Yes, I know, I keep vanishing. Sorry. I've been cooking a lot lately, among other things, so here is what I have been feeding Jazmin over the past few weeks. It's not so much a recipe as it is an algorithm for making a basket full of things from the grocery store into the kind of food that will convince your parents it is totally safe for you to live on your own after all.

Ingredients (things in parentheses are optional):

Some kind of [COOKING FAT]
3-6 servings of [MEAT]
1 large onion
1-3 cloves of garlic
(Some [SLOW-COOK VEGETABLES])
(Some [RAPID-COOK VEGETABLES])
1 box of [STOCK]
(One or more [HERBS & SPICES] of choice)
(Some kind of [BAKING MIX])
Flour
Salt
Pepper

Supplies:

A large [POT]
A [LID] for your pot
A [CUP] to measure with
A large plate
A medium sized bowl
A knife that will cut vegetables
A thing to cut vegetables on
Tongs or a spatula

[MEAT]

The ideal meat for this recipe is the kind that is on sale for 79 cents a pound. As a practical matter, any muscle tissue of any animal that is readily available in your local supermarket will become food if you simmer it in stock for several hours, which is what you are about to do. The end result would taste roughly the same even if you tried using shoes, although those would still come out rather tough to chew. If you are starting with raw frozen meat, thaw it to the point where you can pry the units apart -- e.g., chicken thighs -- or cut it into chunks -- e.g., a pork or beef roast. If you are starting with leftover cooked meat, make sure it isn't fuzzy.

If you are feeding people who do not eat anything that once had a face, you can also make this recipe with mushrooms or extra-firm tofu. Do not get fresh mushrooms wet (this is a general rule to observe whenever working with mushrooms; they're sponges and if you fill them with sink water they won't absorb the flavor part of your food). Press reconstituted dried mushrooms or tofu between paper towels or clean cheesecloths to remove excess moisture.

[COOKING FAT]

Butter (salted or unsalted), margarine, vegetable shortening (e.g., Crisco), olive oil, or neutral vegetable oil will all work. Bacon fat would work as well, but I'm assuming that if you're the kind of person who thinks this recipe is useful, you probably have not planned that far in advance. Don't use anything weird or fancy like peanut oil or infused truffle oil or the like. You will need several tablespoons. Figure about half a stick of butter or the equivalent.

[SLOW-COOK VEGETABLES]

Potatoes, large-chopped or whole baby carrots, celery, turnips, jicama, sweet peppers -- big dense things that need to be cooked for a long time in order to become edible. If you wouldn't bother cooking it in the microwave on account o' it takes a long time and you'd have to do pain-in-the-ass things like score the skin and get up to turn it over a lot, it's one of these.

[RAPID-COOK VEGETABLES]

Peas, broccoli, cauliflower, tiny diced carrots, corn off the cob, etc. Things you get cheap in the frozen foods or canned goods aisle. If they come frozen, defrost them in the microwave first. If they come canned, drain any excess liquid.

[STOCK]

This comes in waxed-cardboard boxes in the canned soup aisle. Buy the cheapest kind they have. You can get low-calorie or low-sodium versions if you want, but the only thing my cooking is low in is cost, so it's probably going to taste odd.

If you're feeding a vegetarian, use vegetable stock.

If your [MEAT] comes from a bird, use chicken stock.

If your [MEAT] comes from a large dim-witted quadruped that might kill you if it stampeded, use beef stock.

If your [MEAT] comes from a sea creature, use seafood or fish stock.

If your [MEAT] comes from anything else, use chicken stock.

[HERBS & SPICES]

These mainly determine how the dish will taste and what you tell people it's called when you want to impress them with your cooking skills. You can get away with nothing but the salt, pepper, garlic and onion, if you're that lazy. Very nearly anything will work here. Curry powder or paste will give you, obviously, a curry. Paprika will give you a paprikash. Rosemary with chicken will probably get you laid. Just pick one and commit to it.

[BAKING MIX]

Bisquick, Jiffy, generic, etc. The powder that comes in a big box that you use to make pancakes. Note that if you are excruciatingly lazy, you can also use this instead of the flour listed above, but it will be a little weirdly salty.

[POT]

A large stew, pasta, or crockpot. It needs to be large enough to hold the [MEAT] and the [STOCK] and the onion and any of the [SLOW-COOK VEGETABLES] and [RAPID-COOK VEGETABLES] you might want to put into the thing. The skillet you use for those Bertolli meals-in-a-bag is not big enough.

[LID]

Use the actual lid to that pot, if you have it. Since you don't, just use a plate bigger than the mouth of the pot, which also handily covers the part where I tell you to have a large plate ready. Make sure the plate says "microwave safe" on the bottom; that means it can handle being boiling hot and having weird hot spots along its surface, both of which are going to happen when you leave it on top of a pot of simmering liquid.

[CUP]

A cup. Note that I do not say 'a measuring cup'. You need a thing that will hold hot liquid that is bigger than a ladle, and will stay upright when you put it own. My cooking requires a very low level of precision, frankly; if you want recipes that weigh out to the gram, you are asking the wrong person.

Procedure:

Heat your [COOKING FAT] over medium heat in your large [POT]. Dump a bunch of flour onto your large plate. I don't know, like half a standard coffee mug. Add some salt and pepper to the flour until you feel like a professional chef. Mix it around with your fingers or a fork or something until it looks mostly uniform. If you're using paprika or curry powder, add some of that to the flour and mix it in, just until the flour has a funny tint to it.

Take a chunk of [MEAT] and roll it around in the flour mix until there's flour on all sides of it, and it doesn't look particularly damp anywhere anymore. Put it in the hot fat, ideally without burning yourself. Do this with all of your chunks of [MEAT], and leave them there until they're brown on the bottom. Then flip them over and leave them until they're brown on the other bottom. Do not throw away your plate of flour yet.

Chop the onion into chunks an inch cube-ish. Chop any [SLOW-COOK VEGETABLES] roughly the same size. Chop the garlic into chunks about the size of a pea or corn kernel.

When the [MEAT] finishes browning, take it out of the pot and put it in the medium bowl. Dump the [SLOW-COOK VEGETABLES] plus the onion and garlic into the bottom of the pot as a replacement. Cook those until the onions start to brown and look a little translucent. Poke them with the spatula/tongs as much as you want. Add more [COOKING FAT] if the bottom of the pot starts to look kind of dry and things aren't obviously sizzling.

When the onions are done, nudge all of the stuff in the pot away from the middle until you have a little puddle of the remaining fat in the center. Pour in a glug or two of [STOCK] from the box. Now take the plate with the flour on it and dump a couple of tablespoons into the liquid in the middle of the pot, and stir it with your tongs/spatula (tongtula?) until it looks uniform. Dump in a couple of tablespoons of flour at a time and mix until you have a substance that looks a lot like brown library paste. This is the beginning of a roux or a béchamel sauce, if you are interested, which you are clearly not, or you would be learning to cook from competent professionals instead of me.

Throw away the rest of the flour, and any salmonella you might have gotten in it.

Pour the rest of the box of stock into your large pot, and stir it a little bit, until the library paste dissolves in the rest of the liquid. Dump in your chosen [HERBS & SPICES]. A couple tablespoons of curry powder or paste will do it. Drop in a few twigs, if you're using fresh rosemary (you can fish them out later). If you're making a paprikash, dump in paprika until the liquid is red enough to make any random passer-by who peeks into your pot go, "Jesus Christ, what did you put in there?"

Put the [MEAT] back into the pot full of other stuff. If necessary, poke it until it's under the surface of the liquid. Let it come back to a boil. Turn the stove down to low (or 'simmer' if it's conveniently marked on the dial). Stir in your [RAPID-COOK VEGETABLES].

(If you are making anything that ends in "...& dumplings", bring out the [BAKING MIX]. Dump 1-2 standard coffee mugs of [BAKING MIX] into your medium bowl. Make a little dent in the pile of powder. Using your not-a-measuring-cup, carefully dip into the pot of stuff and get about a mugful of liquid without any vegetable bits in it. Works best if you sort of slide the cup down with the mouth along the inside of the pot. Pour a little bit of the liquid into the dent in the pile of powder and stir it in with a fork or a knife or a spoon or something that isn't your fingers, because it's going to be hot. Don't use a whisk, it's a pain in the ass. Keep adding bits of liquid and stirring until the powder turns into something with the texture of Play-Doh, and pulls away from the side of the bowl.

Dump anything left in the mug back into the pot.

Using your hands, pull off a golf-ball sized lump of the baking-mix-Play-Doh, and drop it gently into the liquid. Let it sit half-in and half-out, on top of the other stuff in the bottom of the pot. Keep doing this until you're out of Play-Doh. I know they look kind of pathetic now, but they'll double in size at least by the time they're cooked.

Put your medium bowl immediately into the sink and fill it with water. You will thank me later. Dumpling batter is indistinguishable from cement if left to dry overnight.)

Put whatever you are using for a lid on top of your pot of food. Do not touch anything for at least two hours. That can stay on the stove or in the crockpot on simmer indefinitely, if you check it every 2-3 hours and add some water if necessary to keep the pot from boiling dry. It will impress people by making your entire house smell like you actually know how to cook. Leftovers, if you have any, cope well with freezing and being reheated in the microwave. If you didn't involve dumplings, serve over your choice of egg noodles, pasta, mashed potatoes, rice, couscous, etc.

Comments

  1. Haha, this is pretty much step-by-step identical to my Miscellaneous Stew recipe. If you're willing/able to spend a little more, it's particularly delicious if the [MEAT] consists of four parts venison to one part belly pork, and the [HERBS] consist of juniper berries.

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