Monthly Archives: July 2011

Recipe for Roux

Sergeant Drayton Didn’t Like Short-Cuts

A good roux will make all the difference in the world to any dish that has a liquid that has to be thickened.

Sergeant Drayton did not believe in short cuts. He insisted that food was prepared correctly.

The first time I made gravy he said he wanted me to see him first with the recipe book. The Army recipe for gravy was simple. Meat stock, add a mixture of water and flour that was about the consistency of pancake batter, cook until it thickens and add seasoning.

He said with gravy, stews, sauces, and soups that have to be thickened always, always start with a roux. To drive the point home, we made two gravies. He made one following the Army recipe and I made the other making it with a roux.

I melted five pounds of butter and added flour until there was a thick paste. Sergeant Drayton told me to continue to cook the butter and flour until it was the color of dark brown sugar or a shade deeper, but be careful not to burn it.

When it was a deep brown I added it to my meat stock rendered from roast beef. He added his mixture of flour and water to his meat stock. We brought it to a simmer as it thickened. We seasoned it.

Armies Make War Not Gravy

Perect brown gravy.

Sergeant Drayton asked me to look at the two and tell him which one looks better. His looked beige. Mine was a deep brown. “Mine looks better,” I said. He scowled.

“Taste,” he ordered. I tasted. “Which taste best?” “Mine,” I said. Again he said louder, “Which taste best?” I was a bit intimidated, but I wasn’t about to deny the obvious. I said, “Mine.” He smiled broadly and said, “And don’t you ever forget it. That’s the way you make gravy. The Army knows how to win wars not make gravy.”

From that day I always used a roux for preparing white sauces, cheese sauces, and so on. Of course it is not necessary to brown the roux as in the case of the brown gravy. It is best to cook the roux until it bubbles for a few minutes, but remember to keep an eye on it and stir often so it doesn’t burn.

Avoid Making Red-Eye Gravy

A few years ago I was cooking with a chef from a hotel. He was making the gravy. About a half hour from serving time I noticed a panicked look on his face. He was adding ketchup to the gravy. I asked him why. He said the kitchen ran out of Kitchen Bouquet and he was trying to darken the gravy by adding ketchup. (Some times this is can be effective with some items, but not trying to go from white to brown.) We ended up calling the gravy “red-eye,” but it was really pink. We couldn’t call it “pink-eye” for obvious reasons.

The next day I showed him how to make a roux instead of relying on Kitchen Bouquet or a gallon of ketchup.

Most generally I use butter, but any fat or oil can be used.

A good consistency can be obtained by equals amounts of butter or fat to the of flour (2 ounces of butter, two ounces of flour). When you cook the mixture the smell is important. Cook until it looses the raw flour smell or if desired until it becomes the color of brown you want. Remember, it is very likely that when the roux is added to the stock or whatever you are thickening it will become lighter.

A good way to keep gravy from lumping is to lower the heat on the roux and add stock slowly stirring vigorously untill you reach the consistency or thickness desired.


2 ounces of flour

2 ounces of melted butter, fat or oil

Mix well and cook until the smell of raw flour is gone or the color you want.

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My Mom’s Advice for Career Development

Between picking dandelions for a nickel a bushel and housekeeping for the wealthy, when she first got out of high school my Mom did domestic chores for people who lived near by.

Mom remembers working for a lady about a mile from her childhood home. It was for a family who had two mischievous and cantankerous boys. She said it was a chore just to keep up with them. One was always no where to be found and the other always reading a book.

The boy that read the books was very studious and bright, but she didn’t care for his habits. He lounged in one particular chair that sat in the corner of the living room. That is where he liked to read. He ate a couple of apples each reading session. He wiped his sticky hands on the chair. My Mom had to clean after him. He disposed of the apple cores by dropping them over the back of the chair. My Mom had to clean up after him there also.

Mom was convinced the kid would not amount to anything. “If you don’t get up and move around you’ll never make anything of your life,” she told him on more than one occasion. She used to tell him that, hoping it might motivate him to be something – not really, she just wanted him to stop making more work for her. The boy went on to be rich and famous. He probably doesn’t remember my Mom cleaning up after him and urging him to make something of himself, but my Mom does. His name was Hugh Downs.

Mom never took credit for his success. She just wished he was not such a messy kid. Nevertheless she didn’t hold that against him. When he hosted the TV game show starting in the early 60’s, Concentration, my Mom seldom missed a show. Then when he hosted shows like The Today Show and 20/20, where he displayed his intellect, Mom said, “I always knew he was an egghead.”

She also became a fan of all his TV successes. “I like him, but every time I see him, I just can’t get those damn apple cores out of my head.” Mom doesn’t hold grudges, but neither does she forget.

Hugh Downs: renowned intellectual, thinker, TV host, announcer, apple eating slob.

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How to Properly Saute as Taught by Sergeant Drayton

One of the first things I learned about cooking was how to sauté vegetables. It was when I was in the Army. It was for meat sauce that was to go with pasta.

Master Sergeant

I browned ground beef on the stove and added seasoning, crushed tomatoes, tomato sauce, and tomato paste. I tossed in a half-gallon, more or less, of onions and stirred it in. About five minutes later the mess sergeant, Sergeant Drayton, came by to check it out. He tasted it and said it was okay. He fished a diced onion from the sauce and tasted it. He said calmly, “Did you sauté the vegetables?” I said that I saw that in the recipe book, but didn’t know what it meant.” He said, “Didn’t you think it was important enough to ask?” I was busted. He yelled and screamed at me that would make Chef Ramsey and Hell’s Kitchen look like Glinda the Good Witch of the West in Munchkin Land. He finally blurted out a mantra that would soon become familiar with all of us cooks in training, “Throw the s—t out!”

I dumped about ten gallons of meat sauce in the garbage. To add to my anxiety, there was little time for a beginning cook, such as myself, to prepare the sauces.

Sergeant Drayton pitched in.

He was an E-8 Master Sergeant and a big man with a barrel chest. He stood 6′ 5” or 6′ 6” and weighed about two fifty. He had a booming voice that terrorized us into being good cooks. We only made a mistake once.

When he pitched in to help I could not help but note his personal dedication to his craft. He loved cooking and would accept nothing, but the best from his cooks. After six weeks under his tutelage when we moved on to other mess halls it became evident we had advanced beyond cooks who had a couple of years experience. Sergeant Drayton was an intense and thorough teacher.

Sauteing properly is an absolute must to good food preparation.

It is best to sauté vegetables separate from other items because they cook at different rates. Common vegetables that are sautéed are celery, onions, and peppers. If they are sautéed all at once, in order for the peppers to be cooked thoroughly the onions may over-cook. In many cases it matters little, but if you want all vegetables cooked at the same rate, as in an omelet, it is best to sauté them separate.

Remember, hot pan, butter, and not too many vegetables.

The Basics of Sauteing

How do you sauté? Very simply heat a pan or grill to the point where when you add a dab of butter it has a vigorous sizzle – not to the point of burning immediately. Once the butter meltes completely toss the vegetable in the pan, quickly smooth them out so that as many as possible come direct contact with the grill or pan and the melted butter. As soon as the edges of the vegetable turns dark brown give it a quick stir, than test the vegetable to see if it is cooked to your liking. The is best done by blowing it cool and giving it a taste test.

How Not to Saute

If you add too many vegetables at one time, essentially they don’t cook in the butter, but in their own juices. So rather than sautéed vegetables they are boiled. This is a very common mistake and detracts from the product you are trying to prepare.

Remember sautéing a vegetable does not mean to merely cook it, but it means to cook it in such a way that a certain flavor is added to it.

Often times cooks will add raw vegetables to an item and allow the items to cook together. Again what happens is that the vegetables become boiled. I often see this done with meat sauce. The theory is that the meat and onion will cook together. This aspect of cooking has its place, but is often blown way out of proportion. Using meat sauce as an example, prepare all the ingredients separate and blend them at the same time. An hour of simmering or an afternoon at very low heat will be plenty of time for the flavors to blend. The end product will be something markedly better.

My Meat Sauce for Pasta

Meat sauce - make sure it's nice and thick, it's sauce not soup.

Here is my simple recipe for some killer meat sauce to be served over pasta:

Brown 1 pound of ground beef

Half a cup of onions – saute them or throw the s—t out.

1 heaping Tbsp of chopped fresh garlic

2 Tbsp of sugar

1 28 ounce can of tomatoes, crush them

1 14.5 ounce can of tomatoes sauce

6 ounce can of tomato paste

Salt, pepper, oregano, paprika, (sprinkle according to taste)

Add all these ingredients to a pot or large sauce pan on low flame or heat for two hours. I prefer a very low simmer at most. Stir occasionally to make sure it doesn’t burn on the bottom.

Some recipes call for a bay leaf, but frankly I don’t get it.

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What My Mom Learned by Not Earning an MBA from Harvard

My Mom was born in 1914. She grew up in a small house just beyond the city limits of Lima, Ohio. Money, in those days, was a difficult commodity to come by.

The value of money and hard work was impressed on her at an early age. Mom said that people from Lima came out to their place and paid a nickel for a bushel of dandelions, later to be made into wine.

There were four children in the family. I asked Mom if that was a nickel for each child? She said no it was a nickel for a bushel. I asked how they divided the penny left over. She said, “You ain’t gonna tell anyone are you?”

Woolworth's in Lima where my Mom worked in the early 30's. The drunks entered from the side entrance to steal the Bay Rum.

Right after Mom graduated from high school she did a short stint as a housekeeper then she got a job at Woolworth’s. She worked at the men’s notion department. “I learned real quick you had to keep the Bay Rum off of display and keep it down under the counter. The bums and drunks would come and steal it. Bums always had good breath.”

Mom said at Woolworth’s they had a round stool attached to the counter that swung out of the way. You could pull it out and sit on it. The stool was mandated by some sort of state law. Mom said, “I don’t know why they had it there. If they caught you using it they fired you. I suppose they just wanted to tease you. I’m sure glad they didn’t have hidden cameras in those days.”

The principles of hard work and honesty have been with her all her life. It was because of that when jobs were hard to come by she had little difficulty in finding an employer who wanted those same principles.

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How My 97 Year-Old Mom Got a Handsome Young Man in Bed

My Mom is a geezer. She turned 97 this past February. That elevates her to super geezer status. She still lives alone, although in an apartment building full of other geezers. She is quite happy and comfortable with living alone.

She’s up every morning at six and generally has a cross word puzzle finished by the time she meets with others at a small community room just down the hallway from her.

She used to live on the third floor until about two years ago. She said they just don’t want to make a long trip when they cart her out.

A year ago the resident manager worried about her. She wasn’t at the regular coffee clutch with the others. The manager knocked on her door and Mom didn’t respond. Given her age, the manager immediately called the rescue squad. They got into her room. Mom was laying in bed. A young good-looking paramedic shook her a bit and called her name. She woke up. The paramedic was relieved. Mom told me later, “Do you know how long it has been since I’ve had a handsome young man wake me up and look down on me? I just wanted to kiss him.”

Moms Always Speak the Truth

A few weeks ago she house-sat and fed a dog for a granddaughter who was going on a Caribbean cruise with her husband. A grandson arranged for his wife to spend a few days with my Mom to  looked out for her and keep her company. It’s not that Mom doesn’t appreciate the gesture but she said, “I really didn’t like her being here. She’s nice and I like her, but I’m not the entertaining type. I’m not here for other people’s amusement. She’s got to find her own way of keeping busy. I got mine.”

There are only two groups of people who speak with such plain unambiguous truth in simple terms easy to understand, children and geezers.

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Boiling Water & My Sister’s Delicious Pasta Dish

When people speak about their inability to cook they often say, “I can’t even boil water.” That of course is hyperbole. Nevertheless boiling water is sometimes a basic step to good cooking. It’s how you add the ingredients to the water that really counts.

If it may be pasta or rice the principle is always the same: while a watched pot never boils and unwatched pot of boiling pasta may stick together. The rule is to watch and stir often and gently. Depending upon the amount butter, salad oil, or olive oil may be added to prevent sticking, but a good rinse after boiling can greatly assist also.

Personally, I like to bring water to a rapid boil, add the butter, salad oil, or olive oil and then reduce the water to a medium boil before adding the main ingredient. Then I watch and care for it. Often a good pasta dish is ruined at this step to give attention to something else. It’s not that you can’t do something else, but keep an eye on what is boiling.

After you have cooked something by boiling remove it from the heat and drain the water. If this is not done the ingredient being boiled will continue to cook and overcook.

Many years ago, my sister Becky, prepared a simple pasta dish. I think it came from her days in nursing school. She boiled the pasta, drained the water, strung a serving on a plate, and sprinkled it with salt, pepper, and grated Parmesan. That’s it! In time I’ve added some ingredients like parsley, garlic, paprika, etc – you get the idea.

Becky died of cancer in 2000. I remember she really loved preparing something for me. It was always simple, but always good. Often when we think of loved ones it is that simple meal or recipe that comes to mind. It’s not so much the taste as it is what the taste reminds us of.

When I watch a cooking show that has a challenge of mystery ingredients, I wonder what those ego-driven chefs would do with pasta, salt, pepper, Parmesan. No matter what they came up with it could not match the love Becky put into that simple dish.

For anyone who aspires to be a good cook even the simplest task of boiling water if done with love makes all the difference in the world.

Recipe for boiling water: pan or pot, water, heat, and love.

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