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Growing up, my favorite thing in the world was my mom’s chicken and dumplings. Notice I didn’t say my favorite food was chicken and dumplings, I said that my favorite thing in the whole wide world was chicken and dumplings.
I can still remember my anticipation for dinner on the nights when it was on the stove. And, to this day, a big pot of it awaits me every time I go home for a visit. It’s just simply that good.
Due to my well-documented fear of preparing dough and basically anything that involves cutting things into flour, I had never made the dish myself. It was almost like a mental block — how could I create something so delicious when I wasn’t my mom?
Once, a few years back, I attempted one of those short-cut recipes for chicken and dumplings that I found online — one of those cheater dishes that uses canned biscuit dough and condensed soup. The result was such a horrible travesty that I didn’t eat more than a bite. I learned my lesson well: you don’t cut corners with this dish unless you want to cut the quality as well.
Over this past Christmas, my mom walked me through the recipe, and it was surprisingly simple and straightforward. It was as if I assumed it was difficult because it tasted so good and perhaps because when I was little it seemed to take about five hours to be ready to eat.
I made it solo today, in time to eat for the Patriots game kickoff. It tasted just as it should — exactly like mom’s.
Mom’s Chicken and Dumplings
- Use 4 or 5 boneless chicken breasts, or whole breasts with skin and bones (skin adds more fat and flavor – but I use skinless and it works fine)
- 2 t. salt
- 1/2 t. pepper
- 2 or 3 carrots, sliced
- 1 bay leaf
- Several stalks of celery, cut into pieces (I put mine in a food processor)
- 1 medium white onion, chopped
- Enough water to cover chicken
- 3 cups of milk
1. Add all ingredients except milk to a heavy-bottomed large pot; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer. Cover pot and cook for at least one hour.
2. Remove chicken; cool. Remove bones and skin, if necessary, and cut into bite-size pieces. Set aside.
3. Add 3 cups of milk. Bring to boil and add dumplings (see below) one at a time, keeping the broth at a boil.
4. Cover pot and simmer for10 or 15 minutes or until dumplings are done. Do not lift cover so that the steaming of dumplings occurs.
5. Add chicken pieces, continuing to boil gently.
6. Blend 4 T. flour and 1/2 cold water. Add to broth, gently blending in.
7. Cook and stir until slightly thickened. Simmer (very faint boil) for about 1 hour.
Turn off heat and let stand for another hour.
2 1/4 c. flour
3 t. baking powder
1 t. salt
5 T. shortening (I use non-transfat Crisco)
1 egg + enough water to equal 3/4 cup
1. Mix flour, baking powder, and salt in large mixing bowl.
2. Cut in shortening with pastry blender or fork.
3. Beat egg and water with fork until blended (about 30 seconds).
4. Add egg mixture gradually into flour mixture while blending with a fork.
5. Use hands to form into a ball.
6. Roll dough out on well-floured surface until 1/8-inch thick using a rolling pin.
7. Cut into rectangles about 2×4 inches in size using a pizza cutter or sharp knife.
8. Let dry at least 30 minutes, uncovered.
Note: You can add additional milk to this dish if the broth is totally absorbed or to achieve the consistency you like.
I felt like making something a little fancy tonight — you know, one of those French recipes that calls for a 1/2 cup of white wine, giving you the excuse to drink excessively from the rest of the bottle while you cook?
So I looked through the new Best of Cooking Light book that Ben got me for Christmas and found some great pictures of pan-roasted pork loin with leeks and decided to try it out. I wrote down the ingredient and headed to my grocery store, totally forgetting what a ghetto wreck my grocery store is.
My ghetto wreck of a grocery store was only offering 12-pound pork loins when I needed a two-pound pork loin. And after asking the butcher who in the world buys 12-pound pork loins other than the owners of orphanages, I also found that although I needed six leeks, the store was only currently carrying one bunch of three sad looking ones.
In other words, due to my very Queens food market, I was left making something pretty different from the original idea. The good news is, though, that it tasted delicious and was much faster than the original – it takes about 30 minutes instead of two hours. I got four pork chops instead of a huge pork loin and did things a bit differently with the sauce. Here we go:
- Three leeks
- four boneless pork chops
- 1/2 cup water
- 1/2 tablespoon of butter
- 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
- 1/2 cup white wine
- salt, pepper, and fresh parsley to taste
Cut off the roots and tops of the leeks, leaving only the light-green and white middle. Chop and rinse while drinking a glass of white wine, which you absolutely needed to open because the recipe calls for it later. Put the leeks, butter, and water into a large, deep saucepan or wok. Cook on medium heat for 15 minutes, or until the leeks are tender. Put aside in a food processor.
In the pan the leeks were just in, heat the oil on high. Salt and pepper the pork chops and place in the pan. Brown each side for one minute then add the wine and turn down the heat to low. Cook each side on low for three minutes or so. Drink another glass of white wine while it’s out.
Give the food processor a few quick on-and-offs, just to thicken the leeks and chop them up a bit more. Add the leeks to the pan, scrapping the bottom to mix in the pork juices and drippings. Simmer for a few more minutes and add some fresh chopped parsley on top.
We ate ours with some green beens and a couple of twice-baked potatoes. And a few glasses of white wine. Although this dish seems initially bland or leek-y, it’s really very elegant and tasty – I could see making this for a dinner party, if I ever had one.
When I was in college, one of my favorite things to do was go over to my friend Nick’s house. He would cook dinner for a few friends and then we’d play video games and watch Eddie Izzard DVDs. One of his specialties, curried chicken and veggies, was so good that I would head over to his house a little early and watch him make it. Although I’ve never written the recipe down and although it’s changed over the years due to my laziness and inability to purchase $9 spices, I still make it whenever I feel like drinking a beer and watching Delirious.
Just like so many other dishes that I love, this curry has a huge amount of wiggle room. You can put in any veggies that you can imagine – anything you have in your fridge — I’ve just listed my favorites below. You can also switch out the chicken for tofu or make an all-veggie curry (both vegan). You also shouldn’t worry if you’re missing a spice or two. It’s all delicious.
2 pounds chicken breasts (or thighs and legs) (or tufu)
1 large onion, coarsely chopped
1 large potato, cubed
1 head of broccoli
1 green pepper
1 14-ounce can of diced tomatoes, drained
1-14-ounce can of coconut milk
a big spoonfuls of tomato paste
2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
garlic, to your liking
a big palmful of curry
a small palmful of coriander
a small palmful of cumin
1 stick of cinnamon
a few whole cloves
dash of red pepper
Heat the oil and garlic in a large wok or saucepan. Cube the chicken and add to the oil. Add all of the spices and the onion and cook the chicken for a few minutes stirring often – the chicken should be coated in spices and bright yellow. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, coconut milk, and potatoes. Cover and simmer for 10-15 minutes, to allow the potatoes to cook and the chicken to cook through. Add the veggies (whichever you choose – I’ve also used carrots, snap pea, regular peas, spinach, eggplant, squash, etc.) and cover again so that the veggies can steam (another 10 minutes or so). The veggies should be bright green. Poke the potatoes with a fork to check doneness. Serve over hot rice.
Play some videogames and watch some British comedy.
Last week my vegan friend, Patricia (who I am not friends with solely so that I can have a pass when making fun of vegans but for a variety of other reasons as well), has requested a non-meat-based recipe. Also last week, I was part of discussion about how to eat healthy food without cutting into your rent money at those fancy-pants health food grocery stores.
The answer to both of these queries is one of my favorite weekend meals: lentil soup with greens. Lentils and spinach are super wonderful foods — both recently named one of the top 5 healthiest foods in some health magazine I was reading at the gym recently. In lentils you’ve got fiber, protein, iron, magnesium, potassium, and B vitamins. In spinach you’ve got folic acid, tons of vitamins, antioxidants, and calcium.
And you can make a huge pot of this stuff for under ten bucks. When I say huge I mean that you can eat it for dinner, take it to work for lunch for a couple of days, and freeze the other half of it. One of the other great things about the recipe is that it’s versatile – you can throw in whatever you think might work that you have around the house. Have a leftover potato or two? In they go. Green peppers? I can’t think why not.
You can also replace the spinach with any leafy green that’s on sale or in season – kale, collard greens, turnip greens, etc. If your really hard up for cash, you can get frozen spinach instead of fresh.
I should also mention, for those who think this sounds gross or bland, that it’s totally delicious and flavorful and I never get tired of eating it. If you’re a die-hard meat eater, you can add some chopped bacon or sausage for your dead animal fix.
Lentil Soup with Greens
1 cup dried lentils, rinsed
4 cups water
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
2 stalks celery, finely chopped
2 tomatoes, seeded and diced (or a small can of diced tomatoes)
3 carrots, diced
3 cloves garlic
3 teaspoons of thyme
3 teaspoons of salt (less if you add salted meats like sausage)
3 teaspoons of pepper
pinch of rosemary
splash of balsamic vinegar
1 bunch of spinach, chopped
Heat the oil and add the garlic, onion, celery, and carrots. Cook until the onions are translucent and the carrots are a bit tender. Add the lentils, water, tomatoes, spices. Bring to a boil and then simmer for 45 minutes. Turn off the heat and add the spinach and balsamic vinegar – the spinach should just wilt and turn bright green.
We woke up this morning to the season’s first snow, which always feels a little special even if it gets extraordinarily un-special by February. Especially in the city, snow for me serves as a little reminder that nature is still out there, somewhere, even if I forget sometimes.
Ben and I bundled up in our hats and winter coats and boots (as with every single other winter, I seemed to have retained only one of my two gloves from last year) and headed to the grocery store. The city noises were muffled for once, the gross sidewalks were blanketed over, and our ever-present loud and gossipy neighbor was tucked away indoors. Christmas trees, dusted with snow, were on sale on the corner. Even my cold black heart quivered for a moment in a small display of holiday-related emotion.
Another one of my favorite dishes growing up, ginger beef and broccoli is a simple take on a Asian stir-fry. I like it because it only involves two ingredients that I don’t always have around the house and it take maybe 20 minutes to make. That’s enough time to add some homemade spring rolls or eggdrop soup to the meal if you’d like.
Also this weekend, I’ve been working on a recipe index for my site. It’s linked at the top of the page and should be an easier way to find the food-related posts you’re looking for.
Ginger Beef with Broccoli
1/2 lb. of sirloin
4 c. fresh broccoli in bite-sized pieces
1 wedge of fresh ginger, the size of a quarter
2 t. cornstarch mixed with 2 t. water
2 T. canola oil
2 c. chicken stock or water
Marinade for beef:
3 t. cornstarch
2 t. light soy sauce (I use low salt.)
2 t. sherry or dry white wine
1/4 t. sugar
1 t. canola oil
- Slice beef into thin strips and add marinade – perhaps a few hours before dinner. Bring the beef up to room temperature before you throw it in the pan.
- Wash broccoli and remove tough outer layer on stems. Slice stems paper-thin and divide flowerets into small sections
- Smash wedge of ginger.
- Mix cornstarch, water and pepper in a little bowl. Set aside.
- Using a high flame, heat a medium sauce pan and 1 T. of oil and ginger. Add broccoli and stir a couple of minutes; add stock and cover 6 minutes. Remove from pan and set aside.
- Heat pan and add 1 T. of oil. When pan is very hot, add beef and flatten against sides of pan. Chow for a minute or two, or until beef is almost cooked. Add broccoli and stir in cornstarch mixture. Cook until sauce thickens.
- Broccoli should be bright green. This recipe can be used with other vegetables, such as cabbage, kale, Chinese cabbage, or kohlrabi.
- Serve over hot rice.
The days after Thanksgiving are never quite as fun as Thanksgiving. After eating stuffing for the fourth day in a row — so much stuffing that the word stuffing now sounds onomatopoeic when you say it – you start to question how great feasts really are. And after washing every dish that you own in the wake of the celebration, the urge to order take out maybe for the rest of your life is almost overwhelming.
What I needed for Sunday dinner was something fast, something low maintenance, and something at the other end of the spectrum from gravy.
The answer was taco soup, a recipe I got from my Aunt Jan about a year ago. It’s a great one-pot dinner that involves very little prep work and clean up. It’s also totally delicious. I have yet to meet someone who has eaten it and been less than very pleased.
It also makes a pretty large volume of food, which makes it a good choice for football parties (if you’re tired of chili) or if you want to freeze half.
1 1/2 pounds lean ground beef (I use ground turkey)
1 onion, chopped
2 (10 oz) cans diced tomatoes with green chili peppers
1 (15 oz) can black beans, drained
1 (15 oz) can corn, drained
1 (1.25 oz) pkg taco seasoning mix
1 (1 ounce) pkg ranch dressing mix
1/4 Cup shredded cheddar cheese
1/4 Cup sour cream
1 1/2 cups water
Cilantro for garnish
In a Dutch oven, brown ground beef with chopped onion, stirring frequently. Once beef is browned drain grease from pan.
Add canned tomatoes, beans, corn, taco seasoning and ranch salad dressing mix. Mix well and let simmer over low heat for 2 hours. Add 1 to 2 cans of water to make soup the desired consistency. You can also use one can of beef broth and then add some water
Ladle into soup bowls and garnish with shredded cheese, sour cream and cilantro.
This recipe may at first look like a tacky casserole that you have to choke down at your great aunt’s house, a 1950s throwback hot dish that should have died along with plastic lawn ornaments and clear-cut gender roles. But it is not. Oh no. This is some sort of magical mixture of ordinary ingredients that come together to make something extraordinary.
If you’re looking at the ingredient list now and thinking to yourself that you would never, as a cook with self respect, ever make something that involves a can of condensed cream of mushroom soup and Miracle Whip, I again implore you to think again. My mother made this for us growing up (I’m not sure where she got the recipes) and it is the only meal from our childhood that me, my brother Mike, and my sister Rebecca, still make on a regular basis as adults – each with our special touches.
Not only that, but we have a joke among the three of us that when any one of us go through a breakup, the first time we hear back from our ex goes something like this: “Hi, I was just calling to see how you were… I hope that we can continue to talk even though things didn’t work out… by the way, do you have that recipe with the chicken and broccoli? I miss it. I miss it so much. I think about it all the time, it’s smell…”
I also like it because it’s pretty healthy – especially if you use low-fat ingredients and eat it over brown rice — and I almost always have all of the ingredients handy.
- 4 chicken breasts
- 1 crown of broccoli
- 2 cups chicken broth (reserved from boiling chicken)
- 1/3 cup of Miracle Whip (I use non-fat)
- 2 Teaspoons lemon juice
- Pepper to taste (I like a lot, it goes well with the lemon juice)
- 1 small can of sliced mushrooms
- 1/3 cup parmesan cheese
- 1/3 cup of breadcrumbs (I make my own by toasting and crumbling a few slices)
- cooked rice
Preheat your oven at 350 degrees.
Boil the chicken breasts until cooked through, about 15 minutes. While that’s cooking, cut the broccoli into bit-sized pieces and steam it until it is bright green (but not until it is floppy).
In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the cream of mushroom soup, the Miracle Whip, the lemon juice, the mushrooms, and the pepper. When the chicken is done cooking, add two cups of the water to the mix.
Layer the chicken and broccoli in a large casserole dish. Pour the mushroom mixture over it. Sprinkle the breadcrumbs and cheese over the top. Cook in the oven for 30-40 minutes.
Serve over hot rice.
This is a great meal if you have some ground hamburger, some potatoes, and not much else. Whatever you have lying around you can throw in — onions, celery, green peppers, carrots. Sure, any Sunday dinner that puts the words “hamburger” and “steak” next to each other is sure to be just a little tacky or white trash, but that doesn’t mean it’s not delicious.
Tonight we had an early dinner — and made corn and buttermilk biscuits to go along with the main dishes. Then, due to gravy overdose, I took a nap.
For the steaks and gravy:
- 1 pound ground beef
- 1 white onion
- 1 cap of Kitchen Bouquet (I love this product and use it all the time)
- 1/4 cup oil
- 1/4 cup flour
- 2 cups water
In a large bowl, mix the ground beef with anything you’d like that you can find around your kitchen. For example, today I put in some garlic, some steak seasoning, some rosemary and thyme, some onion, some minced celery, some parsley, some red pepper, some cumin — it should be sort of like an Everything Bagel, except with meat. Don’t go overboard, but have some fun. Once your meat is seasoned, separate it into three or four patties and fry them in a large saucepan.
When the steaks are about 80% cooked, take them out and place them on a plate. Pour you oil into the saucepan and whisk in your flour after the oil starts bubbling. Add the Kitchen Bouquet. After a minute or two, slowly whisk in the water until the gravy is as thick as you’d like it. Add salt and pepper to taste. Place your hamburger steaks back into the gravy, and mix in some of your white onion, which you have cut into wide rings (this way, people who don’t like onions can navigate around them). Cover and simmer for several more minutes.
As for the mashed potatoes, those are pretty run-of-the-mill: cube and boil three or four potatoe until tender (15 minutes or so). Drain the water, add some salt, pepper, milk or sour cream, and a little butter. Mash it all together.
Serve the burgers, gravy and onions on a bed of potatoes. Sop up all extra gravy with buttermilk biscuits. Happily slip into a gravy coma.
My favorite Patriots season ever was in 2001 – the first year that Tom Brady came out of nowhere to play quarterback and the first year that the Patriots won a Super Bowl, ever. There was so much drama – Bledose’s injury, Brady’s discovery, two insane playoff games (one played in almost white-out conditions). Not to mention that it was a true underdog sports success story, Boston’s very favorite kind of sports success story.
That year the Super Bowl was held in New Orleans, and from the day we knew we were going south for the championships, everyone in New England adopted a one-word battle cry: Jambalaya! Churches, Chain restaurants, and carwashes posted the word on their billboards. Drunk people screamed it from cars. Local newscasters signed off with it: Jambalaya!
Now Let’s fast-forward a few years to tonight, when the Patriots were playing what many called Super Bowl 41 and 1/2, against the Colts and the future Hall-of-Famer Peyton Manning. It was the first time in NFL history when two teams met each other with such great season records, both undefeated (the Patriots 8-0, the Colts 7-0). The Colts beat them in their last meeting for a Super Bowl spot and in fact have beaten them the last three times they met.
To be sure, it was the first time I got to feel nervous about a football game all season – and I was very nervous. Weirdly, it was a good feeling. How would I do my part as a fervent and devoted fan, I wondered, in both good times and bad? The answer was simple. I would prepare Jambalaya! More than that, as the daughter of two Louisianan parents, I would make the tastiest, most authentic Jambalaya that anyone had ever eaten.
2 pounds chicken pieces (I use chicken breasts)
1 pound smoked sausage
3 Tablespoons oil or bacon drippings (I use olive oil)
1/2 cup each: onions, green pepper, green onions, celery
Minced garlic (to taste, I use a lot)
2 cups uncooked rice
4 cups boiling chicken broth
1/4 teaspoon black pepper and cayenne pepper (this is somewhat spicy)
1 can diced tomatoes or tomato sauce (I like doing a can of diced tomatoes and a can of tomato paste)
1. Season chicken with salt and pepper. Brown on all sides along with the sausage in a Dutch oven along with a small amount of oil.
2. Add the veggies (onions, green pepper, green onions, celery), finely chopped, along with the rest of the oil. Cook until tender and translucent.
3. Stir in rice, broth, tomatoes, and seasoning.
4. Bring to a boil, cover, and bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes. Fluff with a fork.
(5. Sit down with a hot, steaming bowl, a huge moist wedge of cornbread, and the Patriots hat you have that you wear even though it makes your ears look funny. Watch the Patriots come from behind, as you love to watch them do, to win in the end, 24-20.)