What’s in the pan, Fran?

There have been many excellent cooks in my family, including grandmothers, mothers, and our daughter.  I know how to cook, but I don’t always follow a recipe. I’ve made a couple hundred meatloaves over the years, and Rick claims they’ve all been good, and all different.  He’ll say, “You can’t duplicate that one, can you?” Ah, well, who knows what went in them?  I don’t remember.  Whatever was in the fridge and cabinets.  I made spinach soufflé when neighbors came to dinner and the husband dubbed it “Green Death”.  He had three very large helpings.  No, he did not die.  I presented a beautiful “European” salad one evening and my eldest son asked me if I’d been weeding. 

Cooking is all about experimentation.  Isn’t it? 

Recently, a friend made a delicious beef stew based on a recipe of Carbonade Flamande-Dutch, Belgium origin.  It called for all kinds of ingredients, including dill pickle juice and an anchovy!  Don’t cringe.  It was delicious!!  So yummy I said, “Oh, please, please give me the recipe.”  Which she did, admitting she had made some alterations.  No beer, for example.  She used apple cider.  She neglected to give any measurements which I took to mean they weren’t important.

I coated the chunks of beef with flour, liberal amounts of cinnamon and nutmeg and fried the meat in butter, adding slices of onion.  I poured beef broth in another pot and added honey, prunes, sea salt (because it was handy and everything needs salt – right?), ketchup (because I didn’t have tomato paste).  No pickle juice or apple cider, so I sloshed in some V8 Tropical Splash, brought it to a boil and dumped in the meat and onions.  Every stew needs potatoes and carrots.  In they went.  I didn’t have string beans, but put something green in – I can’t remember what.  Squash maybe.  Oh, well.  I didn’t have apricots, and substituted a child-size serving of Del Monte fruit cocktail.  (I ate the cherry.)  The stew simmered, filling the kitchen with an interesting aroma.  Eastern European? North African?  Alien?  Who knows?  It thickened up and glistened nicely. 

Rick entered the kitchen hungry.  When I lifted the lid, he looked dubious.  He was a Marine.  He didn’t run away. (Over the years, I’ve made a lot of “interesting” dishes, and family members tag every one as “What’s in the pan, Fran?”)  Rick sat and I served him a bowl of stew.  He stared at it for a moment.  Think of a man going before a firing squad.  He dipped in his spoon cautiously.  It didn’t melt.  He ate a bite.  His brows shot up.  “It’s good.”   Of course it’s good.  It’s my friend’s recipe.  Well, sort of.  And how could it be bad with all those tasty ingredients mixed together?  Oh, drat!  I forgot the anchovy!!  Oh, well.  Next time.

Rick ate a whole bowl of stew.  And he didn’t die. 

He’s been talking about a diet ever since.  “We could use the George Foreman, grill a steak or chop and have some steamed veggies.  Or a salad.”

I’m happy.  A salad doesn’t call for a recipe, and it can have all kinds of things in it…  like anchovies.