Thursday, April 30, 2015

Ode to the BLT - Beautiful Luscious Tasty


The BLT. Bacon Lettuce and Tomato with mayo on toast. Simple, but complex. Five ordinary ingredients that come together to create something extraordinary. A sandwich of pure genius.

There are few foods which have so much going on, with so few ingredients. The BLT is a study in contrasting flavors, textures and temperature. A culinary juxtaposition if you will. What's more, each of the five ingredients of the classic BLT have multiple components of texture and flavor which together create a symphony of deliciousness. A sandwich so perfect it's awe inspiring.

Allow me to elucidate:

The bacon; salty, smokey, crunchy and (if you don't overcook it as you shouldn't) chewy and fatty too.

The lettuce; cool and crisp.

The tomato; juicy and sweet.

The mayo; creamy, acidic, and salty.

The toasted bread; crunchy, warm, and comforting.

Though there is overlap, and even with my limited ability to describe each of it's components you can see how many different flavors and textures a BLT has.

The sandwich's genius lies in it's simplicity, because that simplicity belies the myriad of flavors and textures it contains. Almost all of the various 'tastes' are represented. Savory, salty, sweet, and sour (acid) and according to Wikipedia, tomatoes have umami, so that's represented too. Then there's the contrasting textures of the crisp lettuce, crunchy/chewy bacon and toast, plus the creamy mayo and the juicy tomato. If that weren't enough, the sandwich has contrasting temperatures, warm bacon and toast, cool lettuce and tomato. Furthermore, I need to mention the bright colors. I think it's just beautiful to look at.

The BLT is amazing. And it's just so gosh darn tasty. It is definitely one of my favorite sandwiches, second only to a good burger.

There have been many attempts to improve on it. There's the BLAT. Which of course adds avocado. And the BELT, the E for egg. I've seen recipes that use herbed mayo, or that have you make the sandwich on a baguette, or recipes that sub arugula for the lettuce. You can also stir some hot sauce into the mayo, to add in the missing 'S' taste—spicy.

My advice; don't mess with perfection. The classic BLT, made with lettuce, tomato, bacon, and mayo, on plain, thinly sliced white toast needs no embellishment. And any attempt to improve it is gilding the lily. Additional items are superfluous. Resist the temptation to make the sandwich better. It is perfection is it's classic form. Gastronomic tinkerers need not apply.

I salute you Mr. BLT inventor! Thank you for bringing the pleasure of a simple, yet complex treat into our lives. We all owe you a debt of gratitude. I raise my sandwich to you in celebration. Here's to the BLT!


Monday, April 27, 2015

Soft Serve Sucks

I joined Daniel B. of FUSSYlittleBLOG and several other intrepid ice cream eaters for the Tour de Soft Serve 2.0. We toured five soft serve ice cream stands in Clifton Park, Ballston Spa, and Saratoga, getting a cup or cone at each location. With careful consideration, we recorded our thoughts about each one. Dipping spoons in cups and licking cones, we tasted and we tested. It was a lot of fun. It was a great group of people and I had a blast.

I've never been a big fan of soft serve ice cream. I eat it, but when I crave ice cream, I go for hard ice cream. Soft serve just doesn't compare to real ice cream. Yes, I said real ice cream. Soft ice cream, in my opinion, is just not that great.

Soft serve is a seasonal treat. It's inextricably linked to summer. It's wholly a part of summer. My childhood memories are filled with trips to soft serve stands, and included in those memories are swimming, swelteringly hot days, and cookouts. Just as no summer is complete without trips to the beach or pool, or cookouts and picnics, no summer would be complete without enjoying a cool, creamy, and crunchy, soft serve ice cream cone.

But does anyone ever crave soft serve in the winter? I eat ice cream year round. Hard ice cream. And I'm sure you do too, as do most. But once the leaves turn brown and fall off the trees, soft ice cream disappears from the mind. Because without all the experiences of summer, soft serve melts into a puddle of meaninglessness. Without summer there'd be no soft serve stands. Without summer there'd be no soft serve period.

We've all eaten something and afterward think to ourselves, "Man, I've got to have that again!" We've all eaten foods that leave an impression, dishes that are memorable. Maybe it was a great dessert that was so good you couldn't wait to talk about it and you were still thinking about it days or even weeks later. I've had memorable experiences while eating soft serve, but I've never had a memorable soft ice cream cone. They all fade into oblivion. All of them.

There are those who make ice cream that take their craft very seriously. Great ice cream, like anything, is both an art and a science. There's a ton of creativity, and innovation happening in hard ice cream and similar products like gelato and sorbet.

Daniel picked five of the best soft ice cream stands in Saratoga County. My hope was that going to five of the best, at least one would stand out as exceptionally good. There has to be at least one that's taking soft serve and elevating it, raising the bar through innovation, creativity, and dedication to craft.

Nope. None. Not even one.

Ask 10 different people in the Capital Region who makes the best soft serve and you're likely to get 10 different answers. It's fair to assume their opinion is based more on fond memories related to the experience than the ice cream itself. Because although there are differences between one stand and the next, and of course some are selling a better product than others, there's none that are raising the bar. There's not a single local place that stands out above the crowd. And the differences between them are for the most part subjective.

And that's fine. But that's my point. Soft serve is about the experience of eating ice cream at an ice cream stand on a hot summer day with friends and family. It's not about the ice cream. Just as no one eats a hamburger because of the bun, no one eats soft serve because of the ice cream. We eat soft serve because its a fun summer thing to do. That's great. There's nothing wrong with that in the least.

But take soft serve ice cream out of summer. Strip away the experience, and judge soft ice cream strictly on the merits of whether it's good ice cream or not, and I think you'll agree with me...

Soft serve sucks.


Friday, April 24, 2015

Bad Chain Restaurants III - Heartbroken

At the ripe old age of 15, I wanted a job. I needed more than the few dollars a week my parents gave me as an allowance. I wanted spending money. Ambition welled up in me, I needed to do something. My mother had previously worked at Dunkin' Donuts and she was friends with the owner. She got me a job there.

It was June 1982, I'll never forget it. I got hired as a porter. A porter was a part time job, about 3 hours a day, in the afternoon. Porters did odd jobs around the shop. We cleaned the kitchen. We mopped floors. We helped bring in stock when the truck would arrive. We filtered the fryers. I didn't love it, but I loved having a paycheck, and I loved being around all of the cute girls who worked the counter.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Serious Business

Lurking about Facebook and Twitter the other day I came across this tweet from @Plated:

6 must-know tips for making the *perfect* meatball: plated.me/1GUkrpp

When I saw tip number 4, I knew I had to write about it and set the record straight. It's just wrong.

You're doing it wrong.

Meatballs are serious business in my house. I'm not of Italian decent. But my mother after divorcing my father when I was 6, remarried a first generation Italian. My wife is half Italian, her father a second generation Italian. So I'm no stranger to Italian culture, and while the meatball is not really an Italian creation, you'd never know that by my step-father's and father-in-law's devotion to them.

I'm a fan of just about any kind of ground meat dish. Burgers, gyros, bolognese, shepherd's pie. And of course meatballs are no exception. I started making my own about 10 years ago. And I think I make a good one. Perfect? Perhaps not. But darn good nonetheless. I've spent years perfecting them.

Most meatballs you get in restaurants, especially in old school red sauce joints are terrible. They're too big, and they're dense, heavy, and bland. A great meatball is light and tender and flavorful. It should almost melt in your mouth. My meatballs are so tender, sometimes they fall apart in the sauce if I stir it too vigorously. And who cares if they're perfectly round? I actually prefer them not to be. It's more rustic when they're oddly shaped.

Plated suggests you roll the meatballs in such a way as to not overwork the meat. I say, don't roll them at all! Rather, gently press the meat into a ball, just until it comes together. Rolling them makes them denser and heavier. Also, they shouldn't be too big. I make mine a little bigger than a golf ball. The bigger they are, the longer you have to cook them and overcooked meatballs are not good.

I also like to use meatloaf or meatball mix. I buy Catelli Bros., and it makes fantastic meatballs. See in the picture how loosely packed it is. That really helps to make the meatballs more tender. Meatloaf mix has a lighter flavor than using all beef and a lighter texture too. My recipe works for ground chicken or turkey too, but meatloaf mix works best.

I do like to cook my meatballs in tomato sauce. It flavors both the sauce and the meatballs. I also fry them for just a minute before finishing them in the sauce. Frying adds a little caramelization which adds flavor and it helps hold them together better. Because as I said, using my method they are very tender and can fall apart in the sauce if you're not careful.

Steve's Italian Style Meatballs:

1 1/3 lbs. meatloaf mix
3 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley
1/3 cup breadcrumbs
1 egg beaten
1 clove garlic, pressed through a garlic press or very finely minced
1/3 cup freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese
My meatballs. Take note of the texture.
Salt and pepper to taste

Add all the ingredients into a bowl and using a light hand, mix just until incorporated.
To form the meatballs, take about a golf ball size of meat and press the meat into a ball just enough so it holds together.

Fry the meatballs in about a 1/2 inch vegetable oil over medium high heat until they just start to brown, about a minute or so per side. Do not over brown them. I flip them once, you don't need to turn them to cook all sides. Just fry two sides like you would a burger. They'll still be mostly raw.

Drain briefly on a paper towel and add to a lightly simmering, already finished tomato sauce. Let them cook in the sauce for 10 minutes then remove the sauce from the heat.

I'll put my meatballs up against almost anyone's. I'm that confident of how good they are. I don't take them lightly. Meatballs are serious business.


Monday, April 20, 2015

Hot Tooth

I had the pleasure of joining nine other yelpers recently for an excursion to Troy to enjoy pizza, beer and wings at the Notty Pine Tavern. It was a great time. Ten food lovers sitting around a table talking about—and eating—food. There's nothing quite like spending time with like minded souls. Those who 'get' what you 'get'. Those who enjoy what you enjoy.

Daniel B. of FUSSYlittleBLOG fame and Otis M. of Burnt My Fingers were discussing (I think) foods they like. Daniel made the observation that he had a 'fat tooth' and Otis an 'acid tooth'. Just as it's said that someone who loves sweets has a sweet tooth, Otis is fond of foods that have an acidic component, and Daniel those that contain fat.

That got me thinking.

What foods push my buttons? If one were to study what I like, what 'tooth' would I have? Discovering that is not as easy as it might seem.

Self reflection can be difficult. After all, we all have an image of ourselves, and setting that aside and being truly honest about who we are is not easy, even when it concerns something apparently trivial like one's taste in food. Nor, might I add, necessarily fun. Peeling back the covers, and disrupting one's self image can be a frightening experience. I think that's why so many people (myself included) have no problem looking at themselves in the mirror, but loathe looking at pictures or videos of themselves... "Do I really look like that?". Seeing yourself from the third person perspective is akin to being naked and pointed at by onlookers.

But I just needed a few minutes to sit down and ponder my preferences and it became as clear as day.

I have a hot tooth.

It's almost silly, it was right there in front of me. I'm shocked I never realized it before. My next to last post spelled it all out. I love hot foods. Foods that are hot enough to cause injury. Hot enough to sear the roof of your mouth, and (to steal a phrase) hot enough to burn your fingers.

I can't tell you how many times I've eaten something that I expected to be hot, but it came to the table lukewarm and I was utterly disappointed. It still tasted good (I guess), but my love of heat, prevented me from enjoying it because the heat component was missing.

I also crave spicy foods, and I think that's related to my love of hot temperatures. Spicy foods warm the mouth. It's that mouth warming feeling that does it for me. It is just so comforting. A good analogy would be coming in from the wintry cold and sitting down by a roaring fireplace. Ahhhh.

It's almost as if when I eat, I want to come in from the cold and sit down in front of the fire. And the more I reflect on this, the more I'm concerned it's not normal. As I said in that previous post, I'm constantly perplexed by those who don't care about the temperature of their food.

But what can I do about it?

"Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free!" That's the key, knowledge is power. Admitting you have a problem is half way to solving the problem. Yet, I'm not so sure I want deal with my 'problem'. Yes, I love blazing hot foods. Why do I need to deal with that? I'm not ready just yet to enter food rehab. I'm an addict and am proud of it.

I'm curious to know if others that crave spicy foods also share my affinity for burn-the-roof-of-your-mouth hot temperatures. There may be something there, and my tastes might not be that unique after all.



Thursday, April 16, 2015

Staycationaurant II - Man Plans and God Laughs

In episode one of Staycationaurant, I vowed that while on vacation I would try as many restaurants as I could. Unfortunately, I didn't get to go to nearly as many as I'd like. Things came up. I got busy. My wife had other plans. Life has a way of throwing curveballs, as we all know.

That's not always bad though, because at the last minute, a Saturday afternoon freed up for me and I didn't hesitate to take advantage. Pondering my options, and since the weather wasn't too bad, I decided to head to downtown Troy and wander around the "New Brooklyn" as it's been called.

I'm ashamed to admit I had never been to DeFazio's Pizzeria. It's generally considered one of the best, if not the best pizzeria in the Capital Region. It's been on my list for a while though, and I decided it would be my first stop. The pizza of course was fantastic. I knew I'd be stopping at a couple of other places afterward, so I didn't want to eat too much pizza. That was tough. The few slices I didn't eat were staring at me, taunting me with their cheesy goodness, daring me to eat them. But I withstood the test, and only ate half the pizza. (DeFazio's does not sell slices).

In addition to making a great pizza, DeFazio's is so genuine and down to earth. If you've read any of my other posts you know I enjoy that. I also found it interesting that the red pepper they set on the table they get locally and it's ground fresh there. The "shaky cheese" as I call it, is shredded next door at their grocery store and is far better than the green can stuff most places have.

After the pizza a beer or two was in order. Rare Form Brewing came to mind. It's another Troy business I had not been to, and I arrived just as they were opening for the day. They don't have a kitchen (they do have a small meat and cheese plate you can order) but they encourage you to 'order in' and even have take out menus you can peruse. Dang. Had I known that I would've run right over with my pizza and ate it at Rare Form.

Rare Form is yet another small Troy business that is genuine and down to earth. The brewer was there while I was sipping my beer, and I loved—just loved—that he was sipping a beer too while going about his business. The ambiance I would describe as "brew tank chic". The tanks are front and center behind the bar, and there's quite a few of them, and I have to say, it's neat.

Next I was in the mood for a latte, so I headed over to Spilln' the Beans. I wasn't terribly impressed with it. My latte was good, but the space looks a bit run down, and where I sat near the window, there were newspapers scattered all over a couple of tables, and empty coffee cups that were not picked up. I enjoyed my time there though and before I knew it, they announced they were closing for the day—it was 4:00. That was perfect, because Peck's Arcade opens at 4.

The hype around Peck's Arcade has reached a fevered pitch recently, with more than a few on yelp raving about it. And I'd by lying if I said I wasn't looking forward to having dinner there.

I arrived a few minutes after 4 and took a seat at the downstairs bar. To say Peck's Arcade is cool, is an understatement, the place oozes coolness. The space is fantastic, it's modern, yet it still retains much of the character of the decades old original building. The bartender (I think his name was Bruce, but don't hold me to that) was great, and the entire time I was there he kept me company, and we chatted about many different subjects.

The food. Oh the food! It's good. No, it's really good. I swooned over the grilled mortadella, with red onion and pistachio. The grilled asparagus with fried egg, aioli, and citrus was divine. The 23 layer potato, heaven. Another dish, the chef's take on caesar salad was delicious and creative.

DeFazio's, Rare Form Brewing, Spillin' the Beans, and finally Peck's Arcade. Wow. What a day. And to think it almost didn't happen. But fate shined down on me that day, and it's a day I'll not soon forget. 



Monday, April 13, 2015

I Am About to Spit You Out of My Mouth

In the Bible, in the book of Revelation, Jesus rebukes the church of Laodicea:

"I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth."

Bet you didn't know Jesus was a foodie did ya?

Yes, I know He was rebuking them for their spirtual condition and their works, and not their Sunday post-church brunch. Yet, even more than 2,000 years ago, the writer of Revelation understood one of the most important, yet overlooked pieces of the puzzle to great food. 

Hot foods should be served hot, and cold foods, cold. But it's especially important when it concerns hot dishes.

I love hot foods. And there are those that I especially like to eat when they are burn-the-roof-of-your-mouth hot. Given the choice of a hot panini or sub with veggies and cold cuts for example, I'm likely to pick the panini. There's just something comforting about hot foods. And of course when the weather is cool, hot foods warm you up from the inside. 

Not that I don't enjoy cold foods, of course I do. I love a great salad; crisp cool greens, with crunchy veggies, lightly dressed in an barely sweet, brightly acidic dressing. Or an ice cold beer on a hot summer's day. But take that salad and put it in the warm sun for while, and then eat it. Not so appetizing is it? Or take that beer and let it sit on the counter till it reaches room temperature. Yuck.

Temperature matters, it effects the flavor of food dramatically, but it also effects the texture. Crisp greens become wilted when warm. Hot, crispy french fries become limp when cool. A crunchy piece of buttered toast becomes soggy. A silky smooth gravy becomes gloppy. I could go on and on.

What I find perplexing, and incredibly frustrating is that people will happily eat lukewarm food and not bat an eye. It's as if they're clueless. I know they are not. Yet, I see it happen again and again. 

I attended a function at a local local event venue, (which I won't name because I don't want to single them out), where dinner was served. There was a pre-dinner cocktail reception outside the main dining room. About 1/2 an hour before dinner, I went into the dinning room to put our place markers on our seats. The salads were already sitting on the tables. Ugh. Warm salad. Worse, when dinner was served it arrived lukewarm. Before I was halfway through my meal it was cold. It ruined my night. I was looking forward to a great meal, and I was forced to eat cold steak and potatoes.

But no one else seemed to notice. Not one person at our table of 10 said a word or appeared to even care. That drove me batty. Here's an institution that prides itself on being one of the better banquet houses in the area and it was serving cold food and nobody complained. This place isn't cheap either.

The same goes for buffets and potluck dinners. I can't tell you how many times I've had baked ziti at a potluck dinner and it was like eating pasta held together with cheese flavored glue. Do people really enjoy that? I loathe buffets for just that reason too. The food sits in a steam table and slowly degrades as it cools, and by the time you put it on your plate, and make your way back to the table it's usually cold. 

Then there are restaurants that serve lukewarm dishes. People pay them good money and the kitchen for whatever reason pre-cooks the food and puts what amounts to leftovers on their plate. Or home cooks who make dishes ahead of time, and keep the food warm, or worse, make no attempt to keep it warm and serve it cold.

The less time between the pot, the pan, or the oven, till when you eat it, the more delicious and enjoyable the food will be. Every time. And to refer back to the Bible, it's one of the 'Ten Commandments' of great food.



Friday, April 10, 2015

Surprise!

Sometimes you order a dish and it surprises you, it's not what you thought it would be. You read the menu description and a picture of the dish forms in your mind, then it arrives at the table and it looks nothing like what you imagined. Worse, it doesn't taste like you imagined, and you're forced to slog through something you don't care for. Disappointment ensues. This has happened to me more times than I can recall.

But sometimes—and it doesn't happen often—sometimes, the dish is not what you envisioned in a good way. It's better than you imagined, and on rare occasions, much better. These pleasant surprises are what food lovers live for. And I've found they are often the most memorable. It's usually the surprises I remember more than the great dishes I've had, that I expected to be great.

Today, my wife and I ordered a dish to share, and it far exceeded my expectations.

It was the Cinnamon Sugar Dipped Pretzel at The Beer Belly.

It's on the menu as above, and is further described: "House baked pretzel, chocolate fondue".

What did you just envision in your mind? Likely, you envisioned a pretzel very similar to what they sell in the mall. A pretzel in the typical twisted shape, maybe a little larger than your hand, thickly covered in super sweet cinnamon sugar with a runny chocolate dipping sauce on the side, like in those fondue fountains you see at parties sometimes.

Nope. You'd be wrong.

The pretzel at The Beer Belly is actually 3 pretzels, each about the size and shape of a small cucumber, or maybe a really big cigar. They're very dark brown, almost blackened from caramelized cinnamon and sugar. The chocolate fondue is more like a light chocolate mousse.

The genius is they lightly coat the pretzels in cinnamon sugar before they bake them. The result is a pretzel with a barely noticeable sweetness, and a hint of cinnamon; with more depth and complexity than a typical pretzel has.

The pretzels are also not as dense as you'd expect, which I liked, and served right out of the oven, piping hot. Ours were so hot we had to give them a minute to cool down.

The chocolate fondue is sweet, but not too sweet, and full of rich chocolate flavor.

What I loved most is the lack of cloying sweetness. They use a light hand with the sugar, and it's just enough to satiate your desire for something sweet after a savory lunch or dinner. It's a fantastic way to end a meal.


Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Bad Chain Restaurants Part II - The Best Buffet in the USA

I used to live on Union St. in Schenectady. I worked on Central Ave. in Colonie. I was single then. I was foot-loose and fancy free, as they say, with no family to care for. I ate whatever, and wherever I wanted, whenever I wanted, but I had yet to discover there's a whole world of great food out there. I was also broke. I ate at a lot of fast food joints. I actually preferred them, and except for the occasional foray to Applebee's, that's where my restaurant dollars were spent.

Those were dark days.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Staycationaurant


What do you do when you have 10 days vacation and no plans?

You eat!

For the next 10 days, I'm pulling out all the stops and going on a restaurant binge. Normally I wouldn't subject my wallet (and my waistline) to such insanity, but I have a rare opportunity to do something I've always wanted to do and I'm taking advantage of it. I'm going to eat at as many restaurants as I can during my time off.

I'm calling it a staycationaurant. It's an amalgamation of the words stay-cation and restaurant. I actually think it has a nice ring to it! I'll tweet it and maybe it will go viral. People all over the country will say to each other, "Where did you eat on your staycationaurant?" There'll be debates on reddit over who invented the word. Eventually they'll trace it back to me and I'll become famous!

Yeah, probably not.

Today, mostly by chance, I visited three different places. They're all unique, all small, all locally owned, and all special.

I decided to become more active on Twitter, and part of that was to follow as many local eateries and businesses as I could find. In doing that I discovered @bakeforu, which I had not heard of. It's the Twitter handle of Bake For You. A small bakery that is in the space on Delaware Ave that used to be occupied by All Good Bakers. I stopped in to check them out, and had a nice conversation with Linda Kindlon, the owner. One of the things she mentioned was she doesn't do a lot of advertising and relies on word of mouth, and social media, (like twitter) to get the word out about her bakery—what a coinkydink. We tried a scone and a croissant and they were excellent. The front of the shop is tiny with a few small tables, but it's nicely decorated and my wife and I very much enjoyed hanging out there while eating our treats, sipping coffee, and chatting with Linda.

After leaving Bake For You, and because of prodding from our daughter, we headed downtown to Cider Belly Doughnuts. Like Bake For You, Cider Belly is locally owned and passionate about what they do. And also like Bake For You it shows in the product. Our daughter is fanatical about Cider Belly. She loves their doughnuts, and for good reason, they are addictingly delicious. I've known about Cider Belly since they opened in August of last year, and we've been regular customers ever since. About once a month we get a dozen, bring them home and have a ball. And it seems every time we go in, they have new and unique doughnut varieties for us to try.

Later, after we got home from Cider Belly, my neighbor texted me and asked if we wanted to go to Four Corners Luncheonette for dinner with them. Since I'm on staycationaurant, of course I said yes! The Luncheonette has been in Delmar for many years, and it's a favorite of my neighbors. They know the owner, and the times we've had dinner there, they always stick their head in the kitchen to say Hi, and he's always in there cooking. The building is older and the space could use a freshening, but I don't care about that. It's special because it's down to earth, the food is good, and it's as close to homemade as you're going to get. It's uncanny really. The food is nearly identical to what most people make in their kitchens at home, and that includes the kind of flaws and inconsistencies that home cooking has.

Day one of staycationaurant was a resounding success. Not only did I get to eat good food, but I was reminded of just how many excellent, small, locally owned eateries Albany has.


Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Quick Gravy

Mention gravy and my mind will immediately picture a mound of buttery mashed potatoes, with a pool of silky homemade gravy resting in the middle. Or scratch made biscuits, smothered in the stuff. Or thick slices of turkey, made even tastier with a ladle poured on top.

Making gravy is not hard, it's easy, and it doesn't take long either. Please don't buy the jarred stuff, it can't compare to homemade gravy. The foil packets or boxes of gravy mix are subpar too. Homemade gravy is best.

Whenever I make my easy roast chicken, I always serve it with mashed potatoes, or biscuits. And as mentioned above, gravy just makes those decadent side dishes all the more delicious. To make homemade gravy you just need equal parts butter and flour, and most any kind of broth or stock.

I know a lot of people make homemade stocks. That's great and I do from time to time too. But I don't have a lot of freezer space, so I can't make big batches. And I've never been super happy with my stocks.

For my quick gravy I use store bought stock. There are some good ones out there, and many of them are all natural and some are organic. Plus, if you want beef gravy, buy beef stock, chicken gravy, chicken stock, a vegetarian gravy, vegetable stock, and so on. Using boxed stock just makes life easier.

I have a secret ingredient I use in my gravy. Lemon juice. I use just a little, a quarter lemon, about a teaspoon or so of juice. The lemon juice brightens up the gravy and adds another layer of flavor and a little complexity.

The key to making gravy is to add a little stock at a time to the roux, whisking the entire time. As the stock gets absorbed the roux will become silky smooth and lump free. If you add too much stock before you whisk out the lumps, there's not much you can do, so be patient until the roux is smooth.

Quick Gravy:

About 1 1/2 cups good quality store bought or homemade stock
2 Tbsp all purpose flour
2 Tbsp butter
1/4 fresh squeezed lemon—about a teaspoon of juice (optional)
salt and pepper to taste

Heat a large saucepan on medium high, add the butter and flour and whisk until it comes together. Add the stock, about a 1/4 cup at a time, whisking constantly. Continue adding stock a little at a time and whisking until the gravy has a smooth and silky consistency and is as thick or thin as you like. It will start to setup after you remove it from the heat, so don't make it too thick (personally I think it's better when it's thinner). Once you're happy with the consistency, let it bubble for a minute or two to fully cook the flour. Whisk in the lemon juice, (if using) and salt and pepper and serve immediately.

From start to finish it takes about 6 or 7 minutes tops, and your guests will marvel at your gravy skills.