Hello, September

September 1, 2018

Good dinner for fall, and on a budget, too.

Happy September, y’all.

Can it be fall yet? Not when it’s 90 degrees out, it can’t, albeit we’ve had about the weirdest summer weather I can remember. Hotter than five kinds of hell in June, and then unseasonably cool and wet in August.  But the calendar says it’s September, there’s football on the TV (and can I hear an Amen and a Wooo Pig for the Razorbacks, who are at least beating whatever cupcake school got paid to travel to Fayetteville this weekend, if they don’t win another one all year), and the MLB season is gearing down into the fun days (if you’ve got a team with a shot at postseason, which I do).

I have given up on the garden. It’s kaput. I think next year, by which time I should hopefully be in a new place, I will cut back to just raised beds, and buy what I want to put up. With the plethora of farm stands and the Farmers’ Market, that’s easy enough. I’ll have a herb bed, a few tomatoes, and maybe one that has a few hills of squash and cucumbers. Enough said.

Speaking of which, my only preserving left for the year is pear preserves, because the pear tree up home is loaded this year, and maybe some scuppernong jelly, as scuppernongs are coming in season. I overdid canning tomatoes last year, and have some left. I have plenty of pickles and other jams, jellies and preserves. There are peaches, peas and corn in the freezer. Enough. And I am turning my attention to soups, stews and braises.

And it’s Hunger Action Month, the month every year when we’re all asked to do something to combat the scourge of hunger. It’s just so ironic that here, in the breadbasket of the nation, at harvest time, there are people who just don’t have enough to eat. We all ought to feel guilty, and we all ought to do something to help out someone less fortunate.

One of the things that intrigues me is the SNAP challenge, or eating on the average food stamp recipient’s budget of $4 a day. And you can eat, and eat well, on $4 a day. You’re not going to eat out, and you’re not going to eat convenience food, and it’s going to require some time, planning, effort and knowledge in the kitchen, but you can eat, and eat well. I’ll try to cook and eat and post some good, wholesome, budget-friendly meals this month to offer my two cents’ worth (plus it’s good practice for October Unprocessed).

When you’re cooking on a budget, you have no better friend than dry beans. I was intrigued, a few weeks ago, by a recipe for beans, long-simmered chicken thighs, and white beans with lemon; it was a taste combo that had never occurred to me, and I determined to try it. The other day, I did.

Now, I’ll grant you that you can cook dry beans and chicken a lot more cheaply than I did; I used Rancho Gordo beans and farm-raised chicken, because that’s what I like. But you could use grocery store navy or Great Northern beans, and supermarket chicken thighs, and get by a lot cheaper, and this would still be good. (Not as good as mine, but good.)

In any event, here you go: First, dice up an onion and thinly slice two whole lemons crossways, keeping the peel but removing the seeds. Toss them both with a half-teaspoon of salt in a small bowl and set them aside.  Pepper some chicken thighs. The recipe called for eight, but I used four. Put them in  a skillet skin-side down, on medium heat, and let them simmer away for eight minutes or so, to let all the fat render out. Then turn them over and saute them for about the same length of time, until they’re mostly cooked through, and then take them out onto a plate and set aside.  In the same skillet, in that chicken fat, saute the onion and lemons, until the onion softens a bit and turns translucent. Add two or three minced garlic cloves stir a bit, and  when it gets to smelling nice, stir in about two cups or so of cooked white beans.

Stir those up, then nestle the chicken thighs back in. Cover the skillet, turn it down to medium low, and let it simmer for about 15 minutes, until all the flavors are happy together, and the chicken is cooked through.

The original recipe would have you add kale when you add the chicken back. I don’t like kale, so I didn’t. I diced up a yellow squash and a zucchini in about one-inch dice and tossed it in right before I put the chicken back. You could add most any kind of veggie — carrots or peppers when you first add the onions, green beans or corn when you put the chicken back. Spinach wouldn’t be bad. Or use your nasty kale. I’m contemplating green peas next time.

I also think it’d be good to use Greek seasoning on the chicken.

You can used canned white beans, if you want; just drain and rinse them. Total supermarket cost on this would be about — let’s see — 5 bucks for four big chicken thighs, a dollar for two lemons, 50 cents for an onion, a couple of bucks for two cans of beans, and pennies for a couple of cloves of garlic. That’s well under $10 and it’ll serve four people and take you under an hour in the kitchen. You could put a green salad and some good crusty bread with it, and it’d be a dinner fit for company.

I cooked the beans with no seasoning, just in a little chicken broth, in the IP; a half-pound bag was plenty. Be careful salting this; the salted lemons (the salting pickles the onions a bit, and softens the lemon peel) will lend lots. I made the mistake of putting oil in the pan to brown the chicken; you don’t need it, because the thighs will render out plenty of tasty fat. In fact, my only complaint with this dish was that it was a tad too oily; I might drain off all but a couple of tablespoons of the fat next time (mine had obviously been some plump little chickens).

So there’s you ‘n y’mama ‘n ’em one good budget-busting idea for Hunger Action Month. I’ll try to share a few more while September’s here.



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