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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A plain ol’ country dinner; beans and sweet potato.

There has not been much in the way of cooking going on at Chez Brockwell of late, in large part because I have been working. This is a Good Thing, as it means I get paid, and given that I had to drop $1,400 on my car last week, getting paid is a doubly Good Thing.

But cooking has just not been a big priority, it seems.

Above is one dinner I’ve cooked. Doesn’t get much more basic, much more country, or much easier than this. Beans and a baked sweet potato; I had leftover ham, which I could not be troubled to get out of the refrigerator.

The beans are Rancho Gordo mayacoba beans; I threw a half-pound of them into the Instant Pot, along with some sauteed onion and a little garlic and a bay leaf, hit the “bean” button (no presoaking), and walked away. Came back to beans that were cooked tender, some 40 minutes later; I took a potato masher to them, because I like a creamy bowl of beans, added salt and pepper, and let them simmer along on low for another two or three hours.

No fat at all in these beans. I intended to put a spoonful of bacon grease in them to start out with, and just forgot it. They didn’t miss it. I do love the intense “beany” taste of Rancho Gordo beans. You’ll pay more than what you will in the store. You’ll get it back in taste. I recommend ’em.

The sweet potato went in the CSO for an hour at 400 on the steam bake setting. Perfect.

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Gardening season!

April 17, 2016

The promise of veggies tocome. Flower bed to be home of squash and cucumbers.

The promise of veggies to come. Flower bed to be home of squash and cucumbers.

Today, I bought a hoe.

This is significant.

You see, back in the Dark Ages when I was a kid, my parents had a massive garden. About an acre and a half. Plus fruit trees, plus a pasture with cows, plus, for a while, a hog pen. And a truck patch. One must never forget the truck patch. I’m not sure why one calls it a truck patch, but it was basically a late garden, planted in a low-lying, damp spot in midsummer so it could yield in the late summer and early fall when everything else had, sensibly, quit.

We didn’t eat much we didn’t grow.

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Some kinda soup

January 3, 2016

NOTE: This post has been hanging around in the “drafts” folder for a few weeks, at least since sometime before Christmas. You’re getting it today because I see little prospect of cooking anything today. Truth be told, I feel so rotten I see little prospect of eating anything today. Damn a sinus infection, anyway.

Soup. Good, solid, healthy, tasty bean soup.

Soup. Good, solid, healthy, tasty bean soup.

I can see the Instant Pot is going to enable even further my tendency to start out with a dish with no real idea where I’m going to end up.

I had been baking all day, and thus sampling and nibbling sweet stuff. I wanted savory. I wanted something that would stick to my ribs. I wanted something that would enable me to create a little room in the fridge.

I wanted soup.

I had beans in the fridge, the last of the Ojo de Cabra as well as a combo of Alubia Blanca and Domingo Rojo I’d cooked up for a salad that never got made. That would make a good start. Where to from there?

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Much more than just beans

December 13, 2015

Oh, yeah. Rice and beans to a new level.

Oh, yeah. Rice and beans to a new level.

Yes, Virginia, premium ingredients do make a difference.

And the damned Instant Pot is costing me money.

I decided, since I now have the ability to pressure-cook things, that I would splurge and order myself some Rancho Gordo heirloom beans, which are supposed to be all that and a bag of chips. At three times the price point of grocery store beans, they ought to be.

So I went to the Rancho Gordo website, where I was confronted with an astonishing array of all kinds of beans. Big ones, little ones, white ones, red ones, purple ones. And they all looked so fascinating that I — well, I ordered a package each of eight different beans. Plus a bag of wild rice.

I have yellow-eye beans. I have scarlet runner beans. I have eye-of-the-goat beans.

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