Troll Cave

The Care and Feeding of Barbarians

More gravy. When you need to really stretch the leftover’s from the night before, your choices are generally gravy or soup, and when your audience doesn’t really care for soup but does like gravy. . .well, you wind up making a lot of gravy. It effectively spreads out the protien without leaving people hungry.

The chicken in question is cooked in balsamic vinegar, garlic, rosemary, bay-leaf and lots and lots of mushrooms. Leftovers are scarce, because this is a popular meal. However, these leftovers do have flavor, and it merely needs to be encouraged. A faulty stretching of leftovers is one which dilutes the flavor as well as the main ingredients, producing an unsatisfying meal.

Once again, I start with a stick of butter and 1/2 cup flour. My liquid is one can concentrated chicken broth and two cans water. I slice the chicken and the mushrooms–the smaller the pieces the more even their distribution. I put dried rosemary leaves (not ground rosemary) and dried bay-leaves in a tea-cup. Ground rosemary tastes a lot worse than the whole leaves; I’m not sure why, but ground rosemary has a strong tendancy to taste like dirt. However, the whole leaves can feel quite pokey and prickly in the mouth. So I pour boiling water over them and let them steep a while, to soften them up and release the flavor.

After adding the chicken, herbs, and any leftover liquid from the night before, you’ll have to taste the gravy. I needed to add granulated garlic powder (real garlic in the butter would have been even better, but I forgot), and more balsamic vinegar. I also added more water to thin it out more.

I usually serve this over rice or egg noodles. My barbarians prefer Jasmine rice, so we make a big pot of it–5 cups of rice, and 7 1/2 cups of water. I put the rice and water in the pot, bring it to a boil, and then lower the heat as much as I can. I don’t remember the exact cooking time, but the rice is done when you tilt the pot and can no longer see any water in with the rice. Rice should be covered when it cooks, but not totally. If none of the steam can escape, the rice tends to be kind of soggy and mushy. We have a lid with a little hole right in the center, and that works well. But when I have to make a small amount, I just use a small saucepan and leave the lid slightly askew.

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You know what I mean by “Baked Chicken”. The chicken you ate last night drowned in ketchup or gravy. Usually it’s chicken breasts with some kind of breaded topping–crushed cornflakes, or seasoned bread crumbs. Now it’s the next day, and the chicken hasn’t gotten any more moist or flavorful. Now what?

Well, I make a meat gravy. I’m sorry for the unoriginality, but it’s just a really good way to use up leftover meat. Since this kind of chicken doesn’t have much flavor itself, I prefer to make a seasoned gravy.

I peel several cloves of garlic, and chop them up. I cook that in a stick of butter, and then add 1/2 cup flour and 1 TB. chicken boullien powder, and cook it till it’s brown and bubbly. Then I add one can of concentrated chicken broth, 2 cans of water, and one can of evaporated milk. That’s the basic gravy; you just have to stir and cook until thick.

Next you add your chosen seasonings. I used basil, oregano, black pepper, and granulated onion powder. I also used some grated parmesan cheese (maybe half a cup?). You have to be careful not to add too much, because it does make the gravy saltier. This is kind of what I call “Chicken Gravy, Italian Style.”

And then, of course, chop up the meat, stir it in, heat it through, and serve over mashed potatoes or toast. Warm, flavorful, and filling.

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Last night we had corned beef for dinner, and we had a fair amount left over, but not overly much. I decided to make a gravy much along the lines of the old timer’s favorite, chipped beef on toast. After peeling 6 lbs. of potatoes with the two youngest barbarians, I started on the gravy.

I generally improvise my gravies, but a good rule of thumb is about 1 TB flour for every TB butter, and for every TB of butter, a 1/2 a cup of milk. Today, I used a stick of butter, a heaping half cup of flour, and somewhere over 5 cups of milk (I thinned out the gravy more after I added the meat; it looked to thick to my eye).

You melt the butter, add the flour, and cook until it’s bubbly and starting to brown. That’s technically called making a roux, but most people here can’t even pronounce that word, never mind know how to use it.

Next, you’re technically supposed to add the liquid (here, I used milk, but it can be broth) slowly, mixing well after each addition. We just dump all the liquid in at once. Since the flour has been coated with the butter, it won’t lump up. (It may seem so at first, because the butter will harden in the cold milk; but once the butter melts again, you’ll have a smooth thick sauce.)

Cook and stir until thick. If you sit there and babysit it, you can have the heat on high the whole way, but if you keep turning your back, doing other things, and generally not stirring constantly, you should have the heat on lower.

The corned beef gets trimed of excess fat, and cut into small pieces. Then it gets uncerimoniously dumped into the gravy. Because the corned beef is already so salty, I don’t make this gravy with broth, which usually has large amounts of salt itself. But I did add very generous amounts of freshly ground pepper.

When the potatoes are done cooking (I use a pressure cooker, 15 lbs. pressure, 2 cups of water, and 10 minutes cooking time after the weight begins to rattle. You can also just boil them, but I feel they’re more watery and flavorless that way.), they need to be mashed. Always add the butter first, or you will have very glue-y potatoes. I had my minion use a stick of butter. Mash the potatoes with the butter until you are satisfied with the lumps or lack thereof. Then splash in as much milk as you desire, and just briefly mash that in to mix. You can use salt (usually) or pepper (not so usually) as you desire, but in the case of this particular meal, I felt the corned beef supplied all the salt that was needed.

The resulting mess is a very good way to use up corned beef. The gravy is soothing and ever-so-slightly sweet, and counter-balances the salty meat. It is warm, it sticks to your ribs, it has sufficient amounts of protein and starch, and tastes good to boot. The youngest male barbarian made noises about how he thought leftover corn beef is better shredded and cooked in scrambled eggs, but he was quickly drowned out and shouted down by other barbarians who much preferred the gravy and potatoes to scrambled eggs.

If you don’t happen to have enough potatoes on hand, or perhaps don’t care for them, or the work, or the time, you can always use toast instead. This is generally frowned upon for two reasons by my barbarians. For one thing, the toast will get soggy, and that is gross. For the other thing, there is only one toaster, with only two slots, and many, many more barbarians.

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