Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Impulse Buys

I'm not a creative person. I'm really not- I can't draw, I can't sculpt, I can't paint, I can't build furniture and I can't play an instrument. The only real creative outlet that I have is cooking, and I love doing it.

Let me rephrase that- I love impulsive cooking. What is impulsive cooking, you may ask? It's not planning a schedule, not writing lists and not using recipes. I can't use recipes. I've tried and it feels like someone is asking me to color inside the lines- limiting and constricting and most of all frustrating. I'm Italian, so all of my recipes are in my head, and all of my measurements consist of "about this much." My wife and I tried to plan a menu for the week once. It did NOT work (on several different levels!)

Some people find peace through yoga. Some center themselves by going on a long walk or by getting lost in a book. I am most at peace when I am walking through the grocery store with a blank slate and a dinner to make. Just browsing, seeing what's on clearance, seeing what sounds good and what would be good together- that's where I'm creative and that's where I'm centered.

I'll start this blog off with what I made last night. I had been thinking throughout the day what I wanted to make for dinner. It had to be something that was easy and something that would reheat well for lunch, considering that Thanksgiving is only a couple of days away, and I didn't want even more leftovers crowding the fridge. Just because I was thinking about what I wanted to make didn't mean I had  *anything* in mind, it just meant that I had a couple of guidelines that I wanted to follow.

My grocery store of choice is Kroger- it's on my way home and among other things, has decent prices, and has this magical, mystical markdown area tucked away in the back of the store with discontinued and damaged items for next to nothing. I do some of my best shopping back there! Anyway, as I started walking around the store, my mind was a blank canvas. My first stop was the marked-down meat section (the one where they sell meat close to the "sell-by" date). When shopping for dinner on a day-to-day basis, it's very cost-effective to buy this kind of meat- you get better cuts at lower prices, and you know you're going to be using it within a day or so.

This day, there was a 3lb package of country style pork ribs for $10.09 (normally $16.99) so I thought that sounded good. I know that my wife doesn't particularly like pork, but this is because she's always had poorly cooked pork that is dry and tasteless. Even though I rarely cook pork, I figured that I could make it juicy and flavorful, so I gave it a shot and tossed it into my cart. There were still a few things to decide, like what to cook it with and what to have as a side. The journey continued.

I went down the BBQ sauce aisle and looked at my options. I could make my own sauce, but I decided that i'd prefer to use a store-bought sauce as a base and build from there. Ultimately, I decided on something relatively basic, Open Pit Original BBQ sauce (Since 1954!) and bought a bottle of Hickory Liquid Smoke to modify the sauce a bit. As a side, I took the easy way out and bought a bag of Bear Run mafalda pasta with rosemary and alfredo sauce. In the magical realm of managerial markdowns, I got a dented can of whole-kernel corn, and dinner was set.

Once home, I tore into the pack of ribs so I could get them marinating before I cooked them. I laid them out in a glass lasagna pan and mixed the sauce in a bowl. I added the Open Pit sauce, about six shakes of liquid smoke, six shakes of soy sauce, some onion salt, garlic powder, coarse sea salt and fresh black pepper. After mixing it well, I poured it over the ribs and then stabbed them with a knife (to vent them and get the sauce to cook "into" the ribs). That works, right? Anyway. Then I flipped the ribs, brushed the sauce onto the other side, and covered the pan with tin foil. I baked them at 300 degrees for about 30 minutes, then uncovered and flipped them and cooked for another 15 minutes at 370. They turned out juicy and the flavor was amazing! It went over incredibly well with my wife, as well as my 1 year old son (who helped me brush the sauce onto the ribs!)

Something silly that I do is fantasize about what this meal would cost in a restaurant, then compare what it cost to make. Here's a breakdown of this meal:

Ribs: $10.09 for ~4 lbs
BBQ sauce: $1.49
Liquid smoke: $2.49
Pasta: $2
Corn: $0.29
Total: $16.36 (8 servings @ $2.05 per)

So that's just a look into what goes through my head when i'm looking at making dinner. Homemade, tasty, cheap, and most of all, impulsive.


  1. Here's my review of this meal:
    The pork was cooked perfectly. Not the least bit dry... so flavorful. Practically falls apart on its own. The sauce that the pork marinated/ cooked in was quite complex. A little sweet and just a tad spicy at the same time, a little smoky. One of those tastes that you need to give your mouth a few extra seconds to fully experience. And I must say that the sides were perfect complements to the pork - starchy and comforting, didn't detract from the pork, but quite delicious in their own right. And yes, our just-about 1-year-old was a BIG fan of it all! :)