Friday, August 31, 2012

ALDI

  
  It wasn't until I moved into my first apartment that I learned about ALDI. I had always done my grocery shopping at Jewel or Dominick's. My girlfriend (now my wife) informed me that I might do well to consider shopping at ALDI instead.

     If you just asked yourself "what in the world is ALDI?" then you are probably somewhere above the middle class.  For the uninitiated, ALDI is a very bare bones grocery store. Not bare bones in selection, bare bones in frippery. Cartons are more or less opened up and placed on shelves and racks. There are no baggers. There are no bags provided. You must either bring your own, buy them there, or scavenge empty cartons from around the store. You can't get a cart without a 25 cent deposit.

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A bolt cutter will work, too.

     The stripped down nature of ALDI allows prices to be kept fairly low compared to other stores. On an average trip, about $60 will get us 40-60 items. Canned food is super cheap, as is frozen. Produce is generally hit or miss if you don't get it right as it's put out.  Almost everything is ALDI's house brand.  Occasionally, they carry actual name brands. We've found BocaBurgers and Pizzeria Uno frozen pizzas before, and at extremely good prices. ALDI also has a very nice meat and fancy cheese selection.

     If you're truly lucky, your ALDI will have a liquor section. This is wonderful because ALDI is based out of Germany. That means their house label beers are actually imported Germany and Holland. They also have a nice selection of wines and other lighter drinks. No hard liquor is available at ALDI, which is a complete shame because I would never have to shop anywhere else.

     The only downfall of ALDI is the propensity of their stores to be placed in sketchy locations. Sometimes you'll luck out and the store will be somewhere nice. Our current store at any time boasts a clientele similar to what you would find in a Wal-Mart at about 2:30 in the morning. You learn to make sacrifices for value.

   

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Middle Class Wine: Moscato

   I suppose I should clarify things first by saying that I am not saying that Moscato is a middle-class wine. What I mean is that I will be talking about middle-class price points for Moscato (or whatever wine I'm talking about at the time). For the sake of simplicity, let's call a middle-class price point for Moscato between six to fifteen dollars.

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Which leaves these fine vintages right out.
     So, what is Moscato? In a word: Sweet. Sweet and fruity. That's actually two words. Three if you include "and," but you get the idea. If you have Moscato D'Asti, add "bubbly" to the description. If you're a fan of dry wines, stay far from here.

     Moscato is generally considered a dessert wine.  I agree. However, it's also quite good with spicy foods. If I'm doing any sort of Asian cooking, this wine is usually what I pair with it. I'm no wine snob; I can't give you extended descriptions of bouquet or nose or whatever. Henceforth, the MCK (what I will now use as the abbreviation for Middle-Class Kitchen) will use the following scientific and highly technical breakdown for the wine:

Smell: Fruity
Taste: Sweet, Fruity
Finish: Yes, the whole bottle
Headache the next day?: Usually not

Here are a few fine selections that are very affordable and quite tasty, at least to us. Enjoy!


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Rex Goliath $6.99
Mionetto $9.99
Beviamo $14.99          

Monday, August 27, 2012

Escalope of Chicken (from Gordon Ramsay)

     They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, so the first recipe I'm posting is pinched directly from Gordon Ramsay. While many of Gordon's recipes are horrifically expensive to make, he does acknowledge the less affluent cooks. He has a number of very simple, yet wonderful recipes.

     If you use less expensive frozen bagged chicken breasts it can really cut down on costs. I normally keep an eye on the local market (County Market in Illinois) for sales. I can often find beautiful, fresh, bone-in chicken breasts for as little as $1 a pound. That's worth the small hassle of deboning. In the end, this recipe will end up costing in the range of $2.50-$3.00 a serving assuming you have the staples (milk, flour, oil, breadcrumbs) on hand. It can be even less if you have a garden like us and can just wander outside for the tomatoes and basil.

     The sauteed green beans on the side are my own original recipe. I'll share that later. Enjoy!

Escalope of Chicken (via Gordon Ramsay)


Ingredients
  
        4 chicken breasts, boned, skinned & pounded thin
  •  Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon milk
  • 2oz. plain flour
  • 6oz. dry breadcrumbs
  • Olive oil
  • 4oz. shredded mozzarella
  • 2oz grated Parmesan

For the tomato sauce

  • Olive oil
  • 2 shallots (or 1 red onion)
  • 1 clove garlic, finely sliced
  • Approx 9 oz. cherry tomatoes
  • ½ teaspoon dried basil
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Fresh basil to garnish

Directions
1. Preheat the oven to 400°F.
2. Season the chicken fillets on both side with a little salt and pepper. Lightly beat the eggs together with the milk. Dust each chicken breast in flour, then dip in the beaten eggs and finally coat in the breadcrumbs.
3. Sauté the escalopes in a little hot olive oil until golden brown - approximately 2 minutes on each side. Drain the cooked chicken on kitchen paper, then remove to a baking tray.
4. To make the tomato sauce heat some oil in a heavy based pan. Add the shallots and garlic and cook for 2-3 minutes until softened. Add the tomatoes and basil. Allow the tomatoes to soften. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
5. Spoon a little tomato sauce over each escalope. Top with 1 ounce of grated mozzarella, and sprinkle with the grated Parmesan. Bake in the oven for approximately 8-12 minutes (thicker chicken breasts will add cooking time. I've had some take as long as 20+ minutes), until the chicken is cooked (internal temperature of 165 degrees and the juices run clear) and the cheese is melted and golden.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Tools of the trade: Knives

     No kitchen is complete without some good knives. However, good knives cost good money. Unless you  were smart enough to put a nice set on your wedding registry or get them as a gift, you can expect to drop some fairly notable coin.

     If you truly want to make a statement with your cash, most people would agree that Japanese knives are the way to go. Seeing as the Japanese have been making quality cutlery for the last 500-750 years, you figure they have the whole knife making process down.

http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_1Z2ku-87Gvw/TUOfNiL29gI/AAAAAAAABWU/yR1C1MbaQDQ/s1600/Buster%252BSword.jpg 
I hear you have an onion problem.

   There is no doubt that Misono and Masamoto are incredible tools. However, they can cost up and over $1,500 for a single knife. Granted, you could work in the kitchen all week and still use the thing to decapitate a cow, but that's just showing off.  So what do I use in my middle class kitchen? What's my go-to knife?


   
     
      The Yoshi Blade.  Yes, the one from the TV. I don't care what the Amazon reviews say, this is one of the best knives in my kitchen. For $20 you get a ceramic knife that is irresponsibly sharp. You also get a peeler that can probably be used for shaving.  I've had it for almost two years and it is still crazy sharp.  For most veggies and meats, this knife has no peer in my kitchen. Granted, my other knives are Shappu 2000's and Ginsu, so I'm not setting the bar terribly high. 

    Is the knife perfect? Far from it. Since it's ceramic, you can't use it on glass or marble surfaces. Wood, bamboo or plastic only. You can't put it in the dishwasher. You can't chop with it (or at least you're not supposed to. I chop with it regularly with no issues). You can't cut frozen foods. You can't cut bone. You can not pry or twist with this knife.  Any of these things will chip or break the blade. You certainly don't want to drop one of these. If it hits the floor there's a good chance it will break. Or stick in your foot. 

     What it WILL do is cut the hell out of most fruits, vegetables and meats. It will cleanly dice onions and butterfly a chicken breast. 

     I don't have an unlimited amount of cash. I could certainly drop the cash and buy a high-quality knife that will probably last me a lifetime. However, I'd just as soon buy a $20 TV special that works well enough for my needs and spend the difference on food.

Welcome to the Middle Class Kitchen

     I notice that there's a proliferation of food blogs on the internet. I also notice that the economy is tanking and that things do not appear to be getting better any time soon. Food and the economy are linked like sausages. That's where the problem lies for the average middle class kitchen. I see wonderful recipes in magazines, television shows and on the internet. Unfortunately, many of these recipes use ingredients I can't pronounce, let alone afford. I'd love to use Gruyere in my cooking, but not when a pound of it is almost 30% of what we spend in a month for groceries.

Delicious and $20 a pound.

     I love to cook. I love to present large, fancy meals for my family and friends. It pleases me to no end to have that moment at the table where everybody stops talking because they are too focused on the food. I want to do this thing that I love and not go broke doing it. Will I eventually do a recipe that's pricey? Yes, it can't be helped. Unless it's absolutely required, I will do what I can to keep costs down.

     So what's my goal here? I want to talk about food and drink for the Middle Class. You may ask, "what is the Middle Class Kitchen?" Statistically, it's a kitchen in a house with an average income of around $30K per wage earner. There's two of us in my house, so that's easy math. I'll touch on more specifics later on.
There will be no molecular gastronomy or degustation menus in our home. If I can't get the ingredients at a local market or at a reasonable price, I'm going to start substituting. I don't need to break the bank to cook well.

   I simply want more people to sit at a table where the primary sounds are those of clinking silverware and happy diners.

Oh, do you like it? I'm not partial to desserts myself, but this is excellent.”