Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Bedside Table 5

Here's what I'm browsing through:

1. Laurie Colwin's "Home Cooking." I first read this nearly 20 years ago and it's just as wonderful each time I re-read it. Some folks re-read Proust every year; I read Colwin, she's essential.

2. Peter Reinhart's "Sacramental Magic in a Small-Town Cafe." Again, a re-read. I'd forgotten that there's so much more than bread in this book - salads, sandwiches and drinks. The tabbouleh sounds especially worth a try.

3. King Arthur Flour Baking Book (revised edition). I tried the Apricot Cream Cheese Scones and they were heavenly.

4. Pam Anderson's "Perfect Recipes for Having People Over." Much-needed inspiration for entertaining.

5. "The Gift of Southern Cooking" by Edna Lewis and Scott Peacock. What Marcella is to Italian cooking, Lewis and Peacock are to Southern regional culinary traditions.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Chicken & Dumplings Just Like Somebody's Mom Used to Make

I like to think that one of my mother's legacies will be a folder stuffed with yellowed newspaper clippings. Vintage Erma Bombeck columns, clipped because they made Mom laugh out loud, a real estate listing with a picture of a log home by a river, complete with a working mill, these are my mom's treasures and my inheritance. And recipes, tried and true gems from the newspapers where we lived when our family was young - the Nashville Banner, the Tennesseean, the Spartanburg Herald and Charlotte Observer (we lived in Gaffney, SC, and subscribed to the Gaffney Ledger, and occasionally the Spartanburg paper, but mom insisted that the Observer had the best food section). About 20 years ago, I found a clipping from the Charlotte paper about an elderly woman who raised a dozen kids in the darkest days of the Depression. She lived on a farm and learned to make great quantities of food for her family. This is her recipe for Chicken and Dumplings and now it has become mine.

I don't always use a whole chicken - it's quite good made with just chicken breasts or chicken thighs, but if using the latter, I always brown the skin first and remove it, scraping up the tasty bits in the bottom of the pan to enhance the broth. I will also use chicken broth, homemade or canned, instead of the water. But the dumplings are never altered. They are different from most dumplings - these have a strong shot of baking powder and puff like biscuits in the stew. After reheating, they absorb the broth, puffing into yummy pillows of chickeny goodness.

Chicken and Dumplings

1 (3 lb) broiler/fryer chicken
3 cups flour
3 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup shortening
about 1 cup milk, more or less,f or the dumplings
additional milk for the stew
2 good-size carrots, peeled, sliced lengthwise and chopped into 1/4 inch pieces.

1. Wash chicken and place in pot with water to cover. Add other seasonings such as herbs, bay leaf, onions, salt and pepper. Bring to boil and simmer until meat is tender. Remove chicken from pot, let cool and remove meat from bones. Throw away carcass, chop meat.

2. To make dumplings, mix together flour, baking powder and salt. Cut in shortening until mixture is mealy and the particles are small. Add enough cold milk to make a workable dough. Knead the dough, it will be slightly shaggy like a pie dough. Lightly press out the dough 1/2 inch thick with floured hands onto a floured counter. Cut into 1 - inch strips.

3. Bring broth to a gentle boil, add chicken and carrots and gently drop dumplings into pot. They will rise to the surface. Add milk to the stew to achieve proper consistency. Taste for seasoning. Let simmer about 15 minutes. When friends are under the weather, buy two chickens and make two pots of c&d, one for your family that you love and one for your friends.