Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Cheap Bastids Green Chili Pork Chop Taco

So it’s been a while since Cheap Bastid posted a recipe. Mainly because life has been frantic and goofy and Cheap Bastid hasn’t had a whole lot of inspiration. I’ve been cooking a lot but not working much on new recipes.

But, Sunday came and it’s been really busy. I spent most of the day doing yardwork at my Mama Stella’s house. Mrs. CB has only been home 2 or 3 nights the last couple of weeks. She’s been staying a lot at Mama Stella’s who was recently diagnosed with a serious, systemic cancer.

Anyway, I was home alone and hungry. And I wanted something easy. I took out a pork chop with the intent of making sweet and sour pork. Then I thought to myself, “Self, let’s do up some tacos with the pork chop.” So I did. What I wanted was something with some crispiness to it and with some flavor. And I managed to get it.

Now I didn’t take any pictures last night. I was tired and hungry and not thinking of a Cheap Bastid post. But, I managed to click a few tonight when I made leftovers. And tonight I used some left over flatbread rather than tortillas (especially since the tortillas I used last night had been frozen so long that they were kind of tough and crumbly). So here’s what I did:

Cheap Bastid’s Green Chili Pork Chop Taco
• ½ lb pork chop (I used a boneless sirloin chop)
• 1 cup Lettuce
• 1 tomato diced
• ½ cup diced onion
• Tortillas or flat bread
• Juice from 1 lime
• 2 tablespoons cornstarch
• Chipotle or cayenne
• Chili powder
• Salt
• Salsa Verde or Chili Verde (I used canned because it’s what I had)

Tenderize the porkchop in a plastic bag (whomp on it with a sauce pan or meat tenderizer until it’s about ½ inch thick). Cut the pork chop into ½ inch cubes. Put the cubes of meat in a bowl and add the lime juice, chipotle/cayenne, chili powder and salt along with a good squirt of vegetable oil (a tablespoon or 2). Stir to coat and then add the cornstarch and stir it up again. Let this sit for a bit.

Next cut up your veggies. Dice the tomato and onion and cut or tear the lettuce into strips.

Put a sauté pan on the stove over medium high heat. Add a couple of tablespoons of oil and let the pan get hot. Then add the meat. Stir it so that the individual cubes separate. You want a bit of heat so that the cornstarch helps the meat to get nice and crispy. This will take 5-7 minutes to cook. When done, remove the pan from the stove and you’re ready to build your tacos.

Heat the tortillas or flatbread in the microwave for about 20-30 seconds on high to get them warm and pliable. The lay down some meat, lettuce, tomato, and onion. On top of this, add some salsa verde or chili verde. Now if you want a bit more heat, go ahead and add some hot sauce or more cayenne or whatever floats your boat. These were good with a hint of heat and a hint of acid from the lime. You can even add shredded cheese if you want.

This was just something I made up and threw together. It was actually really, really tasty. And really, really cheap. This made a half dozen tacos—enough for a dinner for 2 (actually for dinner last night and a good mini-meal when I got home from work Monday night.

The Cheap Bastid Test: Well, the chop was a half pound and I bought it for about $2.50 a pound, so it cost $1.25. The can of salsa verde was $.89, the tomato cost about $.35 and the onion was about $.20. And let’s just say that the tortillas cost about $.75. So what was the total? If my arithmetic is correct, it was $3.49. Not bad. These would have cost about 2 bucks each at our favorite taco joint or $8. And I definitely liked the way the lime and seasonings and salsa verde played with each other and the meat to create a terrific taste.

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

Friday, June 24, 2011

Basic Musings--Austerity, Presumptive Old Farts

Ahhh, the things you hear on NPR. It’s been my favorite radio station for a number of years. Our local affiliate here in San Diego recently changed some of its programming so that it’s all talk and news now (translate that to mean no more classical music after 8 p.m.). That means that I can listen to news at night when I’m driving home after 9. I live 11 miles from work and it takes me about 20 minutes to make the drive.

So this last weekend I heard a term a couple of times that got me to thinking. It was during BBC news broadcasts—whichever always seem to be much more civilized than our news but perhaps its in the presentation, you know little inflection but filled with the educated British accent that lends more credence to the reports.

The story each time dealt with demonstrations in Greece concerning that governments fiscal crisis and the reactions of Greek citizens to new proposals for an “austerity budget”. There it is. Austerity. I got thinking about that word. Is that word simply the term of the “news reader”? Or is it some sort of official or quasi-official codeword. Or is it a euphemism for “belt-tightening”? Whatever it is, it sounds much more appropriate in its description of what type of budget needs to be assembled for government to weather the fiscal crisis that it currently faces.

Austerity. How come no one in America ever uses that word? Austerity. Merriam Webster defines it as simple or unadorned. Think about it. American politicians complain about “tax and spend” or about cutting this or cutting that. They talk about increasing taxes or decreasing taxes. But I like that word austerity. It implies that we’ve got to take a good hard look at just what government needs to be doing and needs to be spending money on—and cutting it to the bone. Austerity. Sounds to me like something that is needed at the Federal level, State level and local level. But, then again, that just makes to much sense doesn’t it.

And here’s another word: Presumptive. As in, Mitt Romney is the “presumptive front runner" among GOP Presidential candidates. Huh? The story on NPR talked about how Romney had just announced and was showing up well in the polls. And it said that he is the “presumptive front runner” until the next round of polls come out (presumably to anoint him the front runner). What a stupid, contrived term. He is or he isn’t. It’s been measured or it hasn’t. So, I guess that’s consistent with Merriam Webster which defines presume as “to suppose to be true without proof”. Hell, that’s most of what goes on in politics in this or any other country, isn’t it?

And then last but not least on my commute home was a fairly new full size Dodge Ram pick-up this last week which cut me off without benefit of using its turn signal in order to do a ramp dive to the exit I was taking. I did a mental “Grrrr” at the inconsiderate driver. Pulling up next to him, I noticed a gray-haired guy driving the truck, oblivious to what he had just pulled off. And I thought, “that old fart”. And then I had another quick thought—“damn, I’m an old fart too.”

Just some observations today.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Cheap Bastid's Tomato Crop

Well, like I mentioned a while ago, I put 4 pots of tomato plants out on my balcony a couple of months ago. And I’ve been salivating at the idea of fresh, deep red, juicy Romas and grape tomatoes.

I don't have much of a green thumb. I tend to “love” the plants too much, puttzing around and over-watering. I guess that’s why the lower leaves turned yellow and dropped off. I was giving them an inch of water about once a week. Of course, here in SoCal we don’t get an inch of rain between Easter and Thanksgiving so that was a bit much. I quit watering them for a week and they perked up. And now, I’m giving them sips every 3 days or so and I added some nitrogen fertilizer. They seem to be doing better.

So, the first tomato turned a gorgeous deep red and had just the right firmness hinting at the acidy-sweet deliciousness inside. I lovingly harvested it and took it inside to the kitchen, rinsed it off in a bath of cool refreshing water and placed it on my cutting board.

Taking out my sharpest knife, I cut it into perfect, round, succulent slices watching as each one separated and leaned against its neighbor.

Next I prepped some lettuce for a green salad with tomatoes. Then I sliced bread, cheese and salami for the perfect sandwich.

Assembly completed, I paused to admire the simplicity of my gastronomic handiwork. A perfect sandwich accompanied by a perfect salad. Flavors balanced. A bit of bread and cheese and meat complimented by the earthy goodness of the freshly harvested fruit of my gardening.

And, now for the reality of my tomatoey lunch:

Sometimes when you eat what you harvest, it’s not a very big meal. But homegrown, freshly harvested tomatoes are always the best. And there’s a whole bunch more just about ready to pick, this time enough for a “real” salad and sandwich.

Hopefully, I gotcha and you enjoyed this little bit of fun.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Cheap Bastid’s Foodie Tuesday Skillets, Pasta & Rice Flour

Well it’s been a while since the Cheap Bastid took to the keyboard to write about good food and saving money. The biggest reason has been that while I’ve been cooking a lot, I haven’t been working on new recipes.

And when it comes to finding cheap food, it’s been getting harder and harder. You see, my brain works a bit funny. I don’t see an increase in the price of bottom round from $1.99/lb to $2.49 a pound as a 50 cent increase. I see it as a 25% increase. And that bugs me.

I’ve even gone so far as to do all the anal retentive mental math on milk. You see, I’m the only one around here who drinks milk. I drink about ¾ of a gallon a week. So, I have to do a couple of things. First, I have to take a close look at expiration dates. Nothing’s worse than slurping up that first bite of Fake Cheerios with sour milk. Talk about a taste experience! And I don’t mean that in a good sense.

So, the question is whether I should buy a gallon of milk or a half gallon and a quart. At the grocery store, a half gallon is now about $2.29 and a quart is $1.79—that’s “store” brand milk, “brand” name is even higher. OK, so that puts me at $4.08 for a half gallon and a quart. But, I can buy a full gallon for $2.99 of “value time” milk. Now, I hate to waste food and I know that most of the time I’ll end up dumping some of the gallon down the drain as it goes “bad”. But, hell-o-Pete, I can do that simple math. Do I spend $2.99 or over $4?

Yeah, I know that some of the “goodie two shoes” out there will say to freeze the left over before it goes bad. Good idea, but my freezer is full. Damn full. Mrs. CB thought it was a good idea to stock up on $1 packages of pepperoni at the dollar store. We’ve got $14 worth occupying a big chunk of available space.

So here’s something I came across recently—in the “International Foods” section of our local Stater Brothers I came across pasta made in Mexico. It’s 3 for $.99 and comes in a 7 ounce bag. Regular “store” brand pasta is $1 for a 16 ounce bag and Barilla is about $1.50 for 16 ounces. Well, I can do that math. $1 for 21 ounces.

And there’s another one too. I stumbled across “Harina de Arroz” made by Tres Estrellas. It’s Rice Flour from Mexico. 17.6 ounces for $1.49. The “regular stuff, made in Japan is $2.49 for 16 ounces. And I can do that math too. Now, I don’t use rice flour all that often but occasionally we like to do a “tempura night” or it’s also pretty good when added to regular flour for fried fish or even chicken fried steak.

So look around, I bet you can find some good deals like this too.

So how about a little cooking? On days when I’m home in the morning we’ll often do a late morning “skillet” breakfast. These are really good—you know, kind of like the skillets you get at cafes or “Denny’s”—except cheaper.

Yep, this is country food. It's plebian. It's proletarian. It's the kind of food I like to eat. If it's not pretentious enough for you, then that's too bad because you'll be missing out on something good.

Here’s how I do it:

Cheap Bastid’s Skillet Breakfast

4-6 ounces sausage links
2 medium potatoes
3 eggs (stirred)
1/3 cup chopped onion
1 chopped fresh jalapeno pepper
1 chopped Roma tomato
Handful of shredded cheese

First do your prep work (fancy cooks call this “mis en place”). You can either cut the potatoes into about ¼ inch cubes or do like I do and quarter each potato and then cut them into about 1/8” thick slices (Mrs. CB and I have this debate every once in a while & the cut of the ‘tater makes not difference to cooking it, it’s just a matter of cook’s preference). Dice the onion, jalapeno and tomato—I also did a small handful of fresh cilantro that I had in the fridge. Leave the sausage frozen and cut it into 1/8 inch thick “coins” (or just throw in whole into the skillet when you add it and break it up as it cooks.

Put a medium skillet on the stove turned up to medium high (about 4 o’clock on the dial). Add a squirt of oil (actually I add about a tablespoon of bacon grease that I keep in a jar in the fridge). Then toss the potatoes into the pan and spread them out in one layer.

Let these cook up for 5-8 minutes flipping them over at least once. Then add the onions, jalapenos and sausage “coins”. Get these cooking too. Add some salt, pepper and garlic powder. When they’re all browned up, turn the heat down to 6 o’clock. Now add the tomatoes and stir. Give ‘em a minute or 2 and then add the eggs. Stir, stir, stir to set the eggs and then toss in that handful of shredded cheese. What kind of cheese? Any kind you want. Whatever you have. Or none at all if you don’t want to.

Add toast or biscuits and you’ve got a pretty good breakfast feast. Now this doesn't make for a gorgeous plate--that's for the "foo-foo foodies"--but's it's sure tasty and that's all that matters.

This will stick to your ribs and get you a good old country one skillet breakfast from start to finish in about 30 minutes.

The Cheap Bastid Test: How cheap is this? Pretty cheap. Let’s see I used about 50 to 75 cents worth of sausage—let’s call it $.75. The potatoes cost about $.35, the jalapeno cost about a dime and the onion was another dime. The tomato about $.35. Three eggs cost $.30 and the cheese about $.50. So let’s add it all up and we’ll come up with $2.45 for 2 people (and it can stretch to 3) for a big hearty breakfast, early lunch or even “brinner”. These are about $7 at a restaurant. Breakfast is almost always a bit labor intensive, but to me cooking is always a great way to relax and think about something other than all the other crap going on in the world for a little bit.

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

Thursday, June 2, 2011

How Men of a Certain Age Watch "Men of a Certain Age"

We’ve been eagerly anticipating the new season of “Men of A Certain Age” for a couple of months. Of all the shows on TV this is arguably our favorite.

If you’re not familiar with the show, it’s the ongoing story of 3 fiftyish men. That’s about as simple as it gets. It’s not the old classic “show about nothing” that was Seinfeld but rather it’s about life—the quasi-success and quasi-failure on a personal and professional level that defines each and every one of us. It’s about the highs and lows and how we cope with them.

It’s 3 guys—Joe (Ray Romano), Terry (Scott Bakula) and Owen (Andre Braugher) who have been friends since junior high school. It’s about love—about how men can love one another with more honesty than love of spouse or children or self, unabashedly and honestly.

Why do I love it? Well, because I’m a “man of a certain age” getting ready to turn 60 in 3 months. The show mirrors the life of most men of my age and what we see is that “it’s all right”. It’s all right to be less than a stellar success. All right? Hell, that’s the norm and it is, indeed, all right. It has to be because that’s what we’ve got.

But that’s not what this is about. How does a “man of a certain age” watch “Men of A Certain Age”? I look at the TV schedule, carefully adjusting my bifocals so that the tiny print is large enough to decipher. I know when it’s on and what channel it’s on, but I look anyway.

“Hmmm, 10 o’clock. P.M. At night. OK. Now, they use some “earthy” language in this—like men of a certain age do. Words like “shit”. No “f-bombs”. Guess that means it has to be on late. But that’s OK.

Can I make it? A couple of years ago, the question was “can I make it to 11 when it’s over?” Now the question is more, “can I make it until 10 when it starts?”

Should I take a nap? Glad I have the day off on Thursday because I stayed up late. Damn.

Well, I managed to make it to 10. And I managed to make it to 11. I snoozed from 10:15 to 10:30 but that means I saw 75% of the first episode.

Yeah, someone’s going to say that I need to Tivo or DVR it. And I’ve got a couple of things to say about that. 1) I can’t afford it and 2) I don’t have a 12 year old around to set it up for me. I’m too old for kids that age and too young for grandkids that age. So I’m just screwed. Yeah, I could probably watch it here on my computer whenever I want but this is a 15.6 inch screen with crappy speakers compared to a 42 inch screen with semi-good speakers.

I was out in the living room on the couch. Carolyn “watched” it in the bedroom. When I go into the bedroom to watch something, I crawl into bed next to her, start watching and then roll onto my side to get more comfortable. Next thing I know it’s 3 a.m. and she’s elbowing me to get me to roll over and stop snoring in her ear.

You would think that with all that effort that I’d hate being a “man of a certain age” (do you think we should start using the acronym “MOCA”?—just a stray thought). But I don’t. I rather like it. Actually, I’m rather looking forward to graduating from “MOCA” to “GOF”—“grouchy old fart”. I’m getting lots of practice.

Anyway, this is TV at its almost best. TV could be a lot better. And it would be if there were more shows like this, at an earlier time, to watch and enjoy.