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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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  • Writer's pictureAnthony Manuel Ramos

Updated: Jan 19, 2021

I applied to the French Culinary Institute (FCI) in late 2007 and would start classes early February 2008 in their part-time evening program that met Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 5pm to about 11:30 pm. As the date got closer, the school invited our student group to an orientation so that we could meet our other classmates and chef-instructors. The class was strictly limited to only 22 students. That evening when I met my fellow culinary colleagues, I was definitely the oldest aspiring student in the room. However, there was also a successful lawyer, a mom with two school-aged kids, and a high powered brand manager from a global consumer goods company. These woman had similar life and career experiences and I tended to gravitate to them most of the evening. We also had international students hailing from South America, Israel and the UK. We were a highly diverse group of individuals from many different backgrounds and levels of experience.

I anticipated my first day at FCI and when it arrived I was nervous and excited. I reviewed the lesson plan in advance, my chef uniform was pressed and ready and my fancy new black Dansko clogs were so comfortable albeit as ugly as sin itself! Becoming a student once again was humbling and the last time I was officially a student was 1992.

That first night in the FCI kitchen, I wondered if I accidentally signed up for the military instead. I’m uniformed, I have my weapons (a gorgeous set of knives, and cooking utensils), I’m wearing my regulation shoes and now I’ve received my post (a stainless steel work area with high-powered gas jets, and a French top cooking surface). Lastly, I had a strong introduction to my commanding officer - the Chef. Fine-tuned kitchens are run with organization, efficiency, attention to detail and respect for your fellow kitchen soldiers and most importantly the utmost respect for your ‘commander-in-ch(i)ef’ with replies of “Yes, Chef!” after every instruction and “Thank you, Chef!” after each critique. I was sweating bullets that night and I didn’t know what to expect and as the evening went on, I become more flustered. The professional kitchen is not the place to daydream, serious attention needs to be paid to what you are doing because it can be a hazardous place. Razor sharp knives, scalding pots, and a slippery floor can cause serious injury. Every movement must be calculated; every action must be thought out and then executed and implemented flawlessly.

That first night we learned traditional taillage (methods of cutting veggies) such as julienne, jardinière, macédoine, paysanne, and brunoise. We also learned how to prep vegetables with techniques such as émincer, ciseler, tronçonner, parer, hacher, concasser, and chiffonade. I was learning new terminology in a familiar language having studied French for four years.

We also practiced two methods of cooking vegetables; à l’anglaise is a method to cook vegetables prior to service and reheating at time of service and à l’étuvée is used à la minute, or at time of service and cooked to order.

The evening wound up around 11:15 pm and after changing back into my regular clothes, I raced to Grand Central Terminal to catch a train back to Westchester. It was a long, but rewarding day.

Here I was a new student, learning the basics, I gained a new appreciation for proper knife skills, the necessity of mise en place and respect for the professional kitchen and those individuals that work in the food industry day-after-day. I was weary and tired but knew in my heart I was exactly where I was supposed to be – in front of the stove.

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