A Little Crunch: Popped Quinoa

Popped Quinoa by A Little Yumminess

Jazzing up some leftover fried rice.

Jazzing up some leftover fried rice.

Quinoa is one of those ingredients that is so good for you that I’ve tried very hard to fall in love with it. It hasn’t gone well — I’ve had many an acceptable quinoa dish, but never one that got me too excited. But I think maybe I finally have the answer to to my quinoa apathy and all it takes is a few minutes in a hot, dry pan. Continue reading

Discovering New Flavors with The Hatchery

The Hatchery_A Little YumminessThis is up there among fun and cool gifts for your favorite foodie-type person. I have my lovely sister in law to thank for introducing me to The Hatchery. She gave me a subscription to their tasting boxes last Christmas, so each month I have been receiving an assortment of mini-sized condiments and ingredients made by small, artisan producers all around the country. You get just enough of each item to try it out for a meal or recipe and then, of course, if you fall in love with something, you can order full-sized versions for stocking your pantry. Continue reading

Chicken Stock for the Soul

My dad makes a lot of chicken stock and it was one of those rites of passage things he made sure to teach me before I left the nest. He’ll tell you his number one rule is not to add too much water otherwise you’ll end up with a weak tasting stock. My dad isn’t the kind of guy to dispense much advice in general but when he does it’s usually a pretty great nugget on a narrow range of subjects including saving money, not losing your keys, safety behind the wheel, or making a good tasting soup.

The apple indeed does not fall far from the tree. Just like my dad, I have taken on the habit of cooking a big pot of chicken stock a couple of times a month. Sometimes the impetus is the leftover carcass of a roast chicken, other times I buy a few of pounds of backs and necks for next to nothing at the meat counter. I toss those in a pot and cover with cold water (but not too much!) then leave it at a very low simmer, uncovered, for a couple of hours, skimming when I get the chance. Sometimes, I throw all my ingredients in a crock pot (with the lid slightly ajar) and let it go all day or  over night, or if I have the oven on I’ll stash my stock pot to cook along in there. I switch it up when the mood strikes by adding carrots, celery, onions, garlic, peppercorns, mushrooms, tomatoes…

I don’t even pretend to have the sagely wisdom of my dad, but I do intend to teach both my boys to be great stock makers. An excellent stock can take you so many places in any cuisine and its one of the best tricks I know to improve your cooking overall. I know it’s highly possible that neither of them may ever have the inclination to fill their freezer with flavorful homemade stock, but at least they’ll know how and I can feel that I have done my duty to pass along the family wisdom on the subject.

Basic Chicken Stock

After simmering on the stove, in a crock pot or in the oven for several hours, let your stock cool a bit then strain it with a fine mesh strainer into whatever container will fit into your refrigerator. When it’s chilled through, skim off any solidified fat and use within a few days or freeze.

Super Flavorful Stock – Here some of our favorite tricks for pumping up the flavor:

  • Reduce the stock by a third or a half to concentrate it’s flavors. This is also helpful if you’re short on space. You can store a reduced stock  in a smaller container and then add back water as needed as you’re cooking. Be careful about adding salt before reducing, the saltiness with intensify as well. Best to be conservative with salt at the start and leave yourself room to season with more at the end as needed.
  • We like this trick from Cooks Illustrated which involves browning a modest amount of ground chicken then simmering the stock with the meat to pump up the chicken-y flavors. You’ll need to strain it again before using.
  • You can boost the flavor and take it in a different direction by adding a Parmesan cheese rind and letting that simmer with the stock. This is great for a simple soup of tortellini in brodo.
  • Recently we tried our hand at a simplified version of David Chang’s “Ramen Broth 2.0”, which involved simmering a basic stock with konbu (a type of dried seaweed), pulverized dried shitakes and a little bit of bacon. You can find all the details on that bowl of delicious in the first issue of Lucky Peach magazine.

The Best Chicken Soup Ev-uh

Our favorite way to enjoy a great stock is to make an old fashioned chicken soup. And our favorite way to make the soup is to cook all the components separately (vegetables, pasta, chicken), seasoning them so they each taste great on their on and are at the perfect point of done-ness. That means you can toss your perfectly al dente pasta with a little olive oil and Parmesan cheese, you can season steamed carrots with sea salt and finely minced thyme, and you can toss your shredded chicken with a bright squeeze of lemon — and you can do all this in advance if you like. At dinner time, compose each bowl with the prepared ingredients and pour your piping hot, extra delicious stock over to warm everything through. Sure it’s more work than throwing everything in a pot all at once, but the soup is perfection and everyone can personalize their dinner. And this sort of chicken soup assembly project is an easy “cooking” activity for kids who aren’t quite old enough to work at the stove yet.

Check out some of our other chicken soup-related faves: Tortellini in Brodo, Luisa’s Sopa de Tortilla, Don’t Throw That Out! Meet Your New BFF, the Parmegiano Reggiano Rind

Tricked Out Pantry: Ginger At the Ready

The shortcut to serious yum in a hurry is a totally tricked out pantry. A handpicked collection of sauces, spices and condiments can get really tasty food on the table when you’re crunched for time or when you’re lacking inspiration. As this realization has hit me over the last couple of years, I’ve started devoting a lot more of my time in the kitchen to pantry projects and I eagerly seek out food adventures where we can pick up little goodies – everything from salt packed capers to dried chiles, kaffir lime leaves and exotic spice mixes. I’ve been known to pull over and drag a husband and two kids, even friends, out of the car for unscheduled pantry stops at the sight of a Latin market or Italian deli. And my dear family is ever so patient with me when they see me excitedly (too excitedly) waving a bunch of garlic blossoms…. saying “look, look!”. I can’t say that I know what to do with all of my fantastic finds yet, but they are waiting patiently for our discovery.

One item that does get a lot of play around Casa Stacie is ginger. From stir fries, asian marinades, curries, cookies, muffins and smoothies, ginger is such a versatile seasoning. It’s great for digestion and miraculous for unsettled tummies too (tell all your pregnant friends and anyone you know who suffers from motion sickness). So, I happily stole this trick from Simran and her mom. It’s a genius way to have beautiful, grated fresh ginger at the ready whenever you need it. It’s funny how some techniques are second nature to some and a revelation for others. Simran casually pulled out a big bag of grated ginger while we were cooking some spinach together one day. She broke off a piece, tossed it in the pan and rolled right along like it was no big deal. I thought “rewind… now that was a great trick”. She told me later that it’s one of the little things her mom always does, one of those crafty mom tips. I ran right out and made some of my own and have every intention of passing this tip down to my boys in our cooking days to come. So from mom to daughter, friend to friend, mom to sons, a little piece of kitchen wisdom is shared. And who knows? Maybe my kids will even manage to impress a few of their foodie friends with this one someday.

It’s a snap to do:

  • Buy a large quantity of ginger. At least 3-4 large pieces.
  • Remove as much peel from your ginger as you have patience for with the edge of a spoon.
  • Pop it all through your food processor and pulse it to get a fine mince. If you don’t have a food processor, find a friend who does. Do the project together and share the bounty!
  • Package your ginger in an air tight bag and store it flat in your freezer. [If you can remember, you might want to use the back of a knife to score off small portions while the ginger is semi frozen, so it will be easier to break later.]
  • Break off a hunk of grated ginger whenever the need arises. No need to even thaw it if it’s going in a saute pan. Yum!
We love ginger here on A  Little Yumminess. Case in point: here are some recipes from our archive that include fresh ginger. Now it’s even easier to give them a try.

Pasta with Broccoli and Breadcrumbs

Here’s a recipe that has saved the day at Casa Stacie on more than a few occasions. Breadcrumbs on pasta may sound kind of weird, but trust me, it’s major yum. The breadcrumbs provide both crunch and a delectable toasty-ness, a nice change of pace from the usual sauced pasta. I also love this recipe because it’s quick and super frugal. You’ll feel like a hero when you throw it together on one of those days when you never managed to make it to the market and there’s nothing but a head of broccoli staring back at you in the refrigerator. The other ingredients are so basic, you’ll probably find them in your pantry: pasta, breadcrumbs, garlic, olive oil, a lemon and some parmegiano reggiano. [PS: here’s a good trick on keeping lemons fresh]

Pasta with Broccoli and Breadcrumbs

DIY Breadcrumbs — Homemade breadcrumbs really do make all the difference so if you can find the time to make them, it’s worth it. Just chuck leftover bread crusts and slightly stale pieces in a freezer bag. When the bag is full, let them thaw and blitz them in food processor until you have coarse crumbs. If you want a little extra nutritional boost, you can throw in some wheat germ or golden flax seed with the bread. Then toast the crumbs on a cookie sheet until they are crisp and dry. Approx 10 minutes at 350. Make a bunch and store them in an air tight container — your pantry will thank you!

  1. Toss breadcrumbs with good olive oil and a few pinches of salt to taste. Use at least 1 cup of crumbs per pound of pasta. I always like to make a little extra because they’re so, so yummy. Toss the olive oil-coated crumbs in a hot pan until they’re nice and toasty.
  2. Wash and trim broccoli into bite-sized pieces. Cook until tender crisp (steam, saute or even microwave with a a few tablespoons of water).
  3. Cook your pasta until al dente in well-salted water.
  4. While the pasta is cooking, mince several cloves of garlic and saute in olive oil until they just begin to turn golden.
  5. Immediately add the cooked pasta and broccoli and toss. Sprinkle with half the breadcrumbs and toss well again. Add a sprinkle of salt, a squeeze of lemon juice, and a generous grating of parmegiano reggiano. Taste and adjust seasoning. You can add a few spoons of pasta water if you want a moister dish.
  6. Place in a serving bowl and sprinkle with remaining breadcrumbs (a little minced parsley would be good too, but it’s totally optional). You can reserve some crumbs for sprinkling at the table if you like along with some parmegiano, good olive oil and lemon wedges.

“Special Sauce”: 2-Day Tomato Conserva

Tomato conserva is one of those things that perfectly embodies the slow food concept. A welcome change of pace from our usual hectic lives. It’s not hard to make, but it takes forever – yielding a slow-cooked flavor that just cannot be reproduced with quicker cooking methods. It’s one of those secret weapons in your pantry that gives you incredible depth of flavor and makes you seem like a much better cook than you actually are. I’ll take all the help I can get! Use it like tomato paste out of a can to enhance tomato flavor in sauces, soups, dressings…. but trust me, this is sooooo much better. There’s something magical about making this in that it always reminds me — and my family — to slow down once in a while. We can use all the help we can get in that department, too.

Tomato conserva also happens to coincide with my bad habit of buying way too many tomatoes at the Farmers’ Market (or receiving large grocery bags full of super ripe tomatoes from my father-in-law’s garden). My husband and I can’t resist the large, cheap crates of “ugly” tomatoes that start showing up at the markets right about now. As mountains of tomatoes start to wilt all at once, we snap into action for some high-volume tomato cookery. Usually at this point, I throw them in a big pot with a quartered onions, a few pats of butter and a little salt, so they simmer into a versatile and simple tomato sauce (alla Marcella Hazan) which I can strain and stow in the freezer for later. But sometimes when I’m feeling my inner Italian Nonna come out, they get transformed into my “special sauce”: 2-day tomato conserva. I know the idea of slowly cooking tomatoes over hours and hours is not for everyone — but boy does it taste good!

2-day Tomato Conserva — Here’s how you do it:

Expert sources (i.e. Paul Bertoli THE guru of tomatoes) say you will get approximately one-tenth the volume of your original tomatoes.

  1. Wash, de-stem and rough chop your tomatoes. No need to be pretty or precise about it.
  2. Cook them on the stove top with a little olive oil  and a light sprinkling of salt just until they are tender and start to release their juices (approximately 10 minutes). Turn off the heat, cover the pot and let them steam for 10 more minutes to continue to soften.
  3. Put them through the food mill to remove the skins and seeds.
  4. Pour your strained tomatoes into a baking dish (you will get better evaporation with a shallow layer, no more than an inch, so use multiple dishes as needed)
  5. Put them into a 250 degree oven and let them cook away all-day (~for 6-8 hours). Check them and stir once in a while — but they don’t need much babysitting at all.
  6. I like to go for a thick and concentrated paste, so at this point I usually turn off the oven and leave them overnight, then I turn the oven back on to 200 degrees as I’m making my morning coffee and let them cook away for a few more hours and maybe as much as another 6-8. Since we all need to leave the house once in a while, I’ve found you can pretty much start/stop this process as you need to.  It’s very un-fussy. Just don’t forget about them entirely. Some people keep going to point that the paste can be molded like soft clay, which is to say that you can’t really overdo it.

That’s it, you’re done… and voila instant Italian Nonna!

Spoon some into a clean jar, top with olive oil, seal well and store in the refrigerator to use over the next month or two. Freeze the rest for later. I use an ice cube tray so that I have portions perfect for adding to sauces. Conserva is to experiment with. You can add it to pasta sauces, stews, risotto and soups or anywhere you want an extra hit of tomato flavor. Tonight, for instance, I made a vinaigrette to dress tomatoes using conserva, olive oil, red wine vinegar and sea salt (tomato squared!) and I’m thinking about trying it with some of my Asian recipes in lieu of ketchup.

Just for fun — I found this video  on YouTube which shows the traditional, Sicilian method of making tomato paste, “Stattu”, using just the heat of the sun (and a whole lot of tomatoes!). I’m old school, but apparently not that old school. You’ll also get a sense of the “clay-like” version of the paste.

Video by Ganicolo

Sea Salt and Rosemary

I’m forever jotting things down, especially on vacation, and most especially when I’ve come across something tasty. A beachside lunch during a trip to Sardinia a few years back yielded this page in my notebook. A pinch of sea salt and rosemary would be good on a whole lot of things and now I may finally get around to putting some together for my pantry.

It’s also a fun mini project to do with someone small. Pick some rosemary (in our climate it grows everywhere!) & let it dry for a few days. Then let the little one break it up and mix with sea salt. Grab your funnel and scoop it all into a salt mill. Voila! I’ll probably also have my son help me draw a label and customize some cute little jars so that we can share with friends.

I know Luca will like helping with this one, and I will enjoy having this on hand when I roast meat or veg or to sprinkle on soup or pasta. While we’re at it we’ll probably make up some of Michael Chiarello’s divine Fennel Spice mix. It’s a must-have in our pantry and we’re nearly out. Do you have any favorite customized spice mixes? Let me know!