Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Why I Don't Use Canned Soups in my Recipes

One of my favorite ways to relax is to take a good book and read it while soaking in a hot bath. Yesterday, being the food nerd that I am, that good book was a cookbook. I decided to flip through it and look for things to inspire my imagination in the kitchen. Several recipe ideas were born, including a Hot Onion Dip that I look forward to creating and then (if all goes well) sharing with you all. However, I read something in one of the book's little quips that made me think. It said something along the lines of, "If you snub canned soups then you're just a food snob," and went on to describe just how important --vital, even-- canned soups are to today's cooks. Specifically, the author was speaking about such soup gems as condensed cream of mushroom and cream of celery soups. Important? Vital?

I beg to differ. Let's think about what a can of condensed cream soup does for a recipe. It takes the place of sauce ingredients (like a thin gravy) and speeds up prep time. If you're here, on my blog, you realize that good cooking does take time. And while making a sauce from scratch takes a little more time (perhaps five minutes more) than opening a can of cream of mushroom soup and struggling to get the blob of goo out of the can, you are willing to go the extra mile to make a meal more nourishing for your clan.

Want to talk about nutrition? Half a cup of Campbell's Cream of Mushroom Soup has 100 calories, six grams of fat, and --hold on to your blood pressure cuff-- 870 mg of sodium (that's 36% of your recommended daily value, folks)! (source: The Daily Plate) Now, I'm not really worried about fat totals in recipes where I use good fats. Good fats: now that's subjective, isn't it? Everywhere we turn, we're inundated with ideas and "proof" of what's a good fat and what's a bad fat. Here's where I stand. Remember: I'm not a doctor, nor do I play one on T.V. This is just what my family does.

Fats I Consider Good:
  • Real butter
  • Extra virgin Olive Oil
  • Coconut Oil
I cook with those three whenever possible. Yes, they're high in saturated fat, but there's none of those nasty chemicals in them and they all have healthy properties. I never, ever use margarine. I do use vegetable oil (even vegetable shortening now and then), but I try to stick to the three fats up above.

...But I digress. Back to the soup. Need another reason to avoid condensed cream soups? Look at the ingredient list. Monosodium glutamate. Soy protein extract. To be fair, the ingredients list does start with mushrooms and fresh cream and vegetable oil. But why add the MSG? What purpose does the soy extract serve?

In the near future, I will showcase a real, homemade cream soup recipe. It won't gel or form a cylindrical blob. And it will taste nothing like anything you can get from a can. But I'll compare the two, side-by-side, and you can judge which you'd rather use in your own cooking.

Meanwhile, tuna casserole. It's one of those stereotypical recipes from my childhood that relied on condensed cream soups and cooked in the microwave. My mother-in-law still makes it with white egg noodles, cheddar cheese, cream of mushroom soup, and tuna. That's it. It all gets thrown into a plastic bowl and nuked for a while, then served. Nothing wrong with a little simplicity, right?

But give this one a shot. It tastes fresh. How often can we say that about Tuna-Noodle Casserole? It tastes fresh. You can taste the tuna in here, as well as the vegetables. Using whole wheat produts, low-fat milk, real butter (in small amounts), and sea salt make it a more nourishing choice. I hope you enjoy it as much as my family does.

Real, Modern, Old-Fashioned Tuna-Noodle Casserole

What You Need:
  • 3 Tbsp butter
  • 1/2 cup minced onion
  • 3 Tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 1 Tbsp dry mustard
  • 1/4 tsp. dried tarragon
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp freshly cracked black pepper
  • 2 cups low-fat milk
  • 3/4 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese (to reduce fat, feel free to use low-fat cheese, but I prefer the texture and robust flavor provided by full-fat cheeses)
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 3 green onions, sliced
  • 2 cans (6 oz. each) tuna (packed in water), drained
  • 1 cup fresh whole wheat bread crumbs
  • 2 Tbsp butter, melted
  • 12 oz whole wheat wide egg noodles
How it's Done:
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Cook egg noodles as package directs.
  3. Meanwhile, in a saute pan with high sides, melt 3 Tbsp butter. Add onion and saute 2 minutes.
  4. Stir in the flour, dry mustard, tarragon, salt, and pepper. Cook and stir until all the flour is absorbed by the browned butter.
  5. Slowly stir in the milk. Cook and stir constantly over medium heat until the sauce thickens. Remove from heat and stir in the cheese until melted. Add tuna, peas (the sauce with thaw them out, so there's no need to precook them), and green onions. Combine sauce with pasta.
  6. Spray a 2 quart casserole with non-stick cooking spray. Pour noodles with sauce into the casserole.
  7. Melt the remaining 2 Tbsp butter and combine with your bread crumbs. Sprinkle the crumbs evenly over the casserole.
  8. Bake 30 minutes. Let the dish sit for five minutes before serving.


heather said...

great post! i have yet to make a "cream" soup as i haven't had the need too, but i will be making it from scratch!

heather said...

you also have an award!

Michelle said...

Thank you, Heather! what an honor! :o)

Andrea said...

We're kindred souls Michelle :) I too am not a canned soup user. If I can make something from scratch, I will. The tuna casserole looks really good, I'll have to make this one. I know my husband would love it :)

I'm NOT a VOLCANO! said...

~Pout~ I LOVE me some good canned soup- i like vegetable soups, though, not so much the condensed soups. As always, I LOVE your posts!

Oh! And yes, Touchy Topic Tuesday will still be around. LOL- I write my posts the night before the day they are meant to be read, and when i passed out at 7:00 that night, I didn't write a tuesday post. I am too buys in the day to do more than jsut check my comments or read a blog or two at a time- but fear not!!! Touchy Topic Tuesday will be back! I am so pleased that you enjoy it!

Michelle said...

Aw, Brae, don't pout. remember...I'm a food snob. lol Glad to hear Touchy Topic shall remain. Love that.

stephl said...

I tend to agree with you on the canned soup topic....I know there are a lot of "ingredients" in there that I probably don't want to eat!!!

On the other hand....if I can get them for .25-.45 with a coupon... then you will probably find them in my pantry!

I haven't made a good, homemade cream soup either...but, I agree that it would taste wonderful, and nothing like the "blob"!!!

I think I'm getting inspired to pick up some mushrooms from my local grocery and give this a whirl!

Brandie said...

I was just recently telling my husband that I don't think I will be cooking with canned soups anymore (I haven't for a while now). I've been wanting to officially ditch them for a long time, but just haven't totally given them up yet (there are some in the pantry, collecting dust).

Great post - I always enjoy what you have to say.

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