Although I love cooking, and there are some individual things I make that I’m proud of, there are certainly plenty of gaps in my kitchen abilities.
I have never been able to master fried chicken, for one thing. Both my mother and my paternal grandmother were great at it, but mine always winds up either burnt on the outside or so undercooked inside that it has to be sent to the microwave for emergency remedial cooking, while I worry about whether I’ve contracted anything from the first bite.
Tonight, though, it came out OK:
It was golden brown on the outside and fully cooked inside. I started it on medium heat and cooked it a while on either side with the lid on, then took the lid off and cranked up the heat to medium-high to get the nice crisp crust. I want to say that my mother did this the other way around, which is how I’ve usually tried to do it in the past, but I could never get mine to turn out like hers. This time, I decided to cook the chicken first, then finish by crisping the crust.
I didn’t do much to prepare the chicken. Had I thought about it in advance, and if I’d had buttermilk, I’d have done a buttermilk marinade. But this was a relatively last-minute meal. I’ve already blogged about the super-cheap leg quarters I bought Thursday at UGO and vacuum-sealed yesterday; this was me using up two thighs from the freezer from last time I bought chicken. I sprinkled the chicken generously on both sides with Tony Chachere’s Creole Seasoning before dredging it in plain flour. Alton Brown says that you should apply the seasoning, then the flour, rather than mixing the seasoning into the flour. This is for two reasons:
- Some seasonings are subject to burning under high heat, and so hiding them under the crust protects them from the highest temperatures.
- Spices are more expensive than flour, and if you season a whole batch of flour it means you’re needlessly throwing out seasonings with the excess flour at the end of the process. By sprinkling the seasoning directly onto the chicken, you use only the amount you need.
So that’s what I did. Who knows if it will turn out as well next time? Maybe I was just lucky.
Of all the good deals I’ve gotten at United Grocery Outlet – and I’ve gotten quite a few – yesterday may have taken the cake. They had 10 pound bags – 10 pounds! – of chicken leg quarters for $2.90 per bag. Naturally, I bought one. If only I had some way of individually vacuum-sealing each leg quarter so that I could freeze them for future use.
Oh, wait; I do.
A week or so previous, I had bought a roll of Ziploc-brand bag material, hoping it would work as well with the FoodSaver as the official FoodSaver bags do. (The Ziploc product is labeled as working in major brand-name vacuum sealers.) The Ziploc bags were a little cheaper.
I did not, however, look at the Ziploc package as closely as I should; what I bought was a full-width roll, but it was seamed and perforated lengthwise so that if you cut off a foot-long portion of 11-inch-wide roll, you then tear it apart into two separate bags, each one 5 1/2 inches wide.
It wasn’t what I thought I’d purchased, and I didn’t realize that until today. But, serendipitously, it worked perfectly for what I was doing today. The narrow-width bags were perfect for housing one leg quarter each. I had planned to package two quarters per full-width bag, but instead I just packaged one quarter per half-width bag.
They looked like this:
I have 10 of those little pouches in the freezer now. That still left three leg quarters; I deboned those and am going to use the meat tonight for a box of Chicken Helper Ultimate Southwest Chipotle Chicken, which I also bought yesterday at UGO.
For 79 cents.
The bones from those last three leg quarters are in the pressure cooker right now being boiled down for broth. I was out of onions, so I just added some onion powder, poultry seasoning and red pepper flake.
All of this for $2.90, plus 79 cents. This is why I love going to UGO.
The other night, I was at Legends with Dad, Mrs. Rachel, and many of her relatives to celebrate her birthday. They had a card on the table advertising some new fish entrees, and I ended up ordering red snapper served on a salad. The restaurant was out of red snapper, so I was offered mahi mahi or cod as a substitute, and I got the mahi mahi. The fish was blackened, and I had a balsamic vinaigrette dressing on the salad.
It was delicious – but I was alarmed when I discovered that my tongue was itchy and bumpy. I didn’t say anything, not wanting to disturb the family gathering, but I had panicky visions of passing out in front of the group.
The symptoms disappeared quickly once I stopped eating the entree, and I was fine by the time we had birthday cake for dessert.
I’m assuming this was some sort of allergy. The mahi mahi seemed like the most likely culprit, but most of what I can find online about fish allergies indicates that you break out in a skin rash, not with an itchy mouth. The only thing I found that seems to describe the symptoms I felt that night was this page about oral allergy syndrome. It says that if you already have allergies – the kind of allergies that give you a stuffy nose – you can sometimes get a tie-in reaction in your mouth when eating certain types of food.
I haven’t been officially diagnosed with respiratory allergies, but in the past couple of years I have sometimes suspected that I have them. However, the list of trigger foods in that oral allergy syndrome page doesn’t seem to correspond with anything on the salad that I don’t already eat all the time elsewhere.
Now, I’m wondering if there was something either in the vinaigrette or the blackening seasoning for the fish that might have caused the reaction.
It was the Carroll Shelby and Wick Fowler chili kits – once competitors, now made by the same company – which introduced me to the pleasures of authentic, slow-cooked Texas-style chili. Ironically, neither includes the proper directions for that anymore; the products themselves haven’t changed, but they now only have directions for a quick-cooking chili made with regular ground meat. The kind of chili I’m talking about requires either coarse “chili grind” meat or meat cut up into little chunks.
One of the three packages in my order arrived today – it was the main one, the one actually being fulfilled by Jet itself, and it included the chili kit. On my way home, I stopped by United Grocery Outlet, and while I didn’t expect them to have chili grind meat I figured I’d see if they either had stew beef – which can easily be cut down into smaller chunks – or something that I could throw into the food processor and chop into something vaguely resembling chili grind meat.
What I found, on expiration-day sale, was blade steak. I’d seen these before; they’re weird little steaks with a little squiggle of connective tissue running down the middle. I knew I might wind up with some gristly pieces, but they were the cheapest thing there, and I didn’t want to spend a lot of money. So I bought both packages, which gave me the two pounds of beef I needed.
I had the blade steak in my cart when I happened to run into Buddy Koonce. Buddy was my dentist through childhood and for the first part of my adult years. He’d probably still be my dentist if not for a weird insurance thing back when the newspaper first offered us dental insurance. I am, of course, also delighted with my current dentist, Jay Davis, with whom I go to church at First United Methodist Church. Both are fine men, both professionally and personally, and I would be perfectly happy to entrust my teeth to either of them at any time.
I made some lame joke about “they’ll let anybody shop here,” and then Buddy asked me about the meat in my grocery cart. I mumbled something about how I was going to go home and make “something” with the blade steaks.
I didn’t want to admit I was making chili – because Buddy Koonce and his son-in-law Dicky Thorpe are both competitive chili cooks, who travel around the country to International Chili Society events. I one day want to get the resources together to enter the ICS cookoff in Shelbyville; I’ve been a judge there several times. I would also someday like to take the official ICS chili-judging course.
Anyway, I didn’t want to admit that I was making chili with the blade steaks because I thought Buddy might think that was weird. What does that say about me as a human being?
Anyway, the chili is now cooking. There are a couple of squiggle pieces that didn’t chop up completely in the food processor, but otherwise it looks fine. I’m not entertaining, so if I run into any gristle I can just spit it discreetly into a napkin. (Just kidding – it would be a paper towel.) I noticed when looking it up online just now that blade steak is basically the same thing as what you now see sold as flatiron steak –it’s just that flatiron steak is cut in a different direction to avoid the connective tissue. So it’s actually a better piece of meat than I was giving it credit for being.
I love creamy dips – ranch, onion, and so on – but they’re horrible for you, and I have lousy self-control when I start noshing and dip is available. Fortunately, I have had good success in recent years preparing dips using Greek yogurt instead of sour cream. No, it’s not exactly the same, but it’s quite good on its own terms, and light years better for you.
I’ve used various commercially-available dip mixes this way, just substituting yogurt for sour cream in the instructions, but today I bought something different. Hidden Valley Ranch now has a special version of its ranch dip mix specially-formulated for use with Greek yogurt.
Well, I’m assuming it’s specially-formulated. The cynic in me has long held that the envelope of Hidden Valley Ranch dressing mix and the envelope of Hidden Valley Ranch dip mix are the exact same product in a different wrapper. But I really do think in this case, they have adjusted the seasoning and consistency to work with nonfat Greek yogurt. It makes a tasty dip, and yet one I can indulge in without guilt.
The company also makes a salad dressing mix for use with Greek yogurt.
The one question I have – and I’ve never been able to get an answer for this – is whether the salt in savory dips kills the live yogurt culture.
A few weeks ago, I did an interview with a nutritionist for the newspaper, and she brought along some recipes from a dairy promotion group, a few of which I included in the article.
One of them particularly caught my attention: Creamy avocado hummus, a sort of hybrid of guacamole and hummus bound together by Greek yogurt.
For the Times-Gazette’s annual National Newspaper Week coffee, employees sign up to bring homemade dishes, and I thought that avocado hummus, with pita chips to dip, would fit the bill just fine, and give me a chance to see if the recipe was as good as it sounded.
I think it turned out quite well. It has the grainy texture of hummus (and the fiber and nutrition from those garbanzo beans) but the bright flavor of avocado and citrus. I was a little worried because I did not seed the jalapenos as the recipe called for, and so the dish had a little kick – not too bad, but some of the people who come to this event might not be spicy food fans. So I made a little tag marking the dish as medium-hot.
Anyway, if you’d like the recipe I’ll include it below. This reflects a couple of little additions I made. It may not be exact; I actually made about 1 1/2 times this recipe, and a couple of ingredents were eyeballed rather than measured.
1 large avocado, about 9 ounces, with pit and peel removed, cut into chunks.
1 cup canned chickpeas a/k/a garbanzo beans, drained
1 cup fat-free Greek yogurt
1/3 cup cilantro leaves
1/4 cup freshly-squeezed lime juice
zest from the lime (I always hate to let citrus zest go to waste)
1/2 t. minced garlic (I had some on hand and thought it would go well)
1 large (1 oz) jalapeno, roughly chopped, seeded if desired – but I didn’t. If you’re not sure, cut the jalapeno in half lengthwise and seed one half but not the other.
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
Combine all ingredients in a food processor; blend until smooth. The dish may be made in advance and kept in the refrigerator, but according to the notes from the original recipe the whey from the yogurt may separate and need to be stirred back in.
UGO had a small eye of round – only a pound and a half – on manager’s special tonight. Usually, when I see an eye of round on sale I think jerky – when you can get it cheaper than normal, it’s a great cut for jerky because the grain runs lengthwise and there’s little marbling, only an easily-removed fat cap. For jerky, you want as little fat as possible; fat goes rancid.
But this was a very small roast – not quite as much meat as I would normally use for a big batch of jerky. Plus, I knew I was out of both Worcestershire and soy sauce, neither of which UGO had tonight, and I didn’t want to make another stop. So my mind went to the other great use for eye of round. It’s a recipe that America’s Test Kitchen had on their show years ago. Unfortunately, that means I can’t link to it here, since only the current season’s recipes are available for free online, and even then you have to register.
Eye of round is sort of a transitional roast – it’s not as cheap and doesn’t have the connective tissue of a good, slow-cooking pot roast, but it’s not naturally as tender as the pricey oven roast cuts. However, it can still be an oven roast – cooked in dry heat to your preferred doneness (I’m going to tell you that your preferred doneness is medium rare). You just have to pay a little attention to it first. ATK has a recipe where the roast is coated generously with kosher salt and wrapped up tightly in plastic wrap for 18-24 hours. The salt works like a brine or marinade – it penetrates and tenderizes the meat a little. It looks like it would be too salty, but it’s not, since the salt distributes itself deep into the meat during that time. My roast is now all wrapped up in the fridge and will be ready for dinner tomorrow night.
Then, you brown the roast in a dutch oven or skillet before cooking it very slowly in the oven over low heat. At one point, you are supposed to cut the oven off without opening it and let the residual heat cook it the rest of the way. The end result is a tender medium-rare roast which you can slice thinly across the grain. I’ve made it in the past, and it tastes like a much more expensive roast.
This recipe works best if you have one of those remote probe thermometers, so you can check the roast’s temperature without opening the oven door. I can never afford a nice one; I’ve bought the cheap ones from Walmart two or three times, and they tear up pretty easily. Plus, the recipe as I have it from ATK is for a much larger roast than the little one I have. But I’m going to do the best I can tomorrow night and check it with my little instant-read thermometer.
I posted earlier today on Facebook that one of the grocery items in my second-ever Jet order was a bag of Hurst’s HamBeens 15-bean soup, which I think I’m going to make tomorrow, while I’m recuperating from a late night at the show tonight. I’ll have it to and enjoy over the rest of the holiday weekend, and then a little extra to go into the freezer.
I have blogged about this product in the past, but it’s been a while, and so I’m going to wax poetic about it. It’s been a favorite of mine for many years.
You can find it in the dried bean aisle of the supermarket, because that’s basically what it is – dried beans, plus a small packet of a smoky seasoning. You add other ingredients to turn it into soup – meat (ham, hamhock or smoked sausage), water, a can of diced tomatoes, garlic, onion, a little chili powder and the juice of a lemon. This leaves room for some experimentation, of course. It feels more like a recipe than like processed food.
It’s easy to make, but slow-cooking. You have to soak the dried beans overnight, then you cook them with the onion and with your meat of choice, add the other ingredients and the little seasoning packet, and cook some more. The combination of different beans gives the soup a great texture – you have just enough creamy thickening from the beans that break down, while you still have individual beans in there to give the soup a hearty, meal-worthy bite. Don’t skip the lemon juice – it adds just the right little bit of tanginess to perk up the slow-cooked flavor.
It’s wonderful the night you make it, and – like many soups and chilis – even better when you reheat the leftovers the next day. It also freezes well, as long as you use it before it gets freezer burn. (I miss my FoodSaver. I need to get a new one the next time I get a tax refund or something like that.)
In addition to the basic product you see above, they make other flavors. I’ve tried the Cajun flavor, which is fine, and so is the beef flavor.
On my Facebook post, Donna Brock asked if I was going to have cornbread with the soup tomorrow. That would have been a great idea, and I wish I’d thought of it while I was at the store. Instead, I already bought some canned biscuits. They’ll be good too.
It feels like summer today, but as the weather starts to cool off, and it will, this is the perfect fall meal.