Friday, October 28, 2011

Pork Fat Rules!

I've been seeing more and more offal type meat selections showing up in the meat section of my local grocery store- items like beef heart, marrow bones, tripe, beef or pork  neck bones, shanks, oxtails, pigs feet, and even chicken feet. It also seems that a lot more people are buying up these less expensive cuts of meat- in fact, I've been eyeing up the $2 packs of pork trimmings for some time now, but you practically have to fight people off to get your hands on one if you shop during busier hours.

Given the uncertain economic climate these days, it should come as no surprise that meats that would normally sit on the shelves untouched are gaining popularity. This is, in part, thanks to the fact that everyone is cutting costs any and every way they can. I also chalk it up to the influence of the celebrity chef phenomenon- more people are aware that the stuff most people throw out is not only inexpensive, but also packed full of flavor even more so than the so-called luxury cuts of meat. Perhaps the television personalities, such as Chris Cosentino (a.k.a. @offalchris on twitter), have done us all a valuable public service by showing us that offal can offer cost effective menu options that, with a little skill, care, and technique, can easily rival, or even outdo the so-called "good" cuts of meat.

What will I do with my generous pile of pork fat... I don't know yet, maybe cure for a a few hours as if it were a pancetta, then slice it into ribbons and saute it as part of a pasta dish? Maybe I'm onto something here...

Saturday, October 22, 2011

When life gives you Apples, Make Applesauce

I don't know about you, but applesauce was almost a kitchen staple when I was a kid. It was that go-to extra side dish- many meals ended up following the pattern "meat-starch-vegetable-applesauce" unless it was one of the frequent pasta nights.  As an adult, I've passed by applesauce more often than not. This week, however, I just couldn't think of something interesting to serve with pork chops- until it hit me- we have extra apples, most of the family likes applesauce on pork chops, and fresh applesauce beats the canned stuff any day of the week. So clearly, it was time to break my applesauce drought...

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Simple Potato Gnocchi with Brown Butter and Peas

My family, despite being about as Italian-American as it gets, never had a tradition of making Gnocchi. They were something I knew existed, but never really paid much attention to until fairly recently. Thanks to the magic of television, and the ascendancy of cooking shows over the past fifteen years or so, Gnocchi gained my attention- these light, savory, pillows of pasta earned my respect quickly. I've had gnocchi out at a few restaurants, either as a main dish with a light, fresh tomato sauce, or sauteed with prosciutto and radicchio as a side dish that outshone the main entree... but I've never made them for myself, never even attempted it. This was a grievous omission that I could not let stand any longer, so tonight's dinner was a simple potato Gnocchi tossed in brown butter with peas.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Classic Chicken Parmigiana

Chicken Parmigiana served with Angel Hair Pasta and Garlic Bread
Just about anything tastes great when it's fried, then smothered in tomato sauce and gooey, melted cheese. That's the theory behind all of classic parmigiana dishes. The two best known are Eggplant Parmigiana, and, of course, Chicken Parmigiana. These are flavorful Italian American comfort dishes that are almost universally enjoyed. They're great the first time around- served as part of a dinner, or on a nice crusty sub roll. They keep well in the refrigerator, and are, in some people's opinions, even better as leftovers. We've discussed Eggplant Parmigiana before, now it's time to focus on the Chicken...

Friday, October 7, 2011

Breaking the rules "No Cheese on Fish" - Tuna Salad Grilled Cheese

My long-lost Sicilian Grandmother would put the evil eye on me for this one... One of the most well known "rules" of Italian food culture that was drilled into my head was "No Cheese on Fish" - this grilled cheese sandwich thumbs its nose at this rule. Take a standard grilled cheese sandwich (in this case wheat bread, with white american cheese) and add a little tuna salad, and you have a messy (in a good way) sandwich that flys in the face of tradition.

My tuna salad is standard canned tuna with a little mayonnaise. I add a small pinch of cayenne pepper to wake things up a little, and a good dose of dill weed - the combination really brings out the briny, seawater flavors hiding in that usually boring can of tuna. The mayo and the cheese meld together into something thick and sloppy, but tasty. No cheese on fish indeed! The richness of the cheese balances the ocean brine flavor in a pleasing way. Proof that "rules" are best regarded as "guidelines" rather than as gospel!

Meatloaf Revisited

Am I repeating myself? Yes I am, I posted a meatloaf a while back, but this one is a little different. My previous meatloaf followed my mother's recipe fairly closely, this time, I'm taking a slightly different track- it's one of those common, everyday meals that is simple enough that anyone can make- but at the same time there are an almost infinite number of subtle variations on the same idea.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Dr. Atkins' Nightmare - Pan Fried Breading

This little fried side dish/treat is about as far from diet friendly as you can get. It's a little treat my mom used to make using the leftover breading and egg whenever she made any breaded fried foods, such as chicken parmigiana. It's a big chunk of starch and egg, pan fried until golden brown. The very thought of it causes practitioners of the old, anti-carb Atkins diet to run screaming. The rest of us, just tuck in and enjoy the indulgence...