Other Useful Brown Stocks

These stocks are very useful when you want to enhance the flavor of the dish you are creating. They all follow the base for Brown Veal Stock.

Brown Lamb Stock: The veal bones and trim are replaced by an equal amount of lamb trim and bones. Mint stems, cumin seeds, or rosemary can be added to the standard sachet d’épices; one or more of these herbs should be added.

Brown Game Stock: The veal bones and trim are replaced by and equal amount of game bones and trim. Depending on the dish I am making I will add rosemary, thyme, oregano, or garlic cloves in the sachet d’épices. Remember… With wild game, just think rustic, woody taste.

Brown Pork Stock: The veal bones and trim are replaced by an equal amount of fresh or smoked pork trim and bones. Oregano stems or crushed red pepper can be added to the sachet d’épices. **If using smoked pork bones and trim here is a list of woods to use:

  • Alder
  • Oak
  • Apple
  • Cherry
  • Almond
  • Pear

The woods listed above also go well with beef, game meats (rabbit, venison, alligator, etc..), lamb, poultry and water fowl. Oak, Almond, Apple are good woods for seafood too. Be cautioned that with certain species of trees such as, Maple, Mesquite, Hickory/Pecan  tend to give the food that more of that American BBQ flavor. Pecan is from the same family as hickory, however, it does produce a slightly different taste when it is used to cook or smoke with.

Hickory:

  1. Beef
  2. Chicken
  3. Pork
  4. Lamb
  5. Mildly flavored game meat (rabbit, etc…)
  6. Seafood steaks (Swordfish, shark, tuna steaks)

 Pecan (does not go as well with game meat as hickory does):

  1. Beef
  2. Chicken
  3. Lamb
  4. Pork
  5. Duck

Maple:

  1. Pork
  2. Chicken
  3. Duck
  4. Lamb
  5. Venison

Mesquite:

  1. Chicken
  2. Duck
  3. Rabbit
  4. Pork
  5. Lamb
  6. Venison

 

*Please remember that not every type of tree can be used for cooking. Some give off toxic fumes when burned or will leave your food tasting like the contents of the entrails of the animal you slaughter…Not a good idea! There are great woods out there for cooking and some just for survival, we’ll stay away from the latter.

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Chicken Stock

Chicken Stock:

  • 8 lbs chicken bones
  • 1 sachet d’épices
  • 2 tsp salt (I use coarse sea salt)
  • 1 lb mirepoix (8 oz onion, 4 oz carrot, 4 oz celery), medium-dice
  • 1 gallon cold water

Directions:

  1. Heat a stockpot over medium high heat, then add mireproix.
  2. After rinsing bones under cool running water, place them in a stockpot.
  3. Add cold water and salt, then slowly bring the stock to a simmer and depouillage (skim surface) when needed. *the water should cover approx. 2 inches of the bones.
  4. Simmer the stock for 4 to 6 hours, tasting periodically and depouillage as necessary.
  5. Finally, Strain the stock. It can be used now or stored for later use, but if it stored it needs to be rapidly cooled.

**Safe methods for cooling:

  1. Ice-water bath – easy and commonly used method. Divide food into smaller containers, then place containers in a sink or large pot filled with ice water, stirring the stock to cool more evenly and faster.
  2. Ice paddle – Plastic ice paddles are a great and easy way to cool stock. They can be filled with ice or filled with water and then frozen, if you have a big enough freezer.

These methods can be combined for even faster cooling.

 

Rustic Minestrone

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Vegetable soups have been around for decades and they are great as a starter or as a meal itself.  The recipe can either be made for Summer or Winter seasons, it just depends on the vegetables that you use. Now let’s get started!

Summer Minestrone:

  • 2 quarts vegetable or chicken stock (homemade or low-sodium store-bought)
  • 2 cups water
  • 1/2 cup white wine (dry, semi-sweet)
  • 2 large summer squash (zucchini)
  • 1 large white onion, Julienne
  • 6 tomatoes, peeled and cut 1/2 inch pieces  (*see notes below for instructions*)
  • 3 celery stalks
  • 4 large carrots
  • 1 lb red potatoes, quarter, then cut in half
  • 2 cups green cabbage
  • 4 cups red kidney beans or 3 cups ciciri (Sicilian for chickpeas)
  • 9 oz tomato paste (Contadina)
  • 1 1/4 Tbsp coarse sea salt
  • 2 medium bay leaves
  • 10 peppercorns
  • 2 Tbsp fresh cracked black pepper
  • 2 sprigs fresh oregano
  • 2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 spring fresh thyme
  • 1/4 tsp dried thyme
  • 6 large garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp garlic powder
  • 2 tsp sugar or 2 1/8 tsp natural pure honey
  • 1 tsp olive oil

Preparation:

After washing the vegetables, take the zucchini and cut both ends off and discard. Cut in half lengthwise then cut 1/4 – 1/2 inch slices; place in large mixing bowl. Next, Julienne the onions, with this Julienne cut we will slice the onion approx 1/8 inch thick; place 3/4 of onion in mixing bowl. Proceed to peel and cut the carrots on a bias (a diagonal cut), discard the peeled portion and both ends. For the cabbage, this cut will be similar to a chiffonade cut (shredded or finely cut), but it will be slightly larger in size; same method of cutting. after cutting both ends off celery, slice the celery evenly about 1/4/ inch thick. Once the potatoes are cut, place them in cold water to prevent oxidation, which causes potatoes to turn brown of grey. Before adding the potatoes to the soup, discard the original water that they were sitting in and rinse them one more time, draining all of the water. If using canned beans, drain well then rinse. After beans are drained, place in bowl with carrots, celery, cabbage, onion, and zucchini. Add 1 tsp oregano, 1 Tbsp black pepper, 1/4 tsp thyme, 1/2 Tbsp garlic powder, 1 tsp sugar, a splash of olive oil.

In a large stock pot, heat olive oil over med. high, once the oil is hot add the garlic cloves. Once the garlic has cooked for about 10 seconds add 1 quart vegetable or chicken stock and  1 cup water, bring to a hard boil, then reduce heat to medium. Add the fresh oregano, fresh thyme, peppercorns, and bay leaves. Cover and cook at a soft boil for 30 minutes, depouillage any foam/bubbles that form at the top (this means to skim the top with a spoon to remove the foam like substance, also known as impurities, after 30 minutes remove from heat. In another large stock pot, pour liquid into a fine mesh chinois, removing any impurities and any undesirable particles of herbs/spices. Place stock pot over medium low heat, adding the vegetables (be sure to drain the potatoes before adding them to the soup) and remaining ingredients and stirring occasionally. Simmer for about 1 – 1 1/2 hours (stoves may vary), but check the vegetables, they should be soft; mushy vegetables are terrible. A good way to check to see if the zuppa is done is to pierce a potato with a sharp knife, it the potato slides off the blade with ease, then the soup is ready to serve.

Winter Minestrone:

  • 2 quarts vegetable or chicken stock (homemade or low-sodium store bought)
  • 2 cups water
  • 1/2 cup Marsala wine
  • 2 large yellow squash
  • 1 large yellow onion, Julienne
  • 6 tomatoes, peeled and cut 1/2 inch pieces  (*see notes below for instructions*)
  • 3 celery stalks
  • 4 large carrots
  • 1 1/2 lbs potatoes, quarter, then cut in half (Round White and Yellow potatoes work better)
  • 1 cup green cabbage
  • 1 cup red cabbage
  • 4 cups red kidney beans
  • 9 oz tomato paste (Contadina)
  • 1 1/4 Tbsp coarse sea salt
  • 2 medium bay leaves
  • 10 peppercorns
  • 2 Tbsp fresh cracked black pepper
  • 2 sprigs fresh oregano
  • 3 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 spring fresh thyme
  • 6 large garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp garlic powder
  • 2 tsp sugar or 2 1/8 tsp natural pure honey
  • 1 tsp olive oil

Preparation:

After washing the vegetables, take the zucchini and cut both ends off and discard. Cut in half lengthwise then cut 1/4 – 1/2 inch slices; place in large mixing bowl. Next, Julienne the onions, with this Julienne cut we will slice the onion approx 1/8 inch thick; place 3/4 of onion in mixing bowl. Proceed to peel and cut the carrots on a bias (a diagonal cut), discard the peeled portion and both ends. For the cabbage, this cut will be similar to a chiffonade cut (shredded or finely cut), but it will be slightly larger in size; same method of cutting. after cutting both ends off celery, slice the celery evenly about 1/4/ inch thick. Once the potatoes are cut, place them in cold water to prevent oxidation, which causes potatoes to turn brown of grey. Before adding the potatoes to the soup, discard the original water that they were sitting in and rinse them one more time, draining all of the water. If using canned beans, drain well then rinse. After beans are drained, place in bowl with carrots, celery, cabbage, onion, and zucchini. Add 1 tsp oregano, 1 Tbsp black pepper, 1/4 tsp thyme, 1/2 Tbsp garlic powder, 1 tsp sugar, a splash of olive oil.

In a large stock pot, heat olive oil over med. high, once the oil is hot add the garlic cloves. Once the garlic has cooked for about 10 seconds add 1 quart vegetable or chicken stock and  1 cup water, bring to a hard boil, then reduce heat to medium. Add the fresh oregano, fresh thyme, peppercorns, and bay leaves. Cover and cook at a soft boil for 30 minutes, depouillage any foam/bubbles that form at the top (this means to skim the top with a spoon to remove the foam like substance, also known as impurities, after 30 minutes remove from heat. In another large stock pot, pour liquid into a fine mesh chinois, removing any impurities and any undesirable particles of herbs/spices. Place stock pot over medium low heat, adding the vegetables (be sure to drain the potatoes before adding them to the soup) and remaining ingredients and stirring occasionally. Cover and simmer for about 1 – 1 1/2 hours (stoves may vary), but check the vegetables, they should be soft; mushy vegetables are terrible. A good way to check to see if the zuppa is done is to pierce a potato with a sharp knife, it the potato slides off the blade with ease, then the soup is ready to serve.

The best way and the proper way to peel a tomato is to make tomato concassé (peeled, seeded, and chopped). This process is fairly easy:

  1.  Start with ripe tomatoes, then with a parring knife make an “X” on the bottom of the tomato.
  2. Carefully drop in to a pot of boil water (blanching) and cook for 30 seconds.
  3. Immediately remove with a slotted spoon and transfer to a bowl of ice water; this stops the tomato from cooking any further.
  4. After it has cooled (don’t leave to long [10 seconds or so], otherwise it will become waterlogged. Transfer to cutting board.
  5. Peel the skin off the tomato. It helps to use a parring knife to peel the skin off (with the edge of the blade to you, hold the blade, exposing only the tip of the blade, between the tip of your thumb and the first knuckle of your index finger. Gently begin to scrape the skin starting at the “X” on the bottom.)

Also, the white wine or Marsala wine doesn’t have to be expensive. I have found that a wine that cost about $10 will do the trick. Always have a few cheap red and white wines on hand for cooking. Save the really good stuff for drinking!

Pasta in the zuppa…

Here are some types of pasta that go well with minestrone soup:

  • Ditalini (very short in length, tubular macaroni)
  • Fusilli (spiral)
  • Farfalle (butterflies or bowtie)
  • Conchigliette (little shells)
  • Orzo (pasta that resembles rice grains)

Basic Cooking Methods

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Dining out is a wonderful experience and allows you to try new things and enjoy the company of others over great food and drinks, but you don’t have to go to a restaurant to have amazing rustic Italian food, it can be made fresh in the comfort of your own home. Let’s face it, homemade is always better! Even the most inexperienced cook can prepare a family style Italian meal, though there are just a few basic techniques one should learn before they begin.

1. Sauté is the method of frying in a small amount of fat/oil. Depending on the region of Italy or Sicily animal fats are preferred over oils, but as a general rule always keep Extra Light and Pomace Olive Oil on hand. Extra Virgin Olive Oil can be used, but be very cautious when using because it has a very strong taste and can take away from the other flavors. When you sauté make sure that you use a small amount of fat/oil and the fat/oil needs to be hot before adding your ingredients. Make sure not to use HIGH heat (med. – med. high) especially if you choose to sauté with Extra Virgin because of the low smoking point the oil possesses. The smoking point is the highest temperature that an oil or fat will have before it starts to smoke and burn, which will result in bad tasting food and/or a more serious problem like a fire.

2. Roasting is another method of cooking. By roasting, you are cooking the food by dry heat. For example, think about how a Thanksgiving Turkey is cooked; dry heat is essential, otherwise it’s not the method of roasting. Make sure that your roasting pan will fit in your oven and that the oven door will close properly (important to maintain the correct temperature). The best way to roast meat such as beef, lamb, and venison is by searing the meat in a hot pan (med. high heat) with no oil. This allows all those natural juices to be trapped inside the meat letting the meat retain moisture and flavors. When searing, make sure that if using a dry rub (spice and herb mixture) that the rub is massaged really well into the meat, then place the meat fat side down in the hot pan, turning the meat to brown all sides. Please keep in mind that you are only cooking the meat for about 15- 30 seconds on each side (the time depends on how thick the meat is.); this extra little step before roasting will make a world of difference in taste.

3. Braising is just another way of cooking meat and vegetables. The technique can be difficult when applying it for the first time. Braising works best by using a roasting pan with a cover (Roasting pans offer deep area for liquid and length/width for large cuts of meat). The meat and/or vegetables reside inside the pan sitting in liquid like, chicken, beef or vegetable stock, wine, and sometimes I’ll use the broth from homemade minestrone soup (steps for this will be explained in later discussions). *NOTE: The meat should be covered about 3/4 with the liquid. Again, the best way to help keep natural juices and flavors are to pan sear the meat. Plus, since the meat will be cooking in liquid, once all sides of the meat has been browned, then you can deglaze (dissolving the small particles of sautéed meat left in a pan by adding a liquid and heat). The beauty of braising is that you can use the same pan that you sear the meat in. Just remember before deglazing that the meat must be removed from the pan, then once the deglazing process is complete you can return the meat to the pan.

4. Grilling is very popular especially in the country side of Italy and Sicily. Grilling is a wonderful method, but must be monitored often because if there flare ups (fat and juices falling on hot coals or fire from a gas grill) it will char the food. Now you will here different opinions about grilling and what type of wood is better and the topic that is debated over the most…. Gas is better than charcoal and vise versa. Well, I’m here to tell you that most of it is a personal preference, however, there are some pros and cons about both. If you want the woodsy and authentic taste of the country side then using lump charcoal might be a better choice for you. Gas is great because you can control the heat much better than charcoal especially in windy areas, but charcoal tastes better when cooking whole fish or fish steaks, wild game, and pork. This is because the meat absorbs the flavor of the charcoal mixture. When I say charcoal I mean real Lump charcoal, not the Kingsford Briquets or similar products; those are made up of saw dust and burnt wood particles along with chemicals to bond and form the briquets, they’re ok in a pinch, but not my favorite and sometimes leaves the food tasting a little funny. The best charcoal to use for uncovered meats and vegetables is lump charcoal. If you are making parcels filled with vegetables or even fish then briquets are ok to use. A good way to enhance the flavor of the food is to make a charcoal mixture made up of lump charcoal and another type of hardwood pieces or chips like Apple, Cherry, Alder, Hickory, or Maple (60%[charcoal]/40%[wood chips]). Sometimes I will use Oak, but that’s because I have a plentiful supply. Grill can be frustrating to some because starting the fire may take a few tries if you don’t use lighter fluid. I don’t like to unless its the only starter I have. A chimney starter works very well and avoids the food to absorb the taste of lighter fluid. There is one myth that I would like to dispel… Never turn meat more than once, either on the grill or in a pan. This doesn’t make it cook faster or cook any better, in fact what it does is allow the meat to cook unevenly and you run the risk of serve raw or over cooked food. Plus there are more chances for flare-ups to happen which cause burnt meat.

5. Fried foods can be  deep fried or pan fried. Even though you can find deep fried foods in the Italian cuisine it is not the primary method of frying. Pan fried foods are more common and many of them are cooked in a way that’s known as shallow pan fried. A small amount of oil is used, about a 1/4 way up the pan (typically using a larger frying pan: 12″, 14″ or 16″). The food is partially exposed on top forcing you to turn it over to finish cooking. As mentioned before (Sauté section) the rule for using oils apply here as well, though I like to blend Extra light olive oil and canola oil about 50/50, high smoking point for both oils and if you are going to eat fried foods, canola oil is one of the better oils to use for health and for the pocket. If you fry chicken breast be sure to butterfly the breast so that it cooks faster and evenly, you don’t want to serve raw chicken at your dinner party!

6. Steaming is a great, healthy way to cook vegetables. I like to use a little more advanced technique called Blanching. It’s the process of parboiling or steaming, the vegetables are not cooked completely, then I place them in an ice bath and prepare to freeze them. I do this because I prepare bulk vegetables ahead time. When I need them I will remove them from the freezer and steam them or sauté them, depending on the vegetable and dish. For all of the beginning cooks, let’s stick to steaming for right now until you have the hang of it. Once steamed vegetables are drained properly you can use them for many things like side dishes, add them to an entrée or use it as a garnish for a dish. For those of you who would like to try to blanch vegetables here are a few examples of vegetables that are easier to blanch and ice bath: Broccoli, Cauliflower, Pole Beans, and Sliced Carrots. By blanching the vegetables and utilizing an ice bath, it will help to preserve the brilliant colors.

These are the more common cooking methods that will help you create a wonderful meal, whether it’s for your family or for the 10 dinner guests that are arriving tonight.

*NOTE: I find that cast iron, stainless steel, and aluminum pots and pans work great for me because that’s what I’m used to working with while on the line in a restaurant, but in you like non-stick then by all means use them if you want, just not my preference. Also, DO NOT use any copper pots and pans if cooking with acidic foods, like tomatoes and citrus fruit because it will not only ruin the pans, but will release toxic chemical into your food. The acid starts to break down the metal… Not visible to the eye, so you won’t physically see your pots melting. Just some food for thought…No pun intended!