Easter Egg Glut? Pickle ’em!

Easter Egg Glut? Pickle ’em!

THINKING THURSDAY: SOMETHING TO PONDER IN THE WORLD OF FOOD AND FARMING.

_________________________________________________________________________

It’s time. Time for the springtime rituals of Easter baskets & hard-boiled eggs. Like chocolate bunnies, those eggs are everywhere and you can only eat so many egg-y things before either they or you go bad.

So, rather than avoiding waste by being stingy with the single healthy, natural thing in the standard-issue Easter basket, after the day is over, pickle the excess. Pickled eggs will keep for months, make sure none go to waste and add a powerful new culinary staple to your pantry.

I’ve gone through plenty of recipes seeking the perfect blend of simplicity and yumminess and what follows is my favorite. For now.  It’s a forgiving recipe though, so feel free to nip and tuck to suit yourself.

Like all simple recipes, the deliciousness is proportionate to the quality of the ingredients.  The number one most important step is this: start with great eggs. 

I am a believer in the power of the farm fresh, pastured egg. Of course, I’m lucky because my neighbor keeps a big flock of free ranging hens and is a generous sharer. Kind of like healthy mother culture, he gives me three dozen eggs, I return a pint of pickled eggs and my emptied egg cartons and the circle of life continues.  Don’t have a chicken-farming friend? You can find one here.

Since your whole reason for this glut of hard-boiled eggs is probably for the fun of dying the eggs with your kids, you should know it is not necessary to buy white eggs to make pretty dyed eggs. The brown shells will dye to softer shades, although yellows may be a little disappointing. Since most farm-fresh eggs are brown, this is a public service announcement designed to save you from the white battery hen eggs in the supermarket.

Once you have your awesome eggs, please pay extra special attention to the process of hard boiling the eggs. With a little extra care, your pickled eggs will be radiantly beautiful. Like pure sunshine, really.

Neglecting your eggs will create that icky green ring around the outside of the yolk which is a real downer for me.   Of course it makes no difference in the taste, and I’ll still gobble them up, but a beautiful ring-free yolk makes me really happy.

The Secret to Perfect Hard Boiled Eggs:

You may or may not know that freshly laid hard-boiled eggs are difficult to peel. They are – I kid you not. Try to store the eggs in the refrigerator for at least a week before boiling.  If you find that eggs you have already boiled just won’t peel nicely, store the cooked eggs in the refrigerator for a few days and they should become easier to peel.

Or, you may try steaming instead of boiling – this quickie from the always entertaining and informative Alton Brown brings up a few good pointers.  Note: Alton Brown is referring to store-bought eggs, so his advice about the freshness of the eggs is a little off for laid-today eggs from the farm. His tip about centering the yolks is right-on and one I learned the hard way.

I don’t steam my eggs because I really don’t have a good steamer, and I’m about to do three dozen, not four.  So, this is how I do it:

  1. Take the eggs out of the refrigerator for about an hour before starting.  To center the yolks, secure carton lids (a rubber band works well) and place the cartons on their sides. Otherwise, yolks may be too near the egg wall, causing you to break them when you peel the egg – not so good for pickled eggs, but no problem for egg salad.
  2. Use as many large pots as necessary to place eggs in a single layer and cover by at least an inch or two of cold water. Starting with cold water and bringing the eggs to a boil gently will help avoid shocking the eggs into cracking.
  3. I add a teaspoon of white vinegar and ½ teaspoon of salt to each pot.
  4. On high heat, bring to a boil and as soon as your water boils, cover pot and turn off the heat. (I have an electric stove. If you have gas, once the water reaches a boil, remove pot from flame. Turn down to low, return pot to burner and simmer for one minute.
  5. After the minute, remove from burner, cover and let sit for 12 minutes.
  6. While the eggs are resting, prepare an ice water bath large enough to accommodate all your eggs at once. You can use a large bowl, pot or even the sink if necessary.
  7. Remove the eggs using a slotted spoon and submerge in the ice bath to cool.

Peeling your eggs:

  1. Allow your eggs plenty of time to cool.
  2. Set up a bowl of clean, cold water and a container or bowl to store your peeled eggs
  3. I start by gently cracking the egg all over and starting at the wide end. If you’re lucky, the shell will gently peel away from the egg, leaving a smooth shiny surface. Rinse in the water & place in the storage container. Repeat.
  4. If you’re not lucky, the shell will cling to the egg and tear the flesh of the egg leaving a knobby messy looking egg. Still tastes good, but not quite so beautiful. If this is the case, after creating the opening, dip into the water as needed to keep everything moist & slippery. Try sliding a spoon gently under the shell and carefully lifting the shell away from the egg.  Be patient and gentle and you should be successful.
  5. Occasionally, your best efforts will fail. Try tucking the cooked eggs back into the fridge for a few more days and you should have better luck. Or, if you just want to eat the eggs and can live with their funky look, do your best and soldier on.

Pickling your eggs:

I’ve tried lots of different recipes and this is my favorite for both flavor and ease.  I am a huge fan of the pickled vegetables you get in restaurants in Mexico so like to add some carrots, chiles and garlic to my eggs. The pickled carrots are a tender-crisp treat and a colorful addition to whatever I end up making with the pickled eggs.

Click here for a printable recipe

Storing your eggs safely:

I am the first to admit I may be a little too fearless when it comes to food safety. I have been making pickled eggs for some time and had been storing them on a shelf in my basement.   But apparently the National Center for Home Preservation doesn’t share my confidence in non-refrigerated storage. If you’re new to preserving, check out their website and this page on pickled eggs – it’s an invaluable free resource.

Eating your pickled eggs & carrots:

xPickled Egg Sandwichxxxpaired with Green Beansxxand vinaigrette slaw

My favorite ways to eat pickled eggs:

  • Pickled Egg Sandwich: slather a slice of good, toasted white bread with mayonnaise (gold stars for homemade bread AND mayo), slice a pickled egg on top, toss a few of the carrots & chile on top and season with a good grind of freshly ground black pepper.
  • Sliced or crumbled over salads & grains: any green salad can benefit from some nice slices of pickled egg. Or, crumble some pickled egg on top of rice,  pasta or cooked vegetable dishes.
  • Egg salad:  try making your favorite egg salad dish with pickled eggs instead of plain hard-cooked for a zingy change
  • Topper: Chopped pickled egg on top of potato, tuna or chicken salads, veggie dishes and dips
  • Sandwich topper: Slice a pickled egg onto a meat sandwich. Really kick it up a notch and top it all with crunchy vinaigrette slaw.

All Right-ey. Now that you know you can cook your eggs all at once and store them ready to eat for months, there’s no reason to hold back!  Dye all the eggs you want and enjoy this handy way to amp up the flavor and protein content of your meals.

What’s your favorite way to eat pickled eggs?

This post is part of Simple Lives Thursday. What’s that you ask? It’s an ambitious and enlightening collection of posts from bloggers all over about issues near and dear to my heart: real food and natural living. Check it out!

The St. Patrick’s Day Party Never Ends: Creamy Corned Beef Spread

The St. Patrick’s Day Party Never Ends: Creamy Corned Beef Spread

Have I told you yet about my other mother,  Darina Allen?  Of course, Darina Allen doesn’t know we’re related, so shhhh; let’s keep it right here.  But really, who better to eat with on St. Patrick’s Day weekend than “the Julia Child of Ireland” herself?

It pains me to imagine, but if I could only have one cookbook, I think it would have to be hers.  Forgotten Skills of Cooking: The Time-Honored Ways are the Best – Over 700 Recipes Show You Why;  well, the ridiculously long title tells the whole tale.

The Allens live on a beautiful 100 acre Irish farm with a herd of Kerry & Jersey cattle, laying hens, a kitchen garden, plenty to forage, and a famous cooking school. Darina can teach you all about foraging, how to amaze your friends by making stuff like butter, ham, rose syrup, separating cream after you’ve milked the cow yourself and a gazillion beautiful things made with eggs warm from the hens. It is the real, old school, farmstead deal.

Of course, I’m looking at my menu, and have to laugh because while the meal (and my life) is totally inspired by Darina Allen, the corned beef recipe is actually from Michael Ruhlman and my favorite cabbage recipe is from Tyler Florence.   I know. But the traditional Irish boiled potatoes and the Irish Soda Bread are straight from Darina’s book.

Corned beef with mustard sauce, traditional Irish boiled potatoes, braised cabbage & Irish soda bread...

A good Irish meal is one that is not particularly cheffed up.  It is more about the very fresh, very flavorful ingredients, prepared simply but with care.  And the dairy products need to be first rate. I’m not kidding – go for the really good butter like Double Devon if you can find it, or Kerrygold, Organic Valley Pasture Butter, or Plugra. One or all will surely be found at most modern grocery stores these days. Even better, if you have some local farmstead butter, well, lucky you.

Don’t balk at the price if you’re not in the habit of buying good butter. The rest of the ingredients in this meal are pretty cheap so go ahead and splurge; you’ll still come out ahead. You owe it to yourself to at least know what butter is supposed to be.

Then, if you think it’s overrated and that you’d rather have some soda or Cap’n Crunch instead, at least I can rest knowing you’ve made an informed choice.

I know that while my meal was lovely and the day beautiful, you’ve been pounded with corned beef, cabbage and green stuff all week. It’s a new week now, and time to move on to something else.  Except for one thing; all that leftover corned beef.

Last year, for St. Patrick’s day I made corned beef tongue and corned beef hash.  This year, I went the tongue route again, but still, while the flavor is great, I just don’t enjoy the texture. The hash worked well because the meat was cubed & crisped with potatoes and carrots.  But that’s so last year.  This year, I decided to go for corned beef spread. Click here for a printable recipe.

The unmistakable taste of corned beef and grainy mustard in a creamy spread.

And I’m glad I did.  Grinding meats to use in sauces, spreads, fillings, sausages and such is an invaluable way of stretching meat as far as it can possibly go. All while concentrating the meaty flavor exponentially.

Do you have an especially good way to put a bit of minced meat to work?

Think Good Food is Elitist? Think again.

Think Good Food is Elitist? Think again.

Thinking Thursday: something to ponder in the world of food and farming.

____________________________________________________________________________

Oh, the difference a well stocked larder makes…

I could not be more thrilled to see the new wave of cookbooks about buying meat directly from farmers and farmers markets and widening our horizons about using more parts of the animal.

I don’t like to focus on the negative, but I have one fairly big complaint. 

Many of these books, while making a heart-felt plea for us to change our meat buying priorities towards less quantity and better, more humane quality, are offering proof to many that non-industrial food is elitist. Which is not exactly true.

For example, I recently made a stew from Deborah Krasner’s beautiful book, Good Meat.  Yes, it is exactly what it claims to be: a complete guide to sourcing and cooking sustainable meat with more than 200 recipes.  A very useful and enjoyable book in many ways.  But, I’m a little disappointed about one thing.  The recipe for stew called for a little used and affordable cut of beef, but then it also called for many expensive ingredients like capers, black olives, 1 anchovy fillet (which of course came with a few close friends – more ceasar salad anyone??), and red wine.  And, it was laborious and time-consuming.

I could have bought a nice rib-eye and called it a day.

I get really frustrated by righteous, flippant comments on Facebook and blogs dismissing the idea of non-industrial food because it’s too expensive. People push back hard when their ways are criticized, and this topic is no exception.  Now, don’t get all touchy about what I’m going to say next, but I think we’re firing off our defense before we’ve given the matter real consideration.

It is absolutely true; non-industrial food is more expensive, especially if your approach is to simply swap each item in your standard American diet with its equivalent in artisan, organic goods. Or when you choose recipes like Deborah Krasner’s as your source of everyday eating. Time and time again, people stubbornly trot out this argument in order to be right.

And if you insist on believing this is your only alternative to industrial food, then yes, you are correct. Game over, ding-ding-ding; you win all the Con-Agra foods you can eat. 

But as Dr. Phil likes to say, “Do you want to be right, or do you want to get better?”  There are other options. We’ve just not been taught to give the matter much thought beyond dutiful reliance on advertisements, talk shows and popular ad-driven magazines for ideas and solutions.

These days, I go to the grocery store less and less. Instead, I hit up farms and farm markets. I grow a kitchen garden. I have a freezer & I can. I found a great local source for grains, flour and organic bulk foods where I buy staples and dry goods in bulk.

And, this is important, I begin by stocking my pantry well with things I like.  Then I cook what I have instead of approaching it backwards by wondering what I feel like, finding a recipe then buying a bunch of random and expensive ingredients to follow it.

By stretching the limits of my thinking, today it doesn’t take any longer for me to cook a meal from my pantry than it does for you to call for take out, drive wherever to pick it up and bring it back home.

I fully acknowledge that behind every quick and easy dinner was a project like gardening, canning, or freezing leftovers for future meals.  Still and yet, the time investment averages out with fewer random errands here and there. And the quality for the price – well, there simply is no comparison.  With a very few exceptions, your home version can always beat the industrial version.

I admit I’ll probably never make a better a twinkie, I’ll leave that one to Hostess. But pop-tarts? DE-lish. Most requested pastry I’ve ever made.  Beats that foil-pouched frosted cardboard six ways ‘till Sunday.

A recent peek into my kitchen:

Polenta with tomato sauce:  I buy Bob’s Red Mill polenta, make a big batch following the recipe on the bag, let it firm up in a bowl, cut it into quarters and freeze each quarter separately. Later, when I need a quick supper, I thaw what I need, slice into 3/4 inch slices and fry them up in oil in my cast iron skillet. Serve with tomato sauce & parmesan or maple syrup if you like yours sweet. Crispy crusted outside, creamy and comforting inside… good, quick food on the cheap. One quarter serves two, or dinner and breakfast for one.

Home made bread: Store bought bread is a big source of commercial yuk. I rarely eat bread unless I’ve made it myself. I’m not an exceptionally skilled baker and my bread is more everyday than special, but makes the best toast ever. I love the Buttermilk Bread recipe from Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day, bake several loaves at once, freeze all but one and I can go for a week or more. It makes a hearty and filling breakfast.  Didn’t eat it all?  Easy.  Repurpose the stale bread into ready-to-go breadcrumbs in the food processor.

Pickled Egg Sandwiches: I’m a little addicted to these at the moment. It does take some extra time to make a big batch of pickled eggs, but they last for weeks. I’m always trying new ways to eat my yummy eggs and have settled on this as a favorite. Lightly toasting a thick slice of my homemade bread, I slather it with mayonnaise, top with a sliced pickled egg and a generous grind of coarse black pepper or a drizzle of Indian pepper chutney. Yum.  They’re good too sliced over a bowl of slaw when I’m suffering from winter fresh veggie blues.  Check out Punk Domestics for a bunch of great pickled egg recipes.

Italian Cole Slaw: cabbage is a cheap and nutrient dense vegetable. About this time of year, I am dying for crispy, crunchy, salad-y things.  Mayo-free slaw is so fresh, easy, lasts for days and is useful in so many ways. When I’m craving it, I can’t get enough. I eat it plain, slice pickled eggs and carrots on top or add some tart green crunch to a sandwich.

Apples & peanut butter: We’re lucky to have two large orchards nearby. The Ida Reds are still nice and fresh – I like mine small & crispy. One of our orchards also sells fresh ground peanut butter too – a perfect quickie meal.  A good store of apples helps get through the lean winter months.

Cheese:  Soft cheeses are like a blank canvas – this buttermilk cheese is one of my favorites.  It requires no exotic equipment or ingredients. And no extraordinary skills. You can drizzle with honey or maple syrup and serve with fruit, use in baked goods, stuff ravioli or shells, smear with savory things. I like to top saucy dishes with a slice – the sauce and the cheese together make a pretty perfect bite. Or drizzle my cheese with some olive oil, a splash of vinegar & some freshly ground pepper. Have some pickles or preserved peppers & some crusty bread? Yum.

Meatballs:  Who doesn’t love meatballs? Always good to have on hand, they freeze easily.  Make sure you always have some good sauce, a box of your favorite pasta and some meatballs in the freezer & you’re never unprepared to put a meal on the table fast. Here’s my go-to recipe – Tyler Florence’s Ultimate Spaghetti & Meatballs. One thing I do differently: I prefer to use all ground beef.  Taking care to brown the meatballs gently, then finishing in the oven is the secret to a tender, tender meatball.  If I have it, a nice splurge is adding grated Parmesan to the meatballs. If I don’t, they’re still pretty awesome.  You can also stretch your ground beef further with grains like bulgur or brown rice and I’ll bet nobody will know…

Stew: I happened to have beef so that’s the stew I made. All meats are good for stew and the long, slow braise allows you to use a less expensive piece of meat and still enjoy a top shelf meal. Stretching the meat by adding extra potatoes, carrots or other root vegetables makes it last longer.  Use up leftovers from the fridge, make a big batch, eat half and freeze half for later.  Stretch it further by serving over grits, rice, pasta, mashed potatoes, pearl barley or bulgur.

A Beef Stew Secret: Oranges are not grown locally in Pennsylvania. For me, they are hard to resist. When I do buy them, I make sure to use every part – peels & all. With a vegetable peeler, peel one continuous spiral of just the orange part of the peel. Toss it on top of your stew as it cooks, removing before serving.

I can go on and on, but you get the picture.  As long as my pantry is reasonably well stocked with staples, I don’t even have to do much planning; I always have a fast meal available when I need one.  And it costs less. Less in every way; less time, less gas, less indecision.

I’m sure you won’t even have to tax your brain to identify at least one habit you could easily change that would decrease cost, increase nutrition and support local farms.   What are some of your favorite pantry standbys?

This post is part of Simple Lives Thursday. What’s that you ask? It’s an ambitious and enlightening collection of posts from bloggers all over about issues near and dear to my heart: real food and natural living. Check it out!

in which we give thanks for everyday riches

in which we give thanks for everyday riches

A while ago I stumbled across this Estonian proverb.  It struck me as oh-so-true and I have thought about it often since:

Who does not thank for little will not thank for much.

 

This morning, I am satisfied. I have everything I need if just for today.

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

My pre-dawn breakfast: Farm fresh eggs, carefully basted, served on top of toasted, hearty homemade bread spread with rich, yellow butter made from the milk of grass-fed cows.  The thick-shelled brown eggs were laid a couple of days ago by the neighbor’s chickens, yolks bright and firm.

Sprinkled on top, a tiny bit of Parmesan Reggiano. The cheese mixed with the runny yolks is a thick, delicious sauce with the perfect amount of rich saltiness.

Full, satisfied and ever so grateful. How much richer can I be?  What little pleasures made your day a little bit nicer?

 

In which we are very clear

In which we are very clear

I'm not proud of myself or anything but look what I made! A kitchen basic every serious cook should learn...

Following an extended cookie/cheese/charcuterie season, I feel like a fatted calf myself.

I’m craving light, fresh, green, you know, the stuff that isn’t in season in Pennsylvania now.  The greenest things in my kitchen today are the pangs of envy I’m feeling for those of you blessed with citrus fruits in your yards  – some bright, lemony deliciousness would be a welcome treat.

But, we Pennsylvanians are not without our own winter brightness.  Thank goodness for cabbage, parsley and apples, I say.

I’ve decided this year to focus on improving my most basic kitchen skills. The ones we tend to skip because they’re too boring and fussy.  It’s much more fun to fast-forward to the more exciting stuff like splashing  sauces with flourish and setting things on fire.

Without mastering the basics, you will still make some fine, enjoyable meals.  But, you will remain dependent on recipes and the store for spices and ingredients.  Master the basics and you advance to creating memorable, haunting dishes from nothing more than you can scrounge from the freezer or pantry.

Since beef is my thing, I thought beef consommé would be a good project to start.  When you have good quality stock or broth on hand, you’re ready to make so many quick yet amazing meals on the fly.  Making stock has been part of my weekly routine for a long time. I swear, it’s not really a big time hog; my stove does most of the work while I sleep.

I make good stock, but because I usually choose the quick and dirty method, I tend to skip the little tedious steps that would make my stock great.  I happily eat rustic, rough-around-the-edges foods with bits and chunks, but for some reason after weeks of holiday excess I really, really wanted some beautiful, super clear, purest of pure essence of beef. So, consommé it is.

My mission had several goals:

  1. To make quality use of typically wasted parts of the cow 
  2. To experience the difference the extra fussery makes in the final stock 
  3. To decide if said fussery is worthwhile 
  4. To see if I could

My imaginary helpers for this project were Darina Allen, author of my go-to cookbook Forgotten Skills of Cooking, Queen of Bones & Fat Jennifer McLagan and a tip or two from Paul Bertolli of Cooking by Hand fame. I know. How intimidated lucky can I be?

Important Step One: Start with good beef.

I was fortunate to have access to 3 whole ox tails, a part of the cow often ignored. My tails were purchased directly from a local farmer who raises lovely, healthy, grass-fed Angus beef. OK, I will confess ox tail is not my favorite cut of beef, but this is mainly due to laziness on my part. A low slow braise turns it into yummy pot-roast like shreds and ox tail makes some of the best stock ever – lots of rich beefy flavor and super-silky texture.

My ox tails on a bed of carrots, onion and celery, ready for a good roasting. Ox tails are usually cut more conveniently than this; if not, ask your butcher to be sure and score them for easier handling.

About your meat choice, my esteemed helpers say:

Paul Bertolli:  “It is important that the meat and poultry you use be impeccably fresh.  The broth pot is not the place for old or ‘high’ meat, as their off aromas do not cook away.”

Jennifer McLagan:  “Don’t buy your beef and veal just anywhere.  A good butcher, or a local small producer, can ensure the provenance of your meat and guarantee that your veal is humanely raised.  The tenderness of beef cuts can’t be judged by simply looking at them; a good butcher carefully ages his meat to ensure its flavor and tenderness.”

Darina Allen: “For strength of flavor in this, the meat really needs to be aged.  Fresh meat will not give you the depth of flavor you need for good consommé.”

My Note: you may feel confused by possible conflict between the advice of Paul Bertolli and Darina Allen. There is in fact none. Off or spoiled is not the same as aged. Aged meat is not rancid. Rather, it has been allowed to rest in a climate-controlled environment after slaughter to allow excess water to evaporate and enzymes to break down the strands of muscle fiber. Aging is what makes the meat more tender and flavorful. So, it is possible for your beef to be both aged and impeccably fresh.

One other confusing factoid: Darina comes from a background of small, diversified farming in Ireland where it is commonly understood that the meat from older cows produces more flavorful meat. In the US, we have become accustomed to our beef coming from very young cattle and are not often able to experience the difference age adds to the meat. If you can, give mature beef a try. It’s true; old animals make the best broth.

Important Step Two: Make good stock.

Usually, I make stock from leftovers. Bones of earlier meals, scraps of veggies, whatever needs to be used up, thrown straight into a pot, covered with cold water and allowed to simmer all day. I admit to skipping the roasting step that really does make a big difference.

Today, before starting, browning convert that I am, I always begin by throwing my veggies and/or meat into a roasting pan and roasting first.  When using onions, leave the skins on for a small shortcut and additional color.

Paul Bertolli: Uses a stove top method, browning the meat in batches in an oil coated heavy bottomed stockpot though he says, “It is not necessary to brown the meat to the point that its surface develops a crust.” Another Bertolli difference: He uses a mixture of 70 percent beef (made from a combination of meat and meaty bones) for meaty flavor, 20 percent poultry to which he attributes a “soft and homey dimension of flavor”,  and 10 percent gelatinous pork for collagen and silky texture. He uses no vegetables or seasoning – his is meat juice straight up. He prefers the pure flavor of the meat extraction and since the broth will be later used in preparations that  contain vegetables, adding them sooner is unnecessary.

Jennifer McLagan: Roasts meat first in the oven at 425°. She also scatters carrots, celery, onion and leek over the bottom of the roaster, and places rinsed bones patted dry on the vegetable bed. She roasts the meat for an hour, turning several times until  well browned.

Darina Allen: Also uses aromatic vegetables and an oven roast, but she uses a 450° oven, roasts her beef bones w/scraps of meat on them for 30 minutes alone, then adds the veggies until they are colored at the edges. She also adds garlic, clove, peppercorns, bouquet garni and tomato paste to the liquid.

My note: good stock is forgiving. All three yield excellent results.  The most important ingredient is time and attention. I tend to mix and match from all three methods and have not been disappointed yet. Can you ruin it? Absolutely – simmer slowly and check on it regularly or you will boil the liquid away and burn the pot. Once the pot is burned dry, there’s no salvation. Your stock is officially ruined.

Find a printable recipe for basic beef stock here.

Important step three: The raft

This is the part where things get freaky. I had never seen this done and it takes a bit of faith because the directions sound a little suspect. A raft is used to clarify the broth. It’s a mixture of pureed carrots, celery, leeks, beef and egg whites, poured into cold skimmed stock, stirred well, brought to a boil slowly over low heat and stirred constantly.  What??  This stuff looks NASTY and my stock is a priceless elixir of beautiful well raised  ox tails plus a day of my time…. I don’t want to do it.

I am not exaggerating the fearsome nasty appearance of the clarifying raft.

But, Jennifer McLagan promises that “… my perseverance will be rewarded with a stunning golden broth with an intense beef flavor.”  And Darina Allen calls consommé the “…pure essence of beef – simple, elegant and nourishing.”  She also says that, “Even for many trained chefs, it’s often a forgotten skill and a real accomplishment when successful.”  Paul Bertolli is silent on the subject of consommé but his devotion to craftsmanship is so evident, if he makes it I’m sure it is the golden-est,  clear-est, most intensely flavored nectar imaginable.

Important tips from the masters:

DA: “As soon as the mixture looks cloudy and slightly milky, stop whisking. Allow the filter of egg whites to rise slowly to the top of the saucepan. DO NOT STIR the consommé; just leave it to simmer gently for 45 minutes – 1 hour to extract all the flavor from the beef and vegetables.”

JL:  “As the liquid approaches the boil, it will appear to curdle; don’t panic, that is what you want.”  “The whites will form a congealed mass on the surface, which will puff up and then crack as the steam escapes.”  Whew…

So anyway, nervously I realize my no-guts-no-glory moment has arrived and I dump the unsightly mess into my lovingly simmered, de-fatted and cold but de-jelled beef jell-o. I trust my mentors to get me through and take extra care to follow instructions precisely, but YIKES!

Well, thankfully, my mentors have not let me down. It worked! After gently simmering this nastiness for 45 minutes, I lift off the scum, slowly strain the clarified broth through a double layer of coffee filters in a wire strainer and LOOK! It’s gorgeous! Golden! And PERFECTLY CLEAR!

Lift off this putrid looking mess

Strain slowly & gently through a dampened double layer of cheesecloth, thin dish towel or two coffee filters

It's clear, golden and delicious. Little black dress in a bowl. Of course I couldn't resist adding those ravioli...

Both chefs strongly warn to resist rushing the straining and to not be tempted to press the mixture through the strainer as that will cloud the consommé.

Click here for a printable recipe for ox tail consommé.

I admit I’m a little excited. It’s delicious too. But, I also know it’s probably one of those things that my eaters will not express proportionate admiration for. After all, isn’t beef broth from a can clear? Isn’t this the sort of punishment food you get in the hospital?

I decide the ultimate garnish is what I need to ensure this broth reads VERY SPECIAL: ROYAL PAIN IN THE ASS TO MAKE. The punctuation for my nectar is inspired by recipes from both Jennifer McLagan and Paul Bertolli.

The meat left on the bones after making your stock should not be wasted, but should live on as an unbelievably rich, tender and flavorful filling for pastas and other yummy treats.

Jennifer McLagan’s suggestion that my consomme could be garnished with a wonton wrapper stuffed with diced ox tail and minced parsley (cooked separately of course to not cloud the crystal-clear broth) got me a little excited,  so I adapted some home-made semolina pasta, hand rolled it (don’t give me too much credit here – I didn’t have wonton wrappers, fancy white flour or a pasta machine and I wasn’t going to the store) and made rustic ravioli.

I married Paul Bertolli’s alternate filling from leftover sugo meat recipe to Jennifer McLagan’s minced ox tail and parsley stuffed wonton suggestion. Being so bold as to “improve” Paul Bertolli’s filling recipe, the addition of fresh parsley makes me like it even more.

Find the printable ox tail filling recipe here.

Ta-Da! To say I’m proud of myself would be a bit of an understatement, but to say I’m glad I took pictures because this won’t be happening again anytime soon is even more true.

Glad I did it, have learned much about that culinary workhorse stock and the experience has deepened my understanding of broth in many valuable ways. And, now I can spell consommé without looking it up!

Let me also say my thrifty friends, lest you’re fretting about all the wasted beef, vegetables and egg from my raft, no worry. A special staff dinner was held where it was very much appreciated.

Special perks to the extermination staff for a job well done. Nothing goes to waste around here...