Tag Archives: cooking

Restaurants, Foodieism, Obesity, First-World Whining (My Own)

Yesterday, while chatting with my friend at the park about the need–again–to think up something for dinner that wasn’t sucky and wasn’t boring and wasn’t lame (I have the most trouble with vegetable dishes, and I was tired of frozen vegetables and leafy green salads), I had an Actual Thought about Society. I haven’t had one of these in a while, and I’m not sure why; maybe it’s because my exposure to news is so limited, or maybe because I am behind on my podcasts, but whatever it is, this Actual Thought sprang out of my head fully formed like the goddess Athena. It Made a Connect between seemingly disparate things, and even if there is absolutely no data available to support my thought, and it could be one of those random collections of observations that–should I be lucky enough–graduates to the status of Factoid and/or Urban Legend, I’ll be pleased.

I never did find any nice pictures to break up the wall of text that this blog post became, but I helpfully bolded key terms so you can skim the damn thing and more or less catch the gist of it. Meanwhile, enjoy this video clip that I promise is relevant.

The beauty of this is its simplicity. Once a plan gets too complex, everything can go wrong.

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Four Pounds of Chicken

First order of business is a shout-out to my peeps in Happysmiley Town, if I may use the vernacular.

JasonF! Thanks for finding a link to that article within two minutes! Google had totally flummoxed me yesterday, or else I ran out of patience, or else it was newly posted. It was a relief to send it along to the editor to prove that the article did in fact still exist and that I hadn’t made it all up.

griefbone! Thanks for looking up the article in Lexis and sending me such a pretty, formatted copy that I can edit directly, instead of messing around with word wraps and extra spacing.

kem! Thanks for knowing what wine I was drinking and recommending a better one. I’ll definitely look up Jackson Creek next time I’m at the grocery store. I’ll make sure I’ll bring that extra dollar. Also thanks for reading this blog in the first place. I am touched. And then inflated with a sense of my own importance.

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Second order of business is a recipe report. I bought four pounds of boneless, skinless chicken breast last week because it was on sale from $21 to $6… days ahead of the sell-by date. Because it was days ahead of the date I got sloppy and let it sit in the fridge until I noticed today it “expired.” I decided, because my stupid garden is only producing chili peppers reliably, to look up some kind of slow-cooker chicken chili recipe. I found one, but I didn’t have beans in the house, and I was going to adapt a beanless chili that used beef, but the thought of chopping up four pounds of raw meat into pieces that approximated ground meat was daunting. Besides, the recipe I had called for tapioca pudding, which I really did not want to use. But because when I deviate from recipes I usually ruin dinner, I was going to use it anyway. I mean, fuck. It’s on hand. I have no idea why I have tapioca pudding mix on hand, much less open, but what a serendipitous moment, right? Still not enough to get me enthusiastic about meat chopping, though.

When Husband called midday wondering where he should kill time during a hole in his schedule, a talk about the grocery store ended up changing the menu plan to chicken parmigiana. Amazingly, I had breadcrumbs on hand, and powdered parmesan cheese. Kewl. More amazing was the fact that I already knew how to bread a chicken breast and that I could mix a tasty breading without checking a recipe (Italian breadcrumbs from the blue cardboard tube, parmesan cheese, oregano, garlic powder, basil, parsley–nothing fancy). I only had to look up how long to bake it. Talk about the moment when you feel like a real adult! I noticed on the page I ended up at that they added butter… BUTTER… to the beaten egg before breading it. Well, I love butter. I tried that and everything smelled twice as good.

My problem before has always been getting breading to stick. I finally started dredging the chicken in flour, THEN the egg/butter, and THEN the breadcrumbs. I’m probably the last person to learn about the flour first, and I’m sure I read it somewhere but it works. Baking the chicken is always risky with my crappy oven, but about forty minutes at 350 did the trick. Unfortunately, I forgot to put the cheese on before the forty minutes was up, so when I popped the chicken back into the oven just to melt it, it started the drying-out procedure. The chicken wasn’t dry, but it wasn’t perfect, and I sort of wish I’d just left the cheese off. It was Monterey Jack anyway. Husband grabbed the first MO cheese he could find. We often buy fresh mozzarella cheese, which comes in the tub floating in water, but you know how the boring kind comes in that ball? He called to confirm that it came in a block and I assumed he meant the ball. Well, he meant a big rectangle. Doesn’t matter. It was white. No one else was there to share our shame.

Or our food. You know how many chicken breasts there are in four pounds of chicken? Six. You know how big each one is? Half a pound. We split one (5 points, with a point for breading and 3 points for the cheese). I have five breaded, cheesed, heavy chicken breasts left. This is ten portions of chicken breasts we have to eat this week. I’m not real happy about it, and if I’d been thinking I would have frozen the other two, or three, but I was on a roll and I prepared them all.

I forgot until the last minute about serving a vegetable and after I called that dinner was ready I saw it. I broke up a crown of broccoli with my hands and threw it in a pan to steam it. My haste meant that I pulled it off as soon as possible. It was a beautiful bright green and still crunchy. It could quite possibly be the best broccoli I’ve ever steamed in my life. I served it without butter or salt or any seasoning and it tasted great. I am sort of relieved that we ate most of it, because it will not be as good tomorrow.

Tonight was also the first time I’d used a jar of Mezzetta “Napa Valley Bistro” pasta sauce. I got the Tomato Basil flavor, which was made with Napa Valley zinfandel and it smelled like booze the minute I opened the jar. It didn’t taste boozy, and it was a very good sauce (I think I only got to have it because it was on sale or at Costco–can’t remember which; I usually make do with Classico). Of course, any sauce is going to be good if there’s no sweetener before the ninth or tenth ingredient. In this case, it’s actual sugar–not corn syrup. Jarred sauces are one of those products in which the more expensive items really do use better ingredients and taste better.

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Third order of business is raving about the steak I made last night, which I cooked to medium rare. I love medium rare, but you can’t get medium rare at the family restaurants we eat at and Husband always cooks steak from medium to well-done. I’d been inspired by the Perfect Pork Chop technique I’ve been using, and found an article that described a fool-proof way to cook steak that used the same stovetop-to-oven method. (God bless you, Philip A. Stephenson of the Pittsburg Post-Gazette!). We had New York somethings that were the traditional steak shape and about an inch and a half thick. I forget what cut; I did try to retrieve the label but it was very far down in the garbage. Sorry.

My trusty little omelet pan did the trick again; I was able to cram two steaks in at once, and I just let the third sit out for a while. Perhaps irrationally so, but raw beef doesn’t scare me like raw chicken. I’d marinated the steak with a quick recipe I’d found from Recipezaar, that uses plenty of garlic. I add about a quarter cup of red wine, per the suggestion of one of the commenters on the page. I love the flavor, and I think it cuts the saltiness a little (I know the same amount of salt is still present), but mostly it gets the right amount of volume. I don’t know what people are marinating when they say that the recipe makes twice as much as they need.

Our steaks were nowhere near done in the five minutes that reading the article led me to believe were all I would need, but eight minutes more or less did the trick. I repeat, we have a crappy oven. Husband and I were fighting yesterday, and he was civil to me at dinner but he withheld all compliments on the steak. Even without external verification, I know it was good. When I asked him today, he said he got a piece with a lot of marbling and gristle in it. I thought marbling was desired, but I know gristle is not. The only other thing I did was make this sauce in the pan by scraping up the drippings and adding some leftover marinade and then some butter but it came out weird. It tasted like buttery, hot marinade. I got that idea from the perfect pork chop process but it was a deviation from the plan and ended up exactly like it should have: not food.

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Fourth order of business: I am not having mysterious and spectacular results on my diet this week. I haven’t lost anything at all. I’m up a zero point few, but that’s as of an hour ago at the end of the day. I always weigh myself in the morning. And even though I swore I wouldn’t, I tried on my skinny jeans from before, which are a size lower than the ones I am pleased to be in. They are too tight. But they zipped. They zipped, I tell ya. Of course, they are stretch. The up a zero point few doesn’t bother me, either, because I know it is meaningless to weigh myself daily and because I have two more days before it’s official. I know that I am only going to lose a pound or so week, and that this 3 pound something pattern was an anomaly. But it was fun.

The Perfect Pork Chop

Well, we’ve been putting off cooking the pork chops because 1) I just haven’t felt like cooking and 2) cooking pork is always such a demoralizing experience. Husband and I have been arguing lately about terribly overcooked meat, but we’d gone through the ground turkey, the grocery store pink kielbasa, the really thin steak, and the chicken breasts. I would have turned to the frozen ground beef of last resort, but it was a freezer brick. What can you do?

Go online.

I usually expect pork dinners to fail, so I jazz them up with a marinade in advance. It makes me feel like I am contributing in some way to the flavor of the meat, and it gives me an excuse to get pissy later during my disappointment. After all, I can tell myself, I seasoned the meat perfectly. I’m not the one who cooked it too long. Tonight, Husband had gone golfing and I really thought I was going to get away with not cooking the meat for one more day, but he’d cut his outing short and pulled out the pans.

A couple searches led me to the Boston Chef blog with a great hook. Yes! I always fall for the pork loins at the grocery store! Yes! They always fool me with their symmetry! Tricksie they are, those stupid pork chops. The story brought me into the meal, and the seasoning kept me there. Plus there was this fancy trick with an oven-safe pan. You fry, and then bake, and then add alcohol. What could go wrong?

Nothing. This was a great meal. I’m so relieved to salvage this food, because one does like variety. I was a little surprised at how quickly what I thought was a bucket of wine evaporated in the pan after I removed it from the heat, but there was no real need for more sauce than we had. The drawback was that the only oven-safe pan I have is an omelet pan, so we could only cook two porkchops at a time. Not a big deal, really, because Fella and Filly had hot dogs to eat. However, the second batch came out a little worse than the first. I think the pan, which had been baked for a while, was too hot and the browning for three minutes on the first side was too long. I did compensate by only browning the second side for thirty seconds and then baking it for about eight minutes, but it was still a little dry. Another downside is that the pan left kind of a mess on our stovetop, which is one of those white solid state ones that shows every scuff. I think most of the damage was done while stirring the wine to make the sauce (the pan jiggled and scraped), but I’m pretty sure the bottom of the pan brought some crap from the oven rack to the stove top. I don’t clean my oven, you see, because it is a 35-year-old piece of crap that is too small for a cookie sheet and deserves to be punished.

Husband did an excellent job seasoning it, with some lemon pepper, garlic salt, onion powder, and some red pepper powder (not flakes). It was only a teeny bit spicy, and it was enough to remind you that the pepper was there but not enough to freak out a baby. By baby I mean an actual baby, not a food pussy.

Sadly, because this was a half-assed menu plan, we did not serve it with couscous or asparagus spears. We had warmed up ball carrots (frozen and then microwaved in the first place) and some leftover spinach linguini. Fella and Filly enjoyed their Hebrew Nationals and Goldfish Crackers immensely.

So the question now is how many times we can eat the perfect pork chop before getting sick of it. Habituation is a drag.