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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

For broth:

  • 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.

Dumplings:

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.

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.

Go to last week’s Sunday dinner. 

cakeIt’s Ben’s 28th birthday today. He’s not big into birthdays, but I try to do the best I can where he’ll let me. For example, instead of buying him some big present, I bought him a bunch of little stuff, wrapped them, and then hid them around the house so he’d find them throughout the day while I was at work (in the sock drawer, refrigerator, shaving kit). You know, kind of like if you combined the best parts of Easter and Christmas (and took out the religion). I’m sure in six months I’ll find a dusty gift behind the dryer.

And, as much as he minds a big to-do about the day he was born, Ben doesn’t mind consuming carrot cake. At all. With this knowledge, I called up my M’am-Maw and asked for her amazing carrot cake recipe, which is a stunning piece of moist carroty goodness. It’s a show-stopper – the cream cheese icing isn’t too sweet, the cake isn’t too roughly textured, and did I mention that it’s moist? It is more than moist, it is a three-tiered monument to moist things around the world and throughout all time.

Here we go:

2 cups sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
4 eggs

2 cups flour
3 cups shredded carrots
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Before you begin, spray three 9-inch cake pans with non-stick cooking spray. Next, cut out three circular pieces of wax paper, place them in the bottom of the pans, and spray them with cooking spray, too. It might seem like a lot to go through so that you cake doesn’t stick to the pan, but don’t forget how MOIST this stuff is.

Next, mix your oil, sugar, and eggs in a large bowl. Add the dry ingredients, which you have mixed in a different bowl (flour, carrots, baking soda, salt, cinnamon). Beat for two minutes or so. Separate the batter between your three cake pans and bake them together for about 25 minutes. Keep an eye on it, though, you don’t want it to be dry.

Now the icing:

8 oz of cream cheese
1 box powdered sugar (or to taste, really)
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 stick of butter
1 cup chopped pecans (optional)

Whip the softened cream cheese, softened butter, and vanilla on high. My grandmother first claimed she put in half a stick of butter, then changed it to three-fourths of a stick, then confessed that she puts in a whole stick. This is the major problem with good cooks – hidden butter – so I put in a whole stick and it came out great. I mean, it’s cake — a cake celebrating someone’s first day on earth — let’s not act healthy and cut corners.

Start adding the powdered sugar slowly (with the mixer off when you pour it in) and then whip it as fast as your mixer goes. Keep adding and testing it until you’re happy with the consistency and the sweetness. I think I added about two cups, but I don’t like sweet frosting. If you’re in to nuts, chop some up and add either to the icing in the mixer or after you’ve iced the cake. Since it’s October and since we’re not big nut fans, I decorated mine with candy corns.

A note or two: after you take the cakes out of the oven, place them on a cooling rack for a while before you ice anything. I always get impatient and do it too soon and the icing melts everywhere. Also, make sure all of your baking dishes are nine inches in diameter. Mine were three different sizes and my cake came out looking like the leaning tower of Pisa (see above). Except that it was delicious.