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Sunday, July 3

Gapers Block

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Despite what many prepared foods manufacturers and culinary schools would have you think, it isn't that difficult to create delicious sauces to enhance your meal options. Sauces can require delicate coddling of eggs and tempering, but they needn't have to. Quick sauces can also be easy and delicious.

Whereas last week's column focused on how to create a one-serving meal that replicated the styling and flavoring of frozen dinners, this week's column will help you push your cooking repertoire a little further by showing you how to create a handful of sauces that will keep in the refrigerator for four to seven days or in the freezer for three months.

Because really, sauce is where the flavor is at. You can cook plain rice, steam a vegetable and broil a chicken breast. But without some sort of a sauce, you're going to feel like you're on a diet even if you aren't. Salt, pepper, butter and garlic can only go so far before they go from simple to boring.

As long as a sauce doesn't contain milk or dairy, it will freeze easily and last for several months in the freezer. I suggest investing in an extra ice cube tray (go to the dollar store, it doesn't have to be fancy) so you can pour the extra sauce into the ice-cube tray, freeze it, and then store the single-serving cubes in a plastic zipper bag for future use. Spending 10 to 30 minutes making a sauce that gets you 10 ice cubes means that you have five brainless dinner-making nights ahead of you.

A great deal of the sauces that my mother made involved a can of cream of chicken, cream of celery or cream of mushroom soup. And I'm not going to knock them, because she still makes them and when I'm visiting I will still eat them. But make them on my own? Not usually. And especially not now that I resolved this year to replace a few dearly beloved foods (like french fries, glorious french fries) with foods that contain less fat and more fiber. And if I'm going to be eating more barley, more broccoli and more brown rice, I'm going to need something flavorful to keep me from feeling like I'm being attacked by the 50-Foot Boredom.

Hence the desire to research sauces I can make (and you can make) that can be kept on hand and used when the mood strikes me. As a commenter noted last week, it's often easier to take an hour on a Sunday to make a large dinner that can be portioned up and used for lunches or weeknight dinners. And that is kind of what I intend for this column to be. Make these sauces and use them on a dinner the night that they're made. Freeze the leftovers and have them ready for future use.

So without further ado, I bring you tonight's sauces. Honey Mustard Sauce (nothing like the fat-filled kind you're likely to find in a glass bottle at the grocery store), Green Chile Sauce, Corn Sauce, Lemony Orange Sauce and a Spicy Yogurt Sauce. Each of these sauces will make enough sauce to go over four chicken breasts and rice or vegetables.

Why chicken breasts? Because it's the time of year when people are watching their calorie and fat intake and it's easy to buy a pack of boneless, skinless chicken breasts to entice new cooks with taste and ease. But these sauces will also go well with tofu, pork cutlets, vegetables, rice and much more with a little imagination.

Honey Mustard Sauce
1 1/2 cups of chicken or vegetable broth
1 tablespoon of lemon juice (juice from 1/2 of a fresh lemon)
2 tablespoons of honey
2 tablespoons of mustard

In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine the four ingredients and stir continuously until the sauce begins to simmer. Lower the heat and let it cook until it reduces by almost half. Serve or freeze. If you store this in the refrigerator, you are likely to see it separate a bit while it sits. Just stir it again to redistribute the ingredients and it's fine. This tendency to settle is why so many pre-packaged sauces contain partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, aka trans-fat — it helps emulsify the sauce to keep it blended.

Green Chile Sauce
1/4 cup of water
10 tomatillos that have had the papery husks removed, been washed, and are cut in half
1/2 medium onion cut into quarters
2 cloves of garlic
1 jalapeno sliced with the seeds removed
juice squeezed from two limes
salt and pepper to taste

In a small saucepan over medium heat, add the water, tomatillos and onion. Let it cook for about 10 minutes or until the tomatillos are tender when pierced with a fork. Transfer the contents of the saucepan, the garlic, the jalapeno and the lime juice into a blender or food processor. Pulse at first and then blend until the sauce is smooth. Taste and add salt and pepper in small amounts so you don't over-season it.

Corn Sauce
3/4 cup of frozen corn kernels
2 cloves of minced garlic
1/2 of a medium onion chopped
1 teaspoon of olive oil
1 jalapeno pepper sliced and with the seeds removed
1/2 of a bell pepper
1 1/2 cups of chicken stock or vegetable stock
juice from half a lemon
salt and pepper to taste

Place a saucepan over medium heat and add the corn, garlic, onion and oil. Cook and stir constantly for two minutes. The dish should start to steam but the garlic shouldn't start to turn brown. Lower the heat if necessary. Add the jalepeno and bell pepper and cook for two minutes. Add the chicken or vegetable stock and cook until half of the stock has disappeared. Transfer the sauce to a blender or food processor and pulse until smooth. Taste before adding salt and pepper.

Lemony Orange Sauce
1 cup of chicken or vegetable broth
juice from 1 lemon
1/4 cup of marmalade (raspberry or another type of jam will also work)
salt and pepper if needed

Combine ingredients in a saucepan over medium heat. Once it starts to simmer, reduce the heat to low and let it cook until the sauce has reduced by almost half and has thickened. Taste and add salt and pepper if necessary.

Spicy Yogurt Sauce
1 cup of plain, nonfat yogurt
1 teaspoon of finely grated ginger root (or 1/4 teaspoon of dried, ground ginger)
2 cloves of garlic
1 tablespoon of paprika
1 teaspoon of coriander
1 teaspoon of cumin
1/4 teaspoon of cayenne pepper
salt and pepper to taste

Place all ingredients in a blender or food processor. Pulse until smooth and blended. Taste before adding salt and pepper. This sauce can't be frozen. Marinate chicken for up to 24 hours in this sauce.

Now that you have a sauce, you have to cook your chicken breasts. You can simply combine the sauce and the chicken in a skillet over medium-low heat and cover. Simmer for 20 minutes, or until when the chicken is pierced with a fork or knife and the released liquids run clear.

Or, after marinating the chicken breast in the sauce for at least 30 minutes, place the chicken in the oven on a broiling pan that is about 4 inches from the flames and broil for about 8-10 minutes on each side.

No tricky cooking techniques, no trans-fats, no hard to find ingredients, but you get a tasty sauce in a fairly short amount of time that makes enough for several dishes. And since they're easy and quick they're great for making during the week with some rice and a serving of vegetables.

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4point44 / January 8, 2007 10:15 AM

great list. for green chile salsa, roast the tomatillos, peppers, onion, and garlic on a half sheet pan before blending. when you think you've roasted them for too long they're just right.

and lime loves cilantro loves lime. tlf. bff. etc.

ChicagoGirl / January 16, 2007 11:10 PM

The Honey Mustard sauce is wonderful. I marinated a chicken breast then got out my grill pan, basting with extra sauce as it cooked Yum! I had my kitchen window cracked and heard someone say as they walked down the back steps "Boy, it sure smells good!"

deepak / March 26, 2007 12:16 PM

This is vikram.i have gone through this was great about cooking saucy
..In this site we can get the best information..recently i have gone to other related site..visit it... culinary schools


About the Author(s)

Cinnamon Cooper is an untrained cook. Most of what she's learned has been by accident. The rest has been gained by reading cookbooks, watching The Food Network and by scouring the Internet. Oh, and she also hates following recipes but loves the irony of writing them down for others to follow.

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