I am not a good cook…I can open a can, thanks to my mom, who never met a canned veggie she didn’t like. The woman never bought anything fresh, and her idea of a meal was the “Paxton Special” – named after my aunt’s hometown, the other famed non-cooker who gave her the recipe. Did I say “recipe?’ You really didn’t need one for the Paxton Special. You just browned hamburger in a pan, added Chef-Boy-Ar-Dee canned beef gravy (boy o’ boy), and served it on top of Minute Rice. Voila! A meal with so little nutritional content, we would’ve gotten more vitamins and minerals eating our paper napkins…
Saturday nights, the dinner of choice was frankfurters with mashed potatoes (Potato Buds, of course) topped with canned beef gravy (yet again) and chow mein noodles – those crunchy canned (!) twig-like things – sprinkled on top. Yum!
When it came time to feed my own kids, my cooking buddy was my husband, Matt, whose mom, while not a fabulous chef, at least knew the value of occasionally buying a recognizable vegetable. Unfortunately, she was Polish, so that meant potatoes or cabbage. Personally, I can’t say anything nice about cabbage – it comes in weird colors (come on, purple??) and it smells as bad as it tastes.
Potatoes, on the other hand, are perfect. I’ve never met a mashed, boiled, fried, baked, raw potato I didn’t like, so heck, Matt’s mom was aces in my book, despite the c-word.
With Matt at my side – okay, sitting on the couch with a beer watching a ball game – my culinary talents were ready to soar, but my good intentions ran smack into reality. Like millions of working women, I didn’t have time to prowl the produce section or cook anything that took any prep time. So, like millions of women, I dumbed everything down. Got a recipe? Great, as long as it didn’t have more than three ingredients, heck, toss me that apron!
With that three-ingredient rule, our meals started to get awfully familiar…..hamburgers (meat, cheese, bun), chicken and rice (chicken, rice, veggie), pork chops (pork, chops, potatoes). Could the Paxton Special (meat, rice, canned gravy) be next?
Luckily, Matt literally stepped up to the plate and agreed to cook while I pretended to, and there was our recipe for success. Turns out Matt didn’t like cabbage either, but he did like a nice steak, and spicy chicken, and grilled fish and a raft of other stuff I thought was only available in restaurants.
Thanks to my wonderful husband, I only get canned gravy once in a while, at my mother’s. You see, her love affair with Chef Boy-Ar-Dee continues to this day, and while my children know oodles about fresh veggies, I think it’s only fair that my side of the family gets equal time.
And so, kids, let me introduce you to chow mein noodles. Crunchy on the outside, crunchy on the inside – so pass that can opener, and let’s dig in!