OK, maybe that’s an exaggeration. But bear with me here.

Since I lost my job last month, I’ve been cooking dinner at home. Dinners out are the first thing to go when you enter this new, straitened lifestyle that does not include HBO or eBay or $100 impulse buys at Target.

To compensate, I’ve discovered the magic of panko.

Two boxes of Progresso panko crumbs sat unopened in my pantry for a month. I planned to try them whenever I had time. And now, as Mr. Bernstein says in Citizen Kane, “I’ve got nothing but time.”

So for my very first austerity dinner, I bought $2.65 worth of chicken tenders from the nice man at the butcher counter. That’s three-quarters of a pound, in case you care: six little tenders. I only used two of them for dinner that night, because it was early on in the post-layoff trauma, and neither of us had much appetite yet.

I placed my 88 cents’ worth of chicken tenders between two layers of plastic wrap and pounded them flat with a meat hammer. Here was the fun part: pretending the chicken tenders were actually the faces of the people who’d signed off on canning me. (Pound-pound-pound! Take that, you lousy cheapo chickens!)

Once the the tenders were pounded into thin, flat little things, like veal scaloppini or wiener schnitzels, I dipped them in a whisked mixture of egg, flour and milk. Then I coated both sides with plain panko crumbs. I covered the bottom of a large, non-stick “everyday pan” with vegetable oil, heated it, then sauteed the chicken on both sides till the pale panko crumbs turned golden. I served them with mashed potatoes and a green veg.

Comida fabuloso, mis amigos. By the time my husband and I scarfed down this simple but elegant dinner, our layoff-squashed appetites were revived. It tasted like something a fancy Dallas restaurant would serve and make you think they were doing you a favor by charging only $12.50 a plate. So tender, so delicate, so heavenly delicious.

And so cheap! Cost of dinner that night: maybe $5 for the two of us, and most of that was for the convenience of ready-made mashed potatoes. Cook real potatoes for a side dish, and the cost would be halved.

Infatuated with the seductive power of panko, the following week I used Italian-herbed crumbs to coat tenderized, flattened slices of pork loin. Four slices made two cheap, yummy meals for two people.

This culinary crush now is in its third feverish week. For my next experiment, I want to coat fish fillets with panko crumbs. And maybe it’s sick, Herr Doktor Freud, but in my dreams I lust after veal cutlets sauteed into golden, panko-encrusted wiener schnitzels…

No, dear Sigi. Sorry to disappoint you, but I do not dream about bratwurst.

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