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

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Quick Pic: Pan-Seared Salmon

Stopped by my in-laws to see my son on the way to work (I’m a day sleeper and they were babysitting) and my Mother-in-law was pan searing salmon for dinner. I realize salmon isn’t exactly “southern,” but the results were too pretty to not shoot and post.

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I can confirm that they tasted as good as they look (she was gracious enough to send me off with a plate.

7-Up Recipe Book from 1953

Saw this on Retronaut and had to put it up for my readers. Too quirky not to pass on. Seriously, check out that dressing! Weird. (Not nearly as weird as 7-Up in milk, though.)

Some of these are old standards, like 7-Up cake & 7-Up gelatin. Familiar territory for most southerners (seen those on many, many potluck dessert tables.)

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As previously noted, all credit to Retronaut for
all images. Check them out sometine. Lots and lots of historical photos.

Final thought:try subbing 7-Up for beer in a typical beer batter. Works great for fried desserts. Some fish as well (gotta spice it up to cut the sweetness though.)

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.




New Addition

Well this opens up all sorts of opportunities… I stuck my old Garlock big dial thermometer in the dome for the heck of it. I might just tap and mount it on the lower rack to have an idea of how the heat varies between the upper and lower.

Thanks to my in-laws for a lovely Christmas gift.

Let’s burn some meat!
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Venison Tenderloin Basics

By FotoosVanRobin from Netherlands (Venison Steaks) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By FotoosVanRobin from Netherlands (Venison Steaks) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Thanks to the slow food movement, venison is showing a resurgence in the American culinary scene. “Game” animals give a rustic flare to restaurants that are trying to capitalize on the public lean toward traditionalism.

I’ve put this article together as a primer for those who might be interested in bringing venison into the home to cook for the first time. However, due to the scarcity of venison at retail outlets you’re best bet for acquiring some is either ordering it online, hunting, or knowing a hunter willing to share. I’ve decided to skip the rundown of cuts & techniques to focus on the on the one part of the deer your most likely to run across, the tenderloin.

The first thing you need to be aware of is cooking venison can be quite different than anything you might have cooked in the past. As you can tell by the above photo, there’s little to no fat in the meat. Deer are very active animals. This in turn leaves little body fat and very small amounts of intramuscular fat. This is a pretty big contrast to something like beef, as cattle tend to be more sedentary. So we have two possible methods of cooking: “Low & Slow,” or “High & Fast.”

“Low & Slow” is not my preferred method for cooking tenderloin, as you’ll have to braise it in liquid to keep the meat from drying out. Other parts of the deer are better suited, so keep the crock-pot in the cupboard until someone passes a hindquarter or shank in your direction.

“High & Fast” it is.

So here’s the basic rundown:

1. Tenderloins will taper from one end to the other. So try and trim off the cone-shaped end to keep the size more uniform. If you feel comfortable trussing, go right ahead, it definitely helps.

2. The older the deer, the wilder it will taste, and the tougher it will be.

3. Rub the loin with oil. You’re cooking this thing HOT. The oil will prevent sticking, and help keep the tenderloin moist.

4. A little salt & cracked black pepper is my preferred seasoning, but you can run the gambit with whatever seasonings or rubs you prefer. Just keep in mind that things like juniper berries, rosemary, and sage are earthy flavors. They’ll pull the gamey-ness of the meat out to the front of the palette. (Some like this flavor profile, some do not.)

5. Start with a room temperature loin. Heat a pan on medium-high. Once the pan has preheated, drop in a tablespoon of oil and add the venison. Immediately drop the heat to medium. Sear on all sides and continue to rotate until the tenderloin has cooked to medium rare. Remove from heat and allow to rest, covered, on a  carving board for 10 minutes (you’ll need all the moisture you can get, don’t short change the resting period.)

6. Don’t cook the meat past the first stages of medium, or after you let it rest, you’ll have a large gamey deer flavored log for dinner.

7. Slice the meat against the grain in small medallions, no thicker than an inch. I personally prefer carpaccio -thin slices. Serve with a fruit compote (my go-to is blackberry.), or a dime-glace of your choosing.

I’ll have more venison recipes up soon. Thanks for reading!

TST

iPhone Backgrounds/Old Photo’s/Memories

I took these shots a while back, and have used them from time-to-time as backgrounds on my iPhone. I figured I’d share them with y’all, just in case anyone was interested. (My personal favorite is the tomatoes!)

“Elephant Ear”

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“Pea Hulls”

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“Tomatoes”

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“Elephant Ear 2”

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“Okra”

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“Peas”

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“Flowers”

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As you can tell by my vivid descriptions, I’m not a botanist. But I hope these images are as fun for you as they were for me. I took them over 2 years ago when visiting my grandparents. All of them evoke thoughts of my childhood.

Today’s lesson is this: take pictures. Lots of them. Not just the ones of people standing in rows smiling. Sometimes we focus all on capturing those moments, and forget how much emotion is wrapped into the rudimentary items that surround us. I’ll keep these pictures forever. Not just because they are interesting lockscreen on my cell phone, but because they are a great way for me to bottle up time and keep memories alive of the place they were taken, and the times I spent there.

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

Low Country Boil

 

 

The Boil Plate

Typical Boil Plate

It’s that time of year again. The time when the glitz and glamor of the holidays has finally subsided. No longer do we crave chestnuts roasting on an open fire, or dream of a fat elf wiggling down our collective chimneys. Gone are the heartwarming thoughts of snow covered pine trees, or being bundled up to watch New Years Eve fireworks. The doldrums of Old Man Winter’s season has finally arrived.
The cold weather that bites at us on an almost daily basis (this is the south, after all) is now more an annoyance, than something to be looked at with reverie. We have no purpose for this cold now, no Thanksgiving to look forward to. No Christmastime cheer to lighten our hearts when facing temperatures that plummet. No reason to be bundled up all “cozy and warm” with good cheer to spend toward our fellow man.
But, we do have one thing.

Now every good southerner, boy and girl, young and old, tall and small, lie down at night and dream of one thing. The thing that gets us through these cold days better than any. The yearning and pleading that starts it’s prophetic rise on January 2nd, and burns within us like a fire that cannot be quenched. United in purpose, we suffer on though these cold months, with only one goal in mind:

 

We’re ready to go to the BEACH!
We’re ready to fry our bodies on the UV drenched, man made, sugar-white sand beaches of the southern coast! We’re ready to swim in jellyfish infested waters! We’re ready to visit tourist trap venues, and play putt-putt golf! We’re ready to drink canned beer (glass bottles are prohibited, you know!) We’re ready to eat over priced, over fried, previously frozen fish, all in the name of “supporting the local economy!”

Well, everything but that last part. I personally can’t stand some of the food found on the southern coastline. Mostly because the vast majority of the seafood in your “Admiral’s Basket” was “fresh caught from the freezer section THIS VERY MORNING!” Not to mention the cocktail sauce came in a five gallon bucket from Kraft Foods!

“So,” you must be saying to yourself, “Mr. Holier-Than-Thou blogger, what do YOU like to eat at the beach? What Suits YOUR fancy?”

I prefer my seafood boiled. More specifically, I like Low-Country Boils (as if you already haven’t figured that out, by now).

And I especially like having them now, when the weather is cold (makes me think of warmer climes, you know?)

The perfect one-pot-wonder that is as versatile as it is easy to prepare. Make it outdoors with a giant pot and a propane fish cooker, or make it indoors in a boiler with a stove top. Feed 5 or 50 make it mild, medium, hot, nuclear, melt-my-face-off or whatever suits you.

Now, to the uninitiated, cooking a boil may seem like a huge undertaking, that takes skill, patience, and years of practice. In truth, all it takes is know how to chunk things in a pot, at the right time, without boiling it over. (And a little common sense for good measure.)

 

Low Country Boil

*The traditional recipe calls for The pre-boil ingredients, potatoes, corn, sausage and shrimp. Please note that ingredients for this dish are not based on certain amounts. However they are based on how much you and your guests can eat. I usually account for two potatoes, one piece of corn, one piece of sausage, and 1/4 pound of shrimp per serving.

The following table represents ingredient ideas as well as approximate cooking times.

Pre-Boil Dry Crab Boil (2 tsp/liter)Liquid Crab Boil (1 tsp/liter)

Crab Boil-In-Bag (2 tbsp/liter)

Lemon Wedges (1 wedge/liter)

Fill pot to just over 1/2, add spices and bring to boil. I split the boil-in-bag open, and let the spices in it boil out in the open. Once cooked, the seeds and spices coat the seafood, and make a tasty addition to the finished product. Be aware that liquid and dry crab boil is very potent, and quite spicy. If some people would like a spicier boil, see my note below. Make sure to account for the amount of total ingredients you’ll be placing in the pot. Remember, it’s much easier to add water (if there’s too little,) than take away (if there’s too much)
Stage 1 Red Potatoes (Of similar size) Add to boiling water. Return to boil, and cook for 20 minutes (small potatoes) or 30 minutes (larger potatoes), or until potatoes are almost fork tender.
Stage 2 Cased Sausage (cut into links)

Corn-on-the-Cob (small cobs)

Mushrooms

Onions (pearl, or wedged)

Whole Garlic Cloves (peeled)

Add to boiling water. Return to boil, and cook for 10 minutes.
Stage 3 Shrimp

Crawfish (burped)

Crab

Mussels

Clams (bearded)

Small Whole Fish (prepared)

Add to boiling water. Cook based on cooking time for individual item.Shrimp: 5 min

Crawfish: 5min

Crab: 10-15min

Mussels: 5-7min

Clams: 6-8 min

All said, you want your boil to cook for between 35 & 45 minutes based on the thickness of your potatoes, and the stage three items you want to add. (Planning ahead, and doing a little cooking time math sheet will go a long way in having a successful boil.

One the boil is over, allow the items to cool in the pot for at least 10 minutes. This is called “resting” and allows the stage three items a chance to absorb some of the seasonings that are floating on the top of your boil water. This is also the time to have a side pot ready for those who would like spicier seafood.

To make a side pot, pre-boil a mix of liquid and dry crab boil in a smaller side pot, and use double the standard proportions (or more if you know what you’re doing.) Then, once the boil is finished, transfer the seafood that needs to be spicier to this pot, and allow it to rest in it. The heat will ramp up significantly, based on the amount of seasoning you use.

Finished Boil

The Finished "Stove Top Boil"

Serve with my “Better than the Bottled Crap” Cocktail Sauce:

3/4 cup Ketchup (more/less for spicier/milder sauce)
2 tbsp Prepared Horseradish
1 tsp Tabasco Sauce
1.5 tsp Worcestershire Sauce
1/2 tsp Old Bay Seasoning
Juice of 1/2 of a medium lemon

Mix, chill and serve.

As a final note, The traditional way to serve (when outdoors) is to drain the pot, spread out old newspapers on a table, and dump the whole lot in the middle. However, I find that straining ladles, and paper plates work just fine. Just, omit the plastic ware. You are supposed to be on the beach, remember? Just eat with your hands, and dream of July.