Monday, February 21, 2011

Cheap Bastid's Cinnamon Roll Debacle

It took the better part of an hour of mixing dough, mixing cinnamon and sugar, rolling dough into a “jelly roll” and baking to get the photogenic results of my cinnamon rolls.

And it only took one bite to come to the conclusion that something had gone fundamentally wrong. I’m still scratching my head over it but I think I’ve figured out what went wrong—for the next time.

If you’ve read any of my recent Cheap Bastid posts you’ll know that recently I went from baking biscuits to baking yeast risen pretzels. My most recent biscuit baking (Friday morning) was fantastic—everything worked and they were perfect. So I said to myself, “Self, there’s got to be a way to do cinnamon rolls with regular biscuit dough.”

Well, self was right. There are plenty of recipes and photos online about using ordinary baking powder biscuit dough to make cinnamon rolls. The techniques are by and large the same from recipe to recipe so I said to myself, “Self, let’s give it a try Sunday morning.”

It wasn’t that hard to do. The main thing was rolling out the dough, spreading some margarine down on the rolled dough and then covering it with a layer of cinnamon and brown sugar. They looked good. I even came up with a way of making my own powdered sugar in order to do the icing on top of the rolls.

Sounds pretty good doesn’t it. They looked good too. Looked good all slathered with cinnamon sugar. Looked good rolled up. Looked good in the pan going into the oven. And looked really good coming out of the oven.

Except for one thing.

They tasted crappy.

Now I’m sure that top foo-foo foodie chefs mess up often enough. They might even mess up spectacularly. I know I rarely make anything that I would consider to be a “perfect” dish. There’s always something I could do better. But this was a “crash and burn”. Let’s put it this way, I don’t think that cinnamon rolls are supposed to be crunchy.

So, what did I do wrong? Not much. I overbaked them. My mind was telling me golden brown when it should have been telling me “hint of color”. Golden brown is the color of cinnamon rolls that are fried like donuts. And by the time these got golden brown, they also got to the consistency of burned toast. You almost had to gnaw on them. So what I did wrong was baking them too long at too high a temperature. Easy enough.

So, I’ve got to try again. And I will. Maybe. Pretty soon. I think. Then I can write the recipe.

But the pictures turned out purty!

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

Monday, February 14, 2011

Cheap Bastid’s Foodie Tuesday—Soft Pretzels and Capt Ron

Well, another Valentine’s Day is in the books. And when I put my mind to it, there are actually a lot more fantastic women in my life than I tend to think about day in and day out.

There’s my incredible wife Carolyn along with my daughter Susan and step-daughter Miss Meggie. Then there are my granddaughters, Raegan and Emma (MissChif and Spike) and their mom Katie. Oops and I almost forgot my mother-in-law, Mamma Stella. And then there’s my Mom, who just turned 80 and is still “take no prisoners feisty”. That’s a terrific line-up. I love ‘em all.

Not too long ago, after one of my mornings baking fresh baking powder and lard biscuits, Mrs. CB (my gorgeous wife) had a request. In that semi-sexy way that wives get from time to time she suggested that now that I was getting pretty good at biscuits that it would be even better if I tried soft pretzels. This being delivered with a bit of a “come hither” look and that flirty way guaranteeing that you’re going to do anything she suggests.

So I started to do a bit of research online (how did we get along before Google?). There’s lots of recipes out there and I kind of “hybrided” three of them together to come up with one that I thought had the best shot of succeeding given my limited talents and basic “cheap bastidliness”.

I also consulted Capt. Ron. Now Capt. Ron isn’t really a captain. He lives on a sailboat in Oceanside harbor and likes to refer to himself as Capt. Ron. So I indulge him. He’s a fount of information on baking having worked for 20 years as a commercial baker. He’s also my boss—he’s my sales manager at the car dealership where I work. But he knows his stuff. The first sample biscuit I took him he looked at it and said “pretty good first effort.” He took a bite and said “not enough fat and you worked the dough too much.” He’s good. So I consulted him—and got some pretty good advice. He even explained why the pretzels are boiled briefly before baking—it’s what let’s them come out of the oven with that “pretzelly” outside and chewing inside.

So, armed with all that information, I set out last Thursday to try my hand at making pretzels. Now, bear in mind that this is a recipe and the photos are the results of my first ever effort at making them. It actually wasn’t difficult but, like most other baking, it’s a matter of technique. I actually made pretzels that looked, smelled and tasted like pretzels. And next time, they’ll be even better because I made a couple of basic mistakes.

So here’s the recipe and directions along with some photos:

Cheap Bastid’s Soft Pretzels
• 3 cups all purpose flour
• 2 ounces melted butter or margarine
• 1 cup warm water (hot tap water is fine)
• 1 tbsp sugar
• 1 pkg active dry yeast
• 1 tbsp sugar
• 2 tsp salt
• 2 tbsp baking soda
• 4-6 cups water
• 1 beaten egg
• Kosher salt

Combine water, sugar and salt in a bowl then sprinkle the yeast on top. Allow it to sit for 5 minutes or until the mixture begins to foam. Get out a good sized mixing bowl and put the flour in it. Then add the butter/margarine and pour in the yeast mixture. Mix all this together until it is well combined. Keep mixing until the dough starts to come together. Then reach in and start to knead it (if the dough is “tacky” you can remove to your floured pastry board, or to the floured counter and knead it—the dusting of flour will pull the “tackiness” out of the dough and let you work it. Knead for several minutes until the dough begins to get smooth and satiny.

Clean out the bowl, dry it and rub a thin skim of oil onto its surface (use vegetable oil or margarine on a paper towel or napkin). Put the dough in the bowl and cover it with a towel or plastic wrap for about 45 minutes.

Now is time to take out your baking sheets and put a thin skim of oil on it. Turn your oven on to pre-heat to 425. Put a good sized pot of water on the stove and turn the heat to medium-high. Add the baking soda. Bring to a rolling boil.

While the oven is pre-heating and the pan is coming to a boil, take out your dough and break it into 8 equal sized chunks. Roll each of these, by hand, into a “rope” about the thickness of your finger or a cigar and about 20 inches long. Then make a “horseshoe shape” with the dough rope. Take the ends and cross them. Then gently press the ends into the opposite side of the pretzel. Put them on the cookie sheet. (I stacked them on my pastry board. And they stuck together and I had to roll and shape the pretzels again. Don’t do that!).

Now, your baking soda water is bubbling merrily away. Take the raw pretzels over to the stove and using a slotted spatula or big slotted spoon dunk the pretzels in the water one at a time for no more than 30 seconds each. Keep the spatula under the pretzel and at the count of 15 Mississippi flip it over. At 30 Mississippi take it out and put it back on the sheet. Then do another one.

Lastly, brush a bit of the eggwash lightly on each pretzel and then put a light sprinkle of kosher salt on the top of each.

Pop the cookie sheet in the oven and bake for 12 to 15 minutes or until a nice golden brown color. I should have used a cooling rack but didn’t. Next time I will. It’s good to get the pretzels off the hot cookie sheet right away.

Let your pretzels cool down and eat them while they’re still warm. Smear a bit of mustard on them. Pop a brewski or just bite into them plain. These are good.

Damn, these were tasty! Now these were my first ever effort. They weren’t the prettiest pretzels you ever saw but next time I’ll do a lot better. We bit into them and they tasted fantastic, just like a fat, warm, soft pretzel is supposed to taste like and smell.

I took a couple to work the next day and gave one to Capt. Ron. He took one bite. It was still chewy and pronounced—“Hmmm, you didn’t let your yeast rise enough.” I was surprised that he could diagnose the pretzels that quickly. “Well,” I replied, “that’s because the yeast was pretty much ‘dead’. The package expired last October and didn’t really foam up.” So, that’s two more lessons. First, make sure that you’ve got “live” yeast. And know that Capt. Ron will be able to figure out what you need to do differently almost instantly.

The Cheap Bastid Test: The main expense in making these pretzels is time. It’s going to take close to a couple of hours. We’re talking total expenses of maybe a dollar for a the flour and yeast, some sugar and an egg. Pretty reasonable.

What I liked best though was a couple of hours on a day off to putz around in the kitchen, concentrating on something different and relaxing with the effort to creates something cheap and tasty.

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

Monday, February 7, 2011

Cheap Bastid's Kindle My Fanny

I love to read. I read a couple of newspapers every day. I constantly have at least one book that I’m working my way through. I read magazines (although I cancelled my subscription to Newsweek—they keep sending it). And I like to peruse my growing collection of cookbooks (Mrs. CB got me Vol. 1&2 of Alton Brown’s “Good Eats” books for Christmas).

I enjoy thrillers and mysteries; historical novels and what my daughter has always referred to as “bomb books”—war novels. Plus, I like biographies of historical figures—but rarely “biographies” of current politicians, although I read both of Obama’s books. Gerald Ford’s “Write it After I’m Gone” was really good. And I recently read a really good book about the U.S. Supreme Court called “The Nine”—kind of catching us up 30 years after Robert Woodward’s “The Brethren”.

By now, you might be wondering: “What’s his point?” Don’t worry I’ve got one. It has nothing to do with the sorry state of reading skills of our nation’s youngsters. It has to do with that other persona of mine—Cheap Bastid. It has to do with technology. Uh ohh, here it comes.

Yep, I’m taking a swipe at the “Kindle” and the “Nook”.

I can go and buy books at Barnes and Noble for about ten bucks (paperbacks of course—hardcover kills too many trees. Bullcrap, hardcovers cost too damn much for this Cheap Bastid). I can get them for a lot cheaper at Costco (assuming they have a title I want to read—seems like they’ve been skewing towards Beck and Palin and Bush43. Does that tell you something about their demographic?). And I can go to a neighborhood used bookstore and get lots of books for $1 each.

But that’s apparently not good enough anymore. I’m supposed to go out and spend $139 for a Kindle or Nook ($249 for color) so that I can read a book on a plastic, computerized machine. And…and…and I guess I’m supposed to keep on paying $9.99 per book for the privilege of loading it onto my nifty-keen plastic machine so that I can read it anywhere/anytime.

Am I missing something here? Does this seem odd? Why can’t I just keep on buying books at Barnes and Noble on Amazon at the used book store or even checking them out at the library without having to get some new damn gadget?

Am I some sort of anti-technology dinosaur? Is Guttenburg rolling over in his grave? Hell no, I just like reading and I’m a Cheap Bastid.

For the life of me I can’t see the sense in some $140 gadget. TV commercials are showing people sitting on lounge chairs at a pool comparing readers. What if I’m sitting by the pool reading and want to go jump in the pool? Odds are no one gives enough of a rat’s behind to swipe my paperback novel. But they might want to swipe my Nook or Kindle. So I’ve got a security issue.

And what if I’m on a plane? I’ve inadvertently left books behind on airplanes. No big deal, I can replace it for about ten bucks. What if I leave my Kindle behind? Good luck! I’m not getting it back and now I’m out a hundred and forty bucks, plus the ten bucks for the book.

And it just seems wrong to me to go into the bathroom to sit on the stool and “read” for 10 or 15 minutes, elbows on knees using Nook. I don’t know why but that’s just wrong. A magazine’s OK, a book’s OK but a gadget? Naw, not for this Cheap Bastid. It ain’t manly or something.

Lest I forget, now you can get your newspaper on a Kindle. Rupert Murdoch has even announced a new electronic only newspaper available only on i-Pad. Good for him. Give me my newspaper exactly the way the name implies—NEWS on Paper! So it’s awkward. It’s always been like that. I just can’t see reading the paperless electronic paper on a Kindle in one hand with either a cup of coffee or a cigarette in the other while I’m out on my balcony in the morning. If I drop the paper over the balcony I just go down and retrieve it, some what embarrassed. If I drop the Nook, it’s going to explode when it hits the pavement. And what if I “forget” and let the battery run down like what happens occasionally to my cell phone?

And, don’t try to tell me about the convenience of it. That all I have to do is go online and download the book to my Kindle or Nook. That would be all right if I were agoraphobic. Every once in a while you need to browse the offerings to see all those books and mingle with the people who are doing the same thing you are.

This is just freaking technology run amok. It’s another way to get ever deeper into our pockets. I saw on Google a listing for Kindle books. “Over 2 million titles available,” it said. “Thousands are free,” it concluded. Whoopdee-dingo-crap.

It seems to me that what’s been going on the last several years with computers and phones and HDTVs, etc. is just refinements to technology, cleverly marketed to get ever deeper into our pockets. And don’t get me started (yet) on cell phone programs and “bundled” cable service—that’s a different rant altogether.

I condescend to read some news online and to read blogposts, etc. But after a few hours of that it feels like my eyes are being sucked out of my head.

Just watch, I’ve ranted about this now and within 2 years will probably be like the rest of the world, dragged into the world of reading on a Kindle or Nook. I may end up doing it. But, I’m not going to like it. Everyone in my family knows that if they want to give me a gift I’ll use and appreciate, make it a giftcard to Barnes and Noble.

And there will be those who sanctimoniously point out to me the convenience of these devices. They’ll suggest that new technology is designed to improve our lives. Maybe. But I’m not convinced that this is anything other than the next thing out there to lighten our wallets without providing a tangible value. The value of the words and ideas are the same. The entertainment value is the same. It’s just that I’m going to end up paying more. And that doesn’t make sense to this old Cheap Bastid.

So, until I have to, I ain’t going to use something like a Kindle or Nook. The only “reader” I need is something with a cover and pages of paper with squiggles of ink on it that make up the words and ideas.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Cheap Bastid Green Bay Chili--The Real Cheesehead Deal

In case anyone out there hasn’t noticed, this is “Super Bowl Week”. And while I normally couldn’t care less, I’m making an exception because the Packers are playing.

I lived 35 miles from Green Bay for 7 years in a city of 9,000 called Sturgeon Bay. Now, living in Northeast Wisconsin makes it obligatory to be a Packer fan. They’re “blue collar”. They’re the “home team”. Back in those days, the mid- to late 80’s, they were really lousy. Those were the Forrest Gregg, pre-Bret Favre days. Tickets at Lambeau were $17 and sometimes you could get into the green-painted, Quonset hut corrugated metal skinned stadium for a pittance. It was fun to go to the stadium on game day and see how cheaply you could buy a ticket—I once scored them for $4 apiece.

But you had to love “da Pack”. They were totally blue-collar. Last week’s playoff game against Chicago was a prime example. You always have 2 favorite teams living in Wisconsin—the Packers and whoever’s playing “da Bearz”. Now, I’m not much of an NFL fan—especially with my “hometeam” as the Chargers. But, in Wisconsin you don’t have to be an NFL fan—just as long as you’re a Packers fan. And that’s always been the case.

Now, Open Salon did a big deal chili recipe thing this last week. And that’s cool—“foodies” making a “foo-foo” version of chili. But chili is like Green Bay and the Packers. It’s proletarian. There’s more versions of chili than you can shake a stick at. The biggest ever chili debates are beans or no-beans and ground meat or chunk meat. Then there’s the how hot to make it debate. Chili implies chili peppers which implies spicy. But there’s a difference between spicy and hot.

There’s a Green Bay version of chili too. And it’s good. Now, I’m not going to go through a whole litany of ingredients and cooking times for chili. Instead what I’m going to do is let you use your favorite recipe and make just a few changes which convert it to “Green Bay Chili”. I’ve also heard it called “Canoe Paddle Chili” too but that’s for when you’re having a bunch of people over and you have to use a pot so big to make it that the only way to stir it is with a canoe paddle. It’s a hoot!

So, what differentiates “Green Bay Chili” from regular chili? It’s pretty simple.

• Make up a big ole pot of your favorite chili.
• Leave out the beans.
• Set up a “buffet” line with the pot of chili as the 2nd to last thing.
• The next to last thing would be a couple of bottles of hot-sauce, a shaker of cayenne, a shaker of chipotle or other hot spices.
• Cook up a pound or two of spaghetti (depending on how many are eating).
• Dice up a bowl of onions
• Drain 2-3 cans of kidney beans and put them in a bowl.
• Put out a bowl filled with shredded cheddar cheese (the only kind to serve in Wisconsin) and put that as the last thing.

That’s it. You have now made “Green Bay Chili”. It’s a great party dish and game day buffet. Use big bowls or even plates. You start with some spaghetti (optional) then add beans and onions—as much or little as you want. Then you smother it with the chili, toss in a bit more heat (as much or as little as you want) and finish it off with shredded cheese which turns the whole thing into gooey goodness.

And finally, a tub of beer and soft-drinks. Now you’ve got a Green Bay-style party. You can eat and slurp your way through this delicious buffet, then watch the second half. By the end of the game you’ll be belching and other things. It’s going to be a fun game and party.

Finally, the old Cheap Bastid gets to pull out his Packer apparel this weekend in honor of the occasion. Couple of problems though. It’s been a while since they’ve been in the Super Bowl. It’s been 19 years since I lived in Wisconsin. The stuff is getting just a bit ratty. The shirt is from their 1996 Super Bowl win. I’ll be wearing it and the rest of the stuff on Sunday. Here’s my “fashion” palate for Super Bowl Sunday:

Packer boxer shorts and hat

1996 Super Bowl XXXI ratty long-sleeved t-shirt

I'll be Mr. High Fashion Cheap Bastid on Sunday.

That’s the Cheap Bastid Way: Eat Good, Eat Cheap, Be Grateful!

*first 3 photos from Google images. Last 2 from my camera

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Cheap Bastid's Savory Salisbury Steak

Remember mystery meat? Brown, rubbery, almost tasteless gunk sitting on the bottom of the main dish aluminum section of the “Hungryman” Swanson’s TV dinners you buy when you’re starved and want something which at least resembles meat but you don’t want to cook.

Or the stuff that found its way onto your school lunch tray with a heap of bad mashed potatoes on the side glopped with deep brown goo and a side of corn that was boiled to death by the denizens of the lunchroom kitchen. Both versions of the dish would typically feature bits of “pencil eraser”—cooked canned mushrooms which somehow have become rubbery.

Yep, that’s Salisbury Steak. It’s a venerable dish which, thanks to the TV dinner industry has been sorely abused. We’ve all had it. It fills our belly and satisfies a primal urge for beef but usually in a form that only technically qualifies as a meal.

I’ve eaten it as a “treat”—something to “reward” an evening of independence from kids and the duties of a household. I’ve eaten it when I didn’t want to cook but wanted something to fill me up—a default pretend feast of gargantuan proportions fresh from the freezer section of the grocery store.

Note: for more Cheap Bastid Recipes go to my new website:

Now, I have come up with a way to make it a “stick to your ribs celebration of flavor and comfort food.” And it’s good. Flavorful, savory, aromatic.

It’s not hard to make, but there are several steps and start to finish it takes about 2 hours. And sometimes good comfort food takes a bit of time to come together. It’s worth the wait and you’ll be rewarded with some terrific aromas while it’s cooking.

Cheap Bastid’s Salisbury Steak

• 1 ½ lbs. 85% ground beef
• 1 cup diced onion
• 1 tbsp minced garlic
• 2 eggs
• ¾ cup bread or cracker crumbs
• 2 cups sliced mushrooms
• ½ cup diced mushrooms
• 2 tbsp flour
• 16 oz beef or veal stock

First do all your prep. Dice the onions, clean and slice the mushrooms, dice the ½ cup of mushrooms. Prep the crumbs. Get out your eggs, flour and stock. Be ready to cook. Get out a medium mixing bowl for the meat mixture, a large sauté pan and a good size baking dish.

Put a large sauté pan on the stove over medium high heat and add a couple of tablespoons of oil or butter. Add ¾ of the diced onion and the minced garlic. Give it a stir to get going then add the ½ cup of diced mushrooms. Cook until onion is translucent. Remove from heat and scrape contents into the mixing bowl. (Don’t rinse or clean the pan yet). Give it about 5 minutes to cool back to room temperature.

When cool, add the meat then add the eggs and crumbs. (I used cracker crumbs because I didn’t have any bread crumbs and I like the slightly different flavor the cracker crumbs give). Mix all this up really well. (I used a blend of 12 oz. ground round, 6 oz. ground chuck and 2 oz. pork sausage.) Form the meat into patties about ½ inch thick and about 6 oz. each (just eyeball it).

Now, put the pan back on the stove, turn the heat to medium-high and add 2-3 tablespoons of oil. Put the patties down in the pan and brown on each side (it’ll take 2-3 minutes per side). Remove and put the patties in a single layer in a baking dish.

OK, so the meat is ready. Now on to the gravy. (See what I mean, this is just a little bit involved, but it’s worth it!).

Add a bit of oil/butter to the pan you used to sauté the onions and mushrooms and brown the meat (about 3 tablespoons total). Sprinkle 3 tablespoons of flour into the oil and whisk it into a roux. This is a “quick roux” and will only take a couple of minutes to come together. Add the stock about a third at a time and keep whisking/stirring. Make sure there are no lumps. Add the rest of the mushrooms and simmer for 20-30 minutes until it thickens.

Preheat the oven to 375. This is when the kitchen is going to really start smelling great with the richness of the beef stock and the earthiness of the mushrooms.

Pour the gravy over the browned meat patties. Cover the dish with foil and put into the oven for about 45 minutes.

Now is the time to make a pot of mashed potatoes and start anticipating the goodness that’s going to come out of the oven.

When done, serve it up. Slather some of the gravy over the mashed potatoes and a bit more on the meat and enjoy.

The meat will me moist and flavorful. The aroma will make your mouth water in anticipation. This ain’t no TV dinner! It’s the real deal. But you can eat it in front of the TV anyway.

The Cheap Bastid Test: This isn’t the cheapest recipe Cheap Bastid has ever done but it’s reasonable. The total for the meat (about 1 ½ lbs) was $3. The stock cost $1 for a 32 oz. box plus I used stock ice cubes that I make myself and freeze. There’s maybe $.50 worth of onion. The priciest item is the mushrooms which were $2.79/lb. and I used about ¾ lb. or $2.10 worth. So the total for this meal for 3 (at our home anyway) was $6.60 but let’s call it $7.00 with stuff like garlic and crumbs added. For 3 servings, that comes to $2.33 each—less than a Hungry Man TV dinner and a lot better. The downside is it takes 2 hours plus to make—but it’s worth it.

That’s the Cheap Bastid Way: Eat Good, Eat Cheap, Be Grateful!
If you liked this and want to read more Cheap Bastid recipes click this link to my new Cheap Bastid Cooks website: