Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Where's the Beef?

So the other day, my blogging consigliere wrote about how she, a mother to “two little kids, with a couple of jobs and four bathrooms to clean” does dinner. And she wrote that sometimes it involved a microwave and sometimes and it didn't and how she'd like to do more “cooking than warming.” And while she didn't ask her readers for non-microwaveable recipes that a mother to “two little kids, with a couple of jobs and four bathrooms to clean” could whip up in 10 minutes or less, I was all like: I am going to send Beth Fish 25 recipes that will change her life. And they will not involve a microwave. Or anything frozen. And they will be delicious. And gourmet. And the kids will love them. And she will be able to prepare them while keeping an eye on her son. And entertaining her daughter. And cleaning 4 bathrooms. What can I say – I am ambitious.

So I emailed Beth to get a sense for what she and Chris and the kids actually like to eat and I casually asked if she had a crockpot because while I am not a big user of the crockpot, we do have one and we do use it on occasion (in fact, we were making a kick-ass BBQ beef in it this past winter and that was totally going to be one of the recipes I sent to Beth) and I am smart enough to know that the genius of a crockpot is that you throw 5 – 10 ingredients in, put the lid on, turn a switch and forget about it for like 10 hours. Perfect, I thought, for a busy mom with lots to do and only 2 hands and only 2 eyes and 2 kids to look out for/keep on the ground. Oh yes. I thought I was sooooo clever.

Here was Beth's reply to my email: “Oh, I have mad love for my crock pot. It borders on inappropriate. I'd love some new recipes, if you have some. We like anything except meat - Chris and I are vegetarian.”

Shot down on not one, but TWO counts, because clearly the whole crockpot thing had been discovered and because I am a total and complete CARNIVORE. I was quickly deflated and I did not see how I could ride in on my white chef's coat and toque and change Beth's dinnertime world which for some odd reason, had been my goal.

But as I said, I am nothing if not ambitious. And although I love me some ribeye, I also love me some veggies and I am nothing if not clever in the kitchen and Oh Yeah – this is going to be easy. Why was I even worried?

The first recipe that came to my mind was my awesome veggie-cheese soufflé (which can also just be a cheese soufflé) and which is so simple to make and really doesn't take long and now that they have all those awesome pre-shredded cheeses in the grocery store you don't have to grate your knuckles bloody trying to get a half a cup of shredded Gruyere. Simple to make for me. Because I've made it 100 times. And because I have time to separate eggs. And because I have a Kitchen-Aid to whip the egg whites. And because I can keep an eye on the béchamel and make sure it doesn't burn because I don’t have 2 kids to keep track of. Hmmm. While this dealt with the whole vegetarian thing, it didn't seem well suited to the whole “mother of 2 little kids with 4 bathrooms to clean” thing.

So then I thought about my Brussels Slaw – which if you haven't had it yet, you must try it one day because it will totally change your life and how you feel about Brussels sprouts. And once again, I realized that the painstaking act of peeling and slicing the sprouts was just that – painstaking – and weren't these recipes supposed to be easy, breezy, insta-Gourmet greatness without any hassle or mess? And oh yeah. I totally forgot. My Brussels slaw includes bacon. WHOOPS.

And once again, the wind was totally out of my sails. Every recipe that came to me was either 1) not vegetarian or 2) a total pain in the ass to make or 3) both. And I know you’re probably wondering why the Hell I even cared so much. But the truth is…I LOVE to cook. And I love to share my love of cooking with others. And I love clever cooking. And easy cooking. And I felt like if I could impart some of my knowledge to Beth…and make her life as a busy mom a little easier and/or a little tastier – well, that would be a good thing.

And then, I had one of my genius epiphanies, and knew I had the solution: Laurie Colwin's essays Home Cooking and More Home Cooking. It had been a while since I had read either – but I knew if there was a simple, hassle-free, totally tasty vegetarian recipe to be found, it would be in these books.

And so I started flipping through Home Cooking and here's the thing with Laurie Colwin. She makes everything sound so easy. For example, in the chapter “How to Disguise Vegetables” she writes about making fritters and the way she writes – it really does sound simple.

“Shred the zucchini – use four small ones – and drain it on a towel. Separate two eggs and beat the whites until fairly stiff. Add half a cup of milk to the egg yolk, beat and add about half to three-quarters of a cup of flour – the batter should be a little thicker than pancake batter. Add the zucchini, salt, pepper and some chopped scallion. Fold in the egg whites and fry in clarified butter (or unclarified butter) or olive oil until golden on both sides. Some people like large fritters. I like mine the size of a demitasse saucer.”

It sounds simple right? Except for the egg separating and the frying and just because Laurie writes about it so casually (as if we all have clarified butter on hand for frying) doesn't mean it’s simple.

Here's another one on broccoli:

“First you steam it. Then you sauté it in dark green olive oil with two cloves of garlic until the garlic is soft. Then you toss it all in the blender with pepper, a pinch of salt, the juice of half a lemon, more olive oil and serve it on penne or ziti or fusilli with lots of grated cheese…”

Once again, sounds simple. But then I was picturing the post-broccoli sauce sink: large pot for steaming along with steamer basket, sauté pan, and blender with all of its attachments and I thought: Beth is going to be washing dishes for an eternity instead of doing something more useful like playing with her kids.

A chapter entitled “Easy Cooking for Exhausted People” seemed like it might be better. And sure enough, after a lengthy discussion on boiled beef, Laurie addresses easy cooking for exhausted vegetarians and shares her thoughts on vegetarian chili and apparently, the secret to tasty vegetarian chili is to use 4 types of beans:

“I used small red beans (kidney beans are too coarse for this dish), aduki beans (tiny little red beans from the health food store), black beans and urad dal – tiny black lentils you find at the Indian store.
On the bottom of a kettle put a bay leaf. Then wash one cup of black beans, one cup of little red beans and half a cup each of aduki beans and urad dal. Needless to say, these proportions are flexible. This will feed three or four people. Put the beans in a pot and cover with the cut-up contents and the juice of a large can of Italian plum tomatoes, three cloves of garlic chopped, one chopped onion and one large medium dried chili (available in Mexican or Spanish groceries), washed and seeded. Add chili powder to taste, and water if necessary. Put the pot on the stove at the merest simmer and leave all day, stirring from time to time.”

This seemed like a step in the right direction and I was feeling ok about Laurie Colwin but still, 95% of her recipes involved meat and/or frying and/or blenders so…

I went to Epicurious and I was going to search for easy, vegetarian recipes. So obviously Beth could totally do this to (and maybe she does) but once again, at this point I was feeling compelled to offer one, life-changing, easy-to-make, totally delicious vegetarian recipe and OMG…I clicked on Recipes and Menus and what is the lead story? GO MEATLESS: 19 EXCEPTIONAL VEGETARIAN RECIPES. Destiny? Not quite because these exceptional vegetarian recipes (which all sound quite tasty) all involve an exceptional number of ingredients and who has time for all of this?

So I finally went to Advanced Search and clicked on “Kid-Friendly,” “Quick and Easy,” and Vegetarian. I got 90 hits and started scrolling through. Some did not seem so Quick and Easy (Dumplings? Please Epicurious people. There is nothing easy about dumplings.”) but I came up with a few that seemed to fit the bill:

Orzo with Garbanzo Beans, Goat Cheese, and Oregano
Soft Scrambled Eggs with Fresh Ricotta and Chives
Smashed Carrots
Nacho Macaroni and Cheese
Tiny Pasta Stew

Ok – so I just went back and re-read what I wrote and this post has completely gotten away from me and really, and I have no idea where I am going with this anymore. So yes – there are apparently some easy, vegetarian, kid-friendly recipes in the world. In fact, 90 of them in fact according to Epicurious (although I would disagree with several of them). And hopefully, this news has a positive impact on your life in one way shape or form.

Tell me darling readers: what's your favorite thing to cook – vegetarian, kid-friendly or otherwise?

As for me, I am going to include the BBQ Crockpot Beef recipe (courtesy of Marzee's Daily Recipe) for you non-vegetarians because it really is that good:


1 (2-1/2 to 3-1/2 lbs.) lean chuck roast
1 large onion, quartered and thinly sliced
1 envelope onion soup mix
2 or 3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 (10-1/2 oz.) can of tomato soup
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 tbsp. lemon juice
1 tbsp. Dijon mustard
1/4 teaspoon hot ground pepper mix
1/2 teaspoon celery seed
Salt to taste

Trim fat from beef and cut into 4 or 5 large chunks to fit in crockpot. Combine remaining ingredients and pour over beef. Cook in a crock pot for 8 to 10 (4 to 5 on high) hours on low. Pour juice into a small saucepan and simmer on the stovetop for 15 to 20 minutes to reduce and thicken. In the meantime shred beef with 2 forks or potato masher. Return thickened sauce to the beef in the crockpot. Keep warm and serve with buns and coleslaw. Yield: 6-8 Servings

And if that ain't country, I'll kiss your…


Shelly Overlook said...

Am I selfish for still wanting the 25 (meaty!) recipes that would have changed Beth Fish's life??

Nancy said...

I enjoy cooking anything that's one dish. I am known as the One Dish Wonder by my husband. This is simply because I cannot coordinate two or three dishes. Something always is late or left behind if it involves cooking two things at the same time or co-ordinating the finish times.
Thanks for the shredded beef recipe! I was going to request it! I've tried making it but always in the oven - never even thought of the crockpot which is wasting away on the top shelf of my cupboard.

Beth Fish said...

Sorry to throw a major wrench in your plans, and thanks for not responding with "oh, but you eat chicken, right?" I'll take a look at the recipes you found. All my cookbooks are in boxes in the basement since I do all my cooking off the internet these days.

MondayCampaigns said...

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