Monday, January 11, 2010

Cheap Bastid's Comfort Food--Swiss Steak

It's a new year and time for Cheap Bastid to get back in the swing of things. For those of you who aren't familiar with Cheap Bastid, let me just say that I like cheap! More particularly, I believe passionately in saving money, especially on food. It is totally possible to have a severely limited budget and to eat well. You just have to do a couple of things: shop smart and cook.

Now, I don't mean that you cook either by opening a carton of stuff you bought pre-cooked and heat it up. And I don't mean that you have to make something like they do on "Top Chef"--gourmet techniques using expensive ingredients from expensive grocers like Whole Foods. But you can use simple ingredients and prepare home cooked meals that taste good, are nutritious and which are inexpensive. And, Cheap Bastid tries to do that and share with interested readers.

Oh, and by the way, I got a new Christmas apron for from my bride and she took the following picture of me which shall hereinafter be my "official" Cheap Bastid "portrait". (Extra bonus points for those who get the Christmas message on the apron).

When it's really, really cold outside like it has been throughout most of the country so far in 2010, what you crave is home-cooked comfort food. Something that's going to fill your home with some fantastic aromas for a few hours and then taste as good and be as warm and filling as those aromas have been promising.

That's why I'm sharing my all-time, absolute favorite comfort food recipe with you today. I have loved this dish since I was a little kid and my Mom would make it. I've been fixing it a couple of times a year for 30+ years and my daughter's request for the recipe about 4 years ago is what prompted me to write a cookbook for my children titled "Dad's Kitchen Survival Guide and Cookbook". (Word document copies available via e-mail for free upon request).

I fixed this last week and took the pictures. I'm not the world's greatest photographer and I'm not a food stylist. I prefer to plop it on a plate and have at it with a hearty appetite. If you want me to play with your food and make it a pretty little sculpture, forget it. Others might be able to make this gorgeous and maybe I could too if I wasn't so impatient to get on to the best part--the eating!

And, I made one big mistake. I bought the wrong kind of tomatoes. Buy whole canned tomatoes and squish them in your hands (a great way to release a bit of tension) or buy diced. I bought crushed and it was more like a puree and it just wasn't quite the same--although the taste was fine. The final texture was off just a bit. A smaller mistake was too much oil in the skillet to brown the meat and my old nemesis of too much heat. (Standing joke at our place is that I start off with too much heat in cooking where my wife starts with too little. I seem to prefer to turn it down while Carolyn prefers to turn it up).

And for God's sake, make real mashed potatoes. Peel them, cut them and cook them. No instant!

This dish takes about 20 minutes worth of prep (meat tenderizing, veggie cutting, etc.) and about 30 minutes of prep cooking (browning the meat). And then it's about 1 1/2 hours in the oven which is what's going to make your home smell really, really good.

Unfortunately, there is no scratch and sniff computer program or else I'd attach the aroma of this dish. But, give it a try. It's a tremendous family meal that'll fill everybody up and make your tastebuds happy and wanting more. (By the way, I also like this dish with bisquits for sopping or just for eating, slathered with butter or margerine). My mouth is watering just reviewing this recipe and thinking about how tasty it is.
Dad's Swiss Steak

2 lbs Top Round or Sirloin Steak (3/4-1” thick)
1 lg can (28 oz) Roma tomatoes—whole or sliced
1 green bell pepper
1 medium (baseball size) onion
2 stalks celery
1 fresh jalapeno pepper (optional)
1 12 oz can “Snappy Tom” juice or spicy V-8
2 cups flour
1/2 cup cooking oil
Lg Casserole dish with cover or heavy duty foil for

Directions: On a cutting board, cut meat first into 2-3 equal size pieces (this makes it easier to work with). Put one of the “hunks” of meat either into a freezer bag & seal it or between 2 pieces of plastic wrap. Once you do that, put it on flat on the cutting board & tenderize the meat by whacking it repeatedly with a meat mallet/tenderizer. What you’re doing is making the meat more tender. Pound all over until the meat is about ½ inch thick. Do this to all the meat and then cut each hunk into about 3”x 3” pieces.

Put flour in a shallow dish or paper plate & liberally season it with salt & pepper (about a tablespoon of each if you’re using 2 cups of flour) OR season each piece of meat on both sides before dredging it through the flour.

In either a large, heavy skillet or an electric frying pan, pour enough oil so that it’s about 1/8” or so deep, Turn heat to medium high (375 on electric frying pan).

Cook meat in batches. Dredge pieces of meat through the flour, liberally coating all sides. Then shake off excess and put in the hot oil (lay it in—don’t plop it!) You want a quick browning of the meat so after a couple of minutes, gently turn it over with a fork or with tongs. Don’t worry about getting the meat done—medium is great, or just nicely browned—it’s going into the oven anyway.

When browned, remove the meat and “drain” on paper towel covered plate or pan & do another batch. It’s best to brown the meat in 2-3 batches and also to let the oil heat back up between batches. Add more oil if needed to keep about ¼” depth in the pan.

The veggies: It’s simple, chop the pepper, onion and celery into about 3/8” pieces. This will go into the baking dish along with the tomatoes--BUT, I kind of like to toss the veggies into the hot skillet with just a couple of tablespoons of the leftover cooking oil and sweat them for 3 or 4 minutes before combining with the tomatoes. Then dump the canned tomatoes (if you’re using whole tomatoes you can just grab each tomato and squish it to break it up or rough chop it) into the casserole dish along with the spicy tomato juice.

Add the browned meat. Try and get it flat and down in all the red stuff. Cover it and put into the oven pre-heated to 375. Give it a good 1 ½ hours. It’s done when you stab a piece of meat and it wants to fall apart--that's "fork tender". I really like it when the meat falls apart when you just show it the fork.
If you want, you can remove the meat from the baking dish and then, depending on how the sauce came out either thicken it with a cornstarch slurry to get it to a gravy consistency or you can thin it out with either a bit of water or broth to get the consistency you want. Or, just leave it alone like I did the other night when the finished dish's sauce was pretty thick. Either way, you'll want to let it cool down for a good 10-15 minutes so you can eat it.

Serve with mashed potatoes and use the sauce for gravy. It smells great cooking and it tastes great too!

Mashed Taters (NO garlic, NO cheese, NO "smashed" with chunks--just good 'ole mashed 'taters)
About 1 ½ potatoes per person, peeled and sliced about 1/2” thick
Large pot—big enough so that all the potatoes coverd with water only fills the pot 2/3 full.
Several generous shakes of salt in the water.
Butter or margarine

Put pot with the peeled potatoes in it on the stove turned to medium high. Bring to a boil and adjust the heat so that the water stays bubbling but not at “full blast”. When the potatoes are “fork tender”, they’re done. (Fork tender is just that—jab it with a fork and it breaks apart).
Drain the water—easiest way is to pour the water through a colander at the sink and then dump the potatoes back into the pot.

Add 2 tablespoons of butter or margarine. Using a potato masher, start mashing the potatoes. This is when you make sure there are no lumps. Push down and twist the masher & keep repeating until they’re all broken up.

Drizzle about a half cup of milk into the ‘taters and start mashing and mixing in a circular motion. Liberally pepper the potatoes. If you want the potatoes creamier, add more margarine and milk—just remember, too much milk makes them soupie. You can always add more—but you can’t take any out!

Serving: Plop a small mountain of mashed 'taters in the middle of a plate, lean 4 or 5 hunks of Swiss Steak against the sides and cover with as much or little of the red sauce as you like. Oh Man! That's good, old fashioned, home cooked, comfort food delicious!

Cheap Bastid Test: Well, I used about 1 1/2 lbs of sirloin steak that I got at the grocery store on special for $1.99/lb so that's $3.00. The 'taters were the last of a bag that I bought for $.49 for 10 lbs but let's be realistic and say it was $.50 worth of potatoes. The can of tomatoes was $1.39 and the green pepper, jalapeno, onion and celery cost about another $1.50. The total if my arithmetic is right was $6.39. Now, this made about 4+ good size servings (I had seconds and we had enough for 2 lunches left over). So that works out to $1.60 a serving. That's pretty good!

That's the Cheap Bastid Way: Eat Good. Eat Cheap. Be Grateful.

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