Saturday, March 30, 2013

Bechamel - A Few Thoughts

Lately I've been on a bechamel roll.  My favorite is to  throw some chicken Better than Bullion in and put it on chicken, carbs, and vegetables.  Baking is optional.  You can change it up with cajun seasoning (watch the salt), cayenne pepper, thyme, white wine, powdered mustard, paprika, curry powder, . . . Anything that goes with chicken is good.  I highly recommend fresh garlic, added about a minute before the milk is added.

My best tip is to microwave the milk before you add it (works on stock in a box as well).  I have an over-sized Pyrex measuring cup that is now one of the most used items in the kitchen.  Milk burns, so it needs to be stirred constantly, and it's best to use a lower heat setting than you might use for stock.  I started my food journey using the skim milk that is already in the fridge.  With the fat from the roux, you still get some "umami" or whatever it is that skim milk lacks.  Then, I went on a whole milk tear.  Yeah, it was a wonderful time, but I'm not so naive as to think that I can do that every day and stay out of the emergency room.  So lately, I've settled on 2% milk.  I still break out the whole milk or cream for special occasions, but 2% seems to strike a balance between texture and guilt.  Your mileage may vary.

My final suggestion is to experiment with your fat for the roux.  I baked up some chicken thighs (skin left on for the cooking - very important) and used the fat to make my roux for the sauce.  Since this was going to be baked into a casserole, it would not hurt the chicken to sit while a made the sauce (and the sauce was not going to take that long since I heated the milk in the microwave).    What I found was that the resulting roux seemed to have water in it.  That leaves you two choices - 1) reduce the fat to steam off the water; 2) add some extra fat like butter or olive oil.  If you don't do this, you may find that the sauce takes extra time to thicken up and/or it doesn't thicken up like you expect.  Casseroles are forgiving about the thickness of your sauce, but I like it pretty thick myself, so keep this in mind if you want a thick sauce from your drippings.

And finally, that non-foodies are always impressed when you tell them that you made a "bechamel" from scratch.

A Day Late. . .

Last week I found myself visiting in-laws.  It was Friday during Lent, and we're Catholic.  My every-helpful mother-in-law volunteered to whip up a tuna casserole.  I asked her what was in it and she mentioned canned soup.  Yikes!  Fortunately, she has a Kroger essentially in her driveway (and yet farther from her place than mine is from mine), so it was no big deal to run over and grab a few things.

Tuna casserole is mac and cheese with two cans of tuna thrown in.  My mother-in-law keeps a pretty basic pantry because of her own dietary restrictions.  I had to use onion salt and garlic salt (no plain powder), so regular salt was not necessary (fortunately she had unsalted butter).  I threw in some thawed corn to lighten it up and some thawed peas for color.  This was a good alternative to scallions and shallots, which I'm not sure my mother-in-law could tolerate.  Again, because of the limited pantry, I crushed some soda crackers and added a bit of butter for topping that browned up a bit in the oven.

Strangely the biggest challenge was the tuna itself.  It is very difficult to find tuna with no soy added.  Until you know the secret.  Starkist Selects white albacore in the GOLD can is easy to pick out visually, and it leaves out the bad stuff.

Result:  I'm a hero, mother-in-law catches a break, wife gets food she can tolerate, and leftovers with a little milk in the microwave were good the next day.  Sorry I posted this the day after Good Friday!

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Quick Tip - Affordable White Wine

After doing a lot of homework, I was able to determine that a friend's saying, "Don't cook with wine you wouldn't drink," is not one to live by.  There are some serious food snobs that did some blind taste tests with recipes using expensive wine and the cheap stuff.  Somewhat shockingly, they determined that the cheap stuff stands up to cooking better than the good stuff.  In fact, they found that expensive wines had a tendency to lose their balance of taste - the dominant elements of their taste would take over in an unflattering way.

So, not being one for moderation, I decided to start as cheap as I could.  That led me to the wine aisle at Kroger and straight to the (wait for it. . . ) $2.97/bottle Bay Bridge chardonnay.  I'm not a drinker, so I had no preconceptions.  We pulled it out for paella one night and pan sauce another.  Cutting to the chase - 100% success.  Everyone loved the new dimension it added to dinner.  I was careful not to let it sit in the fridge more than one night, but I did not feel bad throwing out what was left of a $3.00 bottle of wine that I had used for two meals.  

If you have any favorite wines for cooking or other quick tips, please do share!

Quick Tip - Store-Bought Alfredo Sauce

Lately I've been looking for migraine-friendly pasta sauces.  Obviously, cheese and tomatoes are hard to get away from.  Fortunately for my Ital.ian wife, those ingredients aren't a problem.  Today we tried Gia Russa Alfredo sauce, since it had nothing bad in it that I could identify other than the cheese.  Awesome!  Highly recommended, but don't have it too often unless you are trying to put on weight.