Friday, January 27, 2012

Secret Sauce Ingredients: Glace and Demi-Glace



I stumbled on it completely by accident.  Searching for different kinds of chicken broths available on Costco.com, I came across something called Glace de Poulet Gold Classic Roasted Chicken Stock by a company called More Than Gourmet.  It sounded intriguing: a twenty-times reduced concentrated product that can be dissolved (with 20 parts water) for a traditional chicken stock, or used very sparingly full-strength as a sauce enhancer.


Since a teaspoon of it was supposed to go a long way, I didn’t feel that our two-person household could really make a dent in the size sold through Costco: 4 tubs of 16 oz each, totaling 64 oz.  So I did the next best thing.  I sorted through the glowing reviews on Amazon.com and ordered just one 16 oz tub--though you do have the option of getting a 4-pack of 1.5 oz each if you feel you won't go through it fast enough.  (Here's link if you want to see the product reviews: http://www.amazon.com/More-Than-Gourmet-16-Ounce-Packages/dp/B0010ON2AK/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1327931429&sr=8-1).

Then a week after we first tried the chicken glace, I ordered Classic French Demi-Glace (“Made with Beef and Veal Stock”).  Then a week after that, I ordered Glace de Fruits de Mer Classic Seafood Stock.  For the demi-glace and the seafood stock I chose the 4-packs of smaller 1.5 oz packages.  I’m taking a breather for now on purchasing new items from More Than Gourmet, but I’m pretty sure I’ll be getting more varieties.  My favorite is still the first we tried (the Classic Roasted Chicken Stock), but the entire line is pretty impressive.  And for those who are balking at the high price tags for demi-glaces from other manufacturers, the More Than Gourmet line is a bargain for how much you get.  And even after opening the package, they last for at least 6 months in the refrigerator without going bad.


In dishes that call for clam juice (which can get fairly expensive and not always in my pantry), I use the seafood stock.  Though they recommend 20 part water to 1 part glace, I found the strong flavor of the glace could actually withstand 30+ part water.  So, for instance, 1 tablespoon of glace could mix with about 4 cups of water—or roughly 1 teaspoon with 1 and 1/4 cups water—for a soup recipe calling for fish stock or clam juice as in the Shrimp and Scallop Stew with Spanish chorizo and red pepper rouille here.

And the sauces!  Try pan sautéing/frying chicken breasts (or other meats you are cooking up).  After you remove your meat from the pan, heat a little olive oil and stir in minced shallots.  Splash a little wine (usually white with chicken, red with beef), then just a teaspoon of a glace along with about 1/4 to 1/3 cup water to dissolve.  Stir in a little cream if you want a more creamy looking sauce or leave plain.  Either way, you still want to mix in a cold tablespoon of butter right before serving to enhance the taste and help emulsify into a beautiful glossy sauce. 


In the picture above, we seared a thick ribeye steak and then roasted it in the oven until it was medium rare.  In the time it took for the meat to rest (and redistribute its juices), we had a quick brown pan sauce using the Classic French Demi-Glace.  Don’t worry.  Some recipes come with the package, and there are simple preparation tips provided.  At the very top of this post is a picture of “Braised Shrimp with Pancetta” with the recipe that came with the package.  Again, the glace is quite flavorful, so I’d go with even less of the glace (and no salt) in your preparation than the recipe calls for.

Low in sodium and made with quality ingredients like lobster stock and shrimp stock and roast chicken and veal bones and other real food (gasp!), any of these products is a real life saver when you need a quick sauce enhancer or a broth.  You can feel like an English country house guest by dissolving a small (I’d say ½) teaspoon of the glace in boiling water.  When you feel a little run down, this is the quick and elegant chicken noodle soup equivalent.  And, yes, do serve it in a porcelain cup!



Friday, January 20, 2012

Quasi-Homemade, Almost Too-Easy Bi Bim Bop


My father recently had a Shakespearean moment. 

On my recent New Years holiday visit to Los Angeles, the whole family accompanied my sister-in-law to her local Japanese-Korean grocery store complex near Little Tokyo.  Yaohan, Super H-Mart, and co. are as large as entire suburban strip malls now; these kinds of Asian grocery stores entertain a vast number of shoppers and are built complete with food courts, clothing shops, ceramic pottery stores, and myriad “specialized” boutique salons (many of them targeted towards  “brightening” Asian skin tones or “straightening” coarse Asian hair).

As we walked through aisle after gleaming aisle of meticulously packaged goods, my father became more and more entranced.  Finally, as we passed through the food courts with steaming bowls of dumpling and udon noodle soups and the well-stocked prepared-foods section full of beautifully arranged sushi platters and bento boxes (really, they had every size and combination imaginable), he declared that one need never ever cook again.  Then he had his Miranda (from The Tempest) moment: “Oh, what it would be like to live in these times, near here!”  He didn’t quite proclaim it a “brave new world,” but I’m pretty sure that’s what he meant.


Of course, Miranda’s exclamation was prompted by her naivete of the world outside her little island, and my father’s was too—to some degree.   The rest of the world has become so global (kogi taco trucks?), but a lot of people of my parents’ generation seem flabbergasted every time they see a non-Asian willingly consuming wickedly spicy Korean soups and stews.  And, yes, they are still astounded (why, I’ll never understand) that my American husband of almost 12 years (who also lived in Japan for 3 years) can wield chopsticks better than a native-born Asian—but I was never very adept with those skinny sticks, so that’s not a useful comparison. . .


Despite the fact that my California relatives persist in believing that large Asian communities exist only in L.A., the Chicago area has its own Chinatown and smaller pockets of other Asian enclaves.  Certainly, there is a large enough Asian population to support a thriving Super H-Mart near my Chicago suburb.  I take advantage of my proximity to such stores when I suffer cravings for a quick, not-quite-from-scratch Bi-bim-bop.  In fact, the meal pictured above, including the side dishes, can only be considered about 1/5 “home”-made—and that’s mostly because I steamed some rice and boiled some water. 


Like Bul-go-gi, Bi-bim-bop (literally meaning “mixed rice”) has become very popular with non-Koreans.  It might appear at first like a mystifying tangle of meat and vegetables and rice, but it's really quite easy to assemble.

1) One constructs Bi-bim-bop by first laying down about of cup of cooked rice in a deep bowl (which will facilitate the mixing process without making a huge mess).  Please, invest in a good rice cooker.  I know how to boil or steam rice on the stovetop and have done so since before I was 10 years old.  But, really, no self-respecting Asian would serve a guest rice that was not steamed in a rice-cooker since it’s simply best that way.  My Zojirushi rice cooker has been with me for over 15 years now.


2) On top of the hot rice, you mound 3-4 different types of marinated or fresh vegetables (bean sprouts, spinach, cucumber, sautéed zucchini—the varieties are limitless).  Sure, you can get different kinds of veggies from the store and painstakingly julienne them and marinate them or sauté them.   Or, from your trusty little (or super) grocery store, you can get store-made marinated mixed veggies like you see here.


3) Then you top the veggies with some cooked (and slightly chopped up) bul-go-gi which you can either get from the store if you are in a hurry or marinate yourself, following the basic recipe that I supplied in another post: http://eatingreadingwriting.blogspot.com/2011/11/bul-go-gi-korean-fire-beef.html

4) The crowning glory is a sunny-side-up fried egg.  (I’ve heard vegetarian students walking into Korean diners in university campus towns and ordering "Bi-bim-bop, no meat, but with two fried eggs.”)  Then you mix up the whole concoction with the aid of moisture from the runny egg yolk, the juice from the bul-go-gi, and a sauce you can also get from the store—or make yourself by whisking together some Korean hot chile paste, roasted sesame oil, rice vinegar, and a little sugar.


It also improves the meal if you can wash that down with some miso soup (and there are so many varieties that just require boiling water).  Side dishes of traditional cabbage kimchee and some fried marinated tofu round out a meal that looks impressively home-made but which requires very little actual cooking.

O, what a brave new world…

Friday, January 13, 2012

Seeing Straight: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (Review with Plot Spoilers)

Towards the end of the British spy drama Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, a reference is made to the idea that the film's protagonist George Smiley could not "see straight." In fact, in a movie which closes with this reference and which features an early scene of Smiley getting fitted for new glasses, the motif of seeing straight runs throughout.  Along the way, the movie also argues that the characters in power in the British government during the cold war could not see that what they thought was "gold" was actually "shit."

It’s nice to have a film intelligently laying out a central and consistent theme without beating you over the head with its heavy import. That’s one of the really great things about this movie.  It’s smart and subtle--but not trying to be too clever.  The resolution to the spy drama seems fitting, as if the producers expect the audience to know all along who the real culprit is.  In fact, Smiley even suggests that key figures knew “deep down” who the real Russian mole was amongst the small group of highly-placed MI6 agents.

Tinker, Tailor isn’t afraid that its audience will be bored by its deliberate pacing; and its producers don’t attempt to sell you a mind-boggling twist at the end (a la Usual Suspects) to prove that they are more crafty than their viewers.  Instead, the movie makes sense as it tries to make sense of a chaotic time, as it tries to make sense of treachery and two-facedness of friends, lovers, and countrymen.  The movie doesn’t seem to mind that it might lose viewers to the ridiculously hyper Sherlock Holmes sequel which exhausted me even with just the previews. 

Of course we all know that Tinker, Tailor will have the last laugh come Oscar nominations time since Gary Oldman is already being talked about as a contender.  Oldman is great, but this movie really is an ensemble effort—as so many major British movies have been in the past decade (like, for instance, Gosford Park).  Mark Strong, Colin Firth, Ciaran Hinds, Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Hardy, John Hurt, Toby Jones all are terrific.  All you needed was to add Helen Mirren and Judi Dench to make this a truly unforgettable cast.  (Since those additions would have taken away some of the realism the movie was going for, I’m okay with the lack of female stars…)

But, yes, Gary Oldman is indeed terrific.  If your last peek at him was as Sirius in the Harry Potter franchise, you are in for a disorienting first few minutes since his wavy dark Romantic poet locks are replaced by slicked-back straight gray hair.  He doesn’t talk for the first 15 minutes of so, but he is tremendously expressive nevertheless.  After a prologue which depicts a tragic 1973 Budapest mission involving another agent, the Control (director of a small group of elite MI6 agents) is announcing his inevitable departure.  Another agent asks, “What about Smiley?”  When Control responds, “He’s coming with me,” Oldman’s Smiley looks slightly startled--after all, as we discover later, he was in Berlin and had nothing to do with the botched mission--but he reverts to mild resignation.  That momentary flicker of emotion though tells us a lot about this man who is a covert spy but is still an emotional human being, able to be surprised and disappointed but who will still supply the stiff upper-lip stoicism demanded of him by his profession, his gender, and by his cultural heritage.

The film doesn’t prefer the stoicism though.  It encourages us to feel roused with righteous anger when Smiley doesn’t mince words as he finally accuses his governmental superiors of being “greedy” and “lazy.”  Conversely, I hoped that Smiley felt profound regret when he had to convince someone to carry out a risky mission with the quid pro quo of a possible return of an abducted woman.  When asked if the woman could be returned, a Smiley who already knows of her demise still responds, but perhaps with infinitesimal pause and emphasis on the last word?: “I will try my utmost.”  

While the very final shots of the movie are almost jarringly uplifting, with Smiley apparently reunited with his errant wife and reinstalled (and likely promoted) in a job he was forced out of at the beginning of the movie, the scenes directly preceding these undercut the happy ending surrounding Smiley.  We have enough images of betrayal, unrequited love, desolation, and loneliness to invite audience discomfort with Smiley’s reversal of fortune—especially since we understand that Smiley and his job are at least partly responsible for the heartache that others experience at the end of the film.  Tinker, Tailor almost seems to be telling us that there are very few winners, since, as we now know better, all is not fair in love and war.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Time To Be Resolute, 2012 Edition



Will thinks that one of my less attractive traits is an addiction to resolution-making, so I appreciate New Years for the chance it gives me to make resolutions without being overly sneered at.  (I also make resolutions at the beginning of a new semester—almost always starting with “Don’t procrastinate with grading papers”—usually after a long vacation, sometimes even at beginnings of new months…)  Sure, I dig up my previous year’s resolutions to discover that I’ve adhered to less than 5% of them, but 2012 is another year.  It’s gotten to the point where I write “Ditto last year’s resolutions but lose 5 pounds more this year,” but I still insist on not only articulating my resolve but also committing these resolutions to paper.

Last year, I tried something new.  Yes, I really did write “Ditto” to resolutions from the year before, but I also tried organizing my resolutions under a central motif.  For 2011, it was “De-Cluttering.”  That meant cleaning out closets, pantries, refrigerator, desks, file cabinets, den, counter tops—anything that could contain clutter.  Despite an embarrassingly meager success rate, I’ve decided to stay on that course of streamlining (de-cluttering?) New Year’s resolutions.  Since I just recently started this blog dedicated—mostly—to food, I’ve decided that my central motif this year could revolve around “Food,” including under this large umbrella category any relevant sub-categories.

So, my Food-themed 2012 New Years Resolutions:

1. Eat out more selectively.
We are actually not too bad in this category (no daily $4 lattes that slowly bankrupt us, etc.), but we could still do better.  Some people routinely eat their lunches at low/mid-cost restaurants; we almost always pack our lunches with leftovers (which we generate for this very purpose).  Between not wanting to waste time at work or spend money needlessly, the packed lunch was less a nutritional choice than a pragmatic one.  To make up for this incidental virtue, when we do eat out, we often indulge in multi-course meals at higher-end restaurants with fairly hefty price-tags.  Though we still want to try out all the best new restaurants with up-and-coming chefs, we've decided we should make dining out at a “nice” place a choice for a special occasion, something we look forward to with anticipation because we do it so rarely.  Spend less money and enjoy the experience more!  Makes perfect resolution sense to me.

2. Control Portion Sizes When Eating Out.
Though we don’t eat out much at fast-food places (see #1 above), we recently found ourselves drawn to the smell of burgers and fries at Five Guys.  Before I write anything more, I should confess that we really enjoyed the burgers and fries we had at Five Guys.  That admission aside, we were a little surprised to discover that one bacon cheeseburger and one regular order of fries (no drinks or other items) came to $10.71.  We shouldn’t have been surprised though because we knew that their portion sizes were astronomical.  In fact, if you want something resembling a regular burger, you should order the “Little” line (one patty as opposed to the regulation two patties of beef).  Luckily, we planned on splitting one order of burger and fries between two of us.  (Truth in Blogging: Image below is not an actual Five Guys burger.)

At restaurants where that sort of splitting is not as easy to maneuver (or frowned upon), we’ve discovered another method that works for us.  We like trying out many dishes, so we order one to two appetizers and one dessert as well as our two entrees—but with the full expectation that we will take home leftovers from at least one if not both entrée dishes (for our packed lunches).  Some people even advise having your server pack half of your entrée before bringing your plate to the table so you don’t even see it, but I find that interferes with my aesthetic enjoyment of the meal—and what if that entrée was much smaller than you thought it would be?

3. Be more flexible about recipe ingredients to waste less food.
That Ziploc commercial where people purchase or cook foods and then immediately throw a large portion away?  It speaks to us.  We try our best, but we too throw out food, something difficult to imagine for our parents’ generation which had to deal with the Great Depression (Will’s side) and war and occupation (my parents’ side).  Sometimes, wasting of food cannot be helped (for instance, I had a watermelon that went bad 2 days after purchase).  But food should not be wasted for the sake of religiously following a fussy recipe.  There are lots of websites that suggest ingredient substitutions (even some more difficult baking substitutions like using buttermilk and a bit of melted butter for sour cream), so there is no reason why we should run out to get butternut squash to roast in a root vegetable salad when we already have sweet potatoes and carrots.  Becoming a better cook involves learning to work with what’s available, so I intend on making the most of what I have before even contemplating buying more food.

4. Be a bit more adventurous.
Recently, I heard an NPR story about the changing face of cuisine in France.  Apparently, the traditionalists were unhappy with the new gang of chefs tinkering with time-honored French dishes.  One chef even walked away in disgust when a reporter showed him a picture of “Goat Cheese Ice Cream” offered at a new-fangled young chef’s restaurant.  His verdict: “Goat cheese is goat cheese.  Ice cream is ice cream.”  Will and I do like food innovation--and, for the record, we really can see nothing at all wrong with goat cheese ice cream--but perhaps we could be even more adventurous in going outside our own comfort zone. 

We’ve consumed ostrich, antelope, buffalo, elk, alligator, blood sausage, raw horsemeat—that last one was so that Will would not have to offend a host in a foreign country, not something he actually ordered.  But almost always, the exotic items were camouflaged.  That Ostrich Wellington tasted just like a beef tenderloin when it came wrapped in buttery pastry and slathered with gravy; and the alligator meat was minced up in a heavily-spiced jambalaya.  Buffalo burger.  You get the idea.  Yet there are plenty of dishes in millennia-old cuisines that don’t disguise the offending item—precisely because it’s a delicacy.  Like chicken feet in Chinese cuisine.  Or beef tongue.  We don’t need to channel our inner Andrew Zimmern of Bizarre Foods (on Food Network Television), but I think 2012 is the year that we try something new to us.

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