Saturday, January 23, 2010

Making a Mess for the weekend

I grew up as an only child in New York City, with a dad who was a prosecutor, and a mom who couln't cook a darn thing. She didn't like to  - it was such a chore for her. Fortunately, we lived in New York City, and with my dad working downtown, we would often meet him after work, and go out to dinner at one of the City's wonderful eateries. This would happen several night's a week. Other nights, however, I have memories of a frozen piece of Mrs Pauls fillet of flounder on a metal pan with a bit of milk, and a slice of onion on top. I also remember English muffin pizza - a spoon of tomato sauce, and a slice of indiviually wrapped american cheese popped into the toaster oven. I did not omit seasonings, there were none. All this led me to believe that good food was in resturants and bad food was at home. I knew no different.

Of course, as I got older and went to other peoples homes, I found out that bad food at home was not always the case. I even got a friend's mom's meatloaf recipe and brought it home hopeful for improvement, but I was not rewarded. Somehow it tasted like any other meatloaf that had been attempted before. Ground beef in a loaf pan, black on top with grease bubbling up around the sides.

So when I grew up and got married, I learned many, many things. My husband and I lived just outside Washington, DC - another place of many wonderful resturants, and we went to as many as we could. In sharp contrast to my own family, my husband was the youngest of eight children, and we used to spend a lot of time at his dad's house. The TV was always on, and only on one channel - PBS. On Saturday afternoons, while visiting with my now very large family, we would watch the real cooking shows - the ones before food network, and fancy camera angles, and Man vs. Food. There was, first and foremost Julia, there was Jacques, and then there was the Galloping Gourmet (Graham Kerr), Justin Wilson ( I gaur-an-tee), Nathalie Dupree, Frugal Gourmet (Jeff Smith), and Martin Yan of Yan Can Cook. I was mesmerized, and inspired - could I do that? - they make it look so easy. So I tried the easy stuff, and slowly increased my skill level, and one Christmas actually cooked a whole dinner for my husbands family! And it was good, too!

So that brings me to this Christmas, over a beautiful prime rib my sister-in-law had made, she and my husband got around to talking about "Mom's Mess". Well, I was certainly confused, but soon came to find out that it was a meal - a meal of ground beef and elbow macaroni. Comfort food. I had never heard of such a thing.
But then a had a flash in my mind of a conversation I had with a neighbor many years ago. She was cooking something that looked to me like a meat sauce, but with elbow macaroni in it. I asked her what it was, and she said "goulash", that her mom had made for her for dinner. I remember being confused, and really concerned, that, having gone to high school on NYC's upper east side, I had eaten "Hugarian Goulash" (the only goulash I knew) many times - but I seemed to remember that tomatoes (especially canned) were taboo, and that elbow noodles certainly were not involved in the versions I had tried. I let it go.

Now when I googled ground beef and elbow macaroni I see that many people have termed this a "goulash", or "American Chop Suey" or school cafateria "Hamburger Macaroni" (oh what I missed going to private school & bringing a lunchbox with a cheese sandwich in it!).

Well, several days after learning about "Mom's Mess", my husband was feeling under the weather, so I called my sister-in-law, and got the recipe for "Mess". My husband ate it with vigor, said it wasn't exact - but it was pretty darn close!

As a nurse administrator I have the assignment of working every third weekend. This is my weekend, and in order to avoid crappy chinese takeout, this will be my meal for the weekend (and leftover Braciole).

So here is my rendition of Mess:
2 lbs lean ground beef
1 lb elbow macaroni (or any short cut pasta)
2 carrots, finely diced
2 stalks celery, finely diced
1 lg onion, finely diced
2 Tbls butter
2 Tbls Worcestershire
1 Tbl "Steak Dust"
2 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp thyme
2 packets dried bullion (or crushed cubes)
1 can (28oz) whole peeled tomatoes or 2 cans (14 1/2oz) petite diced tomatoes
1/2 C beef stock
Salt, and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Start with the usual suspects, carrot onion and celery and sautee in butter until soft but not browned.

 Add the meat, and a tsp of salt, and cook until all the pink is gone. 

Add the tomatoes, Worcestershire, steak dust, garlic powder, thyme, and dried bullion, and bring to a simmer, adding additional water if necessary. Test for seasoning - and add another tsp of salt and 1/2 tsp pepper if needed. Simmer uuncovered for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook the macaroni until just al dente, and set aside.

To finish up, add the macaroni to the meat mixture, and about 1/2 C of beef stock if it's dry, and let the noodles absorb the rest of the liquid. Taste for seasonings. Enjoy.

Now I have it and have made this my own. If anyone knows why this lovely, homey, tasty dish that the rest of the planet has known about, has been kept from me for all these years - please tell me why!

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