MY WIFE IS AMAZING

About two weeks ago, while at Tuesday Morning, I broke down and bought a porcelain/enamel coated cast iron pot and lid.  I paid $39.99.  I made my wife a provolone, ham and onion frittata in it.  She loved it.

Today, she got me another porcelain / enamel coated pot, a le creuset ceramic pan and a hodgepodge of kitchen utensils ( meat tenderizer and zester, all kinds of silicone coated stuff).  And a gift card to use at Harris Teeter. 

Her plan is to make sure I have better tools, because she likes how much more versatile I get.  Don’t worry though, I’ma still keep it ghetto.  For any technique I use with my new stuff, I will still be including how to do it without it.

I love this woman. 

Cooking sauce

20120313-140901.jpg

Chicken Quarter Legs… why are they so cheap?

Chicken gets a bad reputation and I really don’t know why.  It has to be one of the most versatile proteins in the kitchen to have.  You can find it almost everywhere and in the U.S., you can find it pretty cheaply.  I like using it as base protein to build a meal because I can guarantee that my kids will eat it.

Quarter legs have to be one of the cheapest cuts of chicken available.  That is when we are talking wings, legs, thighs, breasts and variation of those (1/2 chicken, whole chicken etc) not organ meats.  Quarter legs are the drumstick and thigh as it is cut away from the backbone of the chicken, so occasionally the piece will include part of the backbone.  They are just “dark meat” chicken, the meat tends to be more moist because you don’t have to cook it as long as you would a breast.

They do have a higher fat content than white meat, but for the portion that you should be eating, this is kind of negligible.  Something else I try to keep in mind is that, yeah, it has slightly more fat, but if my kids will only eat deep fried chicken tenders dipped in ranch dressing, it’s considerably less fatty than that and so much better than any of the other crap they get fed on a normal basis (McDonalds, Burger King, pizza etc).

The most I will pay for quarter legs when it is prepackaged is $0.79/lb.  There’s no reason to pay more because of the amount of skin, fat and possibly bone attached to the quarter leg.  Every 3 months or so, most grocery stores will run a special on quarter legs and they will be $0.39/lb.  Stock up!  For about $2.50 you will have 5-8 quarter legs in pack and that is enough to feed a family of 4-6 people (It depends on how many side dishes, if you are feeding 4 teenage boys vs 6 toddlers etc).

Once you get used to cooking with quarter legs, you will notice there are slight differences between the brands.  At Food Lion, they are sold in bags, the Country Fresh brand has “cleaner” chicken, less feathers, clearer skin, less fat on their quarter legs.  Those are 5lb bags.  The 10lb bag (I don’t know the name) has “rougher” looking chicken.  Those I have to spend more time cleaning up.  Same applies to Harris Teeter – their quarter legs are sold wrapped on the styrofoam boards, they are also a bit “rougher”.  I tell you all this to say, I will pay the $0.79/lb for Country Fresh because I’m getting more meat less crap, for the other brands, I stick to $0.39 – $0.59 because there is so much more waste.  However, when they are not on sale, I would probably just pay the $1.99/lb for regular thighs or regular drumsticks because of reduced cleaning time / amount of viable meat etc.  Please note, alot of ethnic stores – Compare Food, Super G Mart (local to NC), will sell “cleaned” chicken quarters – you will notice that they typically are scored on the back of the skin, have excess fat removed and skin is blemish free.  These will be more and if you don’t like touching meat – they can be worth it.

OK – so now you’ve bought 15lbs of chicken quarter legs and are happy because you only spent like $6.00 and this is easily 3-5 meals.  What do you do?

1. Clean up the chicken
2. Season the chicken
3. Portion it off for meals – refridgerate or freeze unused portions
4. Cook chicken based off how you want to eat it

Sounds simple enough right?  I typically dump the chicken in to a clean sink.  Run it under cold water to remove juices and here are some ways of cleaning the chicken, it kind of depends on how you want to prepare it.

There are 3 levels of cleaning these quarter legs.  Each level is dependent on what you want your food to come out like.  However, at a minimum, the chicken should be cleaned up.

1. Using table salt, scrub the skin to remove fatty deposits and blemishs and just clean the skin.  Remove excess feathers.  Ensure if there is a piece of backbone attached, no organ meats are attached (running your thumb against the ridge will dislodge anything that is not meat).  Partially separate skin from meat and rinse that cavity out.

2. Step 1 plus removing excess fat deposits under the skin (they are white or yellowish).

3. Remove skin entirely from the piece.  With the skin, off comes most of the fat.  Still check the backbone with your thumb to remove excess.

I usually stick to a level 2 cleaning.  I rarely remove the skin off the chicken as it creates a great crust during baking and a really good barrier when grilling.  That looks something like this

From there… it is seasoning time.

I make an all purpose chicken seasoning.  It complements most other flavors and provides a good base seasoning on the chicken.

1 part Pepper, 3 parts paparika, 1 parts granulated garlic, 1 part onion powder, 1/4 part red chili flake and 1 part a salted seasoning (cavenders, lawry’s whatever you prefer OR mrs dash).  You can use this as tsps or tablespoons or cups or quarts..whatever you like.  You can also tweak the proportions based on what you like as flavors – like garlicly food?  increase it.  Like it oniony? increase it.  Want more spice?  Add some cayenne or increased the crushed red pepper (red chili flake).

Liberally apply the seasoning to the underside of the chicken, directly on the top side meat and on the skin (if the skin is still attached).  Let this rest for about 15 minutes.  (If your seasoning mix does not have salt in it at all, you can actually refridgerate overnight if you like).

At this point, you can do 3 things with the chicken.  You can fry it.  You can bake it at 350 degrees for about 55 minutes or until done (the skin and meat around the drumstick draw up from the edge).   You can also pan sear it.

I prefer to bake at 350 degrees.  Lay the chicken out on a baking sheet that has been covered in foil (easy clean up).  Arrange the chicken skin side up with no overlapping for even cooking.  Top shelf in the oven for a while.

 

If just having oven baked chicken – cook it until it is done.  Serve with rice and a salad.  Or 2 veggies – corn and green beans or whatever variation you want.

If grilling the chicken, cook it for 35 minutes at 350 degrees.  This ensures that the chicken is 75% cooked.  The rest of the cooking process will happen on the grill.  While your chicken was cooking, you should have started up your grill, so it’s nice and hot with indirect heat.  Place the chicken skin side down on the grill.  Cover and cook for about 5 minutes.  Flip the chicken using tongs – apply a thin layer of BBQ sauce  or teriyakki sauce or a wet Jerk seasoning or nothing, maybe you just want a grilled chicken flavor.  Cover and cook for another 5 minutes.  Flip the chicken again - apply a layer of sauce.  Cover and cook for 5 additional minutes.  Then uncover, douse the chicken until it is saucy as you want it.  Keep the chicken on the grill for another minute or two (long enough for the sauce to warm up) – remove using tongs.

For a beautiful one pan meal…I’ve made a bastardized version of  http://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/roasted-chicken-legs-with-potatoes-and-kale

(C) Tina Rupp Food and Wine Magazine

Pretty much, get 4 washed potatoes (use white ones – Idaho or Yukon Gold or a bunch of fingerlings), slice them so they are rounds about 1/4″inch thick (for maximum nutritional value, leave skins on, else you can remove them).

Get a green leafy vegetable - Food and Wine uses Kale, I’ve used collard greens, cabbage, mixed greens (mustard, collard etc).  I’m sure kale, swiss chard, napa cabbaage, or bok choy would also do well.  I would advise against spinach as it’s rather delicate.

Lightly oil the bottom of a roasting pan (you need one that is at least 3″ high), make a layer of potatoes.  Season with a bit of salt and pepper (minimal).  Add your vegetation, sprinkle about 1 tbsp of oil on the veggies.  Then place your seasoned cleaned (level 1) quarter legs on top of that.  Cover with foil – bake @ 425 for 20 minutes on the top rack.  Uncover the pan, bake for another 30 minutes or so until it is cooked all the way through.  The juices/fat from the chicken will end up braising the greens and cooking the potatoes.  The meal is complete as it has a starch, greens and protein.  I would probably still serve it up with salad.

Hood Rich Kitchens

Ahh Hood Rich.  Defined as follows from the 3rd definition on Urbandictionary.com

“A fairly expensive item or items that, when judged against the lifestyle and other possessions of the owner, stands out and makes little to no sense.”
For Example:
“$2,000 wheels on a $500 car are very, very hoodrich.”
I do not advocate hoodrich kitchens.  I don’t like them.  We can be ghetto all day long when it comes to making up techniques, rigging stoves or buying cheap ingredients.  However I do not advocate being hoodrich.  Now that being said, just as as basketball player who makes an investment in a pair of expensive sneakers (because they actually wear them for the desired purpose), there are some things in the kitchen that will make your life easier and food better.
 
  • A good 10 – 12″ non stick saute pan.  Teflon coated, ceramic, orgreenic, whatever you pick.  Expect to pay up to $50 for one.  It’s worth it!  How many hours have you spent washing pans with Brillo?  How many pancakes wasted because they didn’t flip?  Eggs that stuck?  I don’t want to advocate brands, so hit up a major search engine and find one.  I will say that once you locate a brand you like – thrift stores, Ebay and discount stores like Ross, TJ MAXX / Marshalls will really surprise you in their selections. 
  • A cast iron skillet.  ‘Nuff said.  One that you can get from a family member is great because it is already seasoned (my Great Aunt had a set in graduated sizes from 3″ to 20″ – at the age of 70, she wasn’t cooking in the largest sizes any more and gifted them out to her kids).  I wouldn’t buy a used one at a thrift store because I’d want to clean it and with cast iron, cleaning it removes the goodness of it.  I’ve bought new ones and seasoned them myself (they come with directions) and are about $20 for a 10″ skillet.  Plus or minus a few bucks depending geographic locations (I’m assuming US dollars here). 
  • 2 baking sheets that did not come from the cheapest section in the baking department.  You know, not the ones you have now that have been in your kitchen since the days of your first apartment when you were at Walmart or Big Lots or Target and they had a set of baking equipment – 17 pieces for $9.  Or you picked up that night because you wanted some Tollhouse cookies but didn’t have anything to make them, and it was the cheapest baking sheet possible.   Buy some off the top rack or middle rack.  Again – research a lil bit to see what you like better – the straight metal ones, the air in the middle ones, whatever makes you happy.
  • A charcoal grill.  Something about the taste of meat or vegetables that have been kissed by an open flame is extremely unique and will elevate your flavors.  Great thing about grills – you aren’t paying for quality with a grill – a vessel for an open flame is a vessel for an open flame.  You are paying for ease of usage.  I had a $19 table top grill that worked for about 2 years.  I also have a $300 grill.  They both cook meat.  Buy what you will be able to afford AND be able to use.  If you only have space for a small table top grill – I will suggest the Weber table top.  I like their products, they withstand weather abuse in outside storage when you dont buy a grill cover…they just happen to be really durable and I like that personally.  It will last a few years, cheaper grills will rust out on you, but if you’re ok with that – it’s cool too.  If you have more space I’d also suggest the smoker/griller combo by Brinkman.  It’s more of a barrell shape (think small grill diameter, but 3x the height).  And because of that you can smoke foods in addition to grilling. (Same $40 as the Weber – both @ Lowes but again – shop around).
  • A pair of tongs and/or chop sticks.  Depends on your skill level.  If you can pick up grains of rice with ya chop sticks – get a pair of long cooking chop sticks.  Or get a pair of tongs.  Silicone tipped, whatever length works for you, I prefer longer ones so I can use them to stir if needed.  Please no stabbing forks or rough edged sharp tongs.  They poke holes in meat.  And when meat gets holey, it loses flavor.
  • Some decent all the time spices.  I’m talking a whole peppercorn grinder, sea salt, paparika, granulated garlic, onion powder, dried italian seasoning.  I get mine at Costco.  They probably have comprable stuff going on at Sams or BJ’s.  Maybe $5 each and it’s a lot of spices, the unit price in comparision to what you buy at a store is really good, you get better quality and higher quanitity.  So it’s more expensive than the Dollar Tree Spice Rack you have going on in your kitchen now, but less expensive than if you were to buy small bottles at a regular grocery store.  If you don’t have a wholesale store near you, again TJ Maxx/Marshalls – peep their food section for this stuff. 
  • Premixed salty mixes – Old Bay Seasoning, Cavendar’s Greek Seasoning, Goya Adobo(with or with out pepper, red or blue top – not the other flavors like bitter orange, not til you get using Adobo down pat), Goya Sazon (orange box, with or without pepper, azafran or cilantro – they all taste good to me but if you don’t like anything in the particular variety, don’t get that variety), Goya Vegetable Seasoning (yellow box), Chicken/Beef/Vegetable Bullion (powdered over cubed if possible).  Typically the best prices have been at WalMart for these items.  I don’t really do too much WallyWorld Shopping, Target, Foodlion, Kroger are a few cents more but nothing too much.         
  • A hodgepodge of speciality spices.  These are the spices that you will use on occasion but not everyday.  Some of these you can get from the local dollar store.  Personally, I would recommend hitting up the international section of your local grocery store or an actual international market.  A lot of the time, the same exact spice in the baking/spice aisle is 4x as expensive as it is in the “international/hispanic food” section.  For instance – bay leaves – $2.99 in the baking aisle.  $0.59 when it’s next to the Maseca and tortillas.  Same for cinnamon, cumin, marjoram, nutmeg and chilis.  For those of you local to Greensboro – Compare Supermarket on Bessemer or Super G off West Market is where I go.  But here we go for the listing: cumin, bay leaves, dry mustard, oregano, basil, curry, dried chili flakes, sage, cinnamon, all spice, whole nutmeg. 

 

Ghetto Kitchens

Part of being a Ghetto Gourmet has a lot to do with kitchen preparedness.  I know a lot of people with kick ass kitchens.  My sister’s best friend… her set up is like going to a Williams Sonoma store.  Every utensil ever required to cook… she has it and it’s organized.  Need a dijeridoo(sp) to create the right noise vibration so a bergamot reduction can diffuse properly in to a saffron scented rice?  Yea she’s got one of those and all the spices and all the implements.

My mom’s house – has the entire Le Creuset cast iron enamel cooking set.  From loaf pans to 6 sizes of sauté pans to bouillabaisse pots.  Cooking in Le Creuset is like having AutoPilot on a car.  Do you need to know how to drive in case of an emergency? Yes, but do you need to drive well – nope and you will always get to where you are going.  Need to sear off something – it gets to the perfect high heat and creates a nice crusty sear.  Need an oil-less sauté?  Or toast some spices?  That non-stick ceramic has your back. 

What do both of those kitchens have in common?  They are maintained by people who have “arrived.”  They have high disposable income and I’m very happy for them.  In the meantime, I don’t have it like that.  My wife doesn’t either.  Le Creuset is rocking at about $200-250/pot and that is the clearance price at Marshalls/TJMaxx or the outlet store, I don’t eve n know what MSRP looks like.  Now I love food.  But even $200 on one pot is not in my budget.  $200 was the cost of all 12 pots/pans/lids that I own now.  And an extra $200 in my house is probably going towards a bill or any of the countless kid expenses.  Maybe you do have the extra funds, but if you are just  now getting in to cooking, why spend all the money on stuff that you might not really need to…If I learn to change the oil on my truck, I still don’t need to build a garage and outfit it with all those shiny tools.  I’m not going to be rebuilding an engine anytime soon. 

As for all the funky kitchen gadgets, well I do like those and am known for picking them up.  They’re not terribly expensive, typically $10 or less; a zester, a melon ball scoop, cooking thermometers, meatball griller, cedar planks, basters, tongs, bamboo skewers, iron skewers, etc.   Should be fairly easy to amass a collection of tools right? 

NOPE.

What I do have is a houseful of kids that seem to destroy any and everything.  I have a great blender, but whenever it gets washed someone throws away the gaskets that seal the bottom.  Skewers are used for sword fights and to pop door handle locks.  Measuring spoons are given to the toddler to play with like plastic keys on a ring.  Until I can get a maid to clean the kitchen instead of teenage manual labor, or am only cooking for enough people that cleaning the kitchen myself won’t be an issue, I am pretty much resigned to the fact that I will have to improvise. 

And this is my biggest beef with 99% of mainstream TV cooking.  They are cooking for audiences that have it.  Watching Rachel Ray or Martha Stewart or Guy Fieri tell us how f*(^king easy cooking is, is kinda like Jeff Gordon on TV saying “it’s real easy to win a Nascar race, just drive in the inside lane.”  Yes, in HIS car driving on the inside lane can produce a Nascar win.  How about your hoopty or mine?  That’s what I thought.  So follow me, let’s get GHETTO on it.  This is for all the kitchens in the world that don’t have the best of the best.    

Side note – this is sooo not about a proletarian revolution in cooking.. it’s just how to make food taste like you “have it” when your kitchen/ingredients/technique is just a bit GHETTO.

Ghetto Gourmet?

Welcome to my ‘Hood.

Just playing.  Welcome to the land of learning how to make good food.  Food that is based on what you have available, tools you already possess or can easily acquire and easy techniques that don’t require a course from Le Cordon Bleu.

I am using this blog as my soapbox to the world of everyday food lovers.  The moms who don’t have hours to prepare food but crave big flavor.  The college kid at the grocery store whose budget can handle more than top ramen but not top sirloin.  The people who live in areas that have poor food selections (I feel your pain! my closest grocery store is a decrepit Food Lion before that it was just KeyFood at the bottom of an apartment buidling or the bodega/corner store).  A MacGuyver style of cookery.  One that is at its heart, is just a little bit ghetto.

Lets have some fun.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.