Gravy Tips

Happy Thanksgiving!

Many home cooks obsess about making gravy to accompany their roasted turkey and resort to using a pot full of water and a dried gravy packet or two. For a more flavorful gravy try the following Ample Bites tips along with or instead of the gravy packet.

1. Keep the roasting pan moist with beer or wine and water during the roasting of the turkey.
2. Save the juices in the roasting pan when the turkey is removed.
3. Save drippings on the cutting board when carving the turkey.
4. Add the cutting board drippings and scraps to the roasting pan juices and heat the pan to a simmer.
5. In a separate small saucepan, make a roux with vegetable oil and flour using equal amounts of each.
6. To make the roux, bring the oil to a shimmer over medium-high heat, reduce the heat to a simmer and gradually whisk in the flour until the roux is smooth.
7. Gradually add the roux to the gravy in the pan to bring it to the desired thickness.

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Today’s Holiday Cooking Tip: Use A Reliable Thermometer

Regardless of whether you will be roasting a turkey with a “ready button”, a fresh turkey, or a roast it is imperative that you use a reliable thermometer to determine when your main dish is done. This may seem like an obvious tip but it is so simplistic that it is often overlooked by the home cook.

Like many of us you probably have a collection of meat thermometers in your drawers or cabinets. Ample Bites has owned at least a dozen meat thermometers. Ask yourself the following questions about your thermometer(s):
— How accurate are each of your thermometers?
— If you have more than one, do you know which thermometer is most accurate?
— If you spent $100 on a roast, would you trust your thermometer to tell you when the meat is done?

Further questions to consider are:
— Have you ever cut into a roast or turkey to see if it is really done?
— Has the turkey “ready button” ever failed you?

If the above questions raise any doubt in your mind, you have time to purchase the last thermometer you will ever need.

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Ample Bites has a single trusted thermometer – the Thermapen. The Thermapen is a digital, instant-read thermometer that is well-made and tested in the best professional kitchens in the world. It is not cheap. It will cost you about $90. That said, you will be able to discard all of the other meat thermometers cluttering your drawers and you will never produce another overcooked turkey or beef, lamb or pork roast.

For a full review of the Thermapen see the November, 16 2012 Ample Bites post titled “Thermapen – The Best Kitchen Tool Ever!”.

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The Most Valuable Tips for Planning a Big Holiday Meal

Plan ahead and get organized.

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If you have every held a large holiday meal you will likely remember the last minute dashes to the grocery store for crucial ingredients or, worse, to the department store for a critical piece of cooking equipment. Even if you are extremely well-organized the trip to the grocery is probably unavoidable, almost everything else can be managed if you think it through ahead of time and have a plan.

If you are hosting Thanksgiving, now – 2 weeks ahead of Thanksgiving Eve – is the perfect time to start planning and organizing. You are probably thinking … “Why 2 weeks ahead of Thanksgiving Eve?” The answer is that you need to be well into your meal preparation by the time Thanksgiving Eve rolls around.

These two weeks will give you time to shop for and stock up on ingredients without battling the last-minute crowds. To do this you need to set your menu including exact decisions about brining and seasoning your turkey; any specialty items required for side dish recipes; and any themed cocktail or beverage you might be serving.

Getting organized starts with building menu lists, ingredient lists and a plan for how these items will be prepared and served in a 36-hour window. I know … 36-hours seems like an enormous amount of time to prepare a meal. Is it? Really? Experienced hosts and hostesses will tell you otherwise.

For the tech savvy cook, pick up the Thanksgiving: A Bon Appetit Manual for the iPad and iPhone.

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Two Great Quick Tips

The May & June 2012 Cook’s Illustrated has two great Quick Tips that Ample Bites will begin using today.

The last two times I made pasta I completely forgot to reserve pasta water to finish the dish prior to serving. As a reminder to reserve pasta water Cook’s Illustrated recommend placing a measuring cup inside the colander you will use to drain the pasta. This will absolutely work … as long as you remember why you put the measuring cup there.

I also hate to imagine how many propane fuel tanks I have had refilled when still had a far amount of gas in them. Cook’s Illustrated recommends a method where you pour a cup of boiling water over the side of the tank and then feel the metal with your hand. Where the water has warmed the tank it is empty, where the tank remains cool to the touch there is still propane inside.

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Shrimp Stock for Cioppino

Making you own Shrimp Stock, for use in zuppa di mare, Cioppino or seafood risotto, is easy and fresh shrimp stock adds a deep layer of flavor unattainable with the use of a vegetable stock.

Do-it-yourself shrimp stock does take some planning. Primarily, you need to save shells from the shrimp that you peel for cooking. Ample Bites always buys raw, frozen shrimp and freezes the shells in zip-top plastic bags until I have at least a loosely-packed quart.

These shrimp shells seem, at first glance, to be of little value but there is a tremendous amount of flavor clinging to them. To make the Shrimp Stock Ample Bites uses the following recipe:

Shrimp Stock

1 – 1 1/2 quart of loosely-packed shrimp shells
2 medium yellow onions, chopped coarsely
2 stalks of celery, chopped coarsely
2 medium-sized carrots, chopped coarsely
1 clove of garlic, peeled and smashed
2 tsp sea salt
1 bundle bouquet garni (5 sprigs of thyme, 2 bay leaves, 10 black peppercorns, 3 sprigs of parsley wrapped and tied in a piece of cheesecloth)
4 quarts cold water

Rinse the shrimp shells under cold water and place them in a stockpot with the remaining ingredients. Bring the stock to a boil over high heat, then reduce to a simmer for 10 minutes. Turn the heat back to medium and cook uncovered for about 30 minutes. Allow the stock to cool and then strain through a fine strainer. If you will not be using the stock immediately you can store it in the refrigerator for 2-3 day or freeze in a sealed plastic container for about one month.

What did I tell you? Really easy, right? The scariest part for most home cooks is the term “bouquet garni” If you have cheesecloth, kitchen twine and the listed ingredients, it takes 2-3 minutes to put this element of the stock together.

A favorite Ample Bites recipe incorporating shrimp stock is Cioppino, sometimes called a seafood stew. The following recipe serves six.

Cioppino

2 lbs russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 2” chunks
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 16-oz can whole tomatoes, undrained, crushed by hand
½ tsp, crushed red chile peppers
5 cloves garlic, minced
2 medium yellow onions, roughly chopped
2 bay leaves, broken in half
1 medium green bell pepper, cored, seeded, and roughly chopped
1 cup shrimp stock or bottled clam juice
½ cup dry white wine
Kosher salt to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
18 mussels, rinsed and debearded
2 lbs boneless, skinless haddock or cod filets, cut into 1 ½” chunks
3 Tbsp minced fresh cilantro
3 Tbsp minced fresh parsley

Bring a large pot of slated water to a boil and add potatoes; cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, 12-15 minutes. Drain and set aside.

Heat the oil in a 6-qt pot over medium-high heat. Add tomatoes, chile flakes, garlic, onions, bay leaves, and peppers and cook, stirring often, until soft, about 12 minutes. Add fish stock, wine and salt and pepper and cook stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes. Add fish and continue to cook, cover, until all of the mussels are opened and the fish is cooked through, 5-6 minutes more.

To serve, transfer fish stew to a large serving bowl and sprinkle with half the parsley and cilantro. Place the potatoes in another serving dish, sprinkle with remaining cilantro and parsley and serve alongside stew.

Ample Bites hopes you find the value in saving shrimp shells for Shrimp Stock. Enjoy the Cioppino while the weather is still relative cool. Mangia!

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Cook’s Illustrated Has Great Tips and Classic Recipes

Ample Bites is a long-time reader and follower of Cook's Illustrated. This publication, which can also be followed on their Facebook fan page, offers a variety of recipes, cooking tips, information about ingredients, and reviews of cooking products and equipment.

Many of the CI recipes focus on best cooking practices for classic dishes like fried chicken, prime rib roast, lasagna, baked goods, and oven-roasted halibut, to name a few. CI’s recipes are well-written, easy to follow, and, from Ample Bites’ experience, yield outstanding results.

A regular feature in Cook’s Illustrated is a section called Quick Tips. These tips are provided by readers. Readers whose tips are published receive a complimentary 1-year subscription to the magazine.

My favorite from the current, April 2012 CI Quick Tips, was submitted by Peter Walker of Bellingham, Washington. He shares the use of parchment paper to wrap panini-style sandwiches before placing them on the panini press (or George Foreman-style sandwich grill). Wrapping the sandwich allows the heat of the press to cook the sandwich without the juices and cheese drippings leaking out. This technique makes the clean-up of the press virtually unnecessary.

Other Quick Tips used regularly in the Ample Bites kitchen are the placement of a folded dish towel under a cutting board to eliminate any rocking or sliding of the board and storing the remaining section of a tomato cut-side down on a piece of plastic wrap to preserve for use up to a day or two later.

The April 2012 Cook’s Illustrated also features an ingredient section titled Shrimp 101: How to buy, prep and cook juicy, tender shrimp. This two-page feature shares all of the basics of buying and preparation in easy to understand descriptions and illustrations.

The buy/prep page explains the sometimes confusing terms of count-per-pound (Jumbo 16/20, Extra-large 21/25, Large 26/30, Medium 41/50, Small 51/60) and recommends the 21/25 size for most applications. The other valuable topics discussed in this article are the sources of the shrimp (US Gulf of Mexico, Asia, and South America), as well as, the freezing and defrosting techniques including the importance of buying IQF, individually quick-frozen, shrimp. The basics of thawing and deveining are also explained very clearly.

The cooking page describes the four “foolproof” methods of pan searing, grilling, poaching and stir-frying. If you have a copy of this article it is one to clip and save for ready-reference any time you are cooking shrimp.

For valuable tips, reliable recipes and understandable information about food products and equipment, Ample Bites highly recommends Cook’s Illustrated.

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