Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Béchamel Mucho

Serves 2, 5 minutes prep, 20 minutes cooking

More mushrooms! This is a béchamel (BEH-sham-el) sauce good for sea creatures, pastas, poultry or the ocassional bloody steak. Cream sauces take some effort and care but are easy to cook alongside the main dish.

* 1 cup diced fresh brown mushrooms: portabellos, etc
* 1g dried porcini, crushed
* 2tbsp butter
* 12oz whole milk
* 4oz vegetable stock or 1/2tsp soy sauce or 1/2 to 1 cube vegetable boullion
* 1/2 tsp white flour or corn starch
* 1/8 tsp ground black pepper

Warm the milk to about 40C/100F and dissolve the flour and stock/soy/boullion in it. Set aside.

In a medium pot sautee the mushrooms with butter over medium-low heat until they are shrunk to half size and most of the water is gone, about 15 minutes. Add the milk mixture and pepper and raise heat to medium-high, stirring pretty much constantly until it's nice and creamy. Don't let it sit too long.

What's going on here

Bechamel is a "mother sauce" that serves as a base for many many many recipes. The basic ingredients are milk, butter, and flour. Everyone has their own version and origin myths. The only thing they agree on is the need to rinse the pot immediately afterward.

Sauteeing mushrooms slowly releases their flavor better. If you have the time it really brings out their best. You want a nice brown beefy type of mushroom, not a fru fru oyster or those little white ones. The flour/starch should be completely dissolved in the milk so that it acts as a thickener without clumping. Constant stirring when it's in the pot aids evaporation and keeps the milk from boiling and separating. If you can scald milk and clarify butter properly, god bless you. The way I described is easier for us mortals.

You can optionally add a dollop of table cream or heavy cream, or even shredded cheese. The stock/soy/boullion give it salt and extra flavor. For seafood I like to add some shredded ginger on top.

Poor Man's Porcini Pink Sauce

Serves 2, 5 minutes prep, 50 mins cook

* two slices smoked ham or turkey, shredded fine
* pat of butter
* one garlic clove, minced
* one whole boiler/pearl onion, peeled
* one teaspoon dried porcini mushrooms, crushed
* 1/4 teaspoon pepper, salt to taste
* one 8oz can Hunt's tomato sauce or similar; make sure it has no sugar or corn syrup
* 8oz whole milk

Fry meat in hot butter in small pot, until a little crispy. Add garlic & let fry for a minute. Add tomato sauce, pepper, salt, onion, mushrooms and half a can of water. Let boil down, stirring occasionally, until reduced by half. Remove onion. Slowly stir in milk, reduce heat to medium-low, stir until thickened.

Pour over your favorite pasta, top with cheese.

What's going on here

I hate recipes that just tell you to do this and that without the why. This recipe is all about fat and glutamate and "umami", or comfort savory flavors. Each step is designed to release those flavors from the ingredients. The result is very heavy & strong and basically what people mean when they talk about the taste of home cooking.

Frying the meat in hot butter crisps it up and releases some glutamate. You add the garlic for aroma, but don't let it cook more than 1 minute because it burns very easily. Next you want to slowly cook the onion, porcini, pepper, salt and tomato. Tomato sauce is usually sweet and tart and the longer you simmer it the mellower it gets. You leave the onion whole and take it out because once the flavor is leached out the texture adds nothing. Then you slowly add milk and reduce the heat to medium-low. The reason is that milk is fat and protein and sugars suspended in water. If milk gets too hot it separates. You want that fat to mix with the other fats and good stuff.

NB: Dried porcini costs about $15 for 100g (3.5oz) but you only need a few small pieces (1g) for most recipes. It's really worth it.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Today we're going to talk about poverty

And by "we", I mean more than eleven thousand bloggers. That's thousands more than most days, so there's a plus.

I've had brushes with low income living, but was never in serious danger of starving. The only time I was functionally homeless was when I was in the process of buying a house. I qualified for free lunches as a child, and one of my college room mates was on food stamps, and that kept us in Ramen. lots of it. And peanut butter.

Welfare deform may have changed welfare as we know it, but it hasn't made life any better for the people who are affected by it daily. And if you think it has no effect on you, well, you'd be wrong.

I've had friends who delayed getting to the doctor because the co-pay was too high or the clinic wasn't open when they were off work. One got sick and ended up in the hospital.

Hunger is not going away, either. My grandmother started a food bank in 1980 - it's still going, and still needs people to help.

People aren't poor because they're lazy. They don't go for government help because they think they're entitled. When we'd visit during the summer we'd help sort clothes for the little thrift store Grandma set up in a closed restaurant. She was asked why she sold the clothes instead of giving them away.

"People don't like handouts," she said. "They want to support themselves, not be the object of pity."

So, no moral to the story, except that even if the poor will always be with us, they still end up being ignored most of the time.

Let's not make this attention just for today.