Saturday, September 18, 2010

Chicken and Dumplings.

This scribble has deep philosophical meaning tied to this
topic. Probably. I draw good on my iPad.

I grew up thinking that my mom was one heck of a cook.
She certainly didn't fail to put dinner on the table every night - which I've found, as I struggle to do the same in my own life, is no small feat. The food was good. We ate it.
As I, little bird that I am, flew off into the world, I found myself calling her every so often for advice to try and recreate those meals that I had had so often as a kid. Stuffed Shells. Manicotti. Turkey and Mashed Potatoes. Pot Pie. Chicken and Dumplings.
I was disappointed to hear that the answer, on the whole, was some version of the following:
"Oh, you know, I just got it off the back of the Bisquick box."

With maturity comes disillusionment. Mama's cooking, like many american women in her generation, was mostly off the back of a soup can.
For a while, I felt robbed. I'd hear about someone else's Jewish or Italian or Chinese mother and the mysteries that they worked each night in the kitchen - the lore passed on from generation to generation. I didn't have a cuisine like that. I didn't have a food background at all. Or at least I felt so at the time.

I've since come to realize that soup-can, back of box cooking has a place in american food history just like everything else. No, it isn't from scratch. Yes, it represents an entire generation of women who never really learned how to cook. But those women did the best they could, and managed to feed my generation of future cooks anyway.

I live in a household of two, where each of us work late and dinner is something cobbled together at 11pm many nights. Yes, I cook from scratch, but it's every couple of days and supplemented by takeout and pantry foraging. I could never imagine doing it on a daily basis to feed a family of 5 - not on my schedule. So perhaps there's something to be said for the short-cuts, the quick-fixes.

Except in one case.
Chicken stock.

I've rambled on about chicken stock before on this blog, so I'll keep it short. There is never, ever, any excuse to use boxed chicken stock, ever.
You make a chicken for dinner, or you pick a rotisserie chicken up at the grocery store. You cut off the meat to eat that night. Then you put the carcass in a pot with a carrot, an onion with the skin on, and a piece of celery if you have one. You cover it with water. You put the heat on low and let it simmer until its time to go to bed. You put the pot in the fridge. You take it out whenever - the next day, a few days from then - you heat it back up, you strain it into another pot, let it cool, and you freeze it in baggies. Done. Pretty much impossible to fuck up.

My mothers recipe for Chicken and Dumplings includes boxed Swanson's chicken stock, chicken, potatoes, carrots, and Bisquick mix.
I made my own chicken stock from the leftover carcass of a rotisserie chicken.
Oh, but Jennifer, you say, why would you EVER not roast your own chicken? Its soo easy!
Well, it is easy. And if I was home at a reasonable hour, I would. But I don't - I get home at 9pm or so most nights. Cooking a chicken is mostly unattended, but it still takes an hour, and you have to, like, be there for that. Making chicken stock for later on, unlike roasting a chicken, is something you can do post or during dinner. Big difference.

As I've said, I will take short cuts on some things, and on others I never shall. But on this particular dish, I will admit to this: the dumplings are, despite myself, made from Bisquick.
I can, and have, made dumpling mix from scratch, but it never tastes the same as the one I grew up with. So despite my aversion, I have to go back to the Bisquick Box.

Mmm, chemicals.

Mom's Chicken and Dumplings with Short-Cuts and Long-Cuts like a Hipster Hairstyle:


  • 3 cups homemade chicken stock
  • 3 russet potatoes, peeled and diced
  • 2 large carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 2 cups worth of shredded chicken
  • 1 teaspoon flour
  • splash of milk
  • 2 cups Bisquick
  • 2/3 cup milk
  1. Add the potatoes and carrots to the stock and bring to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer.
  2. When the potatoes and carrots are soft, add the chicken.
  3. whisk the flour and milk together in a cup to make a slurry (so that there are no lumps) - add to the stew to thicken.
  4. Season the stew to taste.
  5. Mix together the Bisquick mix and milk to make a soft dough. Use a spoon to gently (GENTLY!) drop on top of the stew. Cook for 10 minutes uncovered, 10 minutes covered.
Serve with something green to counterbalance such heavy food. Eat. Reminisce about childhood. Feel slightly bad about using Bisquick.

(Confused? Thought that you'd be reading an entry about how awesome I am for Project Food Blog? Sorry but I just don't roll like that. This entry is very indicative of my blog and my style - honest, straight up, wierd and totally random, with strange scribbles and rambling rants. And delicious recipes, I promise. Welcome. If you like it, please Vote for Me. )


Stephanie - said...

LOVE your drawing. ;)

Kate @ Savour Fare said...

Ha! And boxed chicken stock is one of the shortcuts I do allow in my kitchen (but only Trader Joe's, as it actually tastes like chicken unlike Swanson's or the dreck they sell at Whole Foods). Chicken and dumplings, however, are made with a whole chicken.

I do occasionally also buy a rotisserie chicken, as I've discovered a local ethnic market that sells them for $5 and they're super moist and delicious. However, cake mix does not darken my doors, and neither does Bisquick. We all make our choices.

I'm totally torn about the Project Food Blog thing, but I could use some inspiration and I'm really enjoying reading the 1st posts from bloggers I've been reading.

Sam said...

This is a cool post. You can have my prize. We aren't big chicken eaters - I only roast chicken about once or twice a year - and then I love making the stock, but I often buy stock (hand made by the Fatted Calf) because like you I work late hours and don't have time to roast meat - but I do like to whip up soup using hand made stock.

Sam said...

This is a cool post. You can have my prize. We aren't big chicken eaters - I only roast chicken about once or twice a year - and then I love making the stock, but I often buy stock (hand made by the Fatted Calf) because like you I work late hours and don't have time to roast meat - but I do like to whip up soup using hand made stock.

Natty said...

I still marvel at my mom getting dinner on the table every night, especially since she never professed any fondness for the craft. It blows my mind to think about all the time and attention she had to give to something she didn't love. Ruth Reichl's "Not Becoming My Mother: And Other Things She Taught Me along the Way" does a great examination of this issue. Great post!

Duchess said...

I had a similar moment with my Grandmother's mushroom barley soup. "Oh that? I used to order it from Goldstein's deli." Sigh. Double sigh. PS I make a kick ass mushroom barley soup now... from scratch! Best of luck.

Baking Barrister said...

I make matzo balls from a box. And I use bisquick to make pancakes. Some things just taste better from a box (that might also have something to do with the ease). And I love your drawing.

sweet swallows said...

Oh man, I totally grew up on Shake and Bake and cream of mushroom soup casseroles. Nice to relate. Also, your drawing skillz are fierce!

Life on Nanchang Lu said...

Hi Stephanie,
Totally in the dark about Bisquick....seems unheard of in Australia, but we had other boxes of magic powders in our cupboard - Poppy custard powder springs to mind, composed entirely of cornflour, icing sugar and orange/yellow colouring. De-lish-us. I got such a shock the first time I tried real custard I had to lie down for a spell.


Eileen said...

Love the story about your Mom and the recipes. I found that when I ask my mom for recipes they are always vague anyway like oh you just "add it to taste" or well "sometimes I did this and sometimes that but you should add this..."

I end up experimenting and cobbling together stuff on my own :P