January 30, 2016

Cook it Slow

Pin It
Margaret's Morsels | Swiss Steak

January is cold; a month to make and break resolutions; the month bills from Christmas start arriving.  It's also National Slow Cooking Month, something I'm slow writing about this year!

I love cooking with a slow cooker -- or what my family refers to by the trademark name -- crock-pot.  I use a crock-pot for appetizers, chili, sauces, stews, entrees, entire meals and even a sandwich.  Some of the recipes were specifically for the crock-pot but others, like the one I'm sharing today, I adapted from the oven to the crock-pot.

My husband loved eating at my mother's house.  One of the entrees she cooked that he really enjoyed was round steak smothered with onions, tomatoes and seasonings and baked a couple of hours until tender.  That entree -- Swiss Steak -- was never one of my favorites.  My mother used a lot more tomatoes and onions than I liked, plus she only added water to the ingredients which made for a flavorless gravy.  Shortly after we got married, my husband asked if I would make Swiss Steak for supper sometime.  I told him I would, but I'd need to find a recipe first.

I don't remember where I found it, but my husband deemed the first Swiss Steak recipe I tried a keeper and I've been cooking it ever since.  The recipe was actually very similar to my mother's recipe.  The round steak was pounded, coated with flour and browned in a skillet, but it used fewer tomatoes and onions and, instead of water, a jar of beef gravy.  For years, I cooked it in the oven but, on a particularly hectic day, discovered it was equally delicious cooked in a crock-pot.

One day in the late 1990s, I realized I had a late afternoon appointment the same day I'd planned to cook Swiss Steak for supper.  The meat had been thawing in the refrigerator for two days so it had to be cooked that day.  I could fix the Swiss Steak according to the recipe which would make for a very late supper, or I could try cooking it in the crock-pot.  Suppertime is always a stressful time of day for me even under the best of circumstances, so I opted for the latter.

Since crock-pot cooking is different from cooking in an oven, I had to make a few changes to the recipe.

  • I don't pound the meat because low and slow cooking in the crock-pot tenderizes even the toughest cut of meat.

Margaret's Morsels | Swiss Steak

  • The first couple of years, I skipped browning the meat because I'd read it was an unnecessary step in crock-pot cooking.  One day, on a whim, I decided to see what would happen if I browned the meat first.  I don't think browning the meat improved the flavor, but I think it made the finished product prettier.  If I have time to brown the meat, I do; if not, I don't.  It's delicious either way.

Margaret's Morsels | Swiss Steak

  • When I cook Swiss Steak in the oven, my baking pan is big enough to hold the ingredients in one layer.  Due to the size and shape of my crock-pot, I have to layer the ingredients.  To compensate for that, I put some tomatoes, onions and gravy over each layer, instead of putting everything on the top layer.

Margaret's Morsels | Swiss Steak
Two layers of ingredients.

Margaret's Morsels | Swiss Steak
Layered and ready to cook.

Cooking Swiss Steak in the crock-pot takes longer, but it makes suppertime so much easier for me.  All that's left for me to do is fix a couple of sides -- baked potatoes and steamed broccoli in the winter and fresh corn-on-the-cob and a salad in the summer -- and supper is ready.

January might be National Slow Cooking Month, but crock-pots are wonderful to use all year long.  After all, what's better than coming home to a hot cooked meal any month of the year?

Swiss Steak
4 to 6 Servings

1 (2 lb.) round steak, cut into 8 pieces
1/2 cup flour
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
1/4 cup vegetable oil*
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1 (14 1/2 oz.) can diced tomatoes
1 (12 oz.) jar beef gravy

Mix flour, salt and pepper in a large resealable plastic bag.  Add meat, two pieces at a time, tossing to coat thoroughly.  Heat oil in a large skillet.  Add meat and cook one minute; turn meat over and cook the other side for one minute.  Put a layer of meat in the crock-pot; put some onion, tomatoes and gravy over meat.  Continue layering until all ingredients are used, ending with gravy.  Cover and cook on low for 8 hours.  

*If you don't brown the meat first, omit the oil and proceed as directed.

© Margaret's Morsels 

January 19, 2016

A Taste of Germany

Pin It
Margaret's Morsels | Schnitzel

At the beginning of the year, I always like to share a healthier alternative for a traditional food.  Over the last few years, I've shared recipes for salmon patties; broccoli; pork chops; Mozzarella cheese sticks.  I want to share a recipe this January too, but we're going to have to take a little detour.

During the 2014-15 school year, my family hosted a foreign exchange student from Germany named Simon.  We enjoyed getting to know this fine young man and learning about his country's customs and culture.  In exchange, he was able to experience life in an American family, attend an American high school and try American food.  He was a good sport about trying and eating new foods, but after a few months he started missing the food from home.  When he arrived, he'd given me a German cookbook as a present.  At the time, I had him mark the recipes he liked with sticky notes and told him at some point during his stay I'd fix a German meal. When that day arrived, the first thing he wanted me to fix was schnitzel.

Schnitzel -- a thin slice of meat dipped in eggs, coated with bread crumbs and fried -- is the German equivalent of American chicken fried steak or country fried steak.  Although I'd never eaten German food before, I had heard of wiener schnitzel which is made with veal, a meat we don't eat. Simon told me schnitzel could be made with other meats, including pork which is what his family used.

Not long after that, Simon helped me interpret the recipe in the cookbook, putting it together with the way he remembered his grandmother fixing schnitzel.  We coated boneless pork chops in flour, dipped them in eggs and then coated them in plain bread crumbs.  Staying true to the recipe, we fried -- not my preferred cooking method -- the pork chops in canola oil. Unfortunately, they didn't taste like the schnitzel he ate in Germany, but like pork chops cooked in an American home.

A few weeks later, I decided to surprise Simon with schnitzel, but I changed a couple of things.  Instead of using pork chops, I sliced a pork tenderloin into pieces and pounded them flat.

Margaret's Morsels | Schnitzel

Margaret's Morsels | Schnitzel

Margaret's Morsels | Schnitzel

I coated the pieces with flour, dipped them in eggs and coated them with bread crumbs, just like I did the first time.  Instead of frying them, though, I baked them in the oven.  Simon said the schnitzel was much better than my first attempt, but it needed more seasoning.  He looked through my spice rack, smelling some of the spices, until he found what he was looking for: garlic powder and Italian seasoning.  When he showed me those spices, I knew exactly how I was going to make the schnitzel.

One cold winter night, Simon burst through the kitchen door, stopped and exclaimed, "It smells good in here!"  What he smelled was my American version of schnitzel.  Since he liked the schnitzel made with pork tenderloin, I used it again, but decided to coat it with the same ingredients I use when I make Chicken Parmesan.  I omitted the flour completely and dipped the pork in eggs and then a mixture of Italian bread crumbs, Parmesan cheese, Italian seasoning and garlic powder before baking it in the oven.  Simon loved it and ate with gusto that night!

I don't know if my version could really be called schnitzel since some of the ingredients and the baking method are different.  Regardless of what you'd call it, two things are certain.  One, it's delicious.  Two, it's a healthy entree since it's baked not fried.

I look forward to trying German cuisine -- including schnitzel -- when we go to Germany later this year.  The thing I look forward to the most, though, is seeing Simon again.  I can't wait to see how much he's grown and give him something he hasn't had since he left last June:  a hug from his American mother!

Update:  After this was posted, Simon texted me and said he didn't mind me using his name in the article.  I've revised the copy, replacing "our student" with "Simon."  I also included his name in the recipe title.  The rest of the entry remains unchanged.

Simon's Schnitzel
6 to 8 Servings

1 (1 1/4 lb.) pork tenderloin, cut into eight pieces and pounded 1/4-inch thick
3 eggs, beaten
1 cup dry Italian bread crumbs
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 1/4 tsp. Italian seasoning
1 1/2 tsp. garlic powder

Beat the eggs in a bowl; set aside.  In another bowl, combine the bread crumbs, Parmesan cheese, Italian seasoning and garlic powder.  Dip each piece of meat in the eggs and then coat both sides thoroughly with the bread crumb mixture.  Place meat on a greased cookie sheet.  Bake at 375° for 10 minutes.  Turn meat over; bake 12 minutes more, or until thoroughly cooked. 

© Margaret's Morsels