There's an old saying about your eyes being bigger than your stomach. For me, the problem is more along the lines of my culinary expectations far surpassing my budget and free time. I'd love to eat a Lifeline rib-eye, some garlic-roasted potatoes from my CSA and fresh greens plucked from my backyard garden every day of the week, but reality usually dishes up something far less spectacular. Like cereal for dinner. Or leftover takeout from two days earlier. Or worse.
Know your farmer? Sure. I dig that as much as the next conscientious Missoulian. But I also know what's typically in the fridge on a Wednesday night after bar break, and it ain't pretty. Luckily, after years of cooking both commercially and, more recently, for a growing family with wildly divergent tastes, I've picked up a few tricks that can help bridge the gap from the disparate remains in your dorm room to something closer resembling the spread at your Super Bowl party.
While others in this space do a damn good job of educating readers on the local food scene or the merits of organic labeling, I see my role as helping in life's less glamorous moments of culinary need. Like, say, when you realize the bulk package of string cheese is just begging to be used for more than a packed school lunch or a time-killing snack while you search the pantry for additional sustenance. Here are three easy recipes, each taking less than 20 minutes of prep and cook time, to turn that stringy stuff into something better.
What you need: 12 ounces of pizza crust (I prefer Le Petit), 7 sticks of string cheese, 1/2 cup pizza sauce, 2 cups mozzarella cheese, any other toppings.
How to make it happen: Heat oven to 425 degrees. Grease 12-inch pizza pan with cooking spray. Spread out dough in pan. Extend over sides by at least 1 inch. Place string cheese around inside edge of crust. Fold extended edge of dough over string cheese and pinch to seal. Spoon your sauce onto dough, then top with mozzarella and other toppings. Bake 12-16 minutes or until crust is golden brown and cheese melted.
Why it's good: I've never eaten stuffed-crust pizza in a certain chain restaurant. This way I don't have to.
What you need: 1 cup panko bread crumbs, 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder, 8 sticks of mozzarella string cheese (cut in half), 8 small jalapenos (cut in half lengthwise, stems and seeds removed), 16 wonton wrappers, bowl of water, 1 beaten egg, oil for frying.
How to make it happen: Combine the panko, salt and garlic powder in a bowl. Take one half of string cheese and one half of a jalapeno and place in a wonton wrapper. Wet your finger in the water and run along the edges of the wrapper, then fold. Dip into the egg, then coat it in the panko mixture.
In a large pot, heat 1 inch of oil to 350 degrees. Fry the mozzarella sticks, in batches if necessary, until golden brown, 2-3 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer to a paper towel-lined plate. Sprinkle with kosher salt.
Why it's good: Fresh ingredients make a world of difference compared with frozen options at the grocery.
What you need: 4 mozzarella sticks, 1 egg, 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning, 1/3 cup panko bread crumbs and 1 cup marinara sauce (heated).
How to make it happen: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a bowl, whisk egg. In non-stick skillet, mix seasoning and bread crumbs over medium heat. Cook and stir until browned. Break string cheese in half or thirds. Dip one piece of string cheese in egg, then coat in toasted bread crumbs. Place on baking sheet. Repeat. Bake for 5-6 minutes.
Why it's good: Same as above. Plus, recipes don't get any easier than this.