November 30, 2018

Chicken and Dumplings with Mushrooms

You know how I know how winter snuck up on everyone? I got stranded in Atlanta and had to fly straight to Texas with all my sweaters instead of making a pit stop back in Chicago because of a blizzard. Sitting in 70-something-degree Texas makes me forget a bit, but as soon as I touch down in Chicago this weekend I know I'll be shivering all the way back to my apartment. But you know what makes cold days like that a little more bearable? Steaming hot comfort food. Nothing says comfort food like a hot chicken stew with fluffy carbs on top and a little bit of bacon secretly mixed in, which is why this recipe for chicken and dumplings will be at the top of my list for the months to come.

I love chicken and dumplings because I don't really know what it is. Is it a stew? Is it just a ton of gravy smothered on chicken? Probably both, which is why it tastes so good. Normally there's peas and carrots and celery and all sorts of vegetables, but what if you replaced them with bacon? I also throw in a ton of mushrooms so it's still somewhat healthy, though the key is to cook them in all the bacon and chicken drippings so none of that flavor goes to waste.

Like all good recipes, cooking the bacon is the first step. It makes it all crispy and yummy, you get something to snack on while you cook the rest of the dish, and it gives you a flavorful starting point for the other ingredients. I add chicken to the party next, which only adds to the bacon-y goodness. The mushrooms get cooked in all that liquid gold until they are tender, then I set them aside so they don't overcook. The onions go in whatever drippings are left plus some extra butter, which is used to start the roux. The garlic and flour go in and cook just for a minute before warm chicken broth is slowly stirred in. If you keep the broth warm and add it gradually, the gravy (hopefully) won't get lumpy on you. Once it comes to a boil, you can reduce it to a simmer then stir in your chicken and bacon and seasonings, though it helps to season with salt and pepper at every step along the way.

Once the stew/gravy simmers for an hour, you can shred that tender, juicy chicken and throw it back in the pot with the mushrooms and all their juices. That has to come back to a simmer so the dumplings can cook. Dumplings are basically just scoopable biscuits, so I combine flour, baking powder, and salt then stir in melted butter and milk. They puff up a lot, so only small dollops are necessary; I even found that my tiny cookie scoop gave me pretty hefty dumplings. They'll only cook through if you drop them into hot liquid and cover tightly to trap the heat and let them steam, but it only takes about 15 minutes more until you have soft, fluffy dumplings to smother in chicken stew/gravy. The only way I can think of to upgrade my standard roasted chicken with gravy is to add more gravy and maybe some bacon, so this dish is sure to please anyone who gets a little hangry on a chilly winter night.

8oz Bacon
1.5 lbs Boneless Skinless Chicken Breasts
12 oz Mushrooms, Sliced
1 Yellow Onion, Diced
2 T Butter
2 T Butter, Melted
3 Cloves Garlic
1 1/4 Cups Flour
4 Cups Chicken Broth, Warm
1 Bay Leaf
3 Sprigs Thyme
Pinch Nutmeg
1/2 tsp Salt
1 tsp Baking Powder
1/2 Cup Milk

Heat some oil in a large pot. Add the bacon and cook until crispy. Remove, then chop when cooled.

Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Sear in the bacon fat until browned, about 4 minutes per side. Set aside.

Cook the mushrooms in the chicken/bacon fat for 5-8 minutes or until tender, seasoning with salt and pepper. Set aside.

Melt 2T butter in the pot. Add the onion, season with salt and pepper, and cook for 4 minutes or until translucent. Stir in the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir in 1/4 cup flour and cook for 1 minute. Gradually add the chicken broth, bring to a boil, and reduce to a simmer. Add the chicken, bacon, bay leaf, thyme, nutmeg, and salt and pepper. Simmer for 1 hour, then shred the chicken and return to the pot along with the mushrooms and mushroom juices. Bring to a simmer.

Combine the remaining 1 cup flour, baking powder, and 1/2 tsp salt. Stir in the melted butter and milk until just combined. Spoon into the simmering stew, cover, and simmer for 15 minutes or until the dumplings are floating and fluffy.

Serves 6

November 11, 2018

Pumpkin Cheesecake Pie

I don't care that Starbucks released their Pumpkin Spice Latte in August this year. First of all, it doesn't even have any pumpkin in it. Secondly, it is fall now. We should be enjoying pumpkin spice things now and not jumping right to Christmas things. I'm loving my scarves and sweaters and boots, not my giant parka and waterproof snow boots, so I think the same timing courtesies should extend to my diet as well. There's nothing that shouts November like a pumpkin pie, especially with Thanksgiving on the horizon, but I think people can get a little sick of the same old pumpkin pie year after year. That's why I took a classic recipe and 'spiced' it up with a few dollops of cheesecake filling, since cheesecake is just as much of a crowd-pleaser and makes things interesting without stealing the spotlight.

Most of the recipes I've seen for pumpkin cheesecake pie use a pumpkin-flavored cheesecake filling, sometimes no-bake which shouldn't even qualify as a cheesecake in my opinion. This recipe keeps your classic pumpkin pie base, with pumpkin puree sweetened with sweetened condensed milk plus eggs and warm fall spices. That infamous pumpkin spice comes from a blend of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves, and allspice, or you can go ahead and buy a jar of pumpkin pie spice and it will taste pretty similar.

The cheesecake swirl is also incredibly easy: just beat some cream cheese, sugar, a bit of flour, a bit of milk, and a splash of vanilla together until smooth. It helps to have the cream cheese at room temperature so it mixes in better and is more swirl-able in the liquidy pumpkin pie filling. If it's still too thick, you can add another splash of milk to thin it out. For more of a gingerbread flavor, you can also stir in more pumpkin pie spice and a spoonful of molasses. You'll sacrifice the contrast of the white cheesecake on orange pumpkin pie, but the darker color is also striking.

Another way to incorporate that gingerbread flavor is in the crust. I normally use my basic sweet pie crust recipe with plenty of butter, but you can switch it up and add the molasses and spices there so you get white cheesecake on orange pie on a dark crust. As always, keep your fat (or all the ingredients, if you can) cold and work the dough as little as possible for a tender, flaky crust.

Starting the oven at a high temperature sets the crust and makes the butter steam for extra flakiness, and then you have to lower it so the filling cooks through. You may need to cover the edges with some foil or one of those special crust shields (I highly recommend them, especially with all this holiday baking coming up!) to prevent burning, but you'll know it's done when the pie just barely jiggles in the center. If you're trying to fit this into your busy Thanksgiving to do list, you can make the crust a couple days in advance and bake the pie off the morning or afternoon you plan on serving it. It slices best if it has time to cool and set, so don't worry about moving the pie straight from the oven to the table. If you're looking for more pie inspiration to spice up your fall or brighten up your Thanksgiving table, you can also check out my chocolate fudge pecan piechocolate peanut butter piecinnamon crack pie, or tollhouse pie recipes.

1 Recipe Sweet Pie Crust Dough (see below)
1 14oz Can Sweetened Condensed Milk
2 Eggs
1 15oz Can Pumpkin
1 tsp Cinnamon
1/2 tsp Nutmeg
1/2 tsp Ginger
1/4 tsp Cloves
1/4 tsp Allspice
1/2 tsp + Pinch Salt
4 oz Cream Cheese, Softened
1/4 Cup Sugar
1 T Flour
1 T Milk
1 tsp Vanilla

Roll the pie dough out to fit a 9" pie plate and press gently to adhere. Chill until firm.

Heat oven to 425F.

Whisk the sweetened condensed milk and eggs together. Add the pumpkin, spices, and 1/2 tsp salt.

Beat the cream cheese, sugar, flour, milk, vanilla, and a pinch of salt together.

Pour the pumpkin mixture into the crust. Swirl in the cream cheese. Bake at 425F for 15 minutes, then lower oven to 350 and bake for 30 minutes more or until just set, covering the edges as necessary.

For the pie crust:
Pulse 1 1/4 C flour, 1/4 C sugar, and 1/4 tsp salt in a food processor until combined. Add 1 stick chilled and cubed butter and pulse until small pieces remain. Combine the an yolk with a tablespoon of cold water and add in. Pulse until it begins to form a ball, adding more water as necessary. Chill.

Makes 1 9" Pie
Recipe Adapted from