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Kings Mountain, North Carolina, United States
"A mind lively and at ease" is a blog by a first-generation Russian-Ukrainian immigrant Maria K. (Maria Igorevna Kuroshchepova). An engineer by education, an analyst by trade, as well as a writer, photographer, artist and amateur model, Maria brings her talent for weaving an engaging narrative to stories of life, fashion and style advice, book and movie reviews, and common-sense and to-the-point essays on politics and economy.

Monday, December 31, 2012

Mama Masha's kitchen - invest in stock

Wait, come back here! I am not trying to sell you shares of some questionable company and rip you off. The stock in question is nothing more but what is left after boiling some meat or fish parts in water. Before you say “ewwwww”, think about the fact that using stock to add flavor and juice to one’s cooking is a trick that’s been around for centuries. It is a way to make your meats and seafood go an extra mile after you have eaten the soft parts. Additionally, meat-based boullions have been soothing aching tummies around the globe since forever, providing the necessary liquids and fortification when one’s body was too sick to take solid food.

So, how can you invest into some tasty stock? The fist obvious answer is…

Buy it

Bouillon cubes are nothing if not ubiquitous. Chicken and beef dry bouillon are the two basics, although some companies now offer other varieties. As you ponder what to use them for, remember – just because it’s a bouillon doesn’t mean it has to be used for a soup. Not at all!

Looking for a way to boost the flavor of pasta or rice? Toss a bouillon cube into the water you are using to cook them. Need to make blah frozen veggies interesting? Boil them with a bouillon cube. Struggling with a too-lean piece of meat? Pour a little bit of water into the pan and add a bouillon cube. And don’t worry – adding a chicken cube to vegetables doesn’t mean you will end up with chicken-flavored vegetables. You will have damn tasty vegetables – that I can guarantee.

In addition to dry cubes, grocery stores now offer stock in paste form. They are not inexpensive, but a single jar lasts a long time, because a tiny amount of the paste goes a long way. Our best investment in that area was a jar of clam base. We have used it with everything! The principle is much the same as with the dry cubes – just add it to whatever you are cooking to enhance the flavor. Again, just because it’s clam stock, doesn’t mean you will end up with pork or beef that tastes like seafood. All it does is give your cooking that little extra something to create a nice mouthful.

That said, it does work well to enhance a related flavor. For example, when adding canned smoked oysters to pasta, a touch of clam base in the water for cooking pasta ends up giving an extra dimension to the flavor of the oysters.

Make it

It’s not that hard. Honestly. You can do it – come on. It all starts with bones. …Bones from lamb chops. …Bones from a roasted chicken. …The big bone left over from the Christmas ham. Some of them might even have some meat and fat still left on them – which is just fine.

Gather them all up and wrap into a cheesecloth, making a bundle you can easily take out of the cooking pot later. Place the bundle of bones into the pot and add enough water to cover them plus a little extra, as some will boil out. Bring to a boil. Keep an eye on it – the moment it starts boiling, turn the heat down to the barest simmer. Simmer uncovered for 3-4 hours. Set a timer, if you are the forgetful type. Once it’s done, take the bundle of bones out. If it’s the big ham bone or a lamb chop bone, it will now be soft enough to give to your dog, but I wouldn’t recommend it with chicken bones, as those tend to splinter even when soft.

If you want a more concentrated bouillon, you can simmer it an extra 30 minutes to an hour. Turn it off, strain it to get rid of any stray bits of meat and bone, cool it and store it. As I said, my favorite way is to freeze it in the ice cube trays – awesome portion control that way. Just make sure you mark the trays clearly – you really don’t want to accidentally end up with a cube of lamb stock in your scotch. If you want to make things really interesting, you can add some herbs and spices to your stock as it cooks, and freeze it with all those flavors already built-in. You can have rosemary chicken stock, Cajun pork stock, Mrs. Dash beef stock – the possibilities are endless!

Get fat

There, I said it. I’ve said it in the past and I’ll say it again: while excessively fatty cuisine is not good for you, the other extreme – going completely fat free – is not good either. Not only does fat provide a soluble base for many vitamins we couldn’t metabolize otherwise, it is also a fantastic flavor booster. As with stock, a little bit of fat goes a long way. For example, a touch of butter and a couple of shakes of salt and pepper added to the water for cooking rice, pasta or vegetables works just as well as a dry bouillon cube.

Fat is a by-product of something you’ve already cooked – much like the bones are. It often becomes available after the big holiday meals that involve some large meat source: a turkey, a goose, a big ham or a large pot roast. When the leftovers are put away to be refrigerated, the fat is usually accumulated at the bottom of the roasting pan. Do not throw it away (especially goose or duck fat – that’s like cooking gold!). Scoop it out gently with a wooden spoon to avoid scratching up your pan, place it either into a jar or, as we did with stock, into an ice cube tray and freeze it. Use the same way as you would stock.

Fat works particularly well, when you realize that a steak or a pork chop you are making for dinner is far too dry – it doesn’t have enough fat of its own to get that succulent juicy quality. That is when your stashed away fat comes to the rescue. Ad a splash of water and a tea-spoon of fat to the frying pan, turn the heat down to low and cover. The mix of fat and water will simmer, evaporate, condense on the cover and drip down into the pan – over and over, saturating your meat with yummy juices and making up amply for the cut’s initial dryness. Once the meat is cooked to the point you want, you can cook down the leftover liquids in the pan, as we discussed before, and make a nice reduction to sprinkle over your starch or veggies. Mmmmm…

You don’t have to be a drinker…

…to use alcohol in the kitchen. I had a conversation recently with someone who was very adamant about alcohol, “The lips that touch wine will never touch mine,” completely ignoring the fact that one need not need to drink wine (or any other alcohol for that matter) in order to enjoy its flavor enhancing qualities as a cooking ingredient. We have already discussed how wine reductions make marvelous sauces for your main course and interesting syrups for dessert.

Even the basest of spirits – like really cheap whiskey and EverClear (grain alcohol) – work wonders on taste, texture and juiciness, when added to meat and seafood. Don’t worry – you are not going to taste vodka in a vodka tomato sauce. You will not have shrimp that feels as if it’s been dipped in moonshine if you use EverClear. What you will have is a little heat, a tiny bit if tangy flavor in the back of your mouth, a kind of nice exit to every bite.

Cognac shrimp stir-fry, followed by some vanilla ice cream with figs baked in brown sugar and red wine? I am pretty sure even the Pope would go for that one.

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