Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Austerity? Maybe Something Else.

A few days back, I reported on the "cheaper cut" of pork I bought at Whole Foods. It wasn't any less tasty for being $9.21 per usable pound, though surely a bit less wonderful than some other offerings at that price, such as prime rib would have been or a really superb lamb chop, or even a nice hunk of artisanal cheese.

The question is, how much thinking goes on in a crowded store, how much calculation? Stopping yourself to make careful comparisons interferes with someone else's profit or whatever persuasion is being worked on the public, whether or not we're in an election year.

You may feel like an individual when you shop, but really you are perceived as part of a herd, to be processed at the check-out and fleeced of your cash. It better be worthwhile for you, because it sure is for some of the more lucrative chains like Whole Foods, Costco, and the regional supermarkets.

This blog is about making it work better for you, especially if you aren't into "extreme couponing" and merely plan to make better meals for less money (assuming you can put your hands on some money).

Not being a professional economist, I merely report what goes on in the trenches as the Rich Sister member of my sister act here.

So what happened to that expensive pork shoulder? Do you even want to know?

Trying to recoup the remains (less the more desirable 1 1/4 lbs red meat set aside for a stir-fry) of an $11.52 almost four pound cut (to specify, the arm shoulder, kin to the ham hock at the back end of the pig), I cut up the fat covering and pulled apart the bones. I also used four turkey legs I had bought at the same time, which I spread out on a baking sheet covered in aluminum foil. It would have been possible to strew a few pieces of onion, carrot and celery on the lot, but I just used salt and pepper, as I feared the pork fat being rendered would make any vegetable too greasy. I put this in my convection oven at 375 degree Fahrenheit, and roasted the meats for about an hour. The pork fat pretty much stayed on its side of the pan, in the cups formed by the fat-side up pork rinds as they cooked.

The turkey legs' flesh fell from the tendons, while the small amount of pork flesh around the joint stuck to it and kind of dried out.  Pork rind, once you pour off the liquid fat, can taste good, naturally sweet and carmelized (and it did). But after I scraped away the meat of both animals (to be used in bean soup or fajitas), I found the most wonderful essence under the turkey side, a real stock that tasted great. Nevertheless, the payoff from the pork really wasn't worth too much, and I would not use the fat in my cooking as some people might. I didn't recoup the price or justify it by this further processing. I could just have thrown out the whole shoulder trimming and not missed much.

Working out of Simply Ming One-Pot Meals, I used the 1 1/4 lbs of pork shoulder to make Sweet and Sour Mango Pork, which proved to be a terrific dish in a cookbook full of winners so far.

I had on hand what seemed to be the last of the mango season fruits, rather tasteless and stringy large ones (after a glorious summer of first the small custard-like ones, followed by the huge ones, both varieties from Mexico). This was the perfect use for less than table-worthy mangoes, and they seemed to tenderize the meat as well. Ginger, garlic, scallions, red onion and a sweet red bell pepper, along with sweetened rice vinegar and soy sauce created a great Cantonese style flavor.

Although the recipe says it served four, it could easily furnish three meals for two in this household.

Just to have more Chinese food on hand, I used another recipe from Ming's cookbook a few days later, the beef, shiitake and broccoli stir-fry in oyster sauce.

That at last was from a cheaper cut, a skirt steak purchased in bulk and cut into two from Costco (sorry, I forgot the price, but it was pretty cheap, not being a prime cut). The other half of the four lb, no-waste skirt steak, is in the freezer.

As I go on with this blog I'll try to be more specific about prices. But Frugal Sister's recommendation of bulk shopping for frozen vegetables could apply here. The broccoli I used was fresh, but it would have worked just as well frozen.

The only luxury item here was a half pound of shiitake mushrooms, whose cut-up shape complemented the cut strips of skirt steak. I also threw in some button mushrooms to see how they would work. Not so bad, but the luxury mushrooms really made the dish. How much is 1/2 lb fresh shiitakes in Boston? I think it may be as much as $5.00. It might also work dried and be cheaper.

But see, I'm thinking like a rich person. I'm not going to tell you that you must use shiitakes in this recipe. But they seem to work better than the usual button variety. By the way, some Costco locations sell an excellent dried shiitake (I found it on a visit to California), brand name Manitou, 6 oz. dried for about $8.00 if memory serves. They'll make five or six dishes that call for copious amounts of shiitake.

We drank a half a bottle of the Michael David Winery Seven Deadly Zins (2009) with it, bought at Costco for $11.49. Delicious. But that adds another $5.75 to the cost of the meal.

On the positive side, we still have plenty of stir-fry left over for other meals, and a half a bottle of wine to wash it down. By the way, it was a very good wine (Robert Parker, 90). I still have my subscription to the Independent Consumer's Guide to Fine Wine (at $29/quarter or $99/year), but I didn't arm myself with its recommendation when shopping in the wine section. I walked on impulse into that separate part of the store (closed until noon on Sunday due to one of the last "blue laws" left in Massachusetts, probably to prevent drunks in church), and acted on the ratings posted there by Costco, based in that case on Robert Parker as it happened.

Costco's price for this bottle was a bargain, considering that the website for the winery itself listed this very bottle at $16. I'd like to go back for more today, but remembering my promise to use what is on hand and not buy more, I cannot act on this seeming bargain for the moment. Maybe it will have flown off the shelves. Too bad. A promise is a promise.

Rich Sister

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