Monday, June 29, 2015

Ground Pork and Making Adjustments

"Ground beef is FOUR DOLLARS a POUND!" exclaimed my Loverlu as she crossed the front door threshold, plastic bags of groceries tugging on both arms in vain attempts to dislocate her shoulders.

"D'ya believe it?!  Never thought I'd see the day when buck-eighty-nine beef broke the 3-dollar barrier, let alone four bucks!  This is messed-UP!  I mean seriously, it's 75%/25% ground what-EVER meat!"  She let out a huff at the kitchen table, dropped her bags and called for the boys to porter the goods from the minivan to the kitchen counter.

My girl loves few things more than provisioning the household, but, there are days when I pray for a good deal.  Beef prices have been a sore spot for the last 6 months-plus.  Good golly, cuts that were for slow-cooking and cheap, now command a premium price.  WTF (why the face)?!  The premium cuts like ribeye, NY, and filet are laughable.  And I'll be go-to-hell if I pay over ten bucks a pound for a steak.  That just ain't right, it ain't flippin' right.


...what is more affordable?  What does provide good value for your protein dollar?  It must've been a 90's ad campaign that coined the phrase:

"Pork, the Other White Meat!"

Lisa had picked up a boneless pork shoulder (about 8 lbs) for less than $2.00 per pound and we cut it up into two-pound pieces for freezing.  One piece was left out for Dad to run through the grinder for a pasta dish ($4 in meat).  I saute'd the meat, onions, celery and fresh minced garlic (get the fresh heads or already peeled cloves) in, yes, left-over bacon fat.  If you wanna see young men act like flies in the kitchen, do this.  Seriously, they resurrect from their basement catacombs as aromas somehow waft downward.  The aromas carry outside as well from our hood fan.  Rhonda, the lady next-door in a motorized wheelchair was watering her yard when I ducked out for just a second to empty the kitchen garbage can.

"Dennis, I don't know what Lisa is cooking, but, it smells real good!"  She had a garden hose in one hand and a cigarette in the other.
"You know, she is very talented.  You're a lucky man..." she continued as she re-oriented her HoverRound to spray another patch of grass.

Rhonda has called me Dennis since she moved in about four years ago.  We never wanted to embarrass her, so, we let it go.  When Walt, the retired hippy across the street who won't mow his grass because it might kill honey bees, tried to correct her, we told her 'Dennis' was my middle name and that only "close family and folks from church" call me 'Dennis.'  That made her happy knowing that she was part of a pseudo-Catholic secret, like the Knights Templar or Opus Dei.

Anyhoo, so upon return,  I bumped the ground pork, onions, celery and garlic with a splash of balsamic vinegar, reduced it, and slugged it with canned tomatoes/puree'.  From there, I added a couple tablespoons of Italian seasonings and of course, 2 tablespoons of ground, toasted fennel seeds.

Lisa had Liam's 'Bullet Blender' out and was processing some fresh basil.
"What the Hell ya doin', babe?" I asked her.

"If we garnish with fresh basil, Siobhan won't eat it.  She's going through that phase of 'No Green Stuff."

"Mother o' Jesus," I said, "The same basil she planted with you, she won't eat.  Fer the luv o' Mike!"

No sooner than Lisa's basil puree was ready, so too were the pasta shells.  She combined the meat sauce with the basil, tossed it with the pasta and 'POOF!", dinner was ready.

We sat outside with a MicroPlane grater and a chunk of Romano Pecorino at the center of the table.

A blessing was said.

If you're ever feeling down about your cooking, invite a herd of young men to your home for dinner. You can keep the girls. Teen aged girls are a pain in the arse that will not talk about food until you leave.  Usually, it's not complimentary and they tend to critique, unable to enjoy the moment.  Go figure.

Boys love food and wax profane about really good food.  Lisa and I said, 'Thank You' as much as we said, 'Watch your language, watch your language.'

As market prices of beef and chicken soar, look around at what is available and how you can use it.

Flexibility is key in shopping, cooking and friendships.  Just don't call me 'Dennis.'

Pasta with Meat Sauce and Goodness:  Serves 8.

Ground Pork.......2 lbs
Onion, diced.......2 C.
Celery, diced.......1 C.
Garlic, minced.....1/4 C.
Oil, whatever........1/2 C.
Balsamic Vinegar..1/2 C.
Basil, fresh............1 bunch, blasted with oil in the processor for a paste
Italian Seasoning..2T
Toasted Fennel......2T
Tomato Puree'.......2 qts. taste
Pasta.....................2 lbs.

Break up ground pork and saute' in oil on MH (medium-high) heat.  When meat is cooked, add onions, celery and garlic.  Cook till onions are transparent.  Add balsamic, Italian seasoning and ground toasted fennel seeds.  When vinegar is reduced by half, add tomato product, fresh basil puree', bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer.
Cook 2 pounds of pasta and figure on left overs.  Combine pasta with sauce and serve with generous amounts of Pecorino cheese.  Keep the grater and cheese on the table; everyone LOVES to do their own!

Take care, God bless and remember:

"Food, Faith, Family and Friends, 
the Best Things in Life Aren't Things!"


Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Young Men and Skirts

I've always been a fan of skirts.  Gosh, it must've been early childhood that I really took notice of the allure and versatility of a nice skirt.  It could go anywhere, wasn't expensive and impressed everyone that came in contact with it!

Wait a second, I'm not talking about a 'Bruce/Caitlin Jenner' experience, I'm referring to a delectable cut of meat known as the diaphragm muscle used in carne asada or to most of us, the skirt steak.
My dad introduced it to us as kids when he would throw it on the grill, char the outside and leave the interior a still cool, pulsating red.  Since it is a cut with a distinctive grain to it, improper orientation of the slicing resulted in a fatigue of jaw muscles and frustration for an 8 year old boy.

The flavor was great, but, hells bells, I couldn't chew the bloody thing!  Making matters worse, when Mom would ask for the meat to be cooked to a more done temperature, we were brow-beaten into a medium rare.
"Men eat their meat rare!" he would bellow.  Yeah, CAVE-men, I thought.  If you can't chew it, you can't swallow it.  If you can't swallow it, either you choke in a futile attempt to follow orders or you spit it into your napkin and nest it in your lap for a dump into the garbage.

I went for the napkin route and found great success until I was discovered and told to eat what I had dumped.
Not fun and a pointless exercise that diminished my enjoyment of grilled meat.

Flash forward 45 years...

"Hey, old man, wazz cookin', brazh?!"  It was Liam just in from a run and sniffing around my 16" saute' pan on the back deck.  Had the crab boiler burner hooked up and sliced onions were doing somersaults in a blend of canola oil and bacon fat; colors turning from opaque to transparent and finally a sweet, caramel brown.
"So, what's on the menu?" he asked, sweat dripping down his nose and into the onions as he hovered over the pan inhaling the savory vapors.

"Skirt steaks, saute'd onions, pico de gallo, avocados and choice of tortillas," I followed, taking a deserved draw from a pint of IPA, "I think you're gonna like it."

"Hell YEEAHH!" he puffed, "Ima take a shower, back in 10," he said and off he went.

Once Brendan and Liam were up, each was tasked with several duties and the outside table was set in no-time.  I like to put each prepared item on a nice dish for outside meals using painted Mexican earthenware, Italian DeLucca and a catering piece or two.  Brendan had pint glasses with water and ice poured, a glass of white wine for Mom and lemonade for Siobhan.

A blessing was said.

I cut the skirt steaks into 3-4 inch lengths for the saute' pan, knowing that they will be sliced against the grain for consumption.  To do so otherwise is to condemn your guests to a chewing workout and possible TMJ lawsuit.

"We need one of those things that spins," offered Liam, "you know, like in the Chinese restaurants."
"Yeah," Brendan chimed, "it makes it look fancy and we don't have to keep asking each other to pass stuff around..."  Brendan is at the 17 year old boy 'eat everything in sight' stage.

"Excellent...this is flippin' sweeet, Dad!"  Liam had juices running from his wrist to his elbow as each over-filled tortilla ran remnant juices towards the table.  Brendan took his time assembling three corn tortillas on his plate, spaced equi-distant from each other with condiments strategically aligned along the diameter for perfect flavor on every, last bite.

"Nice, Pop!" he finally commented, "The meat has almost a liver-y flavor, but, the lime juice cuts the fat well..."

We chatted about school, work and activities, then the girls went inside for reading and a bath.
Brendan, who usually eats and runs, stuck around as Liam was on a roll about everything from a drummer in Modest Mouse to how we should crush ISIS.  We laughed, discussed seriously, then laughed some more: Prom, bands, rock history, high school teachers that were cool, rear brakes on a '95 Acura, firearm ballistics, muzzle loaders and finally girls.

As we were clearing the table and blowing out candles, each of them remarked,
"The meat was great.  Nice job, I love that skirt steak."

Why is it, conversations with men, young and old, always seem to start and finish with "The Skirts?"

 Grilled Skirt Steak  serves 6 (with some left-overs for snacks...boys!)

3 lb.....skirt steaks.  Get the thick ones not the thin ones.  Same prep, more meat.
3 Tbs...Kosher salt
2...........Limes, halved


Each steak can be up to 24" long and 4" wide.  Peel any outer membrane from the steaks if the butcher has not done so already.  Cut into 4" sections for grilling or sauteing.
Sprinkle with salt on both sides and let stand on a cookie sheet for 15 minutes allowing the salt to penetrate and 'juice up.'
Place steaks on a medium grill or in a pan and cook to desired doneness.  They will plump as the protein sets and you can poke them with a knife to relieve the juices and color.  Each steak should take about 15 minutes for medium temperature.
Remove and let stand for 10 minutes before slicing against the grain of the meat.  Squeeze with fresh lime and serve.

Take care, God bless and remember:
"Food, Faith, Family and Friends,
the Best Things in Life Aren't Things."