Slap-together Chicken & Dumplings

Making things from scratch is a wonderful thing. All the time, love, and passion that goes in to taking base ingredients and molding them into a completed dish is something to be respected and revered.

I didn’t feel like doing all that work. I wanted to plop stuff into a pot, and boil it off.

So, here we go. Slap-together chicken and dumplings.

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I took a picture of some of the ingredients. Not sure why. I was pretty sleepy.

5(ish) pounds of boneless-skinless chicken thighs.

3 32oz tetrapacks of low-sodium chicken broth

1 26oz can of cream of chicken soup

1 10oz can of cream of mushroom with roasted garlic soup (couldn’t hurt right?)

2 large cans of “Grands” style buttermilk biscuits

1/2 cup AP flour

1/4 cup oil (olive/canola/blended/whatever)

2 TBSP butter or margarine

1 TBSP dried thyme (divided)

1 TSP dried parsely

1 TSP ground black pepper  (divided)

1TSP seasoned salt

1/2 TSP hot sauce (Tabasco/Texas Pete/Crystal/Louisiana/whatever)

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Rinse chicken and pat dry. Trim any excess fat that hangs off. Drop the thighs into a bowl and coat them with the oil making sure to get all pieces equally covered.

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Place them cut-side down on a sheet pan (foiled if you want) making sure to roll them back into their standard thigh shape. Keep the chicken as uniform in size as possible (that’ll make it cook more evenly.)

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Sprinkle the chicken with all of the seasoned salt, half the thyme, and half the black pepper.

(Here’s a few more shots of raw chicken and seasonings for absolutely no reason. Did I mention I was sleepy? Also, I’m a crap photographer that likes to play with his cellphone camera.)

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Preheat the oven to 425. Once it’s up to temp, bake the chicken for 20-30 min or until internal temp is 160 degrees.

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While the chicken is baking fill a large stock pot with all of the broth, both cans of soup, hot sauce, and the remainder of the spices. Make sure there’s at lease half a pot of room left for the chicken and dumplings. Cover, set on med-high heat and bring to a boil.

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While our pot is heating up and the chicken is baking, lets make some dumplings. Put your 1/2 cup of AP flour into a bowl large enough to do some coating.

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Pop the biscuits and separate. Cut each biscuit into 4 equal pieces.

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Then drop them into the flour.

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…and shake until evenly coated. Remove and reserve for later.

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The flour will help thicken the stew as well as keep the dumplings from sticking together during the cooking process.

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Chicken’s done! Let it rest for 20 minutes. No touchy.

(Here’s another picture of chicken. Randomness.)

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Once it’s rested, get to chopping. Nice big chunks. Set these aside.

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Pot should be boiling now. Add the dumplings a handful at the time until they’re all in there. You’ll probably have to sink them down with a spoon, but, be gentle. We don’t want them broken up. Bring the pot back to a boil and reduce heat to a simmer. Cover and cook for 15-20 minutes or until dumplings are cooked through.

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Once the dumplings have finished, add your butter and chopped chicken and stir lightly. After 3 minutes on the heat, cut the eye off and let sit for 5 minutes. By then the chicken should be warmed back through and you’re ready to serve.

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Hmmm… never noticed that sticker on my big plastic spoon. Wonder what it’s made of? It’s survived about 300 trips through the dishwasher…

Anyways, Happy eating.

TST

On the Road: The Great Southern Cafe (Summer Brunch 2013)

This summer I got the opportunity to go back to one of my favorite restaurants. The Great Southern Cafe in Santa Rosa Beach, Florida. This time the trip was during brunch, so my go-to favorite the “Soul Rolls” wasn’t on the menu. (See my original post about The Great Southern Cafe from 2010) but, I wasn’t deterred. I was just happy to have the opportunity to go back to a place that I thought I would probably never see again. To be quite honest, I had been thinking about it ever since I learned that we’d be going back to the Destin area for a family vacation, months before.

Maybe I was setting myself up…

This time, the trip was lackluster at best. The waitstaff was mediocre and just seemed confused about everything they were doing (never a good sign.) The food was hit-or-miss. Polling the family I got results that spanned the line from delicious to dreadful. I’m not really sure what went wrong. Maybe only the new folks work Sunday brunches, I don’t know. The overall impression I got was that no one really cared.

I really hope that this restaurant isn’t on some downward spiral. I hate it when good places go bad. I’m holding out hope that it was just an “off” day. Every place has those. Sometimes when something little goes wrong it drags everyone down with it. (Ever seen a newscaster flub up on live TV? Watch the rest of them, they’ll all start screwing up after that. It’s a domino effect.)

That being said, if I ever get the chance to go back, I’ll probably skip brunch.

The Great Southern Cafe

83 Central Square, Santa Rosa Beach, FL 32459

850-231-7327

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Outside the restaurant

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Inside near the bar. The restaurant is only partially enclosed. The bar and half of the seating area are on a covered patio.

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Brunch menu. Summer 2013

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My son was not as excited about the restaurant as the rest of us were. Well, that and he really likes to play educational games on my wife’s phone.

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Mickey Mouse pancakes for my son. He was delighted.

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I had “The Fisherman.” Which, to be honest, was sub-standard. The fish was dry and underseasoned. The hollandaise was thin and flavorless (how can hollandaise have no taste of butter nor lemon juice?) The eggs were, well, eggs.. but the gouda grits and biscuit were delicious. I should have nosed further into the menu, but I really had a hankering for a nice piece of fish. Unfortunately they dropped the ball (even if it was a “service” menu item purely to make vacationers happy.)

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The winner of the day was my wife’s crab cake and fried green tomato benedict. It had the same bland hollandaise, but the crabcake and fried green tomatoes made up for it.




Moonshine Jelly

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Christmas gift from a friend.

Skeptical as I was, I actually did taste the faintest hint of corn squeezins. It’s in there, but you have to look for it.

All in all, pretty tasty. It’s more of a conversation piece, but that’s not to say it won’t show back up on a biscuit again.

Get it from: Hassell Creek Products

Fat Back and Hog Jowls

For the life of me, I haven’t been able to figure out why Fat back and Hog Jowls haven’t taken off in popularity in the last few years. With the onset of “Bacon Mania” (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bacon_mania) and the resurgence of “discarded bits” and “offal-centric” cuisine, one would think that it’s a match made in porky heaven.

Lets start of with the basics. Unbeknownst to most people “bacon” can refer to different cuts of pork in different parts of the world. Essentially, the only thing that binds them together is the fact that the majority of things called bacon have been smoked and cured. Bacon, as we know it in the U.S. is typically made from smoked and cured pork belly. But quite a bit of other “bacons” are readily available here in the states.

Example 1: Fatback.

Fatback. Image Credit: Ryan Adams via http://www.chefs-resources.com

Fatback is smoked and cured adipose tissue (subcutaneous fat) from the back of the pig. As it’s name suggests it is mostly fat. Occasionally however, it can include some rind (skin) or meat (back bacon) in it as well.

Fatback is most commonly used as a flavor enhancer (drop it in a pot of peas, collards, etc.) But, I do know people that pan fry it and eat it like belly bacon. (If there’s rind attached, be prepared for it to be quite chewy.)

To be honest, I’m not a fan of the pan-fry fatback method. It produces a ton of grease, is extremely salty to the taste, and can burn quite quickly. I think fatback really shines as a “toss in the pot” ingredient. All that goodness that cooks out of the fat marrys well with something with a high starch content like a big boiler of dry butter beans. The beans will soak up that cooked-off grease and salt and give the beans a nice salty, smoky, pork flavor.

I flip flop my opinions for hog jowls. I think “toss in the pot” with them is a big waste. Here’s why:

Hog jowl is exactly what it sounds like. It’s the smoked cheeks of the pig. It’s often overlooked because most people are turned off at the thought of eating the cheeks of an animal. (I usually laugh at people like this every time they eat a hot dog or a chicken nugget. I’ll let you Google that and find out why.) I think a lot of it has to do with the mental picture of someone slicing a hunk off of the head of an animal and making you eat it. Most Americans don’t want to know where their meat comes from, and don’t like to think about the fact that the meat they eat used to be part of an animal. But at some point, “animal” turns to “meat” and winds up on a grocery store shelf in a nice vacuum sealed package. Then we’re okay with it.

So, just for those squeamish people, here’s a picture of uncooked hog jowl.

Smoked hog Jowl

Smoked Hog Jowl. courtesy: http://www.earthydelightsblog.com

Holy crap! It looks like bacon! Amazing! It’s not a horror show after all!

Now that the hard part is over, lets get down to business.

I’ll just come out and say it. Hog jowls make the best damned bacon you’ve ever tasted. It’s thick, highly smoked, and moderately salty. The outside is crunchy, the inside is chewy and there’s just enough fat to make it have that luscious bacon flavor that drives people nuts.

I cook it just like I cook my belly bacon. In the oven.

Single layer it on a sheet pan, pop it in a 400 degree oven, and turn it every 10 minutes until done. It’s magical. (Some folks brush a little oil on the top of the jowl before putting it in the oven the first time. I’ve never tried it. It’s a little bit of “gilding the lily” for me. But they swear it helps the “outside crunchy/inside soft” texture.)

After it’s done, this is what you get:

Lambert’s Cafe Hog Jowls – courtesy: http://www.gypsynester.com

Looks awesome, right? It is. I’ve had that exact same meal at Lambert’s Cafe in Foley Alabama. It was bacon perfection.

Boiling this stuff absolutely kills it’s potential. I don’t boil hog jowl for the same reason that I don’t boil belly bacon. If you boil it, you’re ruining a great piece of meat. If you just want to add flavor to a boil, use fatback. You’ll get a lot more flavor “boiled out” and you won’t ruin the crunchy-chewy goodness that is jowl meat.

On a parting note, both fatback and hog jowl are a great way to keep moisture in roasted poultry or game birds. Spread slices of either across the top of the bird before slow roasting, and the fat will baste the bird as they both cook.

I hope you’ve enjoyed our look at a couple of oft neglected southern favorites.

Till we meet again.

TST

Cathead Biscuits: A Dying Breed.

Image Courtesy: Catheadfoods.com

Cathead Biscuits are a southern staple. But due to the advent of canned biscuit dough (and more recently frozen biscuit dough.) The original “quick biscuits” are all-too-quickly becoming only a memory. I’m very sure that if you asked most southerners what a biscuit looked like 20 years ago, they would respond by explaining to you that there were two different types: Pan biscuits and cathead biscuits. Pan biscuits are what most people think of when you reference biscuits. The round, crisp bottomed, soft topped buttered delights. But, there’s a drawback to pan biscuits: kneading, rolling and cutting. Pan biscuits were made when you could spend time developing those precious glutens that give pan biscuits that wonderful pillow texture. But for everyday use, the southern standard was a cathead biscuit. Spooned up from the mixing bowl, rolled into a ball and plopped on a greased pan. These crunchy on the outside, soft on the inside, delights had a marvelous orange/white/brown speckled hue, and had a taste reminiscent of floury scones (which makes sense, seeing as they are both “quick breads”) Cathead biscuits were served as the ubiquitous accompaniment to any meal because of their unique ability to be suited just as well for “slathering” (being covered in butter, jelly, or honey) or “sopping” (soaking up whatever gravy or sauce is on the plate.) In fairness to pan biscuits, you can sop, and slather them. But sopping with a crispy edged cathead biscuit is a much more rewarding process, since the biscuit is strong enough to double as a utensil, holding much more than just sauce. I’ve seen people eat entire meals only using a biscuit as a conveyance method between plate and mouth. And for the southerner afraid of wasting any of the remaining morsels on the plate, one could make a “mash.” Which means, quite literally, to mash your biscuit into whatever remains on the plate, picking it up like a magnet so there’s nothing lost.

So dear reader, I leave you with a simple recipe, and ask that you take the time to keep tradition alive. Because the results are much more rewarding than that frozen, mass-produced, brick, lying in wait deep within your freezer.

2 cups self-rising flour
1 teaspoon of sugar
1/3 cup of shortening
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 stick of butter, melted

Preheat the oven to 450. Mix the flour and sugar in a sizeable bowl, then cut in the shortening until it resembles a coarse meal. Pour the buttermilk in, a little at a time, until you’ve made a sticky dough. Lightly grease a sheet pan, and lightly dust your hands with flour. Pinch off a palm sized piece of dough, and roll it in your hands until it forms a ball. Place it in a non-stick cookie sheet and arrange the pan as symmetrically as possible to even the baking process. Brush the tops with melted butter, and bake for 10-12 minutes, or until brown.