Monday, December 6, 2010

SANTA AND ANOTHER FOOD MEMORY

Last Friday I took the opportunity to attend our community holiday festival.  Our Firestone Park Citizens Council does a pretty nice job of organizing a few events each year that brings the neighborhood together.  There is always a summer festival just prior to the July 4th holiday, a community celebration day in August with a parade, music and some sort of arts performance, and a Christmas celebration such as the one I attended on Friday.

Santa's reindeer - Lt. Brode and Chad Carter
from Firestone Park Fire House #13
Elementary students from the local schools sang carols, there was a craft area for the kids to enjoy, story telling in another area and then the icing on the cookies with the arrival of Santa and his Mrs. escorted to the park via fire truck (yes, fire truck - it seems that Santa was giving his reindeer a rest prior to the big night).  There was a tree lighting and then free photos with Santa for the kids. 

With so many people having a great time, it was hard to see who was having more fun, the kids or the adults.  See more about this on our new Akron Digital Media Center web site, www.akronist.com , my article covering the event should be up there soon.

SNOW MEANS COMFORT FOODS
I wasn't really anticipating snow this early in the season, but it is always a good excuse to hang around the house in my jammies and make a late breakfast after lounging in bed a little later than normal.

Sunday I took that opportunity to make one of my favorite breakfast meals, Potato Hash and Eggs.  I rescued a sweet potato and a small white potato from the pantry, the remains of a rasher of bacon from the fridge and a couple of my wonderful organic, free-range chicken eggs and whipped up my meal. 

Hash is defined by the Food Lovers Companion (more on this wonderful resource later) as "a dish of finely chopped meat (roast beef and corned beef are the most common), potatoes and seasonings, usually fried together until lightly browned. Other chopped vegetables, such as green pepper, celery and onion, can also be added. Hash is sometimes served with gravy or sauce." 

Generally, I save my morning hash making for times that I have leftover corned beef to make a true hash, but today the only meat left unfrozen was the bacon lounging around the meat drawer.  A quick self evaluation determined that I was just too lazy to chop up the bacon, so it was fried whole and served alongside the potatoes.  Technically at this point I was only making fried potatoes with eggs, but since food police aren't trudging through the snow to my door today, I'll just call it hash.  This makes a quick and simple meal for one and can easily be multiplied to feed as many people as will wander to your table. 

Potatoes getting their browning
To make your own winter fake-out hash breakfast you'll need the following:

1 small to medium potato per person
1 Tbls finely minced onion per potato
2 tsp. vegetable or olive oil or bacon drippings
1/4 cup finely chopped cooked meat (beef roast, turkey, corned beef, sausage or chicken)
salt and pepper to taste

Start by dicing your potatoes in a small dice (1/2 inch) so they will cook fairly quickly.  Heat a small heavy bottom non-stick skillet to medium-high heat.  Add oil or drippings to the pan and heat.  Add potato and onion and stir to coat with the oil.  Cover with a tight-fitting lid, turn the heat to medium and let cook for 5-7 minutes to cook the potatoes, stirring occasionally, until tender.  Remove the lid and continue to cook until you get a nice brown crust on the potatoes.

At this point, if you are adding meat, add 1/4 cup finely chopped meat to the pan and heat through.  Season with salt, pepper and whatever fresh herbs or other seasonings you may like.

Serve on a warmed plate and top with a fried egg done to your preference. 
Hash is a perfect opportunity to play with seasonings depending upon your mood.  Add a mild italian pepper, some chopped garlic and sausage for an Italian flare.  Change out with a chipotle pepper, chorizo and add some cheese on top to go Mexican.  Add a bit of chopped spinach or greens to include some extra nutrition and we're bordering on healthy eating.  Experiment until you find your favorites.  Potatoes are basically a blank canvas that lend themselves to whatever mood you're in.  Today I used a sweet potato that added a nice sweetness to the white potato.  I could easily have gone all out and included a pinch of cinnamon or nutmeg and a bit of sugar make this a little different. 

Overall, this is basically a really simple soul-soothing meal.  Give it a try and see what you can come up with.

FOOD MEMORY
If you, or your Father, are of an age to have been a part of the Korean conflict or before, you've no doubt heard about a culinary gem called Shit on a Shingle.  There are nicer terms for this such as creamed dried beef, but plain old SOS is how it's referred to by the thousands of men who ate this as part of their military duty.  Variations on what food exactly is meant by the "Shit" portion of the dish depended on which service you were in, and when, but it was often used to mean a breakfast dish.  Some use ground beef, others corned beef, but the one that I grew up eating is the version using dried sliced beef generally found in a pouch or jar hanging around the grocery store shelves. 

The meat is prepared in a simple white gravy or sauce much as you'd prepare for making macaroni and cheese.  A roux of flour and butter thickens some milk and you have made a perfect white gravy.  The Shingle part of this meal is generally a slice of bread or toast, so basically all we have here is some good hot meat served on toast, a version of my other simple meal for one using sliced turkey or deli beef and meat gravy served over toast.  Find those recipes here.

Make sure you rinse this really well.
You may have seen this little pouch in the stores and wondered what it was all about. Contrary to most negative connotations, this meal is actually quite tasty and one that I fondly recall from my childhood - another of those meals that my Mother could pull off at a moment's notice out of the pantry.  We ate this on cold winter days for a simple dinner and Dad never failed to talk about how he ate it in Korea and even before that as something his Mother would prepare when he was a kid growing up during the depression. 

Today most people may be familiar with this meat for it's appearance in appetizers like a cheese ball or beef rolled around cream cheese - all excellent dishes.  You can find recipes for all these and learn more about this product at the Armour web site.

Here is how I make my own version of SOS on a cold winter night - and presto, dinner is ready in about 15 minutes!  This makes enough meat and gravy to go over 4 slices of bread and for me, this makes 2 servings so I have my meal tonight and one for later in the week.  And at around 350 calories (including the lima beans I added to my plate), this isn't a bad choice for a meal. 

DAD'S VERSION OF SOS
1 pouch dried beef
1 Tbls butter
1 Tbls flour
1/2 cup milk
pinch of cayenne pepper
pinch of fresh ground black pepper
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce

First step after removing the beef from the pouch is to thoroughly rinse it under running water.  The meat is heavily salted but most will wash off.  Make sure you get in between each individual slice of meat, otherwise you will have an over salted dish and there is no fix for that.  You can taste the meat before it's rinsed to get a sense of what you're up against here.  Keep tasting as you go and you'll soon notice how effective the water rinse is.  Once rinsed, rip the meat into bite sized pieces.

In a heavy bottomed saucepan over medium-high heat, melt the butter and stir in the flour.  Cook the flour, whisking constantly, until the mixture turns a light brown, about 2-3 minutes.  Add in the beef pieces and stir to coat the meat.  Add the milk and bring to a simmer, stirring constantly while the mixture thickens. 

Add the cayenne, black pepper and Worcestershire.  Taste and adjust seasonings.  Serve immediately over warm toast. 



FOOD LOVER'S COMPANION
When I attended cooking classes umpteen years ago, one of the best investments I made as a text and resource book was called the Food Lover's Companion.  It sits on my coffee table constantly and whenever I want to find out something about a food ingredient or dish, I turn to this book.  With over 6,000 definitions, there is little that cannot be found inside these pages.

Of course, you can turn to the internet these days for almost anything you're looking for, but this little book had been a source of knowledge and amusment in my house for 10 years.  I read a lot of cookbooks as a hobby and when I run across an unknown ingredient, I grab onto the Companion and soon am on the right track.  This book would make a terrific gift for any cooking enthusiast and a great addition to any cookbook collection. 

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