Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Cooking with Confidence Culinary Series

Confident Cooking with Allyson

In developing our confident cooking series almost nine years ago, we began with the simple premise – when you are confident in your cooking skills, you simply enjoy time spent in the kitchen more and achieve better results. Teaching folks the fundamentals of the culinary arts, gives them the ability to tackle just about any recipe and have fun doing it. I have long believed that great chefs need to have artistic skills, understanding of science, chemistry and math, and at the same time be curious, intuitive and always willing to innovate. In the nine years of teaching this program, sometimes as often as 4 times per week, I have had the privilege of working with more than 3,000 students, with all levels of culinary skills, helping them gain more confidence in their cooking.

To do this, we have broken down this technique based series into 10 segments. Each segment includes an overview of the specific technique, and several recipes that demonstrate the specific topic. Each segment was designed as a weekly demonstration class, with students completing homework based on the recipes presented. Starting with Stocks and Broths, each lesson is designed to introduce new, more challenging culinary techniques, building on the previous lessons and expanding the student’s knowledge of key culinary terms, cooking techniques, kitchen tools and ingredients. By understanding the technique, as well as the science behind the technique, students are then able to adapt recipes to their own personal tastes, or to cook from scratch without a recipe. The overriding premise is “there isn’t just one way to cook!”

Over the course of teaching this program, I have continued to refine the lesson plans, include new recipes, introduce new flavor profiles, and adapt the recipes to make them even easier to understand for students. I am excited to present this weekly series to fellow foodies, looking to gain more confidence in the kitchen. Each week, for the next ten weeks, I will publish a new lesson plan for you to read, enjoy, practice and share your results with your friends and family. I encourage you to try at least one recipe per week and then report on your efforts through posting a comment. At the end of the series, you will receive the Confident Cooking quiz to help you analyze which lesson plans you may need to review again.

I welcome your participation, discussions and additional recipes as part of an interactive culinary exchange. Let’s get cooking!

Confident Cooking with Allyson ©2000

Lesson 1: Soups, Stocks and Broths

White Stock - Brown Stock - Roasted Vegetable Stock - Crème Olga - French Onion Soup

When a recipe calls for broth or stock, many home chefs pull out a bouillon cube or canned. The end results are usually too salty and lack depth of flavor. Not many of us think we have time to make stock from scratch on a regular basis, yet making stock is one of the most cost-effective and most flavorful ways to enhance our favorite dishes. These days, it just makes sense to maximize all of our grocery purchases. The best part about stock, you can use many ingredients that would simply be thrown away – carrot tops, peels and bottoms, celery tops, onion skins, potato skins, poultry, pork and beef bones, parsley stems, mushroom stems, and vegetables or meats that simply would not look good on your plate. And it’s easy to keep a supply of these throw away ingredients on hand whenever you have time to simmer up a batch. Simply wash and pat dry any produce leftovers and place in a freezer bag. Be sure to date and list the ingredients on the outside of the bag and place in your freezer (freeze up to three months). You can use these ingredients in addition to other vegetables, fresh proteins, dried and fresh herbs and spices.

The stock recipes that follow include mostly whole vegetables and fresh protein; however you can use approximate measurements for any of your leftovers. A good rule of thumb is for every ¾ pound of protein, use 1 carrot, 1 stalk celery, 1 onion, 2 garlic cloves, 2 sprigs thyme and parsley, 4 black peppercorns, and about 6 cups cold water. Stocks freeze well, so you can always keep some on hand.

You can also make quick versions, using more concentrated quantities of ingredients and less water. Probably the most familiar quick broths used in home kitchens today are from simmering necks and innards from turkey, chicken or other poultry which is then used to make homemade gravy. Many home chefs will also cook poultry carcasses after roasting to make a batch of stock for homemade soups.

Making great stock is not difficult, yet takes time, patience and low heat. A good quality stock makes all recipes that much better by providing a delicious base on which to build additional flavor layers. As a base, it’s important not to include ingredients that have strong flavor profiles or you risk overwhelming the other ingredients. Stay away from vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, asparagus, cabbage, radishes, bitter greens and beets as a general rule.

A few other points to remember when making stock:

Never let it boil for more than a minute – bring it up to a boil and quickly reduce heat to allow it to simmer gently

Never cover the pot as this causes the steam to condense on the lid and then flow back into the stock, making it cloudy. Covering the pot also means less evaporation which is essential to making concentrated flavors.

Don’t stir the pot – this will only make the stock cloudy.

Don’t add salt to your stock – remember this is a base – season your finish dish, not the base or you risk over salting.

When making stock from a chicken or turkey carcass, a couple of other thoughts to consider:
1. Use the carcass quickly, without allowing it to get stale;
2. Don’t cook a carcass too long, or it can become strong and bitter;
3. Whenever possible, add a small amount of raw meat, such as veal, chicken or beef, and some uncooked marrow-filled bones to your stocks to provide more body and flavor.

One quick note on the differences between stocks and broths – most recipes call for one or the other, yet they can be used interchangeably. Older recipes generally call for stock, while newer recipes generally call for broth. The biggest difference noted in recipes are that broths generally call for meat and vegetables, while stock usually includes bones, as well as meat (sometimes) and vegetables.

Recipes for Lesson 1 include a white stock (can be poultry or red meat, but is made using un-roasted meats and vegetables, a brown stock (usually made with red meat, marrow bones and vegetables, roasted in the oven first), a roasted vegetable stock – technically a brown broth since it is roasted and does not include bones.

For occasions when a small quantity of stock is called for in a soup recipe, use the following oven roasted brown stock recipe.

Simple Oven Brown Stock:

¾ lb. stew meat or chicken (breasts, thighs, tenders), cut in 1” pieces
1 carrots, cut in 2” pieces
1 stalks celery, cut in 2” pieces
1 medium onion, cut in half, not peeled
1 tomato, cut into quarters
1 cloves garlic, smashed with back of a knife
1 Tbs. Canola Oil
2 sprigs each parsley, thyme
1 bay leaf
4 black peppercorns
6 cups cold water

Preheat oven to 375° F. Place all meat, vegetables and garlic in bottom of Dutch oven or roasting pan. Drizzle canola oil over top and toss with a spoon to distribute well. Place pan in oven and roast for approximately 20 minutes. Remove pan from oven, add in water, herbs and spices. Return pan to oven and bring mixture up to a simmer. Use a spoon to skim off impurities and fat that rise to the top. Reduce heat to 250° F, and continue to cook for about an hour. Remove stock from oven and let cool for 15 minutes. Strain through a fine sieve. Yield is approximately 5 cups of clear stock.

Lesson 1 Recipes - White Chicken Stock

Makes approximately 3 quarts.

One whole chicken (about 3 to 4 lbs.), cut into quarters with poultry shears and/or cleaver
2 medium onions, cut into quarters, skin left in tact
2 stalks celery, washed, cut into 1” pieces
2 carrots, washed but not peeled, cut into 1” pieces
3 ½ quarts cold water
3 garlic cloves, smashed
1 bay leaf
3 sprigs fresh thyme,
4 sprigs parsley, stems included
2 whole cloves
8 black peppercorns

Place chicken in bottom of tall-sided, heavy-bottomed stockpot. Add mirepoix (onion, celery, and carrots) of vegetables to pan. Add in garlic. Place bay leaf, fresh herbs, cloves and peppercorns on a small piece of cheesecloth and tie into a neat bundle using kitchen twine. Alternatively, you can use a bouquet garni bag, reusable tea bag, or large tea infuser to hold the herbs as well. Place herb bundle on top of vegetable and add in cold water.

This specific combination of herbs and spices, tied into a little bundle is called bouquet garni in France. Securing the herbs and spices makes it easy to retrieve after cooking and helps keep your stock clear. It’s not necessary to keep your herbs in a little bundle as you will be straining your finished stock, but many chefs feel that it does create a clearer stock.

Place pan over medium heat and bring mixture just up to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer. Skim off any foam or impurities that rise to the surface. Allow to simmer for 2 to 3 hours, skimming surface as often as necessary. Be sure to keep water level above bones.


Turn off heat and let pan sit for a couple of minutes to allow stock to settle. Using a chinois (China cap strainer), double fine mesh strainer, or colander lined with cheese cloth, carefully strain the liquid into a clean container. Cool to room temperature and refrigerate overnight. The next day the fat will have solidified and be easy to remove. Store in refrigerator for up to one week, or in freezer for up to six months.

Lesson 1 Recipes - Brown Beef Stock

Makes approximately 3 ½ quarts.

2 onions, cut into quarters, skin left on
2 carrots, washed but not peeled, cut into 2” pieces
2 stalks celery, washed, cut into 2” pieces
1 leek, sliced lengthwise, washed thoroughly
2 medium tomatoes, quartered
5 lbs. beef marrow bones (ask your butcher)
2 Tbs. canola oil
3 lbs. beef stew meat, cut into 2” pieces
4 quarts cold water
4 garlic cloves, smashed
1 bay leaf
3 sprigs fresh thyme,
4 sprigs parsley, stems included
2 whole cloves
8 black peppercorns

Preheat oven to 400°F. Place bones in large roasting pan. Drizzle canola oil over bones and toss to coat. Roast bones for about 20 minutes, or until browned. Add stew meat, mirepoix (carrots, onion and celery), leek, tomatoes, and garlic. Continue to roast for another 20 minutes, or until vegetables have browned. Remove pan from oven. With slotted spoon, remove bones, meat, and vegetables from roasting pan and transfer to large, heavy-bottomed stockpot.

Deglaze roasting pan by adding one cup of water and stirring over low heat until all brown bits (fond) loosen and dissolve. Pour water and juices from roasting pan into stockpot. Add in bouquet garni or loose herbs and spices. Pour remaining cold water into stockpot and place pan over medium heat. Bring mixture just up to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for at least of 4 hours, and as long as 8 hours, skimming off impurities as necessary.

Strain stock into clean container and discard solids. Cool to room temperature and refrigerate up to one week, or in freeze for up to six months.

Lesson 1 Recipes - Roasted Vegetable Stock

Makes approximately 2 quarts.

½ lb. crimini mushrooms, brushed clean, trimmed
2 large yellow onions, cut into quarters, skins left on
1 leek, sliced lengthwise and washed thoroughly, cut into 2” pieces
2 carrots, washed but not peeled, cut into 2” pieces
2 stalks celery, washed, cut into 2” pieces
2 medium red potatoes, scrubbed, cut in half, skin left on
3 medium tomatoes cut in half
2 Tbs. olive oil
4 cloves garlic, smashed
10 cups cold water
1 bay leaf
3 sprigs fresh thyme
4 sprigs parsley, stems included
2 whole cloves
6 black peppercorns
Pinch of red pepper flakes

Place vegetables into large roasting pan. Drizzle with olive oil, mix to coat well. Roast for approximately 50 minutes, or until vegetables have browned (caramelized) and softened. Add garlic and roast for 15 additional minutes.

Remove roasting pan from oven. Transfer vegetables to stockpot. Deglaze roasting pan with one cup of water, and pour liquid over vegetables in stockpot. Add remaining water, pepper flakes and
bouquet garni or loose herbs and spices. Bring mixture to a boil over medium heat, reduce heat to low and allow mixture to simmer for 30 minutes.

Cool slightly before straining, then continue to cool until room temperature. Use immediately, refrigerate or freeze.

Five cups of vegetables to six cups of water, generally yields four to five cups of stock.

Other Vegetables: You can also add corn, squash, parsnips, other types of mushrooms. Vegetables to avoid include those in the cabbage family, eggplant and most strong greens.

Lesson 1 Recipes - Crème Olga Mushroom Soup

A delicate white soup with fresh mushrooms. Serves approximately 4.

5 Tbs. butter
¾ cup chopped green onions, white and light green parts only
4 Tbs. flour
5 cups stock (chicken or vegetable), kept warm
½ cup crème fraiche (or sour cream), + more for garnish
1½ cups white button mushrooms, brushed clean and trimmed
salt and fresh ground white pepper, to taste
pinch of cayenne pepper
Fresh chives, for garnish

Melt butter in heavy saucepan or saucier over medium-low heat. Add green onions to pan, stir until well coated with butter. Allow onions to cook for about 5 minutes, or until softened and slightly translucent.

Stir in flour, making a roux (equal parts fat and flour cooked together to create a thickening agent for sauces, soups and stews). Cook butter and flour over medium heat until mixture gives off a nutty aroma, approximately 2 to 3 minutes. This is called cooking out the flour and eliminates the unpleasant raw flour taste.

Begin adding stock to saucepan, whisking constantly as stock is added, adding a little at a time until all has been added. Bring mixture just up to a boil. Reduce heat slightly and simmer for 10 minutes. Season to taste with salt, pepper and a pinch of cayenne.

Meanwhile, slice about ¾ of the mushrooms and add these to the simmering stock. Using an immersion blender, lightly puree the mushroom mixture until the desired consistency is reached. Some like to leave it fairly chunky, while others prefer a smoother puree.

If you don’t have an immersion blender, add the sliced mushrooms to the bowl of a food processor or to a blender. Using a ladle, add about 2 cups of the hot stock mixture to the food processor or blender. Be careful to secure the lid firmly and to not overload the amount of hot liquid in either the blender or food processor. Pulse until desire consistency is reached. Return pureed mushrooms to saucepan with remaining stock mixture.

Lesson 1 Recipes - Classic French Onion Soup

Serves approximately 6.

2 Tbs. unsalted butter
2 Tbs. olive oil
4 large yellow onions (not sweet onions), skins removed, cut in half, root to tip, thinly sliced
1 Tbs. dried thyme or 2 Tbs. fresh thyme
8 cups homemade beef stock (kept warm)
¼ cup dry sherry or red wine (optional)
1½ tsp. kosher salt
¾ tsp. fresh ground black pepper
12 slices of baguette, approximately 1/3” thick
1 cup grated gruyere cheese

Melt butter in large soup pot set over medium heat. Add olive oil and allow to heat through. Add onions and cook slowly over medium heat until onions soften and begin to turn golden, about 35 minutes, stirring frequently.

Reduce heat and add thyme. Continue cooking, stirring often, until onions have turned a rich golden brown, about 10 minutes more. When onions have caramelized, deglaze pan with sherry or wine. Increase heat and continue to cook, stirring constantly, until alcohol has cooked off, about 3 minutes.

Next, ladle in beef stock and bring mixture to a boil. Reduce heat and allow soup to simmer for approximately 15 to 20 minutes more. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper.

Top soup with toasted baguette slices and Gruyere cheese. If serving in ovenproof bowls, place soup under broiler to melt cheese, about 5 minutes. Or, you can place baguette slices on a silpat or parchment paper lined cookie sheet. Preheat oven to 450°F. Sprinkle baguette slices with grated gruyere and bake for 8 to 10 minutes, or until cheese begins to brown.