A Catholic perspective on the world and all the good things therein, especially books and food. Literature cum chocolate is the order of the day at The Crockery.

Location: A Collegetown, Undisclosed Location, United States

No longer a graduate student, Teresa is now a professional know-it-all.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

What Have I Got in My Pantry?

Today we're going to play a culinary game. I call it: What Have I Got in My Pantry? Here's how you play:

1) Realize that it is your turn to cook dinner, and that you have nothing planned, aside from having a piece of meat in the refrigerator.

2) Poke around in your cupboards and refrigerator in search of ingredients that are, alas, not there, because you forgot to add them to your grocery list.

3) Keep a mental inventory of what IS there, and devise a cunning plan for using these ingredients, to-wit:

4) Throw a bunch of random ingredients, along with chopped up meat, into your slow cooker. Add some basic seasonings. Cook until dinner time, in the hope that it will have magically morphed into something edible.

In my case, I had intended to make my
Mushroomified Swiss Steak again, using some simmering steak that I had taken out of the freezer the night before. However, I didn't have Cream of Mushroom soup, nor Cream of Celery, which might have worked in a pinch. I had, in fact, Cream of Nothing.

I did, however, uncover a large number of canned mushrooms and quite a bit of sphagetti sauce, so I resolved to make a pasta sauce with steaky goodness. Here's what I found to throw into the pot:

From the refrigerator shelves:
- that pound or so of simmering steak, which I then cut into bitish-sized pieces.
- half a jar of Newman's Own tomato basil pasta sauce
- minced garlic (there's always room for garlic)
- about half of a cup of chardonnay, from an opened bottle that had been sitting in the refrigerator for weeks. (I had to have some liquid to extend the jar of pasta sauce, and I didn't really want to drink that wine.)

From the crisper drawer:
- a quarter of a large red onion, which I diced. There was actually half an onion, peeled and waiting to be chopped, but as this was a huge onion, I figured 1/4 would do
- half of a yellow bell pepper, which I then chopped into pieces. I don't normally put peppers in my pasta sauce, but why not? It was already there, waiting to be used.

From the cupboards:
- a can of sliced mushrooms
- a hearty sprinkling of dried basil and oregano, plus a lighter dash of salt and pepper

It's all cooking on high now in my smallest crockpot (which is a perfect size for small meals like this, by the way. I heartily recommend the small size to childless couples). I'll lower the temperature to low in an hour or two, but starting off on high will help ensure that the meat, which was still a bit frosty in the middle, gets cooked quickly enough. I plan to serve it on our usual whole grain spaghetti, with spinach and possibly Texas Toast on the side. That's a fairly typical meal for the Tulip household. . . it's just that such meals are usually planned in advance rather than thrown together from leftovers.

Will the meal turn out well? Your guess is as good as mine. . . expect an update later.

Promised update: the sauce turned out to be so-so. It wasn't bad, but it wasn't outstandingly great, either. As my mother might say, though, it beat starving.


Blogger janeeyreish said...

You're much braver than I am. Maybe that's because whatever I tried without a cookbook never worked out. I remember a couple of nights where John's father and I sat at the dinner table, eating very slowly, not wanting to be the first to say, "I can't eat any more of this...."
This was particularly upsetting because John's grandmother and my mother were both excellent cooks:)

10:21 PM  
Anonymous Bob The Baker said...

Actually, that is a great game to play in order to expand your culinary horizons. And since the sauce just turned out so-so, you can determine just WHAT made it sub-excellent (or the lack of "what" in some cases). Then add/subtract desired ingredients, and make it again.
My suggestions? (well, you'll get them anyhow)
1) Brown the meat in a pan after cutting it up.
2) De-glaze the pan with the garlic and onion, adding the wine at the end of the deglazing process.
3) Less oregano, lots o' parsley (about 1 part basil, 3/4 parts parsley, 1/8 part oregano usually works for beef and pork).
4) Use yellow onion, preferably Vidalia. (I sure hope that was fresh garlic that you minced, rather than goop from a jar.)
6) If you're adding peppers to sauce, you've got to go whole-hog.

I realize that you were working with what was readily to hand, but this is about developing a new "Personal Recipe", right? That means making it more than once. So, go where your tastebuds take you. Taste often, and try to remember what different spices do in the pot after a while. (I have a terrible time of that)

Just for the record, pasta sauce has been made with just about every vegetable you can imagine. Peppers are a rather classic ingredient, actually. So are, believe it or not, carrots.
Cooking is about taking things that you know the taste of, and combining them into something that tastes even better. Synthesis, right? (the whole is greater than the sum of the parts) And cooking is an ART, not a science (that's for baking). So, just play around, and if something doesn't taste good, toss it and eat mac 'n' cheese instead.

9:35 PM  
Blogger Teresa H.T. said...

6) If you're adding peppers to sauce, you've got to go whole-hog.

Just curious. . . what does this mean? Neither Tulip nor I could figure it out. I must say, it IS a catchy rule, though.

12:18 AM  

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