October 28, 2007

freezer loading

I have a weekend at hand that some would find tiresome - but not a foodblogger - and not at this time of the year.

I'm cooking.

And piling up stuff in the freezer. Simple, flavorful, single portion meals.

It all started with two basics: a pot of chicken stock that has slowly perfumed the house with comfort and security - then with tomato sauce that added spark and garlic to the room.

And these recipes both start the right way.

I had to chop an onion. I love the ritual of chopping onions. It anchors me - to that moment - to something good - to health - to providing - to pleasure.

I love how onions look at the bottom of the pot as they sweat out their essence, right before they start browning. And the sound of a wooden spoon thudding against a metal pot. Heaven.

Then the celery. One of the most underrated vegetables - essential to stock, and well, to just crunching on. My Mum will cook celery and make a white pepper sauce for it. No, really, it's good.

And carrots. If you've got that, onions, celery, carrots...you've got the essence of stock.

I've discovered one secret for me about stock - not to let it boil. Mark Bittman writes about that in How to Cook Everything - to bring it just to the boil, and then let it simmer with a bubble or three breaking the surface.

So far...so good.

Today I bring together the soup, now that the chicken stock is sitting in the fridge, layered in a blanket of fat, ready to be skimmed. With fingers crossed, I'll dig in to see if we've achieved that jelly-type stock. I feel accomplished when it glops into a pot.

Today will send my nose into ecstasy. Soup 1: Butternut squash, carrot and ginger....Soup 2: Onions, garlic, sweet potato, zucchini, red pepper, and whatever else I find in the fridge, magically pureed with a hand blender and then finished off with sprinklings of mile-long leeks I found at the grocer's yesterday.

How can life not be wonderful?

I upped the ante yesterday and spiked the nose after the stock was bubbling on its own, by cooking up some smoked sausage created by the good Mennonites of southwestern Ontario. And I teamed it with a homemade tomato sauce, that's slightly sweet and rich. They meet, compete, then settle into something more than their separate parts.

I'll try some other stuff too - I've found some recipes for single-serving frittatas (isn't that a great idea?), banana bread, vanilla cupcakes, lemon loaf - all of this meant to be freezable in single servings. Easy to grab and heat and eat.

I will not succumb to microwaveable, boxed food...nope.

If you have any suggestions for easy, freezer stuff, please let me know.

Here is the recipe for the chicken stock - the basics. Followed by the tomato sauce. If you have these in your repertoire, and your freezer - you can't be surprised by anyone for dins...you're ready.

- Chicken Stock -
adapted from Mark Bittman, How to Cook Everything

"Is stock essential for every soup? No. Will it improve almost any soup? Yes," - the Bittman.

3-4 pounds chicken parts, rinsed and patted dry - I bought a bag of chicken legs and wings from my favourite organic meat seller
1 cup roughly chopped onion - I don't peel it, the skin adds colour to the stock
1 cup roughly chopped carrot
1/2 cup roughly chopped celery - um...I mean this...celery:essential...seriously
1 sprig of fresh thyme - or pinch of dried thyme
1/2 bay leaf
several sprigs of fresh parsley
1tsp salt - he says more if necessary, I added a little more - and bear in mind you're still better off than with those boxed or canned stocks, salt wise. Check out a soup can next time you're in the grocery store - look at the sodium content...it will knock you over.
About 4 quarts water - I used a little less, I top the water to just cover everything.

So here are the instructions -
Put all that in a pot.

Easy huh?

Okay here are the rules:

Bring just about to a boil, then partially cover and adjust the heat so the mixture sends up a few bubbles at a time. Cook until the meat falls from the bones. Start this early enough that you can leave it on the stove to do its thing at least 3-4 hours.

The recipe says 2 hours minimum, but I think the crucial part is the meat falling off the bones, and if you can, break the bones, because by then they will have softened enough to surrender their gelatinous features to the stock.

Strain the whole mess into a big bowl. Press on the vegetables and chicken to get as much of the juice as you can. Then refrigerate it (so make sure you have room for the bowl in the fridge - and make room before you pick up the bowl - learn from my mistakes...). When the fat has solidified on the top, spoon it off. You can strain it at this point through cheesecloth, or paper towel. Then put it into individual containers and freeze if you like. It freezes very well.

Tomato Sauce - by me, honed over the years

Olive oil - enough for the bottom of the pan to get the onions started
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped (I could use more, you can use one if you're garlic shy)
1 carrot, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
1/2 can tomato paste
1 28 oz can of tomatoes (I've found one company that doesn't add salt to their toms)
1 tsp or more dried basil (in this case dried is better than fresh, but you could add chopped fresh basil at the end before you serve it - it really kicks it up)
salt and pepper to taste
1 tbsp sugar

In a pot, with some olive oil, add the chopped onion over medium heat. Stir and cover with a lid. Check on them, don't let the onions brown. Using the lid and building up steam in there will slow down any browning process, as long as you don't have the burner on meltdown. Let them cook until they get translucent and creamy looking.

Add the garlic.

As soon as the garlic looks like it's starting to cook, add the other vegetables. Let them cook for a few minutes.

Add the tomato paste. Stir it into the vegetables. (You can freeze the remaining paste, don't let it get furry in the can, in the fridge, like I've done countless times)

Add the tomatoes. Break them up with a knife or wooden spoon (but step back before the tomatoes get the ultimate revenge and blow seeds all over your nice, white shirt - again learn from my mistakes).

Add the basil, salt, pepper, and sugar.

Bring to a boil and then lower the heat and let it reduce for at least 20 minutes. Taste at this point and see if you need any more salt or sugar. Then you can simmer it for a while. This is one of those sauces that definitely works the next day.

I cooked some sausage while the sauce simmered and added it in small slices at the end just before I served it. Because it was smoked, the sausage just boosted a new flavour into the whole thing - but if you don't like the taste of smoked stuff, just use whatever sausage you like.

I've put the remainder into small containers to freeze.

If you try these recipes, let me know if these work for you. Suggestions are welcome for sure...

Off to make the soup now - and fill the house with love.

Best of the day. Peace.



Jonah said...

I have been making a lot of turkey stock lately. I buy the big turkey wings and thighs for cheap cheap at the market. Often, I roast the turkey parts first (and sometimes the veggies) to give the stock a little more color and flavor. Follow the same method you use for chicken stock, making sure to break the bones if you can. I'm a big fan of Bittman, but I haven't tried the non-bubble approach. I like to get a simmer going.

If you are already planning on freezing the stock, you can really reduce it to take up less space. Then you just add a little more water when you use it. You could even go so far as to make little cubes in your ice tray and use them for sauces and stuff.

You are so right that making your own stock is worth it!

Nicola said...

Hey Jonah,

So I'm usually so sick of turkey I never get around to making stock from the carcass (i know, gasp, what a waste)...Does it taste stronger than chicken stock?

The recipe following the one I posted is for roasting veal bones along with chicken bones to get a rich, dark stock...interesing eh?

Also I should point out that you do let the chicken stock simmer - a slow simmer, but don't let it get lazy, it's gotta cook after all.

thanks for the comment! glad to meet ya.