Scorched Stew Saga

I have been thinking about beef stew for weeks, ever since it first began to get chilly.  There’s something about this time of year that makes me want to cook.  I’ve been thinking a lot about chili and roasted root vegetables and pots of pinto beans too!
But some of those things are time consuming, so I picked up stew beef when I saw it on sale, got all the vegetables I wanted late last week, and planned to tackle the stew this weekend.
It was a busy weekend as always, so I made my preparations in stages:  On Friday night I floured and browned the beef, and sauteed the onions, peppers, celery, and herbs from my garden, then put all that in the stockpot and refrigerated it.  Saturday evening I added the liquid and started simmering.
Finally, this afternoon was the time for chopping vegetables (lots and LOTS of vegetables) and letting it all cook together so we could have it for supper.
Well, I put the pot on the stove and turned it up high to get it boiling.  I didn’t realize that all the beef had settled to the bottom of the pot.  I didn’t think and I didn’t pay attention until I smelled the scorching.  By the time I moved the pot off the stove the damage was done–only a few pieces of beef were burned, but the broth had that terrible scorched taste.
I’ll end your suspense right now and tell you that with a lot of work I was able to pretty much fix the stew.  And I’m going to tell you the steps I took–thanks to all those genius internet cooks out there–in case something like this ever happens to you.
First, a no-brainer:  I transferred it all to another pot, with NO SCRAPING involved.
Second, I peeled and halved two potatoes and cooked them in the broth for about thirty minutes to absorb some of the flavor.  Then I repeated it with another pair of potatoes. (The potatoes got added to the dogs’ dinner, so we are all winners!)
Third, I threw in a couple of pieces of bacon and some all-purpose “BBQ” seasoning, meant to fool the tastebuds into interpreting that burned taste as though it were meant to be there!
Fourth, I added more liquid to the stew (which I would have been doing in any case), beer, as it happens–and threw in a few more beef bouillon cubes.
Fifth, I put in some apple cider vinegar and a couple of spoons of sugar.
I tasted after each step, and yes, it was getting better, but the taste was still lurking.  It was at this point that all the vegetables were finally chopped and ready to be added and I may as well tell you what they were:  rutabagas, turnips, parsnips, sweet potatoes, carrots, and three kinds of potatoes.
Finally, when the vegetables had softened I added the final ingredient, which completely got rid of the lingering source.  What I want to know is why this works and who thought of it.  I imagine some frantic crazy woman so exasperated with the bad taste of her stew that she just yelled, “The hell with it!” before dumping in a spoonful of . . .
PEANUT BUTTER.
Yes, that’s right.  And it was like a miracle.  It melted right in and took away the bad smell like creamy peanutty magic.
beef stew

Serendipity in the Kitchen

I rarely use recipes, certainly not for everyday foods.  I like to think of my own mind as a sort of cookbook, capable of synthesizing ingredients into masterpieces.  I’m not sure if that’s a special talent or something that can be learned from years of cooking, maybe it’s a little of both–my 18-year-old son can do it.
Anyway, sometimes I’ll look in the refrigerator and my mind will start going and before I know it there’s an idea I have to try.
Our refrigerator is pretty close to empty at the moment, and that sort of challenge always seems to kick my creativity into high gear, as I try to come up with a use for seemingly unrelated ingredients that will harmonize into something more than only edible.
Tonight’s experiment was a success!
At this time of year we always have a log of Brie in the refrigerator (at least until we eat it all!).  It goes on sale at Kroger for half-price just before Thanksgiving and stays that way until the New Year (which is when we stop buying it!).  At the moment we also have quite a bit of bacon on hand–I bought a little more than I needed for the turkey.   Then there was half a can of cranberry sauce (the jelled kind) that my son had been eating all by itself.  So here’s what I did:
I fried up some bacon (three slices is all I ended up needing).
I placed 8 saltines (that’s all I had–something fancier might have been better, but those were fine) on a cookie sheet.
I sliced half a Brie log into 8 rounds (about 1/4 inch thick) and placed those on the crackers.
I broke the bacon into portions (about two inches each) and placed those on the Brie.
I put a spoonful of cranberry sauce on top.
I popped the cookie sheet under the broiler for about two minutes–just long enough for the Brie to get warm but not long enough to melt.
Et Voilà!
bacon and brie
They were delicious!

Pumpkins Pumpkins Everywhere!


Yes, it’s that time of year–or really, it’s slightly after that time of year, since I couldn’t find a carving-sized pumpkin for love or money the night before Halloween, which is when I attempted to buy them.  But that meant I ended up with several smaller ones instead.
Now, growing up I had no idea you could do anything with a pumpkin except carve a face in it.  Later my ideas expanded to include using them decorations in one of those ubiquitous fall displays.  But at some point it occurred to me that the pumpkin in a can had to come from somewhere, right?  So I consulted The Joy of Cooking and learned how to roast a pumpkin.
The roasting is easy, the pureeing much less so.  It may not be worth it to those who like to do things the easy way, but once I learn how to do things the hard way (think rolling out pie crusts by hand) I find it hard to go back to my old, convenience-oriented ways!
Another thing I never knew you could do is roast and eat the seeds from your pumpkin.  Now that’s a Halloween night tradition for us.

All of this is a preface to this, my first-ever cooking post!  Since it’s my recipe, of course it won’t be easy.  It takes several preliminary steps to get to the tasty result, but you can skip the hard parts if you want.
Pumpkin-Chocolate Chip Cookies
Ingredients:

2.5 c. flour

1 t. baking soda

1 stick butter (PLEASE use real butter!)

1 c. sugar

.5 c. packed brown sugar

2 eggs

.5 c. roasted and pureed pumpkin

2 t. vanilla

.5 c. roasted and salted pumpkin seeds, chopped fine

1 12-oz. bag milk chocolate chips

You will want to do these first two preliminary parts the day before you want to make the cookies!  Or buy a can of pumpkin and a bag of seeds.  Just don’t tell me about it!
First, roast a pumpkin.  A small one is fine.  Here’s how you do it:
Cut the pumpkin in half and scrape out its insides; reserve seeds.  No need to be too anal; I am lazy and leave a string or two behind and never have a problem.
Grease a cookie sheet (just a spray with Pam or its generic equivalent, if you are me, will do).
Place the two halves, cut side down, on your cookie sheet.
Cook at 350 degrees for about an hour.  You will know you are finished when the pumpkin halves start to collapse a little bit.
Remove from oven and let cool.  Peel off the skin and put the flesh away until you are ready to puree it.  You can freeze it for just about forever if you wish.
Now, attend to your seeds.  You should rinse them in a colander and dry them with paper towels.  The dryer you can get them the quicker they will roast.
Grease another cookie sheet and spread the seeds thereon.  The thinner you can spread them the shorter the roasting time will be.  Put them in a 200 degree oven.
Check the seeds every half hour or so.  At some point you will want to put some butter on them and some salt.  Stir them around when you check them.  You can add more butter and salt when you check them–that’s up to your taste.
Now I cannot tell you how long this is going to take, because it varies.  I cooked mine for probably four hours.  Anyway, when they are crunchy but not burned, remove them from the oven and put them aside.
When they are cool, chop them up in your food processor or blender.  Or you could use them whole; it’s up to your family’s taste.  Mine were more like meal than seeds when I was finished.
By now your pumpkin has cooled off–it’s had four hours after all–so you can puree it.  I imagine a food processor would make this easy but I don’t have one so I use a blender, which is hard.  I usually cheat and add a little liquid to make it easier.  This time I used eggnog for this, which gave it a nice flavor.  And you’ll be using beaters on it too, so if you get frustrated doing this remember it doesn’t have to be perfect.  Take out what you need for the recipe and put the rest away for another day.
Here comes the easier part.
Cream the butter and sugar.  The proportions are strange because we are replacing part of the fat with the pumpkin, so don’t worry if you can’t get it perfectly creamy.  I am a lazy cook on details like this and have found that seriously it doesn’t matter much, no matter what your mother told you.
Let your kids crack the eggs and then add them and beat again.  And the vanilla, then the soda, beating after each.  Next the pumpkin.  Then the flour.  Then stir in the nuts and the chips.

Isn’t it a pretty color?  The batter is not going to have the texture of a typical chocolate chip cookie because of the pumpkin.  Don’t worry; it will be okay.
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  Drop spoonfuls of batter on your cookie sheet.   These stuck to my dark cookie sheet but not the shiny one, so you might want to grease yours if they are dark.  These don’t spread much at all, so you can factor that in to how many you put on each sheet.
Cook each batch for ten minutes, maybe longer, till they are a little brown on top.  They are not going to be as brown as typical chocolate chip cookies.  And they are going to be a bit pouffy, so they are probably more done than you think they are.  More than twelve minutes is probably going to be too long.

I was pleased and proud and my family loved them!  Be sure to tell me if you make them!