Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Week 6 - Finger Foods

I love finger foods, but hors d'oeuvres always seem like a lot of work, so I wasn't sure at first what to make for the Week 6 challenge. Once I started looking through some party food slideshows, I decided on baked mozzarella sticks. I'd been in the mood for mozzarella sticks for a bit, so it seemed like a good idea to satisfy that craving in a slightly healthier way.

I pretty much followed this recipe I found on Taste of Home and made a few adjustments. The ingredients were:

- 8 sticks of string cheese ($2)
- about 3 tbsp of flour ($0.10)
- 2 eggs ($0.46)
- 1 tbsp of water ($0)
- about 1 cup of Italian style bread crumbs ($0.20)
- 1 tbsp butter ($0.20)

The cost for the 8 mozzarella sticks was about $2.96. Adding on all the other stuff we ate for dinner - a package of lemon pepper spaghetti (free, since it was a Christmas gift), 1/2 jar of pasta sauce ($2.25), frozen green beans ($1.99), 1 onion ($0.60), a few cloves of garlic ($0.08), plus seasonings - the total was approximately $8. Not bad at all.

The first step was to put together the mozzarella sticks, and this had to be done hours in advance. As you might remember from other posts, I suck at the whole breading and dredging thing, but I did my best. I set up the 3 bowls, one with the flour, one with the beaten eggs and water, and the last with the Italian bread crumbs. Then each stick got coated in flour, then egg, and then bread crumbs. The first couple of sticks didn't turn out too badly, even as the bread crumbs were starting to clump up on my fingers, but the last few looked pretty sad.

Once the sticks were coated, I stuck them in the fridge. The recipe had said to do this for at least 4 hours or overnight. I think I ended up leaving it in the fridge for close to 6 hours, so it definitely hit the minimum time recommendation. I don't know if it was enough though (more on that later).

After preheating the oven to 400 degrees, I laid the mozzarella sticks out on a baking sheet on some parchment paper, and then drizzled them with about 1 tbsp of melted butter like the recipe said to do. The butter didn't stick to the sticks very well. It just kind of rolled off onto the parchment paper.

The recipe said to bake them for 6-8 minutes. I set the timer for 8 minutes and then checked them. They were a giant melted mess with the cheese having oozed out everywhere. I probably should have set them for shorter intervals and checked them periodically, but for some reason, I thought baking them longer would make them crisper. No, what it really did was encourage the cheese to melt everywhere. Maybe it would have been better to put the sticks in the fridge overnight and then the freezer for an hour like I did for the goat cheese medallions (although they kind of melted and oozed there too). I don't get it though. Most of the reviewers said they didn't have a problem with oozing cheese at all. Where did I go wrong? Even the "good" sticks that were breaded correctly had this problem, so I don't know what I did wrong.

Although I knew this was a giant mozzarella stick fail at this point, I baked the mozzarella sticks for another 5 minutes or so, hoping that would at least brown the cheese a little bit. After I pulled it out and let it cool for a couple of minutes, I cut the melted cheese into strips around each of the breaded columns. They were solid enough that we could pick them up and eat them with our hands, so I guess even though they weren't really mozzarella sticks, they still qualified as finger foods and it wasn't a complete challenge fail. Just melted cheese slices instead of mozzarella sticks. As far as flavor, it was really just melted cheese with some baked bread crumbs.

We rounded out the meal with some pasta (slightly overdone since I had to spend longer than planned attending to the mozzarella "sticks") with Classico sauce, and a side of string beans with onions and garlic. Overall, the meal was fine even if the baked mozzarella sticks were a failure. Although I like mozzarella sticks, I'm not sure I'll try this again. Maybe I'll just leave this to the experts (and not McDonald's either).

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