Sunday, October 25, 2009

Got a Chicken

When I resided in the Midwest and relied heavily on my car to get around, I always had this fantasy about shopping for food that didn’t involve a vehicle. Rather than drive to the supermarket on Saturday mornings to stock up for the week ahead, I simply would stroll home from my fabulous job in a bustling city, and drop into the adorable little shops and markets along the way. I would decide on a whim what I would make for dinner that night based on what’s fresh and in season. I’d scoop up a wedge of cheese, some crusty bread, salami and fruit for a picnic-esque lunch the next day.

I think this fantasy was born on my trip to Paris a few years ago. The sky would dim; the streetlights would start coming on, and the artisan cheese shops, fishmongers, wine, meat, and fresh produce markets would have their goods on display spilling out to the sidewalks. Now that I live in a bustling city, with no vehicle, I walk home from my fabulous job and pass such vendors on the street. It’s just like I dreamed it would be. Sort of.

New York is less romantic than Paris. It just is. Thus, my fantasy-come-to-life also lacks a little of the romance. But sometimes it all works according to plan: I'll stop off to pick up a pound of fresh mussels ($2 a pound. 2 bucks!!), crusty bread (and I’ll get the last one), white wine and some fresh parsley to create a delicious pot of moules provencal. The city quiets for a few key moments, no strangers speak to me (yes I’m anti-social), and the air smells good on my excursion.

Sometimes it doesn’t work out that way, and I need comfort. After a long weekend, with an unplanned moment of recalling my Grandma (Miss you, Gramma Pat!), catching a cold from somewhere amongst 70 high school kids, sleep/bed deprivation, getting hit in the face by a stranger (hey, a least he didn’t try to talk to me), crappy weather, a full day of screaming emergency sirens (I swear, I have never heard so many in one day), the decision for comfort food is easy. I'll make the ultimate comfort food for myself – the most comforting of all comfort foods – my Grandma’s (then my mom’s…now mine…) Chicken & Dumplings. Just thinking about it makes me feel like I’m getting a big hug from everyone I love. As I’m wrapped in a down comforter. As my pugs curl against me.

As I said, sometimes it just doesn’t work.

Market #1: Picked up carrots, celery, and onion. Wait a minute, where’s the chicken? They always have chicken. Walk away. Now go back and look again. Chicken? Nope. Still no chicken. Is that right? One more time… still no chicken. Where the hell is the chicken?

Market #2: Again with the no chicken. What does a girl have to do to get some chicken in this town??

Dammit, I'm making it work!

Market #3 and several (Cold. Rainy.) blocks later: Chicken. Just barely.

Almost lost my mind, but I got a chicken.

Recipe for Grandma Pat’s Chicken & Dumplings:

My grandma gave me this recipe hand-written on small note cards. I love reading it, making it, and eating it. I’ve adapted it a little bit, but it serves about 3-4 depending on how hungry you are.

  • 2 big chicken breasts and 2 chicken thighs/legs (bone-in, skin-on)
  • 1 small onion, coarsely chopped
  • 5 carrots, peeled and sliced into sticks
  • 2 stalks of celery - whole
  • Chicken stock
  • Salt & Pepper

Wash the chicken and place it in a large pot with a tight lid. Season with salt and pepper, and sprinkle the onions and carrots over the chicken. Lay the 2 celery stalks on top, and pour chicken stock over the top to cover. Simmer uncovered until the chicken is done/tender. Add more salt and pepper at this point. Remove the cooked chicken, discard the celery, and remove the skin and bones from the chicken. Place the chicken pieces in a shallow pan and ladle about a ¼ cup of the stock over the top. Cover with aluminum foil and keep warm in a 200 degree oven. Bring the stock to a boil, and thicken slightly with a water/flour mixture. Whisk it in slowly until the stock is the consistency of thin gravy. Bring to a simmer.

Make the dumplings:

  • 2 cups of flour
  • 4 rounded (generous) tsp of baking powder
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ¾ stick of butter (soft)
  • ¾-1 cup of milk

In a bowl, mix flour, baking powder and salt. Then blend in the butter with your fingers. Add the milk quickly – use as little as possible – dough should be sticky.

Dip a clean tablespoon in hot stock and scoop up a large spoonful of dough and immerse it in the pot. Repeat until the pot is full of dumplings (do not crowd) and cover tightly. Don’t peek or else the dumplings will fall! Let it simmer for 20 minutes. When the dumplings are done, check the gravy for salt. Divide the chicken and spoon the dumplings, carrots, and sauce among all the plates. The more sauce, the better! Get cozy and eat up.


Anonymous said...

Gramma Pat would be so proud of you! I can just hear her saying "Where the hell is the chicken?"
Your picture looks absolutely perfect and it makes me hungry and lonesome for you.
Big hug,
Love, Mom

Veronica said...

It did turn out very good. I think I've finally mastered the dumplings! It's so hard not to peek!