Saturday, December 15, 2007

Cream of Mushroom Soup

Holidays mean tradition, especially when you have children. In our house, we had a set menu on Thanksgiving and Christmas. They both included soup, French Onion Soup for Christmas and Cream of Mushroom Soup for Thanksgiving. Both of these are rather strange choices. I normally cook a traditional English Christmas dinner of roast beef and Yorkshire pudding with a plum pudding for dessert. Unless you go back as far as the Norman Conquest, adding a French dish is a bit odd. I just like the taste of onions with my beef.

Some adults and most children do not care for mushrooms. My daughter is an exception. She loves them. So much in fact, that I was able to overcome some of her pickiness about food by adding mushrooms to anything new that I cooked. Only then would she consent to try them. Mushroom soup was one of her favorites along with the traditional pumpkin pie that I have made every year for decades.

Like the onion soup, this recipe is straight from my Betty Crocker’s International Cookbook published in 1980. No changes have been made.

Here’s a meal planning tip I’ve discovered. If you are making mashed potatoes, put your potatoes on to boil and then make this soup. When the soup is finished, your potatoes will also be finished. The soup can then be put on the back of the stove to keep warm while you mash the potatoes.

Verdict: Yum! This one’s a keeper!

Cream of Mushroom Soup
(source: Betty Crocker’s International Cookbook)

8 ounces mushrooms
4 tablespoons margarine or butter
1 medium onion, chopped
¼ cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon white pepper
1 can (10 ¾ ounces) condensed chicken broth
1 soup can water
1 cup light cream
Snipped parsley

Slice enough mushrooms to measure 1 cup; chop remaining mushrooms. Cook and stir sliced mushrooms in 2 tablespoons of the margarine in 3-quart saucepan over low heat until golden brown. Remove mushrooms with slotted spoon.

Cook and stir chopped mushrooms and onion in remaining margarine until onion is tender; stir in flour, salt and white pepper. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, about 1 minute; remove from heat. Stir in chicken broth and water. Heat to boiling, stirring constantly; boil and stir 1 minute. Stir in light cream and sliced mushrooms. Garnish each serving with parsley.

Donate: Campbell’s soup labels to your local school

Recycle: soup can

Compost: onion skins, parsley stems

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Perfect Mashed Potatoes

I was raised on mashed potatoes. Except for those rare occasions when we had pasta in the form of spaghetti or macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes were on our dinner plates every day. It was one of the very few dishes that my mother made well. I grew up watching her make them. She made it seem so easy. Boil the potatoes, then mash them up with butter and milk.

When I moved out on my own, I almost never ate mashed potatoes because I just couldn’t make them. They always came out either soupy or lumpy. There was no happy medium. I gave up and started making baked potatoes instead. Except for the time that I left a couple in the oven too long and they exploded, I never had a problem.

A must have been raised on mashed potatoes too because when I gave her the choice of either baked or mashed for our Wooden Spoon Thanksgiving, she chose mashed. My heart sank. Then I hit the internet. Surely I could find instructions on making mashed potatoes. I happened upon a recipe by Martha Stewart that contained detailed instructions. Another plus was the fact that the recipe called for either milk or cream. Most recipes use milk. I don’t drink milk. But I do use Half ‘n’ Half in my coffee which I felt would be an acceptable substitute for cream.

I’m going to admit right up front that I did everything wrong in making this recipe. I used a potato masher instead of an electric mixer or ricer. I used salted butter instead of unsalted. I didn’t warm the milk. I added the butter and the milk together instead of separately. I mashed the potatoes and the butter and the milk all at once instead of in three steps. I used canned pepper and nutmeg instead of freshly grated. And yet, despite all of those “mistakes”, these were the best mashed potatoes I’ve had since I lived at home.

I was hesitant to add the nutmeg. I wanted my potatoes to taste like potatoes, not nutmeg. But in this case, the nutmeg enhances the flavor rather than overpowers it. Best of all, I can finally have mashed potatoes with my dinners again.

Verdict: Yum! This one’s a keeper!

Perfect Mashed Potatoes
(source:Yahoo! Food)

2 pounds russet, Yukon gold, or long white potatoes
1 tablespoon salt, plus more to taste
1 cup milk, or cream
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

Peel and cut potatoes into 1 1/2 –inch-thick slices. Place in a medium saucepan. Cover with cold water; add 1 tablespoon salt, bring to a simmer. If using a potato ricer, fill another saucepan with water; place over low heat. Keep potatoes at a low simmer until a knife slips in and out easily. Drain potatoes in a colander. Place mild in a small saucepan over medium-high heat.

If using an electric mixer with paddle attachment, proceed to last paragraph. If using a potato ricer, place a heat-proof bowl or top of a double boiler over a pan of simmering water. Press hot, drained potatoes through ricer into bowl.

Stir potatoes with a wooden spoon until smooth, about 1 minute. Using a whisk, incorporate butter. Drizzle in hot milk, whisking continuously. Add pepper, nutmeg, and salt to taste; whisk to combine. Serve immediately.

For the electric-mixer method, transfer hot, drained potatoes to bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on medium-low speed, until most lumps have disappeared, about 1 minute. Add butter; mix until blended. On low speed, add hot milk in a slow stream, then add pepper, nutmeg, and salt to taste. Mix to combine.

Compost: potato peels

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Golden Crescents

The first big holiday meal that I ever cooked was Thanksgiving 1980. Most of the dishes I prepared I had already made at some point. This was just the first time that I had ever made them all at once. I had never before spent so many hours in the kitchen. At one point, while the turkey was in the oven and the rolls were rising, I went for a walk. I had to get out of the house!

A quarter of a century later, spending all day in the kitchen preparing a big meal is routine. Now I enjoy the hours of planning, shopping and cooking. I’ve finally mastered the elaborate dance necessary to have everything finish cooking more or less at the same time. No longer do I dissolve into tears when a dish finishes too soon or too late.

But back to that first Thanksgiving. I was so exhausted by the time the meal was ready that I put the rolls into the oven and forgot about them. The meal was well underway when I realized that they were MIA. Fortunately, I was able to save the day with the second batch. I remember that they came out warm and delicious. For some reason, I never made those rolls again. Perhaps because of their association with that trying day.

This year, A and I joined forces for a Wooden Spoon Thanksgiving. It was an opportunity for us to pull out all of the stops and show off our talents. Everything homemade. In honor of the occasion, I dug out the recipe for the Golden Crescents.

The recipe calls for “part soft butter”. I used half butter and half shortening and when the rolls came out of the oven, I brushed them with melted butter. I have yet to figure out a way to successfully to brush anything with soft butter. I was surprised to see that the recipe called for the batter to be beaten, apparently with an electric mixer. I had been taught that using an electric mixer will destroy the yeast. I used my trusty wooden spoon instead and just mixed really, really fast. I was also perplexed that there was no kneading involved. I have to admit I sneaked a few strokes in. Nonetheless, the resulting texture was light as if the dough had been kneaded.

A helpful hint: when cutting the rounds, use a pizza cutter instead of a knife. Perhaps it’s my technique, but whenever I have used a knife to cut dough, the dough stretches rather than cuts.

Memory served me well. The rolls were delicious. This recipe will definitely be made more often!

Verdict: Yum! This one’s a keeper!

Golden Crescents
(source: Betty Crocker Cookbook)

2 packages active dry yeast
¾ cup warm water (105° to 115°)
½ cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
½ cup shortening (part soft butter)
4 cups all-purpose flour
Soft butter or margarine

Dissolve yeast in warm water. Stir in sugar, salt, eggs, shortening and 2 cups of the flour. Beat until smooth. Mix in remaining flour until smooth. Scrape dough from side of bowl. Cover; let rise in warm place until double, about 1 ½ hours.

Divide dough in half; roll each half into 12-inch circle. Spread with butter; cut into 16 wedges. Roll up each wedge, beginning at rounded edge. Place rolls, with point under, on greased baking sheet. Cover; let rise until double, about 1 hour.

Heat oven to 400°. Bake 12 to 15 minutes or until golden brown. Brush rolls with butter.

32 rolls

Compost: eggshells