Thursday, December 26, 2013

Homemade Slow-Cooker Stock

I have been on this wintery kick of making my own homemade stock.  It's gotten to the point where I collect bones from everyone (in as non-creepy a way possible, but there really isn't a non-creepy way of asking someone, "Hey, can I have your bones to put in my freezer?").

However, for a few weeks I was saving bones of all types, and keeping my vegetable odds-and-ends in a Ziploc bag (onion tops and bottoms, celery leaves/hearts, carrot ends... even a few potato peels, apple cores and bell pepper stems).  Pounds of that shit was piling up in my freezer.  And the Stock Project?  Not getting off the ground because I am never hanging around my house long enough to babysit a boiling pot of bones for a few hours.

Enter the Crock Pot.  The working woman's best friend.

For a couple days, I went about loading up my slow cooker with the bones & veggie bits and letting them go all day or overnight in the crock pot on high.  The result is a very clear, not cloudy or gelatinous, broth.  By some accounts you can let it cook for days on end, but I found that after 24 hours it seemed about right and any longer than that you have to keep replacing the liquid as it boils away.

Now I have a freezer fully stocked (ha) with chicken, beef, and lamb stock.  Now onto Project: Soup.

Poultry, beef, lamb, pork or ham bones or carcass (don't throw away that stripped Thanksgiving turkey just yet!)
Celery hearts/leaves, carrot greens, onion skins, apple cores, potato peels, scallion ends, bell pepper skins, and the bits and pieces thereof (be sure to use mostly aromatics, as cruciferous or strong-tasting vegetables like asparagus, broccoli or cauliflower can overpower the flavor and will not yield a basic stock)
A splash of vinegar or lemon juice (acid is supposed to pull the minerals out of the bones, but there are differing schools of thought on this)
Pieces of tomato or tomato paste (only if you want a richer, less clear stock, but the tomato is also acidic, see above note)
Whole black peppercorns, bay leaf or other herbs and herb stems (optional)

Optional first step: roast the bones and vegetables (not the herbs) in the oven until browned.  This will result in a stock with a darker color and richer flavor.  This can be helpful if you have uncooked bones from your butcher, etc.  I've gotten quite a few frozen, uncooked bones from my parents who own cattle, and in this case I would definitely recommend roasting the bones for improved flavor in the end result.  If you're using leftover bones from food you've already roasted, this step won't really do anything to your bones but may add flavor to your vegetables.

Whether you've pre-roasted or not: Set all your stock ingredients in the bottom of a crock pot.  Fill with tap water, just until bones are covered.  (After a few tries I found it easiest to measure the water using the container I planned to store the finished stock in.  Just don't fill it all the way up, or else it will expand and lift the lid right off.)

Set crock pot on high and let it run all day and/or overnight.  Check after 12 hours and add more water if needed to keep bones submerged.  When the stock is rich and dark in color, turn the pot off and allow to cool.

Place a strainer over the top of the large freezer-safe container you used to measure the water.  Using a slotted spoon, discard the bones and large vegetable pieces.  Strain the liquid into the container and refrigerate or freeze for later use. I recommend leaving the stock unsalted.  You can always add salt later when you are seasoning whatever dish you are using the stock for, but if you are adding it to something already salty, better to leave it out beforehand.
If you are preparing several kinds of stock at once, don't forget to label them :)  Enjoy!

Friday, December 6, 2013

Grandpa George's Carrot Cake

This carrot cake is legendary!  It's one of those recipes that's so good, it's been passed down.  On birthdays, friends ask for it.  On holidays, family expects it.  The secret is the crushed pineapple... it makes plain old carrot cake incredibly moist and delicious!  As to where it came from, my mom always says anytime she asked my grandfather where he got his recipe for this or that, he always responded with "Oh... it was probably on the back of a box."

They just don't make 'em like that anymore.  Enjoy!

2 cups flour

2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 1/2 tsp cinnamon
2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups oil
4 large eggs
3 cups coarsley grated carrots (or one 8 oz. pack of shredded carrots)
8.5 oz can crushed pineapple, drained
3/4 cup chopped pecans
1 cup shredded coconut

Sift together dry ingredients.  In a large bowl mix sugar, oil and eggs.  Add flour mixture, a little at a time, mixing well after each addition.  Stir in carrots, pineapple, pecans and coconut, and blend thoroughly.

For cake: Bake one hour in a 9x13 pan or divide between two or three round pans.  Cool completely before frosting.

For cupcakes: Spoon into cupcake tins and bake at 350 for 20-25 minutes.  Cool 10 minutes before removing from pan.  Cool completely and frost.

2 (8 oz) packages cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup butter, softened
2 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Beat cream cheese and butter until creamy. Mix in vanilla, then gradually beat in the powdered sugar.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Herbed Pork Chops with White Wine Reduction

On my birthday I roasted a butternut squash.

I'm weird.  But that was what I really wanted to do.  My intention was to cook this soup (which ended up being delicious).  But at some point during the day I realized I wanted to make dinner for my boyfriend that evening and didn't have anything at home except a cold, cooked squash.

I asked him to pick up a couple cheap pork chops and, following the techniques I had tried the week before with a similar recipe, made up this birthday dinner thing.

I prefer the pork chops without the bone, but I left them in this time since I was in a bit of a hurry to feed a hungry boyfriend around 9pm (someone's b-day cocktails at Hock Farm went a little long...)

For the meat:
Two pork chops, bone in or trimmed
Two cloves garlic, minced
Two sprigs rosemary, chopped
1 1/2 cups white wine

For the roasted butternut squash puree:
See Roasted Butternut Squash Soup Recipe for the base

Salt and pepper the pork chops heavily.  Heat olive oil in a pan over medium high heat and sear the pork chops, a few minutes on each side, until browned but not cooked through.  Transfer to a plate and cover to keep warm.

Turn down the pan to medium and add the white wine to deglaze, scraping the bottom of the pan.  Add the minced garlic and rosemary and cook until wine is reduced by half.

Meanwhile, add 1 cup pureed roasted butternut squash to a saucepan and heat over medium.  Add half and half or heavy cream, a little at a time, stirring until smooth.  Add 3/4 cup of freshly grated Parmesan cheese and season with pepper to taste.

When cheese is melted and wine is reduced, add the pork chops and any plate juices back to the wine reduction.  Spoon the sauce over the pork chops and warm through in the pan.

Serve the pork chops on a bed of the roasted butternut squash puree and top with the rosemary and garlic reduction.


Happy birthday.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Fresh Pumpkin Pie with Gingersnap Graham Cracker Crust

I'm not a fan of pumpkin pie. I figured out the secret pumpkin pie loophole a couple years ago: pumpkin cheesecake.  I'm sorry to any pumpkin pie purists out there, but pumpkin cheesecake is just infinitely better.

However, my mother nixed pumpkin cheesecake for Thanksgiving this year.  She claims she would rather have pumpkin pie OR cheesecake and avoid the hybrid.  I believe she has forgotten that the pumpkin pie she's been eating every year is actually my pumpkin cheesecake.

Ever the obstinate only child, I was determined to find some way around her instructions.

Since I couldn't bear to dump canned pumpkin in a prepared pie shell and put my name on it, I decided to cook and puree a fresh pumpkin, add honey for natural sweetness, and kick it up with a gingersnap crust.

(Still not as good as pumpkin cheesecake though.)

To prepare the pumpkin:
1 sugar pumpkin, halved and seeds removed

Place the two halves of the pumpkin face down in a 9x13 glass pan or microwave safe dish.  Fill with a half inch or so of water and cook in the microwave on high in for ten minutes.  After ten minutes check the pumpkin for a soft peel, rotate the halves for even cooking, and return to the microwave for another ten minutes or until peels are soft and beginning to shrivel.  Allow cooked pumpkin to cool to room temperature.

When pumpkin halves have cooled, scrape out the flesh with a large spoon.  Place the pumpkin flesh in a paper-towel lined colander or over a cheesecloth to drain, if necessary.  (Mine was pretty dry already.)

When the flesh is dry blend in a food processor until smooth.  Add the half and half, a half cup at a time, if needed.  You can set it aside or refrigerate it until ready to use at this point.


To make the crust:
8-10 gingersnap cookies
4 to 5 whole graham crackers
2 to 3 tablespoons butter, melted

Crush the cookies in a plastic bag with a mallet or rolling pin, or blend in the food processor.  (I did all three.  Gingersnaps are really freaking hard.)

Add the butter and combine until the mixture resembles wet sand.  I have purposely left this recipe vague since pat-in-pan crusts are really hard to screw up and they are all a matter of personal taste.  The only thing you can really do wrong is add too much butter, and how could that ever be wrong? Just eyeball it until it looks right to you... If it's not, just put it back in the food processor and add more cookies or butter until it does.

Press into a pie pan, smoothing with the bottom of a measuring cup, and bake at 350 degrees for 5 to 8 minutes until it's just toasted.

To make the filling:
2 cups pumpkin puree
4 eggs
1 cup honey
1 cup half & half (less if you added some when pureeing)
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1 pinch ground cloves
1 pinch allspice
1 pinch salt

Measure two cups of the pumpkin filling and blend in the remaining ingredients with a hand mixer until smooth (it will look watery, but that's ok).  Pour the mixture into the prepared pie crust and bake at 350 degrees for about one hour, until the center looks mostly set or a knife inserted one inch from the edge comes out clean.

To serve, top with lots of freshly whipped cream.


Perfect pie.