Saturday, October 17, 2009

Beef Stock

Before I even had the chance to awkwardly approach a butcher to ask for animal bones, Lisa and I found some at the farmers' market.

Four Whistle Farms sells two-pound packages of beef bones for about $3.50. So does Trowlesworthy Farms, but they were sold out by the time I got to their booth.

The Four Whistle Farms bones still had lots of meat on them. In his book Sauces, James Peterson says that meat adds flavour to stock, while bones add body. An ideal, savoury stock would be made with only meat. This would be extremely expensive, so we use bones, vegetables, and meat scraps as a compromise. That extra bit of meat on the Four Whistle bones was definitely not a bad thing.

As with my last stock experiment, I once again worked from a Robuchon recipe, but this time with some major departures, using beef bones instead of veal, and tomato paste instead of fresh tomatoes.

I roasted the bones and vegetables without parchment on a non-non-stick pan [sic] so that meat juices could caramelize on the surface. Then I deglazed the pan with water. This is a great way to add flavour to your stock. According to James Peterson, it also results in a clearer stock.

First while roasting, and then while simmering, the stock made my house smell unbelievable. Like, "run in off the cold street from a game of stick ball to find Nonna at the stove" unbelievable. "Provincial farmstead kitchen" unbelievable.

The finished product tasted great, but was a little heavy on tomato paste.

Beef Stock (adapted from The Complete Robuchon recipe for veal stock)
  • 2 pounds beef bones
  • 1 carrot, coarsely chopped
  • 1 large onion, coarsely chopped
  • 1 celery stalk
  • 1/4 pound mushrooms
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 bouquet garni
  • 1/2 cup tomato paste
  • salt
Brown beef bones on a baking tray in 400F oven for about thirty minutes. Spread tomato paste onto bones and add carrot, onion, celery, and mushrooms. Brown vegetables. Place browned ingredients in stock pot with garlic, bouquet garni, and a pinch of salt. Deglaze pan with water or beef stock and add to stock pot. Cover contents of pot with cold water and simmer gently(!) for four hours.

Health Check Imposter

A Coffee Crisp wrapper with conspicuous white check-mark
Notice anything peculiar about this chocolate bar? Doesn't that symbol on the bottom right look suspiciously like a heart? With a check mark on it?
The really sad part is that when I first saw this, I wasn't that surprised that a chocolate bar could carry the Heart and Stroke Foundation's Heart Check symbol. After all, other "heart-healthy" items endorsed by the Heart and Stroke Foundation include Slush-Puppies, hamburgers, and tater-tots.
For thorough critiques of the Health Check system, check out the Weighty Matters blog, or this expose from the CBC's Marketplace.
Anyways, Coffee Crisp obviously does not sport the Health Check symbol. That bulbous red patch is actually Nestle's logo (so you can see the same picture on other Nestle products, like Smarties). I have no idea what it is supposed to represent. Below the check mark the wrapper reads, "Your good health comes from a balanced diet, proper nutrition and physical activity."

At first I thought the slogan "Coffee Crisp makes a nice, light, snack" was a reference to the light texture of the bar, but it's actually meant to trick people into thinking that wafers covered in chocolate might be good for you.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Turkey Giblets

This was the first year that I had a hand in preparing the Thanksgiving turkey. Subsequently it was also the first time that I came in contact with the infamous giblets: the neck, heart, liver, and gizzard of the turkey, stored together in a bag in the cavity of the bird.

First things first: I needed to know what I was dealing with. I was familiar with the general shape and function of the first three items on that list. The gizzard, however, I embarrassingly thought was the flap of skin hanging between a turkey’s beak and neck. Turns out this is the wattle, “an organ of sexual dimorphism” (Wikipedia), whatever that means. The gizzard is actually a stomach with strong muscles that break down food.

The giblets from my Thanksgiving turkey: neck, heart, and kidneyOn inspection of my own turkey giblets, and comparison with pictures on the internet, I decided that I was not given a gizzard, and that my turkey’s liver had been broken in two. In the picture at left, clockwise from the top left is the neck (obviously), the heart, and two pieces of liver.

A quick Google search suggested that the giblets are most often simmered with the gravy to add extra offally good (pun) flavour. I also looked for preparations dealing just with the liver. People online were divided as to whether turkey livers make for good eats. You can only read so many blogs and forums that waffle back and forth before just trying it out yourself.

I basically followed Julia Childs' recipe for sautéed chicken livers: salt, pepper, and flour the livers, then sauté them in butter and oil with mushrooms and ham (homemade bacon in my case). I spread the mixture on lightly toasted baguette rounds, then had them as an appetizer to left-over turkey and mashed potatoes.

Texturally, the liver was unlike anything I have had before. In a good way. Not too firm, not too supple, kind of creamy, but still meaty. Weird. Really satisfying.

I froze the neck and heart, and someday they will aid in the making of a killer stock for turkey soup.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Alberta Natives

This weekend I was flipping through a tree and shrub guide to the prairies and came across the following jaw-dropping native species:
  • beaked hazelnut
  • American hazelnut
  • American highbush cranberry
Kevin Kossowan has blogged a bit about wild highbush cranberries around Edmonton here.

Seriously: why aren't our farmers' markets awash with Alberta cranberries? Why isn't my street lined with hazelnuts?

Also listed as natives were two species of juniper: the creeping and the Rocky Mountain. Wikipedia suggests that the berries of these junipers are too bitter for human consumption, but I'd like to judge that for myself (as long as they aren't poisonous).
Classically, juniper berries are used to flavour game marinades, pork, sauerkraut, and spirits. Seems like they'd fit into the Alberta culinary landscape well...

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


The culmination of my autumn preserving was the makin’ of bacon. It never occurred to me that I could cure meat in my own home until I found the blog of one Kevin Kossowan. Just by reading how he categorizes his posts ("Cider Making", "Foraging - Berries", "Foraging - Mushrooms", et c.) you know that you've stumbled across a renaissance foodie. Kevin recommends a book by Michael Ruhlman called Charcuterie with all manner of recipes for cured and smoked meat.

The word “bacon” usually refers to pork belly that has been cured and then smoked. An exception to this rule is “back bacon”, which is cured pork loin. “Canadian bacon” is back bacon that has been cured and then smoked.

Step One: Acquire Pork Belly

I ordered a slab of pork belly from Easyford Meats. The slab was 2.2kg and cost about $25. It was thinner than I expected, only an inch in its thickest parts, and was about one foot by two and a half feet long.

A pork belly slab from Easyford Meats, soon to be homemade bacon

Step Two: Acquire Cure

All the sources I consulted used “pink salt”, which is 6.25% sodium nitrite and 93.75% salt. It is died pink to avoid confusion with table salt and accidental consumption. (Sodium nitrite is toxic in large quantities, but safe in the concentrations used in curing). I went to a butcher supplier called CTR Refrigeration and bought what they call “F.S. Cure”, which is only 5% sodium nitrite. I tweaked the cure recipe so that I had the proper amount of nitrite and plain salt. I also picked up some hickory and cherry wood sawdust while I was there.

Step Three: Cure

I used the basic cure recipe from Charcuterie, which consists of kosher salt, pink salt, and white sugar. I rubbed this mixture onto the surface of my thawed pork belly, which I then set in a shallow plastic tub.

The pork belly sat for almost ten days (longer than the recommended seven). I flipped the slab and redistributed the cure twice over that period. All in all the meat lost much less moisture than I expected: there were only a couple thin puddles of liquid around the belly.

On the tenth day I rinsed the slab under cool water and patted it dry with paper towels. I then placed it on racks, uncovered, in my fridge overnight to form a “pellicle”, a tacky surface that helps the absorption of flavour during smoking. That evening I also put some of my hickory chips in water to soak overnight.

Step Four: Smoke

The next morning I smoked the meat, which was without exaggeration one of the most rewarding food experiences of my life. I made a few aluminum foil packets, each filled with two handfuls of wet hickory chips and one handful of dry. I punched holes in the packets with a fork.

My barbeque set-up for smoking: wood chip packets on one side with heat on, meat on the other side with heat off

The Result

The biggest difference between homemade and store-bought bacon is texture. My bacon had a denser, coarser, and all in all more satisfying texture than the convenience store variety. The taste was much more robust. I think this is one more grocery store product that has been ruined for me.

The finished bacon

Thursday, October 1, 2009

My Introduction to, and Growing Obsession with, Stock

Over the past year, my interest in broths and stocks has increased with each passing week. My first encounter was at Hulbert’s, where Chris would save vegetable trimmings--carrot skins, thick, white celery ends, and onion roots--in a pot in the cooler. Never broccoli or cauliflower, he said, because they produce a “skanky” broth. Once enough scraps had accumulated they were thrown in a stock pot, covered with water, simmered for eight hours, and strained. At the time this was just a curious process that I figured I would try at home, eventually.

Then I read Alton Brown’s I’m Just Here for the Food, which details the process of making stock from chicken carcasses. The “sauces” section of that book convinced me of the usefulness of having a ready reserve of stock in the freezer. I now thought of stock as a useful trick up my culinary sleeve.

During the summer, when Lisa and I were making most of our meals from scratch, we were often wishing we had stock so we could make soups, sauces, and gravies. Going through lots of produce and a few whole chickens, we gathered enough scraps to produce the occasional batch of the elusive liquid.

Furthermore, we recently bought stainless steel cookware, and the sticky bits left in the pan after we cook meat are absolutely begging to be deglazed with stock and made into an accompanying sauce.

The final blow came while reading Anthony Bourdain’s book Kitchen Confidential, where I found lines like, “Stock is the backbone of good cooking,” and “Life without stock is barely worth living.” Needless to say, these words added an almost desperate urgency to my experiments with stock.

I started some research. Very few professional sources recommended the use of cutting board scraps. I guess this makes sense, as consistency is usually an obsession of the restaurant industry, and the hodge-podge stock pot produces a different product every time. It’s still a great method for the home kitchen, though.

Using fresh, whole vegetables for a mere stock seemed criminal at first, but by the last harvest day at our CSA, Lisa and I were completely overwhelmed. Even after freezing and canning what we could, there was a surplus of the very vegetables that most vegetable stock recipes call for.

I eventually decided to try a Robuchon recipe that uses vegetables, herbs, dry white wine and star anise. I’ve appended the recipe below. I also gleaned the following advice from Joel: simmer very, very gently, otherwise the finished stock will be cloudy.

I set to work. When the mixture first started to simmer, all I could smell was anise, and I was worried that its unique taste would completely obscure the subtler aromatics. By the time the stock was done, the anise had married well with the others. The wine added a mild, pleasant acidity.

I'm hooked. My next experiment will be beef stock. Apparently the first step in that process is procuring beef bones. I need to befriend a butcher. Fast.

Vegetable Stock (From The Complete Robuchon)

  • 3 stalks celery, roughly chopped
  • 2 leeks, roughly chopped
  • 2 carrots, roughly chopped
  • 1 onion, roughly chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 cups dry white wine
  • 2 whole star anise
  • 1 bouquet garni (3 stems parsley, thyme, and 1/2 bay leaf)
  • 2 scant teaspoon coarse salt
  • pepper
  • 6 1/4 cups water

Combine ingredients and simmer very gently for three hours, skimming foam from surface every half hour. Yields about one litre of stock.