Tuesday, 25 October 2011

I Made This Up Myself...

I know that I have given great (and well deserved) tributes to my sweet Mother on this blog for all of the amazing things I learned from her in the cooking department.  She has taught me so much and I have so many good recipes that she deserves credit for.

This isn't one of those.

Well, okay, part of it comes from mom.  But the premise, nope, I made it up myself.

Well, in essence, I didn't make the premise up.....

Okay, here's the story.

Chicken and dumplings.  Enough said.

I did not grow up with chicken and dumplings.  I grew up with chicken.  I grew up with dumplings.  I did NOT grow up with chicken and dumplings.  Dumplings, at our house, were reserved for stew and maybe ??? soup?

But, I've heard so much about "chicken and dumplings".  It sounds so....so....so downhome good.  So it seems like a "mom thing" to make.  Like making your kids drink their milk and eat their vegetables - all good mothers should serve chicken and dumplings now and then, for goodness sake.

I did talk to my mom about the notion but, hey, we were both a little clueless about what the meal actually means in terms of 'how to'.  We tossed a few ideas back and forth and then I think, within a short time of each other, we both attempted our own individual version of it.

Yesterday was a day that called for Chicken and Dumplings.  We all needed some comfort food.

My idea of Chicken and Dumplings includes the following:

I like to use chicken pieces.  I had a few chicken thighs and a couple of chicken breasts in the freezer.  I cut the breasts in to small (4-5 bites/piece) pieces.  None of the chicken was completely thawed when I started, and I started the process somewhere around 2:30 in the afternoon. 

Now, before I go on, I have to give a disclaimer here.  *I like chicken on the bone*.  There is someone in my family (who shall remain nameless but is my father-in-law) who does not like chicken on the bone.  He has voiced his deep thoughts on the financial value of chicken-on-the-bone versus chicken breasts on more than one occasion.  He is convinced that chicken breast is a better value in the $$ department, because you're getting all chicken and no bone.  That may indeed be true.  I, however, LOVE chicken on the bone.  There is more flavor, the meat is moister, and cooks up more tenderly (grammar?) without overcooking.  And, to prove my point, the chicken breast that I cooked in this dish yesterday was dry and stringy by the time I served it.  The chicken on the bone was, well, falling-off-the-bone tender and delicious.  But, different strokes for different folks.  We're entitled to our own preferences in all things chicken. 

And everything else, for that matter.

So, anyway, back to the pot.  I used a nice heavy, cast iron dutch oven.  Into the hot pot went a reasonable amount of olive oil, one onion, diced, and the chicken pieces, seasoned with salt and pepper and generously sprinkled with chicken bouillon.  I sauteed them long enough to bring a bit of color to the chicken.  Once they were lightly browned, I added enough water to the pot to pretty well cover the chicken and then turned the heat down to keep a low simmer going.

Then I walked away and did a bunch of other, somewhat boring things not worth writing down that may have included going grocery shopping and other such things.

About half an hour before supper (we ate around 5:30-6 p.m.) I turned the heat back up, made a flour/water roux and added that to the broth and brought it back to a good boil.  When the broth/roux had thickened into gravy, I added the dumplings on top of the broth, covered the pot, kept the heat at a steady boil and walked away again for 20 minutes.

20 minutes passed and supper was ready!

It was food for the soul.  It fed us and nourished us....

Ever have one of those meals that was "filling"?  As in, it filled my tummy, but there was no tastiness/satisfaction attached?

This meal satisfied.  Like a tonic. 

So, that's my version of chicken and dumplings.  Does anyone else out there make chicken and dumplings?  If so, what's your recipe?  Please share!

And, to give credit to dear Mother again (are there any royalties involved in this for her?), this is her dumpling recipe.  I think perhaps these are categorized as baking powder dumplings - there are other dumplings that don't seem to rise like these do.  Again, different traditions, right?


2 cups flour
1 Tbsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
4 Tbsp shortening
3/4 - 1 cup milk

Combine dry ingredients.  Cut in shortening to make crumbs (I actually used margarine this time with good results).  Add in 3/4 cup milk and stir briefly with a fork. Add enough of the remaining milk to make the dough hold together.  Drop by spoonful on top of simmering broth/gravy. Cover and steam for 20 minutes and DON'T LIFT THE LID.  OR YOU WILL DIE!!!

Oh, sorry.  I got carried away there for a minute.

Don't lift the lid - because Mom said so.


Thursday, 13 October 2011

For YOU....and You Know Who You Are!

Well, well, well.  My first  "can you write a blog about _______________" request happened today!

I won't write a blog on request for just anybody.

Has to be someone special.

Now, moral dilemma, do I write this blog/share this recipe because the person is really special....

.....or because she obviously needs the help/recipe?

She asked me for a recipe today.  She said "hey Maureen!  (or something engaging like that)  Can you blog about your recipe for AIR MILE BISCUITS?  You gave me the recipe and I lost it."

Okay - you decide: 
  • is she really special?
  • or does it seem she really needs the help?
"AIR MILE" BISCUITS?  Really?  And I gave you the recipe once and you lost it? 

Tut tut.

I think she needs the help.


Kidding, she IS very special, too.  One of a kind, even.  But for dignity's sake, let's just leave her name anonymous and simply mention that she is an LPN at who works at HBH who lives not that far from me and we've worked together for many years and have shared a lot of laughs and great moments    kind of silly AND also a very great friend!

For her, and for the rest of you who might be mildly interested, here is the recipe for....

MILE HIGH BISCUITS (aka "Air Mile Biscuits", at least to Alanna my anonymous friend)

3 cups flour
3/4 tsp cream of tartar
3/4 tsp salt
4 1/2 tsp baking powder
2 Tbsp sugar
3/4 cup shortening
1 egg
1 cup milk

Mix the dry ingredients together and cut in the shortening until it resembles crumbs.  Mix the egg (slightly beaten) with the milk and add to dry ingredients.  Stir to mix, then knead briefly until well combined.  DO NOT OVER-MIX OR OVER-HANDLE.  Roll out to 3/4 inch thick, cut into circles or squares or whatever shape floats your boat, and bake at 450 F for 12 minutes.  That is one hot oven!

Seriously, these biscuits are wonder biscuits for me - they have never failed yet.  They always come out nice and fluffy and rise well.  And they were a great addition to last night's borscht!

Enjoy your week off, Ms. Anonymous!  And get busy baking!

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Just Like Mom

My mom is a wonderful cook.

When we were growing up, we had everything when it came to good food.  Everything = farm raised beef, pork, chickens, turkey and all organic (ha ha ha ha ha - organic = garden grown) vegetables.  We were organic before there was organic.  Our animals were grain fed and enjoyed their summer trips to the grassy pastures.  Our gardens were never sprayed with chemicals, but were fed yearly with compost and well rotted cow manure.  We never used Round Up to get rid of weeds; we picked them out one by one with our fingers and chopped their wicked heads off with a hoe.

On top of the fresh produce and meat, we had a wood cook stove in the kitchen.  I never used to think it made much of a difference.  Now I dream about loaves of bread browned from the heat of a wood stove - there was something in the flavor that you can't get out of an electric stove. 

This post is making me feel old.

Anyway, back to my mom.  She has always been a good cook and was definitely the person who inspired me to both cook AND enjoy cooking.  I remember how she taught me.  Besides all of the times when I had to help her with cooking and learned by watching, there was another way that she taught me how to cook.

She got a job.

And when she got a job, there was no one else to cook but me!  She would write out in simple point form the "how to's" of making scalloped potatoes, macaroni with meat sauce, chili, etc., etc., etc.  I remember even cooking for my aunts and uncles one time when they had to meet at our farm over some family business - I was a young girl, and they were pretty impressed that I had gone to the bother of a hot cooked meal.  I shrugged it off as "it's nothing", but really, inside, I was bursting with pride that I had pulled off a meal for several people, and guests at that. 

So when I left home, cooking for myself never intimidated me.  I was reasonably proficient and very interested in experimenting with new foods.

New foods are easy - no precedent has been set.  You get what you get and either you like it or you don't like it.

Trying to cook like mom - that's scary!  You KNOW what mom's cooking tastes like and either your version of it measures up or it doesn't.

I've probably spent most of my grown up life trying to replicate some of mom's meals.  My buns are good, but they aren't mom's.  My stew - also good, but not mom's either.  Tender beef steak - can't do it the same.  Ben frequently reminds me "nope, not as good as Nana's" when it comes to things that both she and I cook.  And that's okay.  I can take it. 

But, there are some things that really need to resemble mom's cooking.  Foods that are family traditions, that represent "us", the familiar, the expected, the hand-me-down flavors of the generations. 

Borscht is one of those things.  I know that there are lots of good borscht recipes out there.  But I want to make borscht like my mom.

Here is her version. 

Let's call it:

Annie's Borscht  (no one calls her Annie except her Ukrainian nieces and nephews, so we'll add it here to make the recipe authentic  ;) )

12 cups beef broth
Beef from soup bone or stewing beef, small cubes, browned
1 onion, chopped
2-3 medium beets, shredded
1/2 cup celery, chopped
1-2 carrots, shredded
1 medium potato, shredded
2-3 whole tomatoes, chopped OR generous squirt of ketchup
1/2 cup (or more) vinegar OR dill pickle juice (I favor the dill pickle juice)
1-2 Tbsp dried dill (or fresh from the garden in season)
1 tsp sugar
salt and pepper to taste

Add all ingredients together and let simmer for a couple of hours to let the flavors meld.  When nearly ready to serve, take about 4 cups of soup out of the pot and add cream milk to the 4 cups and stir to temper.  When tempered, add it all back to the soup pot and stir to blend.  May serve with a dollop of sour cream.

A few notes:
* one time when I made borscht, I couldn't get the right amount of tang/sour to the soup, no matter how much vinegar/pickle juice I added.  My conclusion was that I may have used too many beets.  Beets, being naturally sweet, sweetened the soup to the point that I couldn't counteract the sugar content enough to balance the flavors.  Even though it's tempting to use a generous amount of beets, don't!  Today I used one small beet and half of a large beet.  The balance was much better.

* I saw a great recipe on TV years ago for making beef broth and I used that technique today.  Take beef soup bones and place in a large, flat roaster along with a roughly cut onion (quartered is good), 2-3 carrots roughly cut, a couple of ribs of celery, salt and pepper and completely cover it all with water. Place the roaster in a very slow (250 F) oven for 8-10 hours and walk away.  Do not cover the pan.  The resulting broth is rich and flavorful with virtually no effort on your part.  There is less foam in the end product and much better flavor than when you boil bones.  The meat is tastier.  You can do this in a slow oven over night and be ready to make the soup the next day.  Discard the bones and vegetables; let the broth sit on the counter for a couple of hours and the fat rises to the top for easy skimming.

* Some people use pork for the soup base as well.  Pork ribs are good, apparently.  I think you would want to make sure you got the fat skimmed off very well.

For the record, mom and I have developed a mutual respect for each other's cooking over the years.  Several years ago, I made roast beef for her and dad when they came to visit, using my own slow cooker method.  I knew the roast beef was good but I didn't give it any more thought.

A few weeks later, she told me "I've been trying and trying to make a roast beef that is as good as yours was, but I just can't get it right". 

I've been living on that compliment for years!

Love you Mom!

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Note To Self

Once in awhile, I stumble across a good recipe that I enjoy very much but forget about very quickly because my head is too full of other important stuff.

True story.

So, this post is just for me.  It will be my "note to self" prompt whenever the words "roast" and "turkey" come up in conversation.  I'll say "what a minute!  I think I wrote a blog post about that one time!" and will scurry through my list of posts and come up with this genius recipe that I made for Thanksgiving 2011 and loved too much to forget.

We spent Thanksgiving alone this year and that was just fine for us.  It's been busy here lately and it was nice to not travel and fit a bunch of (very much enjoyed) visiting in over the course of a few days.  I worked a Night shift on Sunday night so we decided to eat our turkey Saturday night.  I asked the boys for some of their favorite foods so that I could be sure to include some hits for them in with the meal.

On Monday, Dean happened to mention that the item he loves most for Thanksgiving dinner is pumpkin pie.  Hmm.  I wish he would have told me that Saturday....there would have been some on the table for him.  That would have been a particularly nice gesture on my behalf, thoughtful even, considering he doesn't like roast turkey.

How did I end up with a spouse who doesn't love turkey?  I really enjoy making turkey dinner.  I like the planning, the anticipation, the bird slowly roasting over the afternoon and making its' sudden "I'm done" declaration when the skin is browned just right and the drumsticks fall in surrender to the heat of the oven.  I like the mad rush of getting the gravy done and mashing the potatoes, dishing everything up, keeping things hot and sitting down to a loaded table that groans under the aromas of roasted bird, dill pickles, hot vegetables, cool salads, with some luscious dessert peeking at you from the counter nearby with the teapot ready to dispense a lovely warm blend to finish the night.  Sigh.

Unfortunately, the last turkey I roasted at the end of August was a dud.  A very disappointing dud.  I think I seriously under-seasoned it, but even the texture was just "uck".  Nearly caused me to doubt my ability to cook a decent turkey and it just reassured Dean that turkey is indeed a flawed ingredient.

I have to make a believer out of him yet.

So, this time, I happened to be paging through a magazine that happened to be featuring Pioneer Woman.  I don't love all of her recipes, but I do like a lot of them so I sat up and paid attention when I read the title of the turkey recipe.  Truthfully, I didn't even end up following her recipe, but that's where the inspiration started that sent me on a Google search for a "Turkey Brine" recipe.

Wow, there are a lot of turkey brine recipes!

I remember my cousin, Janet, brining a turkey at a reunion a few years ago but she deep fried that turkey so I don't think I made the connection that a person could brine any old (woops, YOUNG IS BETTER) turkey on any occasion!  By the way, according to Dean, that deep fried turkey is still the best turkey he's ever eaten.  ... and another sigh escapes my lips....someday he'll like my turkey too....  ;)

As I said, there are a lot of brine recipes and some of them take the flavor in a totally different direction than I would have thought of, particularly by using orange juice, apple juice, orange zest/rind, etc., in the brine.  Maybe I'll try going in that direction next time.  For this time, Thanksgiving 2011, this was my recipe:

Turkey Brine

2 quarts vegetable or chicken stock
1/2 cup salt
1/2 cup white sugar
1 tbsp EACH dried rosemary, dried sage and dried thyme
1-2 tbsp black peppercorns

Bring all of the above ingredients to a boil and stir until the sugar and salt are dissolved.  Let cool to room temperature.  I did this step the day before I was ready to start the brine process; you could do it the morning of the brine day, or flash cool it in the freezer if you have time to fuss with that.  My work schedule didn't allow me those options so I prepared it on Thursday.

For brining the turkey, you need to allow at least 1 hour per pound of turkey of brining time.  My turkey was a small 10 pound turkey, so I needed to brine the turkey for a minimum of 10 hours.  I started to brine my turkey Friday night in the later evening.  Place your thawed turkey in a pot large enough to hold the turkey in an upright position.  Pour the prepared brine over the turkey.  Now add enough cold water to the brine so that the turkey is completely submerged.  Put it in the fridge until you are ready to start cooking the turkey.

On Saturday when I was ready to start cooking my turkey, I drained all of the brine off (throw it away) and then rinsed the turkey very well.  I've been told that this rinsing step is ultra important.  Once all of the brine is rinsed off, place the turkey in the roaster and don't add any other seasonings.  Let it roast per usual (my little 10 pound turkey took about 3 hours at 350 F).

I found the end results to be far more flavorful than normal.  In fact, even the boys commented that it was more flavorful than usual.  That strikes me as a substantial marker for success.

Here's a couple of things to consider:
1.  I did read that you could brine the turkey in 2 turkey bags (instead of a pot) - one to hold the brine and turkey in, and the second bag for insurance against leakage.  I've never used turkey bags so can't speak from experience on how well they work.
2.  My fridge was full, so I used a large pasta pot to hold the turkey and brine in and then placed that in my camping cooler surrounded by ice.  Worked very well.
3.  Feel free to add to/change the list of seasonings (other than you need to keep the sugar/salt/liquid ratio the same).  If you don't like rosemary, don't use it.  I wasn't sure about the thyme, but I did like it.  Whatever seasonings/herbs you like to use to flavor your turkey with - add them to the brine and be creative!  But, they say that you need to keep the salt content up, enough salt so that a raw egg would float in the water, and that's why it's so important to rinse the brine off.  The turkey was NOT salty, by the way.

I'll be interested to hear if any of you have used this method already and what your results have been!  And if I start talking turkey in the next few months, remind me to re-read my own post!

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

From Ordinary to Extraordinary

I have had a lot of things to think about this week and the phrase that keeps crossing my mind is "ordinary to extraordinary".

Yesterday, I had a chance to spend some time in the afternoon with Ben in the back yard.  He asked me to jump on the trampoline and, for once, I decided to join in on the fun instead of be buried in my chores.  The day was sunny and warm, the leaves were (and still are) a beautiful color. The air smells of autumn.  We laid on our backs and tried to imagine what the clouds looked like but, truly, there weren't any clouds to speak of so we really had to use our imagination on the one little wispy puff of cloud that there was in the north east.  We jumped on the trampoline and made up challenges and giggled and laughed our way through the time we spent together.  Lots of hugs later, we had exhausted our imagination and (my) energy and the normal day resumed. 

Yesterday, it seemed rather ordinary to do that.

Today, it seems extraordinary.  The sunny day.  The fresh giggles.  The free time with no other demands gasping for attention.

Yesterday Andrew helped me dig all of the carrots out of the garden so that he could work on his BMX bike trail through my garden (Lord help me).  He worked hard with me and we sat together at supper talking about stuff and sharing some laughs over silly things that neither one of us remembers today.

Yesterday, it seemed rather ordinary to communicate like that with him.

Today, it seems extraordinary.  The easy laughter, the companionship with my maturing 12 year old, as we worked together and talked and shared.

This weekend we celebrated my parent's 50th wedding anniversary.  Many things seemed to jump from ordinary to extraordinary that day.  We prepared an ordinary meal, homemade.  People gave many compliments on the food that seemed ordinary to us and somehow became extraordinary to the guests.  We took an ordinary facility, and with a few golden touches, made it into an extraordinary reception room.  Ordinary people came and filled the ordinary reception room and all of a sudden we were in the midst of a very extraordinary event.

And then there was the ordinary couple that we were there to honor.

I grew up thinking that my life was very ordinary.  Normal.  Maybe we even headed slightly to the left of center, being a simple farming family.  We didn't HAVE much.  We worked hard.  Our parents were home every day - normal, right?  We always had plenty of food, didn't everybody?  We didn't fight but that must be normal, too.  We grew up and left home and maintained very happy, loving relationships with our parents.  We have always wanted to be with them.  They seemed to want to be with us. 

Mom and dad retired and had more time together.  How will they cope with that?, I wondered.  Hmm, they seem to be loving it.  They have a never ending list of things to do together that they enjoy.  They enjoy each other's company.  Last year, when neither one of us could make it "home" for Christmas on Dec. 25, they said "we have each other, we'll be fine!"   Is this normal?

And with a few simple glances back at our humble roots over the course of preparing this celebration, I have realized that this couple of 50 years is rather extraordinary.  I see that they provided me with an extraordinary childhood.  I see that they have exemplified an extraordinary marriage relationship.  I see that they have given me an extraordinary upbringing.  They have instilled in me an extraordinary belief in lengthy, HAPPY, extraordinary marriages. 

It seems that I have been extraordinarily blessed with my heritage - and there's nothing more that an ordinary girl like me can say about that!!  ;)

Ordinary to extraordinary - it's all how you look at it!