The best recipe: look, dump, stir and love

People often asked my mother for the recipes she used to create her sometimes very unique dishes.

The question was always met with blank stares when my mom would provide the directions. They were always the same, regardless of the end product:

“Open up the cupboards, look in the freezer, go out in the yard, see what you’ve got. Then dump and stir.”

Yes, quite vague . . . but that was truly her method.

Look, dump, stir.

I learned that method for home cooking as I grew up and I love that theory of cuisine because the main ingredients are creativity, simplicity and innovation.

Of course, not all my mom’s “look, dump and stir” creations were success stories . . . but the majority of them made the grade.

And most of them involved the olive green crock pot with missing handles and cracked glass lid.

That dang thing came into my mother’s kitchen on her wedding day, as a gift, and remained there until it stopped working right before I graduated from high school.

“Old Green” would be placed on the counter and the lid would be removed so she could fill it with components.

If she had beans on hand, it was sure to be a “cowboy bean” night which basically meant she’d throw in a mixture of kidney beans, pork and beans, chili beans, maybe even green beans . . . and then whatever meat she had available. Sometimes it was chunked up leftover fried chicken, other times it was browned hamburger. Hot dogs always seemed to make their way in there and sometimes the mystery meat was minced ham lunch meat. She’d dump in ketchup, brown sugar, Worcestershire sauce, onions, maybe some peppers, salt and paper, mustard and whatever else she deemed worthy for the concoction. The lid would be placed, the switch would be flipped and eight hours later we’d be eating this amazing mixture of stuff over homemade bread that we truly loved.

The mystery was that no matter what variations she used, the pleasure of eating it was always the same. And it always seemed to taste the same.

“Just look, dump and stir,” she’d remind us. “Cooking doesn’t have to be that hard. Oh, and don’t forget the love.”

Love. That ingredient was the secret given to us kids . . . she never seemed to tell others that this was important. I guess she just assumed everyone else already knew.

Another favorite was when she would “lovingly” pull a jar off the cellar shelf and dump its contents of canned chicken into Old Green. On top would go some chopped up carrots, celery if she had it, maybe a pint of canned corn. She’d stir it together and turn the old sucker on. Then later on in the day she’d grab her favorite go-to, must-have box . . . . Bisquick. She’d whisk some milk into the powder and throw in her favorite dried herb, dill weed. Yes, dill weed. Then she’d dump clumps of the batter into the chicken mess, let it cook for a good time longer. When it came time to reveal the results, it was a heavenly concoction of what she called chicken and dumplings with that interesting dill scent. To this day, the smell of dill takes me right back to the good old days. And while I don’t use much Bisquick at my house, I am tempted every time I pass it in a grocery aisle.

Mom often made her own noodles which would eventually be mixed with whatever was in Old Green . . . a slow cooked, otherwise-ignored cut of beef that would have been too tough in any other form; an odd combination of canned tuna, mushroom soup, sour cream, cheese and a packet of ranch dressing mix (it had just hit the market); or maybe just a big bunch of vegetables from the garden in which was stirred some Italian seasoning so it could mimic marinara.

Leftover boiled potatoes would become a slow-cooked soup on winter days; eggs from the henhouse were transformed into an interesting slow-cooked “supper-breakfast bake” as she called it; and loads of shredded onions with beef base would turn into what she called French Onion Soup (which was never a hit with my father or brothers because it sounded too fancy . . . although it certainly wasn’t).

She would take apples, straight off the tree in the backyard, cut, core and peel them. They’d get dumped into the pot with some sugar and cinnamon. Stir, stir, stir. Love, love, love. And magically, we’d get this amazing warm applesauce/applestew that she insisted be eaten with a little fresh cream drizzled over the top. With dozens of cows outside, she always had cream on hand . . . although it tasted like brome in the summertime.

She was 100 percent right. Cooking doesn’t have to be hard.

According to that lady, meals with the family, on any budget, can be accomplished.

The recipe to all good food and fun dining memories, from her kitchen, was simple . . . look, dump, stir.

Oh, and don’t forget the love.




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