Archive for the ‘Soups and Stews’ Category

Comfort Food at Its Best

Friday, April 30th, 2021

This column appeared in our local paper, and I couldn’t resist sharing it with a wider audience!

Sometimes when recipe inspiration doesn’t strike me, I call on friends (or friends of friends) who are good home cooks. Recently, I contacted writer and scholar Martha Ackmann.

I knew Martha would come up with something tasty. I also knew she would be fun to talk to. It didn’t occur to me that she would offer me a recipe from Dolly Parton … but when she did I was thrilled.

Martha is working on a book about Parton. I asked her, “Why Dolly?”

She replied, “My niche is women who’ve changed America.”

Her previous books have chronicled the lives of the Mercury 13, a group of women in the 1960s who were secretly tested as potential U.S. astronauts; Toni Stone, a pioneering player in baseball’s Negro League; and Emily Dickinson.

Martha explained that she has been interested in Dolly Parton since the singer’s early days performing on The Porter Wagoner Show.

“I want to take her seriously,” Martha said of Parton. “I love her music. I think it’s joyous and heartwarming, and it makes me feel better. Even the things she calls her ‘sad-ass songs.’”

“I’ve been spending a lot of the lockdown just doing the basic research, and boy is there a lot of it!” Martha added.

As a former resident of East Tennessee (my friend Bill played in the Sevierville County High School Marching Band with Parton), I, too, am a long-time Dolly fan. I believe Martha is the perfect person to write about this complex public personality.’

“I have always been impressed by her seriousness,” Martha told me.

She noted that Parton’s history has been entwined with food from the start of the star’s life. Martha cited Parton’s origin story, which recounts that father Robert Lee Parton didn’t have the funds to pay the doctor who brought the child into the world and ended up paying for the birth with a sack of cornmeal.

Food production was important throughout Parton’s time growing up poor with a passel of brothers and sisters, Martha informed me.

“Dolly’s family grew their own food not to sell but to sustain their large family,” she explained. “They had a big kettle for cooking hominy and stews, a ‘tater hole’ for storing potatoes and turnips. The walls of their kitchen were covered with nails for drying fruits, peppers, garlic, dill, onions, and beans.

“They grew asparagus behind the woodshed. Had both red and black raspberries. A smoke house for salted pork, ham, bacon. There were cardboard boxes in the cupboard for dried shellie beans, corn, black-eyed peas; and sacks of walnuts, hazelnuts, hickory nuts, chestnuts, beechnuts.

“A large garden, of course (tomatoes, okra, lettuce). Chickens, hogs, cows. They also ate a lot of game,” Martha concluded.

She argued that in some ways food has also helped shape Parton’s music. “As a child, Dolly always listened to the rhythm around her: birds chirping, the creak of a rocking chair. She also remembers hearing her mother snapping beans. The rhythm of those snaps sounded like music to her. Food equals music.”

Martha describes herself as “a good, solid, not flashy, evolving Midwestern cook.”

Like Parton, Martha’s Missouri family had rural roots. She recalls her country-born grandparents butchering their own meat in their tiny backyard in St. Louis. Martha is the designated cook in her own household. She was eager to try one of Parton’s signature recipes when I asked her for a dish.

Together, Martha and I selected Dolly Parton’s Chicken and Dumplings, a perfect recipe for our recent cool weather. Like any good home cook, Martha adapted the recipe a bit … and she admitted that she might adapt it even more next time she makes it.

She is considering more vegetables (leeks, beans) and perhaps some herbs (parsley, thyme, bay leaf) to the stock. She told me that the dish was satisfying as it was, however, and that it epitomized comfort.

“The dumplings were easy to make,” she elaborated, “and preparing them gave me an occasion to use my great aunt’s rolling pin! (Beulah Clementine Snook Erdel. Isn’t that a noble name?)

“All the time I was making the dumplings, I thought about Dolly’s mother feeding 11 hungry kids and the Missouri farm women in my own family rolling out countless pie crusts, biscuits, and dumplings. This is a good recipe for remembering hard-working women.” Here is Martha’s recipe. Listen to a little Dolly Parton music as you make and eat it.

Martha with the Rolling Pin (courtesy of Ann Romberger)

Dolly’s Chicken ‘n’ Dumplin’s

(Adapted by Martha Ackmann)

Ingredients:

for the stock and the chicken:

1 3-pound chicken, cut up, or 3 pounds of chicken parts
2 teaspoons salt
pepper to taste
1 onion, peeled but left whole
1/4 cup chopped celery leaves
chopped carrots and celery to taste

for the dumplings:

2 cups flour, plus additional flour for kneading
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3 tablespoons shortening
3/4 cup milk

for assembly:
a little parsley for garnish

Instructions:

In a Dutch oven, combine the chicken and the salt with 2 quarts of water. Cover, and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium. Toss in the pepper, onion, and celery leaves. Simmer the chicken, covered, until the meat comes off the bones. (This took Martha about 45 minutes.)

Strain the mixture, discarding the vegetables but saving the broth and chicken.

When the chicken is cool enough to handle, remove it from the bones. Cut it into bite-size pieces. Set it aside. Turn the heat up to high, and bring the stock to a boil. Toss the carrots and celery into the liquid.

While the stock is boiling, begin to work on the dumplings. Combine the flour, salt, and baking soda in a medium bowl.

Cut in the shortening with knives or a pastry blender. Stir in the milk, a little at a time, until the dough is moist. Turn it onto a floured board, and knead it for 5 minutes.

Roll the dough out until it is 1/2 inch thick. Cut it into 1-1/2-inch squares. Drop the squares into the boiling stock. Reduce the heat, cover, and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring gently from time to time.

Return the chicken to the pot. Stir it and heat it until it is thoroughly warm, about 8 minutes.

To serve, place 3 or so dumplings in a shallow soup dish, place chicken to taste on top, and ladle on some stock with carrots and celery. Serve warm, garnished with parsley. Serves 4 to 5.

Courtesy of Christina Barber-Just

Nana’s Matzo Ball Soup

Monday, March 22nd, 2021

Nana’s Matzo Ball Soup

Passover is coming. I’ll be making my grandmother’s matzo-ball soup this week on Mass Appeal and talking about her on our local public-radio station, New England Public Radio. Here’s the simple recipe, associated with Jewish grandmothers the world over. Happy Spring!

Ingredients:

2 eggs
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
2 tablespoons minced fresh dill
2 tablespoons soda water
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3/4 teaspoon salt
freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup matzo meal
6 cups chicken or vegetable stock

Instructions:

In a small bowl, beat the eggs. With a balloon whisk, whisk in the parsley, dill, soda water, oil, salt, and pepper. Then stir in the matzo meal. Cover the mixture, and refrigerate it for at least an hour but not more than 6 hours.

Oil your hands, and shape the dough into small balls (about 1/2 inch across). Pop the balls CAREFULLY into salted boiling water.

Simmer the balls, covered, for 25 minutes over medium-low heat. Do not peek at the balls while they are cooking. Drain the matzo balls.

Bring the chicken stock to a boil, covered, and place the balls in it. Simmer, covered, for at least 15 minutes. Serves 4 to 6.

Easy Comfort Food

Saturday, November 23rd, 2019

As we start planning and cooking for Thanksgiving, I’m serving my family simple dishes that don’t take a lot of work. I figure we’ll have plenty of work in the kitchen this coming Thursday.

This dish, featured in my Pudding Hollow Cookbook, is one of my mother’s standbys when she wanted an easy, warming meal. Make it with the best ingredients you can, and enjoy the way the dill and the sour cream go together with the meat and vegetables.

I made it recently on Mass Appeal, and it was a big hit.

Happy Thanksgiving! I wish you joy … and delicious dishes along with your turkey like cranberry chutney, biscuits, Brussels sprouts salad, and harvest salad.

Hamburger Stroganoff

Ingredients:

1 cup minced onion
1 clove minced garlic
a dab of sweet butter
1 pound ground beef
1/4 pound mushrooms, sautéed in sweet butter (or a lot more!)
1 can (6 ounces) ripe olives
a generous splash of chicken broth or stock
salt and pepper to taste
1 cup sour cream, plus a little more if needed
a sprinkle of fresh or dried dill

Instructions:

Sauté the onion and garlic in the butter. Stir in the beef and brown it. Drain off the fat if it looks excessive. Add the mushrooms, olives, and stock (the latter should pretty much cover the mixture), plus the salt and pepper.

Partially cover and cook for 20 minutes to half an hour, until the liquid has almost evaporated. Stir in the sour cream and heat but do not boil. Sprinkle dill over the Stroganoff and serve over rice or noodles. Serves 4.

Cream of Asparagus Soup

Wednesday, June 19th, 2019

 

Here in Western Massachusetts we are still enjoying my favorite vegetable in the entire world, ASPARAGUS.

Mostly I just steam, roast, or boil it to eat plain or put in salads. But on my last television appearance I decided to make soup. It was lovely and green and oh, so asparagus-y.

If you want a lighter soup, omit the potato. It does make the soup heartier, however. My neighbors came over to finish up the leftovers and left very happy indeed.

On TV (and for the neighbors) I followed up with Fannie Farmer’s peanut butter cookies. The perfect meal.

The Soup

Ingredients:

1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, peeled and chopped relatively but not obsessively small
3 cups asparagus pieces (about 1 pound; be sure to break off the tough ends before cutting—and if you want stronger asparagus flavor feel free to add more of it!)
1 medium baking potato, peeled and cut into small cubes
4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1/2 cup heavy cream
chopped fresh chives or dill

Instructions:

Combine the butter and oil over low heat in a 4-quart saucepan. When the butter melts, add the onion pieces and cook them until they become golden, stirring constantly. (This should take a little under 10 minutes.)

Add the asparagus and potato pieces. Toss lightly; then stir in the stock and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Bring the mixture to a boil. Cook, partly covered, until the vegetables become tender, about 15 minutes.

Cool the soup for a couple of minutes; then puree it in a blender. (Or use an immersion blender.) At this stage you may refrigerate the soup if you don’t want to use it right away. Just be sure to reheat it before going to the next step.

Add salt and pepper as desired to the warm soup, and add the cream. Heat the soup a little longer to make sure the cream is warm as well. Garnish with the herbs. Serves 4.

I’m not giving you the cookie recipe, because if you don’t have a copy of The Fannie Farmer Cookbook, you should buy one IMMEDIATELY and seek it out there.

Happy almost summer!

And now the videos:

Tinky Makes Cream of Asparagus Soup

Tinky Makes Peanut-Butter Cookies

A Belated (but fun!) Halloween

Thursday, November 2nd, 2017

I don’t get trick or treaters here in the wilds of western Massachusetts, but that didn’t prevent me from enjoying Halloween this year. My house was festooned with my favorite fall decorations on Tuesday. Cocoa the dog reluctantly donned her turtle costume. And I made Halloween treats with my friends on the show Mass Appeal.

Actually, the first recipe we prepared wasn’t a treat; it was a hearty soup I recommend for Halloween night (or any other fall evening). Pam’s Country Ham and Potato Soup (the recipe is here; I shared it a few years ago) is so warming and delicious I don’t want dessert after dining on it.

I did feel the need to feature a treat on the air as well, however, so we made festive sweets from the recipe box of one of my area’s best bakers, Paula Rice of Charlemont. In plastic wrap or a sandwich bag, they’re an ideal hand out for trick-or-treaters. They’re also tasty all fall long. (Paula reports that she hasn’t made them yet this year, but she’s going to!)

The recipe below is Paula’s. Instead of her filling, I used my traditional cream-cheese frosting. Either way, the pies are welcomed by adults and children. They taste like pumpkin, spice, and fall.

Paula’s Pumpkin Whoopie Pies

Ingredients:

for the cookies:

1 pound light brown sugar
1 cup vegetable oil (I use Canola)
2 eggs
1-3/4 to 2 cups pumpkin puree (freshly cooked and mashed, or a 15-ounce can)
1 teaspoon each cinnamon, cloves, and ginger
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons vanilla
3 cups flour

for the filling:

1 cup confectioner’s sugar
1 cup marshmallow fluff
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter at room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

For the cookies: Combine the sugar, oil, eggs, pumpkin, and spices in a large bowl, mixing well. Add the baking soda, baking powder, and vanilla, mixing well. Stir in the flour 1 cup at a time, mixing well after each addition.

Lightly grease baking sheets or line them with parchment or silicone. Drop rounded 2-tablespoon portions of dough onto the sheets.

Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, or until the cookies are firm. (A slight indentation where your finger tests them is allowable.)

Cool the cookies completely; then get ready to fill.

Beat together the filling ingredients, and spread them between whoopie layers. If you’re NOT handing these out to children in bags, feel free to decorate the tops as well.

This recipe makes about 20 filled pies. If you wish, you may make your whoopie pies bigger or smaller than indicated. (Paula likes small ones.)

If you make them bigger, you may have to cook them a little longer; smaller, a little less time.

And now the videos:

Tinky Makes Pam’s Country Ham and Potato Soup on Mass Appeal

Tinky Makes Paula’s Pumpkin Whoopie Pies on Mass Appeal