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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There’s chicken underneath all that. I promise.

I have made a quite fine fruit salad. That has chicken in it.

I’d been contemplating chicken salad for a couple of weeks, during much of which time I did not have the leisure time in the kitchen to do much more than make coffee in the morning and grab a sandwich or something for lunch or dinner. The craving was kicked off by a quite excellent chicken salad I had in a restaurant/catering joint a month or so back.

I am picky about chicken salad. I don’t want celery in it, because I don’t like celery. I don’t want bell peppers in it, because I don’t like bell peppers. I don’t want onion in it, because in most cases, I don’t care for raw onion. I want fruit in it. I’m good with nuts in it. And I want the dressing to have a slight sweet-sour taste to it.

Yesterday, I hit the jackpot.

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Chicken, anyone?

November 7, 2016

A moist, juicy slab of roasted chicken breast. With potato salad and squash.

A moist, juicy slab of roasted chicken breast. With potato salad and squash.

I continue to be amazed at how easy it is to cook good chicken.

Particularly when one starts with admittedly pricy fresh-frozen chickens from one’s local organic chicken farm. A whole chicken of between 4 and 5 pounds runs me somewhere in the neighborhood of $20, but when I look at the fact I can get four meals, plus several pints of stock, out of a chicken, it’s not that bad a deal.

This week’s Mr. Chicken came sliced with sauteed squash and potato salad, because that was what I felt like.  And it made me remember all over again just how…damn…good this chicken is.

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Curry. In a hurry. And good, and easy.

Curry. In a hurry. And good, and easy.

I nailed the chicken curry last night. Nailed. It.

Decided I needed to cook. Didn’t know what I wanted. Decided to thaw chicken breasts, on the basis that I could go in a bunch of directions from there.

Wound up with chicken curry. And I didn’t pull out a recipe, I just winged it with what I know generally goes in there. Worked like a charm.

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Chicken challenge, Day 3

April 12, 2016

Lemon chicken pasta and veggies. A light taste of spring.

Lemon chicken pasta and veggies. A light taste of spring.

Tonight was my pick of the recycled chicken so far.

I ran across a recipe in the Memphis newspaper this week for a lemon shrimp pasta with green peas. Given that I know you can sub chicken for shrimp in most any recipe you want to, I decided to adapt it.

I pulled the chicken out of the fridge and went ahead and picked the rest of the meat off the bones. The carcass and skin is now in the freezer, and will go into stock at some point. Of the meat, I separated the remaining breast and rib meat from the thigh, two drumsticks and a wing, and chopped it fine, then set it aside. The dark meat got chopped as well; we’ll get to it later.

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Chicken and asparagus risotto. Should've put some carrots in it for color.

Chicken and asparagus risotto. Should’ve put some carrots in it for color.

Wherein we take the rest of the breast that I’d eaten sliced chicken off of, and the thigh meat from same, and make a chicken and asparagus risotto.

Because I haven’t made risotto in at least five years, and it was about time. Plus, chicken challenge.

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Chicken challenge

April 8, 2016

Winner, winner, chicken dinner No. 1

Winner, winner, chicken dinner No. 1

Wanna play chicken?

No, not the kind when you barrel down the highway at high speed, headed straight for another vehicle, waiting to see who flinches first. I may or may not have partaken in that foolishness when I was a kid, but not since I (a) began paying my own auto and health insurance, and (b) got over the notion I was immortal.

For the record, I started the first when I was 19, and the second when I was about, oh, 40. Arrested development (at least in some regards), that’s me.

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