Thursday, August 27, 2009

Stroganoff, Serious Comfort Food

Years ago, when I first heard the phrase 'comfort food', I thought it referred to a specific kind of food. I thought it literally meant mashed potatoes, hot dogs, hamburgers and other such middle class American fare. I didn't realize that 'comfort food' meant whatever food was comforting to you until a black professor I knew began describing comfort food as chitlins and grits and okra. "Yuck. Nothing comforting about any of that," I thought as I started to correct her on what comfort food really was. About the time she started giving me a strange look, it dawned on me what 'comfort food' really meant.

Well, there's nothing more comforting to me than stroganoff. It may not be the prettiest dish on the table, but it's darn tasty.

Beef Stroganoff

The Food (Jhan)

When Tony and I met we found that we had many things in common. Strangely enough we had grown up in the same neighborhood and even gone to the same high school but had never known each other. We also found that one of our favorite foods was stroganoff.

There are many ways to fix stroganoff and I vary mine from time to time but believe it or not we both enjoy our stroganoff made using canned mushroom soup as the sauce base (I use Golden Mushroom instead of Cream of mushroom but both will produce good results.).

I know it sounds tacky and far from gourmet but this blog is about ordinary food that ordinary people might make, prepared and presented in a way to make it just a bit extra-ordinary.

I also use everything from ground turkey to filet mignon for the meat in this dish. For company, steak is certainly the most delectable choice but for a quick week night supper ground meat or a cut like round steak will do fine.

Okay, so the mushroom soup is the base but here's the flavor twist: before I add the soup I sauté the mushrooms, shallots (tip: a key ingredient) and thinly sliced onions in butter until slightly caramelized. To that mix I add 1 tbsp of good quality dijon mustard, 1 heaping tbsp of ketchup and about 1/8 cup worchestershire sauce. I let the mix cook for a few minutes and then I add about 1/2 -2/3 cup red wine. I cook this down until it has thickened and is no longer watery, then I add the soup and some cracked pepper. No need to add salt as the canned soup makes it salty enough. I don't usually add any water unless the sauce is way too thick.

After the sauce cooks for a few minutes and the flavors have blended, I add the sour cream (Greek yogurt works well if you are using ground turkey or shredded chicken) and mix in just to blend and to heat through, now you're done. You may want to sprinkle some freshly chopped parsely or thyme on top to add a bit of fresh flavor.

Tony likes his Stroganoff served over mashed potatoes and I like mine on rice - this is just the difference in how our mom's made it - but egg noodles are traditional and look lovely with this rich looking sauce.

Beef Stroganoff

The Plating (Tony)

Stroganoff is basically a gooey brown sauce with unidentifiable chunks of something in it, poured over noodles, rice or mashed potatoes. Not really the most appetizing-looking dish. I figured that I could really go to town with the plates and props and stuff in order to fancy it up, but after the infamous stuffed chicken debacle, I wasn't in the mood to go all out.

So I kept it really simple: sqaure dish, brown napkin, knife, fork and a sprig of basil. I made a U-shaped pile of potatoes in the dish (high on the sides, low in the middle), and then spooned the stroganoff into the center. I also tried putting a wooden block under the dish - that worked as well.

Beef Stroganoff

The Photography

Beef Stroganoff Lighting
Fairly straightforward "surround sound"™ lighting on this shoot. Key light behind the food (to the right in the photo). Primary fill to the front left of the food, secondary fill to the right. This sort of lighting set up gives very even bright light, so popular in food photography today.

The orange? The orange is the food's stunt double. Seriously. Whenever there is anything particularly dangerous the food has to do, the orange comes in and doubles. Actually, I use the orange to test the lighting and shadows. If it were white it would work better, but the round shape lets me see bright and dark spots, highlights and shadows.

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