Week 3: March 22-28 2020
(I'm writing this part of the blog on April 12th, five weeks into the COVID lockdown.)
Sunday March 22nd
I want to sing the praises of the pork loin in the cryovac pack. Man, those things are great. They keep for a relatively long time if you don't open them, and I can get a couple of good dinners out of them. The pork chops we had the week before were lopped of the end of one, nice and thick and juicy. Sunday the 22nd was time for the four of us to finish off the loin.
I started off by criss-cross-cutting the fat cap. That helps the top of the roast melt better and stay on top longer as a baste, so that the fat has a chance to crisp up without the lean meat under it drying out. I also rubbed the roast down with a coating of brown sugar, salt, deli style ground mustard, and some smoked paprika for flavor. I baked it at 325 until it was up to 140°F, and tented it to rest for a half hour, and it came out perfect.
I used the pan drippings to make a pork gravy. Gravy isn't too hard to make if you practice the technique. Butter or oil into a pan, melt it. Throw a spoonful of flour into that butter, and cook the flour until it gets to the level of brown you want. That is called a "roux", which is a french word meaning "I think you are about to burn that flour". One trick to remember is that the more brown the flour, the more gravy flavor you end up with, but the thinner the gravy will be. To thicken it back up, throw a little more fresh flour into the brown stuff, and mix it in there before you add a cup of water all at once. Stir like crazy to get that roux to dissolve, and get the water to boiling. Gravy has to boil, or it might come out tasting like raw flour.
Once you've got that gravy liquid on its way to boiling, you can add whatever flavors you want. I like adding a bay leaf. Pan drippings work great. So does this stuff, Better than Bouillon. (Bouillon is another french word, meaning "To be added before any salt.") You'll notice that there is no better than bouillon roast pork flavor. Why is that? I have no clue, but a mix of the chicken and beef flavors taste really nice with pork. Maybe its so you buy a bottle of each, I don't know. But it works.
Of course, with pork and gravy, you've got to have mashed potatoes, so I made that too. (As an aside, let me ask you this- do you know the difference between mashed potatoes and pea green soup? If not, please consult my family's joke book. I think it is number 37, right next to 36, the one about "we can what we can and what we cant we tin.")
I still had some Belgian micro-cabbage left over from St. Pat's day, so I did the hip thing and fried those bad boys up in some bacon fat and chopped shallot, and served 'em with a splash of balsamic vinegar and crumbled bacon on top. Because it is so important for us to eat healthy green vegetables in the time of pandemic. That, and bacon keeps your coat glossy.
I don't usually cook with recipes in hand. I just go for it, and it usually comes out ok, and that probably explains why I don't have much success baking. I don't have any pictures of this wonderful Sunday dinner, but I do have a recipe for the salad I made with it. The only reason why I have this recipe is because my Great Aunt Elaine (aka "The Greatest Aunt Elaine") enjoyed it so much when I made it over the fourth of July last year, that she asked me to write it down for her. She said it should be called "Jeff's Cucumberry Salad", and with that kind of praise how could I not write it down? Sadly, Elaine passed away later in the summer, so in her honor I've renamed the salad, the recipe I will share with you here.
Elaine's Cucumberry Salad
- 1 Bowl of sliced cucumbers
- 1 Pint of sliced strawberries
- 1 Sprig of fresh dill, 4 inches or so, finely chopped
- 1 part seasoned rice wine vinegar
- 1 part olive oil
- 1 part honey
- 3 parts unflavored Greek yogurt
Monday March 23rd: Lets talk about 'glut.
My mom used to make this stuff she called "Slum-Glut", and we loved it as kids. I've tried looking that word up to see if anyone else makes it the same way. It turns out I've found several recipies that are all very similar, but they have very weird names. Names like "American Chop Suey", or "American Goulash", or "Slumgullion".
I shouldn't have to point out that putting the word "American" in front of something almost always gives connotations of "not quite right" or possibly "not authentic". Look at Chop Suey. That's a dish native to North America. It is NOT made with ground beef and macaroni. American Chop Suey is. American Chop Suey is the not-quite-right cousin of Chop Suey, in the same way that American Goulash isn't really the yummy soup you are probably thinking of. No, you order American Goulash and you are more more likely to end up with a plate of Slumgullion, what ever that stuff is. For other clear examples of this phenomenon of not-quite-right-ness, consider American Basketball Association, American Samoa, American Airlines, and American Express. Don't even get me started on SAE wrenches or motor oil viscosities, or I'll have to sic my American Kennel Club dog on you like some kind of American Psycho.
And that is why in our house, we eat good old traditional, no-american-in-front-of-it hyphenated Slum-Glut, just like my Mom used to make. Not any of that other inauthentic, made up, not-quite-right crap that you might find on the Internet.
- a pound of ground sirloin
- a pepper
- an onion
- a can of diced tomatoes
- hungarian hot paprika to taste
- a blast of ketchup. (NOT American Catsup! KETCHUP.)
- a blast of mustard
- a lil' shot of Worcester sauce
- some beef bouillon
- half a box of little shell macaroni
- half a bag of shredded cheddar cheese.
Toss in the paprika and let it mix into the fry before you throw the can of undrained tomatoes in. Add the KETCHUP (see note above about authenticity), the mustard, the Worcester Sauce, the bouillon, and the uncooked pasta. Stir that whole thing together, then add enough water to just cover the mix. The noodles are gonna suck all that up, don't worry. Simmer it covered for like a half hour until the water is absorbed. If its looking dry but the noodles aren't done yet (go ahead, taste one, if its crunchy its not done), then throw a little more water at it and keep going.
When the pasta is cooked, pull it off the heat, give it one more good stir, throw that shredded cheese on top along with some ground pepper, and toss the whole pan under the broiler until the cheese looks melted and yummy. Again, don't be a afraid to burn it a little.
Take it out, serve it with some salad, and revel in how awesome this dish is. If you are worried about how healthy it is, let me assure you that this is American healthy. I suggest you double down on the salad, and don't worry so much about it. That's what we did on the 23rd, 'cause in a pandemic, there are other things that could kill you faster than hamburger and cheese.
Tuesday March 24: I like to grill it grill it...
I love a good plate of Slum-Glut, and I don't mind that it may be not-quite-healthy. Moderation matters, and It's not like I'm eating that stuff every night. In fact, some nights I make particularly healthy food. Take a look at this plate of yummy chicken and vegetables. The yellow pepper, chicken, and asparagus were grilled. The broccoli and cauliflower were steamed. The mixed green salad was... tossed.
I've played around with a lot of different ways of seasoning and grilling chicken breasts, and have come up with some really nice flavors over the years. I almost always prefer to do my own spice blends from basic seasonings instead of using pre-mixed blends. However, I have to admit that for complete and total ease of prep crossed with general tastiness, it is hard to beat Cavender's Greek Seasoning on grilled chicken. Dry off the bird, hit it hard on all sides with Cavender's, wait five minutes, then slap 'em down on a hot grill. Flip a couple times to get those birdies up to 150°F, let 'em rest tented and off heat for another five minutes, and they come out looking like they do in the picture. No oil required if your grill is well seasoned!
The asparagus and pepper do have a little olive oil on them, along with a little squeeze of lime for flavor and browning, and were cooked on the grill right next to the chicken. The steamed veg were steamed in the microwave right in the bag they came frozen in.
Wednesday March 25: "Chicken Jeffrizina"
What happens when you slow simmer a bunch of chunked chicken breast with mushrooms, carrots, celery, and some sage from the garden in a light broth for a few hours, then add some German spatzel noodles, and finish the dish off with a flour, butter, and half-and-half cream sauce?
You get "Chicken Jeffrizina"! I only wish I had taken a picture of it. Or had written down exactly what I thew in there because it was good, but I don't remember. I do remember thinking "next time the Jeffrizina is going to have some peas in it." Anyway, it was delicious. And probably next time it'll have too many peas.
Thursday March 26: Date Night!
We were determined not to have a repeat of Arby's night, like we had last Thursday. In times of lesser pandemic, we'd usually go out to Knight's on Dexter at least once if not twice a month. They have really great Manhattans, and the food and atmosphere are both excellent. Of course, all of the steakhouses in Michigan were closed due to LOCKDOWN, but we had heard on the news that the Knight family was doing the full menu as curbside pickup! We figured that was as good a date night as we were going to get, so we placed our usual pre-COVID order minus the cocktails, plus some Knight's bakery cookies, and rolled out to Ann Arbor to pick up the feast.
On the way out, Rika said it was too bad we didn't have any Maker's Mark to shake up a few Manhattan's with our own 'Knight's pour' at home. I allowed as how there was a liquor store on the way, and if it was open, we'd be drinking Maker's tonight. It was. We did. Great date night.
Friday March 27: Brats and Tots!
I want to write about a funny quirk of the English language. The words "brats" and "tots" rhyme.
Of course, "brats" in this context is short for the German Bratwurst, so maybe its not a quirk of the English language, per se. "Per se" is a latin phrase meaning "by itself", and rhymes with the Canadian statement, "Purse, Eh?", as used in the following exchange between two Toronto Maple Leafs fans:
- Tim: "See you're still wearing that silly Purse, Eh?"
- Bruce: "No, I told you its a bum bag, and they aren't silly per se, so leave me alone, a'right huh?"
This is apropos (a French word) because "a'right huh?" rhymes with "Ore-Ida", the company that invented the "Tater Tot". "Ore" in this case is short for the state of Oregon, while "Ida" is short for the state of Idaho. "Tater" is short for Potato. "Tot" is short for "TOTally not made from the Idaho potato scraps left over from our lucrative Ontario-based frozen French Fry business".
And to avoid confusion, let me point out that's Ontario Oregon where Ore-Ida processes its spuds, not Ontario Canada, the province from whence Toronto Maple Leafs fans in Windsor come to watch hockey in our fabulous Detroit Pizzarena. (Pizzarena being a portmanteau (French again) of the Italian word for 'pie', and the latin word 'arena' meaning 'a sand strewn place of combat'. We've replaced the sand with ice in Detroit, and combat for whatever you call the last place season that the Wings had this year.)
Everyone knows that the American French fry tastes like Freedom, and therefore so do tater tots.
That's why I made Brats and Tots for dinner on the 27th. The dish pays homage (french) to the global, interconnected nature of the pandemic crisis, and reminds us of the tasty freedom that we'll get back once we've kicked COVID-19 out of our arena, and we can finally come out of lockdown and cross the border again.
That, and its super easy to make. Want the recipe? Read the packages.
Saturday March 28: Steak and Spaghetti
There's not much really to say about steak and spaghetti, and I didn't think to take a picture to share. I guess my only real comments are:
- Learn to grill a steak. Don't read about how to cook a steak, don't watch how. You need to learn how. It takes practice. It takes burning a few steaks. There's no way around it. I could write down all the techniques that I use to grill a steak, but that wouldn't help you grill one, not one tiny bit. And once you do get really good at it, you'll never be able to watch another person grill a steak without cringing and critiquing a little bit. That's human nature, and why it is almost impossible to get people to leave you alone while you are trying to grill. Get used to that too, there's no way around it. Just don't ever set down the tongs.
- Learn how to make Spaghetti marinara sauce from scratch with fresh ingredients. The flavors of a perfect sauce, with hand-peeled Roma tomatoes, onions, fresh basil, crushed garlic, peppers, having stewed away slowly on the stove all Sunday afternoon long is sublime, and can never be surpassed by any sauce that you pour out of a jar. Of course, that sauce sublime also takes all Sunday afternoon to make, and once you've done it a few times, you'll really come to appreciate that while the home made stuff is for sure better, its rarely six hours of kitchen time better than the stuff that comes out of the jar.
- Making pasta is hard. It is a lot like baking, and I don't do much baking. I try to stick to boiling.
Thus ends the week. A nicely grilled family steak sliced on the bias, Classico Tomato and Basil Pasta Sauce from a jar, and some dried Barilla Pasta Noodles boiled in salty water. Dinner in about an hour, my people are fed, and none of us have the COVID.