Dirty Little Secrets

29 Aug

Inspired by Fran’s comment, I’m going to start by revealing what I learned from my mom.

First, let me say that my mom is my hero in many ways.  Although her own mother did have some delectable Pennsylvania dishes like homemade sauerkraut and apple pie, Mom didn’t inherit any kind of comprehensive culinary tradition from my grandmother, and then she spent her early adult years as a hip single girl working at the Pentagon and in Germany.  I understand she had to wash her dishes in the bathtub at the Amelia Earhart hotel in Wiesbaden for years, so it’s not surprising she didn’t become Julia Child during this swingin’ time in her life.

Once she married my dad and settled down with two kids, back in the States, I can only imagine she was looking for easy recipes that could be made on a Lieutenant’s salary…and it was the seventies, people.  Every night, we sat down to dinner as a family.  I remember great meals throughout my childhood, originating from both the kitchen and the grill.  In fact, if you had asked me, growing up, I’d have said my mom liked to cook.  It was only as an adult that I discovered she had cooked merely out of necessity and had never particularly enjoyed it.  I rarely helped in the kitchen (bad Alicia!).  Mom took all that work on herself.  So I really went off to college with zero cooking skills and, thanks to the dining hall and Marriott, graduated virtually the same way.

To this day, despite the sea change in cooking that has made many seventies recipes seem both pedestrian and unhealthy, I still make a few of my mom’s best recipes from my childhood.  Off the top of my head:

1) Hungarian Goulash (acknowledging it’s not entirely authentic)

2) Chili Puerto Vallarta (this deserves its own blog entry)

3) Chicken in Sherry Cream Sauce

4) Pork Tenderloin Noodle Casserole (couldn’t get out without a casserole)

Here’s what I realized about these recipes (each of which has some heart-stopping or otherwise overly processed aspect to it).  They are cheap.  They are easy.  People clean their plates.  My mom doesn’t make these anymore, but I still do.  So this recipe is for those of you who are at the end of your grocery budget for the week and want it fast.  It can also be made on the weekend and then defrosted and dumped over fresh egg noodles in the middle of the week.

Marilyn’s Hungry-garian Goulash

Healthy splash of oil (olive or vegetable)

Fresh minced garlic (or you can use the jar stuff in a pinch)

2lbs. beef stew meat, cut into 1-inch cubes

2 cups sliced onion

1 1/2 C ketchup (you heard me!)

4 TB. Worcestershire sauce

1 TB. brown sugar

2 tsp. salt

4 tsp. paprika

1 tsp.  dried mustard

Dash of cayenne pepper

3 C of water

Cook the meat, onion and garlic in the oil until meat is brown and onion is translucent.  Drain off the fat!  For novices, do not throw this fat in your drain or in your garbage disposal.  Pour it into an empty can or drain it into a newspaper and throw it away.  Wipe out the pot.  Put the meat back in and stir in all the remaining ingredients.  Cover tightly and simmer (not boil – let it bubble gently) for 2 to 2 1/2 hours.

Serve over wide egg noodles.

One way I’ve tried to reduce the fat in this recipe is by using sirloin instead of stew meat.  Based upon my own observations, there’s been this weird shift in recent years toward charging more for traditionally inferior cuts of meat (like stew meat and flank steak) so buying sirloin in a club pack and freezing can even save you money.  The drawback, however, is that it can be tough.  So I would advise you, in this case, to cut the pieces smaller and simmer even longer for tenderness.  You could also try tenderizing the meat before cooking.  Decide for yourself what you think.

This is not a “diet” recipe, nor would it be sanctioned by Julia Child.  But we go back to it again and again because it’s just so good and it’s so easy for me to make on those afternoons when a 3pm naptime provides me a half hour of prep and then nothing more.  The advantages of short, early prep and a long simmer time make it great for uncertain dinner hours.  The freezing capability makes it worth doing a double recipe and keeping it for the crazy nights when nobody has time for food prep.

Feel free to comment and let me know if more dirty little secrets appeal to you, or if you’d rather get on to the more modern stuff!

My Hip Mom


7 Responses to “Dirty Little Secrets”

  1. Karen August 29, 2010 at 12:45 pm #

    Yes! Keep these oldies but goodies coming. At some point in my teenage years my mother started to “cook healthy,” and the great old recipes were lost. And she did not “cook healthy” by changing the cut of meat in a recipe (as you wisely suggest). She just started leaving things out. Or using terrible “low fat” and “whole grain” substitutions. Can we have the sherry chicken next? I think my Mom used to make it, but she probably burned the recipe…

    • frazzledfoodie August 29, 2010 at 1:30 pm #

      Karen, great! I promise the chicken sherry soon.

  2. Fran August 29, 2010 at 1:22 pm #

    Thank you!!! I fondly remember the goulash I ate as a child in Slovakia. And I do love recipes that freeze well, I have a bit less than 30 minutes during the week to get dinner on the table, so I have to cook large batches on the weekend and then defreeze during the week, adding noodles or rice. I will try this soon!

    • frazzledfoodie August 29, 2010 at 1:30 pm #

      Fran – I’m glad! Having actually eaten goulash in Budapest, I can say this recipe is a reasonable approximation. If you like it thicker, you can thicken it near the end with a tablespoon of flour (dilute in water first to avoid clumping) and you could add more paprika if you prefer a darker, smokier flavor. I’m wondering if, to make it healthier, I could come up with some type of veggie puree that would thicken the sauce and not be noticeable? I’ll have to ponder that.

  3. Brenna September 24, 2010 at 9:59 am #

    Your mom is too cute. I love my Gammy’s goulash, which is heavier on the green peppers and always seemed to run out of meat while entire onions still drifted around in thin red sauce. This sounds pretty close though, but I bet the ketchup makes it a little thicker. Mmm.

    • frazzledfoodie September 24, 2010 at 10:56 am #

      Yeah – no green peppers in this one. I know that there are a thousand ways to make goulash, which was basically a good way for poor people to use whatever they had. The onions in this one are barely noticeable by the end of the cooking time and as long as you have egg noodles, there’s never too much sauce. But it’s basically meat, sauce, carbs. Gotta love that.

  4. Dana July 4, 2011 at 1:38 am #

    My mom made something similar. The main differences are that she used 1 lb. ground beef (I can use ground turkey & add a beef bouillon cube to cut fat), and used 3 c. of tomato juice instead of water. Into the whole pot, she would then cook a cup of pasta within the sauce. I’ve also added a can or two (if needing more liquid because of additional pasta) if fire roasted diced tomatoes. That might solve the above poster’s vegetable puree issue.

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