There is nothing like a warm, comforting bowl of chicken and dumplings at the end of a long week. There’s a saying in the South, “Your mama doesn’t really love you if you come home and she doesn’t make you chicken and dumplings!” It’s a special meal, a Sunday dinner dish served in your best china for friends and family alike. In this world of the hurry-up-and-eat syndrome, chicken and dumplings makes you want to linger at the table and catch up with your nieces and nephews, finding out whom they’re dating, how that weekend in Charleston was or how the internship is working out. Summer or winter, it matters not as this dish is held in high regard by all. The dumplings are drop dumplings, light and fluffy, speckles of freshly cracked black pepper riddled throughout and surrounded by a fragrant and savory chicken broth. Oh, but this is a most satisfying meal! And guess what? There’s also a quick method of preparing it. Yes. It’s called rotisserie chicken. This recipe reheats the following day quite well, however, chicken and dumplings don’t freeze well, at least not any I’ve ever made. I’ve found the wider the pot the dish cooks in the better the dumplings, as a large surface area gives them room to spread and remain tender. Stewed green beans, collards, baked or fried okra, broccoli and creamed spinach are all delicious sides to serve. I hope you prepare this classic. Your family will think you slaved over a hot stove all day and love you all the more for it!
If you choose to use a store-bought rotisserie chicken make certain you purchase either a plain one or a flavor that marries well with the dish, certainly not BBQ or fried. Pour half of the chicken broth into the pot, add the vegetables and bring to a gentle boil. While the vegetables cook, shred the chicken by hand. Add the shredded chicken to the pot once the vegetables are tender and prior to adding the dumpling batter.
This is island comfort food. Served with red beans and rice, Sweet sliced avocado and juicy rounds of tomato, this stew will feed crowds and satisfy all. Pollo en fricase was served to my older sister and me at least once a week during summers spent in Puerto Rico. We couldn’t get enough of it. Having a mother who didn’t know how to cook and didn’t care to learn pretty much guaranteed bland at best, off-putting and unpalatable at worst, dinners at home in Fort Lauderdale. For Cynthia and me, Puerto Rico was a richness of flavors, a panoply of scents rolling out of the kitchen of our grandparents’ home, heady and overwhelming in their mystery and perfume. All sorts of rules were broken. As little girls we were served strong Puerto Rican coffee with steamed milk sweetened with all the sugar a child could want every morning with breakfast. I knew of no child in Fort Lauderdale given coffee with breakfast. In Puerto Rico it was unheard of to have a sandwich for lunch, something almost expected at home. Our midday meal was invariably the largest meal of the day with dinner being a much smaller serving of what had been prepared for lunch or we could choose to have soda crackers with butter and Quick, chocolate milk. Chocolate milk for dinner? Another rule broken. At our home in Fort Lauderdale chocolate milk was not allowed…ever. It was understood between my parents and Cynthia and me that our summer indulgences were allowed unrestricted. We weren’t aware at the time but it turns out whatever happened in Puerto Rico stayed in Puerto Rico. Buen provecho!
This stew could be served alone it is that hearty. With the addition of potatoes and/or pumpkin it is a complete meal. Both white meat and dark meat work well in this dish, however, if white meat is used make certain the stew never heats up to more than a simmer. A healthy, boiling pot will guarantee dry, tough meat. I take the skin off of all the pieces of chicken because the skin becomes incredibly unappealing after having been simmered in the sauce. I usually prepare boneless chicken as it can be difficult to maneuver around a slippery bone with a fork and knife. The cup of sofrito called for in the recipe is necessary for a spectacular result so make sure you don’t leave it out. It can be bought in the international section of your grocery store but better would be home-made. That recipe can be found at http://wp.me/s264J2-sofrito and is easy as can be. If your family isn’t wild about olives they may be left out. I try to find green olives with the pits still in as I think they add more flavor to the recipe. Please don’t feel you have to use your best bottle of wine, either. Jimmy went out and $7.00 on a bottle of Pinot Grigio, it was perfect and didn’t break the bank.
2 tablespoons adobo seasoning or the seasoning blend of your choice. Adobo is an all-purpose blend of salt, garlic powder, oregano, black pepper and turmeric.
3 tablespoons achiote oil (optional) This may also be found at the grocery store on the international aisle or on the blog at http://wp.me/p264J2-EB.
1 cup of sofrito
2 1/2 cups of onion, chopped
2 large cubanelle peppers, cleaned of seeds and inner white ribbing, chopped
1 bunch of cilantro, washed, dried and leaves chopped
1 head garlic, minced
1 heaping tablespoon dried oregano
1 standard 750-ml bottle inexpensive Pinot Grigio or dry white wine
3 carrots, peeled and cut into 1/4″ rounds
2 pounds calabasa or butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1″ cubes
1 15-ounce can tomato sauce
3/4 cup small green olives
1/3 cup capers, rinsed and drained
salt and pepper to taste
In a large bowl combine the chicken, lime juice and adobo and mix well making certain all surfaces of the meat have been competely coated. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside to marinate for an hour if you have the time. An afternoon or overnight is ideal for the best flavor.
In your largest saucepan heat the achiote oil over medium, add the chicken with the surface that would have had skin facing down, and brown for 5-6 minutes.
Add the sofrito, onion, cubanelle pepper, garlic, oregano and cilantro and cook until softened stirring all the while.
Raise the heat to medium high and pour into the pot the bottle of wine. Continue to stir and scrape the cooked bits from the pan as the wine evaporates, 4-5 minutes.
Add the carrots, pumpkin, if using potatoes add them now, tomato sauce, olives and capers. Stir well to combine all the flavors.
Taste for any needed salt and pepper and bring to a boil.
As soon as the stew begins to boil, cover and drop the heat to simmer. Cook for 1-1 1/2 hours or until chicken is tender to the fork.
This is my new go-to, middle of the week, what the heck am I gonna feed ’em dinner. I love to cook, yes, but often I feel irritated and uninspired and just plain resentful that, once again, I’M in charge of dinner. Want to blow those dark feelings away? Well, here’s my solution. Mediterranean Chicken. My boys love, love, love it. We’ve had it maybe four times in the past week and a half and they are thrilled every single time. They hang over the pan, big, sad eyes wanting a taste. Every time I hear another story, “I just need a little taste to tide me over.” Or “Mama! Please! I never had lunch!”. I love it. And Lawdy, it is one easy recipe; most ingredients are probably lounging in your pantry waiting to be used. Redolent with the flavors of the Mediterranean, this dish is ready from start to finish in about one hour. Other ingredients may be added such as olives and capers but I tend to stay away from adding more ingredients with strong flavors as they take over and obliterate the more subtle notes of artichoke and lemon.
Mediterranean Chicken is heavenly served over noodles, mashed potatoes or rice and, my favorites, roasted spaghetti squash or mashed boniato, a kind of white sweet potato loved by Hispanics. This dish is perfect for all you gravy lovers and delicious the following day. Another quick dinner is to serve it with a few bags of fresh spinach sautéed with garlic, seared asparagus and hot, crunchy bread. Enjoy!
1/2 packed cup sun-dried tomatoes, dried not in oil, chopped
5 garlic cloves, finely grated or minced
grated zest of one lemon
1 8.5 ounce can artichoke heart, drained, moisture squeezed out and roughly chopped
1 1/3 cups white wine, chicken broth or water
salt and pepper to taste
Pour olive oil into a large, high sided frying pan and heat over medium to medium high heat.
Salt and pepper chicken thighs and place all of them “skin” side down. Do not spread open the chicken. They’re best bunched up as they are packaged.
When chicken has browned turn all the pieces over to the other side, the side where the bone was.
When the bone side of the chicken has browned remove to a bowl and set aside.
To the pan juices add the onion, garlic and chopped sun-dried tomatoes and stir until well combined.
When the onion is clear add the grated lemon and artichoke hearts and stir well. Pour in the wine, broth or water. I’ve even done combinations of the three when I didn’t have much on hand. It all comes out great.
Return thighs to the pan, moving the onion artichoke mixture around and spooning it over all the chicken.
Cover and lower to a simmer. Cook the chicken over low heat for 30 minutes or until fork tender.
Oh, how we suffer when our children are not well, when they stumble and fall or when life deals them an unjust card. As mothers we do everything in our power to right the wrong but sometimes… well, it’s just not up to us. And when our hands are tied we support them in every possible way we can. Often food is the tool to bring comfort, the sense of safety, the warm blanket of security and sanctuary. Whether it be a long day or week for our precious ones or something more serious, I find I turn unwaveringly to comfort food . No matter what, the old American diehards, chicken and dumplings, biscuit, mashed potatoes, pot roast, often take the leading role. A cake, a pie, spinach artichoke dip… any number of dishes make the perfect offering. These offerings are our way of saying, “I want to help.”, “I understand.”, “I’m on your side.”. Many years ago when my husband, Jimmy’s, mother died, an extended family member baked some blondie-like bars, beyond belief luscious. Here’s the relationship. Jimmy’s brother-in-law’s brother’s daughter. The family came from New York to Boston to give comfort and this young girl, Anastasia, baked that sweet to offer comfort. I’ve never forgotten that kindness, or how crazy scrumptious they were, and when I thanked her she replied, “It’s nothing. It’s what I do when I’m sad.” Today she is the head of a successful company which produces only American-made chocolate sauces and candied nuts by the name of Old School Favorites. When she ships out her product she still provides comfort and happiness to countless kids who arrive home to the delights of an after-school hot fudge sundae to the person who wasn’t promoted and needs a late night, emergency chocolate shot while wrapped in their flannels alone in the kitchen. Anastasia’s Blondie Bars were the best I have EVER tasted. I cannot forget them after all these years, but sadly, she has forgotten and has no earthly idea what it was she baked. So here’s the thing. When you’re in trouble, when things have gone terribly wrong, when your world has come crashing down and you’re hurting, LET YOUR FRIENDS HELP YOU. When your girls, your posse, your circle, reaches out to you accept their offering. They want to help. They want to make things better. To ease your pain. And so often dinner and a bottle of wine in a basket is the only comfort they can provide. As I write this I have a best friend, divorced, whose son suffered greatly this past week with some highly critical medical issues. He’s somewhat out of the woods but the stress and worry are monumental. Lack of sleep and the feeling of helplessness compound her physical and mental exhaustion. Her son spoke of dying…and heaven. Tough words for a mother to hear. I can’t, no, I don’t want to imagine what it was like to be in her shoes this past week. I texted her that I was still out-of-town and that I’d be home the following night. That I’d like to take them dinner several nights a week. I asked if I may do that for her, that it would be one small chore she didn’t need to bother with. And then I held my breath watching the little “bubbles” moving about my cell phone screen indicating she was replying. “YES!!!” was her answer. I’m elated. I can’t heal her boy but I sure can feed him! Gladly, GLADLY I can do that. And this is what I’m taking. Shawarma-style chicken. Rich, oven-roasted chicken thighs well-seasoned with a warm middle-eastern touch using, along with other aromatic spices, turmeric, cumin and cinnamon, the chicken then cut into strips topping a cold, crisp salad of organic greens dressed with a homemade creme fraiche dressing. And to heighten the flavors of the chicken I’ll throw in some sweet and tart apple…maybe a chopped Macoun. Did I mention the crunchy, savory lardon, (fancy French term for bacon bits or match sticks), I’ll be scattering over that salad? Or the warm, homemade pita bread I’ll tuck into the basket? Well, that’s what I’m taking. It’s all easy and pretty. So when you want to do something for a friend that’s hurting, take an old classic and make it a new classic. Prepare one of your favorites you know your friend will appreciate. Or make this outrageous dish of chicken thighs. And keep on giving. It’s the season!
Shawarma is an Arabic meat preparation popular all through the Middle East including Greece (gyros) and Turkey (doner). Traditionally large chunks of chicken, beef, lamb or pork are roasted on a rotating, vertical spit. As the meat rotates, crispy, thin shavings are sliced and served on pita bread or plated with all manner of fresh and pickled vegetables and, of course, yoghurt sauce, tahini or hummus. When we order gyro in Greece often they are prepared with lettuce, tomato, tzatziki, mustard, ketchup and hot, salty french fries all wrapped up in a warm pillow of pita. Somehow it all works! Often I serve these chicken thighs whole over a salad or sliced on soft pita bread with shredded lettuce, chopped tomato, the caramelized onions the chicken baked on and tzatziki, that mouth-watering, garlicky yoghurt dip. I thought I had posted a recipe for my tzatziki but, apparently, slacker that I am, I haven’t. I don’t have set amounts but it’s an incredibly easy and forgiving sauce/dip. Peel a cucumber and, over a clean tea towel, shred the cucumber using the large holes of a box grater. Gather up the tea towel and, over the sink, squeeze the water out of the cucumber. Squeeze out as much liquid as you can. Transfer the cucumber to a medium bowl. Grate one or two garlic cloves into the cucumber. Add 2-3 tablespoons of good olive oil and 2 cups of Fage brand plain Greek yoghurt. Here’s the deal. I’ve found that a “Greek-STYLE” yoghurt is, typically, thin and watery and your tzatziki will be proof of that. The only yoghurt brand I use is Fage. It’s what they use in Greece. It’s thick and creamy the way yoghurt is supposed to be. If you can pour the yoghurt you don’t want it! And I use fat-free. It’s so rich and lush you’ll not see the difference. Mix the tzatziki well and season to taste with salt. Cover with plastic wrap and chill until serving. There. You got a two-fer!
I was recently invited to help with a wedding shower for a sweet, sweet girl who also happens to be of the millennial generation. From what I’ve been told these young men and women are more than reluctant to entertain because they just don’t know how. I was fortunate in that my mother was all about the party and although she didn’t cook she was a great hostess, always in the know about the town’s premier caterers, florists and bartenders. Mama made certain we, my sisters and brother, all knew how to prep the house before a party, how to lay a table and how to arrange the flowers in every room. I am eternally thankful. Over the years I’ve built up a stable of no-fail recipes for all manner of get-togethers. Here in the South chicken salad is the queen of ladies luncheons, wedding and baby showers and lunch out with the girls. This curried chicken salad recipe is outstanding in flavor, ease and portability. It actually should be prepared one day in advance of serving thus freeing up more precious time. I’ve taken it to the Keys for Girl’s Weekend in a gallon size freezer bags and to friend’s houses in plastic quart containers for baby showers and funerals. I’m telling you, it travels well. The sweetness of the curry, pineapple and banana marry well with the savory flavors of the roasted chicken, celery and Greek yoghurt. There is a slight departure from the Southern chicken salad rule. In the South only white meat, the breast, is used. Thigh meat or any dark meat in this dish is considered downright trashy but I’m here to say that’s old school! I find solely using breast meat leaves your salad flat and lacking somewhat in flavor whereas the addition of dark meat gives an added richness and succulence. And by all means, take advantage of grocery store rotisserie chickens. Many a time I’ve used them and do they save time. I use my hands to pick off every bit of skin and and fat. If the grocery store birds are small you’ll need two. If large, one will suffice. Lordy, but it’s good. Whether or not you toast the pecans is strictly up to you. Toasted or untoasted, both yield a gorgeous flavor. A fat dollop of chutney on top is a lovely touch and won’t be unnoticed by your guests. I typically use whatever homemade I have on hand but on those occasions I’ve been without I use Crosse & Blackwell’s Hot Mango Chutney. It’s not really hot; in fact it’s barely spicy and the chutney needs to have a little backbone if you are going to include it in this dish. The salad may be plated on a bed of baby greens or as a sandwich on crunchy French bread. Along side some sliced fresh fruit and a handful of cold, lightly steamed haricot vert you will have a luncheon to be proud of!
When I flew down to Puerto Rico 30…35 years ago to begin work with Delta Airlines nothing prepared me for the level of partying that took place on that island. The island celebrates a good 26, 26!, holidays. Both January and July have 4 public holidays! Sure, I had spent months, whole summers, vacationing with our grandparents and making the rounds to visit all the extended family members during the holidays. But as a child and even as a young adult, one has no idea the degree of seriousness taken to make merry until one is wholly independent. There were scads of Lopez family parties. All-day pig roasts were pretty common place at my Tio Enrique’s mountain farm. Being girls my sisters, cousins and I were not privy to the surreptitious sipping of rum my male cousins and uncles enjoyed while overseeing the roasting of the pig on a spit. Even the farm hand whose job was to stand all day and turn the spit enjoyed the fruit of the cane. Whenever our grandfather or any of our uncles would wander up to the house they were always so relaxed and happy… there’s a big surprise. So, after college, when I moved to Puerto Rico I completely embraced this new lifestyle of “party down”. My friends were the kids who had also been hired by Delta; all 12 local except me. We were known as “the Dirty Dozen”.
Training had been incredibly rigorous and demanding. We were often and regularly tested on airline and Delta standards and it was made perfectly clear we would not be hired if we failed. I remember one woman crying and saying she couldn’t make it…it was too hard. I tried to get across to her it was just a matter of memorization. To have been hired by Delta was quite an achievement at that time. Literally hundreds of people had applied for our 13 positions in reservations. She quit. Right in the middle of our six-week training. Her name was Sonia. I’ll never forget. Anyway, when the weekend or any holiday rolled around we were ready. We became really close, the 12 of us, and spent free time together. We had parties in clubs, in each other’s homes, at the beach, really anywhere we could. We’d dance the night away and sip on rum.
I remember one of the boys in our group went crabbing and I tasted for the first time crab cooked in tomatoes, wine, garlic, onions and fresh bay leaves. The crabs were simmered in an enormous pot in the back courtyard of someone’s house. The next day I went out and bought an equally big pot and still have it to this day. One of the dishes I was introduced to was “Pescado en Escaveche”, ceviche or pickled fish. It was eaten as an hors d’oeuvre, the sauce cold, tart and salty. The fish was sweet and tender. These tastes were most welcome on blistering, hot tropical days. Through the years I’ve changed the recipe to feature bite sized pieces of chicken which are fried then marinated. Steeped in a pot-pourri of vinegar, caramelized onions and black peppercorns, it’s one of those perfect pairings that need to be prepared in advance. Yay. I’m all for anything that can be made in advance. Just right to serve or take to a party. I usually offer this dish with whole grain wheat crackers, Triscuits, but I’ve also presented it with thin, toasted rounds of French bread. It’s fantastic and no one, NO ONE, ever shows up with it!
3 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into 1″ pieces
1/4 cup flour
2 large cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
In a large acid resistant pot or kettle simmer uncovered 1 cup olive oil, vinegar, 1 teaspoon salt, bay leaves and onions for about 1 hour. Set aside to cool.
Mix flour with remaining salt and toss chicken in it to completely coat. Discard leftover flour.
In a large frying pan heat remaining 1/2 cup olive oil with the garlic cloves. As soon as the cloves begin to brown remove from pan and discard the garlic.
Over medium heat cover bottom of pan with one layer of chicken frying in batches if necessary so as not to crowd the pan.
In a Pyrex or glass container pour half the warm onion-vinegar sauce. Add half the chicken, the remaining sauce and then the remaining chicken. Gently toss to thoroughly coat the chicken with the sauce.
Recently on Facebook one of my high school friend posted a “You know you’re from Ft. Lauderdale if…” and mentioned a children’s clothing store here which, by the way, is STILL here! It was every mother’s favorite and the #1 hated store of many little girls. My mother was one of those ladies. I was one of those little girls. When I was really little my dream of party dresses was pink and frothy. With layers of tulle and organza in the palest of pinks. That dream went hand-in-hand with my baton twirling dream. When I told Mama I wanted baton twirling lessons instead of tennis lessons, well, let’s just say she looked at me as if I had two heads. She’d smile and then promptly reply, “We’ll see. One day.” Which I learned meant, “Oh, yeah. You can have that… when donkeys fly.” I wanted to spin and twirl that baton just like the girls in the Miss America pageant; throwing the baton high, High, HIGH in the air and tossing my head back with a satisfied, confidant smile on my face when it came spiraling down like a flash of light and I CAUGHT IT. But that wasn’t to be. Formal ballet classes from a Russian ex-ballerina were the closest I would ever get to any kind of stardom. So when the day came that Mama took inventory of my closet and made the announcement, “Cielo! You need another party dress!” I was sucked into the magical vortex of fairyland pink one more time. We got into the car and as we drove down Las Olas those visions of creamy pink organza and rosy silks swirling around my head. And then we pulled into the parking lot of that hateful store, Flora Ottimer. God, but I hated that place! It was so…white. I don’t think any of the little girls I knew liked it either. It was just one more bitter disappointment we all had to endure. We had resigned ourselves to the daily school and play clothes picked out by our mothers but a party dress was altogether different. I mean, a girl can dream, right? There were two women who worked in that store. Jo, who was friendly and nice. I always implored the Virgin Mary, (she’s a girl…she’d understand), that Jo be working the days we went in. She understood the dream of every little girl who wanted to be swathed in miles of frosting pink tulle. The kind of foamy, fluffy 100% sheer polyester that would go up in flames in a heartbeat if someone even walked by you with a lit cigarette. Yes, sweet Jo was on our side. She knew we would NEVER see that dream come true but she was so damn nice about it that it almost made it okay. And then there was Betty. We all hated her. She was thin and mean. She had a flat, short haircut…like a boy. She took pleasure in our disappointment. But worse she always, always, ALWAYS timed it so that right when you were down to your panties and socks, just sticking your toe into some hideous dress SHE’D YANK BACK THE DRESSING ROOM CURTAIN so everyone could see you and say, “Everything all right in there?” She’d just stand there with the dressing room curtain pulled wide open and stare at you with a little smile on her tight, pinched face. When we were older we called her “Betty Bitch” under our breath. In retrospect I do believe she batted for the other side.
Anyway, in spite of all the ominous signs I held on to my hope. We walked in thru the back, everyone did, enveloped in the welcome chill of air conditioning. And that’s when it happened. Mama looked up at the wall and gasped with wonder and excitement. “Pink, pink, pink!”, I furiously hoped. Then I looked up. “Oh, sweet Jesus”, I thought. “What fresh hell is this?” Well, maybe I didn’t think those exact words but I certainly felt them! There, displayed on the wall, spread out in all it’s ghastly glory was THE ugliest dress I had ever seen. Truly. Although now I realize it was one of my nicest dresses but I sure didn’t think that at the time. It was red wool, short-sleeved with a maybe one inch band of red and green plaid wool around the bottom of the sleeve. The dress had a jewel neckline with tobacco colored leather piping. The front sported two pockets, the flaps of the pockets in the red and green plaid each with the thin leather piping AND EACH WITH A BUTTON COVERED IN WOVEN BROWN LEATHER. I know it cost a small fortune. It was an absolute classic. But these were not the clothes Barbie wore. Noooo. These were the clothes Caroline Kennedy wore. Lots of Florence Eiseman outfits. Cotton knit sundresses and short sets with a sail boat sown on the front. Or an applique of a piece of watermelon with black seeds studded in the bright fruit. That was our summer wear. Winter would have us in cardigans over cotton turtle necks splendidly adorned with tiny, stupid, little dogs or birds, corduroy pants, and solid, plain leather shoes. Winter formal wear consisted of wool or flannel dresses in Black Watch, Royal Stewart or MacLachlan plaids, white tights and black, patent leather Mary Janes. At summer parties one might find us in a dotted Swiss, Pima cotton or seersucker party dress.
Well, I never got baton lessons, I never got to take jazz or tap, I never got to have a TV dinner and I never got to wear long, drippy earrings or a long, flowy BLACK lace veil to mass like my mother and aunts. We never had hotdogs and the Charles Chip truck never, NOT ONCE, pulled into our driveway. I also never got my pink, cotton candy dress. Life is like that. This is what we got for dinner instead of frozen pizza and frozen french fries.