Real people cook


Yes, this isn’t a cooking blog.  But that’s what I feel like talking about.    I could say a lot on this topic, but instead I’m just going to tell a little story.

Yesterday evening I decided it was time to make something for dinner.  During the day  I had driven home from the UP listening to my local NPR station, and picked up an idea from the Splendid Table.  Much too stubborn to plan or go to the store for ingredients, I began to improvise.

Two cans of canellini beans.   Didn’t have those, but I did have dried pinto beans and dried navy beans … Chose the pintos for the color.  White was just too white.  Threw the whole bag, what was left of it, in.  Why measure?  Had to do the quick soak method, of course, because I was hungry.  Got them cooking on the stove and went back to the living room to work on a grant.

Beans had soaked and were simmering away.   Next I needed the rotini pasta.  Didn’t have that, but there was some whole grain fusilli in there somewhere …  the point, after all is to have pasta that the bits of sauce will attach to, right?  Threw the whole bag in, what was left of it.  Why measure?  Got that boiling away.

Olive oil in the pan.  Easy; that I had.  Saute slices of red onion.  Well, I didn’t have red, but had a yellow onion, so I used that.  Next a few garlic cloves in with the onions.  I had run out of fresh garlic a couple of days ago, but I do have a jar of chopped garlic in the refrigerator.  Threw a teaspoonful in.  Fresh parsley.  Damn!  That one I wished I’d had, but didn’t.   Had cilantro, but I really don’t like the taste of it, which is why I still have some after making Udon last week.  So I had to compromise and use dried.  Threw some thyme and rosemary in, too, to make up for the dull flavor of dried parsley.  A tablespoon of tomato paste.  Heck, threw that tube out last week in a cleaning frenzy.  I threw half a can of diced tomatoes in, and let them cook down.   Chili vinegar.  Well, Tabasco sauce or Thai chili paste?  Hmmmm… Tabasco sauce was in the front of the refrigerator, so that’s what I used.

Drained the pasta, “reserving a cup of the cooking water.”  Actually kept 2 cups just in case.   Drained the beans.  Threw the al dente pasta into the sauce to finish cooking, and yes, ended up using both cups of the cooking water.  Next a can of Italian tuna, packed in oil.  Yeah, right.  I rooted around in the pantry for awhile and found canned chicken, probably from ten years ago, since I never eat it.  And a can of chopped clams.  A can of crab meat.  And a can of sardines in olive oil.  I went for the sardines.   Tossed it all together, folded in the beans.  Topped with fresh-grated Parmesan (too bad, had to use frozen).  It was nothing like the original dish, but it tasted GREAT.  And that’s how real people cook.

It is also, coincidentally, how real people keep their pantries from overflowing.


3 responses »

  1. Your post made my day! It was a great mid-afternoon laugh after talking to a really dull client! I love to cook this way – and often do. It doesn’t seem to matter if I go to the store (with a list even) I alway manage to forget something and then I have to improvise. I always keep a few staples around and I generally have fresh herbs since I have a little window garden for those. Most other things you can improvise! Some of my best meals have been made by substitution. The down side is that I never remember exactly what I put in. Like my grandma, I taste it until it seems right. I have a reputation among friends and family of being secretive with my “recipes”. That only lasts until they cook with me – then they understand.

  2. I’m so glad you didn’t use all the cans of meat in the same meal.

    When I was a preteen, I tried my first substitute on some Kraft Mac n Cheese whe my olde sister demanded that I make her some. It called for milk or butter. We were out, so I used the dairy that we did have (and honestly, this was not to punish her for telling me to make her something) I put in whipped cream.

    I’m glad there are people out there that can go off the beaten path and still get to the endpoint. Clearly, I am not that person 🙂

    • Hey, gzoo — I think whipped cream was an inspired choice. Butter and milk together. And the sugar? Well, most kids will go for sugar in almost anything.

      My mother called today from my brother’s house. She wanted to make cookies for his boys, but the cupboards were pretty bare: Bisquick, white sugar, an egg, margarine in a tub. No vanilla, no cinnamon, no chocolate chips. She went through the refrigerator while I was on the phone and decided to make cookies with those ingredients and a little indentation in the top, topped with a blob of jam. Worked great. Now, I don’t recommend this, because margarine? Yuck! It was good enough for the boys, though — they ate ’em up. There’s almost always a way.

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