Raiding the larder of ideas.

What one family eats, plans to eat, dreams of eating. Plus, other food and kitchen-related stuff from the home of steak-and-potatoes, pie and fresh green beans from the garden.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

random thoughts from the kitchen

I put together the chicken stew last night that is the base for our Chicken Pot Pie, and it occurred to me that type and quality of ingredients will make a big difference. For example, those little finger-sized orange things they call baby carrots? They're fine if you're looking for an innocuous snack, but when you toss them into a stew, they have virtually no flavor. Now, I know some people might say that's a good thing, but in my stew, foods are added not merely for ornament.

Get the real thing. Buy a package of actual carrots, scrub them well, chop them into bite-sized chunks, and let them soak up the flavor of the stock, the onions, etc. while imparting theirs to the rest of the meal.

In fact, if you can get darker-colored, such as red carrots, go wild! I'm requesting that Pop plant a seed packet or two of these, this year. I even asked nicely, as he scooped up his second bowl of stew...

And, amazingly, when making stew, the cheapest cuts of meat (while requiring some extra work and plenty of cooking time) make the most flavorful dishes. I like to make my chicken stock using giblets -- this week, I had some leftover bones from roasted chicken breasts, and tossed them in with a little celery, half an onion (chopped, of course), a few mushrooms, a pair of bay leaves, Old Bay Seasoning, salt, pepper, and a pound of gizzards and hearts, letting it all simmer for a couple of days. The meat was amazingly tender after all that time....

Same holds true for making chili without ground beef. I like chunks of chuck steak or roast, and let it cook slowly and over low heat (yes, you can use a slow cooker, once you brown the meat). Worried about all that fat? To heck with that! just strain it out after the meat is browned.

And one thing I learned this week: low cholesterol butter-flavored sprays and spreads do not serve well to grease a cooking or baking surface. I was playing with phyllo, making various sizes and styles of cups -- with a certain person's dietary restrictions in mind --, and the ones using the "heart-healthy" sprays between the layers before baking, while they browned up prettily, tasted rich and were tender as any others, stuck fast even to the nonstick forms. Next time, I might use the butter-flavored spray between outer layers (the ones farthest away from the form, that is), but inner 2-3 layers will get, at the very least, olive oil (not Olive Oyl, though).

On another track, Greek yogurt is awesome, but can be rather expensive. There are places online (here's a good one) where you can learn to make your own, from a tub of regular yogurt. If you use cheesecloth or a coffee filter, you're not likely to be able to re-use it, so take that into account when working your budget. On the other hand, a good cotton kitchen towel can be washed and re-used all you want... as long as you rinse out all the detergent after each wash, and line dry rather than tumble dry (nobody I know likes the flavor of fabric softener).

One more thing: I consider myself beyond merely fortunate to live in a place where I am called "poor", and still have access to the variety and quality of foods I play with (and the opportunity to play). My thoughts -- and agnostic's prayers -- go to those who, for various reasons, have not.

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