Monthly Archives: November 2014

Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe

I blame it on the fact that I read a lot of classic books as a child. I went to a private school and the library was very limited. I picked up my taste for reading in the third grade. With little to no fantasy or science fiction, I indulged in classics. This gave me a taste for the Victorian age and a habit of using archaic sentence structures.

However, my school was quite strict about the content on its shelves. Armed with my taste for books I read through as much of the library as they would let me at my age. Each day I went in and checked our the two books I was allowed to check out. Each day I read my books and returned them to check out new books. My sixth grade teacher once said to me that it was good that I was reading but I needed to understand what I read. She then proposed making me write an essay about each book that I read until she was sure that I was understanding them.

This time in my life gave me a taste for older books. This was amplified when I went to high school. My high school was in a middle class area. However, it was not an area where pleasure reading was common. In my school library I discovered a treasure trove of books. Books that I found where last checked out before I was born. An odd passion developed from my childhood.

I do not remember when I first picked up a book about Nero Wolfe. I was young and I was enthralled with the time frame of the early twentieth century. Nero Wolfe had something that I deeply adored. While the stories where detective novels the story itself was not a criminal thriller. The stories where voiced through Archie Goodwin and he often did not have all of the clues and connections that Nero Wolfe did. The reader was not dragged by the nose but instead walked through the story as they discovered what Nero Wolfe had figured out along with Archie.

Wolfe is eccentric and classy. The novels taught me that Orchids are beautiful flowers. The stories themselves are a doorway into the past. The clothing, tempo, and habits of a time gone by fascinate me. Archie talks to reporters, police officers allow Wolfe to investigate cases, and a dollar is a weeks salary. Sure, it is fiction and fiction has liberties. But, as I look at how they interact and what they say, or decipher slang, it is a fascinating window into a cultural past.

Simple Enough Stews

I do like cooking in the oven. Today, I used my twitter feed to share my simple meal that I made. Now, I’ll try writing out the process.

I am a very casual cook. I learned at my mother’s side as a child. I have recipe books and I sometimes watch cooking shows. From cooking shows, what I learned was how to prepare, time, and lay things out. More then a cookbook they show the process of cooking and that is where a lot of refinement of my skills came from.

My kitchen is simple. I have pots and pans and spoons and utensils from Walmart. I don’t have expensive pans because the other people in my house abuse the hell out of them. I have to replace all of my stainless stick stuff because my mother won’t stop using metal utensils in them. I do have a nice wooden cutting board. I oil it regularly because my husband won’t stop putting it into the dishwasher due to him feeling that it is dirty. Wood actually has antibacterial properties and soap and water keeps it clean. However, not in his mind. Everything must be washed in the dishwasher at the hottest longest settings. This is another reason I don’t have delicate cooking stuff.

I’ve also learned cooking is messy. I use as many pots, pans, cups, and bowls as I need to to get what I want done. I come out with a better product and because I have a dishwasher, clean up is not a problem. Using what I need instead of trying to make one pot or bowl handle everything is super important and just improves general quality.

I was not taught to cook with a crockpot. I was taught over the stove and using the oven. As I grew older and my tastes defined themselves a bit more I found that my mother often did not make what I want. She doesn’t like this and she doesn’t like that. With her coming from the Carribean I was used to eatting rice where others ate potatos because that is what she made. However, I’ve always loved stews and heavy gravies. They are things she almost never made because she isn’t into ‘sauce.

She also doesn’t like french toast but she likes waffles. I don’t know what to do with her.

We all have fall back foods. Things that always taste good no matter what mood you are in. For me, those are often stews. A half hour of effort and put it in the oven until it is time for dinner. I try to cook most of my meals. For one, it is cheaper then eating out. For two, it tends to be healthier. I find cooking satisfying. My husband enjoys receiving hot meals at home. However, I don’t seem to be the home body that comes home from work and cooks. My co-workers are surprised when they learn about it.

I also do what I call, micro shopping. I go to the store at the end of the day and grab the stuff I am making for dinner. Some people hate the grocery store but I don’t mind it. I’m in and out in under five minutes most of the time. The store is on the way home from work. I do this because we don’t waste nearly the amount of food that we used to. We’ve never been able to stick to meal plans. Now, if we don’t want something we can just get something else.

Today, was stew, and I decided to take pictures of it and post it to twitter because why not? The stew is simple. I grab some beef stew seasoning packets to use. I always use two when it calls for one. I also add in a gravy mix because it thickens and adds a savory undertone. Add onions, celery, potatos, a few carrots, and slab of meat (beef or lamb works great for the classic pot roast or beef stew).

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This is not a big roast dish. It will feed three people about two meals each.

Seasoning: McCormicks beef stew, red wine roast, and onion gravy

Onions – Three yellow onions (I like onions)

Celery – Two stalks

Carrots – However much you want. I toss in a handful of my baby snack carrots.

Potatoes – Four red potatoes (I flux between red and Yukon gold depending on my mood)

Beef Pot Roast – Whole roast, chunked, whatever you want. I got about 1.3lb for this.

I use a deep pan. Roasting pans are my favorite to make this type of roast or stew in. The high sizes and smaller square footage means that your ingredients will soak in the seasonings and broth. This is one reason crock pots work nicely. They tend to be deep. I don’t chop the carrots up because I personally don’t like cooked carrots. Other people do. This lets me pick them out easily.

I chop up one onion first and then put the meat on top of that. With this, I tend to cut the meat into chunks the same size as the vegetables. I eat with a regular teaspoon. I cannot stand ladeling in huge overflowing spoons of food into my maw. I’d chop it up smaller but my husband like the bigger chunks of vegetables.  At the end of the day, do whatever size you think you like. I then put the beef on top of the onion layer. This does two things. The juice from the onions will soak up into the meat. Secondly, this stops the meat from potentially sticking to the bottom of the pan as everything thickens. The onions form a cushion to this.

Cut up the potatoes and put them on top of the meat. The reason I layer it this way is that the meat flavors will leech up into the potatoes. The onions, celery, and carrots from above will cook down into the potatoes and the meat. This causes the potatoes to pretty much taste like sauce. If they are higher they won’t cook into the sauce as much. I like to cut them open and see them brown with juices all the way through.

Cut up as much of everything else as you want and ump on top.

I use the premixed seasonings. Its easy. I like them. I dump them into a measuring cup and measure out about 2 cups of water. If you read all of the measurements it would tell you 1 1/2 cup of water for the stew mix. 1 cup of water for the other stew mix. 1 cup of water for the gravy. Frankly, these people are crazy. This will make diluted vaguely meat flavored dish water. I cut the water down to 1/3 to 1/2 of what any of these premade recipes say. I like my stew thick, rich, and delicious. The other thing that you have to remember is that your celery and onions contain water and will lose most of that water as it cooks. You have to bring that fluid into account. Its delicious and will add great flavor and depth to your food if its not diluted.

Cover it in foil and set the oven to 300 degrees (148 Celsius) toss it in, and ignore it for 5-6 hours. Once time is up, take it out and…

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The meat is tender enough that the spoon in the picture can cut pieces off without it denting the foil. Then just eat. You can pot it in a plate or bowl if you don’t approve of eating directly out of the tin.

If I do more of these I’ll take pictures earlier in the process.