Do you suffer from mageiricophobia? Don't worry. You're not alone. There are lots of people who get the willies even thinking about having to do their own cooking. You have to be exact in your measurements. You need special equipment and have to know special terms and procedures and how to do them. You need a whole world of exotic spices and... And you don't really believe that, do you?
Cooking isn't rocket science. You don't need special tools or pots or spices. About the only things you really need are taste buds and a burning desire to spend as little time as necessary to get supper ready. More or less.
There is one other thing that comes in handy if you're really busy, but it's not a vital thing. A crockpot. Not only does it take a great deal of effort to burn supper with one of these, but they generally fit into just about anyone's budget. I've seen them for as little as $5 at a garage sale to $60 for a brand new - very large - one. The smallest one you can buy, I think, is about 3.5 liters, or 3 quarts. It's big enough to make six large servings of soup or stew.
If you don't have a crockpot, however, the same sized pot on medium low heat (2-3 on electric dials) will work just as well. The major difference with the stove is that you'll have to stir it more often to prevent it from burning.
There's a couple of other things you'll need, too. A long handled spoon/ladle/anything clean to stir the stew, a sharp knife, about six medium-sized (500ml/1 pint) containers (margarine or sour cream containers are perfect), and possibly, a can opener. You can reuse the containers for different things, but as you need to fill a couple for some things, I like to have at least two containers I can use.
Got everything? Good. Let's put together supper.
Now, a good stew requires three things: something to stick to your ribs, something to slurp and something to make it taste better than hot water
Rib-stickers are potatoes, sweet potatoes, or turnips or any combination of these washed, peeled and cut into spoon-sized pieces. Fill two containers with your rib-stickers. You could use rice or pasta (one container full) or barley (1/2 container full), if you prefer. These three items tend to expand a fair bit, so you don't need as much.
Rib-stickers are also vegetables. Pick one. Or two or three. Or more. Whatever's in the fridge, the freezer or the cupboard. You'll need two containers worth of these. Or about four large cans worth, if that's how you buy your vegetables. Make sure your vegetables aren't cut into large pieces. If they're all about the same size - spoon-sized - they cook better and faster.
So what kind of vegetables? Carrots, peas, corn, celery, broccoli, cauliflower, onions, peppers, whatever. If you're using canned vegetables, save the liquid. You'll need it later.
Flavoring is easy. A package of dry onion soup mix or three cans of condensed broth. You could get fancy and use either bullion cubes/packages/liquid. I start out with the equivalent of six packages. The spice packages from Oriental noodles are perfect. If you're really feeling ambitious, you can break up the noodles and add them to the pot about five minutes before the stew is done.
Add enough water to cover everything, turn your crockpot onto low heat, put the lid on, and get on with the rest of your day. On low heat, stew takes about six hours to cook completely. If you make it just before you go to bed, the stew will be ready by the time you get up. Or you can go to school or work, or wherever.
If you're using the stove, things are a bit different. You can't just leave it by itself. You'll have to stir the stew about every half hour or so to keep the bottom from burning and to make sure that it doesn't boil over or boil dry, but the rest is the same.
Want to get really fancy? Adding meat is simple. Cut cooked meat like chicken or beef into the same size pieces as your vegetables and pop one container's worth into the pot with the vegetables. Make sure the water covers the meat, too.
Don't have any leftover meat? That takes a bit more doing, but it's not that hard. There are several meats that you can put into a stew. Stewing beef is the obvious one, but hamburger or sausages work.
Stewing beef only requires a bit of trimming and some cutting down into smaller pieces. Fill one container with the raw beef and add about two soupspoons of flour. Stir it around a bit to coat the beef with flour and pop everything into a frying pan with a bit of margarine. Cook over medium heat for about ten minutes. You can, if you wish, add chopped onions at this point and cook for another few minutes to soften the onions.
You'll notice that there will be brown bits starting to form on the bottom of the frying pan. That's okay. You haven't burned anything. Take some of the liquid from the stewpot (or add some of the liquid from your canned vegetables) and add it to the frying pan. You can almost cover the meat with water. As you stir the water, you'll notice it starting to change color and to thicken. Congratulations! You've just made gravy.
Pour the meat and gravy into the stew, mix well, and let it cook. The longer the meat cooks in the stew, the more tender it becomes.
Chicken or turkey is done the same way. Just make sure that it's well cooked.
With hamburger, you don't need to add in any extra butter. Just mix it with the flour and cook it normally.
Sausages aren't cooked in a frying pan. Boil them in water until the skins split. Cut them up and add them to the stew.
The stew is done once the vegetables are soft. The nice thing about stews, though, is that it doesn't hurt them to be cooked a bit more than that.
Not crazy about stews? How about soup? You can, if you like, leave out about one containers worth of rib-stickers from the stew to have soup, or you can do something a bit fancier. How about a creamed soup? You'll need another special item, though. Have you got a potato masher?
These soups can be made in either a crockpot or the microwave. I'll give the crockpot directions first.
Start your soup with your vegetables and/or potatoes. Cut them into really small pieces and put five containers worth of them into the crockpot. I generally use cauliflower, carrots, broccoli and/or potatoes, but use whatever you prefer.
Add six cubes/packages of chicken bullion or three cans of condensed chicken broth.
Cover the vegetables with milk and water, about one container of each, and turn the crockpot on low heat. Don't add any extra water if you've used chicken broth. Just add milk. Don't overfill the crockpot as you'll need some room to mash the vegetables later. About three-quarters full is fine.
In a frying pan or the microwave container, put a soupspoon of margarine, a couple of soupspoons of flour and some chopped onions. Cook until the onions are soft (about three minutes in the microwave). Add a bit of the milk/water mixture from the soup and, stirring often (every minute or so in the microwave), cook until the liquid starts to thicken. Stir it into the crockpot, put the lid on and cook until the vegetables are very soft.
Once the vegetables are done, mash them carefully with the potato masher, or run it through a blender to puree them. Mashing the vegetables, especially if you have potatoes, makes the soup a little thicker, but you don't have to mash the vegetables if you'd prefer not to.
If you're using a microwave to cook everything, you'll need a 2qt/2 l microwave bowl.
Cook the vegetables first until they are soft, about ten minutes. You'll need to stir them at least once during that time.
While the onion/flour/margarine mixture is cooking, mash the vegetables.
Add your spices to the onions, either the chicken broth or the cubes/packages. Add one container of milk and cook in the microwave until it's hot.
Add the mashed vegetables to the onions and cook until everything is heated through.
While it sounds like it takes a long time to prepare, all of these soups and stews don't need more than thirty minutes preparation time, and, depending on your method of cooking, two hours to be ready.
Oh, and the big word at the start? Mageiricophobia? It's the 50-cent word for "fear of cooking".