Chickenless Chicken and Dumplings

Faced with a fresh pile of vegetables from our CSA once again, I was forced to turn down an invitation to the Durham Bulls game last night to stay home and cook them. (The unpleasant prospect of sitting outdoors on a cloudy, muggy, rain-splattered evening had nothing to do with it.) And so I felt compelled to Do Something.

My first thought was to make a vegetable pot pie, so I pulled out my handy Cook’s Illustrated: The Best Recipe for some guidelines. But the book magically opened instead onto the recipe for chicken and dumplings.

It’s been years since chicken and dumplings crossed my lips, and what a sad thing that is. They were a childhood favorite (back when the first line of my grandmother’s recipe would have read, “Kill chicken”), but I don’t find myself making them very often. The main reason is that I can no longer call my grandmother to get the recipe because I’ve forgotten it and could never remember to write it down.

Unfortunately my mother cannot be of help here because this is an area of deep division between us. Her mother (my other grandmother) was a proponent of flat dumplings, which are rolled out before they are added to the dish. My father’s mother was squarely on the side of drop dumplings, which are formed into balls and “dropped” in.

The flat/drop debate has raged in our family for decades now with no clear resolution. My mother, usually right about everything, has yet to see the merits of my argument in this particular case. To me, flat dumplings cannot even approach the fluffy perfection of a well-made drop dumpling. Properly done, drop dumplings are exceedingly light, with an inside like a tender, cakey biscuit, all surrounded by a very thin layer of rich, creamy dough. How can a flat, chewy lump even compare?

Still, the biggest obstacle to my making chicken and dumplings last night was that I had no chicken, and I wasn’t going to send even Fred out into a misty, damp evening to get one. Luckily, the Cook’s Illustrated recipe is called “Chicken and Dumplings with Aromatic Vegetables”–and I figured I had the second part of that covered. So I modified the recipe and came up with this dish.

Of course, the dumplings are not quite as light and fluffy as my grandmother’s. But lost recipes are like that–always made better by the fact we can’t have them anymore.

Note dumpling’s fluffy, tender goodness

Vegetable Stew with Dumplings

4 tbsp. butter
1 onion,chopped
3 medium carrots, peeled and diced
1 large zucchini, cut into 1/2″ pieces
1 medium yellow squash, cut into 1/2″ pieces
1 1/2 c. frozen peas
6 tbsp. flour
2 tsp. thyme
Salt and pepper to taste
4 c. chicken stock
Cream, if desired

Melt butter in soup pot or Dutch oven over medium high heat. Add onion and saute until translucent. Add carrots and saute for 5 – 10 minutes. Stir in zucchini and squash. Cover and cook for 5 – 10 minutes, until vegetables are just tender. Make dumplings and set aside. Stir in flour, thyme, salt, and pepper until flour vegetables are coated. Add chicken stock and bring to a simmer. Add peas. Add cream if desired. Lay dumplings over top of liquid. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes until dumplings are done.

Baking Powder Dumplings (from Cook’s Illustrated: The Best Recipe, p. 162)

2 c. flour
1 tbsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. salt
3 tbsp. butter
1 c. milk

Mix flour, baking powder, and salt in medium bowl. Heat butter and milk to simmer and add to dry ingredients. Mix with a fork or knead by hand two to three times until mixture just comes together. Form dough into balls about 2″ in diameter.

The Cooking Well Runs Dry

With all the vegetables we’re receiving lately, you’d think that I’d be posting recipes almost every day. The trouble is that I have entered a rut familiar to all cooks who have been at this game for a while. “I just cook the same old things,” my grandmother used to say. So it is with me. Tired at the end of the work day, I turn to well-worn formulas, spices, and combinations to get supper on the table. Onions and garlic are sauteed in olive oil; another vegetable or meat is added; herbs are tossed in; everything gets dumped over pasta, rolled into a burrito, or served over potatoes.

And that’s okay, because a few experiments over the last week or so revealed why it’s probably best to trudge along in your little food rut until a clear path out is revealed. Efforts to claw your way over the edge will result in injury only to yourself and others who are forced to eat the unsavory products that emerge in the process.

The baked cabbage should serve as sufficient warning. We’ve been slightly overwhelmed with cabbage lately, after buying a couple of heads just before receiving more from Britt Farms, our CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). Of course, it really doesn’t take much cabbage to overwhelm even an experienced cook. Not only does it increase exponentially with each cup that is used, it also conjures only a limited number of dishes to mind. Having made cole slaw, added it to soups, steamed it, eaten it raw, and even considered then quickly dispensed with the idea of making homemade sauerkraut after realizing the impracticality of storing rotting vegetable matter in a pot in the basement for a month, I was pretty well out of ideas.

Then I remembered a recent New York Times Magazine article on baked kale, which I’d tried and which had made a pleasantly crunchy snack. You took kale leaves, rolled them up, sliced the rolls into thin strips, tossed in olive oil and salt, and baked them in the oven at about 400 degrees for several minutes until they crisped up. They made a light, crunchy snack.

Cabbage doesn’t do that. It makes a heavy, chewy, oily snack. You can try cooking it until the cabbage browns, but then you will have a bitter, crispy, burned-tasting, oily snack. If you have a sweet, kind husband as I do, he will taste the results and declare them “interesting.” If you are a sweet, kind wife in return, you will take the whole mess, toss it straight into the trash, and make a nice dish of olive oil, onions, garlic, your favorite spices, vegetables, and pasta.

New Love

Last week we received the first delivery from our new CSA (Community Sponsored Agriculture)–Britt Farms in Mt. Olive, NC. They don’t have a web site, but you can read about them here. We were attracted to this farm by the fact that it’s been family owned for several generations and is less concerned with the niceties of being organic than with getting us some good produce. (And we have no idea what happened to Snow Creek Organics, our CSA from last year.)

And good produce it is. Today we received spinach, radishes (gone), strawberries (nearly gone), two different types of lettuce, asparagus, and delight of delights, O’Henry white sweet potatoes. The radishes and strawberries were revelations. With the bland varieties we get in the store, I’d forgotten that radishes can have a bite and that strawberries can have amazing undertones of lemon and wine. What a great reminder of the glorious variety we can get in our vegetables.

The white sweet potatoes led me to make this interesting and delicious Mexican-inspired soup. I used tomatoes my mom grew and canned, which helps, but a high-quality store-bought version should yield good results.

White Sweet Potato Soup with Chipotle

Serves 2 as a main dish or 4 as a first course

1 onion, halved and sliced thin
1 tbsp. olive oil
3 -4 cloves garlic, minced
4 stalks celery, chopped
1 large white sweet potato, peeled and cut into 1/2″ cubes
1 1/2 – 2 cups good quality chicken stock
16 oz. high quality canned whole or crushed tomatoes, with juice
1 large dried chipotle pepper
1/2 tsp. coriander
Salt to taste
1/2 lb. elbow macaroni

Saute onion in olive oil over medium heat until translucent, adding a little chicken broth if it begins to brown. Add garlic, celery, and a few tablespoons broth. Saute over medium heat until celery is tender, about 10 minutes. Add remaining ingredients except macaroni and stir. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer about 15 – 20 minutes or until potatoes are tender. Add macaroni and stir. Increase heat to high and bring to boil again, stirring occasionally. Cover and reduce heat to medium low. Simmer until macaroni is cooked, about 10 minutes more. Correct seasonings and serve.

Radish Salad

I’m feeling better about Food, Inc. today. Sure, it trod much familiar territory, but walking through the Whole Foods Industrial Complex yesterday, I was struck with the happy thought that the film also featured one of my favorite rants: the high cost of sustainably grown and/or organic food. At one point, the filmmakers follow a working class family through the supermarket, where they have to consider how reasonable it is to buy two pears for 99 cents when they could get an entire hamburger for the same price.

I was faced with the same dilemma in Whole Foods yesterday as I stood in front of a gorgeous display of organic radishes, their round little magenta bottoms delicately nestled in a lush bed of crispy green leaves. Feeling guilty about some recent purchases of factory-farmed meat at ridiculously low prices, I had decided to punish myself by walking over to Whole Foods, loading up on expensive but sustainably farmed meat, and lugging all twenty pounds back home in a single large cloth bag. Maybe if I threw my shoulder out, I reasoned, God would forgive me.

My self-righteously reusable cloth bag bursting with swordfish, a whole chicken, a roast, two pounds of ground chuck, half and half, and a wallet soon to be considerably lighter, I contemplated the radishes, at $2.49 a bunch, wondered if my shoulders could take on an additional half pound of costly produce. I thought of the people who agonized over the pears and about how crazy it was that you could get a hot dog and soda at Costco for the same price as those radishes. What the heck, I thought.

I like to think that I made up for my indulgence just a bit by using every bit of those radishes in the salad I made for supper. Radish greens can be quite good, as long as they are fresh, bright green, and not too large. They also should be thoroughly cleaned, as they tend to collect dirt. This salad is very easy and brings out the best of the greens and the radishes themselves.

Radish Salad

Serves 2

1 bunch radishes
Olive oil (extra virgin)
White balsamic vinegar

Cut radishes from leaves and set aside. Thoroughly clean greens and trim stems. Dry in salad spinner or on towels. Wash radishes and trim ends; dry. Tear greens into bite-sized pieces, if necessary, and place in large salad bowl. Thinly slice radishes and add to greens. Drizzle olive oil (1 – 2 tbsp.) over top, lightly splash with vinegar (1 – 2 tsp.), and salt to taste. Toss until greens are coated and serve immediately.

Cheap Pork and Turnip Greens

Coupon clipping is beginning to take a toll on me. This morning, I rushed off to CVS to get the Puffs Plus Tissue with Lotion on sale for 97 cents a box before Durham was buried in 2 inches of snow. Even worse, I found myself saying things like this to the clerk: “Your flyer says this item was $2.99, so why is the price $3.99 here?” Or, “Don’t I get this free if I buy 2 items at the regular price?” The clerk glowered as she scanned my coupons, making it clear that she wanted to shove them somewhere besides the cash register. But I didn’t care. I saved $30.

But I worry that my newly discovered frugality may affect my cooking. Being a selective cheater when it comes to making things from scratch, I follow a set of inner rules that only a tax attorney could sort out. Yes to Brummel and Brown, Hamburger Helper, and pre-packaged sushi. No to canned soup, spaghetti sauce, and anything made by Swanson except chicken pot pie. No to canned biscuits (well, most of the time).

Now, the coupon world is ALL ABOUT pre-packaged foods. Coupons are the manufacturers’ way to lure us into trying their latest product, from frozen Texas toast to banana-flavored Cheerios (I am, unfortunately, not joking). You can’t find coupons for organic radishes, or prosciutto, or local butter. So I’m straining a bit, trying not to lower my standards and buy frozen pizza sticks just because they’re 99 cents a box.

The good news is that seasonal ingredients do tend to be cheaper. So here’s a wonderful recipe for a dish we had just the other night, made of items purchased at a decent sale price, with not a single canned good involved.

Pork Tenderloin, Turnip Greens, and Mushrooms over Pasta

Serves 2

1/2 lb. long thin pasta (spaghetti or spaghettini, linguini, etc.)
1 large onion, halved and sliced thin
4 cloves garlic
1 tsp. (or more) olive oil for sauteeing
1/2 pork tenderloin, fresh or leftover (about 4 – 6 oz.), sliced lenthwise, then into thin strips about 1″ wide
12 – 16 leaves turnip greens, cleaned, ends trimmed, sliced into thin strips
To slice, lay about 6 leaves on top of each other, roll up tightly, then slice at 1/4″ intervals
4 -6 mushrooms, halved and sliced thin
1 tsp. crushed red pepper (or more to taste)
Salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
Fresh grated parmesan cheese

Put water for pasta on to boil and prepare according to package directions. Heat olive oil in skillet on medium high heat. Add onions and saute until translucent. (Add water or more olive oil if they begin to brown.) Add garlic to skillet and stir. If using fresh tenderloin: Add pork and cook until just tender and lightly browned, then add remaining ingredients except cheese. Cook until mushrooms and turnip greens are tender. If using leftover tenderloin: Add remaining ingredients except cheese and cook until mushrooms and turnip greens are tender. Serve over pasta and garnish with cheese.

Mashed Potatoes with Roasted Onion, and A Friendship Bread Update

1. Amish Friendship Bread Update

Above are two of the most recent Friendship Bread experiments. The one on the right, a whole-wheat version with honey, was quite good. Since then, however, I have developed a superior loaf with whole wheat, oats, and brown sugar. I’m setting out a new starter–I found the recipe on the Internet, of course–to make sure the recipe will work, so it will be at least 10 days before I post on this again.

2. Mashed Potatoes

It’s darn near impossible to beat the creamy, luscious tastiness of mashed potatoes. But since that lusciousness results largely from vast quantities of butter and cream, Fred and I have struggled to keep mashed potatoes on our slimmed-down menu.

I’m the problem. I pretend to be a normal cook, the kind of person who makes desserts with Kool Whip. But the truth is that I am a horrible snob when it comes to food–a dreadful, pretentious, unyielding, unforgiving snob. While others at our Weight Watchers meeting are raving about recipes that call for cake mix combined with diet soda (I only wish I were joking here), or fat-free HoHos, or the menu items at Chili’s that have less than 7 points, I can only smile weakly with supressed horror. Why are they not making cakes from scratch? Who eats at chain restaurants? And why do they not recognize that “fat-free” foods are the worst abominations of the agricultural/military/industrial complex?

My pretensions kept me from using fat-free sour cream or fat-free half and half in any mashed potato recipe. Buttermilk, which is rich but tends to be lower in fat, seemed an acceptable substitute. But the butter, with no “real” alternative, posed a thorny problem.

Luckily, I am a woefully inconsistent snob. I am a sucker for processed foods from the 1970s, the beloved companions of childhood. I will happily lap up cans of Spaghetti O’s, heaps of Hamburger Helper Lasagna, vats of Campbell’s Tomato Soup, and gallons of Kool-Aid. And it’s a good thing for these mashed potatoes that among those foods, margarine holds a special place in my heart.

My health-concious mother, lured by advertising claims that margarine was the healthy option, kept it on hand along with the wheat germ and the embarassing slices of whole-grain bread that encased our bologna sandwiches. My grandmother, across the street, was providing butter churned from cows my grandfather had milked by hand. But my palate, captivated by the salty, flavor-filled chemical overload of margarine, rejected the subtle delicacy of fresh butter. And so even today, there is always a tub of non-dairy spreadin my refrigerator–these days, it’s Brummel and Brown, which uses actual dairy products. It’s right next to the unsalted organic butter.

The Brummel and Brown is essential for this recipe if you are counting calories. If not, butter will do quite well. Roasted onions add flavor and additional liquid without resorting to a lot of cream.

Mashed Potatoes with Roasted Onion

Makes 4 servings

Preheat oven to 350. Take two whole, unpeeled onions and place on cookie sheet. Roast in oven until very soft, 45 minutes to 1 hour. Let cool slightly, cut off ends, and remove skin. When onions have about 30 minutes remaining, peel and slice potato. Place in enough salted water to cover and bring to boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer on medium-low heat until potatoes are very soft, about 20 – 30 minutes. Drain potatoes and place in food processor with blade inserted. Add 1 – 2 tbsp. Brummel and Brown or butter, 2 -4 tbsp. half and half, and salt and pepper to taste. Cover until Brummel and Brown has melted. Add onions and process until just smooth. Add more half and half if needed and adjust seasonings. Serve hot.

Waldorf Variations

The writeup of the Amish Friendship Bread saga is taking a bit longer than anticipated, primarily because it seems that everyone from Martha Stewart on up has something to say on the subject. While I try to sort out whether or not I should be worried about getting salmonella from starter that ferments on my countertop for 10 days, I’ll share with you a nice idea for red cabbage that I came up with on Sunday.

This recipe is a variation on Waldorf salad, a classic dish made with apples, raisins, celery, and walnuts with a mayonnaise-based dressing. I wanted to find a way to use a red cabbage and the 10 apples we bought in our efforts to save money by buying food we don’t need at a very low cost. Fred and I were pleased with the result. If you like Waldorf salad, you’ll enjoy this.

Red Cabbage Waldorf

Serves 4

1 tbsp. mayonnaise
1/4 cup fig preserves (preferably made with whole figs)
1 tbsp. red wine vinegar
2 cups red cabbage, chopped
1 slightly sour apple (MacIntosh, Braeburn, Pink Lady, or similar), cored and chopped
1/4 c. chopped walnuts
Salt to taste

Puree mayonnaise, preserves, and vinegar in food processor. Put cabbage, apple, and walnuts into a bowl and pour dressing over top. Add salt to taste. Stir. Serve cold.

No such thing as too many collards

Perhaps it’s come to your attention that our Weight Watchers updates have decreased in frequency. We haven’t quit; we’ve just plateaued. Our collective weight loss stands at 32.8 pounds–15.8 for me, 17 for Fred. With just 1.2 pounds left for me and 6 for Fred (to reach his initial goal of a 10% weight loss), we’re now entering the final push.

This means more soup. At least that’s what was suggested at our last WW meeting.

If you’ve ever wondered how Jell-O salad ever got to be popular, come to a Weight Watchers meeting. I’m often stunned at the culinary tactics some of my fellow members deploy in the kitchen.

In our last meeting, the leader divided us into groups to come up with ideas for fall soup recipes. Our group (led–some might say dictated–by me) devised a spicy butternut squash chowder. This idea was met with murmured confusion, even by some group members. (But like Sarah Palin, and Stalin–who must be related to her since Alaska is so close to Russia–I had managed to suppress dissent.)

The most popular idea was to take a bag of frozen vegetables and dump some canned chicken broth in it. I was forced into seething, bitter retreat.

In response, I offer this very simple but MUCH better dish, which I made the next night.

Brat, Butter Bean, and Collard Soup

3 pork brats or sausages, quartered lengthwise and sliced

NOTE: The brat should have enough fat for the saute. If you use brats made with a low-fat meat like turkey, add oil or chicken stock to the saute mix to keep it from burning.

4 cups collard, cleaned and chopped
2 medium onions, chopped
4-5 cloves garlic
1 can butter beans, undrained
1 tsp sage
1 tsp thyme
2 bay leaves
1 whole dried chipotle pepper
Salt to taste
Water or chicken stock to cover

Heat chopped brats on medium heat. Add onions and saute until translucent. Add garlic and stir. Add remaining ingredients. Cover and cook on medium heat for about 1/2 hour.

Food for Hard Times


Greens used to be the vegetable of the poor. My Depression-scarred grandparents adored them and passed that love on to me. In the fall, my grandfather plowed up our vegetable garden and sowed the field in turnips. By early November, we would have not only turnips, which kept for months, but also the turnip greens. My grandmother would preserve them by cleaning, blanching, and freezing them, so they too would be available throughout the winter. We also relied on collards, which are in season right now. (We got some lovely batches in the last few deliveries of our CSA.)

Greens make me think of my grandparents, and I’ve been wanting to talk to them a lot lately: “Are you as worried as in 1929 as I am now? Do you think this is going to be as bad?” This morning I woke up and actually thought I should give them a call, then realized they aren’t available anymore. All I can do now is cook the foods they ate when times were hard–even if they now show up in stores whose prices would have sent my grandparents into apoplectic shock.

I’ve shared one recipe for greens on this blog (Hulga’s Vegetarian Collard Greens), but was shocked in perusing my archives that I haven’t featured more. So here’s one from last week that will give you something to do with your fall vegetables.

Butternut Squash and Collards with Penne (2 large servings)

1/2 pound penne pasta
1 medium butternut squash (can substitute any fall squash, including pumpkin), stem removed, halved lengthwise, and seeds scooped out, plus 1 tsp. olive oil for roasting
3 cups collards with stems, chopped (turnip greens, mustard greens, or kale would probably work too)
1 tbsp. olive oil or 1 cup chicken stock for sauteeing
1 large onion, quartered and sliced thin
4 large cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp. crushed red pepper (add more or less to taste)
2 – 3 cups chicken stock
Salt to taste
Grated Parmesan cheese for serving
NOTE: Save seeds from squash to roast, either for garnish or a snack

1. Preheat oven to 350. Baste halved butternut squash with olive oil. Place cut side down on jelly roll pan or cookie sheet. Roast for 30 minutes or until soft.

2. Meanwhile, saute onion in olive oil or chicken broth in large skillet on medium high heat until translucent. Add garlic and stir. Add collards, crushed red pepper and salt. Turn heat to low and cover. Cook on low heat, stirring every 5 minutes or so, for about 15 minutes. Turn off heat and set aside, covered, until squash is done.

3. Put salted water on to boil and cook pasta according to package directions. Drain.

4. When squash is done, scoop out of skin and add to collard mix. Add 2 cups chicken stock. Stir together. Continue to add stock in small amounts until squash has reached consistency of thick tomato sauce. Mix with pasta in large bowl. Serve with grated parmesan cheese. Garnish with roasted butternut squash seeds if desired.

Roasted Butternut Squash Seeds

Preheat oven to 400. Rinse squash seeds and remove most of flesh. Spread out between two cloth towels and pat dry. Place in small bowl. Add 1 tsp. olive oil, salt to taste, and stir. Spread on jelly roll pan or cookie sheet and roast for 15 minutes or until lightly brown.

Vegetables Make You Thin

Total weight loss as of today: 21.4 pounds (10.8 for Fred, 10.6 for me).

We also picked up our vegetables, which probably account for 99.9% of our weight loss. Snow Creek Organics continues to offer lovely produce despite marketing practices that defy every law for success. Today we received . . .

a Rose Tomato, a heirloom variety that is light and lemony in flavor and pinkish in color . . .

. . . eggplant . . .

. . . okra . . .

. . . poblano peppers . . .

. . . and zucchini, which is a little too sexy to picture here.

Cooking results to be posted later.