The Homemades

Here is a post about the Homemades. Now, these could be anything, and it might even become a series, but for today, we will start with 2 items that you can buy at the grocery but are much better when made at home. And both are pretty simple. If you have a blender, the first item is quite simple. In the name of being fancy, we’ll use the first item as an ingredient in the second item.

The stars of the show are: Homemade Mayonaisse and Homemade Blue Cheese Dressing. Of course, both of these items might not be for you. Some people can’t stand mayonaisse, and probably even more of you can’t stand that funky blue cheese. The point here, however, is to show you just how easy it is to make these things at home, so you don’t have to rely on chemicals and preservatives and the like. If you want to take a look, here’s the ingredient list for Hellmann’s Real Mayo, and for an “over the counter” Blue Cheese Dressing. The dressing especially has lots of things in it that I don’t want to eat. The mayo is less bad, but Soybean Oil and Calcium Disodium EDTA aren’t something that I want to deal with, necessarily.

For those wondering about the soybean oil, I’ll try and get into that in a future post, but you can check out this post at Mark’s Daily Apple about oils, if you like.

So, the Homemade Mayonaisse:

You will need 1 egg yolk, 1/2 teaspoon dry mustard (or a teaspoon of dijon if you prefer), juice of half a lemon, oil and salt to taste. Light tasting olive oil is my preference. The main goal is to stay away from vegetable/corn oils and other processed things.

To start, add the egg yolk, mustard, lemon juice and 1/4 cup of oil to your blender. Fire it up at a low speed so you don’t splatter the egg yolk all over the inside of the blender. Once the ingredients are incorporated, you will begin adding the remainder of the oil. The key here is to add the oil in a very, very, very slow stream. Just a little bit slower than you think you should. OK, I may be exaggerating a little bit, but try to keep the oil stream as slow as possible. If it’s too fast, your mayo will be a little bit loose. Still tasty, but not the consistency that you’re looking for. The last time I made the mayo, I noticed a different sound coming from the blender when the mayo was set. I had a little bit of the oil left, and at that point I was no longer worried about the speed of the oil stream. Just add the remainder to the blender and let it combine. Taste and season with salt. The mayo can be used on top of burgers, in homemade chicken salad, as a dip for raw vegetables, or anywhere else you might use mayo. It will last in your fridge for about a week, unlike the store bought brand. Have you ever seen that stuff go bad?

The other place to use mayo is in your Homemade Blue Cheese Dressing. The dressing is even more simple than the mayo. There is some dairy, obviously, with the blue cheese, and you also need some acid. Buttermilk is good here. You get to personalize the dressing through your selection of your favorite blue cheese, be it roquefort, maytag, stilton, or any other choice out there. You will need about 4oz. of cheese for the dressing. Feel free to add more, or reduce the amount, depending on the amount of chunkiness and blue-cheesiness that you prefer.

To start, combine your blue cheese crumbles, 1/2 cup of buttermilk, and a fair amount of freshly cracked black pepper. Mix together, in a bowl, while gently mashing the cheese. After a couple of minutes, add 1/2 cup of mayo. Homemade is best. Mix for another minute or two until everything is combined. That’s all there is to it. Allow flavors to “marry” by putting the dressing in the fridge for a bit. This will make “4” servings. But really it’s 3 for me, because I like a little extra dressing on my salad. I like wedge salads with a fair amount of blue cheese dressing and bacon. The iceberg is purely a vehicle. Sometimes I use romaine, just to mix things up. I imagine this dressing will last for about a week in the fridge, but honestly, it never makes it this long.

Speaking of iceberg lettuce, or even romaine, for that matter, my least favorite thing is washing and drying lettuce. I know you can buy the pre-washed stuff in the bag, but I’m not totally convinced about this. So, my new favorite piece of kitchenware is a salad spinner. Most of the spinners that I have seen are pretty expensive. Like $25+ expensive. However, Rachel has one that we got at IKEA. I think it was under $5. I found one at Meijer for $10. This makes washing and drying lettuce way easier, and you can use the bowl as a salad bowl. Double duty. Not too bad.

So, that’s it for the homemades, for now. I think we should unofficially call it “The Homemades: Part 1”, because I’m sure there will be more.

Thoughts? Comments?

-Nick

PS – Engagement photos here. Go check them out.

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A post within a post…

So, this post is not about eating or food. I know, I owe you one, or two. I will tell you that I do have a couple of things coming regarding food. Homemade things that we always buy but really are better when made at home, if only for the reason that you know all of the ingredients involved and can spare yourself the extra preservatives and chemicals.

This is more of a wedding-ish post.

When Rachel and I got engaged in July, besides the usual questions of if we had picked a date yet and where the wedding was and all of that stuff, some of you were genuinely concerned about what we were doing for our wedding photography. I tried to assure you that we had someone in mind. Someone really, really good.

Well, the Friday after Thanksgiving, while most of you were either standing in a line to get a headstart on your Christmas shopping, were back in bed because you were already shopped out, or were watching football and eating leftovers, Rachel and I had a photo shoot with our fantastic wedding photographer, Arielle Doneson.

Right now we’re on the first page of her blog, but that will surely change within a week, as she posts more of her fantastic work. So here is the direct link to our shoot.

If you’re interested in checking it out, head over to Arielle’s blog, snoop around, leave a comment or two. Photographers love comments.

As for food. I’ll try and get something out to you before Friday. It is two of the busiest weeks of the church season, between Messiah, Lessons and Carols and Christmas Eve, but I’ll try my best. Also, a book review coming, hopefully next week.

I hope everyone is having a good holiday season so far. Try and stay sane and limit that sugar intake whenever possible. New Years Resolutions that involve going to the gym 8 days a week are only needed if you pack on the pounds between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Instead, make a December resolution to truly eat in moderation at those holiday parties.

And go check our Arielle’s website. And leave a comment. Please. 🙂

Thoughts? Comments?

-Nick

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

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