Tuesday, November 20, 2007

What to do with the carcass?

Not being a huge fan of whole chicken (until we discovered that a small chicken done in our covered barbeque was THE way to eat poultry!), I usually ask Dave to carve the bits off the carcass to cook, and then save the carcass for later. We also completely bone out our squirrels: we found that when kept on the bone, it was easy to over cook the meat. By boning them, you can cook the meat in smaller portions and to just the right point.

Anyway, I had a freezer-full of carcasses and I thought I'd deal with them. So yesterday I made a pot of stock out of:

3 chicken carcasses (including necks & gibblets)
2 squirrel carcasses
1 medium carrot, peeled into the pot (i.e. peel the whole carrot into the pot)
1 medium parsnip, ditto
4 sprigs of fresh sage
3 very large bushy sprigs of thyme (probably equal to a couple of tablespoons if I had bothered to strip the leaves off)
sprinkling of grey sea salt
enough water to just cover the carcasses

Brought the water to a boil, and probably boiled it for a couple of hours. Skimmed off some of the scum (you're supposed to skim as it boils in order to keep it clear, but I wasn't able to because the peelings and herbs were floating in the way). Removed the carcasses (falling apart!) and all the trimmings. Put just the liquid back on the stove and reduced it down to about 2 litres (probably from 4 or 5 litres after cooking).

I picked the carcasses of meat and broke up the chicken livers and divided small portions of the bits into ice-cube containers, then poured enough stock over to create the cube & froze. These are Murri's "treats", which he gets in addition to the kibble hockey.

Today, I took the stock, skimmed the surface of scum, and strained it through a coffee filter over a sieve and used it to make my own version of "Italian Wedding" soup:

6 cups stock
3-4 sprigs of basil, chopped
1 cup chopped fresh green beans
2 large turkey & cranberry sausages, sliced into rounds & fried
1 package (12 oz) Tinkyada organic brown rice pasta

I cooked the pasta using their "energy efficient" method: boil the water, add the pasta & cook in the boiling water about 2 minutes, then turn off the heat, keep the lid on and let sit for 20 minutes. Drain & rinse. About 4 minutes to go, I turned off the heat of the soup & tossed in the basil & beans to warm up. Once everything was heated & cooked, I put everything together and served. Very tasty.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

In Praise of Salt

It all started with a unique gift from my best buddy, Elizabeth. I think she bought it for me for Christmas (or maybe my birthday) a couple of years ago. She knows I appreciate unusual stuff, especially neat food items. She's a foodie and a wonderful chef, so she always has great surprises. This one was a gift of salt. Hawaiian red sea salt (in the photo), to be precise, the flavour and colour of which is influenced by baked red clay. Perhaps she got the idea from when we returned from our honeymoon in France with fleur de sel from the Camargue (that never got eaten, by the way: it makes the most lovely body scrub for the shower. Alas, all gone now...). At any rate, it was a great gift, but it took me a while before I fully appreciated it.

I let it sit on my shelf for a long time, because I didn't really know what I wanted to use it on. I thought it would be such a waste to just use it in cooking, especially as I wanted to be able to taste its unique flavour. I also don't really use a lot of salt in my cooking, and I never remember to place it on the table for people's use; a very early habit developed when my Dad was put on a salt-restricted diet when I was a child (I don't think the salt restriction for him lasted a long time!).

Then an idea struck me: I use salt on popcorn, and I'd be able to taste the unique flavour of this salt, so why not try it? That was the beginning of a beautiful relationship. Next I tried it on our fried eggs (sunny side up, pinch of salt & pepper, maybe a little cumin, while cooking, perfection!). Now I add it to many things (including my whole grain dishes), and have it in a nifty little salt mill that I can set to coarse or fine (almost always coarse!) for adding that dash of difference during meal preparation.

Now intrigued by the world of "other" salt (having experienced Camargue, Hawaiian and of course, Kosher), I am enthusiastic to try other varieties. Not too long ago, I purchased grey sea salt from Brittany. It has its own unique flavour and character, not the least of which is that it's much less distinctively crystalline than the red salt, and much harder to use in the salt mill (gums it up). So it stays as whole salt to be added in a pinch to certain things.

If you know nothing of the history of salt, then I highly recommend Mark Kurlansky's "Salt: A World History" as an interesting history of the world as seen through humanity's addiction for and interaction with salt.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

New Kitchen Staple

I had heard good things about toasted sesame oil, but had never had occasion to use it, so it didn't live in my pantry until recently. I picked it up a couple of months ago from my favourite bulk and specialty food store Galloways, but it still sat in my cupboard for a while before I thought to try it. Then I made one of my typical "all in one" dishes (a grain & bean salad) and thought I'd dress it with with an oil based dressing and remembered the toasted sesame. Wow! What a difference! I mean, I put lots of goodies into these dishes, so they usually have good flavour, but this takes the prize. I shall never make this dish without toasted sesame oil again if I can help it!! So, here are, generally speaking, the ingredients from this week's version (contents subject to availability & boredom levels!).

  • 1 cup cooked grain (this week wheat berries; alternatively barley, but also sometimes second grain of quinoa or buckwheat groats)
  • 1 cup cooked beans (aduki this week; alternatively turtle, kidney or cocoa, or garbanzos)
  • 4 small carrots, sliced in rounds (this week from our garden, yay!!)
  • 1 pomegranate, just the seeds (when in season)
  • 1 cup chopped parsley & cilantro (about half a bunch each; alternatively, from our fall garden, I use a mixture of chopped chives, mint and celeriac leaves)
  • 1 broccoli crown, chopped into little broccoli florets, steamed briefly (2 min in microwave; green peas, pea pods, and apples are also good alternatives)
I have been known to add other seeds, like pumpkin, sunflower, flax, etc., but with the pomegranate seeds, I didn't feel it was necessary. I LOVE pomegranate season. They're one of my all time favourite fruits. And they're so pretty they add such nice colour to any dish. Apparently the seeds freeze well, so I've got to try that. Here's how to shuck a pomegranate if you've never done it before. Try to pick a pomegranate with nice red skin, no dark or light patches, that's heavy in your hand when you pick it up.

For the dressing, I just whisked together:
  • 1/4 cup grape seed oil
  • 1 tbsp toasted sesame oil
  • zest and juice of 1 lime (sometimes I use red wine, or balsamic vinegar instead)
  • 3 dashes of Louisiana hot sauce
  • pinch of cracked salt & pepper
On the first night, we had this dish with venison steaks (garnished with home-made native berry jelly, a perfect condiment for game) and roasted mushrooms. It was one of those rare (for me!) times when everything was just right - each piece of food had its own wonderful flavour & texture.

So we're on our third night of this grain & bean glop, and the flavours are just getting better (except the broccoli is a little past its prime now). But now it's all gone!

Thursday, November 1, 2007

In Memorium

Poor Goosey is no longer with us. After a valiant battle with a mink a few nights ago, while Goosey didn't appear to be physically damaged, we think that he was just stressed too far with the chase. Goosey, a great guard goose famed across Cobble Hill for his presence, will be missed dearly by all of us, as well as his field buddy, Lady the horse, who'll probably miss him the most of all.