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Monday, September 19, 2011

Italian Wedding Soup, aka What I Did With the Rest of that Chicken Stock

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So about 4 months ago, I got this summary from my credit card company that broke our expenditures down by category.

(And what does that have to do with Italian Wedding soup, you might ask? Follow along with me and we'll get there. I promise.)

Breakdown is exactly the right phrase, here, because when I got a load of the dollar amount in the Restaurant category, I broke down and bawled like a baby puppy on the first night home with its new family, cooped up in a crate in the laundry room. We were eating out a LOT. Almost EVERY meal, every weekend. During the week, we mostly ate at home, but those two days a week of carefree, flit-from-fine-dining-establishment-to-fine-dining-establishment-eating-a-hole-in-the-bank-account weekends were costing us BUCKETS of money. Ridiculous, crazy, what-were-we-thinking PILES of dough. I showed it to Al and he took one look and commenced to crying alongside me like another baby puppy in another crate in another laundry room.

We agreed. This was STUPIDLY unnecessary spending.

Thus was born the We Need to Eat at Home on The Weekends Movement (such a clever title for a movement, don't you think?) here in the FriedOkra household. And thus was born Soupy Sunday -- the day I make a gigantic pot of some kind of soup for the four of us to eat that day, and for some combination of several of us to eat for lunch during the week.

We all LOVE Soupy Sunday. Sunday is our dedicated family day, anyway. With very few exceptions, we try to stick close to home on Sundays and just relax and enjoy our home and one another, which is the kind of day that lends itself to the sometimes slow but always-cozy process of soup-making. I thought I'd share a new favorite soup of mine with y'all, and also provide links to several more soup recipes that've pleased the palates of the entire FriedOkra family.

Italian Wedding Soup

Ingredients:

3 qts. chicken stock (find my homemade stock recipe here)
1 lb. ground turkey or chicken (or even pork would work fine)
1 cup Italian seasoned dry bread crumbs
3 Tbsp. grated parmesan cheese
2 Tbsp. grated onion
2 cloves fresh garlic, minced
1/2 tsp salt
1 egg
1 bunch (roughly 4 cups chopped) mustard greens, spinach or kale, washed and cut into 1" squares (roughly - I ain't picky!)
1 cup Acini di Pepi pasta (small grain-like pearls of pasta. You could also use orzo, of corzo!)

Freshly grated parmesan

Directions:

Heat stock to a boil in a large stockpot. Meanwhile, mix together with your hands the ground meat, bread crumbs, 3 Tbsp. cheese, onion, garlic, salt and egg. Form meat mixture into tiny meatballs about 3/4" in diameter (or smaller, if you have the patience for it!) and drop gently into boiling stock. Add the pasta and stir gently. Cook for 5 minutes. Add chopped greens and continue to cook for another 5 or 6 minutes or until pasta is soft.

Ladle into bowls and serve with grated parmesan as a garnish. A green salad and some sliced yeast bread or cornbread make this a light but plenty-filling lunch or supper.

A few of my other soup recipes you might enjoy:

Chicken Marsala Soup
Wisconsin Beer Cheese Soup
Vegetable Beef Soup
Tortellini and Sausage Soup
Three Excellent Chili Recipes








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Friday, September 16, 2011

Homemade Chicken and Dumpings (and My Recipe for Chicken Stock)

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There's more delicious soup-gravy in the finished dish than appears here in this picture, which was taken this morning after the leftovers sat in the fridge overnight and sucked up all their own juices.

I'll confess that I am not the biggest fan of chicken and dumplings in the world.

There, I said it. My Southern card will be revoked next time I try to cross the Mason Dixon, y'all, but I felt I needed to come clean about my shortcomings in this important area of Southern cuisine.

But Al? He LOVES him some C-n-D. (He is from further South than I am. Maybe he's MORE SOUTHERN?) Anyway Al's sweet mother, Grandma Carrie Bell, made this rustic, homey dish very often throughout his childhood, and I love being able to do little things that bring her back to him, even if just for the time it takes to eat supper. So I've made it many times myself, using various recipes, always looking for the one that brings that look of peace and love and nostalgia over his face. This one? Is that one.

This recipe makes a dense, almost pasta-like dumpling, which Al swears is "the only true dumpling." If you are lookin' for the fat, fluffy, biscuit-type dumplings that I prefer, this is not your recipe, friend.

Chicken and Dumplings

Ingredients:

3 qt water
1 3 or 4 lb. whole chicken, rinsed well
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1 onion, cut in big chunks
2 stalks celery, broken up, but with leaves still attached (I like to use the very middle of the celery bunch because it has the most flavor.)
1 large carrot, broken
2 cloves garlic, peeled and rough-chopped
2 bay leaves
8 or so black pepper corns
1 Tbsp. lemon juice

For the dumplings:

2 cups all purpose flour
1 Tbsp. baking powder
1 1/4 tsp. salt
1 cup plus 2 Tbsp. milk

Directions:

Bring the water to a boil in a large stock pot. Add onion, celery, carrot, garlic, salt, peppercorns, and bay leaves. Immerse chicken. Heat to just before the boil and reduce to simmer, covered, for 2 hours. These will be two of the best-worst hours of your life, due to the aroma of this delicious pot of wonderment.

Remove the chicken from the pot to cool. It will fall apart. This is good. Let it do your work for you. Allow the stock to cool a bit and then strain all of the solids out and discard them.

Congratulations! If you stop here and never do another thing, you have just created the best chicken stock ever. You may now collect your halo and wings and proceed to the clouds. Because you will never do another thing this good. It's all downhill from here.


But if you really want to chance it, you can proceed with the dumplings.

Mix the flour, salt and baking powder together in a big bowl. Pour in the milk and stir until a crumbly dough forms. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead a few times until you've got all the crumbles under control. Flour a rolling pin and roll the dough to a 1/2" thickness. Grab your pizza cutter and cut into 1/2" to 1" strips. (These are YOUR dumplings! YOU be the boss!), then cut across the strips to make 1/2" to 1" squares. Badda bing, badda bang, badda boom, y'all. Raw dumplins!

(They are so-o-o good raw.) (Stop that!)

Return 6 cups of the stock to a clean pan, add the lemon juice and bring to a boil. Gently drop the dumplings into the stock and then reduce to a simmer. Cook for about 25 minutes, stirring often. Your dumplings are going to RISE UP (Hallelujah!) and then shrink a little as they partially dissolve into the stock, making it into a thick, rich, velvety half-soup-half-gravy.

While your dumplings are ... dumple... ling, pick through your chicken to remove bones and cartilage and other icky things, and then cut all the chicken into large chunks. When the dumplings and sauce are all thickened and dumpled-ish, check for seasoning and add salt and pepper to taste. Carefully place the chicken into the soup/gravy and gently push it down to immerse and just heat it through again (otherwise the chicken falls apart/shreds and we want nice big chunks.)

Spoon into bowls and serve.

Serves 6-ish in my family. 4 once, 2 twice.

Al is usually both of the twice.

We love and miss you, Grandma Carrie.

xo

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Thursday, September 15, 2011

Applesauce Spice Cake with Caramel Glaze


My kids LOVE applesauce. Jar after 72 ounce jar of it. Scoop, heat, cinnamonize, stir, serve, eat, repeat repeat repeat ... UNTIL... They are ALLDONE with applesauce and the next time I get it out to serve, Peabody looks at me and sobs out, "But I don't like-a eat da ah-oo-saush, Mama," and Bean quietly walks away shaking her head.

(I do not do this with applesauce, but I do do it with shoes.)

(No, I don't eat shoes. I wear them.)

(And wear them and wear them and wear them until one day I look at them and walk away quietly, shaking my head.)

And I never know when that point is coming with the applesauce. Except that it pretty much always happens right after I've opened a gigantic new jar. And thus, I have to think of things to do with what's left of the applesauce before it grows downy soft blue fur and slinks upstairs to sleep at the foot of my bed at night.

Hence:

Applesauce Spice Cake

Ingredients:

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1 3/4 cups white sugar
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 1/2 cups unsweetened applesauce (or use sweetened applesauce and reduce the sugar to one cup.)
2 eggs

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350°. Sift together flour, baking soda, salt, baking powder, and spices. Add sugar and stir to mix. Add butter and buttermilk and stir slowly to mix. Add applesauce and eggs, then mix on med-high for two minutes. Pour into greased and floured 9 x 13" pan and bake for 45-50 minutes. Once cooled, top with a dusting of confectioner's sugar or drizzle with caramel glaze below.

Caramel Glaze

Ingredients:

4 T. butter
pinch salt
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/3 cup cream or half and half
1/4 tsp. vanilla extract

Directions:

In a small saucepan, melt butter slowly. Add salt and sugar and stir to combine. Cook, stirring for 1 minute. Remove from heat and stir in cream and vanilla until smooth and combined. Allow to cool before pouring over cake.

I don't actually glaze my whole cake because Al is not a caramel fan (say wha???). I serve the slices individually drizzled with the sauce. I also let the kids dip apple slices in the caramel sauce. And I dip my apple slices in it too. And then I conveniently run out of apples and get out a spoon. In my very well-researched opinion, that's the best way to eat this sauce.

Enjoy!

(P.S. I'm sorry Dad.)

(My Dad is diabetic and can't eat this stuff, so when I post a recipe for something sweet, I get an email from him that generally involves the word "TORTURE.")

(Sorry again, Dad.)






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Sunday, September 11, 2011

Do I Remember?

That beautiful Atlanta morning of blue sky and crisp air, I sat at my standard issue blond-wood desk in my grey-blue tweed cubicle in the regional administrative office of Charles Schwab, my eyes glued to a computer screen, my face in my hands, the whole office, normally bustling with laughter and conversation this hour of the morning, gone completely quiet - twenty-five friends, a work-family, tip-toeing around in stunned silence and confusion. I think I'd have gone home, but at home I'd have been completely alone, and I couldn't imagine myself alone in those moments, so I stayed there, at my desk, staring in shock-blotted numbness as a grey cloud of terror and fear and sadness and grief and disbelief spread itself like an evil shadow across the cities, the faces, the hearts of this country.

The ashes. I remember the ashes.

Of course I remember.

But the question I wish I'd ask myself more often is about what I do with that memory, and the memory and knowledge of this and other similar tragedies in our world. What's my contribution to the legacy of all and everyone that has been lost? How do I make sure anger and hatred (and selfishness and racism and apathy and greed or even just misunderstanding) don't win in the places where I can personally make a difference?

How do I continue to make the action of remembering bigger and stronger and more powerful to change than what we've all been left here to remember?



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Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Crispy Tuesday: The Best Peach Crisp and Apple Crisp Ever

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Ah, Crispy Tuesday... Who knew there was such a thing? Okay there isn't, to my knowledge, but there should be!

I've been makin' a bunch of fruit crisps lately because lately there's been, well, a bunch of fruit. We're in the most delicious time of year, fruit-wise -- the brief weeks around Labor Day when peach and apple season overlap in this lovely duet of luscious, juice-laden, vitamin-packed glory. And when you add to that fact the facts that I love crisps, and Al loves crisps, and Bean loves crisps, and Peabody doesn't love anything but mac'roni chee and bawbebbies, it's pretty much a no-brainer that I'm churning out crisps right n' left and that three of us here at FriedOkra Manor have died and gone to heaven.

Before we start, I think it is important to point out that in order for the flavor of a crisp to be absolutely perfect, you need to choose very fresh, perfectly ripe fruit. I had to go to two places yesterday to find apples that would make the cut for last night's dessert. If it's worth cooking, it's worth cooking right.

Also imperative to note is that you must always, whether it's spoken in your head or aloud, pronounce the word "crisp" like this:

creeeeeeee-yiiii-uhsssp


Otherwise you'll go to all this work and end up with just a pan of ol' cooked fruit and some oatmeal stuff thrown on top.

Practice the proper pronunciation a time or two 'til you have it down before you even THINK of makin' a crisp, okay? And please, non-Southerners? Take it nice and slow until you've got your feet under you, or you could trip over a long, trailing, molasses-drippin' syllable and hurt your sweet little self.

Trust me, y'all.

Peach Crisp

Ingredients:

4 -5 cups fresh peaches, sliced
1/4 tsp almond extract
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3 tablespoons sugar
1 cup plus 3 tablespoons flour, divided
1 1/2 cup old fashioned oats
1 cup brown sugar, packed
3/4 cup butter, softened

Optional: Whipped or ice cream or vanilla glaze ( recipe below).

Preparation:

Preheat oven to 350° F. Mix together peaches, almond extract, cinnamon, sugar and 3 tablespoons flour. Add to pan. Mix rest of flour, oats and brown sugar. Cut in butter until crumbly. Sprinkle oatmeal mixture over peaches. Bake uncovered for 45 minutes


Apple Crisp

Ingredients:

8 - 10 apples, peeled and cubed (3/4 inch-ish)
1 tsp. lemon juice
1/4 cup butter, melted
1/2 - 3/4 cup sugar, depending on the sweetness of your selected apple
1 cup plus a rounded Tbsp. flour
1 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
a couple of pinches of freshly ground nutmeg
2 pinches of salt
1 1/2 cup old fashioned oats
1 cup brown sugar, packed
3/4 cup butter, softened

Preparation:

Preheat oven to 350° F. Mix together apples, melted butter, lemon juice, sugar, the one rounded tablespoon of flour, cinnamon, nutmeg and a pinch of salt in a big bowl. Pour into a 9 x 13" casserole dish. Mix oats, the remaining cup of flour, brown sugar and a pinch of salt together. Cut in butter until crumbly. Sprinkle over apple mixture and pat down. Bake 45-50 minutes.

Optional glaze for both crisps:

1/2 cup confectioners sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla
about 2 Tbsp milk

Add vanilla to confectioners sugar and stir. Add milk a little at a time while stirring until mixture becomes of a thick but pourable consistency. Allow crisp to cool before drizzling this mixture lightly over the top.

Remember now:

Creeee-yiiiii-uhssssp.



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Friday, September 2, 2011

My Answer to the CrockPot Girls' Instant Fame: The Crock-Pot's Real Mystique

Have y'all LIKED "The Crock Pot Girls" on Facebook yet? If you haven't, you may well be the only one. Their fan-base has grown from 48 to over a million in just a few days. GAH!

(This makes me very sorry I haven't posted more slow-cooker recipes here at FriedOkra. Why didn't y'all say sumpm?)

Apparently the amazing growth of the Facebook page on which, as of five minutes ago, pretty much everyone in the whole world shares recipes and stories of complete-life-transformation-by-slow-cooker, started by three cute little Texan ladies is raising some major skepticism; in this incredulous post (and subsequent comments) at udandi.com, questions of murder and intrigue and Facebots and hackery take the sweet, innocent, exclamation-point-and all-caps lovin', slow-cookin' Mamas to (possibly-undue) task, questioning everything from their actual existence in real human form to their alleged wily-but-vaguely-questionable use of a new Facebook fan-gathering feature.

(Insert evil, sinister plot-thickening music here.)

Seems some are baffled as to how a fan-page for a lowly small-kitchen appliance like the slow-cooker has garnered such a happy herd of enthusiastic and devoted followers.

Dunh-dunh-DUUUUUNH!

And now? I'm 'on crack this case wide open.

See, we aren't baffled, are we? We love our slow-cookers - "They make our lives so much easier!" - and we love our slow-cooker recipes. Why wouldn't we LIKE a Facebook Fan Page about this glorious gadget in thundering droves? We are all about that slow-cooker, ma'am! It's the best invention EVER.

(Except possibly the self-timing coffee pot, or is that just me?)

However. The plain truth is that at least where slow-cookers are concerned, we've already demonstrated that we are easily duped. Because there's a simple, plain, somewhat painful fact about slow-cookers that stares us all boldly in the face, as hard as we try to avoid admittin' it to ourselves, isn't there?

Come on. You know it as well as I do. Don't you? And I think the real mystery boils down to mama-brain. The kind of mama-brain that worked it's memory-erasing magic on us a few months (or years, in my case) after we delivered our first-borns and we got on board with the idea of havin' another little bundle of joy. You know what I mean, right? (I promise I'm goin' somewhere with this.)

Fact is, there is pretty much nothin' we can do in a slow-cooker we can't do in the oven or on the stove top. To make a really great dish in a slow-cooker, you do exactly the same work you'd do if you were cookin' using a more traditional method. Slow-cookin' is just one-pot cookin' with a big ol' handy-dandy wall-plug, isn't it? And it's SLOWER. SLO-O-O-O-OW-E-E-E-ER!

Hear me out. To cook the best pot roast in the world in a traditional way, you sear the meat, add your Granny's secret ingredients, shove it in the oven and walk away for two or three hours. Oui? And the only differences to the whole process when you do it in the slow-cooker are that A) you actually have TWO dirty pots to wash up instead of one (can't sear meat in the stoneware of a slow-cooker), and B) you can walk away for EIGHT TO TWELVE hours.

(Oh, and slow-cooking often conveniently erases the guilt of plopping a couple cans of cream-of-whatevah soup into a "wholesome" meal. Can I get an Amen?)

Y'ALL STAY WITH ME.

Now I know that 8-12 hour walk-away time is awesome for work-away-from-home Moms (a selling point, even!), and please do not get me wrong, I am ever-so-glad for the slow-cooker myself (I own two, and I use 'em. A lot.) because even I, Megan-Homebody-FriedOkra, do occasionally wish to leave my house from time to time. But let's face it, truth be told, slow-cooker cooking really isn't as magically EASIER as we've convinced ourselves it is.

The real reason we believe that slow-cooking's SO MUCH EASIER, and thus a life-changingly revolutionaryish thang, is that by the time those eight-to-twelve hours have elapsed and we sit down with our families to eat the (shhh...) exact same meal we'd have eaten if we'd only started the process three hours ago, our Mama-brains have forgotten all about the 7 AM labor-pain of searing and slicing and dicing and can-opening and dumping and washing up, and it seems to us that HEY! Somebody else made dinner while we were off for most of the day doin' whatever we do when we're not cooking.

Hallelujah!

Here is what I say to Al when we sit down to a meal out of my slow-cooker. Every time! So often that he can and does mouth it along with me, verbatim: Gosh I love my Crock Pot. It's like havin' a cook!
And havin' paid staff to cook for me whenever I want, at the one-time low, low price of about $25 bucks (on sale now at Amazon, y'all!)?

Well heck yeah, I'll LIKE that every time.

Mystery solved.

Now I just need a plug-in house cleaner.

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