basis, your stuff is toast and needs to be replaced. If it’s not from a high quality source, like World Spice, Penzeys, Pendereys, to name just a few, you’ve no guarantee that what your buying is up to snuff – And finally, never use my sainted Father’s wine buying plan when it comes to spice – The more you get for less dough is not a successful strategy.

So, with all that, here’s the scoop.

M’s Heavenly Split Pea Soup

4 Cups Vegetable or Chicken Stock
2 Cups Water
2 Cups (about 1/2 pound), Ham
1 nice big Ham Bone
1 Pound dried Split Peas
2 large Carrots
3 stalks Celery
2 Tablespoons chopped Shallot
3 cloves Garlic
1 Lemon
1-2 Tablespoons Parsely
1 teaspoon Lemon Thyme
1/2 teaspoon ground Pepper
1/2 teaspoon crushed red Chile
1/4 teaspoon Sea Salt
2 Tablespoons Avocado Oil.

In a stock pot over medium high heat, combine water, stock and the ham bone. When the stock begins to boil, reduce heat until its barely maintaining a simmer. Allow the stock and bone to simmer for 60 minutes.

An hour or so of simmering will properly marry the flavors of pork Bone and stock
An hour or so of simmering will properly marry the flavors of pork Bone and stock

Rough chop ham, cut carrots into half-rounds about 1/4″ thick, chop celery, dice shallot and mince garlic.

Aromatics, the heartbeat of great soup
Aromatics, the heartbeat of great soup

Zest lemon, cut in half.

Place peas in a single mesh strainer and rinse under cold running water, checking for non-food detritus.

Rinse and inspect pease before deployment!
Rinse and inspect pease before deployment!

In a soup pot over medium heat, add oil and heat through. Add carrot, celery, and shallot. Sauté until the shallot begins to turn translucent.

Always sauté your aromatics first!
Always sauté your aromatics first!

Remove Bone from stock and allow to cool, then give it to your dawg.

Add stock, water, ham, and split peas to soup pot with aromatics over medium heat. Stir to incorporate. When the soup starts to boil, reduce heat to barely maintain a slow simmer. Simmer soup for 1-2 hours, until the split peas are where you like them – just slightly al dente is the sweet spot.

Great split pea soup should look like what it's made from, not mush!
Great split pea soup should look like what it’s made from, not mush!

Add parsley, lemon thyme, a tablespoon of lemon zest, pepper, Chile, and salt. Stir to incorporate and taste, adjust seasoning as desired. Allow the soup to simmer for another 10 minutes.

Add the herbs and spices last so they don't lose their floral qualities
Add the herbs and spices last so they don’t lose their floral qualities

Serve nice and hot, garnished with a little more fresh lemon zest and shot or two of hot sauce if you like such things. A dollop of fresh sour cream doesn’t suck, either.

M's Heavenly Split Pea Soup
M’s Heavenly Split Pea Soup

Serve with crusty bread and a glass of decent Zinfandel, and you’re in hog heaven.

Dickens Christmas Cocktails

Charles Dickens knew how to party – He loved a good time, and he was very good at arranging and enjoying them. He appreciated good food a great deal, and perhaps even more so, good drink – Evidence of such is found throughout his work. Of that body of writing, my personal favorite is his seasonal classic, A Christmas Carol, In Prose, Being a Ghost Story of Christmas. This year, that joy of good booze reflected in the novella got my attention – Time to offer up some Dickens Christmas cocktails.

Dickens’ work had, at first, rocketed to popularity. The Pickwick Papers in 1836 were quickly followed with Oliver Twist, and then Nicholas Nickleby. He became an international sensation, but sadly, it didn’t last. By 1843, he had made some serious social and financial gaffes, and was living well above his means. He was a critical disaster, hadn’t written anything popular in several years, and was almost bankrupt. A visit to the Field Lane Ragged School, a street children’s school, coupled with his own financial difficulties, profoundly impacted the man. Thankfully, his rumination lead to the conjuring of certain characters in his mind’s eye, and was then manifested in the story of Ebenezer Scrooge’s epic redemption.  

Trouble was, his publishers weren’t interested. Christmas in those days wasn’t as big a to-do as Dickens wanted to make of it, and the publisher just didn’t think it would sell. Yet Dickens’ epiphany at the poor kids school, and on a walk he’d taken through the slums thereafter, had shaken the man to the core. He felt driven to bring the plight of the poor to light, and to give them hope and cheer in so doing. Rather than quit, he hired his own illustrator, and editor, and paid for the printing as well. The rest, of course, is history.

A Christmas Carol

Released on the 19th of December in 1843, Dickens’ self-published run of A Christmas Carol sold out by Christmas Eve, and only a year later, had gone through thirteen editions. Critics liked the novella, but more importantly, the reading public absolutely adored it. Written at a time when English traditions of the season were undergoing a sea change, A Christmas Carol caught fire – and that flame burns to this day – it’s never been out of print. What Dickens highlighted about Christmas, good will to our fellow beings, especially those less fortunate than us, and the celebration of the season with food and drink, is still largely what it’s all about today. And of course, it put him right back into the catbird seat as well.

Dickens love of food and drink, came not only from his late life epiphany, but from a troubled childhood. Turns out his father had been bankrupted and was sent to debtor’s prison. Twelve year old Dickens had to leave school and take a factory job, gluing labels on to bottles of boot blacking – It doesn’t take much imagination to figure out how awful that work would be, or how little it would pay. He didn’t do it for long, just a few months, but it made an indelible impression on him, sparking a lifelong opposition to the industrial revolution and child labor. It also permanently fixed in his mind an abundance of food and drink as a sign of well-being.

He certainly did like his drink. Victorian society didn’t take all that kindly to the consumption of beer, wine, or spiritous liquors, but Dickens frankly didn’t give a rats ass about opinion. He not only hoisted a few when the spirit moved him, he did so openly, in pubs and taverns. Throughout his writing, he made it clear that he felt that rich or poor deserved a good stiff belt when they wanted one. Through his works, I learned of gin punch, negus, smoking bishop, and a raft of other such tipples. 

Charles’ Great Grandson, Cedric Charles Dickens, wrote in 1980 a great little book titled, Drinking With Dickens. It’s a wealth of stories, reminisces, and recipes that’s a delightful read for any fan of the man and his work. Drinking with Dickens underlines Charles’ love for booze with a passion. There’s an accounting of the contents of his cellar after his death therein, which listed well over a thousand bottles of wine and spirits. Here are our swings at Dickens’ Big Three – Negus, Smoking Bishop, and finally his favorite, Gin Punch. 

It’s important to note that these drinks are not lightweight. Almost all the recipes’ booze is measured in bottles, (sometimes plural), per batch. While they’re not super high proof concoctions, they’re still pretty hefty stuff, so as Cedric noted, “remember Sarah Gamp’s admonition: “Drink fair, wotever you do!””

Ghost of Christmas Present

Our first entry is Negus, mentioned by name or as punch in several of Dickens works, like this passage from the appearance of the Ghost of Christmas Present, “Heaped up on the floor, to form a kind of throne, were turkeys, geese, game, poultry, brawn, great joints of meat, sucking-pigs, long wreaths of sausages, mince-pies, plum-puddings, barrels of oysters, red-hot chestnuts, cherry-cheeked apples, juicy oranges, luscious pears, immense twelfth-cakes, and seething bowls of punch, that made the chamber dim with their delicious steam.”

Negus owes its name to Colonel Francis Negus, who lived from 1670 to 1732. He was an army officer, politician, and for a time, secretary to the Duke of Norfolk. Somewhere in the first couple decades of the 1700s, he reputedly came up with this port powered punch.

Urban’s Negus 

You’ll need a microplane or fine grater for this recipe. If you don’t have one, you can carefully pare the citrus peels, and use ground nutmeg. You’ll also want a double boiler, ideally. If you don’t have one, you can do the deed in a heavy bottom sauce pan over low heat, but you lose some of the booze power in so doing.

1 Bottle Ruby Port

1 Meyer Lemon (A nice big, juicy regular one will do, too)

1 Blood Orange

2 Tablespoons Agave Nectar

Fresh Nutmeg

Hot Water

Carefully zest the lemon and orange, taking care to get just the color, not the bitter white pith. 

Juice the lemon and the orange – you can combine the juices.

In a sauce pan, boil enough water to fill a tempered serving jug, large enough to hold the whole batch of punch, plus another couple cups. 

In a double boiler over medium low heat, add juice, zest, agave nectar, and port.

Stir the punch to integrate the liquids and agave nectar, then stir occasionally until the punch steams. 

Fill the serving jug with hot water.

Add 1 cup of boiling water to the punch and stir to incorporate.

Pour the hot water out of the jug, then carefully pour the negus through a double mesh strainer into it.

Serve in the thickest walled mugs you’ve got, with a grating of fresh nutmeg atop each one.

Smoking Bishop Punch

Then there’s this – “I’ll raise your salary, and endeavour to assist your struggling family,’’ Scrooge tells Bob Cratchit near the end of A Christmas Carol, ‘‘and we will discuss your affairs this very afternoon, over a Christmas bowl of smoking bishop!’’” This wassail punch has medieval roots, and the name likely stems from the traditional serving bowl used for the stuff, which does indeed look like a bishop’s mitre. Smoking Bishop is not a stand alone thing, by the way; there’s also Smoking Archbishop (claret), Smoking Cardinal (champagne), Smoking Pope (burgundy), and smoking Beadle (ginger wine) – Whew! In any event, it’s a classic mulled wine punch that’ll make your house smell fabulous. Seville oranges are a bitter variety that might not be in your local grocery store, but most definitely will be at the nearest Latin market. Neither the wine nor the port needs to be pricey – when you’re building something like this, workmanlike will do just fine.

Urban’s Smoking Bishop

6 Seville Oranges

1 Bottle Spanish or Portuguese Red Wine (a blend is good)

1 Bottle Ruby Port 

1/2 Cup Agave Nectar

36 Whole Cloves

2 Sticks True Cinnamon

Preheat oven to 325° F and set a rack in the middle position.

Rinse oranges well, and dry thoroughly.

Stud each orange with six cloves, and set them in a roasting pan, or baking dish.

Roast the oranges for 60 minutes.

When your roasting time is about up, fill a heat tolerant bowl with very hot water.

Remove the roasted oranges, pour the water out of the bowl, and slide the oranges into that.

Combine the red wine and agave nectar and stir well to incorporate.

Add the wine mixture to the hot oranges, cover the bowl, and leave it in a nice, warm corner of your kitchen for somewhere between 12 and 24 hours.

After the fruit has steeped, juice the oranges into the wine blend – do that through a single mesh strainer so you capture cloves and fruit pulp. You can compost the fruit remnants and get your local squirrels loaded, too.

In a heavy sauce pan over low heat, add the wine and fruit juice mix, the port, and the cinnamon sticks.

Heat the punch very slowly, (so you don’t burn off the booze), until it steams – hence the ‘smoking’ thing.

Turn the heat off and leave the pan on the burner.

Remove the cinnamon sticks, and serve in nice, thick red-heated mugs.

Gin Punch

And finally, here’s Dickens’ and Crachit’s favorite tipple, Gin Punch -“At last the dinner was all done, the cloth was cleared, the hearth swept, and the fire made up. The compound in the jug being tasted, and considered perfect, apples and oranges were put upon the table, and a shovel-full of chestnuts on the fire. Then all the Cratchit family drew round the hearth … and at Bob Cratchit’s elbow stood the family display of glass. Two tumblers, and a custard-cup without a handle. These held the hot stuff from the jug, however, as well as golden goblets would have done; and Bob served it out with beaming looks, while the chestnuts on the fire sputtered and cracked noisily.” While a decent gin is all that’s necessary, Christmas is about as reasonable an excuse as there is to try something really distinctive. One of the beauties of gin punch is that all those botanicals mix wonderfully with what you’ll add. I’ll say without hesitation that the best gin I’ve ever had is Gifford’s Dry Gin, from Blackfish Spirits Distillery in Auburn, Washington, and yes, they do ship. Tell Carrie and Mike that we sent ya.

Urban’s Gin Punch

8 Ounces Gifford’s Dry Gin

8 Ounces Fino Sherry

4 Ounces 100% Cranberry Juice

4 Ounces 100% Pomegranate Juice

1 Honey Crisp Apple

1 Blood Orange

1 large Lemon

3 Tablespoons Agave Nectar

1/2 a whole Star Anise

2 Sticks True Cinnamon 

1/4 of a whole Nutmeg

Thoroughly rinse and pat the fruit dry.

Cut the fruit into wheels about 1/4” thick.

In a heavy sauce pan over low heat, add the fruit, cranberry and pomegranate juices, agave nectar, nutmeg, cinnamon, and star anise. Stir well to incorporate.

Let the mixture heat slowly for about 15 – 20 minutes, when it should start simmering – adjust heat as necessary.

Once the mix simmers, turn the heat down to low and add the sherry, stirring to incorporate. 

Let that mix heat through for another 10 minutes, then add the gin.

Keep the punch on low heat for another 5 minutes, to heat through – don’t let it simmer, just gradually heat.

Ladle into preheated, thick mugs – the fruit will be delicious, but probably nobody needs a cinnamon stick, star anise, or nutmeg chunk…

M and I wish y’all holidays of great peace, with family, friends, and critters all around.

Scratch Made Bone Stock

Bone stock – Seems it’s entered, maybe even passed, the realm of tragically hip foods, but I’m here to say that it ain’t necessarily so. It’s winter, when soups, stews, and hearty sauces rule, and bone broth always has and always will have a starring role therein. You can buy the stuff, true enough, but what do you get? Most likely, you’ll find something that is but a pale shadow of its name, or a more or less real deal offering that costs way too much for our liking. Making it at home really is the only viable answer for acquiring top notch quality at a reasonable price – But doing requires some serious time and attention to detail. Is it worth doing? Without a doubt, the answer is yes.

Home made bone stock

Bone stock really isn’t trendy. It’s been around since forever, and for good reason – It’s not only delicious, it’s pretty darn good for you. Building a stock from bones, marrow, connective tissues and a little meat is genuinely nutritious. What you’ll find inside depends to some degree on what you make it from, but generally you’ll get calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, sulfur, and silicon from the bones. The marrow contributes Vitamins A and K2, omegas 3 and 6, and trace minerals – iron, zinc, manganese, selenium, and boron among them. The connective tissue adds glucosamine and chondroitin. All that stuff gelatinizes when you make stock, and the gelatin is rich in amino acids, especially glycine, proline, and arginine. There are recent, peer reviewed scientific studies that state, unequivocally, that your mom was right – chicken soup is good for you when you’re sick.

You can make bone broth from a bunch of other stuff – We do so from beef, pork, chicken, turkey, fish, (and veggies), on a regular basis. In its simplest form, it’s taking the carcass of that chicken or turkey, or beef or pork bones, simmering it low and slow with some aromatics, and then making soup or stew for your meal that night. It’s fun, delicious, and absolutely the right thing to do – using pretty much everything you can from that bird. But when you’re making bulk stock to last the winter, then you’re talking serious bone stock, and that’s what we’re going to do here.

So, where to go for bones? Really, no farther than your fridge or freezer. The first and most important step here is to not throw away anything from what you buy. Bones and carcasses are not refuse, they’re vital ingredients. You can store things up to make a big batch, or do what we do and make smaller ones as you go. In this house, no poultry of any kind is done being used until stock has been made, after however many meals we’ve enjoyed. That’s the way it’s been done through the ages, and it’s what you should be doing too. We buy local, grass fed beef from a high school friend who raises it. Bags of beef bones are part of the bounty we gratefully receive each spring. 

You can ask local butchers for bones, without a doubt – I’ll recommend finding a good Carniceria – They are far more likely than your average grocer to have a Use Everything mentality. If you’re using whole bones, you don’t want to work with anything that’s really Fred Flintstone sized. Get your butcher to cut them down to an average of maybe 3” to 4”, or just grab a hack saw or a hatchet and do it yourself – It’s not that hard at all.

How many bones do you need to make stock? Depends on how much you want to make, really. What you’ll see images of here was almost 5 pounds of bones. You can do it with less and make smaller batches, no problem – what’ll drive quality is the freshness of what you use, and the ration of water to bones – more on that in a bit.

I’m certainly not going to claim that there’s Only One Way To Do This Right, but I will say this – What I’ll outline here works consistently for us, and will for you, too. The process isn’t as fussy as some, and fussier than others – What it entails is what I believe you need to do to make sure you build high quality stock that’s safe to eat. Understand this – doing this requires some of your attention for most of one day and part of another – in other words, it’s a weekend thing for serious food lovers, so if that’s you, read on.

A Note on Equipment.
Home made bone stock

You’ll need a good sized stock pot for this – a 3 gallon (12 Quart) is pushing at the too small side of things, but is viable – a 4 gallon is much better. There’s quite a bit of ingredients volume in a batch the size you see me doing here – We’ve got heavy duty 4 and 5 gallon stainless steel vessels. If you’re going to invest, do not buy a cheap ass pot – Light weight stuff doesn’t transfer heat at all well, and won’t last, either – and I’d steer clear of aluminum pots, period. I highly recommend the Vigor heavy duty stainless steel – aluminum clad stock pots from the Webstaurant Store – you can’t beat the quality for the price on those. You’ll also need a fairly large colander and some cheese cloth, which frankly, you aughta have anyway.

First things first – Blanching.
Home made bone stock

This is fundamentally the same thing you do to veggies prior to freezing them. It’s a quick cooking step with a very specific, and important, task in mind – It removes most of the impurities that will make your stock funky if you don’t do it. And fear not, you will be leaving the good stuff there.

Toss your bones into your pot and cover with a good 5” of cold water.

Put your pot on the most aggressive burner you’ve got and set it on high.

Bring the pot to a full boil, then reduce the heat to maintain a very brisk simmer. 

Let everything simmer for 20 minutes, then carefully pour off all the liquid. 

That icky schmutz left in your sink trap? That’s exactly what you did this step to be rid of.

Home made bone stock

Step Two – Roasting The Bones.

There are stocks, (the so called white stocks), that don’t call for roasted bones and carcasses, but that’s not what we’re after here. We’re after deep, rich flavors, and you cannot get there without roasting. This is a step skipped or skimped on far too often, and that’s no bueno. You want a serious, high heat roast, done long enough to genuinely brown and caramelize.

Home made bone stock

The other consideration here is what to put in there with your bones. For my 2¢ worth, less is better. We’re after the basics here, a focused and potent depth of flavor from bones. You can add whatever you want when you put the stock in use. A hint of an aromatic base with some good salt and pepper is enough. Adding an acid towards the end of the process helps break down connective tissues and gives you richer stock. Tomato paste or purée is the most common choice – it adds a nice bright note and richness to the mix.

Home made bone stock

To Roast roughly 4 to 5 pounds of bones.

Preheat your oven to 425° F and set a rack in a middle position.

Peel, trim, and rough chop 1 medium onion and 3 or 4 cloves of garlic.

Arrange your bones, carcass, etc on a baking sheet(s) with a rim. Don’t overcrowd things – leave a little room between each one. 

Toss the chopped onion and garlic evenly across the pan.

Season everything with kosher salt and ground pepper – a coarse salt is perfect here, but don’t be too heavy handed.

Roast for 30 to 60 minutes, depending on the size and volume you’re roasting. You want your bones to get pretty dark – not burned, but notably, definitely roasted, so don’t be shy about the time it takes.

When things are pretty well cooked, but not quite there, pull your sheets out of the oven and carefully smear tomato paste or purée on the bones – I say carefully, because the bones are hot as hell.

Stick everything back in the oven and let them roast for another 15 minutes or so, until the tomato is notably browned.

Home made bone stock

Remove from the oven and move on to the next step.

Step Three – The Long Simmer.

At this phase, you can and should expand your choice of aromatics to add to the bones. We tend to go very traditional with ours – onion, garlic, celery, carrot, and bay leaf, with a little salt and good pepper. You can certainly add other goodies as you like – Fennel, winter root veggies, a little rosemary even. Start out simple, and as you get used to the process and what you like, customize your own mix. Don’t over season here – Again, we’re after basic stock – you’ll add seasoning when you use it.

Home made bone stock

Finally, let’s discuss how long is too long for simmering stock? This will depend on what kind you’re making. Lighter boned stuff like poultry is pretty much played out after 5 or 6 hours, tops, while heavy beef bones could easily go 8 to 10 hours if you have the time and patience, (and I hope you do – The bigger bones can keep on giving if you let them.) In any event, don’t even think about simmering for anything less than 4 hours for poultry and 6 for beef – if you do, you’re largely defeating the purpose of the whole exercise.

To Simmer The Stock

For every 5 pounds of bones, peel, trim, and rough chop 

1 medium Onion

2 Carrots

2 stalks Celery

2-3 Cloves Garlic

2-3 Turkish Bay Leaves

Add bones and aromatics to stock pot, and cover with just enough water to keep everything submerged – you don’t want the bone and aromatic mix swimming in the deep end of the pool – just keep it under simmering water, so it can do its extraction thing.

Add a teaspoon of sea salt, and a few twists of fresh ground pepper.

Turn heat to high until you develop a solid boil.

Reduce heat to a bare simmer, cover the pot and let it go.

Keep an eye on things when you first gear down to a simmer. The covered pot can get frisky – you’re best off turning your heat to low, and then bumping things up a bit if you need to – you’ll get to a consistent simmer faster that way.

Keep a pan or kettle with hot water near by to maintain the water level above the bones. Don’t add excessive amounts – just enough to keep everything submerged.

Step Four – Initial Straining and Cooling.

Home made bone stock

When your stock looks and smells and tastes like it’s done, it’s time to strain and cool. Be careful when you’re pouring hot liquids, for obvious reasons. I use another, smaller stock pot with a colander stuck on top for this first task, getting rid of the cooked out ingredients – you’ll do further clarifying later, so don’t worry about anything more than that at this point.

You can certainly add the used up bones and stuff to your compost pile, by the way. They’re pretty well played out, and the long simmer softens bones, making them break down a bit easier.

Now you need to cool your stock relatively quickly. This is done first and foremost as a food safety best practice – hot broth takes a long time to cool, and it’s a serious playground for bacteria. An ice water bath is the best way to get the job done. Anything from a stoppered sink to a roasting pan or high sided braiser you can partially submerge your stock pot into will do the trick. A 50% -50% blend of ice and water is the desired medium. If you can increase the surface area between the hot liquid` and the cooling bath, by transferring the stock to something shallower and wider, that too will help speed the cooling process – So will stirring every 15 minutes or so.

The Cooling Mantra is this – Drop whatever the current temperature is to below 70° F within 2 hours, and from 70° F to under 40° F within 4 hours after that – Total cooling time, 6 hours or less. Do that, and you’re right as rain. You can also add some ice directly to the stock if you wish, up to 3 or 4 cups worth – As potent as this stuff comes out, you needn’t worry at all about overly diluting your stock at this point. Finally, do not ever put hot liquid into the fridge or freezer – not only will it not cool properly, it’ll heat up everything around it, and that’s just not good.
Home made bone stock

Once the stock is fully cooled, it goes into the fridge overnight. This will allow a lot of the suspended solids to drop out of the solution, and also allow the fat to rise. In the morning, you’ll find clearer stock with a nice, solid layer of fat on top. Time for the next step.

Home made bone stock

Step Five – Defatting and Clarifying.

Time to make your stock as clear as you want it – and that is the only criterion that matters. Your kitchen is not a Guide Michelin restaurant, and you don’t need to be able to read the date on a dime sitting on the bottom of your stock pot. 

That said, you do want to remove the fat. Fortunately, that’s a simple thing with chilled stock. A wide slotted spoon or handled strainer does the job just fine. If you’re reasonably careful, you’ll get 99% of the congealed fat off your stock with no hassle.

Home made bone stock

Now, at this point you could leave things as is, if you wish. Yes, what you have will be kind of cloudy and a bit busy, but truth be told, so what? It’s going to be turned into soup, or stew, or sauce – so who’s going to notice? If you decide to stop here, don’t beat on yourself, it’s all good.
Home made bone stock

Regardless, what you see after the fat is gone may look like, well, loose meat jello. And if it does, congratulations, you’ve made some bitchin’ stock, indeed. If that’s what you got, you gelatinized a whole bunch of the available collagen, and that is exactly what you want – Liquid gold.

Now, if like me you’re just a bit fussy, then you might want to strain that stuff a bit more. It will liquify appreciably as it comes to room temperature. You’ll need cheese cloth and your colander again.

Home made bone stock

Put your straining setup in or over a stock pot and carefully pour your defatted stock through – Keep in mind that the refrigerated overnight caused most of the solids to settle – If you’re careful not to stir up that sludge, one pass will be all you’ll need.

Step Six – Further Tinkering and Portioning.

No matter what kind of bones you used, you really should consider making a reduction with some of your stock. Why? Because if your stock is liquid gold, a 50% reduction of that is platinum. 

Reduction is as simple as it sounds. Put, say, 4 cups of stock in a pan, heat it to a boil, reduce the heat to a bare simmer and leave it there until it’s reduced in volume by 50%. 

Cool the reduction, then transfer that to a clean glass jar with an airtight lid. Refrigerated, it’ll last a couple weeks. A quarter cup of that in 3 cups of water will make a great, fast stock. Even better, divvy it up into an ice cube tray with an airtight, locking lid and freeze it – You can pop out a cube or three when you want to make a quick pan sauce, or to add some zing to anything from mashed potatoes to asparagus, with a zillion options in between.

The rest of your stock can be portioned into pints or quarts and frozen, where it’ll be good for 4 to 6 months. Make sure, if you use glass jars, that you leave plenty of head room for the expansion of freezing stock – I’m talking a good 2”+, and err to the side of caution – broken mason jars in your freezer are no fun.

Your own home made stock, and/or reduction, added to a pan that just had something yummy sautéed in it, with a little butter added, and drizzled over whatever you’re having? That’s liquid gold right there.