Canning the cans

Back when I revamped my eating style, I stopped buying canned soup. It was a pretty easy step actually; I can't remember the last time I cooked with canned soup, and I quickly found suitable replacements for my old standby lunches: tomato soup (Note: do NOT add the cloves!) and bean & bacon soup.

But every once in awhile, there is a dish that screams for canned cream of mushroom soup. I grew up in the Midwest -- canned cream soups are part of my heritage. So what to do? It took a little research to realize that a well-flavored white sauce like you use for a pot pie fills the bill nicely.

Husband made the recipe below for us the other night and it took all of my willpower to not scarf up the remaining three servings (of 6) all by myself. What can I say? Sometimes a gal just needs her a big mess of some tuna hot dish.
No-cream-soup Tuna Noodle Casserole
(Adapted from The Complete Book of Pasta and Noodles by the Editors of 'Cook's Illustrated'.)

For topping:
1 cup bread crumbs, crushed potato chips, saltines, grated cheese, or whatever your native culture requires. If you're using bread crumbs or saltines, combine crumbs with 1.5 Tablespoons of melted butter (in addition to the butter below)

3/4 lb noodles (uncooked weight)
2 Tablespoons olive oil (or your cooking oil of choice)
1/2 pound button mushrooms, cleaned and sliced thin
2 medium onions, finely diced
1 non-green bell pepper (or 1 cup frozen pepper strips,) diced.
4 Tablespoons butter
1/4 cup AP flour
3 cups chicken stock
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
1/4 cup fresh parsley leaves, minced (opt.)
12-14 ounces canned solid white tuna, drained (oil or water packed, or pouches)
2 cups frozen peas

Heat over to 350 degrees. If using bread crumbs or saltines for topping, you can bake the butter-crumb mixture in oven 15 mins. or so if desired.

Cook noodles per package directions in salted water. Dump the peas into the pot for the last minute or so, then drain and pour noodles and peas into a 13" x 9" baking dish.

While noodles are cooking, saute the vegs: Melt 2T oil in skillet (med. heat) and saute onions, peppers, and mushrooms until onions are soft and mushroom liquid evaporates (~10 mins.?) Add salt and pepper to taste, add to noodles and peas in baking dish.

Melt remaining 4T butter in skillet (med. heat) and cook until foaming stops. Whisk in flour and stir constantly fir 1 to 2 minutes until flour starts to turn golden. Still whisking, slowly add chicken stock. Raise heat to med. high, bring to simmer, and cook until sauce thickens, 3-4 minutes.

Remove sauce from heat and add the tuna, lemon juice, parsley, and salt & pepper to taste. Pour over contents of baking dish and stir gently to combine. Sprinkle with desired topping and bake for ~15 minutes until heated through and the topping is golden.

TIP: To meet Project Weeknight guidelines, you can skip the baking dish and the oven. Just dump the drained peas and noodles back into their pot and add the other ingredients as you go. If desired, sprinkle with some grated cheese or crumbled potato chips when you serve.

No, it's not as quick as the canned soup version, but even with all of the butter, it's a heluva lot better for you and it tastes pretty damned good. Burp!


Truffles for everyone!

OK, so this next recipe isn't exactly in keeping with my dietary goals, but I made it for Valentine's Day so I get a free pass, right? It does, however, fall squarely into the Make It Myself category of things that are much cheaper to make than to buy.

Make what? Truffles, of course! I swear, it is so easy that the next time someone tries to sell you a $5.00 truffle you will toss back your head and laugh in their face. I know, it is dangerous having this knowledge at your fingertips, ready to go at the slightest hint of craving, but think of the money you'll save.

Truffles for Everyone
Adapted from a bunch of sources

1/2 pound (8 oz. by weight) of the best quality chocolate you can get your hands on*
1/2 cup (4 fl. oz) heavy cream
1/2 cup or so of cocoa powder, unsweetened*

Using a good-sized knife, carefully chop/break/shave the chocolate into small chunks and slivers, no bigger than a peanut. Place in medium sized non-plastic bowl (ceramic, glass, or stainless, please) and set aside.

Measure heavy cream into a slightly oversized microwave-safe container. (Slightly oversized in case of boil-overs.) Heat cream to boil in microwave.

Pour hot cream into bowl of chopped chocolate.

Cover bowl and let sit ten minutes.

After ten minutes, remove cover, and with a spoon, spatula, or small whisk, start in the center of the bowl and gently whisk the now melted chocolate and cream together in small circles until they start to combine, then gradually work outwards until all the cream and chocolate are completely transformed into smooth, silky, goodness.

Congrats! You have just made ganache.

Cover the bowl again and place in the fridge to cool until the ganache is the consistency of shortening or slightly softened butter -- solid enough for a glob to hold its shape. Depending on how deep your bowl is, it can take an hour or more to cool so be patient!

In the meantime, line a sheet pan with parchment paper or a silicone baking sheet or waxed paper or whatever. Try not to check the ganache too often. :)

Once the ganache is solid enough to scoop, use a regular teaspoon (the kind you eat with, not a measuring spoon) or a disher to scoop out modestly-sized globs (1 to 1.5 inch diameter) of ganache onto the lined sheet pan. They don't have to be round at this point, you're just portioning them.

Place the sheet pan in the fridge until the globs are completely set up. They need to be as solid as they're going to get before the next step.

While waiting, measure out a half cup or so of unsweetened cocoa powder (natural, dutch process, whatever) into a shallow bowl or paper plate. The ganache balls will be rolled in the cocoa powder to keep the truffles from sticking to our hands while we shovel them into our face.

When the ganache balls are solid, roll each one between your palms for a few seconds to round it up (it won't be perfect) then roll the ball around in the cocoa powder to coat it, tap off the excess, and return to the sheet pan.

When they're all done, return the pan to the fridge to let them firm up again after all that handling. After they set up again, transfer them to a covered container. You may want to keep them in the fridge because of the cream, but if you let them warm up to room temp before eating they will taste so much better.

And that's it!

* Now for the chocolate lecture: Use the best chocolate you can afford. Be sure it's the kind of chocolate that makes your eyes roll back in your head when you put it in your mouth. Otherwise the calories simply ain't worth it!

I am lucky enough to have access to Callebaut chocolate in the bulk bins at the fancy pants grocery store, and it's usually less than $8.00/lb. That's a LOT less than buying the Guittard bars in the baking aisle, and it tastes a lot better IMHO.

But if you love Hershey's, use Hershey's. Just note that milk chocolate will be fairly soft and squishy when set, so try cutting the cream back to 1/3 cup or substitute some semisweet chocolate for some of the milk chocolate.

The cocoa powder can be the natural Hershey's in the brown tin, a fancy dutch process, or whatever. Just don't use a cocoa mix -- Swiss Miss will not work!

Once you get the basics down, you can search the web for ways to fancy them up with flavorings and whatnot, but this basic recipe is my favorite.

Enjoy, but not too often, you hear?


Hanging on

Yep, it's February, all right. My mental energy is at its absolute lowest. I'm lucky enough just to get the things done I absolutely have to do -- there's not one shred of motivation left for anything extra.

It makes no sense, really. We're gaining several minutes of daylight every day. It's no longer dark when I leave the house in the morning, and it's not dark when I leave work although it is dark by the time I get home. I can't even blame the weather, as we've had the warmest January on record. February is shaping up to be more of the same. Not a flake of snow this winter, and I haven't had to scrape my windshield since December.

(Those in the rest of the US can throw snowballs at me -- I deserve it, I know.)

But even with medication and no snow, February is my lowest month. I don't think it's always been this way, but I know it's been a problem since I moved up to the northwest corner of the country almost twelve years ago.

I suppose this is just a really long excuse for why I'm not posting. I've decided that I just have to be OK with that. I think February is now going to be known as Let Myself Off The Hook Month.

I will be back, I promise. I'm still cooking and eating and have more recipes and revelations to share.

Just not this month.