Stock.

Simmering stock

Happy Holidays! Did you celebrate? How was it? We have been busy, and apparently neglectful; the surest way to know we’ve not been home enough is the smell of cat pee on our bath towels and dirty laundry. And it’s not just the cat – our waistlines are suffering a noticeable neglect as well. We’ve eaten more food in the past week than I think we ate all year; definitely more calories. Definitely. I can feel my liver.

It’s not over yet. We have more dinners, more drinks, more friends and family and days filled with driving and negotiating with the car over how little we can get away with spending on gas. Our apartment is a hideous mess, but there’s almost no point in cleaning it. Why bother? We’re just going to have to do it again and again and again.

But the laundry’s going through its rotations, and I’ve found a quiet moment to process the leftovers. There is something meditative about picking meat off of bones; it requires focus, but it’s not strenuous work and the results mean future meals.

Even if we are just in the eye of this seasonal storm, I have found a moment of peace, and in it there is the warmth of bones and the produce that wilted in my crisper finding new life in a pot of stock that will nourish us back to health after December’s frantic gorging finally lets up.

You can’t even smell the cat pee anymore.

Make stock. It will warm your home and then when you’re too tired to do anything tonight or in a few days or next week, you’ll just bring some of it to a simmer with some veggies, a bit of meat and some noodles or grains or legumes and you’ll have an easy (and easily digestible) dinner that won’t take much more than 20 minutes to pull together.

There’s no real recipe. Most of the time I save my veggie scraps in a container in the freezer, and then when we eat a bird or a ham or a lot of bony beef, I put my scraps and bones in a stock pot with some herbs, some salt and pepper and a lemon. I fill the pot to about the 12-litre mark and simmer (never boil) for two hours or maybe more, depending on how the day goes. I usually end up with about eight litres of stock in the end, and that’s enough for eight pots of soup, or eight risottos, or 16 pots of Bolognese sauce or chili.

If you don’t have scraps in your freezer, use a couple of carrots, a few ribs of celery, an onion, the green tops of two leeks, and half a bunch of parsley and as many heads of garlic as you feel like (I always use two or three). For the bones, a carcass from Christmas dinner or a bag of chicken backs from your butcher will be perfectly fine; if you’re using raw backs to start, brown them in a bit of oil in the bottom of the pot with your veggies for extra flavour. But you don’t have to use meat; omit it and you’ll have yourself a perfectly lovely vegetable stock. Add some bay leaves, a handful of black peppercorns, and then just let it go. If anything scummy forms on the top, skim it off. There’s really nothing to it.

Strain it after a couple of hours, then put it back on the stove and simmer for longer to reduce it if you want, or don’t, but salt it at the end after you’ve tasted it. Cool it, then store it in large Mason jars or freezer bags in 4-cup portions.

Trust me on this – make stock. You’ll feel better knowing there’s nutritious, homemade soup in your future.

And enjoy the rest of the holiday season. There’s still fun to be had, and I hope you have it all.

Kroketten: Make your holiday leftovers into delicious fried snack food.

Nick is all about croquettes. He demanded them for his birthday, and he gets very excited whenever the possibility of croquettes arises, which for him isn’t often. Croquettes, or kroketten, are a Dutch thing, and given Nick’s Vander-leaning heritage, he gets a little nostalgic over them, a little obsessive even, possibly the same way I do for good fish and chips. You can buy them at the Dutch store, but that’s an hour’s drive away, and you can get them at the little Dutch pancake restaurant in town here, but they close early and we sleep late.

This year though, we ended up with enough leftover meat to make a couple of batches. So, inspired in part by this recipe, in part by a recipe from my in-laws, Mark and Jess, and by the taste of the things, which is always fairly consistent, I made my first Dutch croquettes. They’re basically deep-fried soft meatballs, so by their very nature they’re delicious.

They seem like more trouble than they are. They weren’t all that time-consuming, because the majority of the work was not intensive and I could leave them in stages and do other things. So if you’ve got a lot of extra turkey, chicken, or roast beef, or even pork, and you’re tired of soup and sandwiches already, why not try kroketten? One batch makes about two dozen, and they freeze well, so you can enjoy your holiday leftovers as a snack anytime.

The recipe below is for a beef version, but I’ll include the variation I used for the turkey ones as well.

Kroketten

  • 1 tbsp. plus 1/4 cup butter, 1/4 cup reserved
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 large carrot, chopped
  • 1 stalk celery, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1.5 lbs. cooked beef, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 lemon, zest and juice
  • 2 cups beef stock or reduced-sodium beef broth
  • 1 tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 tsp. dry mustard
  • 1 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp. dried rosemary
  • 3/4 tsp. dried thyme
  • 1/2 tsp. nutmeg
  • Salt, to taste
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 4 cups dry breadcrumbs
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3 eggs, beaten

(Variation: For turkey kroketten, use chicken stock instead of beef stock, and use dried sage instead of rosemary. You could throw in a handful of raisins or dried cranberries here, and it would be lovely.)

Melt butter and sweat onion, carrot, and celery, and garlic cloves. Add the meat, lemon zest and juice, and stock. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, reduce to medium-low, cover, and simmer for 45 minutes.

Strain meat mixture, reserving stock. Transfer meat mixture to a food processor*.

Add parsley, dry mustard, pepper, rosemary, thyme, and nutmeg, and pulse until well-combined and mostly puréed. You want some texture, but not too much, as these aren’t really “chewing” snacks. They should be very soft.

*Alternately, if you don’t have a food processor, separate the meat and the veggies. Mash the veggies, and pull the meat apart with a fork, and then chop very finely. Mix meat and veggies together, and then proceed as below.

In a pot over medium-high heat, melt the reserved butter, and stir in the flour. Pour in your reserved stock and stir frequently until the mixture comes to a gentle boil and thickens. Add your meat mixture to this, and stir to combine. Adjust seasonings to taste.

Transfer to a 9″x13″ pan, cover, and refrigerate for up to three hours.

Go out, do other things.

When you come back, set a workstation up for yourself with one parchment-lined baking sheet, one bowl of the beaten eggs, a plate with the flour, and a pie-plate containing your breadcrumbs. Form into logs, about 3/4-inch thick and 2 1/2-inches long. Alternately, you can roll them into balls about the size of golf-balls. If you’re making two different kinds, it helps to make both so that you can tell them apart later when you want to eat them.

Dip first into flour (coat all sides), then into egg, and then drop into breadcrumbs, rolling each piece in your hands to thoroughly coat. Place on cookie sheet. You should end up with about two dozen. Make sure that the coating is thick and even, or else the meat will burst out of the croquette’s more delicate places when frying.

At this point, you can either freeze them or fry them. If you are going to freeze them, cover them (on their cookie sheet) with plastic and place in the freezer until frozen solid. Remove them to a large, sealed container, where you can store them in the freezer for up to six weeks. If you are going to fry them, return them first to the refrigerator for about 30 minutes.

Heat a pot of oil, about four inches, to 350°F. Drop kroketten in, four or five at a time, and cook each batch for three to five minutes, or until golden brown. Remove to a paper-towel lined plate, sprinkle with Kosher salt, and serve piping hot, with a big bowl of yellow American mustard.

If you’re not super comfortable with deep-frying, you can fry them in a regular frying pan, in about an inch of oil. Just give them a bit longer, and make sure you brown them on all sides.

At this point, your version of Nick, whether Dutch-inclined or not, will be all kinds of grateful, and will likely even volunteer to do things for you, such as washing the dishes and/or keeping your hand filled with cans of ice-cold beer for the remainder of the evening. Your version of Nick will also be hugely complimentary and will let you go to bed early and not get mad at you for not dealing with the last of the laundry or “forgetting” to put the sheets and duvet cover back where they should be.

The moral of the story is that there is something pleasant you can do with leftovers that doesn’t only involve turning them into soup or sandwiches. If you freeze them, these little croquettes will make a nice make-ahead treat for your guests on New Years Eve. Happy leftoversing!