Thursday, March 5, 2009

What'll Ya Have? Whatcha Been Havin?


Has anyone been to The Varsity in Atlanta? If not, do so for a plethora of onion rings and burgers and fried peach pies. But this is not a story about The Varsity.

This is a story about what have I been eating on the cheap lately while not being treated to wonderful dishes of slow cooked goodness in other people's homes:

I usually try to keep some potatoes and onions on hand; this way I’ll always have bulk and flavor, two things that tend to be in short supply when unemployment comes around (or stays around...and stays around...and stays around). I also happened to have about a quart of that wonder grain quinoa, and my freezer’s got a bit of Italian sausage and some bratwurst that I got from Holzkopf Meat Market on Broadway and Granville here in Chicago. It’s a great, family run meat market, with knowledgeable, friendly butchers running the shop. I had some Thuringer from them, too, but that didn’t stand a chance of going into the freezer as I devoured it all pretty quickly. Anyway, I cut up a bratwurst, fried it in a touch of oil, then added onions; when these had caramelized a bit I added some quinoa, potatoes, rosemary and thyme. I threw in a cube of super stock from Thanksgiving (I took what was left of the turkey carcass, as well as the veg that I stuffed it with, put it in my beloved stock pot, covered it in water, and let it simmer for several hours. After straining it, I reduced it all to about two ice cube trays worth of super concentrated, flavorful, dark stock. This resided in my freezer, and a cube was added to anything that needed flavor. A great way to get even more from the prime bird I’d gotten my hands on.) and put the lid on and let things roll until the quinoa was cooked and the potatoes were soft. I seasoned with some salt and good vinegar, then topped it all with a bit of olive oil, and even grabbed the mustard towards the end and slathered it on. I find mustard to be a great accompaniment to everything...the acid in it brings out so much flavor, and the spice adds another component of depth of flavor.

Another thing made from what was leftover was when I had some chicken legs and mushrooms laying around. (I’d had the chicken from a dinner I cooked for some friends where I got all Tuscan and stuffed the legs with sausage before browning and roasting them, serving them with white beans and braised kale.) In this case, I cut the chicken up, browned it, and threw the mushrooms in; onions and garlic made the scene, then once everything had gotten to know each other, I sprinkled a bit of flour on top, let things get nutty and then slowly added milk. It got real thick and creamy and good; a turkey flavor cube went in and it all got tossed with a bunch of pasta. I think it was snowing that day, or at least really cold, and this was perfect--something that really stuck to the ribs.

A couple days later, I believe even more chicken legs got roasted, then served with some roasted potatoes, but the real star showed up in the form of onions slow roasted with thyme and rosemary (Can you see a theme here? Lots of rosemary and thyme and potatoes and onions done in different ways to keep things interesting and delicious). I left the skin on and quartered the onions; tossed ‘em in olive oil and salted them heavily, and roasted until they were soft and starting to caramelize. Really tasty bits. The best part was wiping the cast iron pan with bread after the onions came out. Mmmm...that’s always the best...salty, sugary, browned bits...

...there was also a good salsa; I drained a small can of tomatoes, roasted half of them with some tomatillos and jalapeño, then pureed all this with the other half of the tomatoes and some fresh tomatillos, jalapeño, onion, garlic, tomato juice, cilantro, lime juice, salt and pepper...

...and a dish of fried garlic, crushed red pepper, onions, and Italian sausage simmered with some good canned tomatoes and tossed with pasta, drizzled with olive oil and dusted with some orange zest...

...and the aforementioned Thuringer sausage on good rolls with a nice mustard selection, vinegary chips, broiled peppers and onions and Chimay...all to recreate that magical day in Oakland, but using the broiler in my oven since it was February in Chicago and the grill was outside...

So I guess what I’m saying is that really, really good food can be had simply, deliciously, and on the dole...

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