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Cooking Cliff Notes- A simple dinner for Valentine’s Day

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I have a confession to make. I’m not a great cook, and I eat more for utility. That doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate excellent food (because I do), but I’m usually not the one who makes it. Excellent food takes time, and time is something I quite often don’t have as a student.


My partner-in-crime, however, loves to cook and also has the time to make some really great dishes. Therefore, I tend to eat well. Filet mignon with demi-glace’ anyone?
Every once in awhile, he’ll make something that’s not only quick and easy (something even I could make), but is also really, really good. My partner’s Hamburger Soup is one of those things. It falls into the “gourmet-type-food-that’s-quick-and-easy” category.

Soup

soup
Provided by Kimberly Phinney The Mainstream
Hamburger soup is a good meal with a side of salad and chocolate mug cake for dessert.

Hamburger Soup

1 lb ground beef
1 med onion, chopped
4-6 garlic cloves, minced
8 C beef broth
2 14 oz cans chopped tomatoes (drained)
2 TB Worcestershire sauce
1 TB dried Oregano
½ tsp pepper
½ tsp salt
1 TB parsley
¼ c soy sauce
¾ cup red wine
2 TB red wine vinegar
1 ½ C ziti pasta

  1. Brown ground beef over medium-high heat in dutch oven or stock pot and drain.
  2. Add chopped onion. Cook 2-3 minutes.
  3. Add minced garlic, stirring frequently.
  4. Add beef broth, tomatoes, Worcerstershire, oregano, pepper, salt, parsley, soy sauce, wine and vinegar.
  5. Bring to a boil.
  6. Cover and simmer for as long as you want. The longer the soup simmers, the more the flavors come out.
  7. Add the pasta the last 20 minutes before ready to serve.

The recipe calls for ground beef, but lamb or venison would also work. Vegetables are also an optional addition. He added zucchini in the last batch he made, but I thought the zucchini made the soup bitter.
This soup is as easy as browning the ground beef, adding chopped onion and garlic, beef broth and a can of diced (or chopped) tomatoes. Beef broth can be purchased ready-made in a box (usually in the soup aisle). Or, it can made from beef bouillon cubes found in the spice aisle at the grocery store. Beef broth is also available in paste form, but, unless it’s used on a regular basis, this will end up sitting in the refrigerator infinitum. The great thing about the boxed broth is any leftovers can be frozen for later use.

Add the Worcestershire, salt, pepper, oregano and parsley. The oregano and parsley can be fresh or dried. Finally, add the ingredients that surprised me most: red wine, soy sauce and red wine vinegar. Apple cider vinegar can be substituted for the red wine vinegar.
Bring the soup to a boil and then turn down the heat to simmer, cover and let simmer for as long as time permits. Soup has been known to simmer on my stove for up to three hours. The longer it simmers and reduces, the more the flavors come out. You’ll need to give it a stir occasionally. A long simmer, however, isn’t necessary, and, if time is short, the pasta can be added right away. Whether you let the soup simmer or not, the pasta isn’t added until the last twenty minutes of cooking time.
My partner and I debate between us as to whether or not the soup can be prepared in a slow cooker. It seems slow cooker is a four letter word at my house, something that should never be uttered. I, however, believe that slow cookers are awesome and use mine often, especially during the soccer season. Because flavor comes from browned meat, I would recommend browning the ground beef, onion and garlic before placing it in a slow cooker. The balance of the ingredients can be added as the recipe calls for.
This soup, one of my favorites, is delicious and easy to make. It’s also one of those dishes that, like spaghetti, is better the next day. It would also make a great Valentine’s Day dinner. After all, who said Valentine’s Day has to be complicated? Keep it simple.

Hamburger soup, salad and bread, with a quick microwave chocolate cake in a mug and you’re done!

Dessert

Chocolate Mug Cake

5 TB flour
4 ½ TB sugar
2 tsp unsweetened cocoa
¼ tsp baking soda
Dash salt
½ tsp white vinegar
½ tsp pure vanilla extract
2 tsp vegetable (or canola) oil
4 ½ TB water

  1. Spray a microwave safe mug with cooking spray.
  2. Add dry ingredients to the mug.
  3. Add liquid ingredients to the mug.
  4. Place in microwave for 1 ½ to 2 minutes.
  5. Insert a toothpick in the middle of the cake to test for doneness.
    Toothpick should come out clean
  6. Sprinkle with powdered sugar.

In my case, we established long ago that he’s the better cook, and I’m the better baker. Which means I am always tasked with making the dessert. Have I mentioned that I make a mean lemon cupcake? They’re time consuming though, so my go-to favorite lately is a chocolate microwave cake in a mug I discovered on Pinterest.
I’ll admit that I own well over 100 cookbooks at this moment. And, as I keep telling my partner who thinks I need to weed them out, I’m going to use them all at some point in the future. In the meantime, my favorite go-to has been Pinterest.
One night I was craving chocolate cake, but it was too late to go to the store, and making a cake from scratch would take too long. Lo and behold, Pinterest had the answer – a chocolate microwave cake in a mug that was done in two minutes.
I was skeptical at first because my experience with microwave baked goods isn’t the best. They always seem to be flat (literally!) and blah. I will always be indebted to Mary of “Sweet Little Bluebird” blog and her adaptation and evolution of Depression Cake into what she calls “Crazy Cake in a Mug.” Her recipe has completely changed my mind about cakes cooked in a microwave.

mug cake
Provided by Kimberly Phinney The Mainstream
Chocolate Mug Cake sprinkled with powdered sugar

All that is needed for this fabulous cake is flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, salt, white vinegar, vanilla extract, vegetable or canola oil, and water. No eggs. No milk. No butter. Mix it all together in a mug, bowl or ramekin and place it in the microwave for up to two minutes. It’s that easy!
Unlike microwave cakes I’ve tried in the past, this one rises and is moist. I like to top mine with a sprinkling of powdered sugar, and sometimes I throw some chocolate chips in the batter for extra gooeyness. The 2 minutes is relative because not all microwaves cook the same, and vessel sizes vary. You may need to experiment (as I did) with the cooking time to find one that works for you. A small mug takes approximately one minute, thirty seconds. A larger mug or ramekin is approximately a full two minutes.
Valentine’s Day is around the corner. Make some soup. Make a cake. The thought and effort, as well as the end result, will be worth it!