Soup: Chicken & Dumplings

 

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This is not a cooking blog. I do like to write about food though. Not in a “Look at me and how amazing I am at this” kind of way. More like you’re a dear friend and I want to talk dirty about something that I tried and loved. I could talk about food and cooking endlessly. In fact, when I sit to write and nothing is happening, I start by writing about food, making lists of food, writing out how-to’s.

One of my favorite pieces of writing I’ve done over the years (non-blog) is an Ode to making soup, inspired by Jane Hirshfield’s poem “Da Capo”. It’s a scene where I’m making soup with my first child. He’s three or so. I’m pregnant with his brother. Part recipe, part memoir, it’s about the abundance of everything in that moment. So much love, so much tiredness, tenderness. It makes me ache to even think about it. My tiny kitchen, six floors up, with West End Avenue humming below. Cold and dark outside, but my kitchen balmy, the window blurred with steam. Stirring soup with a wooden spoon. It’s so simple, really. Nourishing, gracious, one dish. Using what you have on hand to make something satisfying. Food may not be love, but a warm bowl of soup comes close.

This is a new one I tried this fall and it’s been a regular ever since.

Adapted from “Mad Hungry” by Lucinda Scala Quinn 

INGREDIENTS

FOR THE SOUP:

  • 1 3-4 lb chicken
  • a few swirls of olive oil (I’ve also used grapeseed and canola)
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, smashed
  • 3 large carrots, chopped
  • 3 celery stalks, chopped
  • 4 sprigs of fresh parsley, chopped
  • 8-10 cups low sodium chicken broth (or enough to barely cover chicken, you can use some water)
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • Fresh pepper

FOR THE DUMPLINGS

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup milk (you may need more)
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh dill (or parsley) Please use fresh dill if you can get it as it really makes the dish!

DIRECTIONS

  1. Sauté onions in oil until translucent (8-10 minutes)
  2. Add garlic and cook for a minute or two.
  3. Add carrots and celery and cook for 5 minutes (it should be sizzling, but don’t burn).
  4. Place chicken on top, add broth to almost cover.
  5. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce the heat to a simmer, partially cover, and simmer for 50 minutes.
  6. Lift out the chicken and let cool.
  7. Add the salt and pepper to broth to taste.
  8. When the chicken is cool enough to handle, remove the meat from the bones and shred into large pieces (You may not need all of it for soup).
  9. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt.
  10. Stir in the milk and dill or parsley to combine.  (Batter should be thicker than pancake batter, but thinner than biscuit batter)
  11. Drop the dough, 1 tablespoon at a time onto the simmering broth. (Very low simmer)
  12. Cover and cook until the dumplings have cooked through 3 to 4 minutes.
  13. Return the shredded chicken to the pot.
  14. Add fresh chopped parsley
  15. Reheat on low heat for 1 minute.
  16. Serve in wide bowls with big spoons.

Image here

Notes to Self for 2015

Dear Self,

We’ve known each other a long time. Can you handle it if I just point out one teeny thing? Not a criticism. An observation. Don’t look so worried.

You know how some people make things more complicated than they need to be? Well, you’re like that with some things. Like dinner. You know how every year, Christmas sneaks up on you even though it’s always December 25th? Dinner’s like that. And you know how you ask your son why he stopped using his planner to write down all his assignments when that was clearly working for him? It’s bewildering, right? Why would someone just stop doing something when it works?! You see where I’m going with this?  I’m writing to remind you of the strategies that worked for you this past year. I’m asking you to consider using them regularly.  Consistently.  They make your life better and easier.

1.  Planning ahead really does work. In life and in family dinner. Winging it on occasion is fine, but really, you don’t have time to be running to the store the day of the meal at hand. With one little baby you were able to shop like a European. With three growing kids ages 7-15 and two busy, overextended adults you must enter the week prepared. Believe me when I tell you this: When you know what you’re having for dinner, you’re more than halfway there. Plot out your dinners Monday through Friday. Look at the calendar and see what’s going on that week. If you’re working Wednesday evening, well then, that’s a night for a one-dish dinner made ahead. If it’s an afternoon you’ll be home, then you have time to cook/assemble dinner while everyone does homework.

2.  Get real food in them whenever the opportunity presents itself. Instead of them filling up on pretzels, have real food and fixings for hearty snacks. Dinner, even. Dinner at 4pm is ok. Feeding older kids is a very different beast than feeding young children. They go to bed later and require more than one meal between 3pm-10pm. Quantity is the key word. You don’t have to make everything. Stock the refrigerator with things they can put together easily. Be flexible about your definition of dinnertime. The first thing my kids say when they walk through the door, while flinging their backpacks on the floor, is “I’m starving!” Though I aim for (and succeed most nights) in getting everyone sitting at the table, eating something together, at a time generally considered dinnertime, for at least fifteen (five?) minutes, I’ve lowered my expectations significantly. Often they’re so hungry when they come home that they eat everything in sight and don’t need much by dinner. That’s okay. By dinnertime, my teenager has often eaten his “main course” because he was so hungry. He’ll sit with us and eat his salad.

Some things you’ve had on hand so there’s always “real food” for them to eat when they walk through the door:

  • Hummus with carrots and pretzels/pita crisps
  • Greek yogurt, berries, granola with honey
  • Fruit smoothies
  • Guacamole and Chips
  • Avocado, halved, sprinkled with Maldon salt, eaten with a spoon
  • Apples and peanut butter/almond butter
  • Turkey meatballs for sandwiches
  • Chicken cutlets for sandwiches
  • Leftover black bean soup used as a dip with chips (kids melt cheese on top in microwave)
  • Leftover frittata
  • Quiche
  • Soups
  • “Ingredients” for BLT’s
  • “Ingredients” for Grilled Cheese and Avocado
  • Frozen Amy’s low sodium Spinach Pizza
  • Beef Empanadas (I used to make and freeze, but now Whole Foods does just as well)

3.  When you’re cooking, keep cooking. Cluster your cooking efforts when you can. Tamar Adler’s book was about cooking ahead ALL AT ONCE.  I knew a woman who cooked for the entire week on Sunday. I’m not that kind of a rock star, but there’s something to the time/effort/clean up economics of this that makes sense. Examples: When making turkey meatballs and sauce, make extra meatball mixture. While your meatballs are simmering in the sauce, chop up some onions, garlic, celery, and carrots, fry them up, add broth, simmer. Then add mini-meatballs, baby spinach, and ditalini pasta, and voila you have Italian wedding soup for another night.  While you’re at it with the chopping, pull out another pot, sizzle up the extra mirepoix from the Wedding Soup (if you’re chopping, why not keep chopping?).  Toss in that lone slice of bacon leftover from the weekend. Clean out your vegetable drawers. Let’s say you find two zucchini and a potato; clean, peel and cube. With some broth, a can of crushed tomatoes, some frozen corn or peas and a can of beans you’ve stretched it to a nice smoky vegetable bean soup. With a drizzle of olive oil, grated parmesan and some crusty bread you’ve got dinner or a hearty snack for tomorrow.  When roasting chicken breasts Tuesday, cook a few extra for the Burrito bowls you’ll have Thursday. Bake extra potatoes tonight to use for a frittata the next day. In other words, see where you can use parts of something you’re making to bridge into another meal.  And another.  Also, always make extra of something and freeze when you can.  If you’re making lentil soup, is it that much harder to double it?  What a gift to yourself on a snowy Sunday a month from now.

Are you doing these things already?  What else are you doing that I should know about?

Image here

The Year in Cooking 2014

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I measure my life in meals. When the kids are off from school, it seems the kitchen is in constant state of use, clean-up never quite complete. The dishwasher just beeped in the next room. It’s time. Again.

To be honest, I haven’t made a proper dinner this week, and yet it seems like we’re eating constantly.  We’re on vacation time: staying up late, sleeping late, eating with family and friends. Fortunately you can’t see me or my house right now. There may (or may not) be stuff all over the place. My real estate broker texted me about showing our house next week. I looked around and sighed.

Most of the time, I’m a veritable cooking machine. Sometimes I think that I could (should) spend less time in the feeding of my family. The planning, the procurement, the preparation. That is not, by the way, a humble brag. I’m not saying that I’m whipping up gourmet meals on the daily without breaking a sweat. I’m not the prettiest cook. Or the fanciest. Or the nicest. Generally I prefer that my kids stay out of my way.  Our generation of parents is supposed to cook cheerfully while supervising one child chopping, another child stirring.

I’m more the flushed cook moving too quickly, cooking many things at once, shooing my children out of my way.  I may even have (gently) swatted a hand trying to taste something before it’s ready.  Cooking together is for weekends.  Everyday weekday cooking is more of a kick-ass warrior solo event.  It has become my most cherished chore, though like everyone, I get burned out.  My own love of food and my always-hungry, mostly-appreciative eaters keep me going.  Individuals can and ought to pitch in.  But there has to be a point person.

There has been much spirited discussion online and off this year about what some see as the glorifying of the home cooked meal and what this may or may not say about our current state of gender roles and expectations. (click here to catch up on your reading). Though I’ve enjoyed the debate, I’m going to bow out and say this: I’m a person and a mother who does many different things. Cooking is one of them. It can be tedious and boring and unsatisfying. But mostly it’s not. Mostly it’s my favorite thing.

It’s been a good year in cooking and I’m going to tell you about it, mostly so I can remember it myself. Going into January, I’d like to remember what worked, what didn’t work, what got rave reviews, and record some new “keepers”.

See you soon with the first in the series!

Thank you Baked Eggs, for being there

Baked eggs, a month ago I hardly knew ye, and in such a short time, you’ve made yourself  such a well-worn indispensible part of the family.  No guest, you’re here to stay.

I’ve been wanting to make Baked Eggs after reading Laurie Colwin’s description in Home Cooking (here’s a whole post I did about that book).   So basically I’ve had Baked Eggs on the brain for years now, and only this very month did I finally settle in to the task.  Not very ambitious, I know.  But necessary.

It was in a Chapter called, Nursery Food (aka Comfort Food).  In these dark days of February, I’ve been in need of some.  Plus, I’ve been looking for a good excuse to buy some of those Le Creuset mini oval gratins.  They look like gratin dishes for dolls.  I came home with five of them, one for each member of my family.

Baked (or Shirred) Eggs are one of those non-recipe recipes.  It’s kind of embarrassing that I’m even posting about it.  But this is no smittenkitchen, folks. (Holy time on your hands, did you see the latest homemade lasagna recipe with homemade pasta sheets and bechamel sauce and Bolognese that you cook and assemble over days? That is a recipe I loved to read but will never make.  I am a huge fan of all that Deb does over at smittenkitchen.  Inspiring food writing + food photography.  She just nails it over there).

While there are long leisurely weekends for taking on a cooking project that requires so very many pans, these days, I need easy.  I need reassurance.  Cheerful, even.  Baked eggs are that.

I can crack a couple of eggs while the oven warms, top with a pat of butter, sprinkle with Maldon salt, and be rewarded with something hearty and comforting inside of twenty minutes.

Here are Colwin’s directions:

“The Pyrex dish is put in the oven to hotten up.  When hot, a lump of butter the size of a walnut (as the old cookbooks say) is dropped in to melt.  When the butter is just slightly sizzling, break in the eggs, never more than four.  Sprinkle with black pepper and Parmesan but no salt, as the  Parmesan is salty enough.  Cover and bake in a 325 degree oven until done.  Done can mean just cooked, or pink around the edges of the yolks, or baked to the consistency of a rubber eraser–some children like eggs this way.  Baked eggs, though, have to be watched.”

A few notes on what I did. I tried to get all fancy and tried baking the dishes in a water bath as I saw recommended someplace.  I’ve done it both ways and say skip the trouble.  They seem to turn out the same.  Also I went with salt instead of the cheese, but imagine the cheese would be worthwhile, too.  And I used a spray oil on the dish before dropping the eggs in, and a pat of butter on top.

These always take longer to cook than I think they will.  If you’re in a rush, go scrambled.  But if you’ve got a little time (and some ramekins or mini Pyrex dishes), baking adds a little extra something.  I have eaten these for breakfast and lunch and could also see coming home to them for dinner after a long cold and rainy day and being very, very happy.

Letting Go

I’m feeling kind of shaky today. My two older sons are with their dad and granddad in the wilderness of Yellowstone Park on a pack trip. Horses and tents and campfires, the real deal. This also means no cell phones. I thought I’d be alright with this, but I woke up this morning with a lump in my throat and an empty pain in my gut. Was it the bear mauling story I saw before I clicked off the light last night? First one since 1986 in Yellowstone.

You know how your children sound so much littler on the phone? Far away, high munchkin voices pressed to your ear. Umbilical cord still intact through the ether. It’s been 36 hours. My boys are in the woods, off the grid, unreachable.

I hold onto that idea that the path to freedom is mostly about letting go. That it’s not easy, but when we walk through the painful, hard stuff with an open heart, we get to walk out somehow feeling expansive and free. This is what the wise ones keep telling us. They must be right because that’s the way it always happens for me, when I’m brave enough. Right now I’m not feeling brave. I just want to curl up into a fetal position and wave my white flag. Letting go feels impossible.

I’m listening to this song, reminding me of the grace on the other side:

That and Heidi Swanson’s Cauliflower Soup with Mustard Croutons I made last night are keeping me together. You should skip the soup and just make the croutons.

What I’m Reading (when not reading cookbooks)

I’m still reading this one, mainly because I’m trying to stretch it out to make it last.  I love it that much.  I’m hanging on to the last few chapters, just don’t want it to be over.  Flynn is a poetic, inventive writer who just happens to have an amazing story to tell.  The one about his life working in a homeless shelter in Boston intersecting with his relationship with his estranged, homeless father.   It’s complicated, as you can imagine. 

Think Growing Up by Russell Baker and The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls on crystal meth, without the redeeming characters or unconditional love.  Or Mary Carr’s Liar’s Club but without Carr’s twangy humor.  Yet somehow not grim or depressing.  Somehow clear-eyed and beautiful.  Illuminating.  Full of humanity and vulnerability. 

It’s such a compelling story that I wasn’t surprised to find that there is a movie version being made (Julianne Moore in the cast!).  Quick!  Read it before the movie spoils it for you. The movie may end up being great, who knows?  But like I tell my boys, always read the book first.  That way you get to see it in your head first the way you imagine it.  Seeing the movie spoils that possibility.  Discovering halfway through that there’s a movie version crept into my reading, (as in, how in the world will they film this scene?), and I kind of resent that.  So let’s forget I mentioned it.

(Find the book here).

Have you read it?  What did you think?  What are you reading?  I’m lining up my next book , always looking for recommendations, dear readers. . . .

Food Writing

“One of the delights of life is eating with friends; second to that is talking about eating.  And, for an unsurpassed double whammy, there is talking about eating while you are eating with friends”.  – Laurie Colwin, from Home Cooking

My friend, Nicole, and I call our food talk, “talking dirty”.  Pictures I take of dinner before I put it on the table and email to her will most likely carry the subject line, “more food porn”.  Describing to Nicole what I made for dinner over the phone or what I had in a restaurant or talking about the food we are eating as we’re eating it, unintentionally takes on this hushed, almost salacious tone and is pretty much my favorite thing to do in the world.

Turns out my second favorite thing is READING about food.

There are a few books I keep on the shelves that I circle back to every few years.  Reading them is like touching base with an old friend.  Their voices are reliable, grounded, familiar.  This is probably my sixth or seventh go-round with Home Cooking.  To me, this book is the perfect combination of Colwin’s compelling voice and a topic she clearly loved (food)– and how you can be writing about food (or anything), but really be writing about other things (like life, or love).

To be honest, I have never used any of the recipes from the book, but that’s not what this book is about for me.  While I’m reading, I feel like I’m front row in a master writing class.  It’s magic, really: how someone can write about Baked Eggs or Steamed Chocolate Pudding and make it riveting.  The backstory of her unexpected death by heart failure in her sleep one night at age 48 somehow creates another layer of meaning for me.  Her enduring voice (still so clear) feels especially poignant. That she wrote about food and home and family and friends with such love, even more so.

I like this article written about her life and writing (click here).

Another book with great Food Writing is this:

Rachel gave this to me last summer for my birthday and I kept picking it up and reading it all summer.  Have I made any of the recipes?  you ask, confused.  No.  Don’t you get it?  I really really like food writing.  (I should mention that Rachel made the Olive Oil Bundt Cake from this book for her son’s birthday party I attended over two years ago, and I haven’t stop thinking about it, thinking maybe one day I might actually make it, too. . .)

I’ve picked this book up again. It feels especially summery and even if I don’t explicitly use the recipes, I love summer cooking and feel inspired to fire up the grill and let all the fresh flavors from all those summer vegetables speak for themselves (the Frankies would encourage me to do this).  Find the book here.

Three blogs with some really juicy food writing (along with gorgeous photography) I visit for inspiration:  (I have even actually used the recipes to create real food to feed my family)

Orangette

Smitten Kitchen

101 Cookbooks

Root beer Float Cupcakes

Someone notify the committee:  I officially clinched my bid for Mother of the Year with these:

 

Rootbeer float cupcakes. That's right, you heard me.

So really, in case you don’t know I’m joking, I was already disqualified for Mother of the Year way back in January.  I don’t think I made it beyond 1:00pm on New Years Day.  Yelling or being annoyed or feeding my kids crackers for breakfast or something like that.  When Ben was already carrying on at 6:20 am this morning, concerned that the cupcakes were too small, I’m wondering if the committee heard me when I turned to my husband and said, If he doesn’t stop, I swear I’m gonna throw the cupcakes across the room, and disqualified me for life.  I had been up until one o’clock in the morning cleaning the kitchen after icing these babies, after all.  Surely they take such things into consideration?  And that three-year-old James came ambling into the kitchen rubbing his eyes, looking for a drink of water around that time, squelching any hope of me getting to bed before two?  (Remember I told you how much sleep I said I need to be fully functional back here?)

 

My boys being initiated into the world of root beer floats back in August. They kept looking at me, agog, bewildered that they hadn't known about such sweet foamy goodness.

Seriously, though.  Make these cupcakes.  Find the recipe here.  There is another version here, though I can’t vouch for it and she got a little fancy with the ice cream scoop and piping the icing just so.  I’m more of a slap-the-icing-on-top-and-go-to bed kinda baker myself.

Ben’s actual birthday was merely the season opener.  Today is the day he brings cupcakes into school and in about a week I’ll be throwing together his “friend birthday party”.

The party just never ends around here.

I love soup.

Ginger, scallions, golden raisins sauteeing in butter!

It’s true. I really really love me some soup.  I like making it as much as I like eating it.  If I’m out of sorts and everything in my life seems off kilter, there is something about sizzling onions and garlic in oil, the chopping and mincing of different colors and textures, everything swimming together in brothy goodness, that sets me right back on track. If there is bubbling hot homemade soup on my stove, all is right with the world.

Lately I have been all over food blogs (or food porn as I like to call it). My current favorite is Heidi Swanson’s 101 Cookbooks.  Her slant is natural, vegetarian, whole foods with a dash of travel and life, not to mention stunning food photographs that actually inspired me to get cooking again after a long rut.  These days I am trying to accommodate an eight year old who is a committed vegetarian.  He is also a real foodie kind of kid, too, and appreciates new dishes and even thanks me after I make something particularly good.  I don’t want to let him down.

this soup is really quite easy

We both give this recipe from 101 Cookbooks two enthusiastic thumbs up.  Even the three-year old liked it.  My meat and potatoes eleven year old, not so much, but he did eat some of it along with a whole pile of bread.  I served it with warm whole wheat Nan (found at my market) brushed with olive oil (instead of the farro or rice).  It is not spicy, but has just the perfect amount of heat from the ginger and curry.  The cooked carrots and the plump golden raisins add some subtle sweetness.  I skipped cilantro because we don’t do cilantro chez Sweat Pea.  Did I mention I got to use coconut milk for the first time?  Yum.  I think I need to do that again.

these colors = just what I needed in February

I am printing her recipe as it appears on her website.  The photo below is hers as well.  I think this is highly not okay in the blog world.  Still trying to figure out how to contact her for permission.  Until then, a shout out to Heidi through the blogosphere.

Here it is, 101 Cookbook’s Coconut Red Lentil Soup.  Too excellent to keep from my friends.  I’m so good to you like that.

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Coconut Red Lentil Soup

Coconut Red Lentil Soup

See the photo in the main entry if you aren’t sure what type of lentils and split peas to buy. For those of you who are curious, I used the Terre Exotique Madras Curry Powder I picked up in Paris – it looks like it is available here now too (I think I’ve come across it on Amazon’s grocery section). Vegans – you can easily make this vegan by using coconut or olive oil in place of the butter called for.

1 cup / 7 oz / 200g yellow split peas
1 cup 7 oz / 200g red split lentils (masoor dal)
7 cups / 1.6 liters water
1 medium carrot, cut into 1/2-inch dice
2 tablespoons fresh peeled and minced ginger
2 tablespoons curry powder
2 tablespoons butter or ghee
8 green onions (scallions), thinly sliced
1/3 cup / 1.5 oz / 45g golden raisins
1/3 / 80 ml cup tomato paste
1 14-ounce can coconut milk
2 teaspoons fine grain sea salt
one small handful cilantro, chopped

cooked brown rice or farro, for serving (optional)

Give the split peas and lentils a good rinse – until they no longer put off murky water. Place them in an extra-large soup pot, cover with the water, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and add the carrot and 1/4 of the ginger. Cover and simmer for about 30 minutes, or until the split peas are soft.

In the meantime, in a small dry skillet or saucepan over low heat, toast the curry powder until it is quite fragrant. Be careful though, you don’t want to burn the curry powder, just toast it. Set aside. Place the butter in a pan over medium heat, add half of the green onions, the remaining ginger, and raisins. Saute for two minutes stirring constantly, then add the tomato paste and saute for another minute or two more.

Add the toasted curry powder to the tomato paste mixture, mix well, and then add this to the simmering soup along with the coconut milk and salt. Simmer, uncovered, for 20 minutes or so. The texture should thicken up, but you can play around with the consistency if you like by adding more water, a bit at a time, if you like. Or simmer longer for a thicker consistency. The thicker this soup got, the more I liked it.

I’ve been enjoying big ladles of this soup over ~1/2 cup of warm farro – brown rice was good as well. Sprinkle each bowl generously with cilantro and the remaining green onions.

Serves 6.

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