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Archive for December, 2009

We live in an apartment in Toronto – while we are fortunate to have lots of space inside our walls, very little of that is freezer space.  My entire freezer consists of the small chest above our fridge and some borrowed space in Markham (about a 30 minute drive from here).  This is part of the reason we can so much.

As we cook fairly often at home, I keep a jar of stock open at almost all times.  Stock is just a handy staple and something that`s tough to live without.  We use it in soup, pasta, to de-glaze pans, stirfrys, cooking rice, steaming anything and so forth.

We cooked a 23+ pound turkey for Xmas.  We had plenty of food for our guests and the entire lot feasted on leftovers before leaving us – and more turkey behind.  Although I like Turkey soup, eating it right after XMas can amount to 7 or 8 days of nothing but foul.  It was time for something different – we made our stock (tips on making great stocks were shared here) and left in a locked pressure cooker outside.  The cold weather chilled the stock and separated the fat to the surface while the pressure cooker served to lock raccoons out.  We left a plug on the top to further reduce the smell for curious critters.

From there, things were fairly simple.  We removed the fat, strained the entire concoction through cheesecloth and brought it back up to heat as we prepped our jars and pressure canner.  Hot liquid in hot clean jars before entering the cooker for a steam with 10 pounds of pressure for 20 minutes.  Timings were based on the US National Center of Home Preservation (our intro to them is here and their site can be found here).  The Canadian Government does not list canning meat or meat products as safe so I am turning to the U.S. Standard as personal preference.  Many in the far north and east coast of Canada would scoff at this as preserving meat in jars is a common tool of survival.  According to the NCFHP, there is no safe way to preserve this without pressure cooking.

We jarred 4.5 liters (18 cups).

I am so excited to have these 5 jars of stock on the shelf.  As we cook with them in coming months, each meal we have will contain a little bit of Holiday Magic and memories of sweet time with friends and family.  Preserving, to me, is about far more that what goes into the jars and more about what goes in to what goes in to the jars (it`s a bit of a tongue twister but there is some real sense in that :)).

That`s the final batch of the year.  53 batches, more than 700 jars.  It`s almost time for another year and another batch!

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Several big name Chefs have been raving about taking a blowtorch to a side of beef.  Thomas Keller and Heston Blumenthal (both with restaurants on the list of the top 10 in the world) have raved about using a torch to sear a prime rib; we had to give it a try.

The theory is straightforward – a prime rib is best served rare-medium rare acquired with low/slow cooking and most tasty when it is accompanied with a dark brown crust which is accomplished by high heat.  This is a difficult oxymoron to achieve – one objective interferes with the other.

A blowtorch is a source of high heat that will start to cook the surface of the prime rib without cooking the inside.  The technique is simple – light a torch and sear all exposed meat with the flame.  You are simply looking to make the surface grey (not dark brown) and the oven will continue to brown your meat and render the fat (even at low heat).  We did ours on a rack over a tray – the fat will start to render and drip into your pan.

Once the entire roast is grey, season it.  We chose a very simple seasoning of lots of salt and pepper.

The roast can now be put into the over at 275 degrees until the roast reaches a temperature of 128 degrees in the center.

It is important you let the roast rest once it is complete – we waited almost 30 minutes.

The results were full of flavour, cooked to perfection and just an awesome meal.

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Although this meal would be suitable for any evening that you wish, it is certainly a fine option for New Year.  It is a super easy meal to prepare and so many people avoid because of the perceived difficulty.  Cooking mussels is easier than boiling potatoes correctly.

Mussels are on sale this week at one of the large chains – though their prices are in kilograms, it amounts to $2.00 per pound.  Their normal price is $2.50 per pound.  It was common to see them at 99 cents per pound only a few years back.

The only two things you have to keep in mind for cooking this shellfish is that you only want to cook live ones and that you don’t eat the beards (a small grass-like piece which allows a mussel to attach to rocks and other anchors in the ocean).

Looking for live mussels is easy – you want to ensure the shells are closed.  If a shell is open, knock it on the counter a few times (not hard) – it should close over the next few minutes.  If it remains open, discard it.

Removing beards is also easy – simply pull them from the shell before or after cooking.

To cook this shellfish, add liquid to the bottom of a pan with a cover and bring to a boil.  You can use anything you want – white wine with garlic, coconut milk with curry paste and shallots or my all time favorite, tomato sauce.  A few bay leaves or pepper can be added – no need for salt.  You are steaming the mussels so there’s no need to cover them with liquid – and the mussels will add their own juices to whatever you are steaming them in, creating a salty brine that is amazing to dip bread into as you eat.

Each person will eat about a pound.  Add a jar of tomato sauce ($3), a no-knead bread ($2), fresh parsley to top it off ($2) and 4 pounds of mussels ($8) and you have a fabulous meal for $3.75 each.  Buying an extra 2 pounds (bringing the total to $4.75 each) would leave most everyone positively stuffed at the table.  Alternately you could skip on the extra mussels and buy coconut milk and curry paste and make mussels two ways to compare and contrast.

Once you’ve cooked it, do not throw out the leftover stock.  Strain and freeze it for a decadent addition to pasta, seafood chowder.  This stock freezes well and sells for $4 a jar (which is ludicrous considering that the mussels to make it would be cheaper – it’s like getting the mussels for free).  This flavor would easily eliminate any need to add additional flavours to a sauce and drop the cost per serving of your New Years meal even lower.

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Well Preserved into the future

With a year of experience under our belts we are looking at the year ahead and nefariously plotting where we are going to journey with the blog into next year.  Here are some of the ideas – and we are open to receiving your feedback and ideas.  Some of these ideas are locked in stone, others negotiable:

  • Series will continue.  There will be plenty of posts outside of the realms of these series but we will endeavor to put some themes and series together to dig deeper into topics we are passionate about.
  • Guest posts will commence.  We will find a way to feature people we adore around food.  Some will be professionals and others be passionate food-loving people.
  • More use of media.  We will use technology is more ways than simply typing information.  There are a few things that are easier to show in video than text (like how to use a pressure cooker or test a jam for set).  We will get some tutorials to help explain these things in more detail.
  • New journeys and experiments.  Santa brought a food dehydrator this Christmas and I also have a real itch to make my own beer.  Making cheese and charcuterie also sound like fun.
  • Events and possibly workshops.  We have secured a space which we can use for such things and want to get people of different mindsets together to share – and it would be a lot of fun to meet some familiar names here.  A swap is definitely in the making and some other events will come our way.
  • More preserving, including the Tigress Jam-a-long challenge.  No goals are set this year – yet.  I imagine the goal will less than the 50 batches we aimed for last year (finishing with 52).

As mentioned above, we would love your feedback, ideas and suggestions for us next year.

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365 Days Later…

We have made it!

Well Preserved was born 365 days ago – our official birthday is on the 28th but this is our last day of being “0.”

We haven`t missed a day of posting in the entire year – a surprise considering the launching of this site was a spontaneous act (we told the story of the origin here and are going to avoid being redundant).  We have decided to continue the journey for an unspecified time to go (I make temporary contracts with myself for things such as these) and hope you will continue to join our adventures.

Today is a short post looking over the last year – tomorrow`s will look at the year ahead and some of the new directions we have planned for the blog.

We have met many friends – physically and virtually from around the world.  Twitter has been a new discovery and we have been fortunate to meet many farmers, chefs, food activists and passionate foodies through the course of the year.

We ran out of topics that we could write on from a place of any authority around March.  Preserving season relieved some pressure and gave us the incentive that we could make an entire year.  Writing without topics has been an exciting prospect to me – it makes us learn something new about food all the time – I would guess that writing this blog has forced me into a pattern of studying 10-15 new things about food every week.  I really think that we have learned more than anyone else from the blog.

We have also been graced with traffic that we could have never guessed.  We had our 40,000th hit this week – well beyond any expectations we could have set at the start of the year.  We were impressed with the 800 visits we had in January – the growth has been exciting and humbling.

Thank you to each of you who has visited, shared the site with others and shared our passions.

A big thanks to those of you who have shared our tweets and helped bring other friends and strangers to our home.  A similar thanks to those who have emailed us, shared their journeys, passions, results of their preserving journeys and inspiration.

I want to extend a special thank you to each of you who post comments.  There is nothing as exciting to me as seeing people sharing their own info, creating dialogue and conversing back and forth with us and each other.  It is one of my goals to encourage more community and more sharing back and forth here next year.  We really would love to foster dialogue over monologue and encourage and welcome you all to continue to share your comments and comment further.

Smiles and thanks for coming along for the ride!

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This is the end of the 11 days of posts on Feastmas.  It’s been a good run but all good things must meet their end – or be reborn through leftovers.

I have done a lot of reading in recent years on how to perfect stock.  I have been surprised to learn that many of the common practices taught around making stock actually fly in the face of science or the knowledge of professional chefs.  The work of Herve This and Harold McGee (both prominent food scientists) has really inspired me to learn a lot more about making a better stock – something I am still actively learning about.

Here are some of the tips I have learned:

  • It is essential that everything in your pot starts off cold.  This will help release the gelatin and more flavour from the bones which can only be released slowly.
  • Roasting bones or veggies before making a stock makes a massive difference.  Some of my chef friends argue that if it’s not roaster, it’s not getting in the pot (including tomato sauce which they add for flavour).
  • Do not boil the stock.  A gentle simmer only.  A rapid boil will actually emulsify that fat into the liquid making it impossible to remove and create a more “oily” stock.
  • Do not add salt to your stock while it is simmering down.  Salt will draw bitter elements from bones.
  • We start with the turkey carcass, whole onions (skin and all), whole garlic, celery and carrot sticks and simmer slowly for hours on hours.  We then strain the entire mixture and let it cool outside (a pressure cooker keeps any critters locked out).  The cooling process raises the fat to the surface which can then be skimmed off.  If you are in a rush, let the stock settle in the cold for 30 minute or so and dip paper towels in to remove the floating layer of fat.

If you are thinking of preserving stock, freezing is the easiest.  Pressure Canning it is safe to the USDA though Canadian food standards do not recommend it.

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Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas!

I have written and re-written this post in my head at least 15 times today.  I have had time to write and had lots to write about.  But the vision for this post keeps on coming back – it beckons for shorter and sweeter.

We are humbled and blessed and fortunate and lucky and thankful for all that we have.  Far beyond the material, the food, the drink – we have each other.

Today has been an entire day of feasting, sharing, eating (and it continues).  We are so lucky – the luckiest part of all that we have are the people around us.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays – I hope you all are so fortunate.

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