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 white kind of sweet potato but it’s not a 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.
I knew I wouldn’t go back to sleep when my body rebelled and I awoke at 4:00 Sunday morning. I lay in bed wondering what the day would bring…would I go to church or work out? Would it be a sunny day or a rainy day? I watched the silent paddles of the ceiling fan slowly rotate in giant sweeps, appreciating the cool, early morning darkness. When early morning sleep eludes me, I typically reach for my cell phone and peruse my favorite news outlets, NYT, BBC and CNN. This Sunday was no different until I glanced at all the screaming banners across the face of the phone. Now we know all the horrific details of the Orlando shootings. And my heart aches for all the friends and families of those whose lives were so brutally ended. As I write this I can’t get past the thought that those kids, and they were kids, weren’t hurting anyone. And now their loved ones are suffering indescribably and they weren’t hurting anyone either. Life for them, those left behind, will never, EVER be the same. When I want to give comfort or take away someones pain and helplessly can’t, I turn to food. Many an almost-strangers door I’ve knocked on with a pan of hot, buttermilk biscuit, a gentle and calming pound cake or a warm, reassuring casserole in hand. Whether my offering is for a close friend or neighbor or someone I’ve never met, food is always my contribution…my way of wrapping my arms around someone I may or may not know. So this is what I wish I could take to all those in pain. I’m not foolish enough to think it would ease their agony but it is all I have to give. That and my sincere and earnest prayers.
This recipe is incredibly forgiving. If you’re a little low on ingredients it rolls with it. Really the only part that can’t be played with is the broth/rice ratio. Feel free to add more or less of the vegetables or any combination you prefer. The final baking in the oven ensures the rice will be beautifully cooked. There’s enough for your family and another family. It always seems to be what a loved one with a cold wants. If you plan to take it to another household don’t bake it just include the baking instructions. That way it can be frozen and pulled out to bake when needed. It really should be served soon after baking.
Mardi Gras is coming to a close, people. Ash Wednesday is day after tomorrow and this is the time when suddenly I begin to crave pork and beef and chicken and all manner of dishes that will be given up by me once I get that black cross of ashes traced onto my forehead. Every year I say “Oh, I don’t care about meat. I don’t even like it! I never eat it anyway.” That’s right about the time when visions of $12.00 bacon cheeseburgers, spicy, homemade jambalaya and hot, crispy chicken wings begin to pop up in my head. I pulled out my giant pot, the one big enough to bathe a baby, and set about to make the best pot of jambalaya I’ve ever had. I’ve been making this for the longest time and I think I’ve worked out the kinks. That said, no shortcuts may be taken ie: frozen bags of the Trinity which always leave you waiting for the promised burst of flavor. This iconic dish begs, no, DESERVES, to be prepared properly…leisurely, and it will reward you by delivering that slow and sultry combination of Louisiana flavors that cause you to roll your eyes back in your head. Well-made jambalaya, good jambalaya, is like finger-poppin’ music in your mouth. Layer upon layer of ingredients make themselves known, some subtly others not so discreetly. It is a one-pot marvel of unpretentious components that ultimately yield a sophisticated dinner of comfort food while at the same time an over-the-top indulgence. And it is the best possible way to celebrate Fat Tuesday. So put on some boom-boom radio or zydeco, haul out your big pot and get to it. Laissez le bon temps rouler!
Jambalaya is a great dish for a crowd. It’s best prepared in a large, heavy bottomed pot with a lid that fits well. Having all your ingredients cut, chopped and ready to go will also ensure a fantastic meal. If you’re not able to locate converted Louisiana white rice just substitute it for a good quality, converted, white, long grain rice. What cannot be substituted is the Andouille sausage. I get mine from the butcher’s and if they’re out I use Aidell’s brand which is stocked at Publix. I find using sausage other than Andouille in this dish ends up tasting like hot dogs. Not a flavor I want after I’ve been standing in the kitchen for a few hours. So put off making jambalaya until you can find the real thing. I use a mammoth, wooden spoon to stir this dish. You’ll want to use the largest spoon you can get your hands on as the ingredients become heavy and bulky as you get further into the cooking.
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!