Me and you and them.

rosemary

We have to have a talk, me and you, right now.

Yes, I broke a grammar rule. My mother, the writing teacher, said it was acceptable on occasion to break rules for dramatic effect, and I needed your attention. We have to have a sit-down, come to Jesus, fireside chat about who does and doesn’t belong here. Then, later, we’ll talk about chicken fried steak. And yes, talk me I get to talk and hope you’ll listen. I also hope you’ll respond.

I was picking up lunch a few weeks ago and ran into a couple of friends. Actually, one was a friend, the other an acquaintance. The friend waved and said something about a recent post and how much she enjoyed my blog. When her lunch companion gave a puzzled look, my friend said something like, “Jennifer has a blog; she writes stories about her family and posts recipes and weekly menus. You should check it out.” Something like that; I can’t remember exactly, but you get the idea. And as you picture this little scene unfolding, know that it happened very quickly – more quickly than it will seem here. As my friend was talking, my acquaintance looked up, brows knitted, and said,

What qualifies you to do that?

I wish I could tell you that I had a witty response to throw back, like “I don’t know? What qualifies you to question me?” Anything. What I said, instead, was:

It’s just something I enjoy doing.

There are more than 12 million WordPress blogs in the blogosphere. That’s just WordPress, just one blogging platform (the one of choice, IMHO, even if I’m apparently not technically qualified to have an opinion.) Search “blogs about cats” on Google, and you’ll get 149 million hits. Search “food blogs,” and you’ll get 1.6 billion hits.

There are, obviously, some completely horrible blogs among those millions. There are also some spectacularly iconic and wonderful ones. The Bloggess comes immediately to mind (she recently moved her site to WordPress, by the way, and I did a yippee skippy dance for no real reason).

Looking through the big bad world of blogs, it might be easy to conclude that the only qualified bloggers are the ones whose blogs are extensions of their professional lives. David Lebovitz, for example, would be a (highly) qualified food blogger. Proof and Lens would be a (highly) qualified photo blogs.

It might be easy, by extension, then to conclude that only qualified readers belong on those blogs – belong in the sense that they are qualified to comment, to join the conversation.

Me and you? We’re just regular Joes. We don’t belong with them.

Except, of course, that we do. We are the entire reason for initiating the “conversation” to begin with. We. Friends. Parents. Cooks. Writers. Photographers. Travelers. Readers. Philosophers. Knitters. Even the cat lovers. We are people, and we belong. We are the conversation. Don’t like where a conversation is heading? Then start a new one. It’s easier than you think.

And have a look around, why don’t you? You might be surprised by what you’ve been missing while thinking you don’t belong.

If you thought, for example, that David Lebovitz was the only qualified blogger based in France and writing about food, then you’ve missed Food, Photography & France by Roger Stowell. If you thought only National Geographic and the New York Times could bring you great photo blogs, then you’ve missed Ron Scubadiver’s Wild Life, Merilee Mitchell’s beautiful Gravel Ghost, and, still one of my all time favorites, James Wakling’s Beneath the Concrete the Forest Grows. Last, but not least, if you thought The Blogess had the corner on the irreverent women’s market, then you’ve missed I am Begging My Mother Not to Read This Blog, and, dear God, that child is funny – potty mouthed, but funny.

As an aside, in case you ever for one second think you don’t belong here on this particular blog, jenny’s lark, because you’re not handy in the kitchen, remember this:

You are following the blog of an entirely unqualified home cook who has served hockey puck biscuits, burned rice, meat so salty that Dead Sea water would be a relief, and every overcooked vegetable that can possibly be overcooked. I’ve invited people for dinner at 6 and not been able to serve until 8:30 because I miscalculated how long it would take to roast a chicken. I’ve (inadvertently) served moldy raspberries. If I belong, you belong. I’m glad you’re here.

Wasn’t such a bad talk, was it?

And now on to chicken fried steak:

I wrote last week that Bernard had reached the “I need simple comfort food” point, and that I was going to make his favorite, chicken fried steak. I also mentioned that I would not be eating chicken fried steak because I don’t like it. Cube steak dredged in flour, then egg wash, then flour and deep fried? Ick.

When the day came, I just couldn’t do it. There had to be a better way. I started looking through Epicurious for recipes (No Food 52? No; we’ve broken up.  The celery soup was a one hit wonder, and I’ve just got to move on). Taking a little from each of the recipes Epicurious had to offer, here (below) is what I ended up with, and even I liked it. All my people asked for more, which is always a good indicator in our house.

Note: Why yes, Bernard, you can pound your own top sirloin into cube steaks at home instead of buying them. If you want to go to all that trouble yourself next time, knock yourself out.

Chicken Fried Steak Strips

  • Cube steaks (1 to 1 1/2 per person)
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Flour (1-2 cups)
  • Eggs (2-3; can also use 1 whole egg and 2-3 egg whites)
  • Dijon mustard (I used 1/2 c.; use more or less, to taste)
  • Milk or cream
  • Panko or bread crumbs (Panko makes a crispier crust)
  • Vegetable oil (for frying)
  1. Place flour in a medium sized bowl; add a generous pinch of salt and pepper and mix well.
  2. In another medium sized bowl, mix the eggs, milk (or cream) and mustard; you’ll need 1 1/2 to 2 cups total liquid.
  3. In a third bowl pour Panko or bread crumbs (about 2 cups); salt and pepper (or add other seasoning, to your taste).
  4. Cut the steaks into strips; each steak should yield 3-4 strips.
  5. Heat the oil in a heavy skillet or deeper pan (to avoid spray); cooking temperature should be between 325 and 375 degrees on a thermometer. Alternative: heat oven to 370 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  6. While the oil is heating, dredge the steak strips in flour (coat completely; shake off excess), then in the mustard/milk/egg wash, then in the Panko.  Press the crumbs into the meat so they’ll stick. Place the coated steak strips on a cutting board or baking sheet until ready to fry. Alternative: bake on parchment paper lined baking sheets at 370 degrees for 15-20 minutes, depending upon the thickness of the steaks, turning once halfway through cooking.
  7. Frying 5-6 pieces at a time, cook until light brown on each side. If your oil is too hot, the crust will brown before the meat is cooked through, so pay attention to the temperature (I use a candy thermometer, but I’m a kitchen geek).

I served the strips with mashed potatoes and steamed green beans. Bernard also made brown gravy. From a packet. I love him anyway.

Happy week.

Food | Week of February 24, 2014

carrots and pepperThis week will be a keep it simple week; now that it’s warmer outside, I like to go for a walk between work and dinner, so dinner has to be quick and easy until we get to Daylight Savings Time.

To start the week, I’m going to try a new recipe for Italian meat sauce, this one from Real Simple.  Reading the reviews, I will probably brown the meat first. I’m also going to make a double batch because I’m feeding my people both spaghetti and lasagna in the same week. Mama Mia!

Slow Cooker Spaghetti Bolognese | Caesar Salad

Again, using a new recipe from Real Simple, I’ll probably brown the meat first and will use a mix of beef and turkey. Keeping it basic, a plain Caesar salad will appear on the side.

Shirred Eggs | Grapefruit & Watercress Salad

This salad, from Martha Stewart Everyday Food, is easy to make and different from a usual weekday salad. If you can’t find watercress, arugula (or a mix of arugula and baby spinach) will do. It’s a nice tangy compliment to shirred eggs, for which you may follow either Ina Garten or Mark Bittman. If you’re using individual au gratin dishes, it should take about 12 minutes in a 375 degree oven for the whites to set.

Pork Meorangesdallions with Orange Sauce | Jasmine Rice | Spinach Salad

One of my mother’s signature dishes was pork chops cooked in orange juice. She would brown the pork chops in a bit of butter, pour orange juice into the pan (think braise, not boil), remove the meat when it was cooked, reduce the sauce and then stir in some sour cream (or yogurt). This recipe from Martha Stewart is very similar. An alternative would be to marinate the pork in orange/citrus juice for a couple of hours in the refrigerator to add more citrus flavor and help tenderize the meat. Serve with rice (sauce on rice, of course) and a simple spinach salad (or steamed spinach).

sweet potatoesBaked Sweet Potatoes | Steamed Broccoli | Cucumber Salad

I prefer baked sweet potatoes, topped with butter and salt, to your standard baked Yukon or Idaho spud. Suit yourself. Either way, it’s a quick and easy dinner served with a plain steamed green vegetable and crisp, tangy cucumber salad like this one from Ellie Krieger.

Lasagna

That extra sauce from the spaghetti is going straight into a pan of rich lasagne, at my people’s request. Not surprisingly, I don’t use a recipe when making lasagne, just layer sauce, noodles, mozzarella and a ricotta/Parmesan/egg mix until the pan is full, top with cheese, and bake for an hour. Lasagna is a time consuming project, especially if you make your own sauce (hence making a double batch at the beginning of the week). If you would like to try a new recipe with complete instructions, try this one from Anne Burrell (we made it last year, and it was very good).

4 Comments Add yours

  1. Michelle says:

    Who do you think you are anyway? I think most of my friends are so glad that we started blogging. Even though most don’t even read it (there’s a whole other story), they’re thrilled that I have another outlet for my food/cooking blatherings to give them a break from it.

    Isn’t Roger’s blog a delight? We were so lucky to spend some time with him in France a year or so ago. I learned so much, and he’s just exactly as you imagine in person.

  2. Barbara says:

    I love your blog – I too have had some colossal culinary failures, including rock-hard biscuits that even a Labrabor Retriever wouldn’t eat – and this dog had the constitution of a dempster dumpster. I am qualified to read because I care about food oeyu euand love learning new things your recipes, menus and stories. As for the person who questioned you about your qualifications – her ponytail must be too tight.

    The slow cooker bolognese sounds great and I will try it. Ina Garten has a bolognese recipe that is pretty fast and resoundingly good. ALL my people liked it, although they asked for angel hair pasta next time instead of the orecchiette the recipe calls for. I agree with them.

    Please keep writing.

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