10 October, 2011

More Culinary Adventures

We're in a bit of a money crunch right now.  Between paying off my college debt (you know, so I can accrue new college debt), my new car, and last month's road trip, our savings are way lower than I'm comfortable with and my credit card debt is way higher.  All in all, not an ideal situation. 

So we're eating out a lot less. 

And I've gotten really sick of the same chicken breast/pork chop with brown rice and veggies.  Blahhhh... 

I'm also watching (but not completely avoiding) sodium, which rules out most easy foods that come frozen, boxed, or bagged.  I should also be avoiding red meat and butter, but I've slipped off that wagon.

And since we're attempting to be thrifty, I've started reading the weekly sale flyers from Publix.  I'm looking for whatever random cut of meat is on sale, and then searching the Food Network website for a recipe to go along with it. 

Inspired by a restaurant at Downtown Disney, I first tired my hand at pork ragu.  The recipe was moderately successful, considering I substituted the dutch oven for a crock pot.  The veggies, even after 6 hours of cooking, still weren't soft enough to dissolve in the sauce the way I wanted.  I loved starting a recipe at 10 am and then having it for dinner that night, and for a while we were contemplating buying a new crock pot.  We haven't though, so this recipe is bookmarked to return to another time.

Short ribs were next.  Scott expected to be disappointed by this recipe, since it's from the lady who only uses 5 ingredients.  No celery/carrots/onion?  Are you mad?  I guess the vegetable stock makes a huge impact.  The depth of flavor was impressive, the meat actually fell right off the bones (I thought it was just an expression!), and the second time I made it we used the leftover braising liquid for shepherd's pie.  The last time the meat was on sale, I actually made a mid-week trip back to the store to get more to freeze.

This week I had a craving for chicken & dumplings.  I grew up on Sweet Sue, and occasionally get them from Cracker Barrel.  This recipe was nothing like either of those.  Unlike the chicken and thick noodles in slime from the can (which, by the way, I still super-puffy-heart love), this was a creamy chicken stew with veggies. The dumplings looked like giant puffy matzoh balls, but were ridiculously airy, tasted like the chicken stock they were poached in, and melted in your mouth.  Of course, with both buttermilk and heavy cream, this recipe can't go in heavy rotation!

Here are some things I've learned from my recent culinary exploration:
  • The dutch oven is my favorite cooking vessel...but probably wouldn't be if I was the one who had to hand-wash it every time.
  • A 3.5 lb. chicken will not completely submerge in said vessel for poaching unless chopped up.
  • I am emotionally strong enough to butcher a raw whole chicken (not neatly, but well enough)
  • You can really make chicken stock from scratch
  • I make awesome chicken stock!
  • You could simmer a shoe in red wine and vegetable stock and it'll be delicious and tender
  • I'm getting better at dicing vegetables
  • If the house smells delicious when he comes home, Scott might not notice that I haven't showered yet
  • I really enjoy cooking, but only when I haven't worked 8 hours first
I think the next project is going to involve oxtails, since I have a tray of those in the freezer.  I'm still looking for a good recipe.

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