I suppose I should start by introducing myself and explain what I’m doing here. My name is Ryan Littmann and I am not a cook. I can make spaghetti and frozen pizzas. Tera Buerkle, my partner in crime, is more skillful with a frying pan than I am, but that’s not saying much. Working together we can shell out a few tasty tacos and the occasional steak and salad, but nothing too fancy.
So what business do Tera and I have here? Well, our lack of cooking experience makes us unique among the writers here at The Food Spot. We represent the everyman with an unequipped kitchen and a meager food vocabulary. And because of this, we are staging a project to see if we can guide ourselves to become decent chefs in spite of our shifty food foundation.
For our first cooking effort we decided to try making meat pies, “Irish Beef Hand Pies” to be precise. Now, the first step was obvious: find a recipe that looks good and make a list of the ingredients. We happened to have an old copy of Martha Stewart’s Everyday Food magazine lying around and the ingredients seemed simple enough. (Click here for the full recipe.)
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/4 head green cabbage, shredded
1/2 pound red potatoes, scrubbed and diced
1 pound ground beef sirloin
3 tablespoons tomato paste
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
Coarse salt and ground pepper
All-purpose flour, for rolling
2 piecrusts (9 inches each), homemade or store-bought
We begin by shredding the head of cabbage, which Tera takes care of like a pro. We had decided earlier that she would be in charge and I would be the assistant this time. While Tera is taking care of the cabbage, I start cutting up some potatoes and Tera comments that “This looks like it’s going to be pretty easy.”
I’m not so sure of that yet, but I’m not in charge. The smell of the cabbage reminds Tera of a remote beach that borders the rain forest in Washington.
As Tera finishes cutting one of the potatoes, she asks me to drip a tablespoon of oil into a large pot. I guess the amount straight out of the bottle. I don’t trust my own judgment with that sort of thing yet and it makes me uneasy.
Once I’ve got the oil in the pot, Tera fills it with cabbage and potatoes and orders me to stir. The mass in the pot is unfamiliar. It’s not rice or instant mashed potatoes. This is an actual meal I’m making here-and I’m going to have to eat it. I have a thought that the amount of oil in the pot seems insignificant for so much food. I catch myself reaching for more oil and stop. Whenever I cook, I always add more than I should of any ingredient that calls for a very small amount. I think that small amounts won’t affect the taste and I try to change that by adding more. It must be a common amateur mistake. The amounts in a recipe are given for a reason and the whole point of following a recipe is because the author knows more than I do.
Now comes a tough part. We have to roll the dough into flat pieces, but we don’t have a rolling pin. Time to improvise. Tera first tries using an empty two liter cream soda bottle as a makeshift rolling pin. No luck-it’s not hard enough to press out the dough. Next, we try a beaker. It’s a simple, flat edged cylinder and, unlike the soda bottle, it’s hard. This works better for a while, but strangely after pressing out two pies worth of dough without a problem, the glass becomes oddly sticky. No matter how much flour I put on it, the dough sticks and rips each and every time I try to roll it out. If you have a short temper, do not ever try this. It’s more than a little frustrating. I let Tera take over for a bit and she manages to press out enough pies to satisfy us. While Tera is busy with the pie crusts, I add the ground sirloin to the pot of cabbage and potatoes and let it brown.
While I occasionally stir the pie filling, Tera adds the tomato paste, spices, and Worcestershire sauce. Just as I would have done, she decides that the amounts called for seem insignificant and she adds a little more of everything. Because I know I have to write about this, I’m trying to put a little more thought into my cooking actions than usual, and I can’t help but think that we’re making a mistake. After this, we add a little water, give it some time. We then lump the meaty mixture onto some pie crusts, load them on a pan and…uh oh! This is the first time we’ve tried to use this pan since moving and it’s too big for our oven! It’s another amateur mistake. A good chef knows the way around the kitchen and wouldn’t have let this happen, I’m sure. This caused us to have to transfer the pies to another pan deforming them in the process. Well, let’s just see how it tastes.
After a little while in the oven, the first meat pie was done. It actually doesn’t look too bad and it smells great. We sit down and taste what we had made and it was…okay. Tera and I both thought the meat pies came out a bit bland. It’s certainly possible that this was because of our lack of expertise, but we thought that if we did it again, we might add some ingredients to suit our personal tastes. Like onions, mmmmm.