Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Skillet Dish Algorithm

In addition to specific recipes, I like to make cooking algorithms. Looking at my recent Barley Chicken Skillet Dish, I was inspired to make tonight's Beef and Barley Skillet Dish. Then I figured that I might as well just write down the algorithm too, so you can see how the mix-and-match concept works.

"Skillet Dish Algorithm"


Allium: one onion, diced; small bunch of green onions, chopped; handful of chives and 2 cloves garlic, minced.

2-3 cups vegetables: baby corn; broccoli, chopped; carrots, coins or chopped; cauliflower, chopped; celery, chopped; green peas, snow peas, sugar-snap peas; green beans, snapped; mushrooms, sliced; potatoes, chopped; etc.

1/3 cup fat: bacon grease, butter, olive oil, vegetable oil, etc.

1 pound meat, diced into bite-sized pieces: beef, chicken, lamb, pork, shrimp, etc.

1/4 teaspoon salt, plain or fancy.

1/4 teaspoon peppercorns, plain or fancy.

1 cup grain: quick barley, quick oats, rice, wheat, etc.

1 can (10 3/4 ounce) condensed cream of something soup: celery, chicken, golden mushroom, mushroom, tomato, etc.

2 cans liquid: water, broth, apple juice, etc.

Handful of fresh herbs, chopped OR 1-2 tablespoons dried herbs: ginger, oregano, parsley, sage, sweet basil, sweet marjoram, thyme, etc.


Chop or dice all the vegetables. Combine in a bowl and set aside.

Heat the fat in a large electric skillet on low heat (about 250ºF). Add the vegetables and sauté until tender.

Cut the meat into bite-sized pieces. Discard any fat or gristle. Add the meat to the skillet and brown it.

In a mortar and pestle, grind together 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon peppercorns. Sprinkle over the meat and stir until it's mostly cooked.

Pour in 1 cup of grain. Stir to distribute it evenly.

Pour in the condensed soup and 2 cans of liquid. Stir to mix everything evenly. Cover the skillet and let it come to a simmer.

Chop together fresh herbs -- one handful of assorted herbs makes about 1/4 cup once you've discarded the stems and chopped the leaves together. OR combine 1-2 tablespoons of dried herbs. Add the herbs to the meat mixture. Stir thoroughly. Cover the skillet and let it cook, stirring every 5 minutes, until the grain and vegetables are tender and the sauce thickens.

Turn off the heat and serve. Makes 4-6 servings.


An algorithm is a type of cooking instruction which is based on proportions, and within each category of item you can pick whatever you want. (Some combinations tend to taste better than others, but any combination should work okay.) It's a lot more flexible than a recipe that calls for specific ingredients.

Many different types of allium are grown for food, although technically even the "ornamental" species are edible. The greens usually taste milder than the roots.

Some vegetables cook a lot faster (peas, mushrooms) than others (celery, potatoes). When using slow-cooking vegetables, add them to the skillet before the meat. When using fast-cooking vegetables, add them after the meat. Fresh or frozen vegetables are fine, just thaw the frozen ones before adding them.

Fancy salt offers more minerals and different flavors. Fancy peppercorns have different flavors too. Mix and match these based on what meat you use.

Condensed soups are convenient for cooking. Lighter soup (celery, chicken) goes well with milder meats (chicken, shrimp) while darker soup (golden mushroom, tomato) goes well with stronger meats (beef, lamb). Things in the middle (mushroom soup, pork) can go either way.

Herbs add flavor. Lighter or sweeter herbs (sweet basil, sweet marjoram) go with milder meats (chicken, shrimp) and may be used in larger quantities. Robust herbs (oregano, sage) go with stronger meats (beef, lamb) and don't need as much. Parsley, sweet basil, and sweet marjoram lose a lot of their flavor when dried so you'll need more; most dried herbs have a strong flavor so a little bit goes a long way.

If you keep your pantry stocked with a few cans of condensed soup and some kind of grain, plus a bag of mixed vegetables and a package of stew meat in the freezer, then you can whip up some version of this dish at need. It's just easier to fine-tune the flavors if you know in advance so you can buy specific things to match. This is also a great way to use up odds and ends of things left over from making other dishes.
Tags: food, recipe
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