By Gini Rainey
It seems like just yesterday that my daughter Beth came home from middle school and announced that one of her classes was going to put together a booklet of favorite recipes of the students’ families. Interestingly enough, she just celebrated another year around the sun yesterday, and as her older sister reminded her, she is on the downhill slide to 50! At least she included a laughing emoji.
So, there I am, cooking dinner, with her sitting across the bar from me asking where the recipe for what I was making (I think it might have been pepper steak) was so she could copy it down and take it with her to school. Imagine her dismay when I tapped my head! I could tell she felt like that was never going to work. But I told her get a piece of paper and a pencil and we would figure it out together. She may not even remember that moment in time, but seeing what a good and experimental cook she has become, perhaps what she learned that afternoon stuck with her. Things like always, always taste what you are cooking, less is better when it comes to salt/pepper, your cupped palm will hold about a teaspoon, rub dry herbs between your palms as you sprinkle them into what you are cooking, and never be afraid to try something new.
So, believe it or not, this memory was jogged by a cookbook, Top Secret Recipes Unlocked, written by Todd Wilbur and published in 2009 by Plume Books/Penguin Books. As I was flipping through it, it occurred to me that even though there are some pretty good recipes in it, I found it interesting that it also included recipes for Jimmy Dean® Breakfast Sausage, Kraft® Miracle Whip, Hidden Valley® The Original Ranch® Dressing, Fritos® Hot Bean Dip, and Lipton® Brisk® Iced Tea. Just reading the Dressing recipe made me hyper-ventilate over the list of ingredients it called for. I mean, if I‘m going to the store to pick up all of that, why not just grab a packet of the mix?
But, I will say the recipes included for things like Panera Bread® Broccoli Cheddar Soup, Popeyes® Red Beans & Rice, Boston Market® Butternut Squash, and Carnegie Deli® Classic New York Cheesecake sound pretty darn yummy and the ingredient lists aren’t terribly daunting. The cool thing about this book, and the others out there that have copycat recipes, is someone took the time to taste – really taste – the original foods and experiment in their kitchen to come up with the end product that is a pretty darn good second to the original. That’s turning cooking and your kitchen into a food lab – and I’m for that!
One of the recipes that Beth and I saved for posterity was for my version of Pepper Steak. First trim about 1 ½ pounds of round steak and slice paper thin (this is easier to do if the meat is slighty frozen) making the strips about 3 inches in length. Dredge the strips in flour and brown in hot oil in a Dutch oven or a 4 quart pan. Mix 1 ½ teaspoon of garlic powder with 4 tablespoons of corn starch and blend with ½ cup soy sauce (I prefer Kikoman®) and 3 ½ cups water and pour over the beef strips. Stir until well mixed and beginning to thicken. Cover and reduce heat. Cut 1 large, white onion and 2 large bell peppers into eighths and add to the beef mixture. You can also add a small can of drained sliced mushrooms and a small can of sliced water chestnuts. Continue to simmer until the onions and peppers are cooked, but still a bit crunchy. Serve over steamed rice. This is some might good eating and so relatively easy to make, you might want to have the kids help cook it.