How to Cook a Pot Roast

So a couple of weeks ago, my 81-year-old dad fell down. He’s fine; he didn’t break anything; we were very lucky. But suddenly the guy who was extremely independent and a regular at every greasy spoon in town was shaky on his feet and not willing to leave the house. He’s getting around okay with a walker, but he’s still really awkward with it. (And I don’t think he wants his favorite waitresses to see him using a walker, but that’s a whole other issue.) The upshot is, my sisters and I and our darling husbands have been taking turns being Dad’s own personal Meals on Wheels, which means that some nights when me and the Evil Genius would make do with a tuna sandwich and a bag of chips, I’m having to produce an actual dinner. And for a Writer Girl, that can be challenging.

But I have a slow cooker, and this ain’t my first dance. And some of the homiest, Sunday-dinner-at-Granny’s-house-iest meals are actually dead easy to pull together, and Cracker Barrel can suck it. Pot roast, for example. If you look it up on the Food Network or an actual foodie blog, you’ll read about bundles of fresh thyme and peeling potatoes and words like “sear” and “braise” and “pan juices.” And those recipes are awesome; I use them when I have the time. But for a Wednesday night supper when I’ve got a gothic romance to write, I do it like this.

Ingredients:

1 2-pound chuck roast

1 stick of butter

2 beef bouillon cubes

2 tablespoons of minced onion or one onion peeled and cut into wedges

Freshly cracked pepper (don’t panic; they sell it in disposable pepper mills at the Wal-Mart these days)

A generous slosh of worcestershire sauce (maybe 2 tablespoons)

1/2 cup water

2 cans of beef consommé

1/4 cup all purpose flour

Another 1/2 stick of butter

Another tablespoon of worcestershire sauce

3 cups of cooked rice (or a plastic tub of plain microwave mashed potatoes if you’re a Yankee)

1 can of peas or green beans

Directions:

Before you  leave for work (or as late as on your lunch hour if you’re like I was yesterday and forget before work), put the chuck roast in the slow cooker. No, you do not have to flour and sear it first. Just stick the hunk of meat in the Crock Pot. Break your first stick of butter in half and drop it on top of the roast. Unwrap the bouillon cubes and drop them in, too. Season with pepper. (You do NOT need more salt if you’re using two bouillon cubes, trust me.) Slosh on the worcestershire sauce and the half cup of water. Sprinkle or drop in the onions. Put the lid on the slow cooker, turn it on low, walk away. (If you’re doing this on your lunch hour, turn it on high for half an hour, then turn it down to low.) Leave it for the next 6 hours.

30-45 minutes before you want to eat, start your rice. (If you’re eating Yankee potatoes instead, wait until you finish everything else to nuke them in the microwave.) 30 minutes before supper, turn the slow cooker down to warm and ladle out some of the juice into a measuring cup. If you have one of those groovy cups that skims off the fat, by all means use that; otherwise, skim off as much as you can with a tablespoon. Open your can of peas or green beans, pour them in a pot, heat them over medium-low heat. (For peas, I just pour them in; for green beans, I drain them, replace the liquid with tap water, and season with a tablespoon of the juice from the slow cooker.)

Melt the half stick of butter in a saucepan or small skillet on medium-high heat, whisk in the flour, cook and whisk for about a minute to get rid of the flour taste, add the two cans of consommé and beef juices, whisk as it thickens into gravy. I usually do this a little at a time to get the consistency I want. If it’s too thick, you can add hot water. If it’s too thin, you can add a slurry of cornstarch and cold water. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and worcestershire sauce.

Put your roast on a platter, chunk it up with a serrated knife. (It will be too tender to actually slice.) Slather the meat and the rice or potatoes with gravy, serve the green veggie on the side. Flip off the Cracker Barrel the next time you drive past because trust me, you make way, way better pot roast.

Serves 4-6 depending on how hungry everybody is and whether or not you have dessert.

 

How to Cook Supper on a Tuesday Night (Hamburger steaks & gravy)

My mama worked a nine-to-five clerical job pretty much my whole life. So I learned from her at an early age how to get to the grocery store, get home, and get supper on the table fast before collapsing from exhaustion in front of the TV set. This was one of my father’s favorite dinners, so we had it all the time. Whenever I think about cooking supper, this is still the first thing that springs to mind–the smell of it cooking takes me straight back to 1982. It feels like a real meal, but it’s cheap and fast and by this point, I could make it in my sleep. And bless him, my hubs loves it, too.

Ingredients:

2 pounds of hamburger

2 small white onions or one really big one

2 green bell peppers

2 tablespoons of butter

¼ cup of flour

2 cans of beef consommé

1-2 tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce

Salt and pepper to taste

1 ½ cups of uncooked white rice

1 can of peas

How to Make It: 

Put 3 cups of water on to boil, liberally salted, with a lid. At some point while you’re doing the next few steps, the water will start to boil. When it does, add the rice, stir, bring back to a boil then reduce heat to low so the water just simmers. Leave it to simmer, covered and untouched, while you cook everything else.

Pat the hamburger into 6-8 patties, depending on how many people are eating. Season on both sides with salt and pepper. Sear on both sides in a non-stick skillet over medium-high heat, about a minute and a half per side. You’ll probably have to do them in batches; I do mine as I make them out and remove the seared ones to a plate. You aren’t trying to cook them through at this point, just browning the outside.

While your patties are cooking, peel the onions and slice them in half lengthwise, then slice in half-rings, then seed and slice the bell peppers lengthwise. (Cut them big this way so the non-veggie-eaters can pick’em out without whining.) Once the patties are done and out of the pan, add the butter to the pan drippings and let it melt, then add the onions and peppers and sauté them until they’re soft. Add the flour, stirring constantly, and cook for about a minute so the flour doesn’t taste raw. Then add the consommé and stir to make a gravy. Add the Worcestershire sauce. Taste the gravy and adjust with more Worcestershire sauce, salt, and pepper as needed. Add the patties back into the gravy, reduce heat, cover, and simmer for about 15 minutes or until the meat is cooked through and your rice and peas are done.

Open the can of peas, pour it in a pot over medium heat, heat through.

Serve the gravy over the rice and beef patties with peas on the side.

Serves 6-8

 

 

Hippie Juice – Summer 2019

hippie juiceSo as regular readers already know, my family goes to North Myrtle Beach every summer. We stay in the same ramshackle house, flop like beached sea mammals on the sand, eat way too much junk food, play a LOT of contract rummy, and drink. I probably drink more alcohol during that one week than I do any two months during the rest of the year. And usually every year one or the other of us stumbles on some combination of fluids that becomes the drink of the summer. This year it was me, and this was it:  Hippie Juice. And no, I totally did NOT invent the concept. This is my adaptation of something I saw repeatedly on Pinterest, made with ingredients that don’t involve flavored vodka or grain alcohol. Because it’s been a long, long time since I was a college girl cooing, “Damn, y’all, I’m so druuuuuu-unk!” every time a cute boy walks by. (After nine years of marriage, my husband can tell without me telling him. ) But I think I’ve preserved the general spirit–it ain’t classy, but it sure tastes good. And it’s such a pretty shade of pink! These are the proportions for a pint-sized mason jar as shown. (And yes, that IS a Far Cry 5 glass–Hubs got it on sale at Target.)

Ingredients:

1 shot of either Grey Goose vodka OR Malibu coconut rum

About 2 shots of watermelon juice

1 heaping teaspoon of pre-sweetened pink lemonade mix

4-5 frozen strawberries

3-4 ice cubes

Enough fizzy lemon-lime soda to fill the glass – I prefer Sierra Mist.

Pour the shot of liquor into the glass. Add the watermelon juice. Add the pink lemonade mix and stir until it’s completely dissolved. Add the strawberries, ice, and soda, stir gently to combine.

The darlings of Pinterest take the trouble to rim their glasses with pink-colored sugar, and you can certainly do that if you’re of a mind to. But for me, that time is much better spent drinking, sunbathing, and reading trashy paperback novels on the beach.

Please wallow responsibly.

 

Macaroni Pie

macaroni pie

Our family’s ultimate side dish, a baked mac & cheese casserole, insanely simple but insanely satisfying, too. My Grandmama Wylie taught the recipe to Mama when she and Daddy got married back in 1963, and Mama taught it to me when I was about eight years old. My sister, Sarah, has made refinements, and I put more cheese in than anybody else in the history of the recipe, endearing me for all time to Sarah’s daughter, my gorgeous niece, Katie. And I know all my aunts and cousins have their own versions—I would happily pile my plate with any of them. We make this at all occasions of import, especially holidays. (Once we establish who’s doing the turkey at Thanksgiving, the next order of business is the macaroni pie.) I’ve got one in the oven right now because it’s Labor Day and because this would have been Mama’s 76th birthday. We’re eating takeout chicken and birthday sheet cake and macaroni pie and missing her very, very much.

Ingredients:
1.5 pounds of macaroni, cooked al dente

1.5 pounds of sharp cheddar cheese, shredded

2 eggs

1.5 cups of milk (whole is best, but 2 percent works just fine)

Half a teaspoon of salt

Half a teaspoon of black pepper

A quarter teaspoon of cayenne pepper

About three tablespoons of butter, cut into eight small pats

Directions:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Spray a big casserole dish with cooking spray.  Put in a layer of cooked macaroni. Cover with a thick layer of cheese. Put in another layer of macaroni, then another layer of cheese.

Whisk together the eggs, milk, salt, black pepper, and cayenne pepper. Pour it over the macaroni and cheese as evenly as possible. Scatter the dabs of butter over the top.  (I do mine like rolling two fives on a set of dice.)

Bake for 30-45 minutes until it’s cooked through and starting to brown on top. Let it stand for about five minutes to set, warding off with a wooden spoon any men or children who have smelled it from the living room and want to eat it NOW.

This also makes pretty good leftovers out of fridge – just cut off a brick and heat it in the microwave.

Insane Potato Casserole

I haven’t posted a recipe in a while, and we ate the hound out of this Halloween night, so I thought I’d share it. I adapted it from a recipe I found on Pinterest for “Crack Potatoes,” but my niece said that just does not sound appetizing, and I suppose she has a point. Whatever you call it, it’s one of those side dishes that people can’t get enough of, great for potlucks, so very not good for you, but delicious. Make sure your heart medication is up to date and eat small portions.

Ingredients:

1 30 oz. bag of frozen shredded hash brown potatoes (I use most of a bigger bag of the cheap discount store brand, and they work just fine)

1 9 oz. bag of real bacon bits (or you could fry up nine ounces of bacon and chop it up if you’re struggling to fill your empty hours)

1  1 lb. bag of finely shredded sharp cheddar cheese (again, feel free to shred your own; in this recipe, I don’t think it’s necessary, but you do you)

2 cups of sour cream (one big container)

2 packets of ranch dressing mix (now honestly, is any recipe with two packets of ranch dressing mix going to be improved by frying fresh bacon and shredding your own cheese?)

2 generous tablespoons of mayonnaise (I refuse to be ashamed)

Spray a 9 x 12-inch casserole dish with cooking spray. In a big bowl, stir together the potatoes (still frozen; they’ll break up nicely as you stir), the bacon bits, and the cheese. In a smaller bowl, whisk together the sour cream, ranch dressing mix, and mayonnaise. Pour the dressing mixture over the other ingredients, stir them together—put your back into it; you want everything evenly distributed.

Spread the resulting glop into the casserole dish. If you’re lucky, you’ve remembered to do this the night before you want to eat, in which case you can cover it all up with foil or plastic wrap and stow it in the refrigerator until you’re ready to bake. This gives your hash browns time to thaw and cuts down on your baking time. But if you aren’t lucky, you aren’t screwed; it’s just going to take your casserole longer to get done.

Bake uncovered in a 425-degree oven for 45-60 minutes if you started early, 75-90 minutes if you didn’t. It’s done when you have a nice, crispy brown edge all the way around and the surface looks cooked all the way across. If you’re using a clear casserole dish, you can do what I do and hold it up over your head to check and see if the bottom is lightly browned all the way across. Just don’t do it in front of your spouse; it makes mine extremely nervous.

Serves at least eight—we had seven people for Halloween and had some leftovers. This freezes well and makes great leftovers from the fridge the next day if you have any. I’ve served mine with pretty much anything I’d serve with mashed potatoes. For Halloween we had it with “mummy dogs,” hot dogs wrapped in strips of crescent roll dough and baked. And trick or treat candy. Lots and lots of trick or treat candy.

Rhinestone Cowboy Soup

So you kittens know me around this time of year; I’m always looking for something to cook that’s either dead easy to make or makes a lot of yummy leftovers. So it thrills my soul when I discover a new dish that’s both. Yesterday morning for reasons I couldn’t begin to fathom, I woke up craving Cowboy Soup. Remember Cowboy Soup? If like me you were a Girl Scout in the 1970’s, it’s a pretty fair bet you ate it at least once, a thick soup/thin stew with hamburger meat and beans and macaroni that not even too many underage cooks dancing around an open campfire can spoil. So anyway, I took to the internet and found several different recipes, and from mashing them together and elevating the grown-up snob appeal of a few of the ingredients (a few more fresh veggies and spices, a few less cans), I came up with this. And I’ve gotta tell you, it was dang tasty. My hubs and Dad both had two bowls full, and I have enough leftovers for at least one lunch stashed in the fridge.

Rhinestone Cowboy Soup

1.5 lbs. ground chuck

1 tablespoon olive or vegetable oil

1 red onion, chopped

1 medium-sized jalapeno pepper, finely diced without seeds or ribs

3 cloves of garlic, minced

1 28-oz can of tomato puree

1 can of diced tomatoes and chilis (Rotel – the same stuff you’d use to make queso dip)

1 12-16 ounce can of black beans, undrained

1 12-16 ounce can of baked beans in sauce (I used the brand that Labrador retriever sells)

3 cups of chicken broth

1 package of frozen corn

1 tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce

1 tablespoon of soy sauce

1 tablespoon of brown sugar

1 teaspoon of salt

1 teaspoon of paprika

½ teaspoon of cumin

½ teaspoon of cayenne pepper

 

Brown ground chuck in a big soup pot over medium-high heat until no pink remains, drain and set aside. Add oil to the pot and reduce heat to medium; sauté onion, jalapeno and garlic until the onion is soft. Add tomato puree, diced tomatoes and peppers, black beans, baked beans, chicken broth, and ground chuck, bring to a boil. Add corn, brown sugar, condiments, and spices, reduce heat and simmer for at least 30 minutes.

You can add COOKED AND DRAINED macaroni (1/2 pound dry) just before serving if you want it more like the Girl Scouts version. I served mine sans pasta and with cornbread, and the hubs and I each added dollop of sour cream to our bowls to mellow out the heat a bit. If you wanted it hotter, you could leave the seeds and ribs in your jalapeno; if you want it less spicy, you could leave the pepper out altogether.

 

Cooking a Thanksgiving Turkey – Fear Not the What-What

With the number of hotlines, websites, recipes, chat boards, and support groups available, you’d think cooking a Thanksgiving turkey was a task roughly akin to landing an airplane while juggling knives as monkeys throw cigarette butts at your face. It’s not.  I swear before the throne of glory, it is one of the easiest things to cook in the world. I once wrote very similar instructions on the back of an envelope for my brother-in-law, and he produced a bird that would have looked at home in Martha Stewart’s house. Trust me; you can do this.

If you go to Food Network’s website or one of the bazillion other more informative, cuisine-specific blogs on the internet, you’ll read all about stuff like brining and barbecuing and how if you’re going to fry your bird, you’ll need 300 gallons of peanut oil and a fireman with a sense of humor. I have nothing but love and respect for those writers, and I’m sure all their information is spot-on correct. But they’re making things hard on themselves and you; they’re cooking exotic gourmet turkey for the kind of discerning palettes that think of nothing of putting truffle oil on popcorn (or people who believe it ain’t food unless you deep fry it). And if you’re that person or want to cook Thanksgiving dinner like that person, by all means, go ahead. Me, I’ve got better things to do.

So here’s how to make a totally basic, totally old-fashioned, roasted Thanksgiving turkey. It is quite juicy (not dry as the briners insist it will be) and flavorful (not bland as the deep fryers would expect). We serve ours with dressing (not stuffing), rice and gravy, cranberry sauce, macaroni pie, green bean casserole, rolls, and way too much dessert. And I defy you to find a better holiday feast.

So  here’s what you’ll need:

One turkey, whatever size you need to feed your crowd. I usually get the biggest one I can find. And if it’s frozen, put it in the fridge RIGHT THIS SECOND to thaw – seriously, if you want to eat it for lunch on Thursday, you need to have it thawing in the fridge by mid-afternoon on Sunday at the latest.

2 large onions

2 or 3 stalks of celery

1/2 cup of butter (1 stick)

1 tablespoon of flour

2 tablespoons of poultry seasoning (or 1 & 1/2 tablespoons of dried sage plus a generous sprinkle of parsley, rosemary, and thyme – they were obviously cooking turkeys at Scarborough Faire)

generous sprinkle of salt & pepper

1/2 to 1 cup of water, depending on the size of the turkey. If it’s a small one, 1/2 cup. If it’s the biggest one in the store, 1 cup.

1 browning bag – look on the foil and plastic wrap aisle

1 big roasting pan – if you don’t have one, the disposable foil kind works; just be sure to put it on a cookie sheet so you can pick it up

Here’s how to cook it:

A few days before Thanksgiving: Thaw the turkey in the refrigerator. If you missed this step, you can thaw it in the sink in COLD water in a few hours, but be very careful to wash your hands before and after you handle it. NEVER use warm water. Nothing ruins Black Friday shopping like a family-wide case of the runs.

The day before Thanksgiving: Check and see how much your turkey weighs and read the instructions with your browning bag to see how long it will need to roast. You’re going to want to have it out of the oven  at least 45 minutes before you eat, so plan accordingly.

Thanksgiving Day, starting 30 minutes before you need to get the bird in the oven:

Move the oven rack to the lowest position and turn on the oven to 350 degrees to preheat. Put the tablespoon of flour in the browning bag, hold the end closed, shake vigorously to coat the inside of the bag with flour. Put the bag in the roasting pan with the open end facing out.

Put the bird in the sink. Take the wrapper off. Reach inside the body cavity and remove the bag of giblets and the neck. This is the part the lady in that turkey hotline commercial calls putting her hand in the what and pulling out the what-what. (And yes, I laugh every time–she’s awesome.) But it’s not that big a deal. If you can’t bear the notion of putting your hand inside a hollow dead bird, wear rubber gloves. If you can’t stand it even then, eat at Denny’s. Rinse the bird thoroughly with cold water, pat dry with paper towels.

Peel and thickly slice the biggest onion. Arrange the slices on the “floor” of the roaster inside the bag. Wash the celery and lay it on either side of the onions. This makes a kind of baking rack inside the bag.

Smear about 2 tablespoons of the butter on the outside of the bird. Put it in the bag with the legs pointing toward you (so you still have access to the what). Sprinkle your herbs, salt and pepper all over the bird. Peel the other onion and put it and the rest of the butter inside the bird. Pour in the water.

Close up the browning bag with the little twist tie thingie enclosed with it. Tuck the corners into the pan so nothing’s hanging out to possibly catch on the oven rack or the heating element. Cut six slits in the plastic with a sharp knife. (This is the step I always forget until thirty minutes later, aka seconds before the bag explodes all over the oven. Spare yourself the heart attack.)

Put the bird in the oven and wait. Time it by the instructions in your browning bag. Professional chef type people will tell you that you simply must insert a meat thermometer through your bag into the fleshiest part of your bird (between the leg and the thigh or in the thickest part of the breast) without touching bone and cook it to an internal temperature of 165 degrees. I’m sure this is excellent advice. I don’t own a meat thermometer and never have. I time the sucker, and I also have a child’s foolish faith in the little plastic pop-up thermometer with which many birds are already skewered when you buy them. I have never had a turkey be underdone or overdone. Do with that information what you will.

Let it rest for at least half an hour after you take it out of the oven before you move it to a serving platter and slice it. Strain the copious juice left in the roasting pan and use it to make dressing and gravy.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!