Soup (er)

So, I’ve done like a zillion broth recipes on this blog now (here, here, and here). Mostly because one can never have too much broth, and broth is a staple for lots of amazing recipes. The most obvious type of recipe being soup.

The start of many classic soups is a mirepoix.

The start of many classic soups is a mirepoix.

Soups are a staple of many kitchens, and though they seem simple there are lots of places where people go wrong. They are fickle beasts, going from a bowl of warm comfort to bland “meh” in only a few steps away. Soups shouldn’t taste like they’ve been boiling in a pot for hours, and they should have more than one flavour note. They shouldn’t be “in between”- bold or simple, smooth or chunky…. none of this halfway business, or it will start to taste or feel like an incomplete attempt. Pick what you want out of your soup and go with it.

Layers, bb.

Layers, bb.

There are some basic essentials, that are important across the board:

Broth. The right broth makes all the difference- it is the basis for all soups, and makes all the difference. You can tell just by the smell when soups are made with store bought broth- they just don’t have any depth, they don’t coat your mouth because of a lack of gelatin, and they are essentially void of nutrients. If you don’t have any broth on hand, I recommend at least using an old vegetarian trick and using the soaking liquid from dried mushrooms (simple- dried mushrooms, cover in boiling water for 20 minutes, drain liquid and use) and caramelizing some onions in place of beef broth. Also, for certain vegetable or pureed soups the cooking liquid may be all that is required- keep that in mind when you are needing something quick.

Broth- tired of hearing how much it's a staple yet?

Broth- tired of hearing how much it’s a staple yet?

 

Texture. Velvety, crunchy, tender, and pebbled are all textures. Whatever one you are going with, you want to go all the way with. Little chunks doesn’t equal velvety, and wilted doesn’t equal crunchy. The mouth feel goes a long way in the initial impression, and is especially important to the more picky eaters among us. Commit to a texture and go with it.

Sometimes, it's all found in what you put on the top.

Sometimes, it’s all found in what you put on the top.

Acid. So many soups would benefit from a shot of something acidic to make the flavours pop. Fresh lime or lemon squeezed over at the end, a bit of vinegar, splash of wine- something to bring everything together. Without acid many soups fall flat.

Salt. Add enough! Seriously, nothing worse than a bland soup. Acid can change the perception of salt, so don’t finish salting until you add the acid.

Over the next couple of weeks I’m going to cover the pureed soup, the pour-over, and the stew. Hopefully it will be enough to get you through this cold (freaking cold, wtf mother nature, -26 is not cool) winter weather!

I feel like I should also take the opportunity emphasize this point again and again: most of what I am putting out there is way more technique than recipe. There are literally millions of recipes at your fingertips at this moment- I don’t want to out myself, but all the formulations of food I will ever have on this blog have been done before, in some kitchen, somewhere in the world.  Shhh! Other bloggers and food writers know that the same is true for them- it’s like porn, if the thought even occurs to you; it is on the internet somewhere.  The only things I can give you that may be useful, in my opinion, is the memory of techniques that you can turn into your own thing. I don’t know what your taste is like, how salty you like your food, how spicy, how strong- that is up for you to taste and adjust for. I know your pantry is probably not perfectly stocked, and you might have this, but not that, and you have a handful of this to use up…that’s just reality. For people that make most of their own meals, a majority of the time you are going from memory, technique, or necessity, not a recipe. That is usually the ultimate goal- the flexibility to make something with what you have, and to do that you may have to read recipes and extract useful techniques or idea. So hopefully this helps- I try and provide enough explanation and background to facilitate that process, and the actual amounts are given as mere suggestions. So, keep this in mind for the upcoming soup “recipes”.

And remember: when you have nothing else in common but snow peas and not talking, there’s always soup.

 

Something Responsible.

So, as millions of other people across Canada can relate to, I have been waiting for a doctor’s appointment. We all know the drill- show up at an office with your life in shambles streaming incoherent sentences out of your blubbering face, have an encounter with a medical professional of some sort, get a slip of paper, and enroll in a strange religion which involves praying for cancellations of other people who probably need that appointment just as much as you do. I ran through that drill last September, and this week I got the appointment I waited so much for.

 Appointments are great things, and specialists can work all kinds of wonders. As much as I believe that your health is your business, and to that extent something you should have power over, no matter how perfectly your symptoms match webmd it’s always a good idea to eliminate the possibility that it is something else before you go around fixing the symptoms on your own. So I am grateful for my appointment, and grateful for the many wonderful doctors (who trump the bad doctors, even though the bad doctors are hard to forget) who have helped me throughout the years. No matter how many suspicions people have of conventional medicine, there is no chiropractor in the world I would have wanted to do my heart surgeries (unless she/he doubled up as a cardiologist).

 That being said, I’ve noticed that I’ve been leaning on this future appointment as a crutch in the last four months. Because I was stuck with not knowing exactly what’s going on, I carried on like getting a diagnosis was going to give me magical insight on what to do. That was wishful thinking- even if I showed up at the door and left with a slip of paper that said “you have endometriosis, don’t worry, it’s not in your head and you aren’t going crazy and making all this shit up even though you sometimes wonder because it gets so bad you start to question every feeling you have”, besides having a lot of validation, what was I going to get out of it? I know that no matter what I have, getting plenty of sleep is good for me. Eating nutritious food, avoiding foods that I know cause inflammation, that is good for me. Moving when I can and avoiding sitting for any length of time at all costs (death to my pelvis, whoever invented the chair did not have endo) is good for me. Paying attention to my body, recording triggers, getting a baseline, that is good for me.

 The one thing I did line up for myself is going part time for school. That saved my sanity and gave me the wiggle room I needed to take some stress off my body. It allowed me to start volunteering with an organization I love, read more books related to my health, pick up hobbies, take a yoga class, and cook food from scratch. Sure, sometimes I watched Game of Thrones marathons and wondered what had become of my life- but I needed the chance to do that. To just chill out and spend a few hours wrapped in a heating pad drinking tea. I’ve always packed my schedule, which I appreciate because I still believe that the more you do the more you can do, but taking just one course off the table was exactly what needed to give.

 School was a pretty easy change though- it just meant ticking off one less course and finding a volunteer gig to inspire me. The other things- paying attention to my body and recording what is happening with it- is a bit harder to implement. It takes time and attention. Sometimes you just want to ignore that stuff- if I don’t face the fact that sitting all day makes it really hard to walk the next day and making my weird stiff-right-leg limp worse, then I get to continue sitting all day. That’s easy to do, even if it makes things harder in the long run.

 Even though I know a lot of things that would improve the way I feel, there are still lots of things I haven’t explored that may be very useful. I’ve had a really hard time getting good information on endometriosis- a lot of the advice out there lumps poly cystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) in with endo, even though they are very different. Most of the medical interventions are pretty heavy-duty hormonal drugs and most of the alternative interventions are poorly studied. Though it would be completely anecdotal, I would like to try out a few promising management tools or interventions to see if they have any affect on my pain- who knows, other folks may find it useful too.

 So there’s going to be a bit more blogging about me and my lifestyle going on- for accountability and community I suppose. It just seems like a good idea to have other people on board and reading, especially if they have tried any of these things or have any advice for me. I need to take a bit more responsibility for my health, to give myself some room to heal, or even room to drink a bottle of wine and stay up half the night every once in a while (because hey, I’m still barely in my 20’s, I should be able to do irresponsible things without being crippled).

 

My appointment did go really well- had a wonderfully respectful gynecologist with a very adorably novice overly-serious medical student. I am waiting for a laparoscopy because I decided that a diagnosis is important for me. In the meantime though, it’s time to take this on.

Nose over tail over nose.

One of the things about returning to meat eating after bouts of vegetarianism (including some flirting with veganism) is that a lot of the reasons why I stopped eating meat, namely animal cruelty and amount of unused animal parts thrown away to produce boneless, skinless, plastic wrapped meat, are still 100% valid.

I still love animals, so much. I always have been and always will be a total and complete animal person. Sebas and I frequent parks during “dog hours” to go “dog watching” and both experience severe internal melting when we see cute pictures of animals. I feel deeply that the next short-as-possible while in my life will be my “pre-dog” years. We want to foster cats in the near future. I have gotten in arguments with bitchy chickens while I oggle their chicklet babies, and am respectfully in awe and terrified of swans. I find being licked by cows hilarious, and there’s no feeling quite like riding a horse. My heart broke when my two pet rats (RIP Cam and Mitchel!) passed away. It is my dream to one day have a modest piece of property crawling with critters. I even love spiders, bugs, and worms (including a certain pet hopping spider and worm named Tony from childhood). I know that animals are inquisitive, intelligent, hilarious, loving, and brilliant- I do, after all, consider myself among their ranks. We are one of the same, a fact that is often forgotten.

There are plenty of moral complexities and dilemmas connected to eating meat. I’ve touched on it in a previous post, and will continue to address it in the future. In this post, however, I am going to talk a bit about taking the sting out of meat consumption by eating the “odd bits”. The funny bits on the top shelf of the grocery store, hiding in the freezer, or behind the butchers counter. The necks and feet and tongues and organs and tails. Nose to tail eating is experiencing a resurgence as meat prices rise and the cost of eating only deboned muscle meat becomes clear. I recently learned in a food fundamentals class that “only 30% of chicken is edible” after discarding the fat, bones, and organs. That KILLS me- if I weigh a bone before and after making bone broth, it loses more than half the weight depending on the kind of bone. I gain all the nutrients from the bones, save the fat from the top, and use the organ meats to make a nutritious gravy or a whole other meal. No one in our history would even consider tossing nutrients in the garbage, so I don’t see how we view that as a rule now.

With great use of all parts of the animal, though, comes a bit of responsibility. Organs, fat, and bones are great places to deposit toxins and antibiotics accumulated over the lifetime of an animal. Sourcing high quality meats, preferably free of antibiotics and raised in healthy living conditions, becomes more important if you are going to consume a lot of these odd bits of a regular basis. The trade off is, kindly, a smaller hit to your wallet as many of these odd bits are cheaper than their pure-muscle counterparts. Beef tongue, which is amazingly tender, comes in at about 1/2 the price of any beef roasts I can find at my butcher shop. Bones and scraps, which are sometimes bundled together and frozen, can be had for very reasonable prices. The decline in popularity in organs like liver and heart have made them very affordable even at high quality.

It takes a bit of hunting on how to cook these morsels, which can be had in the forms of cookbooks and blogs. I would recommend following a recipe or technique for a lot of these bits- “winging” a liver recipe isn’t for the faint of heart. A great book that I recently received for Christmas is “Odd Bits” by Jennifer McLagan. It is 234 pages of, well, everything starting at the front and ending at the back. Beautifully photographed with everything from the familiar (buillon, pork shoulder, corned beef, and grilled liver) to the very unfamiliar (heart tartare, tripe salad, pigs foot terrine, and crispy testicles). While I haven’t tried any recipes yet, it’s been an inspiration.

Odd Bits

So, yet another broth recipe. As you can see, this is my preferred scrap-stuff-use-it-up method. This time beef broth, made from beef neck. This is an “all in the pot” recipe that can be adapted for veal and lamb. Again, I recommend keeping a “bone bag” in the freezer where you can save up scraps until you are ready to make this recipe. If you are a big broth user/drinker, I would also recommend finding a good source of bones/scraps, because you will probably go through quite a bit.

The key to beef broth is coaxing out extra savory flavour. Unlike chicken broth, a generous amount of meat still on the bone is really important. Plenty of meat, browned on the outside in a hot oven or stovetop, will create an excellent flavour and leave you lots to pull off the bone and use in a stew. A combination of onions, red wine, dried mushrooms, and star anise will boost the “beefy” flavour. The red wine will also bump the acidity, helping to draw minerals out of the bones- you just need a couple splashes of pretty cheap wine (neighbor give you some home bottled stuff? perfect). If you want to be up to your neck in umami, browning the onions then adding a spoonful of tomato paste and sauteing it until the paste is brown, should take you over the edge. I, however, am mostly lazy. I brown the beef on the bone, arrange onions on the bottom with aromatics, then pour water/wine over the whole lot.

Yet again, with broth, it’s more of a technique than a recipe. Different bones have different mineral contents, come from animals of different ages, and carry different amounts of gelatin. All of these things are not like the other. You can take a bunch of ingredients, put them in a pot, cover it in water, and see what happens. Try it- if it is too _________ or not enough __________ you can adjust it- leave a question at the bottom if you are not sure how and I will get back to you. You won’t need measuring cups- just a handful of this and a few of these.

In the photos I took, I ended up with 9 cups of completely solid beef broth because there was so much gelatin. I used beef neck, which had so much meat on them, I added a few extra star anise, shredded the meat after it was cooked, and we had steaming bowls of pho for the next two dinners. You can also use marrow bones, knuckle bones, and any other bones. When using just marrow bones (which you can get in most freezer sections), add some beef stew meat or other beef scraps, because there usually isn’t adequate meat on them- 1 lb of stew meat for every 5 lbs of marrow bones is a good ratio, I find. If you have any leftover broth (not in my household, haha), freezing the extra in silicon muffin trays is my favourite method. Broth keeps for 4-7 days in the fridge. If your broth doesn’t adequately gelatinize, you can prepare the resulting liquid with powdered gelatin following the instructions on the package (usually 1 packet for every 3 cups). The gelatin is important for the distinct mouth feel broth gives, and also has health benefits. For the dutch oven or heavy bottomed pot method, check out here. In this post I’ll only be covering the good old slow cooker method!

Enjoy this savory elixir over 2013, hope it’s a good one!

Meaty goodness in the form of neck bones.

Meaty goodness in the form of neck bones.

Beef Bone Broth

~5 lbs of meaty bones (neck, marrow, and/or knuckle– but any bones really, beef, veal, or lamb)

2 onions

1 star anise

Several bay leaves (2 large, 3 medium, or 5 small is my rule of thumb)

Spoonful of peppercorns

Handful of dried mushrooms (can be purchased cheaply in ethnic grocery stores, such as the ones found in Chinatown)

Splash of red wine (1 cup? Just slosh some in there.)

1) Cut the onions in half and separate into layers. Arrange on the bottom of your slow cooker with mushrooms and spices.

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2) Brown the meat on the bones either in the oven or on the stovetop. In the oven, turn on the broiler and arrange bones on lined (parchment paper or silicon) cookie sheet. Broil for several minutes until brown, remove from oven, flip with tongs, and return to oven. Broil for several more minutes. On the stovetop, heat a small amount of oil in a heavy pan. Add one bone piece at a time, browning on both sides, then removing from the pan. When browning things, as always, keep a tea towel close in case your inconveniently close fire alarm goes off.

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3) Arrange meat on top of onions. Splash a bit of wine up in there. Add water until everything is happily submerged. Cook on low for 12-16 hours. Strain into a glass container and chill- reserve the solids to pull the meat off and enjoy later. If you want it pretty and clear later, strain through cheesecloth on the way in.

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4) Pull out of fridge. Remove the fat collected on the top- if it is a nice solid colour (not scummy) reserve for cooking use later (aka “tallow” if it’s beef fat).

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5) Enjoy your lovely, thick beef broth! If you found yours to be thin and watery, you can use powdered gelatin and prepare it according to the manufacturers instructions.

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