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The Unnatural Cook

a chronicle of weekly meal plans from someone who can't just throw a meal together

Tag Archives: Beef Stew

Not all recipes are created equal. There is such a thing as too much information, and Cooks Illustrated magazine is famous for it. Apparently, I’m not the only one who finds their recipes maddening. I will spare you an account of reheating last nights leftovers, and share this video with you instead.


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I remember the first time I went away without my kids. I spent four days with a friend and her sister at the Saint Lawrence River. No one else had children. The first meal they served was lamb with three kinds of vegetables. Three! I remember thinking that was a perfect representation of of how my life had changed since having children: the days of three vegetable side dishes were gone.

One of the reasons last night’s broccoli went awry is that basically, I’m a vegetable novice. When I first started meal planning the kids were about to turn four. The goal was simple – get one dish on the table. It was all about the main course. Until very recently they only took their vegetables raw (carrots, celery, cucumber, eventually peppers) or frozen (corn and peas). The fact that I can now experiment with cooked ones is great but I’m still at the stage where if it can’t be roasted it may end badly.

Tonight I got to work with two very forgiving vegetables potatoes & peas. I made Shepherd’s Pie by adding worcestershire sauce & frozen peas to leftover beef stew and topped it with mashed potatoes. I usually use pot roast but the stew worked out really well. It was another easy meal for a school night and no vegetables were harmed in the process.

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I haven’t made beef stew in a long time because the one I loved had parsnips and got rejected by the kids. But it’s a new year and judging from tonight’s clean plates, parsnips are in! The recipe is from a 2004 issue of Fine Cooking Magazine in an article that is supposed to teach a ‘formula for creativity’ by which the author means a technique for developing your own recipe. What it really means is that the recipe was out of order and I had to rewrite it. I can’t cook when the instructions are buried in three separate sections, each presented in a different visual style and spread across two pages. Does that make me a linear thinker? What if I am creative and linear? Is that possible?

So much of what is considered creative is based on the idea of divergent thinking – the endless possibility of a thing (say, beef stew). A good cook is supposed to be one who takes the ‘idea’ of beef stew: meat, vegetables, seasonings and comfortably spins variations on the theme. I can’t do that, but I am obsessive enough to save the magazine, index it so I remember where the recipe is, rewrite the recipe so I can follow it, photograph the results, and write about it. Can obsession be a form of creativity? Revisiting a thing over and over until is essence is understood? I’m sort of banking on it. Maybe I’ll call my version, Linear Beef Stew.

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