Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Mom's Quick and Dirty Beef Stroganoff

Look at them smug.
I am the child of a working mother, one who readily professed, loud and often, her hatred of cooking.  Needless to say my love of the culinary arts is not a legacy, I am new chefy, not old chefy... please do not judge me too harshly.  Typically dinnertime in my house looked like this; can of English peas warmed with a dollop of low-fat margarine and a tablespoon of sugar, boxed rice pilaf, and chicken baked to death with a liberal dose of Morton's Season-All (it really did season all in our house...-all-). Sometimes there was spaghetti with English peas, sometimes there were dry pork chops with English peas. That was her go to vegetable on nights when she returned from the government trenches to three starving people.  It was all about simplicity you see?  Crack open a can and go...autopilot.  One unintended consequence of this pea overuse is that I despise them and most canned vegetables with the white hot fury of a thousand suns. ..and season salt too...but less so.

Every so often, however, the clouds would break and we would get a temporary reprieve from bottled spaghetti sauce and overcooked chicken; we would get Mom's version of Beef Stroganoff (with English peas, but what can you do?).  Back when we were eating red meat (pre-Turkagedon), it was a sour, saucy bit of deliciousness constructed within five minutes and on the table in twenty (later she tried it with turkey   Once, utterly famished, I asked how long it was going to take her to cook and she said "I'm making Beef Stroganoff, baby, it'll be ready shortly.  It's quick and dirty.".  Quick and dirty.  We did not have it often because my mother was the consummate dieter, reluctant to let us partake of such delights as regular soda, real cheese or in this case... real sour cream.  Oh, but when we did?  It was a steaming mountain of ground beef, ornamenting a split pop tin biscuit or curly egg noodles.  It was easy to ignore those wretched peas when they were placed aside (or sometimes beneath)  such profound, childhood excellence.  

The best thing my mother ever did for us foodwise, I believe, was refuse to enjoy cooking...and refuse to infuse much variety into our diet (till she started watching Food Network, and then she started eating all sorts of beautiful things... naturally we had all moved out by then.).  If we complained she would say "make something yourself" which at first seemed terse, but in time became very empowering.  Mom encouraged us to cook and cook often, to experiment with anything that struck our fancy,.  The best part about it?  She was always willing to do the dishes afterwards.  I did not realize how 'different' my early chefiness was until a dear friend of mine from high school mentioned it the other day at dinner.  She remembered many of our phone conversations back then ending with 'I have to go cook'.  I guess I fell into the role when I decided I could not take one more English pea.

In March, my mother passed away.  In the last years of her life, I had the privilege of getting to know her as not only a mom, but as a woman...and what an -exceptional- one she was.  We emptied many plates together, shared many laughs, and no matter how hard I tried, I could never recruit her away from her precious White Zinfandel.  My mother had the most amazing laugh, and a more amazing spirit which endures in my children (the moxy little dames).  I do not cry for her often (she would fuss me out if I did), but when I do I recently realized it is not because I am lost without her, it is that I am terribly, terribly bored and at times...very lonely.  This is the first and last time I will write anything on this blog about my mother's death, because that part of my life occupies a very small part of my heart, and I refuse to live there.  I will, however, write post about her utter fabulousness from time to time, and the occasional brilliant recipe I was fortunate enough to learn from her.  I miss you, Mom, and if there is any justice in this world or the next, you are resting with God, reservations, and a chilled bottle of White Zin.

In the words of the insanely quotable Forest Gump, 'That's all I have to say about that'.

Enough of this emo bullshit, let's cook!
Mom's Quick and Dirty Beef Stronganoff
If you want to taste it the way it was intended, take out all of the fresh ingredients (except the beef) and do everything from a can or seasoning bottle. Quick and dirty.

  • 1 lb Ground Beef
  • 2-3 Tbs Diced Onion and/or Onion Powder (to taste)
  • 8 oz Sour Cream
  • 1 can Cream of Mushroom Soup
  • 8oz carton Fresh Mushrooms (or 1 can Sliced Mushrooms)
  • Splash of Milk
  • 6-8 oz Egg Noodles (1/2 to 2/3 of a bag) or Pop Tin Biscuits (Grands...or fresh biscuits if that is your pleasure)
1. Brown ground beef with fresh onion or sprinkle with a teaspoon of onion powder.  Drain.

2. Return beef to the pan and saute for a minute or so with the fresh mushrooms.

3. Pour in soup, sour cream, and stir till smooth.  Season with salt*, pepper, and more onion powder if necessary.  I like the sauce to have that sharp sour cream/onion flavor.

4. Bring the sauce to a brief boil, then turn the heat to a simmer and put a top on the pan.  

5. Cook until the mushrooms are tender.  If the sauce is thicker than you like, add milk little by little.  Make sure to re-season after pouring in the milk.  

6. Serve over biscuits or noodles and enjoy the hell out of it.

* If serving over noodles, you want your sauce to be on the saltier side or it will taste bland when mixed with the egg noodles.


  1. * LOVE * ... On a thousand different levels.

  2. Ditto. I also now feel bad about offering 2.0 peas the other day, although I assure you they did not come from a can.