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Hunger games in the COVID-19 kitchen

Thanks be to God, we here in Arizona are not yet subject to any mandatory orders to shelter-in-place or remain confined in our homes during the current coronavirus pandemic. However, many of us — if not most of us — are voluntarily limiting our contact with others. In particular, I’ve been avoiding the most chaotic place in town, which is every supermarket.

My last trip to the supermarket was Friday last week, at which time I made sure to buy enough beer to last me two weeks. To pull it off, I’ll have to ration myself to four beers a day. Yes, you read that correctly. I’m rationing my beer.

The good news is that several weeks ago, before things got really crazy, my lovely wife Kathryn more or less packed our freezer with meat. Not because she was planning for a pandemic, but simply because that’s what happens when she wanders into Costco without any real plan. Now she looks like a genius. As a result, while people are starting supermarket brawls over canned ravioli, we’re trying to figure out what sides to have with our filet mignon.

With all that meat in mind, on my last supermarket trip, I bought what fresh vegetables I could find and, over the last several days, turned them into two gallons of homemade chili — one with ground beef and red kidney beans that we’ve just finished eating, and one with ground turkey and white beans that is waiting for us in the freezer. I normally like to use Anaheim peppers in my chili but had to settle for poblanos this time. It turned out to be a fortunate and delicious accident.

After making all the chili, I still had two yellow onions left from the six pounds I’d bought. I thought about some of the other groceries I’d come home with last week — in particular, the pasta and pasta sauce — considered the abundance of meat still in the freezer, and decided there was no alternative. I was going to cook up some beefy mac.

So what’s beefy mac? It’s a name I made up on the spot for the concoction I was about to throw together, although I’m sure it’s not original. The finished product would be more or less what we native New Englanders call American chop suey — a dish that bears little resemblance to Chinese chop suey, which, ironically, is also an American dish but served in Chinese restaurants.

To start things rolling, I chopped up those two lonely onions and set them aside.

Meanwhile, I took half a jar of store-brand pasta sauce and started heating it in a slow cooker on low heat …

… and started heating up a well lubricated cast iron skillet on medium-high heat. Also, not shown, I started bringing water to a boil for the pasta.

Next, I browned a pound — more or less — of ground beef until cooked thoroughly. I added the cooked meat to the slow cooker, leaving behind the drippings from the beef. I then browned the chopped onions in the beef drippings and added them to slow cooker with the meat and pasta sauce. When the water was at a rolling boil, I stirred in an entire one-pound box of elbow macaroni and cooked until al dente. That also went into the slow cooker. Finally, I added the rest of the pasta sauce, along with about a cup of boiling water, stirred, and allowed it all to simmer for about an hour.

We had our first serving of this beefy mac last night for dinner. It received rave reviews from Kathryn. I might add a little sriracha sauce to my next serving, just to kick it up a notch. We have enough left for probably about three more meals each. Two if we’re really hungry.