Tuesday, April 15, 2014

{14/52 & 15/52}: mulligatawny

{14/52}: bike trailer season!

{15/52}: sisterly love

The weather lately is wicked crazy. It can't decide whether it wants to be warm, cold, windy (correction: it is always windy), or raining. I feel for the poor weather experts who have to try to predict these doozies. Luckily we have had a few days of sunshine--enough for us to burn even while wearing sunscreen--so my need for vitamin D has finally be satiated.

It rained and was hella-windy today, so it seemed like a good day for soup. I like to tinker in the kitchen, and recently I discovered I love curry in soup. First I tried this curried sweet potato soup, which was completely delicious, even to the person in our household who lists sweet potatoes as the only food he won't eat. Next I decided to try mulligatawny, which was equally delicious.

It would be impossible for me to talk about mulligatawny and not mention Seinfeld. It's a great word and a great episode and a great soup. All great! My first introduction to mulligatawny was in a little middle eastern restaurant called Lulu's in Madison, Wisconsin (it's closed now, sadly). That restaurant offered not just my first introduction to the soup but also my first introduction to Middle Eastern food of any kind.

I learned when deciding to write about mulligatawny that it's actually a product of Anglo-Indian cuisine rather than authentically Indian. Also I learned that most recipes (including the one in my 1950's Betty Crocker cookbook) call for chicken and apples, which is such a strange combination to me. Because, you know, there aren't apples in India.

But perhaps the best part about mulligatawny is that you can make it whatever way you like, with whatever ingredients you have on hand. And it's so much more fun to say mulligatawny than "curried pea soup."

The reason I tried mulligatawny now is that I happened to discover "vegi soup mix" by Bob's Red Mill, and somehow the split peas, barley, lentils, and veggie pasta seemed to cry out for curry flavoring. I happened also to have a coconut curry chicken broth on hand, so I used it, but regular chicken stock or veggie broth would be fine too.

Pic quality isn't great, but yk, does lentil soup ever look good?


mulligatawny
serves 8

Ingredients:
few Tbs. of butter & oil
1 large yellow onion, diced
2 large carrots, diced
2 good-sized potatoes, diced (or whatever other veggies you like)
2 c. Bob's Red Mill vegi soup mix (or a combo of the beans above)
8 c. chicken stock or veggie broth
1 Tbs. curry powder (a mix of coriander, fenugreek, turmeric, red pepper, and onion)
1/4 tsp. ground ginger
1/4 tsp. ground cumin
1/4 tsp. ground coriander
salt and pepper (if you have citrus salt on hand, this is a good time to use it)
parsley
lemon

Directions:
1. Saute onion and carrots in butter & oil in Dutch oven over medium heat for 10 minutes, until onions are translucent.
2. Add potatoes, soup mix, broth, and spices (everything except parsley and lemon), and cook covered over medium-low heat for approximately an hour or until the peas have all but disappeared and the lentils are soft. Remove from heat and stir in parsley and lemon juice to brighten it up.



Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Uncle Ronnie's chicken bog {& a list of freezable meals!}

I sat down here to write an update on the Ranger household. But rather than jot those deets, I veered off the path to share another recipe for comforting chicken stew (that makes two in a row).

Because sometimes your pal Jenny--a wonderful friend and beautiful person inside and out--asks you for easy, freezable meal ideas in anticipation of her first bundle of joy, and you must answer the call. Once a boat mate, always a boat mate. So I hope you'll forgive me for sharing this recipe instead of an update today, and I believe you will once you've learned how easy and delicious it is.

Only picture of me (2nd from left) and Jenny that I can find right now. She's the badass on the right.


My uncle that I was telling you about the other day--Uncle Ronnie of the sorghum syrup--is a wealth of information about recipes from the old south. He usually gets the tips from his Dad, who is an even greater wealth of information on the topic. So you can see, I've tapped into a great wellspring of recipes for you folks.

My latest discovery via Uncle Ronnie is chicken bog, a stew from the eastern Carolinas. Perhaps it would sound more tasty if I called it chicken and rice stew, but I prefer to let the title lie as is in all its odd, humble glory. Although the name is quirky and less than delicious-sounding, chicken bog is neither of those things.

A recipe as simple as this one deserves to be left without the decoration of superfluous adjectives, so I'll just tell you it is GOOD. And if you're a soon-to-be mom, you should also know that it is easy and definitely freezable. All you need is time, but if you're anything like I was during the nesting phase, you're spending lots of time rewashing the layette anyhow and can spare a few minutes for waiting and stirring.

Uncle Ronnie's dad dictated few instructions. Mainly he said to cover the chicken with water, simmer until it is falling apart, strain the stock into a container, top the chicken with 2 c. white Carolina rice, pour in 2-3 c. of the saved liquid, and simmer 15 more minutes. You can certainly do it as simply as that, but I added a few fussier ingredients thanks to this recipe by Vivian Howard of A Chef's Life.


Uncle Ronnie's chicken bog
serves 8

Ingredients:
1 whole chicken, skin-on and cut into parts
1 onion, quartered
bay leaf
fresh thyme
salt & pepper
2 c. white rice (I can get Carolina brand at the regular grocery)
butter

Directions:

  1. Place chicken pieces in a Dutch oven. Cover with water and throw in the onion, bay leaf, a few sprigs of thyme, and 1 Tbs. salt and a few teaspoons of fresh cracked pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover, and simmer the chicken over low heat for about an hour and a half or until chicken is falling apart. You will have rendered the fat off the skin, and even the breast meat should come right apart if poked with a fork.
  2. Turn the heat off and let it sit covered in its liquid for 30 minutes. Remove the chicken pieces to a cutting board to cool. Strain the stock into a container. Shred the chicken, leaving some big pieces of breast meat, and discard the skin bones. [Note: If you are freezing the recipe, stop here. Put the shredded chicken into the stock, label it with the name and date, and put it in the chest freezer. When you're ready to use it, defrost it overnight in the refrigerator, and move on to step #3.]
  3. Return chicken to the Dutch oven. Top with 2 c. white rice if you're serving 8 people (if you're serving 4, save half for later in the week at step #2, then cook fresh rice at that time). Don't rinse your rice before putting it in, since the extra starch is helpful for thickening. Follow rice directions for how much liquid to add (usually 1:1 ratio). Simmer for approximately 15 minutes until rice is tender. Careful not to simmer too long, for though you want the chicken soft, you want the rice to maintain a bite. Drop in a pat of butter and maybe some lemon juice or parsley if you like it fussy. Just do me a favor and don't tell Uncle Ronnie's dad.

For Jenny & the other moms-to-be out there, here's a list of freezable recipes from the blog:

My one and only piece of advice when it comes to post-baby food is this: invest in a chest freezer! I promise you won't regret the investment even if you don't cook that often. Last I checked, they sell a reasonably large model for around $100 at Home Depot.

Good luck, Jenny! And snuggle that baby. They grow all too fast.
xoxo,
~J

Monday, March 31, 2014

{12/52 & 13/52}: chicken 'n' dumplings


One thing you should know about me is that I love chicken 'n' dumplings.

{12/52}: sickies

And I knew it was time to make a batch when the girls spent a day looking like they do in the picture above. They had a nasty cold all week.

****

Before I get more into my love of dumplings, I'll share a brief story from a recent tot class. [Aside within an aside: when they call a class "jiggle and jive" and then make the moms jump around a lot, are they trying to inspire us to go to the gym more?] We were singing a song, and I had that experience that happens to me so frequently up here where I get lyrics to simple children's songs wrong. Apparently there are often regional differences in the words, which I never knew until having my own littles. It's an interesting experience to slip and slide through conversations with locals, knowing you might mess up even the most basic of childhood rhymes. Playing eenie meanie with Vivi the other day, she says, "That's now how it ends, Mommy! You're supposed to say 'Out goes Y-O-U.'" Or else I might stop singing "Ring Around the Rosie" after one verse, and everyone else continues a second verse that includes words like "buttahcups" and "thundah."

This time it happened, though, I walked away thinking the adapted New England lyrics to, "She'll be coming around the mountain" are really missing out. They replaced "We'll have some cake and ice cream," instead of "We'll have some chicken 'n dumplings," and I simply will not stand for such a variation without attempting to rectify the situation.

****

I love Cracker Barrel. Because I can't untangle their food from my happy childhood memories--of stopping there to eat with my grandparents on our way to Birmingham to visit my cousins, of selecting paper strips of candy to buy, of playing checkers and that weird golf-tee ig-nor-a-moose game, whatever it was called--I know my love is potentially blind. But I don't care; I will go on with my positive view of Cracker Barrel, no matter any evidence to the contrary that comes my way.

Whatever you say about Cracker Barrel's food, you'll probably appreciate their chicken 'n dumplings if you give 'em a try. Some people prefer dumplings to be giant matzo-like puffy orbs, but I come from the school of thought in which dumplings are flat rectangles of dense dough. That's why I call this recipe "Cracker Barrel chicken 'n dumplings," although it's only authentic in that it mostly tastes like their version to me. {Note: I added an alternative way of making puffy-orb dumplings at the bottom of the recipe because I know some people like eating them the wrong other way}.

There are faster ways to cook chicken 'n dumplings than this recipe.


If you want a real shortcut, you can do the 10-minute car-camping version: Put a drained can of chicken, a 15 oz. can of chicken stock, and a little water/flour slurry in a pot; let it come to a boil, drop in cut-up biscuit dough from a can, wait 5 minutes; et voila, dinner is served.

Or you could do the middle-of-the road 30-min approach: Dredge 6-8 chicken thighs and drumsticks in flour. Saute in oil in a Dutch oven until brown. Submerge with chicken stock (2-3 cups), cover, and simmer for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, prepare 1 c. of Bisquick according to package directions, drop tablespoons of dough into stew (on top of the meat), adding more stock as desired, and cook 10 minutes uncovered, then cover and cook 10 more minutes.

But I find that even going all-the-way from scratch isn't time-consuming or difficult prep. The part that takes up the most time is cooking the chicken to make chicken stock. Whether you want to roast your chicken first to add a depth of flavor to the finished dish is up to you. If you're pressed for time or simply feeling lazy like I often am, you can just start with raw chicken in the pot. The only thing that changes is your cooking time.

I usually divide the task into two days. On the first day, I cook, cool, and shred the chicken (using the same method described in my chicken & rice soup post), then put it back in the stock and into the fridge overnight to marry flavors.  On the second day, I heat up the soup, add a slurry, season to taste, and cook the dumplings. If you want your kids to get some extra veggies, drop in frozen peas at the very end.


chicken 'n dumplings, the {sorta} Cracker Barrel way
serves 6

Stew Ingredients:
1 whole chicken, skin-on, cut into parts
1 carrot, broken in half
1 stalk celery, cut in half
1 onion, quartered
3 cloves of garlic, lightly smashed
handful of black peppercorns
salt & pepper
few stems of flat-leaf parsley
2 Tbs. all-purpose flour
1/4 c. whole milk (half & half or heavy cream work too)

Flat Dumpling Ingredients: {see below for fluffy dumplings}
1c. all-purpose flour, sifted
2/3 c. water
large pinch of salt

Directions:

  1. Add chicken, veggies, garlic, peppercorns, a large pinch of salt, and parsley into a large Dutch oven or stock pot. Cover with water (approximately 8-10 cups, depending on the size of your pot) and bring it to a boil. Quickly turn the heat down to simmer and let it cook until the chicken reaches 175ºF with a meat thermometer, approximately 45 minutes. {Note: Alternatively, you can let it come to a boil, turn the heat off, and leave it for an hour to an hour and a half if you need to go somewhere during this time.}
  2. Put the meat on a cutting board to let it cool. Meanwhile, strain the stock into a bowl and discard the veggies. Shred the chicken, discarding the fat and bones {Note: This is where I stop for the day if I'm dividing the recipe in two; you can save the bones for another round of stock-making}. 
  3. Make a slurry by whisking together 2 Tbs. flour and milk; set aside. Return the shredded chicken to the pot. If you want a soup, add all the broth back; if you prefer the dumplings to be in a thick sauce instead of soup, add half the broth back (~2 c.) and more as needed. Add the slurry and bring the mixture to a boil.
  4. Combine water, a large pinch of salt, and 1 c. flour in a small bowl. It will make a sticky dough. Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured work surface and roll until it is 1/4 inch thick. Cut the dough into 2"x1" rectangles, add to the boiling liquid, and cook for five minutes or until the dumplings rise to the top. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and add frozen peas if desired.
alternative fluffy dumplings (via Betty Crocker)

Ingredients: 
1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour, sifted
2 tsp. baking soda
3/4 tsp. salt
3 Tbs. lard, shortening, or unsalted butter
3/4 c. milk, preferably whole

Directions:
Combine all ingredients in a large bowl. Drop by spoonfuls into the boiling liquid. Cook 10 minutes uncovered, then cover pot, turn down heat to simmer, and cook 10 more minutes.

{13/52}: on the mend!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

the salad and the cone

the corn chip joke
This picture alone is kinda funny, but if you click it, it takes you to an even funnier cartoon of a drunk wife's joke.

Because everyone's experience of marriage is different, I usually find it unnecessary to compare marriage notes. Except of course when it comes to purchases of socks and underwear. On that subject, I'm chatty beyond reason. I'll even go so far as to poll the woman who avoids eye contact with me at carpool.

So let's chat, Reader. Here's what I would like to know: When did I become the primary sock and underwear purchaser for my entire household? At some point we must have made the switch, but I have no recollection of taking on the duty. And yet, I'm pretty certain it happened pre-kids, back when we both had jobs and social lives. Is this something you're in charge of in your house?

I mean, what gives? Why the magnanimous gesture that now requires me to stand in TJ Maxx and try to remember whether it's the ones without the mesh or the ones with the mesh? I'm not even going to tell you whether I'm talking about socks or underwear. I should leave something to your imagination.*

Okay, there was originally going to be more to this post than bemoaning the level of detail I've acquired about my husband's personal garment preferences. I'll try to bring it back around. I guess what I'm saying is that my marriage isn't perfect, but it is full of both surprises and predictability. Nothing against surprises, but I'll take predictability any day.

Did you read the Goop article about "conscious uncoupling"? It left the entire gossipy internet wondering why she included a polemic on marriage after the jump. Many have said much already, so I'll spare you a dissection of the nonsensical gibberish on bugs and Russian esotericists. I mention it because part of me is interested in learning about other people's divorces, especially of a couple who seemed so perfect from the outside like Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin. I'll admit it, I'm curious.

Maybe I wonder about what pushed them over the edge because it seems like it'd be so impossible for us to divorce and still be friends, like Larry & Laurie David. I suppose we might if either of us were as witty and disarming as Larry David. Speaking of, he did a hilarious episode of Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee with Jerry Seinfeld. I loved Jerry's take on why Larry got divorced, and I happen to agree with his notion of setting the mood. If I'm getting an ice cream cone, you'd better not order a salad. We're in this together, socks and all.

*I should probably note that I don't actually mind buying socks and underwear for my husband. But feigning incredulity at my lot in life is one of the ways I martyr myself to get appreciation. I know, I know. I might be the actual worst.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

an olive branch: {brown bread with sorghum butter}

This winter weather and all its polar vortexes (vorti?) have been the great equalizer among inhabitants of New England. I'll explain how and share a recipe for brown bread with you, but first I need to tell you about a recent eureka moment.

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In discovering more about the writing craft, I've been learning types of stock characters. One day recently, I had an epiphany about why I didn't fit with Bostonians. I let myself become a stock character...

A variation on the "Manic Pixie Dream Girl" trope, I'm the manic dixie dream girl {pun gloriously intended}. I'm the southern girl whose only role in the narrative is to cheer up Bostonians. The bubbly, available pal who says cute things like "Y'all" and "Bless her heart." But most importantly, I have no complex issues of my own, and I never ever complain.

This personality description is of course oversimplified; that's the point of a stock character, right? But it does at least partly fit me and my southern roots. Where I come from, the first rule of depression club is we don't talk about depression club. Complaining about the weather, reporting the symptoms of your cold, or whining about your stress level represent a type of self-indulgence that is strictly forbidden in polite southern conversation.

I kept my mouth shut about the weather both due to my upbringing and out of fear that locals would laugh off any dissatisfaction as typical of a wimpy southerner. Oh, how adorable. You just can't hack the New England winter! By attempting to prevent them from labeling me, I ended up pigeonholing myself into one (boring) interminably cheerful side.

But I lucked out this time. This winter has been different. Cold, different. It's one of the coldest seasons we've had in something like fifty years. Like I said beforeeveryone is complaining. It's great! I'm finally able to come out of my shell, to feel like one of the gang. Because, you know what? Sometimes that damn bear eats you, and pretending otherwise doesn't stop it from being so.

Monday, March 24, 2014

the family breakfast project


When the folks at the Family Dinner Project approached me to try out their new breakfast partnership with Cheerios, the Family Breakfast Project, my first thought was: I don't have enough time to add anything to our breakfast routine.

At that time, we had recently made a big transition. We gave up our relaxed, cartoon-watching non-routine of summer for a fast-paced, challenging, drill-sergeant school routine. It was our first time sending a child to kindergarten, and the start-time switch from 9am to 8am was painful for all of us.

I felt pressed to get everything done in the morning. It seemed like every precious minute was spent accomplishing necessary goals: dressing, eating, packing a lunch, brushing teeth and washing up, and getting shoes and winter attire on. Oh and the kindergarten backpack with folder and any homework tucked in, too. I envisioned reading about the program, then feeling guilty for not being able to enact all the wonderful things it offered.

Although I resisted making any changes to our already packed schedule, I figured it couldn't hurt to promote the program for other families who sought to broaden their breakfast horizons. So we agreed to participate in their commercial (we're that first family in the clip). That was a blast! After shooting the commercial, I completely forgot about the whole thing and went about my business.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

sorghum syrup: history, health benefits, & use

Sorghum syrup from Muddy Pond Sorghum Mill


The History, Health Benefits, & Uses of Sorghum Syrup

Have you ever heard of sorghum syrup, also known as sweet sorghum or sorghum molasses*? I learned about it recently through my Uncle Ronnie, who was telling me his fond memories of eating it drizzled over biscuits as a child in North Carolina. I happened to mention I'd never eaten it, so he sent me a batch! Gotta love uncles.

{*Note: Although some people call it sorghum molasses, sorghum syrup is not actually molasses, which is a byproduct of the sugar refining process and is made of sugar cane, not sorghum cane}.

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