Has any Italian ever written a complete recipe?

There’s a story one of my nieces tells about her Grandmother (aka my late Mom-in-law who defeated the Instant Pot from the Great Beyond earlier this week.) She was making Grandma’s Baked Beans, and followed the recipe but they didn’t taste right. She called Grandma for advice, and they walked through the recipe over the phone. After the list of ingredients, Grandma asked, “What about the mustard?” My niece said, “What mustard?” It wasn’t in the recipe, it was “implied.” Actually, everyone else knew it was in there, because everyone else in the family that made baked beans had learned by watching, not reading.

Now, I’m sure people are tired of hearing about my magical Instant Pot, but I made pot roast tonight. There were actually some free Instant Pot cookbooks for my Nook, so I just took the first recipe that I found, because it was short.

First thing, I scanned through the recipe to make sure we had all the ingredients (we did, for once) and that I could execute successfully while recovering from a stressful day (seemed possible.)

So, I began.

First, assemble all the ingredients. (I’m probably not experienced enough to say mise en place yet.) Once everything was assembled, I started browning the roast. The recipe said two tablespoons of olive oil. I begin wondering about the author. That’s not enough to cover the bottom of the pot, and everybody knows you need at least that much. So, I eyeballed it. (If I ever write a cookbook, I’m going to use “Chuck Roast” as my nom de plume.) (Two French phrases in one paragraph? Really?)

After the meat was browned, the recipe said to take it out and sauté the onions. Then, add the tomato paste and mushrooms, and continue stirring. Done.

Add the broth, put the roast back in, seal it, bring it up to pressure, cook for an hour. Second existential crisis. You can’t pressure cook on sauté mode. When was I supposed to have turned it off?

I was in the middle of that step and the existential crisis when I noticed the potatoes, sitting lonely and abandoned on the counter. Hmm. Those must go in the pot eventually. Did I miss a step?

So, I re-read the recipe to that point. No potatoes, except in the ingredients. I read through the rest of the recipe. The last step was to “serve the gravy with the meat and potatoes.” Raw potatoes?

This was my “What mustard?” moment. (Jen, I now feel your pain.)

How was that step left out? Who wrote this? Why, look. The author is from Tuscany. This recipe is probably just copied from his Nana’s notebook.

I threw the potatoes in with the meat, after consulting with the wife, since we don’t like raw potatoes. Crisis averted, but I’m worried about the quality of the recipe and it’s almost ten dollars of meat, and the good delivery restaurants are closing. I hope the rest of this was right.

This was the longest pressure cook I’ve done to date. An hour at pressure, followed by a natural release (which took another 20+ minutes, then a fifteen minute rest with the lid off. (Natural release followed by a rest sounds kinda dirty, now that I think about it.)

Hmm. What was that about pressure cookers and time savings?

(Since I never made most of these things in a pressure-free environment, I’m really not sure if an hour and a half is good or bad.)

Come to think of it, I’ve often had the wife or dogs (or both) waiting on whatever I’m cooking, and they’re usually staring (or growling) at me, so I’ve always cooked under pressure. It’s just now I use a pressure cooker.

Gravy time. Add the water and flour (water? Wait. What water? How much water?) to the pot (Do you take the meat out first? What about the potatoes? Were they really supposed to be in there? Am I really mixing gravy around a three-pound roast?)

I asked the Spousal Unit for advice. She said “it must mean a slurry.” Shouldn’t it say a slurry, then? I’m assuming that’s what she learned from watching her Mom, not read.

Finally, I just pretended my Mom-in-law wrote the recipe and added some mustard.

Actually, I just fished the meat and potatoes out (fishing meat?), and made a basic gravy. It was decent, but it would have been better if I had cooked the flour first(or just used cornstarch.) I suppose that was implied, as well. Thanks, author’s Nana.

I need a new cookbook.

Mom-in-law 1, Instant Pot 0

My mother-in-law defeated my Instant Pot from the Great Beyond last night. She’s been gone almost ten years, but I’ve always been pretty sure she’s still watching us, and now I have proof.

My wife still has her right arm immobilized, so I’m still the chef of the house. Yesterday afternoon, the patient requested chili, so I got some ground beef from the freezer, and a couple hours later, when I started assembling ingredients, I discovered that was pretty much the only chili ingredient I had. Oops.

Plan B was goulash, but we were also missing ingredients for that.

My goal while I’m running the kitchen is to prove people can eat before 8pm and survive, so this was not looking good.

Finally, my wife said, “Make sauce.”

This is where my Mom-in-law comes in.

“Sauce” when I was growing up came in a jar, and it was called spaghetti sauce. My in-laws are New York Italians and sauce is a not in a jar. It is in a number of cans and cloves and shakers that have their contents combined in a large stockpot. It takes all day to make. All damn day. Also, it’s not “spaghetti sauce” because it’s not just for spaghetti – you use the same sauce for all kinds of pasta, on entrees, on bread for a snack, as a substitute for plasma in blood transfusions…

As an aside, for some people from the frozen North, sauce is called “gravy.” I grew up in Texas, where there is cream gravy for chicken-fried steak, enchilada gravy for enchiladas and brown gravy for everything else.

My mom-in-law lived with us for six years before she passed away, and the most upset she ever got was when Rachael Ray made sauce as part of a thirty-minute meal, adding beef stock to get that “all-day flavor”. She was more upset about half-hour sauce than she was the day one of the dogs peed on her walker. Twice. Pee? Slightly Annoyed. Sauce in a half-hour? Ballistic.

So, making sauce “quickly” put me on shaky ground, but I figured, I’m Irish, she should expect me not to know better, and it’s not like she’s haunting us or anything.

For the record, my mom-in-law’s sauce must cook for at least four hours, or it tastes “raw.” To me, sauce tastes like tomato and uncooked sauce also tastes like tomato, but I learned early on to not argue with her about cooking.

So, I was going to make sauce quickly (which is different than “quick sauce”), and my Instant Pot had never let me down in the two times I had used it. Plus, I was cooking for an invalid.

So, first step, brown the garlic. Then, brown the ground beef. Add the tomato sauce, crushed tomatoes, tomato paste. Stir it all up. Seal the pot.

Wait for the pot to come up to pressure, wait a half-hour, make some pasta, dinner is served.

“Beep!”

I had never heard a “beep” that just sounded unhappy.

The display said, “Burn.”

This is apparently a well-known issue, “the infamous Burn message.”

It means something is sticking to the bottom of the inner pot. (Thanks, Google.)

So, I opened the pot, stirred everything around, resealed and started again.

“Beep.” Burn.

Uh, Google?

So, something may be stuck. Check. There may not be enough “thin” liquid in the pot. Don’t stir in “heavy” liquids (like tomato paste.) Oops.

This was also when my wife mentioned she usually adds a can of water (28oz!) to her sauce. Hmm.. Water would be a very thin liquid. That would have been a helpful reminder a half-hour ago.

Let’s try this again. Scrape the bottom, add the water (note how close we are to the Maximum Fill line), stir all the heavy stuff to the top (consider that logic), seal and pray.

“Beep.” Burn.

I really should have learned to say, “Dammit” in Italian.

I admitted defeat. I moved all the raw sauce into a stockpot on the stove. Four hours later (after we had BBQ delivered), dinner was ready. For tomorrow.

So, “Burn” is apparently just short for “You will burn in Hell for trying to make sauce quickly.

I miss my mom-in-law. I might have had a bruise today, but she would have stopped the madness much sooner.

A Strange and Disturbing Relationship

Full disclosure – I’m divorced and have alienated any number of people over the years, so I’m certainly not an expert at relationships (even though my second marriage has lasted four times longer than my first so far – although it may end when someone special reads this post.)

That said, there is one relationship I simply don’t understand at all – that of a woman and her cleaning lady. First of all, I hope “cleaning lady” is PC, I think they used to be called maids and before that, they were servants.

First, cleaning ladies strike fear in women’s hearts. Ask yourself this – do men snake all the pipes and replace washers before the plumber arrives? Do men replace fuses and make sure all the wiring is straight before the electrician arrives? Of course not – that’s why you hire a professional. So, why is it mandatory to pre-clean the house before the cleaning lady arrives?

Contrary to their ability to strike fear, cleaning ladies also seem to be confidantes. I do not know any male who has invited their plumber or electrician to their wedding, but I can think of at least one woman who invited her cleaning lady, and I know one woman who hosted her cleaning lady’s wedding.

Every time I hear about the relationship between a woman and her cleaning lady, I flash back to an old Seinfeld episode, where Jerry starts sleeping with his maid, and it turns out she’s really a hooker. She also starts doing less and less work, which may be a more critical point from the male perspective. Sex is fine, but those curtain rods aren’t going to dust themselves.

When men complain about the costs of a cleaning lady, the counter argument is usually that the current one is worth the money and a cleaning service (e.g. an anonymous cleaning lady with no connection to the woman of the house) would be much more expensive. The secondary argument is that if someone were paid to actually clean the entire house, then the woman of the house would have to pre-clean properly in advance. (“I admit it. The house is cluttered. How could someone possibly clean it?”) What?

My one theory is that a man should just cancel the cleaning lady and then tell his Spousal Unit that the cleaning lady has been rescheduled to the next day. Then, the Spousal Unit will frantically pre-clean the house in preparation.

The other issue – where I am not alone – is that the cleaning lady puts things where she thinks they belong, even if it should be intuitively obvious where they belong. “Let’s see, I have a clean glass. Here is a cabinet with 337 glasses in it. So, I guess this glass belongs in the cabinet on the other side of the kitchen with the plates. Also, all the husband’s shaving equipment is lined up neatly by the bathroom sink. It must belong in the drawer under the other side of the sink beneath the tampons, or perhaps in the closet in the other bathroom.”

As a man wiser than I once said, “The cleaning lady comes every two weeks and it takes me two weeks to find the stuff she put away.” (I would quote him directly, but I’m protecting the innocent.)

I am not friends with my plumber or my mechanic. There is a part of me that would like to discuss my Spousal Unit’s failure to get excited about my new blog (and my inability to tell her why this really hurts) while my mechanic is watching the oil drain from my car, but I don’t think he  likes being distracted. Also, I have no idea what his name is, which makes it harder to confide my true feelings in him.

If I had one of my friends helping me with work around the house, I would be paying in beer and pizza, not cash. They probably wouldn’t expect a clean area to work in, either. Mainly because they live alone, and they don’t have cleaning ladies.