Friday, November 20, 2009

Good Old Fashioned Comfort Food

Curt and I have been attending New Life Christian Church for a little over a year. We absolutely love being a part of the church community. The services always provide some eye opening insight and often have me laughing so hard that I cry. One of the great things is that the people there genuinely care about you. Being a decently sized church, there are always families who are expecting babies, or recovering from an illness, or on bedrest, etc... whatever the problem, the members of the church always rally to help those who could use a bit of an extra hand. So.... when a person needs a bit of help, people volunteer to cook meals and bring them to the family so they won't have to worry about a newborn baby and dinner.
A few weeks ago, Curt and I volunteered to bring some food to a family who had 3 children (I think) and 1 newborn. I always worry about making food for kids, because some can be very picky! I decided on making Chicken and Dumplings... a nice warm bowl is always very comforting!

I have loved almost every chicken and dumpling recipe I've tried... from Cracker Barrel style with thick noodle like dumplings and a thick broth... to my grandma's with biscuity type dumplings and a broth. I tried a new one out of my Martha Stewart Cookbook.... Here's my version!
(The weird looking stuff in the jar is home made chicken stock)

* 2 lbs chicken (white and dark meat)
* 1 tsp kosher salt
* 1 tbs butter
* 2 cups chicken stock
* 4 tbs flour
* 3 carrots thickly sliced
* 1 package mushrooms
* 1/2 tsp pepper
* 1 onion minced
* 1 tsp ground thyme
* 2 cups skim milk
* 1/2 lb green beans

For the Dumplings

* 1 cup flour
* 1/2 cup corn muffin mix
* 2 tbs butter
* 1/4 tsp salt
* 3/4 cup skim milk

For this particular batch that I made, I had the shredded meat from a whole chicken that I had used for stock the week before, so I used the meat and part of the stock for the recipe. If you don't have stock, you could just use chicken broth (I just like the flavor that home made chicken stock adds). If you don't have pre-cooked chicken on hand, just cook the chicken in a big stock pot. Season it with salt and pepper and cook until nicely browned, then remove from pot and set aside to cool.

Add butter to the stock pot and add in onions. Cook until the onions are translucent (can you believe I'm making a dish that doesn't require garlic?!) Add in the chicken stock and bring to a boil.

In a separate bowl, combine flour and milk until there are no lumps. Add into the boiling stock mixture and add in the thyme. Add in the carrots, mushrooms, green beans, and chicken, then reduce heat to low and let simmer.

In a separate bowl, it's time to start making the dumplings! Mix together flour, corn muffin mix, and salt. Add in the cold butter and mix with fingers until mealy. Once combined, slowly add in milk and continue to mix with fingers. The dough will be very sticky.

Bring the contents of the stockpot back to a boil and drop in the dumpling mixture by the tablespoonful.

Cover the pot and cook for 15 minutes without lifting the lid. Once done, the dumplings will puff up and float to the top!

So this is what I brought the family! I hope they enjoyed it!

Of course, no meal is complete without dessert, so I whipped up a quick dirt pie... premade graham cracker crust, chocolate pudding, oreo crumbs, a few gummy worms, and a few plastic spiders later and voila! What kid or adult doesn't love this simple treat?!

It was a few days after Halloween... I don't usually have fake spiders just hanging out in my kitchen :)

Thursday, November 12, 2009

So, Curt and I have only been married for a couple of months, but I absolutely love being a newlywed. Things have been very busy for us. This year, we had 7 weddings to attend, 1 major career change and 1 major company change. All of these changes have been for the better, however, we have both been extremely busy!

One of the reasons I love being married to Curt is that we always make time for each other. We always have weekly date nights where we make sure that whether we order a pizza, snuggle up with a movie, or go out for a drink, we are together. In the hustle and bustle of our lives, having at least one night to ourselves is pretty important for us.
Last week was pretty cold outside. It was the perfect type of weather where you need to sit at home with sweats on and snuggle under a blanket with big bowls of soup and crusty bread! I decided to make a big pot of Cioppino for dinner, along with some fresh rosemary bread, and Curt's favorite dessert- chocolate mousse.

I found a recipe for Cioppino on one of my favorite websites:
I cut the recipe in half and still had PLENTY of soup left.
Here's my take:
* 4 tbs butter
* 1 onion, minced
* 2 cloves garlic, minced
* 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
* 1 can stewed tomatoes
* 3 cups chicken stock
* 1 bay leaf
* 2 tsp dried basil
* 1/2 tsp dried thyme
* 1/2 tsp dried oregano
* 1 1/2 cups chardonnay
* 1/2 lb fresh shrimp
* 1/2 lb fresh sea scallops
* 1 lb fresh cod fillet
* 1 lb mussels
* 6 large topneck clams

First, I melted the butter in a large saucepan. I had made this soup before with minced onion, but the onion pieces were still apparently too big, so this time, instead of mincing the onion and garlic, I threw them in my mini food processor and pulsed for a few seconds. This resulted in teeny tiny bits of onion and garlic that Curt couldn't possibly pick out! Anyway, once the butter was melted, I threw in the onion/garlic mixture along with the parsley, and cooked that until I could start to smell the aromas.

Next, I added the chicken stock. The original recipe called for chicken broth, but I had made some fresh chicken stock the week before and I think it adds a much richer flavor, so in that went! I also added the can of tomatoes, bay leaf, herbs, and wine. The original recipe called for water, but I just increased the amount of chicken stock used. Once everything was in the pot, I covered it and let it simmer for 30 minutes. This allows the flavors to really infuse and make the house smell great!
While the broth was simmering, I prepared the seafood. There was definitely a large selection at Grand Mart, so I just picked out my favorites. I started by peeling the shrimp. I kept the shells because I know that you can make a really good shrimp stock with them (keep your eyes out for a posting about my experiments with them!!!).
Anyway, once the shrimp were cleaned, I started on the mussels and clams. A couple of the mussels had died, so I tossed those. I ended up cutting the scallops into quarters because they would hav been too big for 1 bite of soup. I would have used bay scallops because they are smaller and a good size, but they didn't have any at the store.
Once all of the seafood had been prepared, I just sprinkled some kosher salt over all of it and began tossing them into the soup. First, I added the clams. Since they were big, I knew that they would take the longest to cook. Next, I added the mussels.... next went the shrimp... then scallops... and lastly, the cod.
I was watching an episode of Julia Child (I NEVER really watch her but she's apparently amazing, so I tuned in for a minute)... she was making a fish chowder and she said not to cut up the fillet of fish before putting it in the soup. The fish is so delicate that it will naturally break up, and if you cut it first, it would break up into even smaller pieces. So... I put in the entire piece of fish and covered the pot.
The seafood only took a few minutes to finish. I let the soup sit until the fresh rosemary bread was out of the oven and served big bowls of the soup with big chunks of fresh, warm bread.
It was an amazing meal! Next time, however, I think I might add a bit of red pepper flakes to give it a little kick :)
Here's all that was left haha! Just a bunch of empty shells :)

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

MoRe StUfF wItH pUmPkIn

So I've been feeling the urge to try all things punkin! Aside from the pumpkin cookies I made last week, here is another of my other experiments!
I found a recipe for this in the Food Network Magazine and thought it looked amazing. I haven't been able to find a link to the recipe or the picture, but here's my version!
* 3/4 cup flour
* 1 1/2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
* 1 tsp baking powder
* 1/4 tsp. salt
* 3 eggs
* 3/4 cup granulated sugar
* 1/4 cup brown sugar (the original recipe didn't call for brown sugar, but I love the flavor it adds, so I substituted 1/4 cup regular sugar for brown)
* 3/4 cup pureed pumpkin

Preheat oven to 375. Spray 2- 8 1/2 inch round cake pans with non-stick cooking spray and set aside.
In a small bowl, sift together flour, pumpkin pie spice, baking powder, and salt, then set aside.

In another bowl, beat eggs and both sugars together until the mixture thickens a bit, then mix in the pumpkin puree. Slowly add in the flour mixture and beat with electric mixer until combined.

Bake for 16-20 minutes, until completely baked through. Cool on wire racks.

The recipe I found calls for a chocolate ganache icing, but I didn't have the chocolate chips needed, so I made my own whipped cream:

* 2 cups heavy whipping cream
* 1/2 cup brown sugar
* 1 tbs brown sugar, pushed through a sifter to remove chunks

Beat all 3 ingredients in a chilled glass bowl until stiff.
When the cakes had cooled, I placed one cake on a decorative plate and slathered on some chocolate frosting that I always keep on hand. ( I guess I could have used the whipped cream, but I love the taste of chocolate with pumpkin) Then, I placed the 2nd cake on top and spread the whipped cream all over the cake. To make it look a bit snazzy, I sifted some unsweetened cocoa powder on top.

The layers were kinda thin, so next time, depending on how adventurous I want to be, I might double the recipe and make a 4 layer cake!

And here's the final result!