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Saturday, Apr. 30, 2016

Man cannot live by bread alone? Maybe he should try

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

(Photo)
I don't understand what possesses me to jump in over my head at times, but it happens more than I'd like to think.

Often with power tools. Or plumbing. Or (cringe) even electricity.

Sunday afternoon, however, presented a different kind of challenge. The kitchen.

Thinking I might be able to cook myself up some vittles, I end up dead wrong, of course. Haven't had this much trouble in the kitchen since my best buddy Bobby and I decided we could make a Chef Boyardee pizza (the old boxed kind) at his house when we were about 12.

We vowed right then never to mention that incident again. So I'm sorry, Bobby, if you happen upon this column somehow.

But back to my kitchen. Perhaps I was pointlessly empowered after watching chef Matt O'Neill cook up some extraordinary fare recently at the Inn at DePauw. Or maybe sampling tasty treats chefs John Hecko, Frank Straub and others cooked up at The Taste of Putnam County event last month skewed my own culinary creativity.

Or it could be that my own palate is just sick and tired of burgers and brats (although I am pretty good around the grill), leftover quesadillas from Putnam Inn or quenching my hunger with a bowl of cereal like some character out of "Seinfeld."

With the wife out of town on business an awful lot lately, meal planning has become my own responsibility. Especially if I do actually intend to eat that night.

So after a fortnight of nuking any leftovers in sight, eating bananas for lunch and frying up breakfast sausage for dinner, I spy some juicy-looking pork tenderloin cuts marked for quick sale in the Kroger meat case.

I pick up a package and weigh my options. Wavering between tossing them back or tucking them into my cart, I reason: "I can make these." After all, I had seen my mother do it dozens of times. It was the meal of choice Mom always made my first night home from college every break.

Just the thought of it makes my taste buds dance.

Let's think a second ... I need to create some kind of breading, toss the tenderloins into a pan of hot cooking oil, turn them occasionally, cover the pan for a few moments, remove it from the heat and eat. Heavens to Betty Crocker, what could be so tough about that?

So I invest $2.42 into bargain meat and head home confident I just might be on the verge of becoming the next Food Network Star.

Sunday afternoon, a little before kickoff of the Colts-Jets debacle, I convince myself I can cook up these tenderloins, have a nice lunch and live off the leftovers for another day or two.

First off, I go in search of a skillet (you notice, I didn't say frying pan because "skillet" is such a much, much hipper word). Accomplishing that meager task, I also dig out a dish big enough to make that breaded coating and slather my tenderloins in it.

Next up, the breading. How difficult could it be really? An egg, a little milk, a few breadcrumbs, a dash of salt and pepper, and voila!

Not so fast, there Chef Tell. Nobody told me I need a dish for the egg-milk concoction and a separate bowl for the breadcrumbs, so I could cover the meat in eggy goo and roll it around in the breadcrumbs.

Instead, I mix all that stuff together until a lumpy, wallpaper paste-like substance emerges that won't even stick to the meat. That seems perfectly logical since I usually can't get wallpaper to ever stick to the wall.

So, apparently all the right stuff, just the wrong order. Hey, I didn't claim to be an astronaut!

Meanwhile, back at the skillet, we have another problem. Not a single drop of cooking oil can be found anywhere in our pantry or among the many cabinets added in our kitchen makeover last year.

At that point, it is literally any port in a storm. Any liquid that looks like it might help brown my tenderloins becomes an option. Although the Quaker State 10W40 does get ruled out.

So I choose the fancy bottle of Colavita Balsamic Vinegar of Modena from the pantry. After all, that seems to be a staple of every cooking show from "Diners and Dives" to "The Barefoot Contessa" to anything with Paula Deen and lots of lard.

Oh, to have had some extra virgin oil on hand ... Rachael Ray always makes that work (though I've never been sure what olive oil had to do to get that extra virgin status). But the balsamic stuff is going to have to do for now (I know my culinary queen friend Stephanie has to be cringing at this point).

Okay, so who knew that pungent balsamic vinegar would boil away so quickly or evaporate or otherwise disappear somehow to scald my loins and fuse them to the skillet (whatever happened to Teflon, by the way?).

Yet after scraping my breading-free tenderloins from a skillet full of burnt breadcrumbs and scalded balsamic vinegar, a miracle unfolds. OK, maybe not the loaves-and-fishes variety but something special nonetheless.

Actually, they don't taste half bad. A little Miracle Whip makes them even tastier (doesn't it always?). The meat is cooked through and through, yet still juicy and flavorful. Like I'd planned it that way all along ...

And you know what, it sure beats the heck out of that Chef Boyardee pizza ... Just don't ever mention any of this to me again.