Chicken Dinner, Part II

Friday, October 29, 2010

When the dumplings were gone but there was still chicken and lots of stock left, along with plenty of gravy, I made biscuits and took some of the chicken off the bone and served with the biscuits with gravy poured over the top of everything.

Biscuits are a great way to make something out of nothing, especially if you like eggs. There’s nothing better than eggs with biscuits for any meal of the day, even better if you have bacon or sausage to go with it, and some good tart apples to fry up in a little bit of bacon grease.

But I’ll leave the eggs and bacon and fried apples for a different post. Today we’re talking about chicken.

I use a very basic biscuit recipe, and if I’m cooking for myself I always cut the recipe in half because biscuits are a million times better fresh than leftover. If you can handle the sodium, Jiffy Biscuit Mix for fifty cents is a good option; you can easily make half a box at a time. But boy is it salty if you’re not used to that.

This is not really a recipe, but in the spirit of Learning to Cook with Marion Cunningham, I’ll give instructions anyway.

First, make the biscuits. The recipe below is adapted from the More-with-Less Cookbook.

Basic Biscuits
2 cups sifted flour
3 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup shortening or butter
3/4 cup milk

Preheat oven to 425°F.

Sift together in a bowl flour, baking powder, and salt. Cut in shortening until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add milk all at once stirring until soft ball is formed.

Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead lightly a few times. Roll or pat dough to 1/2 inch thickness. Cut into desired shapes with biscuit cutter or glass or sharp knife.

Place on ungreased baking sheet and bake 10-12 minutes or until tops are golden brown.

Then when those are done, put them together with the leftover chicken and gravy.

Chicken with Biscuits

Use chicken left over from Stewed Chicken and gravy left over from Chicken Gravy.

Take chicken meat off the bone of a few pieces of chicken. You can cut the chicken into smaller pieces or leave it larger, as you prefer. You can also heat it up a little if you want.

Heat the gravy.

Cut two hot biscuits in half and put the halves, cut side up, on a plate. Scatter the chicken over the top of the biscuits. Pour the warmed gravy over the top of everything.

Eat.

It’s way better than Bojangles.

Chicken Dinner(s)

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Fall has been really hot here. September felt hardly different from August and it was almost 90 degrees in the middle of October, which seems crazy. But it did get a little bit cool at the beginning of the month and I decided to make chicken and dumplings, which is definitely not a summer meal. Maybe it was wishful thinking on my part, that if I started making cold-weather meals the weather would get cold.

Chicken and dumplings is a pretty basic dish, but even so, there are different versions of the recipe. The one I like best is the plaid Better Homes and Gardens version, which I think is one of the simplest — just flour and milk and baking soda for the dumplings part, and chicken, carrots, celery, and onions for the chicken part. Others I’ve seen include onions and/or herbs with the dumplings and different spices with the chicken (e.g., tarragon), but I don’t think you need any of that. This is definitely a less is more kind of dish.

When I checked the recipe before heading to the store, I noted that the BH&G recipe calls for one stewing hen or two fryers to make 6 to 8 servings. Usually I get one fryer and I don’t always include the breasts, because I’d rather save those and use in a stir-fry or some other recipe, so I end up with sort of a mini version of chicken and dumplings. Which is usually plenty.

However on the day I decided to make chicken and dumplings, I was running errands over near King’s, so I decided I would stop there to pick up what I needed, and when I got back to the butcher counter I discovered that they actually sell stewing hens. And the stewing hens are big! I got the smallest one I could find, which was just about six pounds, for $8.33 ($1.39/lb).

So for probably the first time, I actually made the full recipe as given. (Or mostly — it calls for a quart of stock to make the gravy, but that’s about four times more than I need. I cut that part way down.)

And the reason I’m writing about it is because it was really good, and gave me an ongoing parade of meals, so it seemed worth mentioning. I’ll write about each of the meals in separate posts. (And I’m sorry I don’t have any pictures, but just managing my life is enough of a challenge these days, taking photos before eating is currently beyond my capacity. Hopefully things will get better soon.)

So meal one was Chicken and Dumplings with Chicken Gravy, which I ate somewhere between two and four times, I’ve lost track at this point. It was good good good every time.

Stewed Chicken

one 5- to 6-pound ready-to-cook stewing chicken, cut up, or 2 large broiler-fryer chickens, cut up
2 sprigs parsley (optional)
4 celery branches with leaves
1 carrot, pared and sliced
1 small onion, cut up
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper

Place chicken pieces in Dutch oven or large kettle with enough water to cover (about 2 quarts). Add remaining ingredients. Cover; bring to boiling and cook over low heat about 2-1/2 hours, or till tender. Leave chicken on bones in liquid for Chicken with Dumplings. Or, remove meat from bones. This will yield about 5 cups diced cooked chicken for salads or casseroles.

Chicken with Dumplings

Stewed Chicken
1 cup sifted all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup milk
2 tablespoons salad oil
Chicken Gravy

Prepare Stewed Chicken, above. When chicken is almost tender, sift together flour, baking powder, and salt. Combine milk and oil; add to dry ingredients; stir just to moisten. Drop from tablespoon directly onto chicken in boiling stock. (Do not let batter drop into liquid.) Cover tightly; return to boiling. Reduce heat (don’t lift cover); simmer 12 to 15 minutes or till done. Remove dumplings and chicken to hot platter; keep hot while preparing Chicken Gravy. Makes 10 dumplings.

To prepare Chicken Gravy: Strain broth from Stewed Chicken. Measure 1 quart into medium saucepan. Heat to boiling. Combine 1/2 cup all-purpose flour and 1 cup cold water; gradually add to broth, mixing well. Cook, stirring constantly, till mixture is thick and bubbly. Season with 1-1/2 teaspoons salt and 1/8 teaspoon pepper. Pour over chicken and dumplings. Garnish with parsley. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Less

Friday, October 8, 2010

There was an article in the N&O on Wednesday about cutting grocery costs. Articles like that always make me feel inadequate. I don’t do anything I’m supposed to — I don’t plan my meals in advance, I don’t clip coupons, I don’t stockpile things when they’re on sale. In fact, I don’t even usually buy store brands, which is the first thing anyone tells you when they talk about how to save money at the grocery store.

Clearly, I’m doing it all wrong.

When I first moved back to North Carolina in 1998, I had just read Your Money or Your Life and was on something of a mission to cut expenses. The reason I don’t spend very much is because I don’t generally buy anything. When I actually do buy things, I tend to spend a lot. (A few years ago, when my friend Cathy was living here, I gave my house over to her for the weekend so she and her friends could all stay together for their class reunion. After spending the night in my bed, one of Cath’s friends said, “Okay I think I’ve figured out where the money goes.”)

After reading Your Money or Your Life, I decided I needed to change my ways and focus on price and not be quite so profligate. I was grocery shopping at Whole Foods (at that point still known as Wellspring … R.I.P. Wellspring) because it was a nice walk from my apartment and because I like it. And I was in the process of figuring out how to shop there for not so much money, so the food part was fine, but other things like toothpaste and paper products were really expensive.

I decided I wouldn’t buy any of that kind of thing at Whole Foods, but would do one or two trips a year to someplace cheap and get everything at once. This is the classic strategy, right? You get large quantities of things as cheaply as possible and keep your closets stocked so you never run out.

The obvious choice for the cheapest place to shop was Wal-Mart, so after a few months I made a big long list of everything I needed and went to Wal-Mart and spent $62.70 on nonfood grocery items and personal care products. (I know the amount because I started tracking my spending after reading Your Money or Your Life, and I am a database developer, so I have a database of all of my expenses dating back to 1995. Yes, I am crazy; even my father, who is a CPA, thinks so.)

About eight months later, when most everything had run out, I took another trip to Wal-Mart and in the midst of that shopping trip had a revelation.

I was reaching for a box of aluminum foil and putting it into my cart, with a running total of what I was buying in my head — this was a new strategy I’d developed, keeping track of how much things were going to cost as I was selecting them, you’d be surprised at how much this helps keep a lid on things. At that point, my cart had probably $75 worth of stuff in it. I looked at everything in the cart and thought, “Yesterday, I didn’t have any of this, and I was getting along just fine. When I first got out of school and had no money, I lived for years without any of these things. Do I really need this trip? Do I really need to come to this store and spend $50+ every time I walk in the door?”

I finished shopping. According to the magical spending database, the trip on 5/15/99 cost $98.13. And that was the last time I did a big shopping trip for nonfood items. I decided I was actually better off paying $5 for toothpaste at Whole Foods and living with less of everything.

When I don’t have plastic wrap, I’ll reuse produce bags from the grocery store. I’ll use plastic bags instead of aluminum foil, I’ll put a plate over the bowl in the fridge instead of covering it with plastic, I’ll use less shampoo, less laundry detergent, fewer paper towels to make it all last longer.

I think some people feel deprived when they do things like that, that they’re making do with substitutes, or skimping on necessities, but I find it empowering. You learn how much toothpaste and how much detergent you really need (less than you think) and how many times you can reuse something and have it be fine.

At around the same time, I bought the book Better Basics for the Home, which told me how to make almost anything — from soaps and lotions to spray cleaners and scouring powders to whitewash and grout — and I experimented with homemade substitutes for commercial products. Some of them are awesome and way better than anything you buy (lip balm), some are different but good (shampoo), and some just aren’t quite right (toothpaste). For the ones that aren’t right, I went back to the commercial products and tried to use as little as I could.

So I do it all wrong. I don’t do what everyone says I should do, I do something completely different.

And I’m not sure what the point of this is except I guess to say that there’s more than one path to enlightenment, and if you want to spend less money by stocking up and using coupons there are all kinds of resources out there to help you. But if you can’t be bothered with coupons or monthly meal planning, or if you don’t have a car and can’t stock up, try the minimalist approach and see if you can use less, less, less. Because less stuff means less money. And usually, less is enough.

Read This and Save Ten Dollars

Friday, October 1, 2010

So I was listening to the local NPR station the other day and one of their little sponsor promos came on for something called “Freedom” that promised to make it possible for you to work without interruptions from the Internet.

This was too intriguing to pass up so I looked it up and sure enough it’s a $10 app that blocks your computer from the Internet for up to 8 hours.

http://macfreedom.com

!!!???!!!

Talk about creeping surrealism—people are now paying money to NOT be on the Internet. Holy schmoly!

I can’t believe I didn’t see this business opportunity before! For a mere $6.50, I would have happily told you how to turn off your wireless adapter and unplug your ethernet cable. And if you throw in another buck or two, I’ll show you how to unplug your modem and your router. AND how to turn off the TV — at no extra charge!

However if you want me to walk off with you phone charger, that’s going to be $100.

O.
M.
G.

Because you are all my friends and have stuck with me so faithfully, despite my seeming to have completely abandoned you for projects that actually pay money, I will offer you this little tip for free. Free!

If you want to not be on the Internet…

Turn Airport Off

Turn Airport Off

TURN OFF YOUR WIRELESS! TURN OFF YOUR ROUTER! UNPLUG YOUR NETWORK CABLE!

For an even more amazing experience,

TURN OFF YOUR COMPUTER AND GO OUTSIDE!

Yes, that’s right OUTSIDE. Where the sun shines and the grass grows and the birds go cheep! cheep! cheep!

Unless it’s raining, in which case you should stay inside and read a book. Or do a jigsaw puzzle or something.

Scrabble is fun too.

Goodness gracious sakes alive.

Hope all is well with everyone out there and whatever you do, please, for the love of god do NOT pay anyone $10 so you can not use the Internet.

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