Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Good Gravies!

I like gravy.  Not surprising considering I was raised in the south.  I pretty much like all kinds of gravy: sausage gravy,  brown beef gravy, chipped beef gravy... and, I’ll eat gravy on just about anything: toast, biscuit, potatoes, pasta, eggs, a spoon... I’ve noticed that there’s a very blurry, if existent, line between gravy and sauce... I think if you make it in a well-seasoned cast iron skillet and pour it over biscuit or mashed potatoes, it’s gravy.  If someone in a fancy restaurant makes it and garnishes it with parsley or other green leaf, it’s sauce... I reckon.  Maybe there’s more to it, but that’s my take.

As a kid I remember eating biscuit and red eye gravy at Grandmother’s house.  I think the red eye gravy is just coffee mixed with fried ham drippings... nothing more... but it was good.  Things taste a lot better when you don’t know from whence they come or how quickly they’ll clog your arteries!

My sons seem to be pretty fond of gravy.  Of course, I don’t call it gravy, I make up fancy names for it so they’ll try it: Beefy Stroganoff, actual Stroganoff, Pasta Alfredo with sauteed peppers and onions, Lucy’s Meatballs and even this Yum-O-Tastic Goop on Potatoes, which, when I made it last night, I didn’t refer to by name, but rather as, “It’s stuff you like poured over mashed potatoes.” 

They love mashed potatoes.

I don’t know if its traditionally Latvian or if it’s the Russian or Scandinavian influence, but when I was in Latvia, I got ahold of a lot of really good gravy! 

In case you don’t already know, we adopted my sons from the small Baltic nation of Latvia when they were 13.  So, they spent the first 13 years of their lives eating these gravies or sauces.  To adopt them we had to make three separate trips to Latvia and stay there for nearly a month total.  I was REALLY nervous about this, seeing as how I’m not too adventurous with my food choices and amy very suspicious of anything that wasn’t in my grandmother’s cookbook.  I packed about 50 granola bars for our first trip, figuring that I could, if necessary, survive off of these.

Thankfully, I don’t think I needed to eat a single one.  The cuisine of Latvia was awesome and not too dissimilar to that of the Southern US.  For many meals I had meat with some sauce, potatoes and a “salad” which was usually chopped up cucumber, onions and tomatoes.  Of course, there was soup -- LOTS of soup.  LOTS of YUMMY soup.  but that’s a whole story unto itself.

Last night I had to use nearly my full repertoire of cooking skills -- french (thank you Julia Child),  Southern(thank you Grandmother) and Latvian, learned from Ineta Murane, the daughter of the director of the orphanage where my sons lived.  I had only $3.25 left in my food budget.  I searched the fridge, freezer and pantry and found two chicken breasts, milk, 1.5 sticks of butter, various herbs and spices and a few usual staples including two onions, a bag of potatoes, garlic, Parmesan cheese, some broccoli and a bag of frozen mixed vegetables.  So, I concocted the following, and served it with a side of broccoli.  I chose to leave the “mixed vegetables” to strengthen its freezer burn. 

Yum-O-Tastic Chicken Goop on Potatoes
(serves about 8 hungry people)
This is sort of a take on a Tetrazzini sauce, but served on potatoes and jazzed up a little.  It takes less than an hour from beginning to table.  All measurements in this recipe are “ishes” meaning you can do a little more or less, depending on taste.  I’ve written in every little step here, to try and help you keep the timing down and have it all ready together.  Adjust as needed.
A totally optional step is to begin with browning some bacon, remove bacon before it’s crisp, but make sure it’s cooked.  Set bacon aside.  Leave a little (just a little) bacon grease in pan and add the butter to this to saute onions, garlic and mushrooms.  Add the bacon back into the sauce along with the chicken when recipe indicates.
  • 8 - 10 potatoes (med-large potatoes)
  • 2 Boneless, Skinless chicken breasts, or a couple of cups of cooked chicken
  • 1 large onion, sliced
  • 1 lb. fresh mushrooms
  • 5 or more cloves of garlic, diced
  • 1/2 cup butter (1 stick) for sauce
  • 1/4 - 1/2 stick of butter, for mashed potatoes
  • 2/3 cup of flour
  • 1 - 2 cups chicken or mushroom stock -- maybe more
  • 1/2 cup white wine (cooking wine is ok, but the better the wine, the better the sauce)
  • 2 cup cream (I actually use whole, raw milk, but cream would be good, too)
  • 1 - 2 cups whole milk for mashed potatoes
  • 1 cup Parmesan cheese
  • 1 tsp Garlic pwdr
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Nutmeg
Cook Chicken.  I prefer to put some water, onions, carrots, thyme, Adobo, Garlic and whatever other non-broccoli veggies I have laying around into a pressure cooker, add chicken (even frozen) and pressure cook until done (use mfg recommendations, I think about 10 minutes does it).  This provides you with your chicken AND your stock.

Put on salted water for mashed potatoes. 

Peel and cut onion in half, then slice onion -- this gives you little thin onion semi-circles. 

Measure or weigh the mushrooms.

Peel and dice garlic -- I cheat and buy the pre-diced stuff.  Not as good, but easier!

Peel potatoes.  Cut them into quarters (or sixths or eights, depending on potato size).  Set aside -- you’ll need them real soon -- when water boils.

Melt butter in a skillet or sauté pan -- I use my cast-iron skillet -- on medium-high heat.  Add mushrooms, onions and garlic plus a little Adobo or salt and pepper.  Saute until the edges of the onions begin to turn golden.  This kinda take a while.

When water comes to a rolling boil, place potatoes in boiling water.  This cooks for about 20 minutes, or until potatoes are fork tender.  I also know they’re ready when the water starts to look really starchy because the very edges of the potatoes are disintegrating.  Under-cooked potatoes are nasty!

Measure out cream and wine -- into the same measuring cup is fine.  NOT the stock though.  It’s for later.  But, go ahead and measure it out as well -- just in a different cup.

Add in flour and stir -- don’t stop stirring or you’ll burn it all.  At this point you’re just cooking the flour to remove the flour flavor.  Just a minute or so is probably enough.  Ideally you’d have removed the veggies and done this separately, or even browned the flour before adding to butter, but I just can’t get into that -- so I do it all together and it seems to work. 

Immediately after “cooking the flour” add the cream and wine.  Stir to combine and work at it until it’s a smooth (other than the veggies) sauce.  No flour lumps!  This shouldn’t be difficult, because you used a hot fat (butter) before the liquid.

Dice (or shred) chicken.  A dice will make a nicer sauce, shredding is easier -- your choice.  I dice.  Add this to the sauce.

Turn down to low heat.  As sauce cooks, keep a good eye on it -- if it becomes too thick -- which it will -- add stock to thin.   The stock will be “absorbed” into the sauce and you’ll have to repeat this process a few times.

When potatoes are ready, drain well and return to pot.  I leave the heat on very low to cook out any remaining water and to make sure that my milk and butter don’t make the potatoes cold.  Some folks heat the milk/butter, but I find that unnecessary.

Add butter and a few big splashes of milk to potatoes and begin mashing.  As needed, add more milk.  I think most folks tend to use too little milk and the potatoes are dry and too stiff.  Keep in mind that the liquid will continues to absorb into the potatoes for a while, so very slightly soupy potatoes will be nice potatoes in a few minutes. 

About 2 - 3 minutes before you want to serve this, add the parmesan cheese, garlic powder and nutmeg.  Stir to melt cheese.  Taste and season as you like.  I tend to go VERY heavy on freshly ground black (or white) pepper.

Serve a good helping of potatoes in the center of the plate, top with sauce.


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