At the behest of our ring leader this will be a simple post this time around containing the recipe for a soup I made at the most recent meeting of the Estate. The theme was spring, and all the bounty Michigan provides for that season (sadly, though, our resident forager was unable to get his paws on any Morels). It was a fresh Pea soup with mint, lemon and Ramps. It turned out to be the hit of the gathering, and it was the simplest dish I prepared that evening! Proving once again that simplicity in most cases is key. Chef/owner of Frontera Grill and Topolobampo in Chicago, Rick Bayless, has been quoted as saying, “how many ingredients can be taken away?” and still have a perfect dish. This recipe very much follows that philosophy. So, without further boring you with quotes and rambling:
Spring Pea Soup:
3 pounds fresh Peas, without husks
1 bottle semi-dry white wine (Chardonay, Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, ect.)
1 tablespoon fresh mint leaves, roughly chopped
Juice of 2 lemons
4oz. butter, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
Ramp stalks, sliced very thin
Salt to taste
Start by reducing all but 4oz. of the wine in a 1.5-2 gallon heavy bottomed pot over high heat, reserve the remainder of the wine. When reduced by 3/4 add the peas and enough water to cover them by an inch or so and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to medium and cook until the peas are soft, 15-20 minutes after a simmer is reached. Kill the heat and add the mint. Pour into a kitchen blender (in batches if needed) and puree until smooth, or to the desired consistency. We left ours just a little chunky, but that’s a point of preference. Were I making this in a restaurant I would have made it as smooth as possible and then ran it through a fine sieve to get a satin smooth texture.If blending in batches, pour into a mixing bowl or other temporary container until all the peas have been pureed. Add a little water to the blender if the mixture gets too thick to properly mix. This done, return to the pot over medium heat and add water until it’s the desired consistency, loose enough to pour off a spoon but not runny. Slowly reheat, stirring often, we don’t want to cook it too hard or we’ll loose that freshness of the peas and the color will turn to the all too familiar dull “army green” of canned peas. Once steam starts to rise from the surface, add the butter and stir until fully incorporated. Now, bit by bit, and tasting between each addition, add the lemon juice. You may not need all of it, you just want enough to barely taste it through the peas and mint. That done, add the salt, again, bit by bit, and tasting between each addition. You shouldn’t need all that much. Stir in the remainder of the white wine and cook for another 5-10 minutes. That’s it! Bowl it up and garnish with the sliced Ramps! Here are a couple alternative garnishes that will work just as well, if not better:
Wash the Ramp greens and cut across into 1/2 inch strips. Dredge in corn starch and deep fry until just crisp. Season with a pinch of salt as soon as they leave the hot oil.
Saute some fresh Morels in butter until soft. Add the sliced Ramp stalks and cook for another 2 minutes. Then add the Ramp greens (cut as for the previous suggestion) and cook for another minute. Season with a pinch of salt.
Delicate cooking and simplicity are the key to this recipe. I would normally use stock instead of just water but for this soup it would have dulled the impact of the star ingredient, the fresh peas. The whole idea of this dish was to showcase their freshness at the height of the season, leaving their flavor as bright, vivid, unobscured and fresh as possible. The result is a recipe that even a retarded monkey could pull off successfully, and a soup that’s worthy of any fine dining restaurant menu.
Until next time, live well and eat better!
I have an unhealthy relationship with wine. I find it endlessly fascinating, and sometimes infuriating, I find it good in moderation, and better in excess. It’s one hell of a tasty hobby.
But I’m no wine expert. I know, everyone says that in their first post to try and sound like a “regular guy”, not some kind of wine Einstein. Wine can be intimidating. There’s too much to know out there, ever. Even if you were the expert of experts, there’s always some crafty vineyard owner working in his lab to perfect a new blend, or breed a new varietal, or bring something new to the party. That’s what makes wine fun…an endless variety of sensations, and endless invention. There’s always something more to learn and new curiosities along the way, like Alice’s rabbit hole.
I’ve had no wine training, and I’ve only been to a few informal tastings. But what I do have (on top of my fascination) is practice. Malcolm Gladwell made a popular observation that the difference between proficiency and mastery of anything we do is about 10,000 hours of practice. I’m pretty sure I’ve logged well over that amount with my nose shoved deep into a half-full glass…
So you can understand that I was happy to be invited into the Rogue Estate’s inner circle of epicurean miscreants…if just to share a little of that enthusiasm with them, and with you.
For my first Rogue’s dinner, I offered to pair a couple bottles to the menu, which was described to me simply thus:
Littleneck clams on the half-shell w/ cold Ramp green puree
Fresh Pea soup, Ramp white garnish
Seared Salmon, Strawberry Beurre Rouge, Balsamic Roasted Asparagus, Lemon-Ramp Rice”
Here’s what I showed up with and a few tasting notes.
Willamette Valley Pinot Gris are what I usually reach for when there’s shellfish in front of me. Extremely light in color–think straw with a faint green/grey hue. Supple citrus flavors dominate, mostly lime, with a background of honeysuckle and honeydew. A great palate cleanser, and suited to simple mild flavors–light cheeses, vegetables and a hit with littlenecks on the half-shell. About $13.
Lovely color–a bright pink with just a hint of amber.. Consistently receiving a score in the upper 80s by most reviewers this wine represents a serious value. Bright strawberry notes and a watermelon freshness that’s irresistible (lack of oak helps here). A hint of caramel on the moderate finish. A great foil for fresh spring vegetables and fish. Just enough acidity to stand up to Jack’s beurre rouge. About $8.
Picking a good wine to pair with a dish is fun, but not something I’ve done a lot of. I expect that there will be good nights and bad nights. I encourage you to ditch the rulebook and remember that the best wine to drink with anything is the one that tastes good to you.
Now, are you interested in coming along with me to see how deep this rabbit hole goes?
One of the biggest mysteries to home cooks, it seems, is how to make sauces like the professionals. To this i have only three words to say. Stock, stock, and stock! It’s not hard to make at home, keeps well frozen, and will make a world of difference. So why don’t more people learn the ways of stock making? Well, the time involved might be one reason. Another might be the availability of pre-made substitutes, like “broth” and now even pre-made stock itself. However, broths have way too much sodium to use in a reduction sauce (or any sauce for that matter), even the “low sodium” varieties, and even the pre-made stocks have too much sodium and not enough gelatin to make a rich and unctuous demi-glace. The only resort left to the home cook is to make it ones self. But there are some things that need to be kept in mind when the decision has been made to undertake this noble art.
First, to roast or not to roast (the bones). You’ll get deeper, richer color and flavor if you roast the bones, but will that suit the dish being prepared? A lighter spring dish, possibly not. This is generally just a point of preference, but if you’re making a veggie stock I would definitely roast them a little just to add some color (remember, color=flavor!) before putting them in the stock pot and adding any liquid. Escoffier (if you don’t know who Escoffier is, check the links I included) makes a distinction between stocks made with roasted bones and those without. Calling those with roasted “brown stocks” and those without “white”. This terminology has long been industry standard.
Having made your decision on this, next we consider our aromatics, the vegetables used for background depth and aroma. Typically this is a mix of equal parts onion, celery and carrots, the classic French mirepoix. I have also seen recipes that call for 2 parts onion, 1part celery, and 1 part carrot. Leeks and other green onions also make a nice addition. Bay leaves, whole black peppercorns, whole garlic cloves and herb stems are pretty standard as well. Though with herb stems it’s always best to err on the side of caution using only mild herbs such as parsley and thyme. Rosemary, tarragon, and the like are easy to over use and may not be suited to every application of the finished stock, such as a reduction sauce.
The amount of water used is crucial, as well. It should be just enough to cover all the ingredients. Too much and you’ll have to reduce it longer, too little and you won’t get the proper flavor extraction from the bones and vegetables.
How long and what temperature to simmer a stock at is also something I should cover, as this is of extreme importance to the clarity, gelatin content and flavor of the end product. You don’t want to bring your stock to a full boil, in any case. This makes any proteins extracted from the bones tighten up and cause the stock to be cloudy and murky. Affecting flavor as well, it could cause some bitterness. A gentle simmer, where the surface of the water is just barely rolling and little if any bubbles are surfacing is ideal. Here is a simple table of guidelines to follow as far as simmering time goes:
Vegetable stock = 20-30 minutes
Fish stock (also known as fumet) = 40 minutes – 1 hour
Poultry stock = 6-8+ hours
Meat stock = 8-12 hours
Now for a basic stock recipe. We’ll go with chicken since it’s the most versatile.
3-4 pounds of chicken carcasses, washed and (optional) browned in a moderate oven, 325ish
1/2-1 pound white or Spanish onion, roughly chopped (if using leeks as well only 1 pound)
1/2 pound celery, roughly chopped
1/2 pound carrots, roughly chopped
1/2 pound leeks, washed and roughly chopped or 1/4 pound of scallions
4 whole garlic cloves
3-5 bay leaves (depending on size)
1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns
10 parsley stems
10 thyme stems
Sweat the vegetables and garlic briefly in the bottom of a tall stockpot in a small amount of light oil. Add the rest of the ingredients, and just enough water to cover. Simmer for the amount of time specified above, and gently skim off any scum that rises to the surface with as little agitation as possible, another thing that contributes to cloudy stock. So by NO means stir it. Strain through a fine mesh strainer, lightly tapping the side of the strainer. Don’t try mashing it through or otherwise scraping the inside of the strainer, it’ll leave the stock murky. After it has cooled down place it in the refrigerator. When it has been chilled and the fat has risen to the surface and solidified, remove the fat and from here you can package the stock (which should resemble loose Jello at this point) in air tight 1 quart containers and freeze it for several months. Or, if you know you will use it soon and in small amounts, put it in an ice cube tray, or both. Don’t be too hasty in throwing away that fat though! It makes a great fat component in the place of butter for roux, which will totally crank up the volume of flavor you can get out of a chicken sauce or gravy you might be thinkin to use the stock for! Keep it in a sealed container in the ‘fridge if you plan on using it within the week, or freeze it for a couple months.
The only real difference between this and other preparations I mentioned in the time table is the differing bones used. For fish you should sweat the washed bones as for the vegetables, and if using fish heads cut out the gills. Spines and heads are best, and choose a fish that’s not too oily. Halibut spines are one of the best to use, as well as sturgeon. Salmon, mackerel, and sardines are a bit too strong and oily for stock. If you have salmon bones they can be used as long as the stock is going to be utilized in a heavy dish, like a fish stew. Beyond that, the ingredients are pretty much the same. Some tweeking may be required for different applications once a little more experience is gained, but that should be a good start. Consomme is any stock further clarified to get a glass clear product, but that is a post all unto it’s self and a procedure that many professionals even have a hard time getting right.
For meat stocks, like beef, veal, venison, and lamb, roasting the bones and vegetables is more common, but still optional. Again, keep in mind what you will most likely use the stock for. Soups? Don’t roast. Stews? Up to you. For a demi-glace, the undisputed king of sauces, veal stock is used, but even here roasting is a matter of preference. If you do decide to roast the bones and vegetables, half way through the roasting of the bones brush them with tomato paste and allow it to brown slightly. This suits a demi-glace well since there will be tomatoes further in the process.
So, that said, here’s another recipe. For Demi-Glace:
2 gallons good veal stock
1/2 pound of shallots, sliced
4-5 garlic cloves, sliced
1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns
1/4 cup tomato paste
1 bottle (750 ml) good medium bodied red wine, Shiraz is my personal favorite
4-5 whole thyme stems
1 inch sprig of rosemary
1 teaspoon Red Wine vinegar
2-3 Bay leaves
The ideas and recipes above are all French or French inspired. The Japanese, however, utilize stock as well, and have a very different approach. The most common stock used, and one of the key ingredients to Japanese cooking, is Dashi stock. This is made by steeping Katsuo Bushi (Skipjack Tuna, also known as Bonito) that’s been dried and shaved paper thin along with Konbu (dried kelp) in water, much like making tea. There are readily available packets of shaved Katsuo at any Japanese grocer, and ready made Dashi No-Moto (Bonito stock base granules) as well. So it’s really a matter of what level of dedication you have to reproducing this at home. I can tell you from experience the only real difference in any of these approaches is the salt content. The ready made Dashi No-Moto soup base has some salt content, where as you can regulate that yourself if you buy the shaved Bonito or whole dried variety and shave yourself. However, most restaurants, even in Japan, opt for the Dashi base. The salt content is minimal and you only ever use Dashi for lighter preparations, so you don’t need to use much, and it’s never used in heavy reduction sauces so you don’t have to worry about concentrating the salt content. That said, I would highly recommend the Dashi base in this case. The flavor profile is pretty much the same, and can be altered, in any case.
Since we’re on the subject of stock/soup bases, let me tell you my personal opinion on them, as a chef. They are a good thing! Surprised? I’m not advocating them as the main flavor component, by any means. If your stock sucks, your sauce is gonna suck, bottom line. I am, however, advocating them as a flavor enhancement, to be added at the end of the sauce making process. What’s the most prevalent flavor in a base? Salt. Be it powdered, cubed, paste, what have you, they’re all mostly salt. So treat them as such. A flavored salt, to add your salt content to whatever you are cooking and an extra flavor boost at the same time. Keep in mind the components, though, and add the base that is appropriate. Chicken base to chicken stock sauces, mushroom base to sauces that have mushrooms in them, ect. This can be an amazing way to enhance your cooking of pretty much anything.
The most important thing in great sauce making is tasting while you go. Every step of the process, taste it! After a couple tries at making the same sauce or soup you’ll get to know what it tastes like at different stages of the preparation. This will help you guide the process to achieve the desired results. Indeed, this is an important concept in ANY cooking. Taste as you go, and taste often! In most professional kitchens there are huge boxes of disposable plastic spoons for this very reason. Tasting spoons are a cheap, one use, sanitary way to keep your cooking on the right track.
I could speak volumes on the subject of sauces (there is a reason why the sauce maker, or “saucier”, is the most highly respected position in a French kitchen), but I’m not tryin to write a damn book here. I’m trying to show that restaurant quality soups and sauces are very much achievable at home. All it takes is a little knowledge, and the desire to cook better and healthier. If there is anything I didn’t cover that you are still curious about, please feel free to ask in the comments.
Thanks for reading. Until next time, live well and eat better!
I’m typically not one to use this forum simply to soapbox, so as I wax vitriol on this subject which is burning a hole in my head for a while, I’ll also present some first steps towards a better way of doing things in the hopes that this article stands as more than just a rant.
As close as I can figure, it all started with the invention of the TV Dinner. The villainy of cooking real food and taking the time to enjoy a real meal. The proliferation of fast food, handy snacks, minute rice – a seemingly never ending torrent of science experiments in shrink wrapped packages with artistic renderings of whatever original food we’re supposed to believe the space-age contents resembles.
Much of the twisted cooking and eating attitudes of contemporary society can be directly attributed to the advertising media driving the commercial food marketplace. Six generations of print, radio, television and now internet ads designed to convince a population which in reality has more free time than ever that it simply does not have any time to cook or eat real food. That the very concept of preparing meals from scratch and eating them out of view of the television is downright un-American!
The results: a majority of the US Population is not just overweight, but downright FAT. Yes, I said it. We’re FAT. Unhealthy is only the beginning of it – committing a slow suicide bite by chemically created bite is more accurate. No one wants to hear it, but the fact is that no amount of Wii Fit, magic pills or “diet” soda is going to pull us out of this culinary death spiral until we collectively change our attitudes about food and eating.
What can be done? Based on my own experience, it starts at the market. Changing one’s food shopping and buying habits is a big first step. Shop more frequently, purchase less junk. Stop eating fast food. Don’t stock the freezer with microwave garbage. The simple rule is this: REAL FOOD ROTS. If an item has an expiration date around the time of the next presidential election, it is a science experiment, not a meal. Read the labels of the pre-processed, pre-packaged items. Not all packaged food items are bad, of course. There is nothing wrong with a well stocked pantry of tinned and dry goods that last for a while and are good for you. Tomato paste is a great staple, just buy the stuff that’s only tomatoes, no HFCS or weird chemicals.) Author Michael Pollan states it best, in my opinion: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”
Next is cooking. The word intimidates a lot of people. It shouldn’t. Preparing a meal for yourself or your family need not be a day long ordeal. There are a multitude of resources from TV shows to cookbooks targeted specifically at preparation of healthy meals in 30 minutes or less. Start simple and build your way up from there. Ask a parent or a friend for help. There is no shame in learning to feed yourself or your family. If you mess up, try again. Need ideas? What were your favorite fast food / convenience food items pretending to be? Find a recipe to create those dishes using fresh identifiable ingredients and work from there. Still at a loss? write to us here at the Rogue Estate and we’ll happily provide guidance.
Which brings us to: the act of eating. We all have some terrible habits when it comes to eating. We moved from large family dinners at designated times and places to mindlessly sucking down synthetic mush alone in our cars. Do we need to become the Brady Bunch? No, although it would probably not hurt, I realize for many it’s impractical. Family units are smaller and often fragmented. More people live alone in America than ever. Regardless, meal time needs exactly that: TIME. Take a few moments to plate your food, sit at a table, turn off the TV / laptop / other distraction. Slow down, TASTE your food. Chew, savor, enjoy. Be conscious of each bite, eat less, enjoy it more. Even if it’s only ten minutes eating from a paper plate using a plastic fork, you’ll be on your way to a better existence.
Breaking bad habits is definitely not the easiest thing to do, but it is essential if we as a society are to stop killing ourselves with every swallow. I’m practicing what I preach: I stopped eating fast food back in the 90′s. I rarely drink soda pop and when I do, I avoid those with HFCS, opting for only genuine cane sugar. I don’t eat in the car unless absolutely necessary. I read the labels on every packaged food item and reject those with more chemicals, salts and sugars than actual produce in them. My favorite part of the lifestyle: I dine with friends whenever I can, sharing the meal and the experience.
I’m not prefect by any stretch, but I can tell you quite proudly that a recent physical exam showed that while still classified as overweight, I am healthier than the average person my age. My Blood pressure, cholesterol levels, sugars and such are all well within the really good to really great levels. Unlike most of my family, I’ve also not developed type 2 diabetes. I attribute these results directly to my attitudes toward cooking and eating. If I can do it, I think anyone can succeed.
This is all certainly the tip of the iceberg and I concede to some generalizations on the subject – despite that, I hope I’ve gotten my point across and given you *ahem* some food for thought. I welcome your questions, suggestions and opinions in the comments.
Eat better, live better. Let’s do this thing.