Friday, September 23, 2011

End of the Month Souffe'

Well, here it is....getting near the end of the month and our pantry is looking somewhat ravaged.  And why not?  Since stocking up 30 days ago, we've been cooking (and eating) our way through its contents.  But we still have enough left to get us through, providing we use our larder wisely.

Of course it helps to have planned for this eventuality. 

Every time I go to the store, I pick up a few "extra" things.  Call it insurance. I'd rather do that than be panic-stricken, wondering how to make a meal out of crackers and capers! (Although I might try doing something with that some time....stay tuned! :) )

Looking around  the pantry today, I spotted the ingredients for one of my favorite things to cook....believe it or not, souffle. In this case, Tuna Souffle'-because that's what we had on hand.   

Some people are intimidated by it...all the whisking and beating and thissing and thatting; so much to do!  And so many things to worry about!  White sauce, eggs, egg whites....ugh!  The first time I ever attempted one, it looked like....well, let's just say it didn't look like a souffle!  The thing didn't rise and it was raw in the middle. Thankfully, mine was not the only dud. 

Our Home Economics teacher (shout out to Mrs. Schlosser) was there with patience and sympathy.

As she walked around the room examining each dish, the teacher pointed out what might have gone wrong.  In many cases we simply hadn't done the eggs right.  Either the yellows had started to cook when added to the white sauce creating "scrambled egg islands," or the egg whites weren't beaten enough to help make the dish rise to the occasion.  The other problems were oven not hot enough, cooking time, oven doors slamming and not keeping the oven door closed until cooking time was done.  Picky! Picky! Picky!

When she got to my dish, the instructor nodded.  "What do you think went wrong?"  I looked at her squarely and said "I did."  Naturally.  

Home Ec and I weren't exactly getting along to that point. I mean, wasn't I the kid who just about sewed their hand to the skirt they were supposed to be making for a class project?  The one who sewed the skirt pleats inside out once their hand was liberated from the sewing machine's death grip? And wasn't I the one who was transferred over to cooking to save myself from myself?

Now this....this....puffy cakey thing, for lack of a better term, was about to be my undoing!  Ugh!  

The teacher, a true saint, smiled.  "Looks like you didn't do the roux correctly. Probably not enough flour."  If cooking ever needed a CSI, she'd have been perfect for the job!

The next day we tried it again....and voila!  It worked!  The thing puffed up like it should and was done clear through!   All it took was a bit of patience and a lot of attention to details. 

Those two things still hold true.  Patience and attention to details. You can't rush through making a souffle'...but you can use short cuts.  We'll get to those in a few moments.  But first things first.


Pre-heat oven to 350°
4 eggs (white and yolks separated)
    1 cup milk,warmed
    1/4 cup flour
    1/4 cup butter
    1 1/2 cup cheese grated
    1/4 tsp creme of tartar (optional)
    FOR TUNA SOUFFLE', add 2 cans of drained tuna, 2 diced green onions

Butter the bottom and sides of a large, tall walled bowl. It should be deep enough to allow your souffle' to expand and rise to almost double its size.
Sometimes I coat this with a bit of fine seasoned bread crumbs or a mixture of bread crumbs and Parmesan cheese.  Set it aside.

Beat the egg yellows until they are smooth. They'll probably even get a little lighter in color and stream evenly when you raise the whisk out of the bowl.  Set these aside.
The egg whites will be handled a little later...for now just make sure there are no bits of egg yellow floating in them.
Egg whites are finicky...they won't whip up if there are any impurities hanging around, even if those impurities are other egg parts. Sheesh!

Prepare your roux by melting about 1/4 cup of butter in a deep pan, as it's melting add 1/4 cup of flour and whisk, whisk whisk or stir, stir, stir while this cooks.  The flour/butter mixture should thicken and turn light brown.  (If you're using whole wheat flour it'll get darker than with regular flour). Turn off the heat but keep pan on the burner.

Add a small amount of the roux to the milk and mix. Set the burner on low,then add this milk/roux mixture back to the remaining roux while stirring. Stir until fully blended.  The roux will thicken the milk, which is a good thing.  If you go no further, you have made a white sauce.  Gee!  But we're not done yet.

Tempering egg with a little roux
Reduce the heat. Add a bit of this roux stuff to the egg yellows while whisking. This is how you "temper" the eggs-that is, add them to a hot ingredient without partially cooking them first. Once you see that the eggs and roux have incorporated, add it all back to the remaining roux/milk mixture in the pan...continuing to whisk over a low flame.

Once this is all mixed together, you can add the cheese. Stir constantly while the cheese melts.  If you go no further, you'll have mastered a basic cheese sauce.  Yay! But we're still not done.  Turn off the flame and let this rest while you handle the egg whites.

This is a make or break situation.  Done right, your souffle will be light, airy, soft and moist.  Done wrong, you'll have a dry, hard, springy thing that may or may not be edible.  Maybe as a bread? Hmmmm.
Beating egg whites
Eggs softly peaked
Watch carefully as your egg whites develop.  Some people use cream of tartar to help with this process, but its not necessary.  Sometimes it even makes them too stiff, but what ever is your preference so be it.
Personally I don't use cream of tartar in souffle', preferring it in meringue.

Folding egg white into batter
Now comes the next important step....folding the egg whites into the batter.  Notice I said "fold" not "stir" or "mix" or even "incorporate."

Batter and prepared bowl
You want the egg whites to still be and act like egg whites, so the batter is going to look wrong.
Our Home Ec teacher gave us a hint that still rings true today...when it comes to souffle' the wronger it looks the righter it is!

Next, pour the batter into the prepared bowl and put it in the oven to cook for 30-35 minutes.
While that happens, and if you want, you can make a nice simple sauce utilizing some of the steps we worked on at the start of this recipe. Of course, you'd use a lot less flour!  White sauce, cheese sauce, you name it.  Although not necessary, such a thing would add an extra dimension of flavor to the dish

 1 cup milk
3 Tablespoons flour
3 Tablespoons butter or margerine

Put butter in pan, add flour and whisk over heat until butter and flour thicken.
Add milk and continue to whisk while this mixture thickens more.  Season with salt and pepper to taste. You can add other seasonings too. Some folk even add a bit of nutmeg.

The finished product, Cheese Souffle' with White Sauce will be an unexpected surprise for end of month dining. You don't have to stick to just cheese, either.  Add some tuna, chicken, ham or beef...veggies like diced onion, artichoke hearts, shaved carrots, peas...the sky's the limit!

Thanks to my Home Economics teacher, I learned that cooking is more than a chore and that making a souffle' can be a lot of fun.

Experiment! Enjoy!

Souffle' with white sauce and salad

SHORT CUT!          SHORT CUT!         SHORT CUT!
Sometimes there just isn't time to make a conventional white sauces. That's why God made condensed cream of whatever soups! They come in lots of different flavors and sure cut down on the preparations!
Of course you'll still have to make the roux, no way around that. The roux contains the flour that helps to hold the whole thing together. 
I learned that the hard way in Home Ec class.

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