Food for Thought: Cooking to be Creative
By Nick P.
Have you ever been in a rut with your creativity, and feel like you’re doing the same thing over and over?
What about your routine? Do you feel like it’s the same thing day in, day out?
Have you ever wondered what you could do to mix it up?
I know I have!
What I normally do when I get into a rut creatively or with my routine is to cook!
I love to cook, and I find that it helps me to get out of my head for awhile, especially when I am cooking a comfort food that I know the recipe from memory.
I find also that doing something constructive, such as cooking, helps me to break out of the monotonous routine that I’m in, and at the end of it, there’s a delicious reward!
While I have so many favorites, such as barbeque, baking, and grilling, my favorite go-to comfort food has to be pasta dishes.
I don’t know about you, but I know that growing up, we had our own version of goulash that my mom made that was always a hit.
I’ve been blessed to come up with a recipe that it somewhat close to that dish that my own family enjoys now.
Keep in mind that when I grew up, my mom would make enough for a small army, because she wanted to have leftovers.
After all, those leftovers meant no one had to cook!
Plus, that stuff seemed to taste better the next day, and I know why now. It takes a bit of time to have all the flavors come together, and overnight seems to make everything just taste better.
I’d love to share my goulash recipe with you, and hopefully inspire you to get away from those things that are blocking your creativity, or just break you out of your routine!
1 lb Hamburger Meat (I prefer 80/20 ground chuck, but you can use what you like)
1 lb Italian Sausage (I used to use Jimmy Dean’s breakfast sausage, but I’m using regular Italian sausage now)
1 14 oz can diced tomatoes (You can get the cans that are pre-seasoned, but then you might overseason later, so I just get the plain diced tomatoes)
2 cans 8 oz tomato sauce
1 can 6 oz tomato paste
2 cups chicken stock (homemade is best, but the store bought stuff is okay for this)
1lb box of Small Elbow Macaroni (You can substitute whatever you like here, bowtie pasta, small shells, ditalini pasta, whatever you like)
Optional: (Not in my house, but maybe in yours)
1 4oz can of pieces and stems mushrooms
2 TBSP of Worcestershire sauce
1 TSP Liquid Smoke
1 onion, finely diced (I like sweet yellow onions, but you can use what you like)
3-4 cloves of garlic, minced (I use a grater to mince mine, makes it easy)
2 TSP of Kosher Salt
¼ TSP of fresh ground black pepper
2 TSP of garlic powder (1 is good if you don’t want it to be too garlicky)
1 TSP of onion powder
1 TSP of Italian Seasoning (herb blend you can find in most megamarts)
1 TSP of Dried Oregano
1 TSP of Dried Basil
1 TSP of Dried Parsley
½ TSP of Paprika
¼ TSP of Chili Powder
So here’s how I get started on this dish.
First I do is blend together the spices I mentioned above, and divide them up into thirds. I’ll use each third throughout the making of this dish.
Once I have the spices mixed together, I mix together the hamburger and Italian sausage, along with a third of the spice blend, the Worcestershire sauce, and the liquid smoke. I’ve used an actual stand mixer before to do this, but a big bowl and hand mixing it is just fine.
Once all that is together, I put it aside on the counter to start on prepping other things. Yes, I did say the counter. Now, if you’re going to cook this the next day or if you’re doing this in the morning, then you should put it in the refrigerator. However, if you do that, you’ll want to take this out and let it get to room temperature before you start cooking.
How I do this is that I put it aside, and then cut up my onion and mince up my garlic.
(Tip on cutting an onion: I run water over it before I start cutting it, or even peeling it. I find that I tear up less, and that helps me be able to see what I am doing.)
After I have the onion and garlic cut up and minced, I will open up the cans of diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, tomato paste, and mushrooms (remember, mushrooms are not optional for me, but may be for you.)
I also make sure I have my chicken stock ready (I always have homemade, but store bought is just fine), and then I’m ready to cook.
Puttin’ It All Together
I usually use just one pot to make this, and the pot I normally like to use is a stock pot big enough to contain all of the ingredients, plus space.
So I put this pot over medium heat, and put in enough olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan, and let that heat up.
Once it’s heated up, I put the onions in and let them sweat until they get to be translucent. Since I have never figured out what that means in English, I say until they start to look like they’re softening up.
After that, I add in the garlic, and stir that for about 2-3 minutes. Once the garlic hits that onion/oil mix, it’s going to make a very fragrant aroma, and let’s the whole house know that something’s cookin’!
Once the garlic is cooked I add in a third of the spice blend, leaving one third left in reserve. Stir it up well to coat the onions and garlic in the spice blend, and let the aroma waft throughout the house even more. If you have teenagers, they will come out of their rooms for this smell, trust me.
I then add the meat mixture that I put on the counter (in a bowl, of course) and then cover it for about 3-5 minutes. My goal here is to get some browning on the meat.
After 3-5 minutes, take the lid off and stir it up, and keep stirring periodically until the meat is browned. Each time you stir, cover again to keep the meat moist.
After the meat is browned up, start adding the canned stuff.
I usually start by adding the diced tomatoes, and stirring them in.
Next is the tomato sauce, both cans.
Then the mushrooms.
What I do next is take some of the chicken stock, and wash the cans out with the stock, so I can get all of what is in each can out. This may take up to 2 cups of stock to do.
After all that is done, bring the temp up to get it to a boil.
Oh, and before it starts to boil, taste it. If it tastes a bit flat, add the last third of spice blend you have in reserve. If it tastes just fine, then don’t add it. That’s why I divide it to thirds. I know I will use some in the meat, and some in the onions, and sometimes it may be too much if I add any more to the mix.
So after this starts to bubble and looking like it’s going to boil, add your pasta. In my case, that’s small elbow macaroni, but you can add your favorite pasta to this.
Turn the temp down to low and cover. For me, it takes about 10-15 minutes to get the pasta to cook, and absorb the sauce and flavors in the pot. I recommend that you eyeball it after 10-15 minutes and see if you need to cook the pasta some more, or if it’s ready to be served.
If it’s ready, then take the lid off, and let it cool for about 5 minutes. Oh, and you’ll want to turn the heat off to this now, you won’t need it.
The beauty of this dish is that there will be leftovers. I know because we have two teenagers in our home, and they don’t devour all of it that night. It’s perfect for lunch or even dinner the next day.
So what’s your family favorite? We’d love to hear what you love to serve, or what your go-to meal is for comfort food in your home. Let us know in the comments below!
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