making gravy–old school pot roast, part 2

There are a few ways to make gravy. This method is just one, and it works best for Old School pot roast because of the amount of water you have to work with.

Now that the meat and vegetables have cooked for several hours in the liquid, you’ve got a nice beef broth. All you must do now is thicken it. The Damsel has seen normally well-adjusted people run crying, faces in their hands, at the thought of making homemade gravy, because they’ve heard their reputation as a cook rises and falls on the ability to make lumpless gravy. Don’t worry. The Damsel will hold your hand, and your reputation’s safe.

Remove the nice, tender slab-o-beef to a platter. Hopefully it’s so tender you’ll have to be careful, or it will fall apart as you move it. Take out the potatoes and carrots, too, with a slotted spoon. Cover them both with foil to keep them warm while you make the gravy. This only takes a few minutes, so get the kids setting the table.

Turn the heat up on the pan that now contains only the broth. There should be quite a bit…4 to 6 cups, maybe more, maybe less. A smaller remainder, like 2 cups, could be caused by evaporation during the long cooking period, but if you have a tight-fitting lid for your pot, most of the liquid should remain. You can add water if you need to end up with more gravy. Spike it with some beef bouillon if you add more than a cup.


While that comes to a boil, put about a cup of flour in a jar. A canning jar will work if one’s lying around handy, but any jar with a lid is fine. Add COLD water at a ratio of about 1:3, (one cup flour, 3 cups water) but please don’t measure. It ruins the magic.

It needs to be cold water because hot water will sort of cook the flour, and that will make it LUMPY!!!!

Put the lid on the jar and shake it. HARD. Shake it until the flour and water are completely mixed.


Position yourself in front of the stove, armed with the jar in one hand and a whisk in the other. When the broth is boiling, shake the jar one last time, take the lid off, and pour a small stream into the boiling broth, while stirring madly with the whisk. Pour in about half of the flour mixture, and stir for a minute or two. The broth should look somewhat gravy-like now, opaque rather than clear. If you’d like it thicker, add more flour mixture, stirring all the while. Remember that it takes a minute or so after an addition for it to thicken. If you get it too thick, it’s okay. You can add water, a little at a time.

Lumps are usually caused from the flour/water mixture being lumpy, so if you’ve shaken that well, you should be good to go. You can use the blender to make the flour/water mixture if the shaking thing isn’t working for you. And, there’s no shame in putting the gravy in the blender, either, if you still end up lumpy. Or use an immersion (stick) blender if you like.

Onion floaties from the onion soup mix don’t count as lumps and are perfectly fine.


Cook and stir for a minute or two to make sure the flour’s all cooked. Add plenty of salt and pepper and taste. Then taste it again poured all over a plate of roast and veggies.

old school pot roast, part one

The Damsel grew up on this–the family’s favorite special-occasion/Sunday-after-church meal. She can never get tired of the yummy stuff.

To make pot roast, you need time. Lots of time. Pot roast needs moist heat over a long period to get tender. Some people use a crockpot, some people the oven…this particular method is done on the stovetop…but they all have one thing in common. Time.

First, heat a little oil on medium in the bottom of your nice heavy pan–a dutch oven or some such.

Plop the roast, fat side down, into the hot pan. It will seem like a strange thing to do, but everything will be okay in the end. After a minute or two, stab it with a fork in order to turn it. Brown it on all sides, or until you’re tired of it.


Pour in some water…fill the pot until water comes about half way up the roast. It will seem like a lot, and the pot will look strange with that great glob of raw meat sitting knee deep in water. But you must trust the Damsel and press on.

Sprinkle in a packet of onion soup mix. The Damsel has been mocked for using this. The mocking individual says it isn’t old school, and perhaps they are right. But the Damsel learned to use this from her mother, who happens to be a great-grandmother, so at some point, onion soup mix becomes old school, right?

IMG_3881Sprinkle it both on top of the meat and around it in the water.

Put the lid on the pot and turn it down low. It will need to just cook contentedly for a long, long time. Like 5-6 hours, depending on the type of roast you’re using. The way you tell if it is done is–scientifically poke it with a fork. By the time you eat, you want this meat tender enough to fall apart. This is the Damsel’s wish.


At some point before the magical falling-apart stage, you will pack the pot with potatoes and carrots. You can do this after a couple of hours of cooking or right away, if you need to leave the house for the day. Push them down into the water when possible…these get extra yummy.

By the time the meat is tender, the vegetables will be too. The house will smell like heaven, and you’ll hear shouts of acclamation as you call the family to the table.

There’s just one more step…making the gravy. Because people think making gravy is tricky, and because this gravy is oh so worth it, it’s going to get its very own Old School post. Don’t worry. It’s not hard.

crockpot chicken rice soup

The Damsel looked through some recipes and saw one for chicken rice soup that looked delicious. Then she looked at the directions. You were supposed to cook it in the crockpot for an hour on high, then eight to nine hours on low, then another hour on high.

Ha! ha!

That means the Damsel would have had to start cooking dinner at 6AM! Ha! ha! There are many, many things the Damsel isn’t doing at 6AM and cooking dinner is right at the top of that list.

So the Damsel is adapting this recipe for your eating pleasure and convenience.

Maybe three hours before you want to eat, fire up the crockpot. Crank it to high, baby.

Chop an onion and throw it right in. Right in the bare naked crockpot. It’s okay. Everything will turn out all right.

Chop some celery. About a cup, but this isn’t exact science. The Damsel apologizes about the violent color felony of this photo. In real life it was regular grocery store celery, not atomic glow-in-the-dark celery.

Has the Damsel confessed to you before her love of celery leaves? She loves them dearly, and cuts them right up with the rest. Salt and pepper this, with full acceptance of the fact that you’ll have to taste this later and perhaps add more. Mmmm pepper.

Now miscellaneous herbs. The Damsel put in chopped fresh basil and sage, and some dried thyme. She used about a tablespoon each of basil and sage, and a scant teaspoon of thyme, using the “Palm” brand measuring spoon. Did you know dried herbs are stronger, teaspoon for teaspoon, then fresh? It’s because it’s more concentrated. So you use less if the herb is dried.

Add chopped carrots, as many as you like.  The Damsel reached out her hand to her Knight in Shining Armor, and said, Go thou to the garden, and pull me some carrots, my love. And he did.

Oh yeah! 8 cups of water. Don’t worry about making it exact.

Now take some chicken. Method #1: If it is chicken pieces with bones, just put it right in, just like that. The Damsel would prefer you pulled the skin off first, but she won’t force you. Method #2: If it is boneless chicken, stand over the pot and cut bite size pieces with kitchen shears, right into the pot. The Damsel used two chicken breast halves. Or, er, well, one whole breast.

Put the lid on. Walk away. Come back one hour before you want to eat. If you used chicken with bones,  fish the pieces out, let them cool enough that you don’t burn yourself, pick the meat from the bones, and return the meat to the pot. (Throw away those bones.)

Now add a cup of rice, put the lid back on and find something to do for an hour. Taste the rice and make sure it’s tender.

Add about 2 cups frozen peas, and let them warm through. Taste. How’s that salt and pepper? Then eat that soup.


mayo and the scientific method

The Damsel has heard DisDress calls from a few people who have had trouble making mayonnaise, as taught in this lesson.

Failed mayo is a disappointingly runny mess,  so the Damsel decided to apply the scientific method to the problem. Please understand that in real life the Damsel is a piano teacher, so her “scientific” skills are limited. Still, one does what one can.

One of the people who contacted the Damsel gave the impression that she’d tried to make mayo in a mixing bowl. Sounds like a perfectly logical thing to do. But the Damsel wondered, could that be part of the problem?

The Damsel made two identical batches of mayo. The first, in a mixing bowl, flopped. Runny yellow mess. The second, in the cylinder-shaped cup that came with the stick blender, worked perfectly. It seems that the vessel is the only variable, and the scientific method suggests that its shape matters.

If a person doesn’t have the cup that came with the blender, a quart jar might work, as long as the stick will fit inside its mouth. If a person needs to use a mixing bowl for some reason, you should probably use another mayo method–like the drip-by-drip method of adding oil. The Damsel is scared of that method, but your mileage may vary.

In an effort to be scientificky about this, the Damsel would like to hear from anyone who has followed the stick blender directions to the T, including using a narrow cup, and still had a failure. Don’t be scared. No one will laugh at you.

Raspberry freezer jam–Ball pectin method

The raspberries in the Damsel’s garden are going gangbusters, and she’s in heaven. Her arms are scratched but it’s oh so worth it. Raspberries—yum.

Freezer jam is nice because it preserves more of the natural, fresh flavor of the fruit you’re using. Plus, it’s great that you don’t have to cook it, and when it’s 100 degrees outside, the less heat the better. We’ll do other types later.

The Damsel has made a lot of freezer jam in her life, and sometimes it has not “set up”. . . in other words, it doesn’t get as thick as she’d like. Runny jam can be used on pancakes and such, but it’s annoying to have it not turn out. She’s tried several brands of pectin, which is the thickening agent used in most jams. She’s discovered that the recipes must be followed scrupulously, but sometimes the jam’s runny no matter how perfectly it’s done. Maybe the full moon affects it.

She also cringes at the amount of sugar most recipes call for. . .many even call for more sugar than fruit. Yuck!  Her experiments with low sugar recipes have been hit and miss, and then will sometimes spoil in the refrigerator, since the high sugar content is a preservative.

So, when she saw a new Ball brand pectin at the store, she decided to try it, so she can say she’s tried it all. It caught her eye because it uses a lower percentage of sugar, and also doesn’t call for corn syrup like many recipes do. The Damsel doesn’t have anything personal against corn syrup, but white sugar is cheaper and easier to measure, so, yeah.

Pick a mess of raspberries. Or buy them if you must. You’ll need around 6 cups. Wash them gently in a colander. The Damsel apologizes for the freakish look of this stream of water running into her berries, but there you have it.

Pour the pectin into a mixing bowl. Just so you know, these directions are strictly for the Ball type pectin, and won’t work with any other pectins.

Add one and a half cups of plain white wicked sugar. Stir these together until well mixed.

Put the drained berries into another mixing bowl and lightly mash. Raspberries are fragile—you don’t need to heave-ho. In the Damsel’s humble opinion, jam should have chunks of fruit and not be totally smooth. This is her wish.

Measure out four cups (one quart) and add to the bowl of sugar/pectin. Admire the jewel-tone red goodness, and dream of the jam that is to come.

Stir for three minutes. The mixture will become more runny as you stir, and you will think three minutes is a very long time. Persevere, dear students, until the bitter end. Now just let it sit for 30 minutes to thicken.

Sit back in amazement that you have just made freezer jam. Yes. That is all there is to it, except for putting it into something, including your mouth.

You can use freezer containers, or pretty much anything that can be frozen. The Damsel uses pint jars because she has many, many of them. You could use store-bought jam jars, pickle jars, salsa jars, whatever. People say you should be careful about doing that because jars can break in the freezer. The Damsel admits this is possible, but it has never happened to her. Other bad things have happened in her freezer, but not broken jam jars. She’d rather not talk about it any further.

You’ll end up with about 5 cups of jam. (Review lesson: 1 pint=2 cups) The black spot in the half-full jar is not a housefly, so don’t worry. A blackberry jumped in and made itself at home, and the Damsel said well, okay. By the way, you store this in the FREEZER. Except for the currently-being-used jar, which is in the refrigerator. But not for long.


Yeah, baby.

buttermilk pancakes

Some things are better the newfangled way. For example, flush toilets.

But some things are better the old-fashioned way. The Damsel is here to tell you that after using up many a Costco bag of Krusteaz pancake mix, she has seen the light.

Don’t misunderstand. The pancake mix-type pancake is not “awful.” Those pancakes are completely edible. And if the Damsel had never tried this particular recipe for old school pancakes, she might have lived years in oblivious happiness, never knowing what she could have had.

But. After making old school buttermilk here, she thought she might like to use some of it up. She’d heard her sister bragging about her buttermilk pancakes, so the Damsel wrested the recipe from her. All for you, dear readers.

Measure 2 1/2 cups of buttermilk into a mixing bowl. Yes, it’s supposed to be thick and gloppy. Now’s a good time to refill the container with fresh milk and put it on the countertop for a day, so you have buttermilk ready for next time.

Add two eggs. Don’t worry. It’ll all be over soon.

1/4 cup oil next, and then mix well. Get your stirring yearnings satisfied now, because this is your only chance. You’ll see why.

Sift the dry ingredients (2 cups flour, 2 tsp. baking powder, 1 tsp. salt, 1 tsp. soda)  into another bowl. Okay, look. The Damsel doesn’t want to hear it. Just do it. She used to be the Anti-Sifter herself, and she understands when you say you don’t want all that fuss. But just this once, do it.

You’ll see an exceedingly light, fluffy cloud of dry ingredients. It’s a beautiful thing.

Pour this slowly into the milk-egg-oil mixture and GENTLY incorporate it, without beating or whacking or stirring excessively. The Damsel would prefer if you wouldn’t even raise your voice. Stop stirring when the dry stuff is barely mixed in. You’ll have to force yourself to stop, but please. Yes, it’s lumpy and quite thick.

Here’s the tricky part. Sometimes when the Damsel has made this, it’s turned out Too Thick. Too Thick is when the mixture has 0% Pourability. She has folded in a little more buttermilk from time to time. You’ll have to use your best judgement, and yes,  the Damsel understands if you feel nervous. It’s okay. Go for Slightly Pourable, and remember, next time will be perfect.

The Damsel cooks hers on a ridiculously big electric griddle. Please recall she has seven sprogs. She sets it on 350 degrees. If you use a stovetop pan, it needs to be on the hot side. Butter the pan if you don’t have a nonstick, and please correct that shortfall at the soonest convenience.

In the above picture, the batter was Quite Thick, thick enough that she spread the glob out a bit with the whisk. Your mileage may vary.

Now, there should be a picture of the ridiculously light and tender pancakes, dripping with butter and syrup. But the sprogs were standing in the kitchen, holding their plates out in a hopeful way as each pancake came off the griddle, and the picture didn’t happen.

Make these, and you’ll see.

taking cuttings from basil plants

The Damsel was making a dish that called for fresh basil, and although she’s loaded with mint, cilantro and sage, that didn’t help her situation. She went to the market and despaired. You know how much they charge for these eeny teeny packages of fresh herbs? $2.99.

She went to the local nursery and bought a basil plant for much less. $1.49. It was pretty spindley and way too big for its little pot, but the Damsel figured she would get three things for her $1.49. #1: the three basil leaves she needed for her recipe; #2: a live basil plant that could grow and give her many more such leaves ;#3: something for the Old School.

Bonus: The plant was tall and funny, and she decided it was crying out to be made into TWO plants.

First, fill two pots with potting soil and soak the soil. Potting soil takes time to get truly moist. Let the bottoms of the pots sit in water for a while so water can flow up as well as down from the top.

Make a cutting right below a node, where leaves attach.

Very gently pull away leaves on this node.

Plant this stem in the prepared pot. Basil roots readily, so the Damsel didn’t bother with root zone powder and so on. Your mileage may vary.

Now for the original plant. It’s way too big for its britches, so it needs a new pot too.

Loosen the poor cramped roots, make a hole a bit bigger than the root ball, and plant away. Keep them very moist. Once they start growing, just pick leaves as you need them. If you see flower buds starting to form, pinch them off. You must cruelly forbid your basil plant to seed, or it will lose its zest for life and die. Motherhood isn’t kind to basil plants.

You already look happier, little basil plants!

Someday, you’ll realize your full potential, when you join your brother Oliveoil and your sisters Parmesan and Pinenut in the blender.

making yogurt from powdered milk

The Damsel hopes you will forgive her if she confesses she has tried to make yogurt many times. It worked occasionally, but most of the time, it turned out pretty runny.

She tried to convince the husband it was “drinking yogurt” like he had when he lived in Denmark but he had a crush on Miss Yoplait. Besides, it was super complicated, involving thermometers and doing things at precise moments. Even when she hovered over the project like a vulture, sometimes it didn’t set. She was left to second-guess whether she was quite precise ENOUGH, and just got frustrated with the whole thing. Even when it did work, the sprog didn’t lap it up willingly, and the husband had his nose in the air.

She gave up years ago and completely forgot she ever used to cry over runny yogurt. Then last week she bumped into a different method on the internets, and she wondered if perhaps her wounds had healed enough to try again. It didn’t involve thermometers or turning three times under the light of the waning moon, so she said, well, okay.

Preheat your oven to 275 F. Mix 6 cups cold water and 4 cups non-instant powdered milk. It has been a long time, because the Damsel forgot that mixing it this way doesn’t work.  Ha ha! This way equals lumpy disaster. Use the blender, please.

Add three tablespoons of yogurt. It doesn’t have to be the mistress Yoplait. Any kind with active cultures. You can put it right into the blender. Pour into an ovenproof container/bowl/thingy.

Loosely cover the container in whatever way seemeth you best. Put in the oven and then turn the oven off. Walk away. Don’t come back for 8-12 hours.

The Damsel was exceedingly skeptical but felt she wasn’t risking much. Just some powdered milk, and she hates powdered milk, although she uses a ton of it in baking. Still, she hoped.

In the morning the blasted stuff was perfectly liquidy. Not even KIND OF set up. She noticed the instructions she was using said if the product was “a little soupy” to repeat the process by heating the oven to 275 F again and putting the container back in for a few more hours. The Damsel had no expectations.

But…there was a glimmer of hope. Because the Damsel has a convection oven, she routinely sets her temperatures 50 F less than the recipe calls for, according to the manufacturer’s direction. But she suspected perhaps that wasn’t hot enough for this purpose. So she set the oven, put the stuff back in and went about her business.

Four hours later the stuff was set. The Damsel was shocked, to say the least. It was set even more than she wanted it to be. Very, very firm. Success at last!

The Damsel feels her yogurt demons have now been vanquished. Thanks for coming along.

Oh, and don’t forget to save a little back for the next batch’s starter.

term research project–buttermilk and other cultured thingies

When the Damsel ponders things Grandma used to make from scratch, a few dairy items come to mind.

The sour cream we made, for example. There’s yogurt. There are also a few soft/farmer style cheeses we could learn. But in order to do that, there’s a couple of things to be clear on.

Some of these things require buttermilk, and apparently there’s two kinds of buttermilk. There’s “old-fashioned,” which is the liquid left over after making butter, and there’s “cultured,” which is something completely different. The Damsel is annoyed they named the cultured kind “buttermilk” because she is easily confused.

Okay, “buttermilk” sounds nicer than “milk left out on the counter until it’s thick and sour” but it’s still confusing.

The Damsel will go as far as to say if a recipe calls for buttermilk, they mean cultured buttermilk. But to make it more confusing, unless there is going to be microbial stuff going on, it doesn’t matter. So if you’re making something that will be baked or cooked, thereby killing said microbes, you could use either type–like in bread or chocolate cake.

But if you are trying to make anything that requires little organisms to grow, like the sour cream thing, it’s gotta be cultured buttermilk. And yes, you can make your own, but it takes some to make some, unless you have access to an unpasteurized milk-beast.

1. Put one part cultured buttermilk in a container, like a quart jar with a lid.

2. Add three parts fresh milk. It can be store bought, pastuerized, right out of the jug. It has no microbes yet, because the pasteurization killed them all, but you’re adding them by mixing in the cultured buttermilk. Bwahaha!

3. Shake or stir.

4. Countertop it. Wait 24 hours or so, but not longer than 36. If it isn’t thick like cream by 36 hours, your bugs were dead. Start over.

5. Refrigerate. It’ll keep well. But don’t use it all…save some back to start the next batch. You can create a never-ending supply of buttermilk throughout the years to come. Just knowing that makes you feel cozy inside, doesn’t it?

Fluffy pancakes will not be denied you.

making sour cream

When the Damsel said she had a post that needed to ripen, maybe you thought she was being metaphorical.

Nope. For real. She was making sour cream, and she is totally excited about how easy it is.

IMG_3108This is all you need. Heavy cream and cultured buttermilk.

The Damsel looked for brands that didn’t have a bunch of additives, because sometimes those can fool with the results of projects like this. Plus natural is nice. This cream had nothing but “heavy cream” on the label. The buttermilk choices at the Damsel’s neighborhood shop were few, so she closed her eyes and hoped for the best.

The Damsel has learned there is a difference between “cultured” buttermilk and the liquid that is remaining when you make butter. That will be another Old School lesson, but for now, buy some that has the word “cultured” on the label.

IMG_3109Pour a cup of cream into a container. It can be anything, even a bowl. The Damsel used a pint jar. A pint equals two cups, so she filled the jar half full.

IMG_3110Measure two tablespoons of buttermilk into the container. When the Damsel was researching this, she found recipes that called for anything between 1 and 4 tablespoons, so she walked the line.

IMG_3112Mix well. Or shake to mix, if you’ve used a jar. Then all you do is set it somewhere warm-ish. The Damsel just put it on the kitchen counter. Just leave it. Walk away. And believe in the sour cream that is to come. It will take about 24-36 hours.

The Damsel hates waiting. But she was pleasantly surprised that this, unlike some other things she’s experimented with for the Old School, worked perfectly.


Smooth, creamy, tangy sour cream. A little softer in consistency than store-bought, but not much. One source said the longer you let it sit, the thicker it will get. The Damsel assumes it will also get sourer. She put hers in the fridge after 30 or so hours because she liked the taste at that point.

This isn’t cheaper than buying sour cream. It cost perhaps $1.50 to make. But isn’t it nice to know that if there’s a disaster and you can’t go to the market, you can still have sour cream? All you need is a cow. No problem!