Tuesday, June 2, 2015

A Little Kitchen Tune-Up

After a day in the field or in the bat truck, and spending way too much on keeping it going, I was ready for a tasty but not wallet busting dinner.  With gas always about forty centers higher in the big city, plus the cost of upkeep, transportation costs are taking a larger bite out of every one's monthly budget.  Add to that all the maintenance items you have to buy, especially if there's a British car in the garage - Heimlich valves, muffler bearings, lunar wain shafts, flux capacitors, clutch belts, blinker fluid, bottom tire air (the tops of the tire never needs it) and the list goes on and on.

So when my Partner in Grime offered to cook me dinner after I worked all day,  I was not going to say no.  He had some chicken, some veggies, a big cast iron skillet with lid and some herbs.  Plus the man knew how to braise.

Braising is a good way to prepare a  cheap cut of meat and often the one people are the least experienced with.  Braising is a cooking technique in which the main ingredient is seared, or browned in fat, and then simmered in liquid on low heat in a covered pot. The best equipment to use would be a  pressure cooker or heavy Dutch oven,  or, in many kitchens, simply big cast iron pan with a heavy metal lid that may not seal tightly, but  it covers.

The basic steps involve seasoning, sauteing the meat lightly in a bit of oil or butter until brown, deglazing the pan with broth, stock or juice, stirring up the browned bits, adding cooking liquid and then finishing in the oven until it's completely tender (for large cuts of meat, such as cheaper cuts of roast this can range from 1 to several hours).

For braising chicken, the best cuts of chicken are the legs and thighs, preferably on the bone with skin on so you get the connective tissue and fat that will make the dish really savory. There's no need to braise boneless, skinless breasts, they will do much better grilled or just sauteed.

Braising is a good way to use up cheaper cuts of meat. If you have a local butcher, see about leftover pieces from a specialty cut or the dismantling of a whole bird to give another shopper some chicken breasts.  They often will have some and sell to you at a reduced cost if there's not enough to make up a big "family pack". Also check the "reduced" section. Such items, if cooked right away are still quite good and often heavily discounted.

 You've all seen those prepacked dinners that can be made quickly. Most are full of artificial ingredients and tons of sodium, and run up to $10.00 or more. You can make something 10 times more tasty for less than half of that, if you shop carefully, and get veggies and other staples in family packs or bulk. Even better, put your best Semaphore Code "tablecloth", some candles and place mats and enjoy a meal that's not eaten in your car or in front of the TV.

Tonight's posted recipe is a slight adaption of the traditional method, using bacon fat in addition to the oil to sear the meat and using less liquid, so that the veggies maintain a bit of crispness as the meat cooks off til it's fall off the bone tender

Start with chicken pieces. It was going to be a light supper so a thigh and a leg per person.  Before prep, the pieces should be rinsed and patted dry. 

A sweet onion was cut into reasonably thin chunks and then the thighs were deboned by hand to keep a bit of the connective tissue but make them thinner so they cooked equally with the smaller legs.  Prep the veggies THEN work on the chicken to keep the work area as clean as possible.

Brown 2-3 large pieces of double smoked bacon in a cast iron skillet. Remove and set aside. The bacon  fat from that is just the perfect amount for the pan with a  splash of good quality olive oil.  Add the oil to the bacon fat, stirring up the brown bacon bits.  Add chicken pieces with the heat on medium high. Cook skin side down for 5-6 minutes (more if really big pieces) until lightly brown, flip and remove and keep warm. In the same pan add the onion, Cook, stirring in the drippings until softened but not caramelized (you want a bit of bite to it still). Add to that was a good splash or three of balsamic vinegar (Artesano's 18 year old, incredible stuff) and some chopped thyme.

Stir it around and return chicken pieces to pan, skin side UP and place about 2 tablespoons of water in and around the chicken and cover again with a heavy lid.  As it finishes in the oven the top of the chicken will crisp up just slightly.

This is different than traditional braising that fully simmers the bigger cuts of meat in a lot of broth.  For this recipe, you don't need to as it keeps the onions perfectly cooked with a texture and taste that's more roasted than boiled.  Place in preheated hot (roughly 400 F.) oven for 20 minutes, until no pink remains in the meat.  Throw in a a couple nice baked potatoes, partially cooked in the microwave (4-6 minutes depending on size) and then wrapped in foil and placed in with the covered pan to finish cooking with the chicken..

When done, rub the potatoes with a tiny bit of olive oil and course sea salt and serve with fresh butter and the chopped bacon as well as some steamed veggies to which you added only white pepper. I've had more photogenic meals but few that were as tasty for a "budget" minded chef.

From start to finish, one person cooking, one person "back seat braising", it was only about 30 minutes from start to table. With some bargain chicken pieces from a small town, non chain, butcher and some bulk veggies, less than $4.00 for the entire meal for two.

That leaves enough money for a replacement 710 Cap.


  1. God, bacon makes everything good doesn't it? ;-) Thanks for the tips, looks like my kind of meal.

  2. I have a Pickett rule with a leather case and belt loop for when I want to seriously embarrass my kids.

    For regular use, however, I keep a Swiss Micros HP 11 clone within arms' reach. Perfect for kitchen or outside duty since the membrane keyboard wipes clean with a damp cloth.

  3. I've said this before, but I'll plead, beg and grovel again: your next book needs to be "Recipes from The Range."

  4. How times have changed when the tool that I used for years as a student and newby engineer is now the topic of a special exhibit at the MIT Museum because they are no longer manufactured. Alas, slide rule, I loved thee.

  5. Nosmo King - I will say it again and for the last time. I appreciate your support and kind regards but I have no intention on doing a cookbook.

    (1) Compared to the average text-heavy novel or memoir, self-publishing a cookbook with photos is difficult. Cookbooks require complicated book design and formatting and extensive editing. None are things I enjoyed doing. I'm not going to write another book for a year as I got so burned out by the hundreds of hours I spent doing that for two books.

    (2) My writing that's sold has to be vetted by my employers ethics people. This book would directly tie into a gun blog. That would be a big NO.

    (3) It would not make money. All the recipes are on here, free and easily printed to put in a binder. When The Book of Barkley was published I had 30,000 unique visitors or more A WEEK here. In the first six weeks it sold 110 copies, and I bet half of those were personal friends and family. Having a big blog audience, just like having a big twitter or facebook following means you have a huge system of folks to chat, laugh and share with your losses and successes with- and support some tough times, but it does not necessarily translate into big sales. TBOB had some serious and sometimes expensive professional marketing before it took off, not something I'm going to commit to for a cookbook.


  6. I'm loving the list of necessary parts. Just don't forget the Fallopian tubes for the radio, and a bucket of steam for the cooling system. :)

  7. I apologize for bringing it up. It won't happen again.

  8. Nosno King - apology not necessary, you are among many friends that ask me about this all the time and I thought I should explain. I appreciate that you like what I post.

  9. You could go "McGee" and write trashy beach reads like "The Continuing Adventures of L.J. Tibbs" :)

    The longstanding rumor around SW Florida is that the author of the "Doc Ford" mystery series is retired Secret Squirrel. Once the book series was successful, he partnered on a restaurant and published a cookbook.

    If you're stuck in Fort Myers again for a night, Doc Ford's is a much better choice than the random karaoke bar. :)

  10. I'm reading a 1973 edition of Popular Science. In their "Electronics News" section, they write about a calculator, standard 4-function outfit, for something like "only $59.95". The ads in that magazine are also interesting: liquor, cigarettes, and Remington rifles.

  11. So, would braising be good for a brisket or am I better off marinating it for four days in the cheapest Cabernet Sauvignon-flavored wine I can find and then cooking it for four hours at 275? I have to use a wide spatula to lift it out of the baking dish but I'm always open to suggestions.


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