Friday, January 31, 2014

Making Stock

Yesterday I posted about roasting a chicken and exhorted readers to save the bones.  Today we'll talk about saving vegetable leavings and making stock.

A good stock is a foundation of a wide variety of foods. Soups, obviously, but a quick search for stocks in recipes I use has it showing up in Chinese chicken with peanuts, chilis, moles, broiled chicken, gravys, tagines, seared fish and more. 

If you are using bouillon cubes for stocks, you are seriously cheating yourself.  Oversalted, underflavored cubes of mediocrity are forming the base of your dish.   Stop it.  Some of the boxed stocks are OK, but you can do better than OK.  With a good homemade stock you can control the flavor, control the intensity, control the saltiness and improve the mouthfeel of your dish.  And you can do it at a fraction of the price of the boxed stock.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Roast Chicken.

Cooking is combining edible ingredients to make something else edible.  Most dictionary definitions and most cooking also involve some amount of heat but adding sugar to cream and beating the heck out of it until it stands in delicious peaks is also cooking.  It can be exactly that simple or it can be more complex than imagined just a few years ago as shown by the current generation of molecular gastronomists. 

For the home cook, I think the goals should be nutritious, delicious and usually as simple as possible.  It's fun from time to time to make something incredibly complex, particularly if you're looking to learn something or entertain company, but for most things the fun is in the eating.

To my mind, nothing is simpler or more delicious than a properly roasted whole chicken.   How simple?  Well, Thomas Keller of French Laundry and Per Se fame recommends nothing but the chicken, some salt and pepper and maybe some thyme.  Here's his recipe.  To that I'd add time and some scissors.

You'll note that the recipe below calls for removing the chicken from the oven while the breasts are between 145 and 150F, well below the 165F the USDA recommends as a minimum temperature for chicken.  There's a long, complex response to that which I may go into if I decide to take this blog in a political direction, but basically the USDA is wrong and they are responsible for a lot of terrible chicken over the years.  If you don't like chicken because you think it's dry and tasteless, you can thank the USDA.  That said, you probably want to invest in a quality instant-read food thermometer like a Thermapen if you're going to cook things like chicken and pork rare. 

Also, this recipe is for a good-quality chicken properly raised and processed.  It will still work on that 6% water-added robo-chicken that was on sale at the grocery store, but it may take longer and the skin probably won't crisp up as well. 

The instruction to spatchcock the bird links to a preparation method championed by J. Kenji López-Alt at   He calls it butterflying instead of spatchcocking but I really like the word spatchcock.  If this blog has a lot of food talk, there will be a lot of links to Mr.
López-Alt.  I think you should subscribe to his column.  

Last but not at all least, after you've carved and eaten the chicken, save the bones!  In fact, cut off the wingtips which you probably aren't going to eat anyway and save those too.  Toss all the bones and any leftovers besides skin in a Ziploc bag, label the bag with the date and store it in the freezer.  Later we'll be making homemade chicken stock and you'll never be happy with the storebought stuff again.

A Simple, if time-consuming, recipe for roast chicken:

And here's a post with a picture, to see how that works.

Yesterday we went to see the hoopla surrounding the New Jersey Superbowl at Times Square.  First, we took in the Animal Planet exhibit for the Puppy Bowl.  It was mostly about as silly as you'd expect, with a "hall of fame" showing off pictures of puppies and props from prior Puppy Bowls (most lickable puppy, most drooled over chew toy, etc.).  But they did have real puppies.  Alas, we got there at what must have been Puppy Halftime, as the puppies were tuckered out and not playing.  Here's a picture of a tired puppy:
 Now here's some text below the picture to see how it turns out.

Next, we walked along Broadway, renamed Superbowl Boulevard for the week.  We were there before the full festivities got underway.  The Field Goal Kicking exhibit wasn't opening for a few hours, the big lit-up Roman Numerals(TM) weren't due until after nightfall, etc.  But frankly none of it was all that interesting.  There was a nice collection of big Superbowl sponsors giving away swag and/or showing off their wares.  It's apparent that even the largest companies haven't figured out the whole interactive thing just yet.  GM is an example.  They had some of their big SUVs on exhibit, a, uh, counter-intuitive choice for Manhattan.  But, tourists, so OK.  But if you wanted to enter their contest you had to give them your email, get a wristband, go to each and ever SUV (I think there were three), get information, scan the wristband, go to another location, get scanned again and then find out if you won, well, no one really seemed to know what you won or how likely you were to win it.  People don't want to do that much work to buy a car, let alone look at one.   Even Animal Planet, back at the Puppy Bowl, said they wanted your phone number to give you a chance to win a Bissell  Vacuum Cleaner.  One of the attendants helpfully added that it was possible to skip this step, but how many emails did Bissell miss out on because people just stopped when they reached the field for their phone number?  

So overall, the whole thing was interactive and terrible at it.  

This Blog's First Post: A test post to see what things look like.

So this is my new blog.  Only, what, 15 years out of date?  The idea is to get me writing, maybe make some connections, just see what happens.  I'll be writing on politics, economics, cooking, photography, hiking, New York City and whatever else comes to mind.   So, in the words of Mario Batali, wheeeeeee!

Edited to add:   This is the first post made in the blog.  All entries dated before this one are back-dated to reflect when I wrote them for another source. 

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Review: Schnipper's Quality Kitchen


There's nothing really wrong with Schnippers.  But there's nothing special either.  We had the Schnipper's special burger, which was fine but unexceptional (though they could have reheated the onions more than they did) and the green chile burger, which was also fine.   Onion rings were average to slightly below average, with the batter being unexceptional and failing to stick to the onion but cooked reasonably well.  

If everything didn't take so long (it took the better part of 15 minutes in a mostly-empty, fully-staffed restaurant) I'd say that it's a fine place for a workday lunch or a quick bite, but the prices indicate it should be much more than that.  Soliciting a tip on top of that because they run the food to your table is really pushing it.

I didn't run screaming from this place or anything but I'm not screaming to run back either. I don't really spend much time in the Times Square/Port Authority area but there has to be a better burger pretty close by without braving the line at Shake Shack.