Tuesday, January 31, 2012

A Month of Soups

I know, LAST month was National Soup Month, and that makes perfect sense. Really, it does. I have to agree that the dead of winter IS the time to pig out on soup. But when you live in the desert southwest, it’s not such the compelling argument. Oh, sure, it gets cold here. It was down to the low 40’s some nights, but when it is 70 degrees in the daytime and sunny, well, soup doesn’t come to mind as quickly as outdoor grilling does.

But, for my purposes, February is as good as it gets. I told DH I wanted to try out a recipe a day and blog about it, not quite Julie and Julia, but let’s say “inspired by”! He thought that was a great idea. Then I told him to have some cohesion, the month long blog needed to be on a theme of some sort and reminded him of Julie and Julia. He thought that was a great idea.

Then I told him the theme would be soup. Now, DH loves soup, especially my soups, I claim modestly. He blanched (not the cooking term). I mean, really, he turned white. “That would be a lot of soup,” he ventured. “When you make soup, you make a pot of it. It lasts us a long time. Do you even know how to make two servings of soup?”

“Well, no,” I responded honestly. “But we can have it for lunch and dinner that day and freeze the rest!”

“Freeze 30 pots of soup?” I took his point. The shortest month is February, but I forgot it’s Leap Year. So 29 pots of soup coming up!

Some of these recipes are old favorites I’ve made for years; others are “experiments”. Try them with me and let me know how it goes for you. Maybe this could be the NEW soup diet?

Nah. Not with some of the stuff I’m putting in!

See you tomorrow for “Sharon’s Fresh Corn Soup” and what to do when it’s not fresh corn season. Get that taste-o-meter tuned up. You’re going to need it.

Since some of us like to make our own broth, here are some directions for making chicken stock and beef stock. For the recipes coming in February, you can make your stock and freeze it to use in recipes or buy best-quality canned stock. It DOES make a difference.

Personally, I freeze all the poultry carcasses together (turkey, chicken, game hens, etc.). It makes a more interesting broth than chicken alone. But see below for how to make stock.

To make chicken stock, check out: http://allrecipes.com/HowTo/Making-Chicken-Stock/Detail.aspx

To make beef stock, see: http://allrecipes.com/recipe/basic-beef-stock/detail.aspx

Since we’re talking soup, watch this video to see how to make really flavorful soup. Click on http://yhoo.it/xmOoNc to see Fabio’s Italian Wedding Soup (and it freezes well!).

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Five (or Six) Mother Sauces--a primer

French cuisine is noted for its sauces; rich, varied, and interesting, all of them. When my friend, Lee, asked me to explain them, I came up with this. This is kind of complex, but I think I have distilled it to something understandable and not overwhelming.

The five Mother Sauces are the base sauces upon which hundreds of other sauces are created (those variants are called "small sauces").

Escoffier named them (a huge food guy in the early 20th century who modified a 19th century guy's list of four sauces). Rarely do you see the Mother Sauce used. More commonly served is a variant, a “small sauce.”

Mayonnaise is a small sauce for the Mother Sauce, Hollandaise; Mornay (using Gruyère) is a small sauce for the Mother Sauce, Bechamel; Bordelaise is a small sauce for Espagnole, and so on.

The five Mother Sauces are:
Béchamel (milk base thickened with a white roux)
Espagnole (brown stock base (typically veal) with a brown roux)
Velouté(white stock base with a blond roux)
Tomate (tomato base with roux)
Hollandaise (egg yolks, butter, and an acid like lemon juice or vinegar)

Some have added an oil and vinegar sauce, Vinaigrette

As an FYI, a roux is melted fat, often butter, with incorporated wheat flour, cooked until the flour has no raw taste. Interestingly, the darker the roux, the less thickening power it has!

On a whimsical note, one of the upcoming titles in my culinary mystery series is Roux the Day!

Friday, January 27, 2012

Sassy Sauces

Some say hunger makes the best sauce, but, in my vast and varied experience, any sauce with a dollop of sherry does the trick. And, if you add Portobello mushrooms, you just put it over the top.

Your basic sauce has some fat, some seasoning, and some liquid, part of which I make alcoholic. As a rule of thumb, use 1-2 T wine/c soup or sauce. But, I’ve been known to up the proportion on occasion. You know, special occasions. Without children present.

I play with this combo all the time, trying out possibilities. Some are delectable, some are . . . well, less delectable. But, this mushroom sauce over your sherry-marinated pork chops will have the family licking their plates.

First, put your pork chops in a zipper plastic bag. Pour a sauce over the chops and let them marinate for a few hours. Grill or pan fry or even bake if that’s your only option. While the chops are grilling, I boil the marinade to a reduction. Thickened but not solid. Like gravy-thick. Add some mushrooms, pour over the chops, and dinner is served.

French cuisine is most famous for sauces. Oh, every cuisine has some kind of sauce/gravy, I imagine, but no one but the French can claim to have the “Mother Sauces.”

Here’s a little test: can you name them? Some of them? Well, one reason you may be struggling is that even the French are in flux re their Mother Sauces. Are there five or seven? Are they the traditional names or the updated, descriptive names. Check back to see more on Mother Sauces.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

More on Spam and spam

When the call for Spam recipes went out several months before the reunion, I was revulsed. Okay, okay. I know lots of people, I’m even related to lots of people, who like Spam. Clearly, as you can tell, I am not among them. In part, I associate it with my days of poverty, and Scarlet and I “will never be poor again.” So get me on a psych couch and maybe I can deal with it.

But why? Why deal with it? For decades I avoided even thinking about the food Spam when most of my life centered around the e-mail kind. The reunion changed all that.

So when I was having Panda Express’ new “Honey Walnut Shrimp”, I thought, “I can do that with Spam!” When I was searching recipes for ones I could put Spam into instead I considered making “Crunchy Coconut Spam with Maui Mustard Sauce” (do an Internet search substituting “Shrimp” for “Spam”, and you’ll find a tasty dish!). Try “Spam Fingers” in lieu of “Chicken Fingers”. You get the idea.

Since Daddy-Do has no taste buds left at age 91, everything gets covered in hot sauce. So, using Eastern spices was an attempt to catch his tongue, er, eye.

How did Internet spam get called that?

You have to watch this video to get it! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=anwy2MPT5RE

In 1970, Monty Python’s Flying Circus did a restaurant sketch with a menu that only had SPAM options. When the Vikings broke into song (“SPAM, SPAM, SPAM . . .”) drowning out the conversation, a classic sketch was born. Hormel took it in stride and even supported the stage production of “Spamalot.”

When unsolicited e-mail marketing started up in the late 1970's, someone recalled the spamming done in the restaurant sketch. Some say the term comes from “Sales Promotion and Marketing” not “stupid pointless annoying messages.” Hormel asks that e-mail spam be distinguished from their product by always using a capital s for the food.

On an unrelated note, in honor of National Peanut Butter Day, I tweeted a recipe for a spicy peanut butter sauce over @good2tweat. Here it is in full and in tweat! I’m serving it with my lemongrass chicken in butter crunch lettuce leaves for dinner tonight! Yummy!

Spicy PB Saus: Mix .5c ricewineving/.5c chnkpb/1Tsug/1tminst garl/.5t rdpepflk/2t soysaus/1t hotsaus/2t minstging/2T limejus/.3c chpt pnts

Spicy Peanut Sauce (another version for non-tweeters)

1/2 cup unseasoned rice wine vinegar
1/3 cup peanut oil

1/2 cup chunky peanut butter
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 1/2 teaspoons soy sauce
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh minced ginger
2 tablespoons lime or lemon juice

Saturday, January 21, 2012

SPAM Facts and Recipes

I wrote last about the great SPAM-Off at the reunion/anniversary party and promised to share the 2nd place winner (out of 3 so it’s not like this recipe had a mandate going forward). And here it is at the bottom of the blog. But first, a few facts about SPAM.

SPAM, the food, was created in 1937, the first canned meat product not requiring refrigeration. It’s first name was “Hormel’s Spiced Ham”. As other companies quickly followed suit, there was competition in the marketplace, so Hormel sponsored a contest to rename their product. The Hormel Company’s president’s brother won the prize of $100. There is dispute about where the name came from, but the two most likely are: SPiced hAM or Shoulder of Pork and Ham.

You can visit the official SPAM Museum in Austin, MN. That proximity to Iowa is part of the long family story about our SPAM connection.

Here is the second place winner in the family reunion SPAM-Off, 2011.

Curried Spam Bites

  • 4 T garam masala or curry powder
  • 2 green onions, finely chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 T grated fresh ginger
  • 2 T olive oil
  • ½ t crushed red pepper
  • 2 12-oz cans Spam, cut into 1- 1-1/2-inch cubes

Dipping Sauce

  • 1 c plain yogurt
  • ½ t garam masala
  • ¼ c cucumber chunks
  • 1 t mint
  • 4 T snipped fresh cilantro

  1. Combine garam masala, onion, garlic, ginger, oil, and red pepper in a medium mixing bowl. Stir in Spam, working spice mixture into meat with fingers. Thread the meat onto wooden skewers, leaving 1/4-inch between pieces; cover and refrigerate for 1 to 24 hours.

  1. Place Spam skewers in a lightly oiled rack of the grill directly over medium heat. Grill for 12 to 15 minutes or until browned, turning once. Meanwhile, mix together yogurt, spices, and cucumber in a mini food processor. Add cilantro and pulse a couple of time. Put into a small dish. Cover and chill until serving.

  1. To serve, use a fork to remove grilled Spam cubes from skewers. Arrange meat on fruited rice around a bowl of yogurt mixture. Makes 12 servings with fruited rice.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

SPAM (No, not THAT one; the OTHER one)

What a busy year 2011 was. So that’s my excuse, okay? But, I’m back now, and I have all sorts of things planned for this blog. For example? How about some cooking videos of Gina and Alli (from my “Dinner is Served” culinary mystery series) making some delicious, easy stuff you can throw together, too? How about some contests? How about terrific new recipes, cooking gadget reviews, and cooking tips? All that and more!

But, now to reminisce. Last July was the family reunion/67th wedding anniversary party for Big Mama and Daddy-Do. What an event! Relatives gathered from near and far at the home of Lil Sis and Cutie (her version of DH). In memory of Lil Bro’s wife who had died that spring unexpectedly, Lil Sis planned a Spam-Off cooking contest. There’s a long story associated with the Spam connection, but that’s for another time, if ever.

Well, I was appalled, gourmet that I am (well, a wannabe, anyway). But, in the interest of family harmony, I agreed to participate. HOWEVER, I informed Lil Sis, I would not buy the Spam, only cook with it. I just couldn’t bring myself to do that. So along with the fresh ingredients she was going to purchase, she added in my Spam.

The rules were each of us three siblings were to choose one other member of our family to be sous chef, so three teams would share the kitchen. I chose Chicago, since he is the only other one in my family who likes to cook. The trash talk we tossed around that kitchen could have filled up the garbage can!

Lil Bro asked Chicago and me how many times we had practiced our entry. “Uh. Practiced?” I responded. “Do you seriously think I would cook Spam at my house? No practice. This is it! Sounds like you needed to practice, though, huh?” And so on.

The judges were the father of my sister’s daughter’s husband, Big Mama, and 90 year-old Daddy-Do who kept forgetting what he had just eaten despite the score sheet provided. The winner?

What a surprise! Lil Sis and Cutie made Spam egg rolls knowing how much our parents love to eat them. Is that fair? Chicago and I came in second with “Curried Spam Bites” we grilled. If you can’t wait to try them, c’mon back. The recipe and more on Spam is in my next blog.