Friday, February 29, 2008

Adventures in Family Cooking

Most of our meals are prepared from scratch and I am always looking for ways to make tasty healthy food at the lowest possible cost. Someone suggested recently that I give pork neck bones a try. This is a dish often served "down South". Being from "up North", I had never tried them, but many people had described very flavorful meals that you can make from this particular cut. When I found a package in my local Safeway for $1.49/lb. I decided to give them a try. Sure it was a package of bones, but there was an awful lot of meat on them. This allowed me to quiet my Tightwad side ("$1.49 for a pack of stupid bones? Are you crazy!") long enough to get them out of the store.

Cooking them in the crock pot seemed like a good idea. I wasn't sure what the final product would be, but slow cooked tender pork always leaves many different opportunities for a tasty dinner. I spiced the meat covered bones and put them in the slow cooker in late afternoon. I checked on them a few hours later and noticed they did not produce a lot of liquid like some pork chop cuts do, so I added water, some more spices and just left it on low to cook overnight. Before bed I checked on it one more time, and it appeared to have cooked down quite a bit. That was disappointing and my Tightwad side started up again. ("SEE! I told you that was way too much to pay for a stupid bag of bones!")

As I was thinking of nasty retorts to Tightwad voice, my husband walked up behind me and said "That meat is really tasty, but it sure does have a lot of bones!".

After mentally flipping off my Tightwad side I turned to my husband and lovingly said, "Hey stupid! Those are neck bones! Of COURSE there are a lot of bones in it. I am cooking them up to use for a soup or stew or something. Now stay the hell out of the crock pot!"

What remained of the neck bones was left to cook overnight, and in the morning, eyes still bleary, I pulled the meat out of the liquid and put it in a large bowl to cool off so I could start the deboning process. Since I wanted to take care of that before going to work, I placed the bowl in the refrigerator and went to take a shower. After getting myself ready, getting my son off to school, and listening to my husband describe the day's early financial news in excruciating detail, I went to the kitchen to take care of those pork bones.

Something was wrong when I pulled out the bowl. It still being morning (which is NOT my best time of the day) and my brain being numbed by listening to interest rates, foreign markets, and something about a nerdy looking guy named Bernanke, it took a minute to register. Apparently there was shrinkage. The pile looked so much smaller. Tightwad voice quickly emerged from the economics induced stupor and was about to start mouthing off again when the rest of the brain woke up. A quick glance in the trash showed 3 large pork bones, almost half of what should have been in the bowl sitting on top of the pile.

He did it again! Husband had gotten in to the crockpot! I started yelling as he flew out the front door claiming he had a meeting and didn't have time to talk. The truth was he did have a meeting but didn't have time to go to the emergency room first if I ever got a hold of him.

I deboned what little was left of the pile and added it back to the liquid. I had found an opened jar of diced green chilis in the fridge and thought that might go well with the pork. I added cilantro, red peppers and anything else I could think of to the mix and tasted it. It WAS good. A little THIN, but good. I figured that despite my husbands interference, I could really make something out of it. I still had a 1lb package of pork sausage in the freezer (bought with Tightwad's assistance...99¢/lb managers special thankyouverymuch!) and if I added that, it would be a nice, thick tasty Southwest pork stew. I pulled out the pork sausage to thaw, and planned on browning that up at lunch and adding it to what was left of the pork meat.

Life messed up my schedule (as usual) and I didn't get home until late. By the time I made it home, husband had been there with my son for a couple of hours, and when I walked in the door, I had totally forgotten about my ealier cooking attemp. I was tired and weak with hunger and dreading having to make something. I walked through the living room and into the kitchen and then saw the bowl I had placed the frozen pork sausage in to thaw. It was empty. Memories returned as I rushed to the crock pot. It was almost empty. All that was left was a tiny bit of brown liquid on the bottom and a few green chili fragments stuck to the sides. Just then husband yelled from the living room "I saved you some soup!"

The fact that I hadn't eaten anything for most of the day probably saved my husband's life. I still don't know if I would consider neck bones to be a good bargain. I guess if you are a man married to a woman who cooks, they are a fantastic deal. If you are a woman trying to cook a descent meal for yourself as well as your family, you may have to pick up a side of steak to keep you nourished through the cooking process. Or maybe you just need a new accessory for your crock pot - like a lock...or possibly even an ill-tempered Doberman. Now if you can just convince Tightwad to turn over the check book...


avenuegirl said...

I am in tears, laughing! I wanted to get a mini-refrigerator to hide in my office for my mayonaise and cheese as they always seemed to "disappear" while I was out of the house.

Can you hide the crock pot in a scent-proof room?

Wifezilla said...

If I can somehow hook up a solar panel to the top of the storage shed....

MrsMenopausal said...

LOL!! I know how that goes. I haven't done pork necks (yet, but now I think I have to) but plenty of crock pot meals have dwindled to nothing due to sneaky, grazing, family members.

mjais said...


Your blog is great! I'm checking out the recipes and your articles.

Anna said...

Just found your blog. Very funny post.

But I have to get serious now :-). Why are you picking on bony cuts? I used to look at bones as waste, too (skin, too). I guess I figured that they were a lot of work and ultimately were thrown out, not eaten.

But now I welcome those bony cuts. In fact, I seek them out, glad that no one else knows this anymore because that would drive the price up. Bony cuts are *full* of rich flavor (without the chemical flavor enhancers that food on which industrial food chemists rely), in ways that pure muscle meat just can't beat. Plus, those slowly simmered bones (CrockPot cooking=the modern equivalent of someone tending the fire in the hearth) release all sorts of minerals and trace elements, in bioavailable form. Expensive mineral supplements cannot compete against bone broth.

Give the bones a break, please? To paraphrase Rodney Dangerfield, they don't get no respect, but should. :-)