Southern Snacks Cookbook

The Southern Sympathy Cookbook

I'm P.C., and I have studied food and cooking around the world, mostly by eating, but also through serious study. Coursework at Le Cordon Bleu London and intensive courses in Morocco, Thailand and France have broadened my culinary skill and palate. But my kitchen of choice is at home, cooking like most people, experimenting with unique but practical ideas.

I live, mostly in my kitchen, in my hometown of Memphis, Tennessee.

Bacon-Blanketed, Herb Roasted Turkey

 

This is the turkey. I’ve been perfecting this for many years now.  I must say, it is a showstopper, and delicious to boot, because I treat it well.  I send my turkey to a bacon spa. It gets a salt scrub, a bacon butter deep tissue massage, a hand-woven bacon spa robe, some time in the sauna and a little tanning to finish it off.

I’ve got a set of instructions here, more than a recipe, but this way there is enough detail to produce a beautiful bird.

The Turkey

I usually cook an 18 – 20 pound turkey. Not because I have a huge family, but because I like Thanksgiving leftovers.  I always buy a fresh, never frozen turkey of the best quality I can afford.  If you buy a frozen turkey, you need to get it in advance and leave plenty of time for thawing.  You  can do a computer search for the proper method.  My methods below are for a big bird, but easily adapt to a smaller one.

What you’ll need:

A large plastic bag

A platter or pan that fits the turkey in the fridge

Kitchen twine

A roasting pan that fits the turkey (and fits in your oven. Check. This is important.)

A probe-style meat thermometer

A turkey

Lots of kosher salt

1 ½ pounds bacon

½ pound butter

Fresh herbs: sage, thyme, oregano, parsley, marjoram, rosemary

Roasting vegetables: carrots, celery, onions, leeks, apples

I dry brine my turkey for a juicy bird.  I used to wet brine, which involved removing drawers from my fridge and stuffing turkey into a large stockpot full of salted water.  That is a lot of trouble.  Here’s my easy solution that makes for a lovely moist turkey.

Start the brine 2 to 3 days before Thanksgiving. Remove all the interior parts from the bird.  Discard them or use them for stock, or the giblets for gravy.  Wash the bird well, inside and out. Place the bird in a great big plastic bag.  Cookware stores sell fancy “brining bags” but a cheap browning bag from the grocery works just as well, or a big ziptop bag.  Go to town rubbing kosher salt all over the gobbler, inside and out.  Use a lot of salt.  Wash your hands. Tie the bag closed and place it on a platter or pan and put it in the fridge for up to two days.  I do this on Tuesday, butter it up on Wednesday for cooking on Thursday. Thoroughly wash the sink you rinsed the turkey in.  Right now.

Now we work on the flavor and added juiciness.  I tinkered with this recipe for many years, until I hit on just the right method.  I have always rubbed butter on roasted chicken or turkey, or covered it in bacon to keep the bird moist.  For a big mama gobbler, I double down.

In a food processor, blend together ½ pound raw bacon slices, ½ pound butter and  generous handfuls of fresh herbs.  I like a lot of sage, some parsley, oregano, thyme, marjoram and maybe rosemary.  A packet and a half of “poultry herbs” works well. Blend all this until you have a smooth paste.  You can make this ahead and store the bacon butter in an airtight container for up to five days.

We eat our big meal at one o’clock, so I like to have everything ready to go in the morning.  I prepare my bird on Wednesday evening and refrigerate it.  I have a timer feature on my oven that lets me start preheating before I want to wake up, so the oven is ready for the bird when I stumble out of bed.

When you are ready to prepare the turkey, bring the bacon butter to room temperature.  Take the turkey out of its salt bag and give it a good rinse.  Place it breast side up on a large platter or pan that will fit in the fridge.  Wash the sink you rinsed the turkey in.  Now.  If your turkey comes with a pop-up timer, remove it now.  It’s useless. Wash your hands, remove your rings and watch and gently separate the skin from the flesh.  Lift the skin by the cavity and gently slide your hands under the skin.  It will pull away from the flesh.  Keep going to get the skin opened up all the way to the neck and over the legs.  Try not to tear the skin, but don’t fall apart if you do.  It’s not a big deal. Now take big fistfuls of butter and rub it up under the skin and over the flesh.  Use about ¾ quarters of the bacon butter under the flesh.  Pat the skin down and press the butter into a pretty even layer under the skin.  Rub the remaining butter over the outside of the bird, paying particular attention to the legs, which will not be covered by the bacon blanket.

There is nothing like presenting a beautiful bird to your guests at Thanksgiving, and if I may say so, this is a stunner.  But the bacon is not only decorative, it amps up the juiciness of the meat and flavors the juices for the gravy.  I use thick cut bacon, the best I can find.  I don’t use any kind of artificially flavored bacon.  My big babies use about a pound of bacon.

I think the picture really says it all.  I weave the bacon strips into a lattice.  It’s kind of like making those construction paper placemats from kindergarten.  Lay one strip crosswise over the breast, then one lengthwise. Keep going, folding up the strips already placed to fit the new ones under.  The bacon will shrink when you cook the bird, so place the strips close together and use as many as you can fit.  Tie the legs of the bird together with kitchen twine. When you’ve got the bacon all woven, wash your hands thoroughly, put the bird in the fridge, fix yourself a bourbon and collapse on the sofa.

As I said, we do the meal for lunch, and I am not a morning person, so I do as much ahead as possible.  With the turkey ready to go and the oven heated to 450 degrees, I get ready to roast. Remember, remove one rack and place the other in the right position to fit the pan with the bird.  You don’t want to get everything hot, then have to move things around.  I like good, flavorful juices from the bird to add to gravy.  That really is the only thing that makes gravy worth serving.  My roasting technique creates good juices.

Line the deep roasting that fits your bird with several layers of foil.  It never makes clean up a breeze, but it helps.  If you have a rack that fits a deep roasting pan, great.  I use a grid that is technically a cooling rack.  No rack, no problem.  Just set the bird on the vegetables as follows.  Cover the bottom of the roasting dish with a thick layer of aromatic root vegetables.  Whole vegetables, don’t’ peel or chop, just remove the paper  from onions and the tops from carrots.  I use carrots, celery, leeks, onions and a couple of apples cut in half.  Stuff an apple and an onion into the cavity of the bird. Tuck some fresh sage leaves and any other herbs you have around the bird. Place the rack over the vegetables if you are using one, don’t worry if it’s wobbly, or just put the bird on the vegetables directly.  Take a piece of foil and mold it to make a shield to cover the bird if it starts to brown too much later.  Remove the molded piece of foil to a safe place.  It is really hard to properly cover a hot turkey in a hot oven. Roast the turkey at 450° for 30 minutes, then turn the heat down to 375° for the rest of the cooking. I highly recommend that you make the small investment in a probe meat thermometer, one with a probe to stick in the turkey and a long cord that plugs into a counter unit.  Gently stick the probe into a thick part of the breast, carefully sliding it between an opening in the bacon blanket.  Make sure you don’t’ go so deep you hit the bone. You want the turkey to be cooked to 165°.  I usually set the thermometer to 155°, remove the turkey from the oven and cover the whole pan with foil.  I let it rest until it reaches 165°.  If the turkey and the bacon start to get too brown before the meat is cooked, cover it with your prepared foil armor. Generally, you need about 15 minutes cooking per pound of turkey.  For a 20 pound turkey, I go 4 to 4 ½ hours.  Leave your self some wiggle room, the turkey will happily wait under its warm foil wrap.  Your guests are not likely to be so patient.

Now we have our beautiful cooked turkey.  Remove the bird to carving board (preferably one with a well to collect juices).  Allow some time for your guests to ohh and ahh and admire your bird. Then let the designated carver go to work.  Pour the juices from the roasting pan into a measuring cup, or one of those neat gravy separators if you have one.  Let the juice settle for a bit, skim off the fat, and add the delicious juices to your gravy.

And here’s a recipe for a simple, tasty make-ahead gravy.

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Chicken Pecan Bites with Blue Cheese Dip

Every community, particularly in the South, has those handful of classic community cookbooks that everyone seems to own, or haveaccess to, or just know about.  They are the reference points for the community table. Compiled by church auxiliaries, symphony leagues, historic societies, these treasure troves bind a community through the most essential love we all share. Food.   When you are at a party, or have friends over and someone prepares a great dish, how often is the answer to the recipe request, “oh, it’s in…”  In Memphis, the end of that sentence is frequently, “Heart and Soul” one of the most popular of the local Junior League’s cookbook offerings.  There are recipes included in Heart and Soul that people know by heart now, that are as much a part of the Memphis lexicon as an Elvis song.  But there a few that get overlooked.  This is one of those recipes.

I never really noticed this delicious appetizer recipe in the book, but awhile back, a friend served it at book club.  We were all much impressed.  She offhandedly remarked “oh, it’s just from “Heart and Soul.”  It took me awhile, but I pulled out the book and made the recipe myself, and it is so good, it is worth sharing.  These tender little golden bites are so surprising.  Rich with chicken and a real depth from the seasonings.  These make a nice change from your standard appetizer fare.

I have made a few adjustments to the recipe to streamline the prep, and I serve them now with a blue cheese dip, which complements the chicken and pecans so well. I do recommend celery salt, but if you don’t have it on hand, try your favorite seasoned salt or a little plain salt.  And these do freeze beautifully, so you can always have some on hand.

Chicken Pecan Bites with Blue Cheese Dip

For the Chicken Bites:

1 cooked boneless, skinless chicken breast

1 cup chicken broth

½ cup butter

1 cup all-purpose flour

4 eggs, at room temperature

½ cup chopped pecans

3 Tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce

1 teaspoon poultry seasoning

1.2 teaspoon celery salt

For the Dip:

4 ounces crumbled blue cheese

8 ounces plain Greek yogurt

2 Tablespoons mayonnaise

1 -2 Tablespoons milk or buttermilk

Generous grindings of black pepper

For the Chicken Bites:

Melt the butter in the chicken broth in a medium saucepan over medium heat.  Dump in the flour all at once and stir vigorously with a sturdy wooden spoon.  The mixture will roll away from the sides of the pan and come together in a ball.  Keep stirring until the mixture is relatively smooth.  Remove from the heat and leave to cool slightly.

Meanwhile, finely chop the cooked chicken breast.  You want small pieces.

When the flour mixture has cooled, add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition until smooth and completely combined.  Stir in the chicken, pecans, parsley, Worcestershire, poultry seasoning and celery salt and stir until well combined.

Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.  Scoop the chicken bites onto the pan.  I use a 2 Tablespoon cookie scoop for a nice hearty bite, which makes about 2 dozen.  Feel free to scoop smaller bites if you’d prefer.

You can preheat to oven to 400 degrees and cook the bites immediately for 20- 30 minutes until firm and golden, or freeze the tray of unbaked bites for a few hours until firm, then remove to a zip-top freezer bag.  Bake from frozen, but you may need to increase the cooking time accordingly. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Makes 24, more if you choose to make them smaller

For the Dip:

Place the blue cheese, yogurt, and mayonnaise in a blender and blend until smooth.  Add a little milk to thin it out to a dipping consistency as needed.  Season generously with black pepper.  Pour the dip in a bowl, cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

The dip can be made up to 2 days ahead.  You may want to thin it with a little milk before serving.

Makes 1 ¼ cup

Adapted from Heart and Soul: Stirring Recipes from Memphis

Tuxedo Chili

Here we are again. The days are cold and a little gloomy, the holidays are over, and it is time for hunkering down at home. Right about now, I imagine everyone is craving a nice big bowl of warm, comforting goodness. It’s always nice to have a little twist on a classic, and mine is this creamy chicken chili with the added touch of black beans along with the white – that’s why I call it Tuxedo Chili. Plus, this version is simple to make and packed with flavor. And what’s better on these chilly winter nights than a big, steaming bowl of chili?

I make this chili all the time, and I’ve always thought it’s really tasty. I shared the recipe with a friend and now every time we get together with folks, he tells people about how much he likes my “black and white” chili recipe. He says he makes it all the time. He’s a good cook, and a good eater, so I trust his opinion.

I love a meal like this with family or friends – everyone will love it, and putting out bowls of cheese, sour cream, chopped cilantro or any other toppings you’d like for everyone to tailor their own bowl is always fun. Serve this with warm tortillas, corn bread, or try Super-Quick Smoky Cheddar Loaf for a hearty, warming meal.

Tuxedo Chili

Black and White Bean Chicken Chili

If you prefer, you can use ground turkey.

1 medium white onion

2 garlic cloves

1 Tablespoon oil

2 pounds ground chicken

2 teaspoons dried oregano (preferably Mexican)

2 teaspoons ground cumin

1 1/2 teaspoons chili powder

1 teaspoon pepper

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

3 cups water

3 (15 ounce) cans canellini or great northern beans

2 cups chicken broth

1 (16 ounce) can black beans

1 (16 ounce) package frozen white shoepeg corn

1 (4.5 ounce) can chopped green chiles

Chop the onion and garlic finely. Add to the oil in a large Dutch oven . Saute over medium high heat until soft and translucent. Do not brown. Remove the onions and garlic to a bowl and set aside. (If the onions brown and overcook, the final color of the chili will be muddy. It will still taste delicious, but won’t look as nice. You can always top it with lots of cheese). Add the ground chicken to the pan and cook until browning slightly, breaking up into small pieces. Mix the oregano, cumin, chili powder, pepper and cinnamon in a small bowl, then sprinkle over the chicken. Add the onions and garlic. Pour in three cups of water and bring to a boil. Lower heat to a simmer and cook until the water has reduced by half and the chicken is cooked through.

Meanwhile, drain and rinse two cans of white beans. Place in a blender with the chicken broth and puree until smooth. Drain and rinse the remaining white beans and the black beans. Pour the pureed beans into the chicken mixture and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to medium, add the drained beans, corn, and green chiles and simmer until cooked through and thickened, about 30 minutes.

Serve in big bowls topped with grated cheese, sour cream and chopped cilantro.

This will hold, cooled and covered, overnight and reheated before serving. It will also freeze beautifully.

Serves 6

Maple Mustard Chicken Salad

Back in the summer, I boasted to you that I am a chicken salad savant and that I have versions for every imaginable occasion and all seasons.  This is my favorite fall chicken salad, full of the crispy, crunchy, bold flavors of the season.  And yes, chicken salad is perfect in fall – it’s not just for summer anymore.  And if you’ve got visitors in the house for the holidays, having a nice bowl of chicken salad in the fridge is a great help, for a ready lunch or a nice snack.  And I love the autumnal russet, red, gold and brown colors.

This fall iteration of chicken salad has hearty roasted chicken, crispy apples, crunchy walnuts, smoky bacon, sweet cranberries all bound in a perfectly fall maple-tinged dressing.  Roasting skin-on, bone in breasts gives you nice, rich flavor that stands up to the other bold components. And using dark, grade-B maple syrup boosts the maple flavor.  I tend to prefer this version eaten with a fork, maybe over a few fall green leaves so I leave it a little chunky, but if you prefer it in a sandwich, cut your chicken and apples into appropriately sized pieces.  This recipe makes about four nice-sized servings, but feel free to double or triple the recipe.  And yes, this would be brilliant with leftover Thanksgiving turkey meat.

Maple Mustard Chicken Salad

2 large bone-in, skin on chicken breasts

½ cup mayonnaise

2 Tablespoons Dijon mustard

2 Tablespoons grade-B maple syrup

6 strips of bacon

½ cup walnuts

1 small tart red apple

¼ cup dried cranberries

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Place the chicken breasts on a baking tray lined with foil. Drizzle the chicken with olive oil, season generously with salt and pepper and bake until just cooked, about 35- 40 minutes.  A thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the meat should register 165 degrees.  Remove the chicken from the oven to cool, then remove the skin, pull the meat from the bones and shred or chop into bite-sized pieces. Place the chicken meat into a large bowl.

While the chicken in cooking, cut the bacon into small pieces and cook until crispy.  Drain on paper towels and set aside.  Toast the walnut pieces in a dry skillet, just until they release a nice nutty smell.  Watch carefully as nuts can burn quickly. Set aside.

In a small bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, mustard and maple syrup until smooth.  Core the apple and chop into bite-sized pieces and drop into the bowl with the chicken.  Pour over a little of the dressing and stir to coat.  This will prevent the apples from browning.  Drop in the bacon, walnuts and cranberries and stir to combine.  Add the dressing as you go, a little at a time, until you get the consistency you like.  I think this is the right amount of dressing, but you may prefer to use less.  Taste the finished salad and add salt if you need it – the bacon may take care of this completely.  Refrigerate for several hours to allow the flavors to blend.  The chicken salad will keep in the fridge tightly covered for several days.

Serves about 4

Chicken, Prosciutto and Rosemary Lasagna

A rut-buster.  That’s what this recipe is all about.  Veering off the road a little bit, getting out of the ordinary. Traditional lasagna is a good thing, make no mistake, but it’s nice to go in a different direction every once in a while.  Move away from the meat sauce to a creamy white lasagna, laced with salty prosciutto.

This lasagna is rich and creamy, but the flavor of chicken and the herbaceous note of rosemary make this fresh and bright.  I originally created this recipe for a birthday dinner for my Mom and nephew, who share a birthday, and it has been favorite ever since. This makes a great party dish (it was a hit my recent book club-hosting turn) or an equally fantastic family meal.  I often prepare the recipe in two 8 by 8 inch foil pans, rather than the big 9 by 13 inch standard, so I can freeze one or share it with friends or family. I generally buy fresh lasagna pasta sheets from a local shop that sells fresh pasta products.  I have to ask, but they are always happy to cut some for me.  If you can’t find fresh, dried no-boil noodles work beautifully and are easy to find.  I prefer flat ones to the wavy-edge variety, largely because I think that ruffled type makes my finished product look store-bought, and I surely don’t want to create that effect!

Chicken, Prosciutto and Rosemary Lasagna

Chop the rosemary as finely as possible.  If you have an electric spice grinder or small food processor, this is a great time to use it.  When I have all the chicken shredded and the prosciutto torn, I make two or four equal little piles (depending on whether I am making one big lasagna or two smaller ones) and do the same with the cheese so I have the perfect amount on each layer. 

4 boneless, skinless split chicken breasts

1 ½ cups chicken broth

1 cup water

5 stalks fresh rosemary

1¼ cups (1 ½ sticks) butter

½ cup flour

2 cups milk

1 ½ cups grated parmesan cheese, divided

1 ½ cups heavy cream

½ teaspoon nutmeg

2 Tablespoons finely chopped fresh rosemary, from about 3 stalks

Salt and pepper to taste

1 (9 ounce) package flat no-boil lasagna noodles

¼ pound thinly sliced prosciutto

In a large saucepan, combine the chicken breasts, broth and water.  Add the 5 rosemary stalks and cook over medium heat until the chicken is cooked through, about 15 to 20 minutes. (If you have an instant-read thermometer the temperature should be 160 degrees).  Remove the chicken to a plate to cool.  Reserve 1 cup of the cooking liquid.

Rinse out the pan, wipe dry and return to the heat. Melt the butter over medium heat then whisk in the flour.  Cook, whisking constantly, until smooth and pale, about 8 minutes.  Slowly add the reserved cooking liquid, whisking, then the milk and cream.  Continue whisking until thickened and smooth.  Whisk in 3/4 cup of the cheese, nutmeg, the chopped rosemary, and salt and pepper to taste (add just enough salt to be almost perfect – remember that the prosciutto will add saltiness.).

When the chicken is cool enough to handle, shred the chicken into bite-sized pieces with your hands or two forks.  Cut the prosciutto into bite size pieces with kitchen scissors or roughly tear it up.

Spread a thin layer of sauce over the bottom of a 9 by 13 inch or two 8 by 8 inch square pans.  Top with lasagna noodles, breaking some in half if you need to fit the dish.  Sprinkle the chicken, prosciutto and a 1/3 of the remaining grated cheese.  Spoon over 1/3 of the remaining sauce and spread the layer out.  Repeat with another layer.  Whether you make one large dish or two small, there should be three layers of noodles and two of chicken-prosciutto.  Finish with a layer of noodles, and spread over the last of the sauce, spreading out to cover the noodles. Sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top.  The lasagna can be kept covered in the fridge at this point for up to a day, or wrapped in plastic wrap, then foil and frozen for up to a month. If frozen, thaw completely overnight in the fridge, then bake.

Preheat the oven to 350 degree and bake the lasagna until heated through and bubbly, about 20 minutes.  Let the lasagna sit for several minutes before serving.

Serves 8

Lemon Dill Chicken Salad

I am something of a chicken salad savant.  I came late to the party, having an unreasonable and unfathomable aversion to mayonnaise in my youth and childhood.  That, and little exposure to good chicken salad.  I only choked down bad, plastic-container chicken salad out of politeness at parties and luncheons, and maybe a school cafeteria. Chewy chicken, gloopy mayo, or more likely “salad dressing” and unidentifiable chunks of lord-only-knows, frequently scooped like a baseball.  But when the possibilities of chicken salad opened up to me, it was a culinary floodgate released.  I have such a catalog of chicken salads, for every season, every taste, every occasion, it is hard for me to believe that I haven’t posted one here yet. 

Chicken salad done well is a revelation.  Tender cooked chicken lightly bound in a flavorful dressing, perfectly seasoned, with enough additional ingredients to make it interesting, but no so many to make it overwhelming.  A nice bowl of good chicken salad in the fridge means you never go hungry and is a real boon in the steamy summer months.  It’s a great take along for a weekend away or a picnic.  This Lemon Dill version is a favorite of mine, even though I originally created it for my mom, featuring two of her favorite flavors.  The chicken is cooked to maximize the lemon flavor, crispy vegetables and crunchy pine nuts provide texture and a touch of buttermilk in the minimal dressing adds a nice tang.

You may want to argue about my method of cooking the chicken – but I promise, you will be impressed.  It’s based on the way I often cook Moroccan tagines.  Tightly covered, the chicken and lemons will produce a lot of juice and basically poach in a flavorful broth.  The chicken comes out tender and infused with lemon and dill.  It takes an hour to cook, but a few seconds to put together.

Lemon Dill Chicken Salad

Serve this in a sandwich, spooned into lettuce leaves, or on it’s own with a few crackers

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

2 lemons

1 bunch fresh dill

1 carrot

1 celery stalk

¼ cup pine nuts (or slivered almonds)

½ cup mayonnaise

3 Tablespoon buttermilk

Salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.  Place the chicken breasts in an 8 by 8 inch baking dish and season with salt.  Slice one of the lemons and place over the chicken breasts.  Scatter half of the dill stalks over the chicken and lemons.  Cover the dish tightly with a double layer of foil and bake for 1 hour. 

Meanwhile, finely dice the carrot and celery.  When the chicken is cooked and cool enough to handle, cut it into small, bite-sized pieces.  Place the chicken in a large bowl with the diced carrots and celery.  Toss together with the pine nuts.

In a small bowl, whisk the mayonnaise and buttermilk.  Zest the remaining lemon into the mayonnaise.  Finely chop the remaining dill fronds and add to the mayonnaise dressing with salt to taste and a few grinds of pepper.  Squeeze the juice from the lemon over the chicken in the bowl and toss to coat.  Pour over the dressing and stir to coat evenly.

This chicken salad will keep in an airtight container in the fridge for several days.  Do not leave it out and return to the fridge.  Spoon out what you need and leave the rest chilling.

Serves 6

Chicken and Dumplings

Real Chicken and Dumplings have got to be one of the best examples of good, Southern country cooking.  It is creamy and comforting and one of those dishes that makes something from nothing with amazing results.  There are undoubtedly as many ways to make Chicken and Dumplings as there are cooks who make it.  The biggest debate is probably strips-of-dough dumplings or fluffy drop dumplings.  I am a strip dumplings gal, so that’s what you will find here. I also prefer my Chicken and Dumplings a little creamy, not all broth, but still eaten with a spoon.

Let me be clear. Chicken and Dumplings are not difficult to make from scratch.  Maybe a little involved, but not hard.  And it can be done over a drawn-out period of time, or made in bulk so you have the ingredients on hand.  I do not generally frown on shortcut recipes and time-saving tips, but it has to be said: Bought chicken broth, a rotisserie chicken and canned biscuits do not Chicken and Dumplings make.  You really should try doing this from scratch.  Making the stock is just 3 minutes of dropping the ingredients in a pot and 3 hours of unattended bubbling.  You can make it days ahead and refrigerate, or freeze huge quantities.  The dumplings whip up so quickly, and can be refrigerated for up to a day or frozen for months.  You might consider making a double batch and freezing some to have on hand.  And the last minute cooking and assembly is a cinch.

These dumplings are made with a bit of bacon grease, and that’s what really sets them apart and gives them real flavor.  I keep a container of bacon grease in the kitchen at all times, not in an old coffee can like generations before me, but a nice little red airtight container.  If you don’t keep bacon grease around regularly, then I just don’t know if I can help you.  But you can cook up a few strips of bacon and let the grease cool and solidify.  I keep my grease by the stove, but some people prefer to keep it in the fridge, which is fine, and will speed things up if you are cooking the bacon just for the grease.  Now, you can just substitute more shortening for the grease, but you will really be missing out on taste.

Chicken and Dumplings

You are likely to have some stock and meat leftover, which I consider a bonus.

For the stock:

3 split bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts

3 carrots

3 stalks celery

3 cloves garlic, peeled

1 onion, peeled and quartered

For the dumplings:

1 ½ cups self-rising flour

2 Tablespoons shortening

1 Tablespoon bacon grease, solidified

½ teaspoon salt

Ground black pepper to taste

½ cup milk

To Finish:

Chicken fat from the stock

¼ cup flour

½ cup half-and-half

1 teaspoon poultry seasoning

Salt and pepper to taste

6 cups chicken stock

2 cups shredded chicken meat

Dumplings

Place the chicken breasts, carrots, celery, garlic and onion in a large (5-quart) Dutch oven.  Cover with water, filling the pot almost to the top.  Bring the stock to a boil, reduce the heat to low, skim off any scum that rises and cover the pot.  Simmer for 3 hours, removing the lid from the pot for the last 45 minutes of cooking.  Remove the chicken breasts to a bowl, then strain the stock into another large bowl, discarding the vegetables. Wipe out the pot. Pour any accumulated broth that has accumulated in the bowl with the chicken back into the stock. Let the strained stock sit for at least 30 minutes, skim off the fat from the top and place back in the Dutch oven.  When cool enough to handle, pull the meat from the chicken breasts and shred to bite sized pieces. You can make the stock up to two days ahead and refrigerate covered with plastic wrap.  It is then easier to skim off the solidified fat as well.  Store the chicken meat in a zip-top bag until ready to use.

For the dumplings:

Measure the flour into a bowl and whisk in the salt and pepper.  Cut the shortening and bacon grease into the flour with a fork or pastry cutter until crumbly.  Add the milk and blend until a soft dough forms.  Okay, that’s the traditional way to do it.  I have found that pulsing the flour and fat in the food processor, then adding the milk to form a soft dough works just as well.

Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead 8 to 10 times to bring the dough together.  Pat the dough into a rectangle, then roll out with a floured rolling pin to 1/8 inch thick.  Cut the dough into strips about 1 inch long and ½ inch wide.  These are dumplings, not wedding cake, so don’t worry about perfection.  Place the cut dumplings on a waxed paper lined cookie sheet and refrigerate until ready to use. If refrigerating for more than a few hours, cover with waxed paper.  The dumplings can also be frozen on the cookie sheet until firm and stored in freezer bags.

To finish:

Heat the chicken fat from the stock in the Dutch oven.  It should be at least ¼ cup.  If not, add some oil to make up that amount.  It will sizzle as any liquid stock left in cooks away. When the chicken fat is hot, sprinkle over the flour and whisk until smooth.  Pour in the half-and half, whisking until smooth.  Slowly pour in the chicken stock, whisking constantly until slightly thickened.  Whisk in the poultry seasoning and salt and pepper to taste. Drop in about 2 cups of shredded chicken. Bring the broth to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer and drop in the dumplings a few at a time, giving them a good stir to prevent sticking together.  When all the dumplings have been added, cover the pot and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally so the dumplings don’t stick together.

Serve in bowls immediately.

Serves 6, or a really hungry family of 4

Green Chicken Chilaquiles

There are some recipes or food ideas you come across that stick with you, who knows why.  Chilaquiles is one of those ideas for me.  Over the years, I have come across recipes or food travel articles about Mexico or the Southwest that talk about this dish – one that uses leftover tortillas, sauce and meat.  My impression of chilaquiles came to be of a dish that Mexican housewives throw together in the days following a big cooking occasion, to use up the homemade tortillas that had gone stale, the intricately layered sauces and the remaining bits of perfectly roasted meat.  This idea appealed to me, and stuck in my mind as something I hoped to try someday.  Then it happened.  I came across chilaquiles on the menu of a local Mexican restaurant.  This particular place specialized in seafood, and offered shrimp as a chilaquiles option, with red sauce or green sauce.  I ordered green shrimp chilaquiles and absolutely devoured the dish, glad to finally have an understanding of what it was all about.  I ordered green chicken chilaquiles in New Mexico some time later, and that convinced me to try to re-create the dish at home.  First I considered frying freshly bought tortillas, carefully constructing a sauce with fresh tomatillos, roasted peppers and a raft of ingredients.  But it occurred to me that the whole point of chilaquiles is a great dish to throw together when you are not in the mood to spend hours in the kitchen.  So I went the other direction, using ingredients where most of the work had been done for me.  I find all these ingredients readily in the Hispanic food aisle of my local chain grocery. Chilaquiles are often served for a late breakfast, but I prefer them as a quick-to-throw-together dinner.

Green Chicken Chilaquiles

If you can’t find the canned tomatillos, use an equal weight of fresh, husked and cleaned.

For the sauce:

1 (12-ounce) can tomatillos, rinsed and drained

1 (4-ounce) can diced green chiles

3 cloves of garlic

1 teaspoon ground cumin

½ teaspoon mild chili powder

½ teaspoon Mexican oregano (optional)

A big handful of cilantro leaves

Assembly:

3 cups shredded cooked chicken

9 – 10 tostadas

12 ounces queso fresco, crumbled

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Place all the ingredients for the sauce in the carafe of a blender and blend until smooth.  Pour about 1 cup of sauce over the bottom of a 9” by 13” casserole, spreading to cover the bottom of the dish.  Crush the tostadas in a ziptop bag to rough shards and place about a third over the sauce.  Add the chicken and half the queso fresco, then another third of the tostadas.  Pour over the remaining sauce, and then layer on the last of the tostadas and top with the remaining cheese.

Bake the chilaquiles for 15 – 20 minutes until warmed through, bubbling around the edges and the cheese is golden in places.  Serve immediately, with extra crushed tostada if desired.

Serves 6

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Chicken Enchiladas with Pumpkin Sauce

Pumpkin Enchiladas

I don’t do Halloween.  Of course, as a kid it was my favorite time of year, what with the candy and all.  I used to spend weeks thinking about my costume, and they were almost always homemade.  I was Darth Vadar one year in a navy blue blanket and German helmet a neighbor kid’s grandfather brought back from World War II.  One year I had chicken pox and my brother shared his candy with me.  It was probably another fifteen years before he did anything that sweet again.

But as an adult, I have given up on Halloween.  I am not good at the clever costumes.  Two failed attempts put me off the idea for good.  My neighborhood is a popular trick-or-treating area, but I lock the doors, turn off all the lights and retreat upstairs where I can’t be seen.  It is all feeding what I fear may be my growing reputation as the Crazy Old Miss Lady who lives down the street.

But I have tried to establish one Halloween tradition of my own, these super-seasonal enchiladas.  They a perfect warming meal after a night of trick-or-treating or a great dish for a grown-ups only party.  I usually make the big family sized batch, but divide them between smaller dishes to deliver to family and friends.  You can cook and shred the chicken ahead of time and store in a ziptop bag in the fridge, or the enchiladas will keep covered in the fridge for a whole day, so they are just ready to pop in the oven when the little monsters return from their mischief.  This recipe would also be a great way to use leftover cooked Thanksgiving turkey, and a real departure from plain old leftovers.

Chicken Enchiladas in Pumpkin Sauce

Serve a little sour cream on the side.

4 boneless skinless chicken breasts

3 cups chicken broth

1 large bunch cilantro

juice of 2 limes

8 green onions, white and some dark green parts, sliced

2  (15 – ounce) cans pumpkin puree (not pie filling)

6 garlic cloves

1/2 chipotle chiles in adobo sauce

1 tablespoon adobo sauce from can

1 jalapeno chile, ribs and seeds removed

1 teaspoon chili powder

2 teaspoons ground cumin

1 ½ cups water

salt and pepper to taste

12 – 16 corn tortillas

3 cups white cheddar or Monterey jack cheese, shredded

Place the chicken breasts in a large saucepan with the broth, juice from one lime and a handful of cilantro, leaves and stems.  Bring to a boil, lower the heat then poach the breasts until thoroughly cooked, about 15 minutes. The juices should run clear when a breast is pierced with a knife.  Remove from broth and leave to cool; discard the broth.  Shred the chicken using fingers or a fork and set aside.

Working in two batches, place pumpkin puree, juice of one lime, green onions, garlic cloves, chipotles and adobo sauce, jalapeno, chili powder, cumin, water, salt and pepper and half the remaining cilantro leaves in a blender.  Puree until smooth and combined.  Pour into a bowl.  Repeat with the second batch, pour into the bowl and stir to combine.  The sauce will taste raw at this point but don’t worry, it will be great when cooked.

Finely chop the remaining cilantro leaves. Put aside 1 1/2 cups of the grated cheese.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a large 13 by 9 inch ovenproof casserole. Pour in about 1 cup of pumpkin sauce and spread to cover the bottom of the casserole.

Wrap the tortillas in a damp tea towel or a few damp paper towels.  Microwave for 30 seconds to soften the tortillas and make them pliable.  Keep the tortillas covered with the damp cloth while assembling the enchiladas.  You may want to zap them again during the process to keep them soft.

Lay a tortilla on a work surface.  Pile a small handful of chicken and a small handful of cheese on top and sprinkle with cilantro leaves.  Roll the tortilla up and place seam side down in the casserole on top of the sauce.  Repeat with remaining ingredients.  Stuff the tortilla rolls closely together in the casserole.

Pour the remaining sauce over and around the enchiladas to cover.  Sprinkle the top with the reserved cheese. There may be a little more sauce than needed to cover the enchiladas.

Bake the enchiladas until cooked through and bubbling, about 45 minutes. Cover with foil halfway through baking time if the cheese begins to brown.

The casserole can be covered and refrigerated several hours before cooking.

Serves 8 – 10

Better Than a Flu Shot Chicken Soup

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Well, it seems that flu season has well and truly descended.  Everyday I hear of yet  another friend picking up kids early from school, then the rest of the house comes down with the yuck.  And I watch the news.  I am considering buying stock in the hand-sanitizer companies. So with that in mind, what better action to take than to cook up your own batch of cure-all.

Really, is there anything more comforting than a nice warming bowl of soup when you feel icky?  And nothing says love better than homemade chicken noodle soup, that queen of comfort foods.  Now, don’t freak out, I am not asking you to undertake some massive kitchen project. Anyone with a big pot can make good, fresh, chemical and additive free chicken soup.  It just takes a little patience – and for such great reward.  If you have never, or at least not in a very long time, had homemade chicken noodle soup, you will be blown away by the difference.  No chemical tang or aftertaste, just good, clean flavor and fresh vegetables and chicken, chock full of healthy and restorative ingredients.  Plus, chicken soup is perfect for a whole host of ills, not just the flu.  It makes a wonderful and welcome gift to friends who are under the weather.  It will last several days in the fridge, requiring just a quick re-heat to serve up a steaming bowl of good health.

This particular recipe includes lots of health-boosting ingredients.  Ginger relives nausea and eases pain, Garlic is antibacterial and it helps fight colds and viruses. Leeks contain iron, fennel is high in vitamin C, and rosemary is good for headaches. Parsley is also high in Vitamin C and helps boost circulation, while sage has antibiotic properties. Oregano is antimicrobial and great for colds and flu, carrots contain antioxidants and onions are anti-inflammatory.  Consider putting all this information on a card or note when you deliver the soup to a sick friend.

Not feeling the flu yet?  Lucky you, but take this opportunity to put together a batch today and freeze it, without the noodles, for when (or if, hopefully) you are laid low.

This recipe also hits on that other hot-button of the day.  Making this big ol’ pot of goodness costs under ten dollars, and that’s with some vegetables, herbs and chicken meat left over for chicken salad or pot pie.  So it’s comforting and cost-effective, no matter what ails you.

Chicken Noodle Penicillin

In general, but particularly when I am sick, or making this for someone who is, I always use organic vegetables, a hormone and antibiotic free chicken and noodles with as few additives as I can find (label reading is good).

1 whole chicken, no liver or gizzards

1 medium onion

2 medium leeks

1 small fennel bulb

3 carrots

3 celery ribs

10 cloves garlic

3 green onions

1 large sprig rosemary

1 large sprig oregano

2 bay leaves

3-4 stalks parsley

1 large sprig sage

1 – inch piece peeled ginger

2 teaspoons peppercorns

Sea salt

10 – 12 cups water

To Finish:

2 carrots, peeled

2 celery ribs

3 green onions, white part only

6 ounces wide egg noodles

2 cups chicken meat

sea salt to taste

Wash all the vegetables and rinse the cavity of the chicken well. . Place the chicken in a large Dutch oven or stock pot (7 quarts) with a lid.  Peel the onion and cut it into pieces, toss in the pot.  Trim the roots and the dark green parts of the leeks, cut the white into chunks, rinse off, and toss in the pot. Remove the lacy fronds from the fennel, remove the outer layer of the bulb, chop into quarters and toss in. Cut a few feathery fronds and add.  Cut the carrots and celery into chunks and add to the pot.  Trim the roots from the green onions and toss them in with the rest of the ingredients.  Pour over the 10 – 12 cups water.  Bring to a boil, lower the heat to medium, cover the pot and simmer for 2 hours.

When the soup has cooked, pour the whole pot into a colander set over a large bowl.  Pull out the chicken pieces and discard the vegetables. Rinse out the pot and wipe any pieces out. Leave the broth and chicken to cool slightly.  When cool enough to handle, pull the meat off the chicken bones (no skin or fat!) and shred into bite-sized pieces.  You may have more than the two cups meat needed to finish the soup; reserve it for another use.  Set aside.  Skim as much fat as you can from the top of the broth.  You can refrigerate the broth for a few hours to solidify the fat before removing if you’d like.

Finely dice the two peeled carrots and two celery ribs and the green onions.  Remember that the final product is meant to be eaten with a spoon, so make the pieces small enough.  Same goes with the chicken meat.  Add the vegetables back to the cleaned pot and pour in 2 cups of skimmed broth.  Cover and cook over medium high heat until the vegetables are soft, about 15 minutes.  Remove the cover and cook until the broth is almost gone.  Pour in the remaining broth and bring to a boil.  Add the noodles, cover the pot again and cook for about 8 minutes, until the noodles are soft but not limp.  Stir in the chicken meat and heat through. Season to taste with sea salt.

Serve immediately, or leave the soup to cool.  When completely cool, ladle into ziptop bags or glass jars and seal tightly.  The soup will keep for three days sealed in the fridge.  To freeze, ladle the soup into ziptop freezer bags before adding the noodles, seal tightly, and freeze for up to three months.

When ready to eat, pour into a pot and heat over medium high heat until warmed and steaming.  Add the noodles until cooked if necessary.

Serves 6

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