One kid's adventures in gastronomy

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Soporific Squash

You know I enjoy squash (because it’s orange). Mama tends to keep it simple—roasted and added to other things, like risotto, or mashed with sweet or savory flavors. Since squash is still so abundant right now, she tried something a little new, something that combines her two primary methods for cooking it.

First, Mama halved and seeded 2 acorn squash, smeared some olive oil on the cut sides, then sprinkled salt and pepper over them. She put them on a baking sheet, covered them with foil, and roasted them at 450ºF until they were soft and starting to caramelize, about half an hour.

In the meantime, she sautéed half a chopped onion and half a pound of finely chopped cremini mushrooms in a bit of olive oil, stirring occasionally. Somewhere along the way she added the leaves off a few sprigs of thyme and some salt and pepper. When the mushrooms and onion were tender and browned, she added 1 cup rice (she happened to have basmati on hand, which is easy enough) and sautéed that for a couple minutes to give the rice a nutty flavor. Then, just when the pan seemed like it was about to dry out, she added 2 cups homemade vegetable stock (chicken stock also would have worked). She brought it all to a boil, covered it, then reduced the heat and simmered it until the rice absorbed the liquid and was tender, about 20 minutes. You might recognize this as the pilaf method, and it sure makes for some tasty rice.

When everything was cooked, Mama carefully spooned the flesh out of the squash shells and added it to the skillet of rice and mushrooms. She said if she wanted to make it look fancy, she would have loaded up the shells with the mixture, but as it was just us, she glopped a big ol’ portion on our plates. (This is why there’s no picture. You probably wouldn’t want to eat it either.) Then she grated some Parmesan on top.

I was reticent at first, because this didn’t look like any squash I’ve eaten before, but Mama reminded me about my “no thank you” bite. I’m sure glad she did, though, because this was quite tasty! The roasted squash flavor was subtle, and the rice gave it body and texture. I didn’t even mind the mushrooms, as I’m still hit or miss on those. Mama ate this for dinner, along with steamed mixed veggies, and Papa and I added pork to our dinners. I really just wanted to eat the squash and the veggies, though.

I don’t know what else Mama might have snuck into that dish because after dinner, I went on the kitchen floor to play with my cars…and I didn’t get up. I fell fast asleep right where I played, much like those Flopsy Bunnies. I suspect Mama might be giving me the squash again tonight….

To be fair, I refused to nap today, so that might have played a part in my passing out.

To be fair, I refused to nap today, so that might have played a part in my passing out mid-play.

Love, Jude


Stock Up on Stock

We’ve used stock in a lot of our recipes, from soup to risotto. Mama often makes vegetable stock, but on occasion, she makes chicken (or turkey) stock or seafood stock. Just like roasting a chicken, making your own stock is super simple—and the end product, at least according to Mama, is far superior to anything you’ll buy at the grocery store. (The only real drawback is having to plan ahead to use it, since you have to thaw it.)

Mama explains that there are stock purists out there who believe there’s an art to making a good stock. While Mama does lend credence to this conviction, she also feels that a down-and-dirty stock can be equally flavorful. Let’s start with a vegetable stock.

Always start with mirepoix. (Isn’t that a funny word?) It consists of carrots, celery, and onion. (And of course, these should all be organic—especially the celery.) This is the basis of all great soups and sauces. The nifty thing about a stock is that you’re going to strain it, so you don’t have to bother with all the peeling and trimming you’d normally do for something like a vegetable soup. Just rough chop about equal portions of these three vegetables, say 1 onion, 2 stalks celery, and 2 large carrots. Or thereabouts. (You really can’t screw this up…but if you’re going through the minimal trouble of making a stock, why not use a whole bag of carrots, a bunch of celery, and a few onions?)

Add a bay leaf, a few peppercorns (no salt), and a few sprigs of parsley. If you don’t have these, don’t worry about it. Mama always cuts a whole head of garlic in half and throws that in. If you have fennel or leeks or parsnips, go ahead and add them, as well. (Go easy on the fennel, though, or your stock will have a slight anise taste. You also might want to avoid beets, but hey—this is your stock.)

Put everything in a large soup pot and cover them with cold water. This is where Mama sides with the purists. Warm water leaches minerals from the pipes. Or so they say. Bring it up to a simmer—never a boil, otherwise your stock will turn cloudy. Partially cover the pot so all the yumminess doesn’t evaporate as steam, and let the stock simmer for as long as you can tolerate that delicious aroma. It’s certainly possible to do a quick stock in 30 minutes or so—it’s very easy to do this with mushroom stems for a mushroom stock or shrimp shells for shrimp stock. But for maximum flavor punch, let the stock do its thing for at least 2 hours. You won’t be sorry.

Strain the vegetables out then cool and store in the freezer. Some people use ziptop plastic bags; some use glass jars. If you’re really being thrifty, use these veggies for a second go-around. Repeat the process with a little less water and simmer for a bit longer. This second stock, or remouillage, will taste a little weaker, but what a great way to get utmost veg usage! You can always use this weaker stock when you cook rice or couscous, etc.

Mama tossed a few leeks in this stock.

Mama tossed a few leeks in this stock.

If you’re keen on making chicken stock, break down your bird, trimming as much of the fat and skin from the carcass as you can. (Fat makes your stock cloudy and skuzzy.) Put the bones in the pot along with your mirepoix, and proceed as above. (If you happen to be deboning a fresh chicken, it’s perfectly fine to use raw bones, as my friends Ty and Tora’s mama does, but it’s more likely you’re going to use roasted chicken bones.) It’s even more important with a meat-based stock to use cold water and a gentle simmer. Cold water helps draw out all the yummy goodness from the bones, and a simmer will keep it from getting cloudy. (Your stock should always be clear.) Mama lets this go anywhere from 3 to 4 hours. If the top of the water begins to get scummy, simply skim it off and discard. If your stock winds up very fatty, strain it then refrigerate it overnight, and the fat will solidify at the top—and then you can easily remove it.

For a fish stock, use the fish bones, or go with crustacean shells. You can get away with simmering these for 2 hours.

For a beef stock, you definitely want to roast your bones first. This is where you’d get bones from a butcher or farmer specifically for stock. Roast them in the oven (400°F) for about half an hour, add your mirepoix, and put it back in the oven for another half hour. Since this is going to yield a brown stock, you should add some sort of tomato product–paste is generally your best bet. Take the bones and veggies out of the roasting pan and put them in the soup pot. But before you do anything else, deglaze that roasting pan with a bit of cold water or red wine. Scrape up all those browned bits of goodness, then add them to the stock pot. Add water to cover, along with your herbs. Simmer for 4–6 hours, then strain.

As you can see, making stock isn’t such a big deal. Usually, all that gets in Mama’s way of making stock is….well, me!

Love, Jude