Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Comfort Food ~ Chicken & Dumplings

There are certain meals that cannot be classified any other way than "comfort food".  When we eat them, they not only fill us with nutrients, but also with memories, warmth, satisfaction, in a word~ comfort.

My list of comfort foods would certainly include at least the following:  Chicken Noodle Soup; Slow Roast Beef with rice, gravy, & corn; Chicken Pot Pie; home-made Sloppy Joe on a nice soft white bun; Chicken & Sausage Gumbo (my Cajun coming out); Fried Shrimp ANYTHING-but mainly on a Club Style Sandwich, again with yummy white bread.  All of these foods are wonderful.  Just looking at that list makes me smile.  But at the top of my comfort food list you will find Chicken & Dumplings.  Simple.  Rustic.  Rich.  Divine.



This dish is so basic, even a child can prepare it well, once they've been coached a few times in how to.




I teach mine how by starting with the dumplings, which is the same recipe for my buttermilk biscuits, so it's a two-for-one lesson!  When we make this recipe, we always have some broth and chicken leftover, but mysteriously, all of the dumplings have vanished!  So, on day two (usually for lunch) we reheat the remaining broth/chicken mix, whip up another batch of dumpling dough, drop it in, cook fo 15 min., and we are back in business.  

My Dear Daughter (16), is already an expert with this recipe.  I usually enjoy hers more than my own; although, that might have something to do with the fact that food prepared by someone other than yourself ALWAYS tastes better.

Yesterday, I taught my two oldest boys (13 and 9) how to make the dumplings for our leftovers from the night before.  Would it have been easier to just do it myself?  Yes.  Was there flour all over the counter and floor?  Yes.  Did they cheerfully wash all of their dirty dishes?  No.  Were the dumplings perfectly shaped and proportioned?  No.

Was it worth it?  YES!






The boys love to help out, but because they are less delicate in the kitchen than my daughter is, I often say "no", for fear of the mess they will leave in their wake.  Lately, I'm saying "yes" more.  

I'm learning to let go my need for control.  It's no fun.  It robs me of joy and of enjoying the accomplishments of my children.

"Yes, you can help me roll out this pie dough."

"Yes, you can shape the meatballs."

"Yes, you can make the ice tea."

However, I refuse to train messy chefs.  So I also say, "Yes, you can go play outside.  AFTER we wash these dishes together."


How about you?  What is your favorite comfort food?  We would love to hear about it!  Leave a comment here.

~Allison



Chicken & Dumplings
  • 1 whole chicken, cooked, and meat picked off bones (Time crunched?  Use a rotisserie from the deli)
  • 8 cups chicken broth (Use the broth from above cooked chicken.  Canned broth is okay, it just won't be as rich.  Two good brands are Pacific Natural & Emeril's, both organic.)
  • 4 cups water
  • 2 chicken bullion cubes (more or less, depending on how rich your broth is)
  • Salt & Pepper to taste
For Dumplings:
  • 2 cup AP flour (or 1 cup AP + 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour)
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt (lessen or omit if your butter is salted)
  • 1 TBS white sugar (optional)
  • 2 TBS vegetable shortening
  • 3 TBS sweet cream butter, cold, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
  • 2/3-1 cup low-fat buttermilk (amount varies depending on the humidity level in your home)


Get your broth and water boiling in a large soup pot.  Take a taste and adjust seasoning accordingly.  If very weak, add 2 bullion cubes, let dissolve, and taste again.  You're looking for a nice rich chicken flavor without overpowering saltiness.

Once the taste is to your liking, reduce broth to a very gentle boil, add cooked chicken and cover.  Time to make the dumplings!

In a mixing bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, & sugar.  Blend well.  Add shortening and butter.  Use a pastry blender, two butter knives, or your hands to blend the fats into the dry ingredients until the whole mixture looks like wet sand.  Your mission here is to incorporate the fats and not have any large chunks of it in there.

Now, slowly add the buttermilk, stirring dough with a fork, until it starts to stick together and forms a loose mass.  Once it looks like there are no more really dry spots, stop adding buttermilk, and start working the dough with your hand inside the bowl.  If it feels really dry, add a little more buttermilk.  Work the dough in the bowl until it holds its shape nicely, and mostly clears the sides of the bowl.  Dump dough out onto a lightly floured surface.  Let it rest for a minute or two.

Knead the dough just enough for it to hold together well so you can roll it out.  If you overwork the dough and it becomes stubborn (doesn't want to roll out), just leave it alone for a few minutes and try again.

Working with half of the dough at a time, roll dough into a rough rectangle shape, about 1/8-inch thick.  Each half should make about an 8" x 10" rectangle (NOT an exact science here).  Once rolled out, take a pizza wheel (or knife, but a pizza wheel is more fun) and cut all the way across vertically in 1-inch strips, then all the way down horizontally in 1-inch strips.  (Now your dough looks like a checker board, kind of).

Remove lid from the pot of chicken broth and raise the heat just a little so the boil is a tiny bit harder than before.  Drop your cut dumplings into the broth.  Don't stir!  Yes, they will float, but never fear, they will cook.  Roll and cut the remaining dough, drop it in, and replace cover on pot.  Make sure your boil is still pretty gentle.  A hard boil will destroy your dumplings.  Set timer for 10 minutes.


After 10 minutes, dumplings should be looking more solid.  Now you can give it a gentle stir to get the less cooked ones down in that broth.  Replace cover and cook 5-10 more minutes.


Serve up some steaming bowls, try not to burn your mouth, and enjoy!




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