Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Mad woman at the stove with a brain on neutral and an unwanted pound of ground pork

There are times when you feel like you're all thumbs. When deep down you know that for sanity's sake it would be best if you stayed out of the kitchen and dialled a number for pizza. If frustrations build up and your mind goes in neutral, you can start feeling useless in a hurry as people around you get tired, grumpy and hungry (yourself included). My neighbour has a good word for that: "hangry". When that happens, I usually let it go and embrace grilled cheese night, eggs and toast, cream of wheat with apple sauce or buttered noodles. Even better if Marc takes over! It happens... Right? I can usually shrug it off, knowing that I will helm the kitchen when I get to be myself again.

Sometimes though, this invisible pressure keeps pushing and common sense just flies out the window. Then anxiety takes over and things get dumb real fast. Like 2 nights ago when this pic was taken by my 4 year old. I can feel the fog in this photo. I was tired and struggling a bit. Okay, a lot. Depression but nothing serious. Marc was entertaining the girls but offered to go to the store for something easy. It would have spared me a few brain cells as I was obviously struggling and cursing with one stupid move after an other but I was stubborn. Even though he offered more than once, my pride held on like a pit bull and I decided to stick to my guns. Or in this case, my pots and pans.

I grabbed what I thought was 1 pound of beef but suddenly realized it was pork. My plan was simple. Patties, simply seasoned, quickly fried in barely any fat and finished with a knob of butter under the grill. For sides, white rice and buttered carrots cooked in just enough water that would evaporate into a sweet syrupy liquid by serving time. I know this stuff by heart. There is no recipe. It's just manipulation of a few ingredients on high or low heat till you know it's just right for consumption. My brain didn't want to think but I still wanted comfort. Well, all went to hell when pork showed up as an impostor. I should have treated this meat the same way but I'm not a fan of pork patties. I can cook pork or sausage meat with confidence into a luscious sauce for pasta but we already had that 2 nights before and mac 'n' cheese not too long before that... Not an option. I was out of ingredients for that anyway. I'm also pretty good with pork chops, pork roast or tenderloin but this was ground pork. Extra lean. With ground pork, I can master a pretty decent tourtière and I like to mix it with beef and veal for some seriously tasty meatballs. All things I take pride in and love but there was no time for that. Also, I didn't care. Or maybe I cared too much and didn't want to do a half-assed job? Whatever it was, I felt stuck. Seriously I should have tossed that in the fridge and go with grilled cheese. The next option was asian flavours but I had little to nothing for that and I wanted the girls to eat, not whine. I considered greek but I was out of lemons, cucumbers, tomatoes... *Sigh*

Lame? Yes. I was simply at the end of my wits and supplies. The fridge was close to empty. Same for the pantry. It was pretty much meat and potatoes without the potatoes. I had rice, onions, celery and carrots. Usually I thrive on that. Stretching the last goods for a small feast. A great base for risotto, soup, sauce, stews... Anything! Not this time. I just wanted 'simple' and to move on but that pork threw me off!! My pride was hurt. I was annoyed. The more I looked at links or books for ideas the worse I felt. After a while I shut all my books, my laptop, grabbed a glass of water and just closed my eyes for 5 minutes.

Pork patties (a lengthy description of an improvised recipe from a frazzled mind)

I started. Thawed the meat that was still frozen. In the microwave. Oh how I loath the microwave. Bad start. I got distracted somehow (kid or cat) and some parts of the meat got cooked through. I cursed. Marc heard me and felt brave enough to say "I guess we're having pizza". I said nothing, which was pretty much a silent "NO!" I gave a piece of cooked meat to the cat and moved on. I dumped the meat with all it's liquid in a bowl and stepped outside for a second breather. Smart move. It was pleasant and balmy. I went to check on my herbs in the garden to inspire me and fair enough touching the sage made me think of garlic, pork, apples and potatoes. I had no apples or 'taters but close enough! I grabbed a few leaves of fresh sage. Washed them, patted them dry and chopped. Tossed that in my big granite mortar with 2 big cloves of garlic, the last spoonful of my olive oil and 2 generous pinches of salt. Crushing that to a paste with the heavy pestle was very satisfying and the smells were just enough to help me stick around to see what was going to happen next. I scooped that fragrant paste and transferred it in the bowl with the meat.

I took an onion next, chopped it up and threw it in a pan with a pat of butter on medium heat till soft and coloured. While they were cooking, I took 2 slices of whole wheat bread and turned them into crumbs in the food processor. Before adding the crumbs to the meat, I tossed them in the big mortar to soak up the last micro bits of sage and garlic goodies that were left behind. With a rubber spatula, I scraped it around to get it all fragrant and into the bowl of pork it went. That moment felt so good. I still wasn't sure what I was doing. To that, I added the onions and the leftover fat which wasn't much. I also added some buttermilk just because I happened to have some (about 3 tbsp). I broke an egg in there and whipped it a bit then mixed everything gently.

My pan was still hot on medium heat. I needed more fat though. I didn't want to use my butter or some precious artisan olive oil from friends of the family in Portugal so I decided to be bad and used bacon fat! :) I smiled with defiance. The fat came from some seriously good local bacon Marc had purchased the day before. It was a tablespoon or less. We'll just say it was less and move along. I let that heat up and quickly scooped some of that pork mixture with my hand. The amount was filling my palm nicely. It was really soft and fragile so I moved quickly and gently flattened it in my hand with the tip of my fingers then flipped that in the pan. It was the perfect size. Thickness of my fingers, size of my palm but in an oval sort of shape. I did 4 like that and fried them fast without touching till a crust was set. That made them easier to flip over. Then I seared the other side quickly. I suddenly decided I was going to finish them in the oven and cranked the oven to 375˚f. I transferred the 4 patties in a small square metal pan I usually use for brownies and cooked 2 more. 6 in all.

Once they were in my square dish (4 at the bottom with 2 on top), I threw a generous spoonful of flour in the frying pan and tossed that around for 2 minutes. Once cooked, brown and stuck to the bottom of the pan, I gradually added a cup of chicken broth that had to go. It could have been water, apple juice, port, milk or cooking liquids from the carrots. I stirred that flour with a wooden spoon to loosen it and turned it into a paste over medium heat as I kept adding broth in a thin stream. Each time I kept adding, the paste loosened into something promising. I kept stretching that till the broth was gone. It made a nice thin gravy that would thicken just a tad more in the oven. I seasoned with salt, pepper and tasted... Yup, good. Light at the end of the tunnel! I poured that sauce over the patties and in the hot oven it went. I had no aluminum foil and worried that the patties on top, would dry up so I simply laid a cookie sheet on top as an improvised lid. Cooked that for 10-12 minutes... Relief.

There it was, a pleasant meal. VICTORY! As I called the family to come to the table, I took a pic in case it was a stroke of genius. It wasn't but it sure was tasty and comforting! The vibe at the table was good. There was no struggle with the girls who were chirping away. All ate happily (myself included). Marc who helped, thanked me for the efforts that my frazzled brain barely managed. A glass of port was serenely enjoyed as a reward. A silent toast to a good ending.

I feel like myself again and ready to helm the kitchen. Well, at least until Thanksgiving.


  1. Love your text ! My mom forwarded it to me.

    1. Tanja! Wow, Gemany flashbacks... :) Thanks!!

      Merci de me lire et bonjour à ta mère. Je lui dois une recette de pâte à tarte.

  2. Unfortunately i dont have this patience when theres nothing in the fridge. D: Even though you were fustrated you make it sound easy -__- I often just threathen Marceline to throw her in the oven with some onion...

    Though i might be looking at something like this for supper tonight... ugg

    1. I bet Marceline would taste good but that would be sad and you would miss your kitty! ;)