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I'm a guy who likes to cook, eat, and drink, but not necessarily in that order. This blog is nothing fancy; just my random thoughts about anything that can be baked, roasted, or fried. Enjoy!

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Where Are They Now: Chipped Beef on Toast?

It starts here.
Chipped beef on toast was once a mainstay on diner menus, but now it is about as rare as a plain cup of coffee at Starbucks. 
For me, living in a solidly middle class family in the 70s, chipped beef on toast was simply creamed beef. But to others, like my dad who had served in the Army, it was “Sh*t On a Shingle" ("S.O.S."). I’m not sure what my Dad thought about having S.O.S. for dinner, but if it brought back bad memories of basic training, he never showed it: “This is great dear!”
Chipped beef on toast was all-too frequently served to members of the Army during World War II. Before that, it sustained families struggling during the Great Depression because it was cheap and easy to make. Beyond that, no one seems to know where it came from. Some say Pennsylvania Dutch country. However, I suspect it’s even older because we have been mixing meat, gravy, and bread for millennia.
A lot of folks down here in Alabama have either never heard of chipped beef on toast or, if they have, then they’ve never tried it. Yeah, it is assuredly a mid-Atlantic/Northeastern dish, but it is no different than biscuits and gravy. And like any other well-worn traditional dish, there are many different ways chipped beef can be served. Some folks even serve chipped beef on waffles.
So what is chipped beef you ask? Nothing more than thinly pressed, salted, dried beef. It is sold in small jars rolled up like pieces of paper. Hormel and Armour sell most of it. It is certainly not something you will find at your local Whole Foods!
And the sauce? Well, here’s where I learned something interesting. The sauce that makes chipped beef on toast what it is, is really nothing more than a homespun Béchamel sauce. Maybe chipped beef on toast is not so plain Jane after all!. 
And so, now you ask, what is Béchamel sauce? 
Béchamel is a white sauce made by combining hot flavored or seasoned milk with a roux. The classic recipe for béchamel calls for milk flavored by heating it with a bay leaf, a slice of onion and a blade of mace or some nutmeg. Celery, carrot, ham, and/or mushroom peelings may even be added. This is then left to steep for thirty minutes. 
Armed with my new knowledge, I decided that I would tackle S.O.S. and try and improve upon it by making a Béchamel sauce and using something other than wonder bread for the toast.
But I also wanted to tackle perhaps the biggest issue with S.O.S.: saltiness. The dried beef used for S.O.S. is very, very salty. I read, however, that in the Army they would sometimes soak the beef in water overnight to leech out the salt. I tried it. It worked!
The finished product: for better or for worse.
At the end of the evening, the real test was whether the kids would like it. I loved it back in the day, but let’s face “back in the day” ain’t what it used to be. I stood there in rapt anticipation whilst they took their first, cautious bite. Minutes seemed to pass before they both said, “this is awesome!” 
Nailed it! 
Here’s the recipe:
The Insouciant Chef’s Chipped Beef on Toast (a/k/a S.O.S.) 
2 Jars of Hormel Dried Beef (2 ounces, sliced into 1/4-inch pieces)
2 tablespoons of butter
2 tablespoons of flour
1 cup whole milk
2 Bay Leafs
1 teaspoon of Worcestershire Sauce
1/4 teaspoon of fresh ground nutmeg
Salt and Pepper to taste
4 slices of good, fresh bread (Italian or French bread)
For the Béchamel
Take the butter and melt it. Then add the flour and mix until you have paste. Whisk it for about five to eight minutes and then add the warm milk which has been steeped with the bay leaf and nutmeg for about 30 minutes.
Then add the beef. Mix it. And then pour it over the toast.

That simple.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Where Are They Now? (New Series)

I'm starting a new series for this blog called, "Where Are They Now:... ?" The posts in this series will appear from time and will be about foods or dishes that you don't see much anymore, either in restaurants or at home. Each one will begin with the title: Where Are They Now: [Insert Dish or Food].

In putting together the list of topics for this series, I discovered that a lot of them were based on foods or dishes from the Seventies. This makes sense personally but historically as well. How Americans ate really began to change when the Seventies gave way to the Go-Go 80s. Let's face it, for those who remember, the Seventies were kinda glum. There were the last dying gasps of Vietnam, Watergate, two oil crises, the hostage crises, and....disco. We cannot forget about disco. The food we ate, especially at home, reflected this period. It was simple, cheap, easy to make and unpretentious. And many times, not very good.

As for the personal, many of these foods or dishes resonate with me in both positive and negative terms. Some of them I loathed—others I loved. But love or hate, they bring back a lot of memories from my childhood. (Yes, I went all Proustian  there again—it's a common theme on this blog.)

Finally, I'm going to do something different for this series. I'm going to let my dear readers (all 10 of them) decide which of the following topics receives the honor of being the first post. And who knows? If this works out well, I may do other series as well. 

Ok, here's the list: 

Liver & Onions
Shish Kabobs
Beef Stroganoff
Stuffed Green Bell Peppers
Jello Salad
Chipped Beef & Toast
Corned Beef & Cabbage
Chicken a la King
La Choy Pre-packed Chinese Food
Hamburger Helper
Beanie Weenies
Vienna Sausages

The polls are now open!