Poll question…

If you have a quick moment…Thanks.

Thoughts? Comments?

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The best homemade stock. Guaranteed.

Quite the promise there in the title, isn’t it? And this from a guy that doesn’t have much experience making or using stock. But I have done a little bit of interweb sleuthing, and a small bit of experimenting, and what I am about to report is true.

If you are willing to take a little bit of time, you will NEVER have to search the bottom shelf at the grocery for your favorite low-sodium chicken or vegetable or beef stock ever again.

Now, you might want to keep a container or two of the store-bought stuff in the back of the pantry, because emergencies do happen, but with a little bit of planning you should be fully stocked with the homemade stuff in no time. And, for those watching sodium intake, our batch will be the lowest sodium.

The trick to the whole process is a pressure cooker. That’s right, that funny looking pot that your parents have in the cupboard and you remember seeing as a kid. The pot with the weird weight, wiggling on the top. The same pressure cooker that you didn’t register for when you were engaged because you figured there was no point. Well, I’m here to tell you, there is a point. And homemade stock is just the beginning. A pressure cooker, you see, changes the physics of cooking. And anything that can change physics without needing 1.21 gigawatts of energy and disrupting the space-time continuum, is alright by me.

At its core, the pressure cooker will allow its contents to cook at a higher temperature than boiling, which is 212F. Most standard pressure cookers create 15psi, which creates a lot of steam and a cooking temperature of around 257F, I think. The result is a remarkable extraction of flavor from whatever is in the pot, and a much reduced cooking time. 45 minutes for stock from a pressure cooker, versus 4-8 hours in a traditional stock pot.

If you are not familiar, pressure cookers come in a variety of sizes, ranging from 4 quarts to 10 quarts, generally in 2 quart increments. They aren’t the cheapest piece of kitchen equipment, but I’m willing to bet that after cooking a couple of meals and making a couple batches of stock, you’ll never question the price. Also, Christmas is coming, so maybe it’s something to add to your wishlist. I would imagine a 6 quart cooker will do for most everyone’s needs, but if you have a really big family, maybe 8 quarts is better. If it’s just 2 of you, or just you alone, 4 quarts would probably get the job done. Rachel and I registered for a “pressure cooker 2-pack”: 4 quarts and 8 quarts.

For your most flavorful batch of stock, you will need 2 things. More time and more chicken parts. By more time, I mean 45 minutes to an hour. If you don’t have 60 minutes or you need the stock in a hurry, cook it for less time. My guess is, you’ll see results starting at 20 minutes. It will still be better than store-bought, but not as good as 45-60 minutes under pressure. More chicken parts is just what it sounds like. If you’ve made a couple attempts at cooking a whole chicken, you should have a couple of backbones and possibly a leftover carcass or two. If you’ve been saving these in the freezer, today is the day to let them loose. In addition to your backbones and carcasses, you will probably want to add some actual chicken meat. Bones will provide a good amount of gelatin, but having some actual meat in the pot will provide the depth of flavor and quality that we are after. If you check at your local grocery, you will likely be able to find packages of chicken necks and backs, as well as livers and hearts. Trust me, I’m not ready to eat them either, but they will do wonders for your stock. And they are cheap. If you don’t see them in the grocery meat cooler, ask the butcher. Your other option is to add chicken wings. If you do add the wings, cut them at the knuckles so there is more surface area. For myself, I would rather eat chicken wings while watching football, but, to each their own.

To make the actual stock, you will just need a couple of things in addition to your pressure cooker and chicken parts. A carrot, some celery, an onion, (referred to as mirepoix), some herbs and some water. Parsley, thyme and bay leaf are the most traditional herbs. If you want to be particularly fancy, you can make a bouquet garni. If you’re feeling less fancy, or don’t want to buy kitchen twine, you can just add the herbs loose.

The process is then quite simple. Roughly chop the carrot, celery and onion. Add them to the cooker with the chicken and herbs. Cover with water. You don’t have to measure the water, just don’t overfill your pressure cooker. Check the user manual to see what is recommended. From here, lock down the lid on the pressure cooker and place the weight on top. Heat on high until the pressure cooker locks, then turn down the heat (usually between 3 and 4 is good) until the weight on top jiggles back and forth constantly. The jiggling weight is the key. This is your “simmer”. Let it jiggle for about 45 minutes. After 45 minutes or so, remove the pressure cooker from the heat and let the pressure dissipate.. This happens naturally and will take around 15-20 minutes. If you’re in a rush, or are impatient like me, you can run the pressure cooker under cold water. Regardless of the method you choose, DO NOT REMOVE THE WEIGHT FROM THE TOP OF THE PRESSURE COOKER UNTIL THE PRESSURE IS RELEASED. Once the lid “unlocks”, you can remove the weight. What you should have inside is the most flavorful, golden chicken stock you’ve ever made. Strain the stock into another pot or large bowl, through a mesh strainer lined with cheesecloth or coffee filters. Once it cools, you should have a layer of fat that separates from the stock. Skim and dispose. You can then store your stock in fridge for a few (3) days, or in the freezer for a few (4ish) months. If freezing, you can use ice-cube trays, which will allow you to use what you need in a reasonable portion. As well, if you like a more concentrated flavor, you can reduce the stock, on the stove top. After straining and skimming, before freezing. Feel free to experiment.

If your preference, or need, is to make vegetable or beef stock, the process is the same. For the beef stock, substitute beef bones and/or oxtails. You might have to make a request with the butcher, but this shouldn’t be a problem. For the vegetable stock, feel free to add leeks, parsnips, fennel, tomato, and/or mushrooms.

For those of you that are wondering, I used this technique for the first time last week, on Thanksgiving. I was in need of stock for the Turkey Giblet Gravy, and I didn’t want to go to the store. I also didn’t think it would be very good if I just used water. So, I used the turkey neck, carrots, celery, onion, leek, parsley, sage and thyme. My experience with a pressure cooker is limited, but the interwebs said to pressure cook for 30 minutes. My mom, the owner of the pressure cooker, insisted that 20 minutes was plenty. So we cooked for 20 minutes. The turkey neck absolutely fell apart, and the neck meat was “hand-shreddable.” And the gravy that we made later that afternoon was excellent, and gluten-free. A potato starch slurry worked quite well for thickening.

Hopefully one of you will find this useful. If you try it out I would love to hear how about it.

Thoughts? Comments?

-Nick

Thank you.

To whoever is out there reading and clicking and following along.

Thank you.

We really started this to be accountable to ourselves. Then we decided to share it with whoever might be interested.

Our first post was on November 6, 2011. 375 words out into the world.

The first post we shared and encouraged others to check out was the Cork Wine Pub Mini-Review. 100 words on the nose.

Our most viewed post so far was the full review of Cork Wine Pub. 706 words.

In between, there have been 7 other posts that you’ve hopefully been able to check out. If not, feel free to snoop around. There will definitely be more to come, because as it turns out, I (Nick) really like to write these things, and you, whoever you are like to click through. From November 18 through the end of the month we had over 200 page views. I don’t don’t know if that’s really a lot, but it seems like it’s something pretty good for 13 days.

So, please keep reading and clicking and following along and maybe even leaving some comments.

And again. Thank you.

Thoughts? Comments?

-Nick & Rachel

PS – I haven’t forgotten about the homemade stock post. It will be up later today. 🙂

How to cook a whole chicken

For any of you out there that are trying to find ways to make better food choices, I have a pretty good option for you.

Learn how to cook a whole chicken.

If you have 4 people (2 adults, 2 kids) to feed, it will probably get the job done for around $10-$15 if you go the organic route, and for much less if you go non-organic. If there are only 2 of you, it’s probably dinner for a couple of days, and if you’re going it alone you can get up to 4 meals or 2 dinners and a really killer batch of chicken salad, if that’s your thing….

A couple weeks ago, I was looking for the best (easiest) way to cook a whole chicken in the oven. I know there is a way that involves tucking wings and trussing and some other things, but I figured there had to be something a bit easier, or at least a bit more straight-forward. So, I headed to the interwebs, and there I found my answer. Spatchcock. If you are friends with me on Facebook or Instagram or Twitter, you might have seen the picture that I posted this past Sunday night, referring to Spatchcock.

To spatchcock is simply to butterfly the chicken. Something that I had never thought of, but once I did a little bit of research and reading, made perfect sense. And so, I set out to cook my first whole chicken in the oven. The ultimate goal of the exercise is to get a chicken that is perfectly cooked in all parts. Wings, Breast, Thighs and Legs. Other methods will yield one or the other, but not success all around. And if you’re going to cook the whole bird, you should be able to enjoy the whole thing.

The first one that I cooked 2 weeks ago was a 3.5lb organic from Meijer. It cost around $13. The one that I cooked this weekend, on Sunday was a non-organic. $7 for 3.5lb.

Spatchcocking is most easily accomplished with a decent pair of kitchen shears, but a good kitchen knife will do as well. Before you get started on the chicken, you might want to rinse and pat dry. Once dry, simply flip the chicken over so the breast side is down, locate the backbone and cut along both sides of said backbone to remove. If you are using a knife, just apply a bit of pressure with the knife on either side of the backbone and the bones should crack. Also, feel free to stand the chicken up and allow gravity and other laws of physics to help you out. Once the backbone is removed, flip the chicken over (breast side up) and apply some gentle pressure to the breastbone so that the chicken will flatten out. You might hear the cartilage crack. This is perfectly normal. Also, save the backbone, because we’re going to make homemade chicken stock later this week. And if you’re willing, we’ll get it done in 30-40 minutes, not the 8+ hours that you’re expecting.

If you would like a visual of this butterflying process, head over to Deliciously Organic and have a look. The photos are great.

Once butterflied, the rest is simple. Season and cook. You really can use whatever you like to season. On Sunday the recipe was as follows.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees with a rack one above the middle. Start with a couple tablespoons of Olive Oil and rub onto all sides of the chicken. Then season all sides and parts with Kosher Salt. At this point, you are only limited by your own creativity and spice rack. Rachel and I seasoned the breast-side only with a mixture of Garlic Powder, Black Pepper, Paprika, Cayenne, and Dried Sage. We didn’t really measure, but there were approximately equal parts of Pepper and Paprika, half as much Cayenne and 3 times as much Sage and Garlic. You really can season with whatever you prefer and there is no right answer. Just Salt and Pepper. Homemade herb butter. Your own spice mix. A commercially prepared spice mix, though this might be less desirable due to added ingredients that are not spices. The chicken is on a baking sheet that is lined with foil. It is in the middle of the baking sheet. The baking sheet is facing the “short way”, that is, long from left to right and short from top to bottom.

Pop the chicken in the oven and set the timer for 45 minutes. At the end of the 45 minutes it should be done. If you have a thermometer, feel free to check for doneness. The goal is 170°-180°F in the leg and thigh and 150°-155°F in the thickest part of the breast. If you prefer the government recommended 165°F in the breast, do your thing, but it really is overkill. The above chicken was cooked just shy of 180°F in the leg and thigh, which yielded just under 160°F in the breast. Perfect. We probably could have cooked a few minutes less and had results that were just as good, but any longer would have resulted in overcooked chicken breasts. At this point, remove your baking tray from the oven and cover the chicken in foil. Let it rest for 10 minutes or so and then carve.

Enjoy with some sauteed vegetables, mashed cauliflower, and some Russian Nog. 🙂

Two bites in, Rachel declared it to be the “best chicken she’s ever had“. That endorsement should be all the reason you need to give it a try.

Also,  if you remember and are in the mood, save any leftover bones for the homemade stock you’re going to make. In the freezer, in a freezer bag is a good place.

If you give it a try, let us know how it works out for you in the comments.

Thoughts? Comments?

-Nick

Review: Cork Wine Pub

So, here it is. The full review of Cork Wine Pub that I promised on Monday.

First things, this place is easy to drive past if you’re not paying attention. The reason being, it doesn’t look like a restaurant. Since it used to house an architectural firm, it makes sense. So, trust your GPS or Google Maps. It really is there.

Also, I won’t make you read to the last word to find out what I think (though I hope you’ll read to the last word). Go check this place out the next time you’re looking for a great night out. As I said on Monday, it’s very well executed, the ambiance is great and you’re going to have a good time.

You can enter the restaurant from the side parking lot or the door facing Woodward. The “Woodward door” will put you near the bar and host stand, the “Parking Lot door” will put you directly in the bottle room or wine shop. We decided to sit and have a drink and look over the menu while we were waiting for our table. The choice was the zenzero bellini, and it was made quite well and perfectly balanced.

When we moved into the dining room, we were greeted by our server, Brian, and he was ready to guide us through a process of selecting a wine that would fit our needs. We sort of cheated and figured out what we wanted ahead of time, but I have no doubt that we would have ended up in the same place.

The menu is divided into 5 sections, and we were determined to try something from each of them. Our first 2 courses were the Fried Brussel Sprouts and the Brick Roll. Even if you think you hate Brussel Sprouts, I recommend you give these a try. If it makes you feel any better, it’s only the leaves, without the cores, but either way, they are awesome. If I thought I could afford it, I would almost offer to buy these for you if you hate them.

In my haste to enjoy these Brussel Sprouts, I forgot to take a picture. Also, since I was being stubborn about not using my flash, I don’t have a decent picture of the Brick Roll.

For our third course, we split Cork’s version of The Wedge. The blue cheese dressing was on the mild side (which is not a bad thing), and the bacon and pickled onion are just right. The real twist (besides the heart of romaine) is the pomegranate seeds. Brilliant.

The fourth course was the entrée course, and while it may have been prudent to choose one selection and share, we wanted to try as many things as we thought we could handle. The chef surely didn’t disappoint.

I ordered the filet medium rare and it was cooked to perfection, with a good sear on either side. The roasted vegetables (green beans, potatoes, carrots and brussel sprout cores) were just the right amount of tender and the port wine demi was an excellent compliment to the plate. Rachel’s braised rabbit with pappardelle was quite fantastic as well. And while I’m no expert, I wouldn’t be surprised if the pasta was made in-house.

For the fifth course, we tried a couple of desserts. Especially since we were having an early birthday celebration. And what’s a birthday celebration without dessert? The original plan was Banana Cardamom Pudding and something else, but the kitchen was out of the Pudding, so we had to make some other choices. Our final decision was Ice Cream Sandwiches and Bread Pudding.

I’ll leave it to you to check out the description of the Ice Cream Sandwiches, either in person or on the Cork website. Just know that it is unexpected and delightful.

So again, to recap. Please do yourself a favor and check out this restaurant. It is no more than a 30 minute drive from just about anywhere in the metro Detroit area, and probably about 45-50 minutes from Ann Arbor. You’ve driven much further for much less. Overall, an excellent experience with wonderfully prepared food and professional service. Definitely added to our list of places to go in the Metro Detroit restaurant scene.

Thoughts? Comments?

-Nick

5 ways to NOT gain 5 pounds in 4 days

So, with Thanksgiving just a couple days away, here are a few ideas to consider so that you don’t come out on the other side of the weekend too much worse for the wear.

1. Be aware of how much you are eating for dinner and dessert. I’m not suggesting that you don’t enjoy everything that you want to on Thanksgiving, just have some awareness of what and how much is making it onto your plate, and into your mouth.

2. Skip a meal, or two. Remember, skipping breakfast won’t kill you. Skipping lunch as well might not be a horrible idea. Break your fast at dinner time. If you don’t want to limit yourself on Thursday, plan a fast for Friday.

3. Go for a walk. Go for a short walk sometime during the day. Anything is better than nothing, but shortly after dinner will probably reap the most benefit. Not miles on end. Just 20 minutes or so is good.

4. Limit your overeating to dinnertime only. Often times, we (myself included) use Thanksgiving as an excuse to overeat all day, or possibly all weekend. For me, it’s usually chocolate chip cookies. I have one almost every time I walk past the plate of chocolate chip cookies. I usually lose count after the first 3 or 4. If you really can’t bring yourself to “cut back”, at least try and limit it to Thursday night’s dinner and/or dessert only.

5. Just stick to the meat and veggies. This is probably the most unlikely and difficult of the choices, but if you can do it, you’ll definitely have a successful Thanksgiving from a dietary standpoint. Enjoy your turkey and whichever veggies are a part of your Thanksgiving dinner. Skip the 3 types of sweet potato (usually with a fair amount of brown sugar added) and the mashed potatoes, and the pie(s), cookies and other desserts. Enjoy a glass of wine with dinner (if that’s your thing), and bring along a bit of dark chocolate to enjoy while everyone else is gorging during the Harbaugh Bowl.

This will be an interesting experiment for me this year. My plan going into it is to stick with options one, two and three. I plan to fast until dinner, or until a pre-dinner cocktail and snack. I plan to make conscious choices about what and how much food finds it’s way to my plate. I plan to go for a walk after dinner. I’ll report back next week to let you know how it went, maybe even with some pictures. 🙂

Thoughts? Comments?

-Nick

Restaurant mini-review: Cork Wine Pub

Just a quick note here to let you all know about a restaurant that is most definitely worth checking out.

If you you’re in the Royal Oak/Birmingham neighborhood, I would encourage you to travel just south of I-696 into Pleasant Ridge and check out Cork Wine Pub.

A bar with both classic and creative cocktails using fresh ingredients, a bottle room with a retail wine shop, and a creative food menu with everything from snacks to appetizers to dinner to desserts. Excellent service with an unassuming and helpful staff.

More details in a post later this week.

Thoughts? Comments?

-Nick