Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Comfort Foods

I asked some of my readers (OK, my FRIENDS who are readers) if they had any requests for recipes.  And I got a couple specific requests and it all kind of boiled down to comfort foods.  With winter coming, people love to cook and eat foods that remind them of growing up and foods that warm them to the core.  So, I picked a few of my favorites and I have a few more to try that I'll post later.

My friend Maureen requested a recipe for chicken and dumplings.  And honestly, this recipe has been sitting beside my computer FOREVER>  I thought I had posted it at some point but it turns out I haven't so, here you go, Maureen!  I've adapted this to make it easier and I'll add my notes at the end.

Chicken and Dumplings

Chicken and stock:

1 (3 to 31/2 pound) whole organic chicken
2 bay leaves
6 sprigs thyme
4 to 5 black peppercorns
1 head garlic, split through the equator
2 tablespoons salt
Buttermilk-Chive Dumplings:

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1/4 cup chopped chives
3/4 to 1 cup buttermilk


2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons oil
2 carrots, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 bay leaves
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
6 cups chicken stock
1 cup frozen peas
1 cup frozen pearl onions
1/4 cup heavy cream
Freshly ground black pepper, for garnish
Chopped chives, for garnish

For the stock:

Place the chicken and all stock ingredients in a large Dutch oven and cover with water.  Set over medium-high heat and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 1 hour until the chicken is tender.  Skim the surface of fat and scum as it cooks.

When done remove the chicken to a cutting board.  Strain the stock and shred the meat into big pieces - the stock will be used for the sauce and the chicken will be folded into it.

For the dumplings:

Sift the dry ingredients together in a large bowl.  In a small bowl, using a whisk, lightly beat the eggs, chives and buttermilk together; pour the liquid ingredients into the dry ingredients and gently fold.  Mix just until the dough comes together; the batter should be thick and cake-like.

To prepare sauce:

In a Dutch oven, over medium heat, add the butter and oil. Add the carrot, celery, garlic, and bay leaves and saute until the vegetables are soft, about 5 minutes. Stir in the flour to make a roux. Continue to stir and cook for 2 minutes to coat the flour and remove the starchy taste. Slowly pour in the chicken stock, 1 cup at a time, stirring well after each addition. Add frozen peas and pearl onions.

Let sauce simmer until it is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, about 15 minutes. Stir in heavy cream.

Fold the reserved shredded chicken into the sauce and bring up to a simmer. Using 2 spoons, carefully drop heaping tablespoonfuls of the dumpling batter into the hot mixture. The dumplings should cover the top of the sauce, but should not be touching or crowded. Let the dumplings poach for 10 to 15 minutes until they are firm and puffy. Remove and discard the bay leaves. Season with freshly cracked black pepper and garnish with chopped chives before serving.

Notes:   OK, to make this easier, I DO NOT make my own stock or even cook a chicken.  I use a rotisserie chicken that I removed the skin from and shred.  One grocery store (well, Costco in our case) chicken is perfect for my family of 4.  And then I just use box stock, usually fat free and reduced sodium.  Second, I use LESS stock...probably closer to 4 cups but I eyeball it.  If you use 6, it really doesn't get thick unless you thicken it with cornstarch or use more butter and flour in the beginning for the roux.  But I think 6 is too much in general.  Third, I half the dumpling recipe.  I make this in a 7 1/4 quart Dutch Oven and half the recipe covers the top perfectly.  I've also made the dumplings with scallions when I didn't have chives.  This is a HUGE hit at our house and when I made it for my in-laws, my father-in-law asked for the recipe and he has made it a few times himself.  It's comfort food at it's best.

Macaroni and cheese is another food I consider a comfort food.  I LOVE homemade macaroni and cheese but my kids and my husband...not so much.  For whatever reason, they prefer the stuff out of the BOX!  *Shudder*  I have 2 recipes I use depending ont eh amount of time I have but both are really good.

President Reagan's Macaroni and Cheese

1/2 lb macaroni
1 teaspoon butter
1 eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon dry mustard
3 cups sharp cheddar cheese, grated
1 cup milk
Boil macaroni in water until tender and drain thoroughly.  Stir in butter and egg.
Mix mustard and salt with 1T hot water, and add to milk.  Add cheese, leaving enough to sprinkle on top.
Pour into buttered casserole; add milk, sprinkle with cheese.  Bake at 350°F for about 45 minutes or until custard is set and top is crusty.

Notes:  Now, I don't put cheese on top.  I usually put crushed crackers, cereal or even tortilla chips on top.  This is the one I use when I don't have a lot of time.  You really just throw it together and bake...very easy.  My next one takes a bit more time and is a bit more creamy. 

Easy, Creamy Stovetop Macaroni & Cheese

1 pound box dried elbow macaroni
4 tbsp unsalted butter
4 tbsp flour
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1/4 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp dry mustard
2 cup milk
2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
Put a covered stock pot of water on to boil over high heat. 

Meanwhile, over low heat melt the butter in a heavy bottomed saucepan. While butter is melting, measure out and combine the flour, salt, pepper, paprika, and dry mustard in a small dish or bowl. When butter has melted, add the flour mixture to the butter and use a whisk to combine to make your roux. Continue whisking and slowly add the milk, whisking to combine all the ingredients. Turn up the heat slightly (don't go higher than medium-low) and whisking often, thicken the mixture. You may see occasional bubbles, and that's OK, but you do not want it to boil, just to thicken. When thickened, remove from heat and add the shredded cheese, using the whisk to combine until melted and homogenous. 

Drain the macaroni (do not rinse, the starch helps the cheese stick to the noodles) and place in a large bowl. Pour cheese sauce over the macaroni and stir to coat well. Serve while hot.
Notes:   This is great as it but if you want a baked mac and cheese, you can put it in a casserole, add something crunchy on top and bake it a 350 until the top is crusty.

This last recipe may not be a conventional comfort food but I find it warm and comforting and a bit spicy.  And it's made in the crockpot so it's super easy.  And I associate crockpot cooking with comfort foods.  You can serve this over rice or in tortillas.

6 boneless chicken breasts
1 medium onion, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp. ground Cumin
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. freshly ground pepper
1 Tbs. fresh lemon juice
1 cup green tomatillo salsa (salsa verde)
1 1/2 cups sour cream

Place chicken breasts in Crock Pot.

In a mixing bowl combine everything except sour cream. Pour sauce mixture over chicken.

Cook Low 6 - 8 hours or High 3 - 4 hours.

Add sour cream just before serving.

Note:  If you like it spicier, like I do, you can add a bit of cayenne or a chopped jalapeno or two.

Well, I am off to look through my other recipes so I can make my menu for next week.  Enjoy!

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