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Grim's Grub: Time and temp make tender meat

While Mom was still alive, I was minding my own business and she asked, "Do you have time to go pick up some chickens?"

Now, we did not then nor do I now have a coop, so I assumed she was talking about dead and ready to cook chickens. Naturally, I said yes.

"OK, so-and-so has six roosters. Go get them and we'll butcher them."

Now, I have helped butcher chickens, so this was nothing new. At the same time, I don't relish the act any more than I relish hunting, but six free chickens is six free chickens. I took care of it and we had extra food in the freezer. The only thing to figure out was how to use them.

These weren't old chickens, but they were small chickens. Somewhere between a Banty and a Silkie, and they were roosters to boot, so not a lot of extra meat and not the most tender. Therefore, it was necessary to figure out the best way to prepare them, as I didn't feel like an endless supply of soup.

Since then, I discovered that probably the best tool of choice is a slow cooker. You get long cooking times, which can break down tougher muscle fibers and add moisture. The only problem is that slow cooking long enough to tenderize meat often means eliminating recipes that call for full turkey breasts or cubed chicken. You can, however, cook anything that works with chicken that is either shredded or in uncut chunks, basically the way it fell off the bone.

The first recipe I went with was a curry that a friend sent to me. The texture of this curry wasn't too different from a hot dish, so it didn't really require cubed chicken or full breasts. Shredded would do, in combination with ample vegetables.

Given the success of that recipe, it seems that rooster prepared this way would work equally well in a gumbo. Simpler yet are chicken salads or shredded chicken sandwiches, both as simple as cook, shred, stir in sauce, eat on bread.

The first part in all of these recipes will be, of course, slow cooking. This doesn't require much instruction. Throw the chicken in a slow cooker, fill the cooker with water to cover (or almost cover) the chicken. Let the chicken cook on low overnight 8-16 hours. The chicken will be fall apart tender and will not stay on the bone. Shred it with a fork, or wear gloves and use your hands.

Don't dump that liquid! If you couldn't tell by the smell, that liquid gold in your slow cooker is broth. You can use it to make soup, chicken or otherwise. You choose. Or can it in a pressure canner 20 minutes at 10 pounds of pressure for pints or 25 minutes at 10 pounds pressure for quarts. Alternatively, some people just drink the stuff, so there's that.

Simple Enchiladas

1 can diced tomato and chiles (your preferred heat)

1 can enchilada sauce (or more to taste)

½ cup diced onion

8 ounces sour cream

3 cups shredded cheese (or more to taste)

6 cups well shredded chicken.

10-inch tortillas (approximately 8)

In a large pan over medium-low heat, mix your chicken, tomato and chiles, half a can of enchilada sauce, sour cream, onion and 1-2 cups cheese (reserve the remaining cheese and sauce for the tops). Stir until cheese and sour cream are melted and well mixed.

Lay out pliable tortillas and fill them with approximately 1 cup of filling per tortilla, then roll the tortillas and place them in a well greased, deep baking pan. Fill the pan with enchiladas side-to-side. While waiting for oven to preheat to 350 degrees, cover the tops of the enchiladas with the remaining sauce. You can use a second can of sauce if you like a lot of sauce. Sprinkle the remaining cheese over all of the completed enchiladas.

Bake 15 minutes or until the cheese melts.

Chicken Tamales

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30 dried corn husks (soaking in warm water, 1 hour)

2 pounds shredded chicken

1 pound tomatoes, diced

1 ancho chile pepper, stem and seeds removed

2 large garlic cloves

1 ½ tablespoons olive oil

2 cups low sodium chicken broth

½ cup fresh cilantro, chopped (optional)

10 ounces solid shortening

1 ½ teaspoons baking powder

4 cups masa harina

1 cup low sodium chicken broth

To make filling, in a food processor or blender, blend diced tomatoes, ancho chile peppers and garlic to a smooth puree.

In a medium sized saucepan, heat oil and add the puree. Heat and stir until noticeably darker, about 5-6 minutes.

Add 2 cups of chicken broth to the puree. Stir and heat until thickened, about 10 minutes.

Stir in shredded chicken and cilantro just to mix. Remove from heat and set aside.

To make batter, mix vegetable shortening with baking powder until light in texture (about 1 minute) then mix in masa harina. Add 1 cup of low sodium chicken broth and combine.

Lay out the most pliable corn husks and pat them dry with a towel. Spread ¼ cup of batter onto the center of each husk in 4-inch squares. Spoon 2 tablespoons of filling along the center of the batter.

Pick up the 2 long sides of the corn husk and bring them together, causing the batter to surround the filling. Roll the tamales into tubes and tie both ends with twine.

Steam over medium high heat for about 1 hour.