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December 12, 2017
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community living

Simple Fare: Vegetarians and vegans beware: This column is not for you

Oven-baked chicken, fresh corn from Buddenhagen’s Farm Stand on Route 52 outside of Lava, steamed broccoli florets and sliced tomatoes, with garlic and lemon basil from the garden, make a simply delicious and inexpensive meal.
TRR photo by Laurie Stuart

By LAURIE STUART

When I was a teenager, I was responsible for many of my family’s meals. With my mom in daytime graduate school (having completed her college degree at night; she’s now a Ph.D. psychologist, author, senior Pilates Silver instructor, who has, in her recent years, taken up weight training and, by her own admission, is an overachiever, unlike me), I practiced the art of family dinner-making on a regular basis. Nightly, maybe, several times weekly, at least, I can’t remember.

But what I do remember is the meals that I really enjoyed making: sloppy Joes (sautéed ground beef and onions, a can of tomato soup, ketchup, mustard), spaghetti sauce (sautéed ground beef and onions—am I sensing a pattern here?—can of tomato paste, two cans of tomato sauce, spices and water), and oven-baked chicken.

In this moment, I am thinking that I made a lot of oven-baked chicken, because I vividly remember learning and mastering how to cut up a chicken. I always started with cutting off the legs and the thighs, an easy slice through membrane and skin. And then carefully bending the thigh joint, to neatly and effortlessly cut through the joint. Separating the breast from the back was accomplished by cutting in between the rib cage and the back. The wings were an easy skin-slice thing. The toughest part was chopping through the breast bone—although I remember it as a fairly simple maneuver.

I can’t for the life of me understand why I liked it so much. I think it was because I was taught how to do it—Mom or Dad, don’t remember (another theme?)—and then I could accomplish it.

Learning about cooking is like that. First, you don’t know how to do something, and then you do. And you become expert at it with practice.

The rest of the chicken recipe was easy. Put 1 cup flour, 1¼ tsp. salt, ¼ tsp. pepper and 1½ tsp. paprika in a lunch bag. (You could use a plastic bag, but that was after my time, when all sandwiches were wrapped in waxed paper bags.) Toss chicken in, and shake. Remove and place on greased baking sheet, then bake for 45 minutes at 350°. At the time, Shake and Bake was coming into vogue, which I never understood. Flour and spices always did the trick for me.

With Labor Day coming this weekend, chickens are on sale in many local supermarkets. And chicken, especially whole chickens that you cut up yourself, are an economical way to feed a family. Plus, if you throw the back, neck, giblets and wing tips into a large stock pot of water, with a quartered onion, a couple of carrots and a few stalks of celery broken in two, and a bay leaf and some salt and pepper and cook on low/moderate heat for a couple of hours, you’ll have a delicious chicken stock that you can strain and use as a basis for soup. Or who knows what else!

Anne Willard, TRR’s managing editor, told me this week that she hoped that chicken would be on sale this week because she had a phenomenally delicious and easy recipe for Orange-braised Chicken. Chicken and orange juice, what could be easier? Her recipe is at right.

Have your own recipes for chicken, or ideas for variations on these? You can leave a comment on this article or join the community at https://www.facebook.com/trrsimplefare/.

Orange-braised chicken

Serves 4 to 6

Four large or six small chicken thighs (total 2 1/2 to 3 pounds), or three whole chicken leg quarters* $2.97 (On sale ShopRite Monticello)

2 cups orange juice $.75 (on sale at Peck’s and Pete’s)

2 Tbsp. flour $.03

1 Tbsp. oil $.05

One or more garlic cloves, to taste $.10

Salt and pepper

TOTAL COST: $3.90; PER SERVING: $.98

Put oil in a large skillet. Salt and pepper chicken and saute over medium-high heat until browned on all sides. Put in a 5-quart slow cooker. Chop or mince garlic and saute for a minute or so in the same pan the chicken has been cooked in. Then stir the flour into the oil left in the pan and cook for another minute or two. Whisk in orange juice gradually and stir until smooth; let it boil for a couple of minutes.

Pour the orange juice mixture over the chicken in the slow cooker, put the lid on and cook on low for six or more hours. This one is great for a work night, as the preparation can be done quickly in the morning, then the chicken can cook during the day and be ready to serve when you get back. Serve over rice, noodles or anything that will soak up the delicious gravy.

* Dark meat chicken braises much better than white meat because of its higher fat content. White meat tends to toughen when cooked for long periods, even in liquid. Recent local sales on dark meat have gone as low as $.79/lb. for thighs and $.49/lb. for leg quarters.