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Cooking by Instinct (with a dash of experience) [Jul. 3rd, 2010|06:13 pm]
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I don't have a name for many of the things I make, because I make them up as I go along, and usually don't write them down.  When I was younger, I just called them "concoctions" and that may still be an OK name.

Here's one from this past week....Leftover Concoction.  Ingredients given in the order found and decided on...

Lean ground (range-feed) beef,  < a pound (left from 2 pound package from which hamburgers had been made probably about 1/3 pound)
1 onion, diced  (oops, no garlic in the house!  How did that happen???) 
beef stock (approximately two cups, not measured.)
1 can Ro-tel diced tomatoes & green chilis
3 smallish Yukon Gold potatoes from a 5 pound sack, needed to be used (just a wee bit softish), cut into cubes (or cuboids.)
1 can red beans
last of a bottle of olive salad (chopped green olives & pimentoes--at a guess about a tablespoon or so.)
large dollop of ordinary yellow mustard from jar, mixed with a little of the pot juice in a bowl so it wouldn't "fleck"  "Dollop" is as much as one of our tableware spoons will hold, piled high.
1 can yellow kernel corn
last of a bottle of barbecue sauce (several tablespoons)

It worked in this order...sauteed the onions lightly in the bottom of the pot, looked for garlic, didn't find; pushed onions to one side and started browning the ground beef.   Was defrosting a quart of homemade beef stock in small saucepan.  In considering a starch to add, discovered potatoes needed to be cooked, so pulled them out, scrubbed them, cut them up.  Added the tomatoes & green chilis to the beef as soon as it wasn't red.  Poured in the part of the beef stock that had melted.  Cut up and added the potato pieces.  Looked like not enough.  Hmmm...beans always a good stretcher.    Hesitated over which (I always have red, black, and white canned beans in the pantry, but decided red would look good with potatoes.  Drained and rinsed the beans (can liquid for beans is icky) and tossed them in.  Poured in more of the defrosting beef stock.   A recent discovery this year has been the use of olives in things I never thought of putting olives in, so when I thought of adding mustard, and looked in the fridge, there was that nearly-empty jar of olive salad.  Tossed in the olives, put mustard in a cereal bowl and added small amounts of pot broth (stirring madly) until smooth, then put that in the pot.   Added some coarse-ground pepper.  Looking and smelling better now but...would look better for a dash of another color...and there was the yellow corn in the canned-stuff shelf, waving its little canny arms and pleading "Pick me!  Pick me!"   With corn in the pot, the concoction acquired a decidedly southwestern look: corn, beans, tomatoes--and that suggested that the nearly empty bottle of barbecue sauce might enhance it.  Sniff-sniff-sniff (were the scents compatible?)  Yes.  In went the last of the barbecue sauce and I rinsed the bottle and put in the rinsing.  And enough of the defrosting beef stock to cover the potato pieces.   Then put the top on and left it alone until the potatoes were done.   Between a soup and a stew, colorful, and tasty.  Better the next day, too.

It fed two adults that night, and two adults the next night.  The leftover beef stock became part of today's dinner (beef and mushrooms in red wine.)

I  grew up cooking from scratch.   I can use cookbooks and written recipes and level measurement--and do for some things--but long ago started "fiddling" with recipes to see how far they could be messed with, because much of the time we didn't have much money.   The inexpensive basics can get really boring if you do them the same way all the time.  In some families it was entirely too predictable (I thought) what dinner would be on every day of the week, and only one of them (the original form of the roast or chicken) really tasted good.   So...I started buying herbs and spices and experimenting, one new flavor at a time.  

Like most home cooks, I like one-pot dishes for their ease--and also for the complex flavors that arise from what-all you can put in them.  (Like mustard.  Like olive salad.)    And there's less cleanup.   So I have several "skeleton recipes"  that can be varied a lot, and by shifting from one skeleton to another,  I avoid boring.  (Sometimes maybe too exciting, but not boring.)  

Here's another concoction, built on almost the same skeleton as this week's:

1/2 to 1 pound of beef chunks (stew beef, or cutting up a tough something like chuck roast), browned.
1-2 onions, chopped and sauteed
4-6 cloves of garlic, chopped (not sauteed unless you stand there, because if they get too hot they're bitter.)
1 can Ro-tel diced tomatoes & green chilis
Jar of mushrooms
1 carrot, chopped/sliced
2 ribs celery, chopped
1 quart beef stock
dollop of yellow mustard (yes, the cheap kind.)
starch: your choice of rice, barley, or potatoes.  Adjust liquid to the needs of the starch.  Simmer until starch is done. 

Variations are many.  If you want it thicker--let it reduce at a simmer.  If you want it soupier, you can add water.  (But if you have plenty of stock, add that.)  If you don't like spicy food, use diced tomatoes instead of diced tomatoes & chilis.  You can add any fresh, canned, or frozen vegetable that makes sense (different ones make sense to different people.)   If you grow your own herbs, use them.  If you don't, use whatever dried herbs you like.   The addition of olive salad, capers, etc. makes a nice change.  Mushrooms are always good (I could break the budget on mushrooms...)   Red wine in a stew or soup improves anything with beef or lamb in it.   On occasion, I 've started with a meat/onion/garlic/tomatoes & chili base and then used canned green beans, frozen home-grown green beans,  home-grown new potatoes, canned potatoes, corn (usually whole-kernel--I'm just not that fond of creamed corn),  chopped spinach or other greens,  green peas (not the home-grown ones--those we eat raw.) 

Soup concoctions for fast meals.   Let's assume you've put in the work to make your own stock and freeze it in quart containers (yes, it's worth it, if you have freezer space.   I make slightly unorthodox stock, as I include actual meat, not just bones, so that I can package (separately) 2 cup amounts of chopped cooked chicken and beef.  (You know how many recipes call for 2 cups of cut-up cooked chicken, right?)   But you can use store-bought chicken or beef stock or broth.  

Chicken Soup:

1 quart really strong chicken stock
1 quart water
2 cups cooked chicken (in nice little chunks.) 
1 smallish can of either diced tomatoes, or diced tomatoes & green chilis (you can guess which I use!)
1-2 cups rice, or one cup barley (how many are coming to dinner?  When?  Rice is faster; barley is heartier, both swell while cooking.) 
        (for more people, or in cold weather, add a can or two of rinsed canned beans--we like black.  check to be sure there's enough liquid as the starch component cooks.

Fastest: with beans or with pasta or both.  Ready in 10-15 minutes.
Next: with rice (with or without beans).   Ready in about 25-30 minutes.
Slowest: barley (takes longer than rice to cook. Ready in ~40-45 minutes
If you've already got a "hot" soup on and company shows up who aren't "hot" eaters, throw in a can or two of kidney or pinto beans and/or more starch.

Beef-vegetable soups are built on the same principle, but benefit from having carrot, onion, bell-pepper (any color)  and celery added--and of course potato is good in this kind, too.  Red wine (I did mention that before, yeah?) and mustard both go well in beef soups.

Just a few ideas...for now I need to go pull today's concoction out of the oven.


[User Picture]From: blitheringpooks
2010-07-03 11:36 pm (UTC)
My mother used to buy fryers every time they were on sale. She'd boil and bone and freeze them, one fryer at a time, with broth. Then whether it was unexpected company or just her own desires, she always had them available to whip up a chicken pie, chicken and dumplins, I forget what all.

Once there was an emergency power outage (power lines down across the neighborhood, freezing rain, out for two days) and she cooked for the entire neighborhood with frozen chickens.
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2010-07-04 12:28 am (UTC)
My mother saved backs, necks, and wings from fryers (she made wonderful fried chicken) until she had enough to make stock, and then she'd get a big old stewing hen (remember those?) and definitely save every scrap of meat for the little containers of cubed chicken. The broth she kept separate. And yes, out of the freezer and very quickly there was chicken soup, chicken & dumplings, etc.
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[User Picture]From: glinda_w
2010-07-04 01:31 am (UTC)
Oh yeah, I do that. And turkey broth, from the holiday leftovers (even if I'm spending Thanksgiving alone, I roast a 10- to 15-pound turkey). I don't have much freezer space, but I usually have a couple of quarts of broth-with-meat in the freezer, and I pull out the pressure canner for the rest. A pint jar of broth, half full of meat, is the perfect size for soup or curry...
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[User Picture]From: melissajm
2010-07-04 12:21 am (UTC)
That sounds like the way I cook, only it sounds like your concoctions come out better.
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From: brownkitty
2010-07-04 12:22 am (UTC)
You mean there are people who don't do things like this? Recipes for me are mainly ingredient lists, to be done "straight" the first time or two and then messed with once I know what the base format tastes like.
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2010-07-04 12:29 am (UTC)
Apparently so. I had a visitor once, years back, who expressed horror that I wasn't following the recipe. How did I know it would even be edible, she asked. When she ate it, she was amazed (she said) and wanted me to write down what I'd done.

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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2010-07-04 02:38 am (UTC)
I have ruined things (oboy have I ruined things!!!) but outside of baking, I've had good luck. I seem to have a good nose, which really helps. (Except for the time that I thought "I really like tarragon chicken, and last time I liked it with more tarragon than the recipe, so this time I'll add even more tarragon." Could not eat tarragon chicken for several years!) The problem a lot of people (who haven't cooked much) have with soups and stews is not putting in enough flavor to make up for the dilution, but there are a few other hazards. I guess in 60+ years I've already made those mistakes.

I do completely understand messing up the one thing you have money for. Ouch. The tarragon chicken, for instance...that was in one of those difficult times.
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2010-07-05 02:17 am (UTC)
I used to use a skillet for this more than I do now. Having two large-amount-eating males in the house--esp. when son was a hungry teenager--meant I needed more than one fit in even the large cast-iron skillet. Hence the move to a more pot-like shape. And now I have some really GOOD pots and I'm a happy camper.
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[User Picture]From: jodel_from_aol
2010-07-04 05:59 am (UTC)
I came to the conclusion many years ago that with the kind of one-pot cooking that I did, back when I still cooked, unless something was burned to inedibility, or turned out to have a genuinely tainted ingredient, the worst I could do was come up with something that didn't taste very good.

And I've done it. But you can eat food that doesn't taste very good until it's gone. And then, not make those particular mistakes again.

I just about never have meat in the house unless it's restaurant leftovers. But here's a simple one that works when you're short on prep time, but not going to be away from the house for extended periods. Good with a salad or whatever.

Reheats well in a microwave under low power, too.

Potato Caserole

1 bag of frozen Potatoes O'Brien
1 can condensed cream of celery soup
1 pint (I think, the smaller sized package anyway) sour cream
Sausage or ham. Leftover ham is fine. The amount of meat determines whether this is a main or a side dish.

Take a casserole dish and mix the sour cream and undiluted soup in it.
Season to taste.You are on your own here. Mine always has black pepper and plenty of marjoram in it (goes well with sausage), or whatever odds and ends sound good at the time; ground rosemary, curry powder, some celery seed, italian seasoning, whatever.

Mix the frozen potatoes and the chopped up meat into the result.

Bake in a 325-350 oven until its cooked through

I suppose if you want, you could add a crumb crust or whatever, maybe some parmesan but I never do.

Recipe can be doubled easily enough, but the above makes four main dish sized servings.
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2010-07-05 02:19 am (UTC)
That sounds good! I used to use several of the condensed cream soups but got away from that--could do it occasionally, at least. (Leftover ham is fine for so many things...my step-grandmother had a dish based on leftover ham and leftover chicken in a cream sauce. Loved it.)

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[User Picture]From: jodel_from_aol
2010-07-05 03:23 am (UTC)
I think I got the original version off the Ore-Ida bag. But since I usually buy store label, I can't say for certain any more. The original was a bit more involved, with the crumb topping iirc, but the stripped-down 4 ingredient (plus seasonings) version has stood me pretty well.

It can be made without meat altogether. Or with a different cream soup. But I generally make a special trip to the market and bring home some Hilshire Farms sausage when I decide I'm going to make it.

I've been wondering how it would work with yoghurt instead of the sour cream, but not tried it yet.
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[User Picture]From: kk1raven
2010-07-04 06:30 pm (UTC)
I make a lot of concoctions too, although mine differ from the ones you describe. A lot of my concoctions are stir-fried and at least somewhat influenced by Asian recipes.

I tend to regard recipes as suggestions. The first time I try them, I try to at least mostly stick to what the recipe says, apart from getting rid of onions which I'm allergic to and reducing or eliminating salt. After the first time, I do things to the recipe to make it suit me better. Most recipes get more herbs and spices added to them. Some get additional vegetables added, or the type of meat changed.
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2010-07-05 02:22 am (UTC)
I'm SO glad I'm not allergic to onions. I grew up among onion & garlic using cuisines. I don't salt until the table, if then, unless company's coming--then I salt lightly and let them add at the table if they want.

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[User Picture]From: freyaw
2010-07-05 01:56 am (UTC)
My lunch at work today started out as "I have leftover rice because I cook awesome amounts of rice so I have leftovers... I kinda feel like a curry to go with that. What's in the fridge, freezer, cupboard and garden?"

The oldest meat in the freezer happened to be some marinated pork (the major ingredient in the marinade was chili, so it's now quite a hot curry :P ), there were onions and garlic and carrots because there always are, there was green curry paste in the cupboard, there were capsicums in the garden and mushrooms in the fridge, chicken stock in the freezer in case the water from soaking the shitaake from dinner the night before was insufficient liquid. Dinner for three large eaters with leftovers for my work lunches :D
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2010-07-05 02:26 am (UTC)
Sounds delicious. Tomorrow I'll be looking at "what should I start next?" I like to cook enough to last for a couple of days. Though I really do need to make another batch of chicken stock since we've finally opened a hole in the freezer from All That Beef. (More All That Beef is in multiple freezers at our friend's ranch; we're supposed to take more of it as we have room, but I used up the last chicken stock.) Maybe I'll take the easy way out and just do a little lamb roast.

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