Saturday, July 23, 2011

cheater, cheater, pumpkin eater- a recipe and a lesson

I decided to make chicken and dumplings for our Friday night dinner with friends. Chicken and dumplings is another one of my food memories-and likely what I would request as my last meal should the need arise. My mother’s chicken and dumplings were very basic. As a full-time teacher and mother, she’d mastered the art of the 30 minute meal long before it was a glimmer in Rachel Ray’s eyes. Many of her meals contained super easy short cuts involving cans and seasonings and were made to provide us with easy to reheat leftovers, which as an adult I can’t help but love. Yet as an adult, I am also deluged with media about pitfalls of “processed” foods, eating healthier, and the needs of my own wallet. My own version of chicken and dumplings contains many cheats as well but of a different variety-and likely a little too decadent to be healthy.  I like to get a rotisserie chicken from the deli. One chicken will provide us with 3 meals and a carcass for making chicken stock (see Side note #1). With part of the chicken (a breast or two neatly sliced or pulled apart), a quart or so of homemade chicken stock, butter (or margarine- about 4 tablespoons per quart of stock), and a little heavy whipping cream (a cup per quart of stock), the broth is well underway. I continue to cheat by making Tandy’s (my cousin) biscuits (see Side note #2). Once the broth is nicely simmering and has been salt and peppered, I drop the biscuits in slowly waiting for each one to float back to the surface before dropping in the next so as to make sure I don’t accidently double stack them. Put the lid back on the pot and allow the entire thing to continue to simmer. 30 to 45 minutes later, if the bisuits no longer are glossy or wet looking on top and are pulling away from the sides of the pot at little, you have succeeded-- Glorious chicken and dumplings served on buttered rice with green peas. *begin jealously drooling now* The bonus of this meal is that it makes enough for another meal one evening and a couple of lunches for Jesse at work (see Side note #3).
I followed the meal with my first attempt at making fried pies. My Aunt Nancye had given me a baggie of dehydrated peach slices on our recent visit to Virginia.  I do not eat cooked fruit. No way, no how. Something about the texture change is beyond my abilities. However, my husband, most of his family, and many of my family members will eat up any version of pie, cobbler, or tart without hesitation, meddling fingers beware. I put half the bag of peaches in a tiny sauce pan with a little water and brought them to a nice simmer. As the peaches began to look more like fruit and less like leather, I added a little more water. When we were pretty sure the peaches were tender, I cheated (again!) with canned biscuits, per my Aunt Nancye’s instructions. Each biscuit was rolled or patted thin (Ardis’s preferred method), loaded up with peachy goodness, and crimped closed along the edges. Jesse fried them for me. The biscuits puffed up and were super crispy. I’m assuming from the way that Jesse gobbled them down that they were indeed excellent.  Thankfully, I still have half a bag of peaches left for making pies later on (see Side note #4).

Side note #1:  Stock is a great way to get your money’s worth out of any protein, especially if you have freezer space.  Google a few recipes. I’ll post a lesson for making stock in a week or so if the demand is high enough. Let me reassure you that it is VERY easy to make- and super tasty.
Side note #2: These biscuits are by far the easiest biscuits to make. EVER.  The recipe is simply 1 pint heavy whipping cream to 2 ½ cups White Lily Self-Rising flour. Tandy was adamant that White Lily was the only flour that would work.  Mix the heavy whipping cream and flour. Either roll out the biscuits and cut, shape by hand, or drop by the spoonful onto a greased baking sheet. Bake at  425 until they look like biscuits (i.e. golden brown around the bottom edges and a little brown beginning on top, about 10-15 minutes). Please note that if you are using this recipe for dumplings, do not bake the biscuits first. You'll need to drop the raw dough into the broth and allow the broth to cook the dumplings for you.
Side note #3: If you don’t have homemade stock, a large carton of store bought chicken broth is great. No heavy whipping cream, milk, or half and half? Add a can of cream of chicken or cream of celery soup. No rotisserie chicken? Left over baked chicken or canned chicken will fit the bill nicely. Don’t get too hung up on proportions and remember to taste it as you go. If you use store bought broth and soup, don’t add extra salt.
Side note #4: I’ve almost convinced myself that these could be made with a little jelly (which I will eat) in the middle instead of actual fruit. If I get brave enough to try it, I’ll let you know how it goes.

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