Weekly Menu 2/22-2/28


You know what sounds good when you have the flu? Almost nothing. And yet, a body can’t fight without fuel, so I stuck it out and put together a pretty decent menu for last week.

Weekly menu for the last week in February

Going clockwise from upper left corner:

Monday: Grilled Ham & Cheese Sandwiches and Soup
Soup and sandwiches are usually a pretty safe bet for any night you need a quick and easy meal. The soup was some gumbo we had in the freezer and the sandwiches used up some of the spiral-sliced ham I’d frozen from our New Year’s Day meal.

Tuesday: Carne Asada-style Quinoa Bowls
Thank you slow-cooker and rice cooker–my one-two punch. This was my first day back at work after 4 days out sick and I figured I’d be pretty tired when I got home. I figured right. The recipe from How Sweet It Is was intended for nachos, but I thought a bowl would be easier to eat. Making quinoa in my rice cooker, with chicken broth instead of water, is my new favorite thing, especially on nights like this one.

Wednesday: Classic Chicken and Rice with Green Beans
On Wednesdays Todd works late, so an oven dish with a long lead time always fits in well, here. Super simple to put together and very good comfort food. Which we needed as we were both bone-weary by the end of each day. We struggled through work this week out of necessity, alone.

Thursday & Friday (not pictured) Take Out
That exhaustion was a big part of why Thursday and Friday ended up no-cook nights. I’d allowed for one this week, knowing the likelihood was high of needing a night off, but two? Oh, well. Thursday we got Jimmy John’s (our just opened! and while I have some philosophical issues with the owner’s recent big game hunter kerfuffle, being able to get a decent lettuce wrap won out) and Friday I got a salad from Zaxby’s. And a milkshake. I earned it, trust me!

Saturday: Garlic-Parmesan Pork Chops with Roasted Carrots and Red Potatoes
If I hadn’t earned that milkshake before, the fact that I spent all afternoon and part of the evening fussing with the bathroom tile on Saturday then cooked supper made up for any former lack. That was a long day, folks! The pork had been defrosting the last couple of days so, really, all I had to do was slice and dice the carrots and potatoes and toss them in the oven for an hour. Not exactly neurosurgery. But I did spice things up by adding some garam masala and ground mustard to the olive oil, salt, pepper, parsley, and paprika that I usually season them with.

Sunday: Sweet-Potato and Kale Turkey Burgers with Coleslaw
These turned out a lot better than I was expecting–you just never know with turkey burgers. The sweet potato and kale were really good with the ground turkey and I’m glad we have two more batches of these in the freezer. The recipe came from Multiply Delicious.

So here’s a question: What’s your favorite “sick” food? The one you always turn to when you’re feeling under the weather. Is it the classic chicken noodle soup? I’m partial to egg drop soup when I’m feeling icky, but we’d just had that the previous week, and then Todd made us chicken noodle soup a few days later.

Something Mom used to make when I was little was milktoast (milquetoast?). Has anyone else had that before? It’s milk, just barely scalded (the point just before boiling where the little bubbles form around the edge of the pan), sweetened with a bit of sugar, with torn up pieces of white bread stirred in. It was comfort food when I was sick and a treat on occasional cold winter’s nights. I haven’t made it for myself in ages, but when it’s cold and I’ve got the flu, I do think about it sometimes.

The other fun food thing we did this weekend was turn the leftover King Cake (which I’d stashed in the fridge so it wouldn’t go bad) into bread pudding. Since it’s a brioche loaf to begin with, it seemed like it would work okay. The banana filling and sugar on top did make for a slightly sweeter pudding than usual, but I was relieved to see that the colored sugar didn’t turn the mix technicolor. Just a little hint here or there.

Have a tasty week!

Country-Fried Procedural


Chances are you’ve heard of chicken-fried steak. You may have even heard of it’s cousin, chicken-friend chicken. Or maybe you know the thin, breaded and pan-friend delicacy as country-fried.

Chicken- or Country-Fried Chicken with Pepper Gravy, on Buttermilk Biscuits, with Turnip "fries"

Chicken-Fried Chicken with Pepper Gravy, on Buttermilk Biscuits, with Turnip "Fries"

It’s all the same thing, really, and if you’ve ever wanted to make your own here’s the good news: you don’t need a recipe. It’s more a technique than an absolute science.

The Meat

You want it thin. End of story.

Except it’s never that simple–you probably want to know why you want it thin. There are a two reasons:

  • Thin meat cooks quickly, meaning the coating won’t burn before the center of the meat is cooked.
  • Traditionally this is done with tougher cuts of beef and pounding it thin breaks up a bunch of those tough muscle fibers, meaning you can eat it without your jaw getting tired.

You can use a mallet or one of those gadgets with all the sharp needles and make a pincushion out of the protein, but I like to place whatever I’m smashing between two sheets of wax paper (the deli-style pop-up packs are great for this) and go to town with my stainless steel omelet pan.

1/4-inch is your goal–thinner and it’ll start to fall apart on you, thicker and you’ll burn the breading.

The Breading

Speaking of which, there are 2 very important parts when it comes to a proper chicken-fried breading:

  • 3-step breading
  • let it stand 10-15 minutes before frying

The 3-step bread goes dry-wet-dry. The first dredge in seasoned flour sticks because of the natural moisture in the meat. This is enough if you’re just going to sear or brown something, but if you want a good coating, you need a little more.

Dry isn’t going to stick to dry, so you have to dip it into something wet in between, For this, 2 eggs & a couple tablespoons water whisked together does the trick. Buttermilk is not a bad way to go, but I save that for regular fried chicken.

Regular, plain, all-purpose flour is what you’ll see referenced most often, and the seasoning is up to you but you do want to season it, otherwise your chicken or steak is going to be bland. After a few months participating in the Indian Cooking Challenge, I’ve become quite enamored of the properties of gram flour (aka besan)–it’s got a great flavor, is high in protein and low in carbs (compared to wheat flour) and makes a great coating and batter.

Using half gram flour and half all purpose, I seasoned my flour with salt, pepper, dried parsley, garlic powder and a little chili powder. Make sure you’re using dried herbs and powdered spices–they disperse through the flours evenly and stand a better chance of making contact with the food and your palate.

The resting times allows the coating to dry out a little and grab hold of the meat. If you were to immediately put it into the hot oil the coating would fall off, you’d have bare spots and the particles left in your flour would burn, smoke and ruin the pan drippings you’ll need for the gravy, later.

The Frying

Pick the oil of your choice (I went with olive oil–not the usual for cooks down here in the South, but I like my comfort food slightly healthier where I can make it) and pour about a quarter of an inch in your pan, give or take a little. We’re not deep-frying, here, folks, you just need enough to convey that heat up into and through the breading and meat.

The actual cooking should take no more than a few minutes on each side. Flip it once, let it cook through the second side, then set it on a spare plate while you cook the rest, covered and stored in a warm oven if your’s isn’t otherwise occupied (mine was–buttermilk biscuits and turnip “fries”–so I popped a dome on it and set it in the microwave just to keep the heat in one small space).

Portion control folks get all flustered when they see an entree of country-fried steak. It looks huge. It takes up most of a good-sized plate. But most of the time it’s a standard 3 oz piece of meat. Pounded to within a quarter-inch of it’s life, sure, but it’s still 3 oz. At least our chicken breasts were, and they still covered some serious real estate in the pan.

The Gravy

Yes, you can eat chicken-fried chicken without the sawmill gravy but why would you?

Pour off all but 2 tablespoons or so of the fat left in your pan and whisk in 1/4- to 1/2-cup of flour to make a paste. One thing I’ve learned making olive-oil roux is that it sometimes takes a bit more flour than the 50/50 ratio you need with butter and other animal fats, so add it in until it looks right.

The more flour you add, the more milk or cream you’re going to need. I started off with 1 cup heavy cream (because we had it in the house) and 1 cup fat free milk (our usual supply–it balances). This worked well to form a stiff sauce but I knew it was going to need to simmer and I still wanted it spoonable by the end, so ended up adding, I think, a cup more milk. You can also use stock for part or all of the liquid, it just won’t be the creamy white gravy that’s the usual.

Season with salt and LOTS of freshly ground black pepper. Now, from the frying you’re going to have some great flavor already, but it’s still going to need salt. Pepper, on the other hand, is what makes this gravy sing so grind a little, stir, taste and repeat until it tastes like what you remember. Depending on the grind of your pepper and the age of your peppercorns it could take a little or a lot. Give it what it needs.

The Verdict

The gram flour was a total success: the color on the chicken was vibrant instead of drab, the coating was thick and crunchy without being tough and the flavor was enhanced by the new ingredient. I think I could go as far as 75/25 next time and still come out with a fabulous country-fried chicken. I would have tried it in the gravy, too, but the color difference (besan is a light yellow that deepens when wet) might have been too much for me. We had leftovers the next day and the breading had not gotten the least bit gummy nor did it fall off–I attribute this to the gram flour, as well.

Comfort Food


Comfort foods can come in many forms: favorite recipes from childhood, treats remembered for special occasions or just starch-, fat- or sugar-laden dishes that offer a chemical reaction we associate with happiness as well as satiety. Usually considered a guilty pleasure or indulgence, I have a hard time seeing all comfort food as all bad and, I think, as long as it’s not an everyday occurrence or in massive quantities, a little comfort can go a long way.

One of the reasons this came to mind (aside from the impending holidays and increasingly cooler weather, both of which set my taste buds craving those sorts of foods) is the birthday meal I prepared for a friend last winter and is mentioned in this week’s comics. It’s pretty simple to prepare and not particularly unhealthy, so I thought I’d share.

Gnocchi Casserole with Pesto, Sausage and Broccoli

1 lb Gnocchi
Salted water
1 lb Turkey sausage, sliced
Olive oil
1 lb Broccoli, steamed
1/2 c Prepared pesto
Non-stick spray
1/2 c Parmesan cheese, shredded

Boil gnocchi in enough salted water to cover until tender. Simultaneously, saute sliced sausage in a bit of olive oil until the edges crisp. Drain pasta and combine with sausage and broccoli. Whisk together the pesto and enough olive oil to thin it out enough to lightly coat all of the other ingredients.

Prepare a 9×12 baking dish with non-stick spray (I prefer the olive oil variety, but any will do). Toss the thinned pesto with the gnocchi, sausage and broccoli and pour all into the prepared dish. Top with cheese and place in a 350-degree for 15-20 minutes.

Now, of course, this can be done up til the baking and put in the fridge until later. Just up the baking time to 30 minutes or more, or as long as it takes to bring everything up to a nice and toasty 165 degrees. Cover with foil if it seems to be drying out or browning a little too much. You can also make your own gnocchi if you’re so moved, but I remember getting the gnocchi and pesto at World Market (CostPlus in some areas) and both being very high quality.

How much you thin the pesto is up to personal preference–I tend to think a little goes a long way–and how thick the pesto is to begin with. Chances are you’ll have pesto left over. To preserve the rest of the pesto until the next use, add a layer of olive oil to the jar and store in the fridge. This will prevent the pesto from drying out while in cold storage.