bechamel mucho

      I first learned to make a simple white sauce in junior high. My introduction to this culinary version of a house's foundation was to make a dish called creamed peas.
     The instruction was to make a white sauce, then add it to drained, canned peas. Let me just go ahead and say it... YUCK! I can think of many ways to teach someone about white sauce, but this would not be my go-to recipe.
     First of all, even though my family was a big fan of fresh healthy veggies, the green pea was not on my mom's list of faves, so we seldom had them for dinner. The extent of my knowledge was the occasional can of tiny, dull colored, Green Giant LeSuer peas.
     The first time I made this sauce, I did not have a good grasp of the importance of the roux (pronounced roo, as in Kanga's offspring.) This combination of melted butter and flour is the thickening agent.
     My white sauce was lumpy and tasted of raw flour. I did not know to whisk out all the lumps or brown the roux before adding the liquid. The other key to a good sauce or gravy is to heat your liquid close to boiling before adding to the roux. This will help it to blend easier. The large, mealy canned peas provided by our Home Ec teacher were equally icky... that, I believe is the technical term.
     Now mavenettes, who can tell me why it is important to know how to make a good bechamel?  Answer: It is a structural recipe... Let me explain.
     Here are just a few dishes that contain this simple sauce: White pizza, (Yes, pizza,) Bolognese Lasagne, anything with GRAVY. Many casseroles start with a bechamel or gravy base.
     One of my favorite vegetable dishes is Broccoli Au Gratin, a casserole made with blanched broccoli, bechamel, swiss cheese, topped with bread crumbs and baked in the oven... yum!
     So, here is your assignment: get out your favorite flat pan and whisk and practice making this simple sauce. The whisking motion is also good for that under-arm flabby thing... toning while making a quick dinner is just a bonus! (You can thank me later.)
     More recipes using your newly discovered bechamel or veloute will follow in future posts and you must be prepared.
Makes 3 cups
6 T. unsalted butter
6 T. all purpose flour
4 c. hot milk, half and half or heavy cream
1/2 t. salt
1/4 t. ground, white pepper
Pinch of nutmeg
In heavy saucepan, melt butter over low heat. Whisk in flour. You will have a paste-like consistency. This is called the roux. Whisk until roux is foamy and no lumps are present.
Brown roux for 2-3 minutes to prevent a floury taste in sauce. But remember that the darker the roux, the less it will thicken. Browning the roux gives it a richer, deeper flavor, but your sauce will be thinner, so adjust the recipe ratio to compensate for this reaction. Hey, chemistry AND math... who knew?
Remove saucepan from heat and slowly whisk in small amounts of hot milk, making sure it is a smooth consistency before preceding. Return to heat and add remaining seasonings. Simmer uncovered for approximately 15 minutes.
     Several are used for different dishes. Here is one example of a variation of this classic French sauce:  Sauce Veloute is similar to white sauce, but substitutes simmering stock or broth instead of hot milk.  
     This is a fancy French name for good old gravy and the use of homemade stock will make it rich and delicious. Replace the milk in above recipe with chicken, beef or vegetable stock and you will have the most amazing gravy!

the rules of my kitchen: a baker's dozen

1. have fun. forget about the experts.

2. play with your food.

3. learn something new. don't worry about failing. make sure to eat your mistakes. you'll do better next time.

4. use the freshest, local-est ingredients you can find and afford. and if it came from your own yard, you have won the food lottery!

5. don't overcook... keep the colors bright.

6. you don't need all that butter. but... if you're going to use it, make it real, unsalted butter. (from a cow, not a chemical plant.)
7. make sure your knives are sharp and never, never, ever put them in the dishwasher.

8. always lick the beater.

9. eat your greens... the darker, the better.

10. make a little extra, in case of unexpected guests.

11. no shoes required.

12. creativity is never neat and clean.

13. chocolate is a most important food group and should be revered. in the past, it was used for medicine and currency.

stone soup

For the storybook set
          A few years ago, I taught a cooking class for elementary aged children. This weekly class helped me to make a study of things that worked in a classroom setting... or didn't. I learned that kids want to cook together, have fun and eat good food.
     I urge you to make food preparation fun and involve everyone in your household, no matter their ages. From toddlers to teens, kids can do something. And don't forget other adults in your home... studies have shown that families who cook and dine together end up with healthy, long-lasting relationships.
     Before you make this delicious soup, you must do a couple of things. First, go to the childrens' section in your local public library and pick up a copy of the story, Stone Soup.
     It has been told and retold by countless authors and illustrators, so you should have several to choose from. Take it home, read it to your children, then go to the kitchen and cook... If you have no children, borrow a couple from the neighbors.
     This is a great recipe and everyone will eat it up. The ingredients are common and easy to keep on hand. I prefer fresh or frozen veggies to canned, but if you have canned beans or corn and don't want to make a trip to the market, by all means, use them.
     The most favorite item of all is the garlic croutons, of course. They are big in size and taste, garlicky, crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside. You may need to make extra.
     In our cooking class, one adorable, freckle-faced, strawberry-haired boy, Daniel, loved the croutons so much, he forgot disdain for vegetables! He emptied his bowl and returned several times for more.
     His mom wanted to know how I had managed that;) I just love it when kids forget their phobias and EAT with enjoyment!
1 smooth, clean stone
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
2 large carrots, sliced
2 large potatoes, cubed
6 c. chicken or vegetable stock
8 oz. frozen, cut green beans
8 oz. frozen corn
1 15 oz. can diced tomatoes
Salt and pepper to taste
pinch of sugar
Heat oil in large stockpot. Saute onion and garlic until soft, not browned. Add carrots, sauté 1 minute. Add stock and potatoes. Simmer 10 minutes or until potatoes are tender. Add remaining 3 ingredients. Season with salt, pepper and sugar. Simmer until vegetables are heated through.
Garlic Croutons
½ loaf of Italian bread, cut into large cubes
2 cloves garlic, pressed or finely minced
1 T. olive oil
pinch of kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
freshly minced herbs such as thyme or rosemary
For croutons: Heat oil in non-stick skillet. Add garlic and toss bread cubes with salt, pepper and herbs. Stir around in skillet until toasted and browned. Serve on top of soup.
Note for the germaphobes among us: The stone is not a deal-breaker. If you cannot bring yourself to put a rock into the soup pot, just pretend. Read the story. You will understand it's significance.

stock tips

    When I was growing up, my mom would never dream of discarding the carcass of a bird or bones from a roast without extracting everything out of them first. To this day, in fact, even though she lives alone and cooks mainly for herself, my mother makes homemade stock. 
      Making your own broth or stock is simple. Long after a sumptuous meal of roasted chicken, whether cooked in your own oven or a rotisserie bird from the market, the fowl in question continues to contribute to your menu plan, budget and health. You can easily produce a stock that is far superior to store-bought brands. 
     As the weather cools and we reach for an extra blanket, nothing says lovin' like something from the soup pot... oops. That didn't rhyme! 
     But it's so true. The tomato crops are waning. Firewood is stacked neatly outside the local market hinting of brisk days to come.
     So come on. Drag out that big, ole pot and dust it off. Your family will sing your praises with every spoonful of homemade soup they put in their mouths:) With the money you save, you're that much closer to those new boots you've been eyeing...
Chicken Stock
Chicken carcass (Bones and skin, leftover from roasted chicken)
One large onion, quartered
2 or 3 carrots, halved
2 stalks celery with leaves
2 cloves garlic, slightly crushed
2 bay leaves
A few stalks of fresh parsley
1 t. whole peppercorns
½ c. dry white wine (optional)
1 t. salt
4-5 quarts of water
Place carcass in a deep stockpot with all other ingredients. Don't bother to neatly chop the vegetables. They will be discarded when you strain the finished broth. Make sure the bones and veggies are completely immersed in water. Bring to slow boil on medium heat. Reduce and simmer uncovered for 3-4 hours or until dark, rich gold in color. Taste for salt content. Adjust if needed. Let cool in refrigerator, then skim fat off top. (To de-fat further, pour stock through a large colander filled with ice cubes, set over a large pot or bowl.) Will keep in refrigerator for up to 5 days or can be frozen in small containers for future use.
Beef Stock
2 T. olive oil
3 pounds beef or veal with bones
3 pounds lean stew beef, chuck, sirloin or bottom round
3 carrots, sliced
3 stalks celery with leaves, cut up
Large onion, quartered
3 cloves garlic, crushed
2 bay leaves
1 t. whole black peppercorns
Several sprigs fresh parsley
½ t. dried thyme
½ c. dry red wine
4-5 quarts water
Preheat oven to 375. Pour oil into large, shallow roasting pan. Place bones and meat in pan, coating with oil. Roast uncovered for 30 minutes.
Add remaining ingredients, except wine and water. Roast 30 minutes more. Place meat and vegetables into a large stockpot. Place roasting pan on burner and pour wine in pan. Scrape up any bits from bottom of pan. Add 1 quart of the water to wine and bring to a boil over medium heat.
Pour contents into stockpot and add additional water to cover meat and bones. Slowly bring to boil over medium heat. Reduce heat and simmer uncovered 3-4 hours.
Skim off film as it rises to surface. Strain stock through a fine sieve. Refrigerate for several hours to solidify fat. Remove from surface. Stock can be used in up to 5 days refrigerated or can be frozen in small batches for later use.
Beef Glace’:
Place 1 quart of the beef stock into a small saucepan. Cook uncovered over medium heat for 1 to 1 ½ hours. As stock is reduced, it will become slightly thick and syrupy. (It will coat the back of a metal spoon.) When cooled, it will solidify.
Faster method:
Use leftover beef bones from oven roast instead of roasting just bones. Add to water and other ingredients in stockpot. Simmer as directed.

TOP TEN things you could do with a rotisserie chicken, while homeschooling

     I am sadly, a retired homeschool teacher. Both of my daughters have graduated from our school@hm and are attending college.
     Last year, as a graduating mom, I was asked to speak at one of our monthly support group meetings and give some tips to moms who are diligently teaching their children and trying to maintain households at the same time.
     One of my tongue in cheek tips was on all the things you can do with a lovely rotisserie chicken from the local market. I thought I would share these with you. They are fast and easy ideas designed to cut your time in the kitchen while keeping it fresh and healthy.
     Whether you homeschool your kids, work full-time, run a doggie day-care, are working on your tan, or just not a food person, a rotisserie chicken can be your new best friend! I am sure, Dear Reader, as smart as you are, you could come up with quite a few more ideas. Let me know your top ten!

No. 10:  Science: Teach kids the anatomy of a chicken
         9:  Fast dinner idea: Rotisserie chicken, a box of rice pilaf, steamed fresh or frozen veggies, jellied cranberry sauce and ice cream for dessert.
        8:  Pull meat off the bone, saving carcass for stockpot. Use meat for an infinite number of recipes calling for cooked chicken.
        7:  Liquid penicillin for an ailing student: homemade chicken soup and stock.
        6:  Make gravy from your homemade stock
        5:  Chicken enchiladas or nachos
        4:  Asian lettuce wraps, no measuring needed:  cooked chicken, hearts of palm, roasted red pepper, simmered in low sodium soy and a drop or two of sesame oil. Top chicken w/ fresh cilantro. Wrap in whole leaves of Bibb lettuce. Serve with slivered fresh carrot, crunchy rice noodles and pickled ginger.
        3:  Chicken casseroles, ad nauseum... everyone's got 'em!
        2:  Your favorite chicken salad

and the No. 1 thing you could do with a rotisserie chicken, while homeschooling is: Click on the link for the recipe, then put your feet up. Let your kids make Miss Vivian's chicken crescents for supper and call it math and home economics!