'Simple Seconds' is a new weekly segment by Diane Dryden; former restaurant owner and caterer who's learned endless ways to use “creative cooking” whenever possible.
Here's the Challenge:
Extra Baked Potatoes in the Fridge.
Cream soups can be your best go-to dish in the kitchen because you can create so many different kinds of soup depending on your leftover ingredients.
When it comes to making cream soup, one kind will call for using two pots, and the other recipe will call for using only one pot.
This is a two pot recipe for Cheesy Baked Potato Soup.
Start by peeling the potatoes with a knife so you can get off all the baked on skin. Chop roughly and put in an empty sauce pot.
Add some chopped onions to the potatoes and add enough water to cover them plus one inch more.
Bring them to a boil and then turn the heat down so the water simmers.
The next ingredient will make the difference between being a professional or an amateur cook. It's base, or as it was once called by your Grandmother, bouillon cubes, which were always known for their salt contents.
Base is the ingredient that will change your cooking forever. Good quality base is around five dollars a jar, but worth every penny. It comes in all kinds of flavors like chicken, beef, clam, mushroom and others. Just because base comes in a jar, they are not all the same. Look for the brand that does not list salt as it's first ingredient on the back of the container. Most grocery stores carry a full variety of flavors. Keep it in the fridge once you've opened it.
Add a large scoop of chicken base to the pot of onions and potatoes and taste the results. You are only tasting for base because the onions are not yet cooked through.
If you don't already know how to make a simple roux, here's how to combine fat and flour for a starter base.
Using equal amounts of flour and fat, which can be margarine or butter or in some recipes bacon grease or oil, or for sausage gravy, the grease left over in the pan after the sausages are cooked, melt the fat in the bottom of a heavy pot. If you don't have a heavy pot, use any pot you have, but the thinner pots have a tendency to burn if you're not really vigilant about watching it.
When the fat is melted, add an equal amount of flour, stir well. It should be kind of thick or even crumbly at this point.
Let this cook for a while on low heat to remove the flour taste. As is turns slightly golden, smell it to see if it smells like freshly baked bread. When it does, get a wire whisk ready and stir in one cup of milk per each tablespoon of flour you used. Stir like mad at first to remove any lumps that want to form and then cook over medium/low heat until thick, and it will get thick. Turn off the heat.
Some optional ingredients for this soup can be cooked bacon, sausage, cheese or onions. Ask any cook how they make potato soup and you'll get a different recipe from each one. Make this the one you like by adding what you like, even leftover vegetables that you add at the end because they only need to be heated through.
When the onions are cooked after ten or so minutes, and the potato pieces have broken down a bit, combine the two pots together and stir well. Now you have the basic baked potato soup and it's time to get creative.
If you have some sort of cheese, or cheese spread in the fridge, or several kinds of cheese, add it now. Start by adding a small amount and keep adding to it gets to tasting like you think it should, add more base if needed. If the soup is too thick, add more milk. If it's too thin, tell everyone it's the way the French eat their soup and serve it in coffee mugs adding that the cook is always right.
Before you serve the soup, you can add the cooked bacon crumbles or small pieces of sausage on top or stir them in. Don't get too carried away with ingredients and remember, taste, taste. taste.
When you serve the soup, you can serve it with crackers for a simple meal or add a sandwich for a more substantial repast.
About Diane Dryden: When I was young my mother worked full time leaving my older sister and I to fend for ourselves. It wasn't as bad as it sounds because we lived in one of those old neighborhoods where every mother was your mother and they were all watching you.
It helped a lot that my grandparents lived next door.
Often I'd stop in and grandma would always ask, “Are you hungry?” I was age six and yes, I was always hungry.
She would open the fridge, look for a moment and then started to pull out various covered dishes full of leftovers.
She would have loved today's microwaves because way back then she used the same technique - get out a frying pan and put a little bit of each thing you wanted to eat in its own little section of the pan and let the stove do the rest.
It was always glorious, but then, it was Grandma.
I wasn't aware I did the same thing as my kids grew up, but they all credit me with the same refrigerator opening, the minutes of pondering and then the final creation.
All the recipes that will be in this new Simple Seconds segment will be just that, using leftovers creatively.
Owning a restaurant for four years and a catering service for twenty, I've also come up with interesting ways to re-purpose good food instead of dumping it out.
Using leftovers means there will be less food thrown away and your kids will never be able to find anyone who can replicate those creative childhood meals ever again.
Which may or may not be a good thing.