Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Appearance vs Character

Appearance is fantasy of the present; character is everlasting truth.

Chicken stock - can I make it taste, well, more chickeney?

I'm doing a cooking experiment. Well, I suppose it's not exactly an experiment because I'm not using a control group. Unless the trials can be a week or two apart.

I digress!

To get cheap poultry, I have been buying and butchering whole chickens on a regular basis. After taking the chicken apart, I make chicken stock from the leftovers.

My typical recipe and process:

Ingredients:
1 whole chicken carcass, including trimmed fat
Kosher salt
8 cups water
1/2-1 onion (smaller onion, use the whole thing. Large onion, as little as half.)
1 celery stalk, with leaves, if possible, rough chop on the bias at a 45 degree angle*
1 carrot, washed, not peeled; same as celery
(1 parsnip) prepared same as carrot
6 peppercorns
*Cutting the vegetables in this manner exposes more of the flavorful inside of the vegetable.

Instructions:
Put bones and fat into large stockpot into 300 degree oven. Roast up to 3 hours.

Remove from oven and put on the stove over medium heat. The bones and skin will be brown and there should be a nice fond developed on the bottom.

When a few drops of water sizzle (not crackle - too hot!) pour in enough water to deglaze: pour in just enough water to cover the bottom with little depth. Scrape bottom of the pot with your wooden spoon until all of the bones and skin have come free and all of the bits have combined with the shallow water. The bottom, including the corners, should look clean and the liquid should be a deep gold.

Add the rest of the water, add the vegetables, bring to simmer and cook down until liquid is reduced in half, stirring and turning the bones over occasionally.

Pour into a non-reactive (ceramic or stainless steel) bowl through a sieve and cool then store. (Winter is great - just put a lid on it and put into the cold for a little while, or overnight.)

So that is how I usually do it. Once in a while, though, I'll accidentally cook it down too much. For instance, tonight I was watching a show and checking out Facebook when I realized that the liquid had been cooking for a while.

Sure enough, it probably had cooked down to two cups. Yikes! All that work for two cups! So, the experiment was born.

When making french onion soup, you caramelize onions, but deglaze them over and over, adding in liquid each time.

Well, what if I keep adding in liquid and cooking it down? Will I get a richer stock?

Answer: I think so, but I didn't do it scientifically.

It came out nice and jellied with terrific flavor. Where I went wrong:
1) I didn't measure the ingredients. Weight of the carcass and vegetables. If I really wanted to get anal, I could measure the fat vs bones. No, not going to do that.
2) I have no idea how long, exactly, that I roasted the bones.
3) I did not time how long I cooked each stage.
4) I did not measure how much liquid remained at each stage
5) I did not taste the stock at each stage to see whether or not the taste was improving.

Overall, I think it was successful. Next time, I'll taste the stock more often and keep track of the cooking time. Give it a try, let me know what happens.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Technology Breeds Independence

Walking, check.
Talking, check.
Playing ball, check.
Getting dressed, check.

Independently turning on the TV, finding the kids channels, and working the video game console?

Check.

It's something I've been waiting for for some time, now. You know, the morning after a good date night or guys night out? 7 or 8:00 A.M. comes a little too early. It used to be that I would stumble out of bed, try to not fall down the stairs, put on the TV, get some water and / or VitaminWater Zero, go back to bed. Maybe I would put out some bread and water for the children.

They can not only work the media center, but they can make themselves a basic breakfast! JD can put a waffle or two in the toaster oven without sustaining 2nd degree burns (no cereal for him) and Bunny can pour herself a bowl of cereal. They have figured out how to climb the cabinet hardware to get on the counter to get dishes and glasses. They can get more milk into a glass than they spill.

Bravo! I say.

Tonight, we came home from my Mom's birthday party. Wife was already under the weather before the party, so she was pooped. I was trying to get some rest before my 11:00 P.M. hockey game, so I was happy to lay around for a while.

So, I turned the TV on to Netflix and got a movie going. I knew that it was only 75 minutes long, so I was watching the clock. 

Meanwhile, Wife and I watched the end of the Miss St / Alabama game then turned on Zero Dark Thirty

Sometime after turning on the movie, I heard the kids. They were done with the movie and were playing independently. Great! Their fights were brief and didn't require intervention. Then I heard them playing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on Wii. Great! Then they turned on Disney Jr and watched Mickey Mouse Club. Great! 

Around 8:15, I went down with the intention of telling them to turn the TV off. Then I realized that it was the middle of the show and they'd been playing nicely and took care of themselves. So I told them that they could finish watching the show. When the show ended, they were to turn the TV off, clean up the DVDs left out, brush their teeth, get into pajamas and come to us for story time. Clockwork! They got it done.

One of the best things about being an at-home parent is that, while I sometimes fondly remember the kids as babies, I have no regrets about the time I'll never get back. I'm now watching them grow into independent, capable people. Yes, they're only 7- and 5-years-old, but their emerging confidence is a pleasure to witness.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Wave and Smile

On Tuesdays, I volunteer at the security desk at school. It is during lunch time, so I see kids from every grade come and go.

It is great seeing JD. He smiles and waves. He is proud that I'm there and happy to see me. Not only is he happy to see me, but all of the kids that I know, either because they have been in class with my kids or because I know their parents, wave and smile.

I must be doing something right.