Creative Genes

My sister and I mostly inherited our creative genes from our Dad. We have priceless memories of paper mache Humpty Dumpty, a huge hand built greenhouse, a hand engineered waterslide into our pool, carrots and bell peppers turned into palm trees at my wedding, duct-taped Giant Waffle Block Cars, and sweetly doodled Heart Birds.

Dad was also the one who taught us how to cook. Mom cooked most of our meals as kids: she’s a master at following a recipe, or back of the box instructions and we always teased her about her “Homemade” mashed potatoes and gravy. Her cooking is precise, scientific and done out of necessity. But Dad can walk into the kitchen and suddenly he’s transformed into a magician. A little smoke, some spices here, an onion chopped there, and sometimes a pretty good grease fire later, and something magical would emerge to be set on our plates. My sister and I were enthralled; luckily Dad involved us in his magic as soon as we were old enough to demand happy or sad faces on our pancakes.

But cooking like Dad taught us has one huge disadvantage: when we totally rock a dish, the odds are not one of the three of us know how to replicate it again. We may be able to remember the ingredients and even the order of cooking, but the dish will never live up to the original. We’re not scientific. We don’t measure…. we don’t even write down what was used!

For instance, shortly after Easter I glazed a half ham with a delicious honey mustard combination. It was wonderful! Derek practically licked the plate. I’m cooking another ham tomorrow and for the life of me cannot remember what all I put in that glaze! I know it had honey, yellow mustard (Dad would be ashamed that I didn’t have any dijion mustard in the house) and cloves in it. I’m sure the glaze won’t be the same this time; I’m sure I’m forgeting something…

However, the other night I was engrossed in creating a pot of homemade stroganoff. I took careful mental notes to share with you the process of creative cooking. I love stroganoff and the occasion of having hamburger to use up gave me an excuse to make it. I made the hamburger into meatballs separately, but if you’d like to make this you could also use any cut of beef you like. I usually use beef stew or chuck and let it cook separately before adding it to the onions.

Creative Beef Stroganoff
Ingredients to have on hand:

  • Thmye
  • Garlic Powder
  • Black Pepper
  • Large Onion
  • Stick of Butter (yes REAL butter nothing else will do!)
  • Mushrooms (mixed exotic are really yummy… but any will do)
  • Flour (I used wheat b/c that’s what I had. White works too)
  • Box of beef broth
  • White wine (optional)
  • Sour Cream (yogurt works too)
  • Corn Strarch or Arrowroot starch (for thickening emergencies)
  • Meatballs, beef stew meat, or chuck steak meat cooked seperately
  • Cooked rice or noodles
  • Frozen peas if desired.

Highly Unscientific Directions

  1. In a medium stock pot, melt half a stick of butter over medium heat.
  2. Add thinly sliced onion, thyme, garlic, and pepper (I used at least a teaspoon of each except for the pepper).
  3. Carmelize the onion. To do this cook it on no higher than medium heat in the butter. Onions will be transluecent and oh so sweet when you are finished. Carmelizing can take awhile, like 10-20 minutes. So walk the dog, or put away the dishes to keep yourself from stopping such a yummy process.
  4. Once the onion is carmelized, add the sliced mushrooms. Let them cook until they start exuding their yummy juices.
  5. If the mushrooms sucked up all the butter (they are prone to do so) add some more butter to the pan and melt it.
  6. Slowly add flour to the butter-veggie mixture until everything is coated well but still looks sort of wet. (I imagine this is about a 1/4 cup of flour). Let flour cook (still on no higher than medium heat!) for 2-3 minutes.
  7. Slowly add a 1/2 cup of white wine (if using) while stirring frequently. The mixture should still look puffy and floury. Cook off the alcohol for 2-3 minutes. (if you’re using stew or chuck meat add it to the sauce now fully cooked).
  8. Start pouring beef broth out of the container while stirring frequently. The mixture will be very thick and first and thin out some as you go. Stop pouring somewhere before it gets too liquidy.
  9. Bring to a slow boil and it should thicken nicely.
  10. If (like me) you add too much broth and it does not thicken after boiling a little while, mix together some cold broth or water with a bunch of corn or arrowroot starch and slowly pour and stir this into your sauce. It should thicken for sure then!
  11. Turn off the head, add about a cup of sour cream. Serve with meatballs and noodles or rice. Adding frozen peas to the sauce with the sour cream is also yummy.
  12. Remember to feel free to add as much thyme (or rosemary), garlic, and pepper to the sauce as you’d like during cooking it!

Hope you enjoy!