Home Chef Andrea A. asks:Is using Cream of Mushroom Soup in a recipe really the height of bad cooking, as suggested by The Food Network?
First of all, keep in mind that Food Network will get awfully high-and-mighty about “fresh, organic” ingredients in their stand-and-stir shows, while playing ads for frozen pizza between episodes…so there’s that.
That doesn’t mean it can’t taste good. My mother made a classic green bean dish for Thanksgiving that involved this canned-soup shortcut. I was awesome! But then, holiday dishes like that are a kind of familiar comfort food, there’s the nostalgia factor. It was complimented by other holiday dishes that involved more kitchen expertise, made with fresh ingredients.
Contemporary Home Chefs and cooks have a much wider range of ingredients and methods at their disposal than a 1970s American housewife did.
Is it “bad cooking”? No, it’s just lazy cooking. The result is not unlike you’d get at a fast food restaurant that also depends on cheap canned and frozen-food shortcuts. In which case, why bother to cook at home?
For myself, I like making soups and soup stocks from scratch. The effort is rewarding. (it’s not that hard, it’s fun to do, and it makes the house smell good) But like most people, regardless of what overpaid Food TV “Celebrities” think, I’m not above using convenient shortcuts, guilt-free, when I have eight dishes on my menu, and it’s a quick alternative for a side dish.
So, I wouldn’t call it the “height of bad cooking”, but there are better natural options that are not only much lower in sodium, but have vastly better flavor.
To make your own, use my recipe for Garlic Mushroom Cream Sauce, using whole milk instead of the heavy whipping cream:
Garlic Mushroom Cream Sauce
2 strips apple-wood bacon, chopped
8 oz white mushrooms, freshly sliced
1 stick butter
4 lg cloves of garlic, chopped
1 Tbs. coarse black pepper
2 cups heavy whipping cream
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
Mix all ingredients, except cream, and roast at 350F until mushrooms are dark and leathery. Combine these ingredients with cream in a blender and puree until smooth.
Okay, I like to cook with wood and charcoal, but I get a lot of emails asking how to modify my recipes to a gas grill (yes, I own gas grills) and even for the oven.
Some recipes just can’t be adapted, others can with decent results, and some…well, as much as this is going to tick-off the die-hards…some you can hardly tell the difference! Here’s one of my favorites.
Oh, and if you want to recreate a true “Southern pulled pork sandwich”, and really take ’em to the next level… be sure to add a couple of tablespoons of ourSimple Tangy Slawon top of the meat and sauce. Yeah, baby!
Pulled Pork BBQ
(In the gas grill, oven, or smoker) 1 Pork shoulder (6-8lb) Burnin’ Love Rub (see below) Basic BBQ Sauce (see below)
Rub the shoulder with spices. Set it aside for a few minutes and rub again over any wet spots. Keep doing this until there are no wet spots, the heavier the rub, the better. This makes the “bark” of the shoulder. Wrap the whole thing in plastic wrap and fridge 12-24 hours.
Take shoulder out of fridge and let sit 60 minutes to bring the temp up.
For the gas grill:
You want indirect heat for cooking, you can easily do this on a conventional gas grill. Just keep the meat as far from the heat source as possible, or it will burn during the long cooking time. You want to cook this at 250 degrees Fahrenheit; you can go as high as 275, but no higher. You don’t want to go lower than 250, as you will start to dry out the meat before it is cooked.
Put the shoulder on the “cool side” of the grill, and place a disposable pan with a couple of cups of apple juice underneath it to add moisture and catch the drippings. A spray bottle with 50/50 apple juice and cider vinegar is nice for basting, as well.
A lot of folks like to use apple chips, soaked, for smoking. You can add 1/2 cup to a disposable tin pan over the “hot” side of your gill, every 30 minutes for the first 3 hours.
Personally, I prefer to use a small, nearly indestructible smoke box, called the “A-Maze-N Smoker”. It’s a metal-mesh maze that holds your favorite flavor of smoking pellets, and burns slowly enough to allow a three-hour smoke without constantly having to lift the cover and let all of that precious heat out. It’s cheap, and I’ve used my dozens of times with no visible wear or tear.
Here’s a quick video I did on using this unit with my La Caja China, but the principle would be the same in anything from a gas grill to a Weber Kettle.
If you don’t trust your on-board thermometer, get a cheap instant read (or better, a digital probe) and stick the probe all the way through a halved potato. Set the potato cut-side down on the grill. This keeps your thermometer off the grates.
After three to four hours, remove the shoulder from your grill, and roast (uncovered) in a pre-heated oven at 225d for 10-12 hours. The pork is done when it reaches an internal temperature of 200 degrees. If you don’t have an instant read thermometer (you should really get one) the meat is done when it pulls apart easily with a fork.
In The Oven
Follow the same prep directions as above. Pre-heat the oven to 225F, and roast the shoulder, fat-cap up, uncovered, for 14 hours (yes, I said fourteen. I usually roast mine overnight.)
Follow the “Finishing” steps, below.
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Once the shoulder(s) are prepped, start Traeger on “Smoke” with the lid open until it’s cruisin’ (4 to 5 minutes). Set temp at 225F and preheat, lid closed, for about 15 minutes.
Place shoulders on the grill, fat-cap up, and smoke for 3 hours, spraying with a mix of apple juice and cider vinegar (50/50) every hour after the three hours.
Put shoulders in a large disposable aluminum foil pan and up the temp to 250F.
Roast shoulder for 8 more hours, or until an instant-read meat thermometer inserted in the thickest part, but not touching a bone, registers 190 degrees F.
If the skin starts to get too dark, cover it loosely with foil.
Remove the pan from the heat, tent shoulder(s) loosely in foil, and let rest for 30 minutes. Pour the juices from the bottom of the pan into a fat separator. Mix broth (fat removed) with some salt and cider vinegar, to taste, and pour back over the meat after shredding. Allow to rest an additional 10 minutes to soak up the juices.
Serve either as sliders, or with a sauce on the side (see below) and some white bread slices to use as edible napkins!
Pulled Pork Tips:
For “oven only”…before applying the dry rub, brush the entire shoulder generously with Stubbs (brand name) Mesquite Liquid Smoke, allow the surface to dry, and repeat. The apply the dry rub (while still damp.) Note: this is the ONLY liquid smoke that I’ll allow in my kitchen. For the smoker, I like a wood chip/chunk blend of 75% oak,
Perk’s “Burnin’ Love” Rub
(Shh…it’s a secret!)
¼ C fine sea salt ¼ C light brown sugar 2 Tbs garlic powder 2 Tbs onion powder 4 Tbs Italian seasonings (spicy, if you can find them) 2 Tbs smoked paprika 2 Tbs coarse black pepper 2 Tbs hickory salt 1 teaspoon cayenne powder (opt)
Northern Carolina Vinegar Sauce
Personally, I think this very old, very traditional recipe is the best and only sauce for pulled pork.
2 cups apple cider vinegar
2 Tbs. smoked paprika
2 Tbs white sugar
4 tsp, fine sea salt
2 tsp. coarse ground black pepper
1 to 2 tsp. red pepper flakes
Combine all, simmer and cool. The longer it sits, the better it is!
But if you MUST have your thick, sweet, ketchup-based sauce…here’s a great one…
Basic BBQ Sauce (my cheater version)
1 cup Sweet Baby Rays Brown Sugar BBQ sauce ½ cup honey 1/2 stick sweet cream butter Red pepper flakes to taste (opt)
Combine all, simmer and allow to cool.
NOTE: This makes a fantastic sauce for grilled chicken but replacing the honey with an equal amount of Thai sweet chili sauce!
Cooked up a couple of breakfast casseroles for a friend this week. They turned out great! My Green Chili Egg puff requires flour, and they needed another one that was gluten-free. So I came up with this one.
It takes some steps the night before, but makes for a quick and easy breakfast the next morning.
Sausage & Veggie Breakfast Casserole
1 lb bratwurst sausage (beer, or sweet Italian sausage)
1/2 cup chopped green onions (from about 6 onions)
1 3/4 cup whole milk
1 bunch fresh parsley, chopped
¼ cup fresh basil, chopped
2 tsp. sea salt
1 tsp. black pepper
For Mikey: You can swap out the bell peppers for 2 small cans of diced green chilies, well drained. 😉
Lightly coat a foil-lined cookie sheet with cooking spray. Spread hash-browns in a single layer, sprinkle with some salt and pepper, and bake until crisp.
Cut all veggies.
Remove sausage from casings.
Toss sliced mushrooms with 1 Tbs. of oil, a little salt and pepper, and spread on another lined cookie-sheet. Roast in oven at 350F, until the mushroom are well browned.
In a large non-stick skillet over medium heat, cook sausage, onions, and garlic until sausage is no longer pink and mushrooms have given off some of their liquid, about 10 minutes.
Throughout cooking, chop to crumble sausage. Drain the liquid.
In a 9×13 pan coated with cooking spray, layer potatoes (no need to thaw), sausage mixture, then 1 cup cheese, green peppers, tomatoes, and green onions.
In a medium bowl, combine eggs, milk, parsley, salt, basil, and pepper.
Whisk thoroughly to combine, then add half of the remaining cheese and whisk again.
Pour egg mixture evenly over other ingredients in baking pan. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. (Alternately, you can bake this casserole immediately.)
In the morning, top with roasted mushrooms, then remaining cheese. preheat the oven to 375°F.
Bake casserole, uncovered, for about 60-70 minutes, or until egg in middle is just set (no jiggle) and edges are lightly golden brown.
Remove from oven and allow to cool for 15 minutes before cutting and serving.
Great with a dollop of Mexican Crema, and some chopped cilantro or Italian Parsley.
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