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  • Writer's pictureAnthony Manuel Ramos

The history of food preservation is fascinating; for centuries people have salted, pickled, smoked, and dried their food to make it last longer without the aid of refrigeration. Imagine your life without your trusty refrigerator. I experienced it for a short time growing up when our family’s refrigerator stopped working. I don’t quite remember how long we dealt with not having one but it seemed like an eternity and it taught me to appreciate our avocado green Frigidaire a lot more when it was finally repaired. Luckily it was winter time and we had coolers set outside to store milk, juice, butter, etc. We also had a chest freezer that was styled like a ‘57 Chevy with chrome finishes and bulky rounded edges – it was a behemoth.

That experience taught me to examine foods that did not need refrigeration and that astounded me. My Dad would buy planks of dried salted cod fish or as we called it – Bacalhau. I was intrigued how a dried out piece of – once fresh fish – could last so long without spoiling. They were stiff as a board and looked inedible. It was remarkable to think how this once fresh fish with firm flesh, clear eyes, and no fishy scent was transformed into a piece of wood. But as we all know, fresh fish and houseguests start to stink after three days.

Long ago, someone thought about taking that fresh fish and drying it to remove all of the moisture. Ingenious, since bacteria requires a moist environment to survive and the fish can be kept for a long time without spoilage. Legumes (that bag of dried navy beans kicking around in the back of your pantry) that have been dehydrated last a long time because moisture-loving microorganisms are kicked to the curb with no place to live.

For centuries, salt cod was a major food export and is still integral in many European and Scandinavian cuisines. My family had bacalhau on holidays and even on not so special occasions. It was Portuguese comfort food at its best. I recall the large pieces of salt cod needing to be soaked in large stock pots of water to rehydrate it over a few days. The water needed to be constantly refreshed for the salt to be removed from the fish. One of my favorite things my Dad would make were bacalhau fritters – crispy on the outside and then a creamy, cod fish filling with potato and fresh parsley on the inside. Right from the fryer with a sprinkle of sea salt – so delicious!

Homemade bacalhau fritters

Now, I think it’s important that we chat about fat Tom – no, not my portly friend who ate too many fritters, but an acronym. FATTOM reminds us what nasty microorganisms need to thrive and multiply. FATTOM is a simple reminder when it comes to food spoilage. Here’s what is necessary to spin the spoilage wheel.

Food – very simply, bacteria needs food to survive; Acid – microorganisms also like a certain pH balance, somewhere right in the middle (not too acidic, not too alkaline). The two T’s are for Time and Temperature – the longer food is left out at unsafe temperatures will allow bacteria a chance to grow and multiply. That is why it is very important to cool large portions of food before placing in the refrigerator. O for oxygen, yes bacteria needs it too! Moisture is the last piece of the puzzle as explained above in the dried fish example.

Drying food is just one of the ways to preserve it. Pickling, for instance, works because the liquid used to preserve the food item is very acidic, too acidic for bacteria to grow. By the way, bacteria also has two other pals in the spoilage world – including yeast, and mold. I think you get the point.

Coming full circle, let’s round out the general techniques of preserving food. We have dehydration, alcohol is used primarily for fruits (think pear brandy or eau de vie), sugar used in fruit preserves (sugar slows down enzymatic activity), pickling, dry cure or salt, a liquid cure/brine (think of that Thanksgiving turkey), smoking (think BBQ) but also include cold, hot and wood smoking, pasteurization (milk & dairy), sterilization (think of grandma’s canned veggies or fruits), refrigeration & freezing (including quick freezing & freeze drying), and lastly, sealing & coating – such as in making duck confit – basically the duck is dry cured to remove moisture and then cooked in its rendered duck fat. The layer of fat creates a barrier and microorganisms can’t get in to spoil that yummy goodness.

I hope this post about methods of food preservation proves interesting. I am definitely interested in learning to safely can (a bucket list food challenge) and I do love to quick-pickle a summer cucumber or red onion but most importantly, I think about honoring the ingredient and trying to reduce food waste as much as possible.

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  • Writer's pictureAnthony Manuel Ramos

Stocks are to cooking what foundations are to a house

– Georges Auguste Escoffier

​Escoffier was a French chef, restaurateur, and culinary writer and his quote is as true today as it was 100 years ago. In French cooking, stocks are used to make sauces and to reinforce flavor in many dishes. In culinary school, we learned all about stocks (fonds) and I enjoy making homemade stocks for sauces, soups, stews, etc.

Georges Auguste Escoffier
Georges Auguste Escoffier b. 1846 – d. 1935

I know it is easier to pick up a box of stock or broth from the grocery store, but honestly, it is better to make it yourself. It’s fresher, economical, and downright satisfying. I’m often asked what the difference is between stock and broth – here is a great explanation.

My usual rotation in making stocks include chicken stock (Fond de volaille), fish or shellfish stock (Fumet de poissons ou crustacés), and beef stock (Fond de bœuf). During the week, I save fresh vegetable scraps such as carrots, onions, celery, and parsley stems to create a mirepoix. I toss everything into a freezer storage bag and periodically add more things including garlic scraps, onion skins, the green parts of leeks, scallion trimmings, carrot peelings, celery leaves, fresh sprigs of thyme – all great aromatics that will ultimately flavor your stock.

For chicken stock, I grab my frozen mirepoix mixture, some raw chicken wings and chicken bones and toss everything in a large pot with cold water. Bring it up to a boil and then drop it down to a simmer. After a good simmer for over 2 hours, you must strain the stock from the bones and vegetables through a chinois into a container. The stock should be chilled down quickly if you are not going to use it right away.

The result is a stock flavored with the essence of all its ingredients and the kitchen is heady with a comforting aroma. A big pot of stock will fill about 8 quart containers – remember to name and date your freezer items. I buy freezer labels that are super easy to remove when cleaning your used containers. A sharpie and a stack a labels are indispensable and you will thank me by never having to guess the frozen mystery item in the back of your freezer ever again.

Stocks are also used to create classic French sauces or sauces mères (mother sauces) that can be adapted into a variety of other sauces. But that topic deserves its own post so more on that later.

Today, I’m making a beef stock with beef femur bones I purchased at the market as well as meaty ox tails. For this stock, you take your rinsed bones and toss them into a roasting pan with rough chopped carrots, celery, onion, 2 bay leaves, about a dozen black peppercorns, and a few garlic cloves – be sure to coat the bones with a little bit of canola oil so that the bones roast properly. Then into a 400 degree oven for about an hour – after 30 minutes give the bones and aromatics a good stir and turn bones over to roast evenly for the remaining time.

Once the bones are roasted, the entire mixture gets transferred to a stock pot with fresh cold water. I ensure that the oil left in the roasting pan is ladled and removed. A good beef stock needs to simmer for many hours. I personally like it to go for about 8 – 10 hours. Those chunky bones release their flavor and collagen very slowly. So, it’s a perfect thing to do when you’ll be home all day.

Once you are satisfied that your beef stock has simmered as long as possible, the same rule of thumb requires you to run it through a chinois and chill down. Lately, I’ve also added one extra step when finalizing a good stock – by clarifying it - check out this video by Chef Jacques Pépin.

My suggestion, if you are trying to cut down on processed foods, then take stock and make stock.

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  • Writer's pictureAnthony Manuel Ramos

On Sunday, we returned from our annual trip to the Gulf Coast of Florida. In January, we take off for MLK weekend and visit Marc’s Mom. The trip is a pleasant break from the cold gray days of Michigan’s winter season.

We met up with some family friends, walked the white sandy beach of Lido Key, and ate lots of seafood. Luckily, we were able to go out to dinner since Florida’s restaurants are open and we were eager to support local businesses.

Those early formative years growing up in New Jersey, there are some words that come out of my mouth that clearly peg me as a Jersey boy. FLAAH-rah-DAH – for instance, is definitely one word where my Jersey accent shines bright and Marc enjoys to comically repeat me and say, “Let’s go to FLAAH-rah-DAH and buy some AAH-rin-gez!”

I’ve been to Florida on many trips including half a dozen trips to Orlando and Disney. I’ve been up and down Florida’s east coast from West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale, to Miami. I’ve even cruised down the Overseas Highway that connects Key Largo to Key West.

On the Gulf Coast - from Clearwater, St. Pete & Tampa down through Sarasota, Venice and Bonita Springs – the white sand beaches are some of the prettiest I’ve ever seen. Boating on the Intracoastal Waterway is pretty spectacular too with sightings of dolphins and manatees along the way. It’s a unique place to visit and we are lucky to spend a few days uninterrupted with my Mom-in-law.

As we boarded our flight home from Sarasota, I knew that a snow storm had already blanketed mid-Michigan and was waiting to welcome us back. This time of year it snows almost every day with light flurries being the most common. I happen to like winter and love how the season changes the landscape view. The flocked evergreens flank our snow-covered lake dotted with ice fishing shanties. Driving past old weathered barns – looking stoic in the vast emptiness of winter – the wind whips up swirling frozen waves across the roadway. Beautiful in its starkness and contrast - every season here has its own special beauty.

This week, at the new house, tongue and groove white oak floors are starting to be laid in place. I need to finalize paint colors for the various rooms in the house since that is next on my punch list. The newel posts are being coated in a black gel stain to match our black windows and exterior door finishes. For our mudroom, I have two pocket doors that will be customized with an insert of vintage glass that I’ve sourced from Olde Good Glass online. The pebbled glass has chicken wire embedded between the panes and is reclaimed from pre-war industrial buildings and factories marked for renovation or demolition. Our farmhouse-style dwelling will have some modern, industrial and urban accents throughout and will be a true reflection of our personalities, tastes and a nod to our rural locale.

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