Grandma Carpenter's "Polish Stew"

Grandma Carpenter's "Polish Stew" is really a meaty, tomato ribbon pasta dish.  I don't know where the recipe title came from, but certainly not Grandma who is very, very Irish. She's so Irish that where ever she steps, four leaf clovers sprout of the ground! (Edit: At least, that's what the Stokes would have you to believe. Meghan has just informed me that, "She's not that Irish." Well, I'm just going to go with it.)
All of the ingredients! Yep. All of them.

Grandma Carpenter's "Polish Stew"
1 pound ground beef (whatever percentage of fat you like)
1 can Campbell's Tomato Soup
1 can Tomato Paste
1 tsp Dried Basil
1/2 bag of Wide Egg Noodles
Salt and pepper to taste

Boil water for noodles. Brown the beef in a non-stick pan, add a little olive oil if needed. Salt and pepper to taste. Add the tomato paste, the tomato soup, basil and fill each can with water and add that as well. Add the noodles to the boiling water. Simmer the sauce for 5-6 minutes while the noodles cook. Add the noodles to the sauce when they're slightly al dente and incorporate fully.  Add pasta water if you would like the sauce a little looser. Cover and let sit for 2 minutes. Serve.

Why not onions or garlic? What about oregano, thyme, savory, marjoram, or rosemary, you ask? Grandma's a simple woman with simple tastes, and she downright hates onions. No need for the silly Hamburger Helper. This dish is about as basic and cheap as you can get, and the entire family loves it.



No Swim, but Fun Anyway!

Unlike our recent Saturdays, we did not swim today. The children's swimming lessons were scheduled to begin at 10:50 and end by 12:15. Originally, I had planned on bringing Connor and Ryan to the Ramsey County Cub Scouts Sheriff Day from 9:00 to 10:45, but we ran late getting there. I had to double-back for my on-call laptop, just in case I had to act as secondary for a co-worker and friend, Jeff Mattfield. It's his first weekend of being on-call, and I figured it would be rather poor form to not have the right tools to help out if he needed it. We didn't show up until almost 10:15.
Connor getting printed; squish!

We joined a group in a conference room to talk about safety in different situations, and Connor was a very good participant in the discussion. The officers were informative and patient with the children, and they seemed to be having fun. Ryan played the shy, yet unstoppable youth. He was like an electron, circling around me repetitively, making me downright crazy.

Ryan getting inked!
The coolest part of the visit was the K9 unit demonstration at 11:00.  I don't have any pictures of it, but the dogs were definitely the stars of the show. It made me miss our Siberian Huskey, Pasha, since they're quite similar to the European German Shepards. She's living well in Duluth with friends of ours, but I still miss her. Maybe someday soon, we'll get a bigger dog for the family. I would love to have a lab, sheppard, or boxer, though not necessarily in that order.

Fencing (From Wikipedia)
We stopped at Arby's for lunch and headed over to the Minnesota High School Fencing Championship tournament hosted at Saint Paul Academy. This was one of Connor's learn and visit events for his Tiger Cub badge. I've always liked fencing, admiring the skills on the big screen as well as a few fencing bouts I participated in the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA). Many of the athletes were quite good, and it was fun to watch these youths parry and strike! There are very few state high school teams,  and I wonder about the accessibility of the sport to children in the public school system.  (Meghan tells me that the boys will most certainly be going to private high schools -- time to save up.)

With Connor and I starting Hong De Kung Fu two weeks ago, I don't foresee fencing in our near future anyway; one martial art at a time! According to Connor, he wants to go every day, so I think it's safe to say he likes it. He's a quick learner, too. I was practicing the first few steps of our form in the kitchen tonight, and he corrected me when I missed one of the steps. Learning the basic stances has been challenging for both of us. It's all new to Connor, and to use my old Tae Kwon Do master's observation of me at his age, "You look like a newborn giraffe, all arms and legs and no balance."

For me, Kung Fu is a viable alternative to strength and agility training. Who needs free weights when all of the stances make my thighs burn and my legs ache! I'm so glad that Connor is finally older than seven, because I've been wanting to do this for quite some time. Having him along gives me the perfect excuse to get out of work early, and get out of cooking dinner!

Without my afternoon swim, I felt the need to get some sort of physical activity in today. Basic skills class at Hong De had finished by 3:00 pm, so that wasn't an option. Instead, I strapped on the New Balnace MT101's and ran my old familiar neighborhood 3.2 miles, but not before purchasing a subscription to ChinesePod and downloading one of the lessons. The run itself went well. My heel didn't hurt much at all, just a few aches here and there, reminding me to mid-foot strike rather than fore-foot strike. I really felt I followed ChiRunning principles well, though I could use some review and drills to really make it solid. All in all, a very enjoyable run.

Seriously, watch this!
If you saw my post on What to Buy A Geeky Runner Dad post from June, you probably know that I've been thinking about taking a Chinese course for some time. A couple of years ago, I had signed up for the the free trial period of ChinesePod and listened to the podcast as I ran. I really enjoyed the lessons, and the website, was designed well. Knowing that I was learning something new, like introducing yourself to someone in Mandarin, made it that much more fun.  I practiced a bit on the site's lesson pages and armed with this new knowledge had a little Chinese discussion with Connor tonight! So cool! (His elementary school teaches Chinese as their secondary language.)

Besides, I would really love to understand what's being said in movies like Kung Fu Hustle, which I saw for the first time last night on G4, without having to rely upon subtitles or English dubbing. Great movie, by the way; a must see!


Chicken and Rice

At a price of $1.89 per pound, the package of chicken thighs called out to me from chilly meat isle. "Buy us! We're flavorful and cheap!" How can I pass up such a siren's song? The chicken thigh is such a versatile and often overlooked cut of meat. Many people have an adversion to bones, which immediately rules out anything but a chicken breast as viable poultry protein.  For my recovering vegetarian wife, it is too close to Real™ for comfort. That is a problem easy enough to solve; I've become much better at pan roasting the more sensitive cut of meat. This doesn't mean I have forgotten the forelorn thigh.  Oh, no. I am most certainly a leg-man.

I obtained this recipe for Chicken and Rice - or a semblance thereof - from the author and cook Mark Bittmann, a New York food columnist and cook book author.  I had obtained one of his little green cookbooks, a precursor to "How to Cook Everything" or maybe an early version, which turned out to be a real eye-opener. In the spirit of simplicity, Mark breaks down some of the more complicated dishes into its core components, making it accessible for us average spatula wielders. He then provides variations on the recipie that change the flavor profiles from Asian to Spanish and Italian.  I don't have the book any longer, as I had gifted it to a friend before she left for Florida, but I'm getting ready to buy an eBook version of HtCE soon.

Without further delay, the recipe.

Chicken and Rice
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Serves: 4-6

2 pounds chicken thighs
1 cup long-grain rice (or medium, but NOT minute rice)
1 medium onion, diced
2 cups water
2 tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper

While you bring the water to a boil in a tea kettle or sauce pan, saute the onions in the olive oil until soft in a high-walled skillet. Stir in the rice and roast for 2 minutes.  Pour in the hot water and bring to a simmer.  Trim the skin and fat off the thighs, salt and pepper them, and nestle them into the rice. Cover. Reduce heat to low and walk away.  Turn off heat at 30 minutes and let sit for 5 minutes.

This is one of my favorite recipies for its simplicity and flavor. Give it a try.