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Ah, how lovely it is to be sitting after a particularly long day. Legs tucked gracefully under me, a drink of sorts on the ledge near me, jazz music floats softly about me. The perfect post-dinner accents, I think. I have quite the story for you; one that concerns only three hours of sleep, pouring over a new cookbook for a twist on a suggested meal for the evening, grocery shopping, and of course, being in the kitchen all day. So Dears, find yourself a comfortable seat, get your drink of choice and have a splendid evening by my fireplace. As Shel Silverstein would say “come in, come in.”

The Inspiration

Today started rather rocky, to be honest. Yesterday I’d asked around for suggestions as to what to make after rashly suggesting that I make dinner for my second family. What would I make? How would I make it? I had to cater to appetites so very different than mine that I , the girl who can cook for crowds on a whim, was at a loss. So, going back another step further yesterday, after I’d offered to cook, I needed to get out of the house. I needed to go and think. Where better than Barnes & Noble’s cafè with a few new purchases: two cookbooks and a novel. But that’s of no importance. Sitting in the cafè, all that mattered to me was the pouring rain, The Unofficial Harry Potter Cook Book on the table, open, and my coffee. That’s how you know I mean business, perusing a cookbook with a coffee in a manicured hand. Yes, my best friend and I sat, for 2 hours. We watched people come and go; occasionally we uttered soft words to each other. Every so often my phone would light up, suggesting a new text. But, it was all lost to me because I was on a mission. What on Earth, or sorry, what in Merlin’s saggiest Y fronts, would I cook? After two hours of flipping through, and I wasn’t even close to done, mind you, we called it quits. He’d finished his drink, I downed the last of mine, seeking caffeine’s sweet poison in my veins. I’d never been so stumped before, ever. So, going home, I pulled out my sticky notes and went back through the book, marking everything that caught my eye. I’d perhaps make that… I would think to myself. Finally though, I conceded, beef stew it would have to be. Yes, while deep down I’d known I would make it, I didn’t know how to make it. Sure I’d seen Mum do it a hundred times, I’d tended to it so many times while she was at work. Yet, I didn’t know how to make it myself. So upon flipping through that Harry Potter cookbook (which I was duped into buying because I thought it had a recipe for “butterbeer” in it, unfortunately, I must buy another cook book for that pesky recipe) once more, I rested my eyes upon it: “Beef Stew with herbed dumplings.” That was what I would make, I thought. How had I missed it in my first perusals of the book? My guess is as good as yours, but that’s not the point. I had now gotten the recipe for the stew that had been suggested to me. I was worried, only for a moment, what does one serve with beef stew? This recipe called for dumplings in it and contained vegetables, it was its own meal. Perfection. Now comes the hours when I should have slept, but instead I was up. No I was not fretting; it was the coffee that I had put in my veins only a gammon of hours ago. I was wired, more or less. Unable to sleep. But when Sleep’s silken webs found me, I was out, until my alarm clock went off. I’m not a morning person, bless you if you are, but I can’t do it. So I was more than a little bit irate with things while at the grocery. But that aside, coming home from the grocery, I laid out my buys and set to work.

It’s pages 64-65

That link is a lifesaver, by the way. Follow it and you’ll see the recipe and what to do. Well, my book looks a little bit different. I learned some valuable lessons, Half Blood Prince style and noted them in my cook book and now I’ll share them with you here…

  1. So steps one and two of the method to brewing this talk about making the dumplings. Truth be told, I’ve not mastered making dough yet and didn’t want to mess myself up on this recipe. Being creative, I improvised and used Grand’s light and fluffy biscuits, instead. It had the same effect and was the perfect accent. Not only that, they were great to sweep up the last bit of stew in the bowl after all else was eaten.

    It didn't work and I ended up having to use a big pot.

  2. When they say dutch oven or large sauce pan, they were right. Typically with experience my mother and I have always used her trusty old crock pot, so I figured the state of the art one in the kitchen I was using would be great. Not so much. Moral of the story: Older is better.

  3. Although it wasn’t called for in step three, I dusted the meat with flour before browning it and setting it aside. I couldn’t tell you what it did besides lock in the juices. It’s completely unnecessary, but it worked well for me and those who I was cooking for raved about how perfect the meat was.

  4. The recipe calls for one can of chicken broth. I felt that it would be entirely too thick and overbearing so I added two cups of water in before letting it go to a rolling boil in the pan. The addition was definitely worth it.

  5. Though the recipe calls for celery, if you don’t eat it, don’t add it.

  6. The recipe calls for two whole carrots, which I substituted with carrot sticks (a half a bag, chopped) as well as 4 red potatoes, which I only used 2 and had more than enough.

  7. It says to simmer for about two, two and a half hours total. My personal preference is to go old school and let it simmer on about 2 or 3 for six plus hours. Believe me, if you start early enough, it’s done by dinner and all of the tastes have come together. The meat is savory and delicious and the potatoes are cooked to perfection, sucking up the broth/meat juices mixture.

In the meantime of letting the stew sit on the back burner, literally and figuratively, I made burritos for lunch. The burritos came out awesome. I have no set recipe for you, but I’ll give you a rough sketch of what I used and you can add/subtract on it as you’d like.

Not-That-Taco-Bell-Junk Burritos

These burritos come out just so much better than whatever Taco Bell has to offer and though they have nothing on the great burrito places in the world (Willy’s anyone? How about Moe’s?), they’re filling and incredibly simple to make because of a few “lazy-man’s” adjustments. I discovered how to make these one night at dinner earlier this summer and it was the best burrito I’d made to date, so without further ado…

Ingredients

  • 1 lb of ground chuck (although you can use steak meat or chicken if you so desire)

  • 1 box of Zataran’s dirty rice mix (my preference, personally it’s the best out there)

  • 1 can of El Paso refried beans (low fat works just as well as regular, as I discovered today)

  • 1 bag of “Mexican blend” shredded cheese

  • 1 container sour cream

  • 1 package of “Mexican seasoning” (El Paso works beautifully)

  • 1 package of flour tortillas, burrito size.

  • 1 bag of restaurant style chips

  • 1 small onion, chopped (optional)

  • 1 green bell pepper (optional)

  • 1 tbs oil

Method

  1. Heat the oil in a skillet or pan (I’m preferable to using the sauce pan myself so I can directly add ingredients to it as I go, but that’s me) over medium, medium high heat. While it heats up, take the onion, skin it as you normally would and chop it to your preferred thickness. Add it to the pan and let it cook until slightly translucent.

  2. Crumbling the hamburger (if that’s your preferred meat) in your hands, add it in hunks to the onions, stirring so that it browns and cooks evenly with the onions.

  3. After the hamburger has browned and the onions have turned fully translucent, about 10 minutes on medium heat, strain the hamburger, carefully. I can’t stress it enough, being burnt by oil hurts so bad, so strain it carefully using paper towels and moving them over the oil so they absorb it. (I’ll go into further detail on that after this as it’s quite handy)

  4. After straining the hamburger, move half of it to a second saucepan, adding the Zataran’s (or whatever brand of rice you chose) and following the instructions on that box.

  5. Meanwhile, while the rice cooks, follow the instructions to the packet of Mexican seasoning and stir it occasionally while waiting for the rice to cook.

    Nomnomnom

  6. When there is 5 or so minutes left until the rice is cooked (it should be more fluffed up and there should not be as much water as you started, if any), take a smaller saucepan and put the refried beans in it. Those will cook fast, but they have a tendency not to cook all the way through, so stir them with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula every so often.

  7. With all of your burrito fixings cooked, remove them from heat and assemble them on a burrito sized tortilla. Yet again, my preference is a thin spread of the beans, then rice, hamburger, and sour cream. Don’t forget you can add veggies too, if you’d like.

  8. Roll the burrito, it’s a useful skill to have as an unproperly rolled burrito has the chance to make a mess, and garnish with warmed tortilla chips on the side.

  9. Enjoy!

I mentioned earlier straining hamburg. Most people, when they think strain, they think like straining pasta in colander, except saving the oils. This is extremely dangerous (I’ve melted a few containters doing so) and I advise against it. A neater way to strain meat is to get all of your meat on one side with some oil necessary and then have most of the oil on the other side of the pan. Take 4-5 paper towels, fold them accordion style on themselves so that they can sop of the oil. If done right, you won’t burn yourself.

Well, I’m quite foodied out for the evening. Feel free to email me recipes you’d like me to try at TheMakingOfAChef@gmail.com

Stay Hungry, Mates.

Xx Steffica


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