punkwalrus (punkwalrus) wrote,

Punkie's Cooking History, Part 2: The Larch (or Horse Chestnut, but not complaints about ants)

Over the years, I have also learned cooking techniques from various TV shows, message boards, and occasionally something someone said at a party. My most valuable tools are my iron skillet, and my Kitchenaid mixer. Pretty much everything is else is generic; a pot's a pot, a spoon's a spoon to me, man. I used to be particular about knives, but not so much anymore. I realized fussiness = inflexibility, which can lead to = bad food. My cooking is still pretty basic, but I have learned a few good things. I have two specialties I am known for: mashed potatoes and spaghetti sauce (not together).

The mashed potatoes thing confuses me as to why they are popular. This is my "secret recipe:"

- Six large baking potatoes (so chosen because they are easy to peel)
- Half a stick of unsalted butter
- Some milk (like 1/2 cup)
- Some salt (like 2 teaspoons)
- 1/2 oz of crystallized methamphetamine (just kidding, don't add this)

Peel potatoes, cut into thumb-width slices, and boil until you can break them with a spoon (10-15 min). Drain. Put in Kitchenaid Mixer bowl, blend at low speed until all large chunks are gone. Switch to high speed, and keep it on. Cut up butter, put in bowl, wait until all melted (less than a minute). Add milk a little at a time until it's as smooth as you like. Remember, you can always add more milk, but you can't take back what you already poured in, so don't make it more runny than you like. Then add salt to taste (same warning as milk). Serve.

My spaghetti sauce is also pretty basic:

- About 1lb lean hamburger
- One large jar of spaghetti sauce (don't laugh, read directions)
- 1 tablespoon of "McCormick's Italian Seasoning"
- 1 teaspoon of ground pepper, preferably fresh-ground
- 2 teaspoons of paprika
- Some powdered or fresh crushed garlic to taste (optional)
- 1/4 cup shredded parmesan cheese
- 1/4 cup mozzarella cheese (shredded, in small chunks, whatever)
- 1/4 cup cheddar cheese (shredded, in small chunks, whatever)
- 2 pinches of sugar

- 2 tablespoons high-quality olive oil (extra extra virgin, brand name)
- However much spaghetti you need

Take one package of hamburger (I say about 1lb, because stores usually give you 1.33 lbs or something), thaw it, then fry it on high at the bottom of a large pot until it starts to become a little crunchy and dry. Drain grease. Add spaghetti sauce and stir everything until it is thoroughly heated and boiling (about a minute). It will splatter, be careful.

Now, "why add pre-made sauce?" you ask? Bruce taught me this. He said spaghetti sauce that comes from the jar is usually the right consistency, and has the proper amounts of salt, but "is made for the bland American palate." So it is really our base, and saves us a TON of time and tasting (also reduces cost). I have tried this recipe with tomato sauce, crushed tomatoes, and tomato paste (in varying amounts), and it still comes out funny and bitter. So they add something in the spaghetti sauce that I haven't figured out how to replicate. The brand you use is up to you, but even the cheap $1.39/can stuff works fine.

Now that the sauce is boiling and splattering everywhere, add the Italian seasoning, pepper, paprika, and the parmesan cheese. Oh if you like a lot of garlic (and I don't), add garlic (fresh crushed or powdered is fine, but not garlic salt) to your taste. The sauce usually has garlic in it, but it is weak. Reduce heat to med-low, and cook for 15-20 min (with a cover), stirring every 5 min or so (so it won't burn). Clean up splatter before it dries on the stove and walls.

Boil some water in another pot. Add the 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Bring to a boil. Now would also be a good time to clean up the kitchen from messes other people left, whether it's related to today's cooking or not. You're already in the kitchen, and have to watch over your cooking, so you might as well. Less to clean up later, right?

After those 15-20 minutes are done, go back to the sauce. Add the rest of the cheeses to the sauce. Cook until all the cheese melts, stirring every few minutes. Then reduce heat so it is not bubbling anymore, but still kept hot. Add pinches of sugar (reduces acid taste), keep the lid off, and let it sit hot for another 5-10 minutes.

Put spaghetti in the boiling water, and set the timer for about 10 minutes (al dente). Stir the spaghetti every few minutes to keep it from clumping. When the spaghetti is done to your liking, drain. The sauce will now be done. Turn off heat, but leave pot on stove.

This sauce is good when it gets cold, too. It stores well (the preservatives in the pre-made sauce work for you here). I just put extra sauce left over (rare) in those clear disposable containers we got from all the Chinese takeout we order. The recipe is real easy, I cheat everywhere, and I don't know why it comes out so good, but people seem to love it.

This entry was originally posted at http://www.punkwalrus.com/blog/archives/00000345.html
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