Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Home Made Vegetable Stock

Making your own stock sounds fussy, but I promise, it isn't. It's satisfying (both the process and the end result) and so flavorful, and does wonders for your food. It is also a great way to use vegetables that are a bit passed their prime, but that you would rather not throw away. Boxed stock is ok, I used it for a while, but it really doesn't compare to stocks made from scratch. Michael Ruhlman wrote that your home made soup will taste better made with water, rather than from canned or boxed stock. Zing. He's a smart man, he knows.

Basically, stock is several ingredients, usually vegetables, bones, and aromatics, simmered in water until the water is infused with their flavor. Each batch of stock will have it's own flavor, based on what ingredients you use and in what quantities. You can also tailor your stock to the dish you are cooking, but I have found that this versatile vegetable stock works with everything.

The stock recipe I use is Deborah Madison's Quick Stock from
Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. This woman knows vegetables, so naturally her vegetable stock is the best I've tried. This is a basic one, and she provides much helpful information on how to adjust and tailor it, along with several accompanying stock recipes.

Below is Deborah Madison's Recipe as I have come to use it.

A few notes:

While most vegetables work in stock, some do not, as they will make the stock bitter. Vegetables to avoid are:
  • Turnips and Rutabagas
  • Cabbages and Brussels sprouts
  • Broccoli and cauliflower
  • Red beets
  • Any things ground or very small (spices and seeds) that cheesecloth will not catch
  • Onion skins
  • Artichoke trimmings
  • Lots of dark, leafy greens (some are ok)
Vegetable peelings and scraps are put to good use in stocks. I often throw in bell pepper trimmings, leek trimmings, potato trimmings, squash peels, and any lettuce that I know won't be making it into any salads soon enough. I also tend to adjust my quantities depending on what I have in the fridge--extra herbs, not so many carrots, etc.

So, how about some stock, hmm?

Quick Vegetable Stock
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 onion, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 carrot, coarsely chopped
1 celery rib, coarsely chopped
2 bay leaves
4 or more garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
8 or more parsley branches

Heat oil over high heat and add the onion, carrot, and celery. Then add any other vegetables and trimmings that you are using, along with garlic and herbs. Brown vegetables over medium to medium high heat for about 10 minutes. Scrape up and incorporate any brown bits that stick to the bottom of the pan. When vegetables are browned, add 2 teaspoons salt and 2 quarts cold water. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer 30-40 minutes. Strain stock through cheese cloth lined colander.

Stock will keep frozen for a while, and in the fridge for a few days. I freeze mine in one and two cup amounts so that I can always have some on hand. I use it in soups, but my other favorite use for it is cooking rice. Substitute stock for water the next time you make rice. You may never go back.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Le Pigeon

If you are a foodie in any part of the country, you have probably heard about Le Pigeon. Gabriel Rucker's French inspired, Northwest centric food has been praised in several publications, both local and national. PDX Magazine voted him Top Chef of the Year and he received a similar award from Food and Wine. Willy Week and the Mercury were all over it, naturally, as was the Oregonian. So were Bon Apetit and Gourmet.

My lovey love Tim and I celebrated our year anniversary last night with a meal at Le Pigeon. We made reservations to eat at one of the three community tables (a friendly and clever solution to the problem of a very small dining room space), but ended up eating at the bar facing the open kitchen. When we first arrived, a few minutes early, they weren't ready for us and sent us out to have a pre dinner drink. The bar tender at Ron Tom's assured us that it was well worth our wait, saying that Le Pigeon is one of truly wonderful treats in Portland. Oh how right he was.

In all the times I had walked by Le Pigeon I had imagined it as a sort of hushed and quiet affair, a few young people, mostly middle aged people enjoying their fine food in a mellow dining room, and that the chef just happened to be one of the young and hip of Portland. I was wrong.

Sticky Fingers was playing at near top volume when we walked in. There were three chefs behind the bar, one wearing a sweatband with a meat clever pictured on it, and another wearing a baseball had with a silver skull and cross bones on it. Oh, right, we're in Portland, duh. Nothing is that fancy.

Oh, the food. Sigh. Sooooo good. Amazing. Worth all the hype. We started with a fois gras (because we are only unethical on our anniversary, we decided) so rich we couldn't finish it. On top of the fois gras were shaved black truffles, with toasted brioche and homemade fruit jam to accompany. I tried not to fill up on the bread and delicious salt sprinkled butter. Because there was more meat to come.

For dinner we ordered Beef Cheek Bourguignon and, because nothing goes better with liver than more liver, the Duck with liver stuffing and marmalade. Both were excellent, but the duck was just a teeny tiny bit more excellent. The house made marmalade was not too sweet, not to tart, and a nice counter to the richness of the best thing I've ever put in my mouth liver stuffing. The Beef Cheek was flavorful and tender and easily fell apart into the vegetables and sauce surrounding it.

If you know absolutely nothing else about Le Pigeon, you probably know about The Dessert. I do believe this dessert has been mentioned in all press that Le Pigeon has received, and rightfully so, for it's delicious and unusually paired ingredients. Naturally we ordered The Dessert. Bacon apricot cornbread topped with maple ice cream and bacon bits. Uh huh, that's right. Bacon on ice cream. Again, worth all the hype.

Obviously, I loved the food at Le Pigeon. But I also loved the experience of dining there. The wait staff was casual and friendly, and so were the chefs. The open kitchen created a connection between chef and diner, and the chefs were more than happy to answer questions and chat. They were the ones to hand us most of our dishes, over the bar right after they finished making them. All of the dishes and silverware were mismatched, a look that I personally love. My other favorite detail were the jars of pickled and preserved fruits and vegetables lining two high up shelves, interspersed with other eclectic odds and ends, like a pigeon skeleton in a glass case.

So, if you have not yet been to Le Pigeon, save your pennies and go, soon. Unless of course you are a vegetarian, in which case you should do some thinking and reading, and seriously reconsider that dietary choice. Then start eating meat so your stomach will be ready for Le Pigeon.

To visit the Le Pigeon website, click here.

Note: We did have wine which was delicious, but I didn't write about it because a) I can't remember what it was and b) I know nothing about wine and am therefore not at all qualified to say anything about it.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Super Bowl Food or Cooking with Aunt Robin: Part One

Aunt Robin is not actually my aunt, but my dear friend. I started calling her aunt Robin because her adorable toddler niece calls her aunt Robin and it's cute. So, Aunt Robin it is.

Aunt Robin is from the Midwest, Ohio to be exact. And being from the Midwest, she eats some funny things. Not funny to her, funny to me. Back when we worked together oh so many weeks ago, Robin would bring in casseroles, dips, hot dishes, and desserts that I had never heard or conceived of. Many of them were family recipes that she had grown up eating. At first I was skeptical of Robin's strange foods, absent of whole grains and with mysterious cans of soup involved, but you know what? Her food is damn good. How could I not like a dessert called Magic Cookie Bars?

I have two favorite Aunt Robin recipes, one of which I am going to share now. It is Robin's family dip, and oh my goodness is it good. Addictive. You can never just have one bite. You go back again and again until your tummy hurts. And then maybe one more time after that. It's a very simple and forgiving recipe, easily adjusted to suit different tastes. And oh, is it yummy.

I will be bringing this to the super bowl party I will be attending tomorrow. Yes, I am going to a super bowl party. I will be watching football on HD TV, one of the most amazing inventions of our time (you can see every blade of grass! and the lines and colors are so sharp! and it's shiny!).

Aunt Robin's dip

2 80z packages cream cheese, softened
2 or more tablespoons ketchup
10-20 green olives, chopped
1/2 white onion, finely chopped.

Mix together ketchup and cream cheese. Stir in olives and onions. Chill until firm.

Some notes: You can play with the quantities of ingredients as much as you like. I think ketchup is gross, so I put in less than Robin does. Both of us like olives, so we used a lot of them. Robin's little bro doesn't like onions or olives and just likes it as cream cheese and ketchup. And yes, you really should chill it a while. It's kind of yucky when it's at room temperature. We're not sure why.

A special thank you to Robin's lovely family for their recipe. Sorry I wrote "damn" earlier.