Woof. No cooking tonight.

September 3, 2018

Yep. This would be me.

Dear Sweet Baby Jesus. I’m whipped.

It is a testament to how big a mess I will tolerate in the kitchen, as well as my overall sloth, that when I finally bestirred myself to get me to the kitchen this afternoon and cook dinner, I looked at it and said to myself, “Self? You can’t so much as think about cooking in this kitchen until you clean it up some.”

And Self said, “Yep. You’re messy. And you’re a real pig.”

So I made Self help.

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Mid-point, holiday weekend…

September 2, 2018

Sweet baby Jesus pork steak from the smoker. Plus brats, because I had room.

…wherein I began the day sopping water out of the laundry room floor at 3 a.m.

At least the pork steaks were excellent.

How it was, was, like this. After busying around all day yesterday (Farmers’ Market, grocery twice, treating myself to breakfast, etc., etc., before Brock got here), I got around to putting pork steaks in the sous vide to cook overnight, with the action plan of then throwing them inthe smoker for a brief finish after church.

Pork steaks were marvelous. However…

One should never, NEVER, turn the tap off from filling one’s sous vide container with water, as it sits in the laundry room sink, in which the stopper always seems to magically and independently default to the “closed” position, without double-checking it. Because if one does NOT turn the tap COMPLETELY off, and then one goes to bed, leaving said pork steaks to cook overnight, but instead turns it back to a mere trickle, one will be up at 3 a.m. sopping water out of the floor with clean towels, because Friday and Saturday were laundry days, and there was only one dirty towel in the house, and there was about a stock pond’s worth of water in the floor. And yes, I know this from bitter experience.

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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.

 

North Africa-bound

August 24, 2018

It’s just a PRETTY piece of kitchen cookware.

Like I needed another specialized piece of kitchen cookware.

I have purchased a tagine. In part because I just think they’re pretty. And in part because I love the cuisine of Morocco, where the tagine is a necessity of life.

And in part because I’m thinking maybe if I rub it just right, a genie will come out and grant me three wishes.

I already had several Kindle cookbooks on the cuisine of Morocco and environs, but I guess I figured if I was going to buy the tagine, I might as well have a dead-tree cookbook to use with it, so I bought one of those, too. So I’m ready to get going with long, slow stovetop braises of chicken, and maybe I’ll even try lamb (not that I’ve ever LIKED lamb, but there’s always a first time, right?).

I think one reason I enjoy Moroccan cuisine is the predominance of fruit in its recipes. I can’t think of many times when chicken (or pork, if they cooked pork, which they obviously don’t in a mostly Muslim country, bless their hearts) is not improved by the addition of dates, or dried figs, or dried apricots, or, or, or.

Anyway, a tagine is a shallow, wide earthenware base in which one sautes and then simmers proteins with a goodly measure of aromatics and a small portion of liquid, covered by a conical top. Mine is glazed inside, and “raw” earthenware outside; I will season it however one is supposed to do so, and then set about cooking something, which is then served over couscous or rice.  The typical tagine includes a meat, dried fruit, and nuts; tagines can also be made with fresh hard veggies like sweet potatoes, beets, carrots and so on. Lamb with dates and almonds, anyone? Beef with beets and oranges? Meatballs with baked/braised eggs? Chicken with preserved almonds, green olives and thyme, or with artichokes and green grapes? Honey, onion and chili pepppers and ginger are key ingredients in all these. I’m on board with all of ’em.

And I need to set about making myself some preserved lemons.

Dear Sweet Baby Jesus, help me now.

I’m headed out of town for a few day this weekend, but when I get back, I’m thinking I’ll start things out with a spicy chicken tagine with apricots, rosemary and ginger. Or maybe duck breasts with dates, honey and orange flower water.

A tagine dish, of course, requires a Moroccan flatbread (which one can also make in the tagine, or on a pizza stone in the oven). I’m down with that, too.

You ‘n y’mama ‘n ’em want to come help me try this thing out, we’ll pop in a copy of Casablanca and let Sam play it for us while we cook.

 

 

 

 

Caramel apple muffins. Come to church, and I’ll be sure you get one

.NOTE: I realized I left out the sugar in this recipe originally. I’ve fixed it, now.

I got in the habit, earlier this year, of baking muffins on Sunday morning and taking them to church for my Sunday school. think I’ve spoiled them. Warm muffins, and of course, being Methodist, there is a plentitude of coffee to be had (As Garrison Keillor noted, for Methodists, coffee is a sacrament), and that’s generally enough to ensure no one’s stomach growls during morning service.

 

 

 

So I’ve gotten in the habit of muffins. And because I’m always trying new stuff, I try out new ones periodically. They’ve sampled ham and cheese muffins, bran muffins, almond poppy seed muffins, blueberry muffins, peach muffins, strawberry muffins. I was sitting around last night, trying to decide what the flavor du jour would be today, and I settled on caramel apple.

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One of the two ill-fated pineapple upside down cakes.

I’ve been on an upside down cake kick of late.

It started back before vacay,  when Child A allowed she’d like to have a pineapple upside down cake. Oddly enough, I had been thinking the same thing. I took this as a sign I should make one.

Note to self: Don’t put any stock in signs. They’ll backfire on you.

So I made this cake, or one identical to it, and a pretty thing it was. I set it on a unit on the stove to cool. An hour later, I walked by the stove and flipped a burner on to preheat for boiling some potatoes for potato salad.

You can see where this is going, can’t you?

Yep. Flipped on the wrong burner. Walked outside to snip some herbs for whatever else I was planning to make that night. About the time I pulled the back door open to go back inside, I heard Child A shriek.

MAMAAAAAAA!”

Doesn’t matter how old they are. When they’re startled or scared, they’re six.

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Um. Hello?

August 11, 2018

Birthday hi-jinks on the beach, where AGC2 is not too scared of the shark.

Yeah. It’s been a month.

Shortly after I left y’all I left home for a week of vacay on the beach with half my family (the other half couldn’t come because Child B has gone and gotten herself gainfully employed, and thus could not take time off.  And we missed her and AGCs 1 and 3, indeed we did.

But we had a large time on the beach, ate much seafood, celebrated AGC 2’s sixth birthday, shopped, and soaked up sun. And then we came home and I set about catching up from being gone on vacation, and flew into a flurry of puttin’ up, to make up for not puttin’ up before I left, and generally scurrying about like the proverbial beheaded chicken. AGCs are starting school (and Child C may be going into the nearest mental hospital, because she Is Not Dealing well with her baby boy starting kindergarten, and I’ve been car-shopping and house-shopping as well as general, well, work stuff.

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