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Friday, November 22, 2013

Chicken and Dumplings

Comfort food does not get any more comforting than this.

I got this recipe from The Pioneer Woman, Ree Drummond, so you know it's good.  It was both my first time making chicken and dumplings AND (gasp!) my first time eating chicken and dumplings!  How is it possible to reach the age of 34 without partaking of the most delicious and satisfying dish in America?  I even lived in the South for 8 years . . . shame on me.  My husband (a true Southerner, who grew up in beautiful Fayetteville, Arkansas) was more excited about me making chicken and dumplings for dinner than any previous dinner-time excitement to date.

The reason I decided to tackle this dish is that he and I put up 34 quarts of canned chicken a week ago, after the Fall butchering of our laying hens.  I had more old hens than I care to admit, because I can't resist letting my hens hatch a clutch of chicks every time one of them goes broody (broody is when a hen stops laying, and only wants to sit on eggs all day, taking little or no food or water for about three weeks.  Certain breeds, like buff orpingtons, are more prone to broodiness than others--some hens will never go broody in their lifetime).
We did a bone-in method.  I added a teaspoon of chicken stock
and a pinch of fresh windowsill herbs: rosemary, sage, and thyme.
I wish all my jars had been wide-mouthed, but it was nice to not
have to buy any new jars.  Each jar had to pressure cook at 10
pounds of pressure for an hour and fifteen minutes (for our elevation)
We  have always butchered cockerels (a rooster that is less than a year old) right when they reach five months of age, but I've kept all the pullets (hens less than a year) for several years to add to my laying stock, and this Fall I realized we had too many chickens.  Knowing that the meat of these hens would be a little more tough than that of a young rooster, I researched canning chicken for weeks leading up to harvest day.  I knew from articles I had previously read that canning the meat would render it much more tender and flavorful than any other method of long-term storage, and that's what I wanted.
My favorite hen, Scarlett Johansson, with her seven "chicks" in
May 2012.  It seems like there are two cockerels for every pullet
in each clutch of chicks . . . but that means more healthy,
home-grown, hormone- free chicken in our freezer or pantry . . .
Hens free-ranging in part of my backyard.  This was in
August of 2010, before I built a fence around my garden.
Mistress Flora scratching around in the garden (July 2012)
I love my hens and always name them--they really receive the best
possible love and care during their lives.  But I am also a meat-eater,
and there's not better way to ensure the quality of your meat than
to raise your own.  I know it may seem corny to many people, but
my husband always thanks the chickens for their lives before he
butchers them.  We give them a good life, and they do the same for us.
This photo is from this past Spring (May 2013) when my Nanking
cherry trees were in bloom.  This isn't even close to all the chickens
we had--it was definitely time to butcher.  To quote Barbara
Kingsolver: "Having no self-sustaining bloodlines to back up the
industry is like having no gold standard to underpin paper currency.
 Maintaining a natural breeding poultry flock is a rebellion, at the
 most basic level, against the wholly artificial nature of how
foods are produced. ” (From: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle)
It was a long, looooooooooong day.  And of course, November Idaho weather is nothing but unpredictable.  Allen butchered, skinned, and cleaned 23 chickens in a good ol' early Winter blizzard (I kept a flock of ten buff orpingtons for eggs and meat next year, plus one cuckoo maran and her four 2-month-old chicks).  I was toasty and warm inside, but worked hard manning (er . . . womanning?) the pressure canner all day.  When ten PM hit, I still had two batches to go, which I saved for the next day.  I don't think "canned chicken" is an aroma that's gonna sell well in the scented candle world . . .

But it was worth it.  The chicken turned out superbly, and is fully cooked and ready to go, any time I need to add tender chicken to a dish.

And what better dish could they be used for than chicken and dumplings?  None, I tell you!

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Pumpkin Waffles

Finally, I get to add a recipe from one of my favorite people, Renee H!  She and I worked together in a church calling for several years, and she's just about one of the sweetest women I know.  And a fabulous cook, to boot!  When she told me about these pumpkin waffles, I knew I wouldn't rest until I tried them myself.

Divine.  What better hot breakfast can you have on a cold October morning than one that makes your whole house smell like a bakery?  My kids loved 'em, too, and they've been permanently added to our Saturday morning breakfast choices.  Enjoy!

If only you could smell this picture: it's what heaven smells like . . .

I can't even stand the clipart I found to make this recipe card.  Isn't she the cutest little waffle you've ever seen?

Sunday, October 13, 2013

{Mini} Pumpkin Doughnuts

The best Father's Day gift my husband ever received was a Babycakes mini-doughnut maker.  A gift for the whole family!  And whenever my nieces and nephews (there are twenty-eight grandkids on my side of the family, with one on the way as of this post) come for a visit, they beg Aunt Becca to get out the doughnut maker.  It's all you need to be the most popular aunt in town!

I've discovered that you can pretty much use any muffin recipe for the doughnut-maker--but some are more delectable than others.  Pumpkin doughnuts are my favorite so far. (In fact, I'm going to try to post nothing but pumpkin recipes this month.  Because there's no better flavor in October and November, as far as I'm concerned).

This recipe makes about 36 mini pumpkin doughnuts, and they are delightful with a cinnamon-sugar topping, but I'm betting they might be even better with cream cheese frosting . . . which I will try next time I whip up a batch.  One-and-a-half cups of pumpkin puree is the whole can (the regular-sized can, not the giant Thanksgiving one), so that makes it easy to make these in a hurry.

It only takes about four minutes to cook these sweet babies!
Miss Mollie, my favorite helper!
Welcome, October!  Don't mind if I do . . .

Monday, September 2, 2013

"Swig" Sugar Cookies

Swig.  It's the name of the number one drink stop in St. George, Utah, which does land-office, drive-through business, year-round.

Swig has two locations in St. George

Here is a sweet article about how the drinks-and-treats shop opened.  Below is an even sweeter treat: their unbelievably delicious sugar cookie recipe, which I got from my bestest friend, Cori.  They are different than my super-soft sugar cookies, but just as good as!  My husband says he likes these ones better.  But my eight-year-old Brigham says, "I like the puffy soft ones."  Both are delicious--you decide.

The dough is easy to mix and not sticky at all
I love using my favorite milk glass (the one that looks like it came
from a Slimfast commerical) to press sugar down on the dough balls

  The signature way to enjoy a Swig cookie is a cold-from-the-fridge cookie that is frosted with room-temperature frosting, just before eating.  Since this frosting has a fourth-cup of milk in it, it's a bit smoother than other frosting recipes.  I wouldn't call it "runny"--but it's definitely not thick.  The hint of salt in the cookie, on the cookie, and in the frosting are (I think) what make the cookie so darn addictively delicious.  The first time I made these, we had all four dozen eaten within a 16-hour period.  Shameless.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Chicken and Zucchini Kebabs

Got zucchini?  If you live in Idaho/Utah, chances are you do.  Even if you don't have a garden, you can get zucchini anywhere . . . people are giving zucchini away like they're unwanted kittens.

When I typed "best chicken kebabs" into a google search, Jamie Oliver's recipe was the first that came up.  Winner winner, chicken kebab dinner!  If I were ever to have a real-life celebrity "crush", it would be on J-Me!
Plus, he reminds me in so many ways of my own cute husband . . .
My fabulous foody friend Erin first introduced Allen and I to Jamie Oliver back in 2003 (or 2002?) when Jamie was young and skinny and known as "The Naked Chef" in Great Britain (because he uses "naked" foods). We have followed him ever since.  If Jamie has one "shtick", it's that he uses fresh fresh FRESH ingredients for everything.  In fact, I credit Jamie with getting both my husband and I really into food.  Healthy food.  Delicious healthy food.  We have all seasons of "The Naked Chef" and "Oliver's Twist,"  we love to watch all of his new shows, we own about five or six of his cookbooks, and he is 100% the reason I own and regularly use a mortar and pestle.  Plus, listening to someone who is energetic and hilarious and passionate about food in a Mockney British accent?  Lovely-jovely, me ol' mate!

Anyway, I was excited to try what google deems the number one result for "best chicken kebabs," and Jamie delivered again!  I was confused about "courgettes," until I looked up the word and learned it meant "zucchini."  Those wacky Brits and their aubergines-instead-of-eggplants! :)

I have an endless supply of mint in my backyard--it was great
to put it to such a delicious use!  
I also love that Jamie uses words like "blitz" when talking about
a food processor.
The chicken marinated all day--it was so tender and flavorful
I didn't use rosemary skewers like Jamie does, because, though
 I do have two potted rosemary plants that I use weekly for
cooking (check out these yummy dinner muffins) I am not rich
celebrity chef who can buy bushels of rosemary skewers.  Plain
old bamboo skewers worked just fine (don't forget to soak them
in water so they don't burn in half like several of mine did!)  Since
the chicken would be missing that great rosemary flavor, I added
rosemary to the marinade recipe.
This recipe is summer-entertaining-food gold.  I made them when I hosted book club at my house and they were a hit.  Allen only got two of them, so I made them again a week later, and they were just as good.  The chicken was tender and amazing, and the roasted zucchini was so delicious, too!  It's a great way to cook and serve those bushels of courgettes that your neighbors are all-too eager to share . . .

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Bacon-Wrapped Venison Roast

My hubby completely authored this recipe. When he gets in the mood to cook, he spends at least an hour "researching." He'll either sit down with a stack of our cookbooks, or peruse cooking sites on the Internet until he finds what he wants. In this case, he read dozens of venison roast recipes, then cobbled together his favorite ingredients and methods from each to create this: total Sunday dinner success. It was well worth the four-hour (not kidding) wait.

I have since made this roast countless times for Sunday dinner.  It is Summer as I write this, so I am cooking it in the crockpot instead of the roasting pan--then I don't have to heat up my whole house with the oven.

Rub the roast down with your flour, spices, and herbs, then brown
every side in garlic and butter (I used olive oil in this instance).
Cast iron skillet: accept no substitutions.
{Bobby Flay 12-In. Cast-Iron Skillet }
I used to put apple wedges around the roast, but now I blend up
an entire apple in my Vitamix blender (yes, I am bragging).
In the crockpot, I drizzle olive oil, then chopped up potatoes and
onions, then the bottom layer of bacon, then the browned roast, and
then I coat the browned roast with the minced apples.  Like so . . .
Finally, wrap the top of the roast in bacon, then pour in a cup of
beef broth and slowly roast on low for three hours.
So tender and flavorful when it's done!
Delicious with fresh salad and homemade bread.  If you happen to
have pie for dessert, you are officially eating the most celestial
meal possible . . . which is why we have roast on Sundays after church.

{If you don't have a tender venison roast in your freezer, you could probably make it almost as good with beef}.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Rhubarb-Strawberry Pie

I have come a realization about my love affair with pie . . . no one is going to make it for me.  If I want pie, I have to make it myself.

Now that I have come to terms with this fact, I am not making pie mistakes in local restaurants and (shudder) grocery store bakeries--they just can't duplicate the taste I am after.  Since I have accepted the responsibility fully, I actually enjoy making it more.  2013 has been, for me at least, The Year of the Pie.  And the year isn't even halfway over!  To what pie-in-the-sky heights will I soar before the year's end?  (And to which buckle-hole will my belt be expanded?)

I have had a rhubarb plant for three years now, a transplant gift from my next-door neighbors, and have never done anything with it except enjoy it's exotic, rain forest-esque foliage every spring.  This year, I determined I would not let it go to waste, and so I scoured the Internet for a good rhubarb pie recipe.

Allrecipes has never given me a bum steer.  If a recipe has been reviewed by hundreds of people and it still has a 4.5-star rating, then it's a pretty safe bet.

Completely delicious.  I am adding this recipe to my favorites.
You can also substitute RASPBERRIES for the strawberries and
prepare the pie the same way.  I made this in November, my
favorite month to eat pie.  Oh, yummy.
The most important thing with any berry-based pie is to keep it from being runny.  The first thing you can do is allow the berry to macerate--that is, break down the fibers of the fruit you're using.  This brings out the sweet juices before you bake them, instead of during the baking time.  In addition to releasing flavor, it will help the fruit sort of "gel" as it bakes.  Macerating is simply stirring your fruit with sugar and allowing it to rest.

The second important step is to allow lots of steam to leave the pie.  Lattice crusts are pretty, but they're also almost essential to any berry pie, because the large holes all over the top crust help moisture to steam out during bake time.  I used my flakiest pie crust recipe for this one.

The third step is the hardest: you've got to let the pie cool.  You don't have wait till it's cold . . . you just can't dig right in when it comes out of the oven.  Pie Impatience often leads to burning the roof of your mouth, anyway.  I speak from experience.

Oops!  I forgot to scatter the butter over the top before I did the
lattice.  Better late than never, where butter is concerned.
I got this pie crust shield on Amazon, and I love it!  It's so much easier than using foil, and they're really reasonably priced.  Now I just need a 10-inch one . . . or you can buy these kind {Adjustable Silicone Pie Shield} that expand to fit any size pie pan.

Take the shield off for the last ten minutes of baking.  I think
that heaven must smell like a rhubarb-strawberry pie. 
My dad happened to call and say he was working in the area on the day I made this pie.  I couldn't hope for someone more deserving to share it with!  Dad has always told me  that rhubarb-raisin is one of his favorite pies.  That combination is nowhere near the top of my "must try" pies . . . but I know he was overjoyed when I told him what was in the oven.

I had also invited some friends over for late-night dessert (coincidentally, these friends were wondering that very day when I would be baking and sharing a pie next . . . faith precedes the miracle!), so I let the pie "cool" in the freezer for fifteen minutes to shorten the wait-time before everyone arrived.   I think that impatience might actually be the mother of all invention, rather than necessity.

Ahhhh . . . at last . . .