Slumming it in the Kitchen
It was my turn to cook yesterday in our monastery and I had a nice meal planned around French onion soup using Michael Ruhlman's brothless recipe from Lyon. A change in meal time sabotaged plans, as I had only a short time after evening services to get the meal on the table. I opted instead to slum it and, horrors, cook chicken breasts in a crock pot with the old standards of cream of mushroom soup, mushrooms, and wine. The community loved it--but all I could taste was MSG. And the carrots from frozen on the side tasted weird to me. (Do frozen carrots always taste weird?) I wished I had made Kraft macaroni and cheese and had fried slices of Spam with brown sugar and cloves--takes me back to Guam in the late forties, or Mom's "slum gullion" sloppy Joes made with ground chuck and chicken gumbo soup. It made me wonder, what are the fall back menus for people when there is no time or desire to do anything really good. How do other busy cooks go slumming in the kitchen?
Father Kitchen you aren't alone, I've made that same chicken dish you made in the crockpot only I threw in a cup of rice and baked it in the oven. Back in the day when my kids were little this was my "emergency no time to cook and watch them" dish.
Another popular favorite is what folks in Massachusetts call "American Chop Suey." This was my mom's "crazy day feed the kids" meal, and I have to admit I like it too: Brown ground beef, drain, add stewed tomatoes. When you're getting ready for dinner, add cooked elbow macaroni, and yes it MUST be elbow macaroni. Pour into a casserole dish and top with whatever cheese you have lying around. Bake till bubbly.
Late night rotisserie chicken at the market, still under the heat lamps but not yet chicken jerky, a dollar off, $4.99. One large sweet onion, a couple poblanos and jalapenos, half a jar of mole sauce, pint of chicken broth, garlic, hamburger buns. You'll figure out the rest for sloppy jose's. I'm not a busy cook but I can still slum it.
Pasta with whatever is hanging around--arugula, garlic, eggs, cream, onions, peppers, zucchini, proscuitto ends, herbs/parsley--could any or all end up in it with romano or parmigiano grated on top. Of course, leftover tomato sauce could take it in a different direction. Have not had canned soup of any kind in my pantry for 20 years--at least not one you would add to another dish as liquid/sauce.
For emergencies where I want it to be filling and satisfying: garlic/olive oil pasta; add whatever veggies available: onions, tomato, fine-chopped broccoli, zucchini ribbons, snow peas, canned green peas, carrot julienne, etc.; and/or chicken, ground turkey, or sausage if available. Toasted buttered bread alongside.
Or grilled cheese and salad; "fancy" ingredients on the sandwich such as basil, brie, arugula, etc.
(And I know that some on this board have a horror of the canned soup, but I've got a couple laid back in there. It's highly unlikely that the Michelin-star people are going to stop by my house and downgrade me for it.)