Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Taking (and Making) Stock of the Situation

Remember that one day, last December, when I talked about how easy making chicken stock could be? 

If you don't, I'm not offended.  It's cool.  I forget, a lot.  Forgot a hair appointment this last Monday.  It happens.

In short, if you take your crockpot and a raw, whole chicken on a date, you're going to get some amazing chicken stock.

The same kind of awesomeness can also happen with seafood.  Except, it kind of happens in reverse.  You cook the fish/shellfish, then eat it, then use the shells to make stock.

In pictures...this:

Then, this:

Then, this:

My dad recently turned 66, and for his birthday dinner/gift, he really wanted surf and turf.  No problemo.  Lobster tails, shrimp scampi, and steak.  I implored my family to save the shells, lobster and shrimp, so that I could make stock.  Which you see in the pot above.  Some chopped mirepoix, sweated first, the shells, aromatics like thyme, parsley, bay leaf, peppercorns, etc., and enough water to cover the shells.  First I brought it to the boil and skimmed off the foam that had accumulated (the impurities), then I turned down the heat and let it simmer about 45 minutes to an hour.  That is one nice thing about making fish stock, it does not take very long.

I let it set and cool for awhile before straining it into freezer-safe containers.  I heartily look forward to the next time I make a seafood bisque or chowder. 

Today's tip: If you're having seafood at home, keep the shells and the bones.  Make this stock and stock your freezer with this yummy stock.  And say the word as much as possible, in as many puns as you can.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Talk Amongst Yourselves

If you've been with me here at Be Food for a decent length of time, I might have mentioned that I haven't always been in the foodservice industry.  You might have known that I was a public school and later, college-level English teacher, for over a decade.  And while there isn't much I miss about education, one thing lately has stood out, glaring and staring me right in the face every time I punch in to work.

Academia. Colleagues. Discussion.

I miss intellectual stimulation a lot.  And there is a lot of intellectual stimulation to be had in food and food-related issues.  I just don't have it here.  In my current job settings, that is.

I recently decided it was a time for a return to my beginnings.  To reread the authors that inspired me to leave education and become a chef.

So, I started with Pollan and his In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto.  And of course, it is as brilliant as I remember.  I want to share a few highlights from the text (especially the beginning pages), and hope that you, dear readers, will have some chance to discuss these ideas with like-minded others, even if I am not quite able to.

Point #1: While elaborating on the notion that in America especially, we seem to be wrapped up in "nutritionism" and the idea that we consume food for health reasons primarily (something food manufacturers have capitalized on), Pollan goes to state "the experience of other cultures suggests that, paradoxically, regarding food as being about things other than bodily health - like pleasure, say, or sociality or identity - makes people no less healthy; indeed, there's some reason to believe it may make them more healthy"(29).

Once you get past all the punctuation in this statement and break it down, it's really a very interesting statement.  We (Americans) are the only ones who overly obsessed with eating healthy, food health, health claims, etc.  But, ironically, we are such an unhealthy country.  Hm.

Some people view food as fuel, and they consume in that economical way...what's the least amount of food that will provide the most nutrients?  And that's okay...but I like the idea that food should taste wonderful, look great, and BE REAL.  And, I love the idea that food is what brings families to the table together and causes laughter in the kitchen.

Go now. Discuss.  Then, come back.

Point #2: Pollan is discussing the writings of a Harvey Levenstein, an American food writer, who contends that "the sheer abundance of food in America has fostered a culture of careless, perfunctory eating"(54).

Another paradox, indeed.  Walk into any supermarket or SuperWalmart in America, and it's totally obvious: the choices we have in the area of food are staggering and overwhelming (compared to other countries, especially).  But because we have access to all this food, have we become more blasé about it?  This point hit especially close to home when Pollan cited a David M. Cutler article titled "Why Have Americans Become Obese?" 1995, Americans spend 27 minutes a day preparing meals and four minutes cleaning up afterwards; in 1965, the prep time was 44 minutes, with 21 for cleanup (145). And that's data from twenty years ago.  I imagine the numbers have continued to drop.  Mealtimes, it seems for many Americans, has just become a To-Do list item, something to speed up so that other activities can be fit in.

That's a lot to think and talk about, isn't it?  And then once you've chewed that over and digested it a little, the next startling question is: So, what do we do now?


Friday, February 6, 2015

What The Birthday Boy Wants...The Birthday Boy Gets

So, Brent turned the big 4-0 yesterday.  The Big Milestone.

Usually, the tradition is that I make him his favorite meal. Naturally, right? For the second year in a row, he asked for lasagna, breadsticks, and French Silk Pie.

Okay. It's his birthday, so what he wants, he gets.  Some year, though, I'd be uber-delighted if he asked for chateaubriand or something, but as he said when I made that comment:

I don't even know what that is.

Indeed. The 40-year-old's got a point.

In a moment of carried-away fancy, I began to ruminate on ways to "spruce" up lasagna (not that lasagna needs sprucing up, really.  It's pretty amazing stuff.  I'm just projecting my own desires onto the dish).  Kale and squash, fried, breakfast lasagna, lasagna cupcakes, tuna lasagna, ad nauseum....

and when I mentioned all these amazing possibilities to him, his face got that..oh, polite little scrunch to it.  He was trying to think of a nice, supportive way to say No, please. While I love most adventurous, crazy things you make me eat, for one day out of the year, I just want a straight-up, no frills lasagna.

Fortunately for me, I'm adequate at reading non-verbals, so I backed off...all the while vowing to save Chili Cheese Fries Lasagna for another day.

Straight-up, no-frills.  The meat mixture is a beef, spicy sausage, stewed and diced tomatoes and seasonings (much in the manner of a Bolognese).  The cheeses include SLICED mozzarella and a ricotta-parmesan-egg concoction.  Good stuff, although don't you think there could be more cheese on top?  I thought so too, but the Birthday Boy was in charge of sprinkling, and I'm not going to criticize him on his birthday.

Anyway, delicious all-around.  Even better on day two (one of the firm food corollaries I stoutly stand by: Lasagna is even better on Day Two).

For dessert, French Silk Pie.  The only thing I wish I'd done differently is use powdered sugar instead of granular, because I did get that grainy, gritty mouthfeel when I ate it (although, the Birthday Boy and his offspring did not complain one jot).  I didn't make the crust, because I was a little pressed for time, but the whipped topping, the chocolate shaving, the piping...all my labor of love for my love.

And this really is kind of the sad part of the birthday.  The spiced carrot cake.  I refrained from adding raisins (which I love, but Birthday Boy does not), but I couldn't help from adding shredded carrots and crushed pineapple.  The icing is a homemade pineapple buttercream.  But as you can see, my cake decorating skills feature at an all-time low here.  In my sad defense, this icing was colored and piped on, like, five minutes before dinner and twenty minutes before we were to take our oldest son over to his basketball game.  Cake decorating takes time and patience, people, and that is the gospel truth.

Fortunately, Birthday Boy is very forgiving and didn't say a word about my super-sucky decorating skills.  Probably because the lasagna had just rocked his face off.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Sweet Chili O' Mine

A short entry today.

I entered my first Chili Cook-Off.  Ever.  Sponsored by the local pub here in town, a place I visit every now and then.  I thought, Meh? Why Not? 

Why not, indeed?

The judges asked us to name our chili...spur of the moment!  Inspiration provided by Robert Frost.

And, the end result.  Yep.  I took first place. This is my trophy.  *insert big smile and fist pump*

Okay, I was pitted against only five other contestants...but, there was some really decent chili out there. 

Have a great week out there, dear readers!