July 2009


Tonight for dinner I practiced a bit of desperation cooking. It is the kind of cooking where you have to eat something, but you really don’t feel like doing anything creative, or interesting, or even that is actually cooking. Luckily I have a toddler that is in his “I can live on Air and Milk” phase. I tried to be nice to him today and got him one of his favorite foods – Chick-fil-A. Long story short … I ended up with a CFA sandwich that had approximately 2 gnat sized bites taken out of it in my ‘fridge.

So I asked myself “What would Sandra Lee do?” and then I started “cooking”. I fished around in the back of the freezer and came up with 6 cubes of frozen spaghetti sauce and tossed them into a saucepan with some olive oil and garlic. Then I arranged the piece of CFA on a cookie sheet flanked by it’s buns (I peeled off the pickles and ate them). Sprinkled some garlic powder on the buns and some shredded mozzarella on the chicken and then slapped them all into a cold oven. Fired it up to 350 and put some water on to boil for spaghetti.

Yadda, Yadda, Yadda … Faux Chicken Parmesan.

I am ashamed.

Not looking so embarassing after all

Not looking so embarassing after all

But, it makes me feel much better about posting this meal, which I previously thought might be too boring/pedestrian to blog about. Obviously standards are not something that I am really strict about around here.

Pork Cutlet Parmesan

So lets talk about the Tyranny of Chicken. Perhaps it is the fact that Veal is both expensive and gauche that has led to the rise of Chicken Parmesan – but somehow the poultry lobby has managed to make any other version of a “Parmesan” dish nigh on unthinkable.

That is not to say that I bust out the boxed baby cow for a home meal – moral beliefs aside, I am too much of a cheapskate. But I do believe if I can pound it flat, bread it, pan fry it, and put some cheese on it then it is a viable candidate for inclusion in a “Parmesan” dish.

When my spelunking adventure into the freezer unearthed pork cutlets – the game was on!

A Process

Take chubby pieces of meat that are roughly the size of your closed hand (like you are going to give someone a high 5, not Jazz hands) and place them on a piece of plastic wrap. Place another piece of plastic wrap on top of them and whack the bejeebus out of them with something heavy and flat.

Not literally, you actually have to be kinda careful about not tearing the meat – but it isn’t hard. Just thwack it with something and get it flatter – now we are looking for Jazz Hands size. Do the breading thing to your pieces of flattened flesh.

The Hardware:
Skillet with oven-safe handle containing a kinda thin layer of vegetable oil and an oven preheated to 350ish.

The Breading Thing

Set up three containers with the following mixtures:
1: A beaten Egg
2: A mixture of Bread Crumbs (I am all snooty and like Panko, because nothing says Italian Breaded Meat like Japanese bread crumbs) and Parmesan cheese.
3: A mixture of plain ole flour, salt and pepper, (if you likea the espicy you can adda some red peppah).

I like having 1 & 2 in Tupperware type containers – boxes, you know something with high sides to contain the mess. 3 can just be on a plate – it isn’t crucial. When breading you need to remember that wet stuff sticks to dry stuff. So to start with your meat is wet so you want to dip it into the flour first – not to heavy, just a dusting. Then you dip it into the beaten egg to get it wet so that the dry crumbs will stick to your cutlet. From the egg mixture you move to the breadcrumb mixture – I tend to pat it to get things good and stuck to each other. I also just like fiddling with things.

If you are doing a small number (I tend to be doing 2) place them directly into your oven-safe skillet with a goodly layer of hot vegetable oil shimmering away. (Do we need to talk about melty handles again?) Let the first side get good and brown and crispy then flip them over. Chuck the whole skillet into the oven and it will brown on the other side. When it is close to being done open the oven and sprinkle whatever kind of cheese on top that tickles your fancy – I tend to always have mozzarella around the house, but I wouldn’t kick provolone out of bed.

I really cannot tell you how long to cook the things because I don’t know how efficient your pounding is. It won’t take to terribly long. Make sure you have your pasta on the boil and about ready to go and that your sauce is pretty much done and just bubbling happily on a back burner. The cutlets can sit for a bit while the pasta is finishing – but you don’t want to lose the crispy. I mean, isn’t that what it is all about? Plate your pasta, sauce to liking and top with crispy meat cutlet.

Voila! Fancy pants dinner; if Fancy Pants to you is Olive Garden, and considering the frequency of my dining out Olive Garden might as well be Sotto Sotto.

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As an homage to the originator of this challenge at thursday night smackdown I am going to “Live Blog” my contribution to this months competition. Except for the fact that there is no way anyone would possibly be reading this real time. So in actuality it will be in “Live Blogging” format without the fun of it actually being, you know, live.

Step One:

The theme is picnic foods so what the heck can I make – hows about a “Hand Pie”? They have sufficient picnic type cred to qualify right? I hope? And the first thing a hand pie needs is a crust. For a hand pie, or pasty if you will (and considering the connotations that you dirty birds might apply to that I think pasty is much more fun), you need a crust that will stand up to some abuse. My go to for this, and actually most pie type applications, is a hot water dough. I like them because they are not even remotely fussy and are pretty much idiot proof. Say what you will about the idiots. And I know you are going to read it and be in total disbelief that it could be a decent pie/tart dough.

3:45 pm – Try it. I DARE you.

1 1/2 C Flour
1/2 t Kosher Salt
1 egg, well beaten
2T + 2 t Water
1/3 C Vegetable Shortening

Combine flour and salt in a heat proof bowl, whisk lightly to get major lumps out. Put a small saucepan on the heat and combine water and shortening over low. Make a well in the flour and add the beaten egg, cut egg in with a knife. This process will seem similar but nowheres near as hard as the whole cutting butter in. As with the pain in the a$$ butter version you are looking to end up with something that is homogeneous and with clumps the size of peas or a little smaller.

3:51 – By this time the mixture on the heat should be close to boiling, and that is just where you want it. Once it has come to a boil and is trying to spit little blobs of molten fat at you – turn off the heat and pour directly into the bowl of flour. Did I mention that the bowl needs to be heatproof? I really wouldn’t use plastic. Stir everything together until it cools enough to mush it around with your hands. Make sure everything is combined and then pat into a disc shape (or 2, I did one but in retrospect 2 would have been better) and wrap in plastic wrap. Park them in the ‘fridge for about an hour.

4:00 Now – aren’t you glad that this is only faux live-blogging. If it were real you would be all like, crap, now I have to wait an hour and I would be all like HAHA I’m gonna go play Bejeweled Blitz …

4:30 – For the Filling: things I had laying around the kitchen

If this Pasty had a size it would be DD

If this Pasty had a size it would be DD

1/2 lb ground Pork
1 small apple, grated
1/2 C Cheddar Cheese, grated
1 med onion, chopped (1 C)
1/2 t Salt
1/4 t each Pepper, Cinnamon and Ground Ginger

Put some olive oil in a pan and cook your ground pork adding the spices at the end of the cooking time. Remove to a holding bowl. Add more oil and toss in the onions, saute until you think that all the gunk on the bottom of the pan is going to burn and say “OH CRAP” and add a little bit of water to “deglaze” the pan like you are all professional and stuff. Cook it until just before the “OH CRAP” point again and then add the grated apple. Go to directly to “OH CRAP” and pull the water stunt again. Add a pinch of each of the above seasonings for good measure. When most of the water has cooked off, but before everything starts sticking to the bottom of the pan again – dump it all into the bowl with the pork. Allow to cool. Preheat your oven to 375.

5:00 – When your pie dough is ready you need to make it into 2 roughly dinner plate sized discs. If you are a good little reader you have 2 discs to work with and voila! If you are like me and didn’t think of it, you will have to divide the dough into 2 before you roll. Mix the cheese into the other glop and divide evenly between the two discs. Stick your finger into a little bit of water and run it along the bottom 1/2 edge of the discs and fold the suckers into 1/2 moons. Get all fancy pants with a fork and crimp the edges. Put on a sprayed baking sheet and bake for 40 minutes.

The Rest of the Story:

I also made a roasted potato salad to go with this, but this has already gotten way longer than I would want to read – so why should I inflict it upon y’all? I’ll do that at a later date. Also on the menu was a garden fresh sliced tomato – a perfect southern picnic food if there ever was one. What I will let you know is that the “dinner plate” sized pasties are much too large if you have a normal appetite. What should have happened was to divide the dough and fillings into quarters and make 4 of the puppies. With 1 1/2 lbs of potatoes you have enough ‘tater salad for 4 and a single sliced tomato can feed 4. So realistically this was a meal for 4 instead of 2. In actuality my husband ate his whole pasty and so will go hungry for lunch tomorrow when I am eating my leftovers.

Not really, but it is fun to imagine.

The Low Down:

Pork: reality – I bought a 2 pack Boston Butt from the warehouse store and butchered it up into roasts, cutlets, stew chunks and ground meat and put it into the freezer. Did the math and it came out to $1.40 per pound. But that isn’t realistic for most people. Lets say I got a good deal @ $1.99/lb and count this as $1 for the meat.
Apple: ~ 8 oz bought @ .99/lb = .50
Cheese: again the reality is that I bought it in a 5 lb bag and froze in 8 oz portions and it comes out to about .90 for a 1/2 lb. So my half cup cost about .23. On normal sale @ Kroger they run $1.60 per bag so that call it .40.
Onion: .25
Flour: I know you are gonna kill me, but I buy this in 25 lb bags and keep it in my freezer. Lets just skip the math and say .15.
Egg: 2.50/12 = .21
Shortening: no clue, lets say .10
Potatoes: were given to me free by my neighbor but lets say 1 1/2 lbs @ 5 lbs for 2.50 = .75
Tomato: also a freebie from my neighbor.  Lets say I bought it for .40.

Pantry Items: Spices, Olive Oil, Mustard, Garlic, AC Vinegar = .25

Total which I submit to Hobo Tuesday: 1+.50+.40+.25+.15+.21+.10+.75+.40+.25 = $4.01 (picnic for 4 unless you have a hungry man and then for 3)

Actual Total if you are an obsessive compuslive shopper like me who has a big chest freezer and a generous neighbor with a 1 1/2 acre “garden”: .70+.50+.23+.25+.08+.21+.10+.25 = $2.32

It has been a crazy week, and it only promises to get crazier. But hey, who wants a boring life? I have been cooking, just nothing exceptionally interesting, or photogenic. We hosted a play-date and I made a big batch of French Dressing in anticipation of having salad for lunch. When I pulled out the lettuce it had gone to meet it’s vegetable maker- so I had to punt. Luckily I had made rice the day before and had plenty of leftovers. That might be considered a frugal tip. Whenever you cook rice make at least 2 cups (dry, which yields 6 cups cooked). Even if you do not need that much, it comes in exceptionally handy for quick meals. And you must, must, must use leftover rice to make Fried Rice.

Which is what I whipped up for the play-date mommy. Not that I took a picture of it, because that is pretty boring. But it was tasty. When I had a latecomer walk in the door starving I used the rest of the rice to make what I call “Mexican Fried Rice”. The same cooking technique as with fried rice – but instead of using soy, ginger, garlic and sesame oil I use Lizano salsa. I could also see tossing in some beans, chopped onions, corn – whatever you have. Not particularly authentic, but again very tasty. And again, not particularly photogenic.

That’s been the theme of the past week – non-photogenic foods. I tried, I really did. Here is a picture of the Stromboli I made a few nights ago:

Much tastier than it looks.

Much tastier than it looks.

Homemade pizza is one of those things that is worth the time, especially when your dough recipe makes enough dough for a pizza and then another pizza or pizza like application. We usually eat pizza one night and then I put together something else a couple of nights later. Usually it is a calzone, but the ‘fridge was devoid of the requisite ricotta – so I made a Stromboli. Which is rolled instead of folded and does not usually contain ricotta.

I think that Stromboli is going to be the default for the foreseeable future. Waaaaaay easier than a calzone. And for the life of me, I cannot seem to keep ricotta in the house.

This particular bad boy involved a thin layer of pizza sauce topped with layers of bacon, mozzarella cheese, Parmesan cheese and thinly sliced onion. Normally I would have put some caramelized onions in there, but I didn’t think of it until too late. I was afraid that the onions wouldn’t cook enough so I sliced them super thin with my Most Excellent Knife of Sharpness (all kitchens should have one). In the future I will not bother with the thin slicing or the caramelizing. They stayed in the oven long enough to get nicely cooked/steamed inside the dough.

Lack of Recipe

I am afraid that is what we have today. I am not happy enough with my pizza dough recipe to share it yet. It was delicious for the Stromboli, after sitting in the ‘fridge for several days. But  the pizza I made with the fresh dough did not do it for me. It lacked that certain “chewiness” that is needed in good pizza dough. This version was much too bread like, but it lost that characteristic in the ‘fridge.

But I will leave you with one last tip – always bake bacon in the oven, do not bother with the stove-top. By using the oven you avoid 3/4 of the mess and get much better bacon (less of the fat cooks away before the lean is done). Use jellyroll/edged cookie-sheets lined with aluminum foil and clean-up is as simple as draining the fat and tossing the foil. The bacon keeps well in the ‘fridge and even longer in the freezer. And hey, bacon fat! Wonderful stuff for cooking pretty much anything. I used it to saute some mushrooms for spaghetti.

What do you use bacon fat for?