Total comfort food: pan-fried chicken with white gravy

I’ve been a northern girl all my life. But, there are some southern foods — or at least foods I perceive as southern — that I couldn’t live without: fried chicken, thick gravies, biscuits, etc. In other words, comfort food.

Years ago, I found this chicken recipe that reminded me of good southern food: juicy, pan-fried chicken topped with thick gravy that was made with milk. I had served it then with sweet corn and biscuits.

Unfortunately, I lost the recipe along the way.

Then one day– it was probably a cold, northern day — I tried to recreate that recipe because He Who Must Be Fed was in need of some serious comfort food. What I came up with was delicious. I hope you think so, too, no matter which side of the Mason-Dixon line you live on.

Ingredients:

  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 3 chicken bouillon cubes crushed or 3 teaspoons crystallized chicken bouillon
  • 3-4 boneless chicken breasts, pounded to 1/4 inch thickness
  • 2 cups milk

Dredge the chicken breasts in some unseasoned flour and set aside. Heat vegetable oil in a nonstick skillet then add the chicken breasts. Cook until brown on both sides, about 15-20 minutes. ChickenAndWhiteGravyCooking

While the chicken is cooking, combine the 3 tablespoons flour and chicken bouillon in a small bowl.

Once the chicken is brown and cooked through, remove the breasts from the pan and cover with foil to keep them warm. Add the flour/bouillon mixture to the skillet, whisking the mixture until bubbly. Be sure to whisk up those lovely brown bits at the bottom of the pan. These little bits are full of flavor.  Gradually add the milk and whisk until smooth. (If you find the gravy is a little too thick, just add a bit more milk until you get the consistency you crave.)

Uncover the breasts and either add them to the pan with your gravy or plate the breasts and spoon the gravy on top.ChickenWithWhiteGravyDone

Serve with mashed potatoes, corn and biscuits. You can even add some of your leftover stuffing from Thanksgiving. You probably have some leftover stuffing, right?

Thanksgiving stuffing they’ll be so thankful for

One of my favorite — and most memorable — Thanksgiving memories dates back to when I was still living at home with my dad. The unmistakable smell of onions, celery, turkey giblets and sage cooking in butter — lots of butter — would gently waft into my bedroom and wake me. As I woke, I realized that my dad was up early, making his homemade stuffing, which, fortunately for those of us he cooked for, he made every year. PhotoForNov.22TgivingPost

Many years later, when it was my turn to start cooking T-giving dinner, I asked my dad how to make stuffing. However, since he rarely uses recipes, he wasn’t much help. “Take about this much sage,”  he’d say, palming some of the lovely green spice, “and some butter and chop up some onions and celery …”  Those vague measurements didn’t help me.

After a few years of trial and error, I got it right. And, I had the foresight that year to write it down so I could share it with … well, since I always make T-giving dinner, I really didn’t have anyone to share it with. But now, fellow foodie friend, I can share it with you.

Ingredients:  

  • 1 cup butter
  • 5-6 stalks celery chopped
  • 1 yellow, orange or red pepper
  • 2 medium onions chopped
  • one loaf of white bread cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • one loaf of wheat bread cubed
  • one loaf of potato bread cubed
  • 1 1/2 pound breakfast sausage
  • sage to taste
  • poultry seasoning to taste
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/3 of 14-ounce can of chicken broth

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  Combine all of your cut-up bread into your roasting pan and bake until crunchy. Turn every 10 to 15 minutes so all of the bread gets browned. Honestly, I’ve lost track how long this takes. Let’s say 45 minutes.

In the meantime, melt the butter in a large skillet then add the celery, pepper and onions with some  — depending on how much you like it — sage and poultry seasoning. Cook until soft.  Then set aside.

In a separate skillet, brown your sausage, breaking it up into smaller pieces as it cooks. When it’s brown, set aside.

When your bread cubes are nice and brown and crunchy, remove from the oven. Pour the melted butter and vegetables over your bread cubes  and stir until combined. Then add your sausage, mixing thoroughly. At this point, you may want to add more sage and some salt and pepper. Gradually add the chicken broth, stirring thoroughly.

Once it’s all combined, spoon your stuffing into a buttered baking dish and bake covered for 30 minutes then uncovered for 15 minutes.

But wait … there’s more. I happen to like funkier stuffing. So, before I pop all of the “conventional” stuffing in the oven,  I remove about 4 cups of it and set it aside. For funkier stuffing:

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups of the stuffing you just made
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • Handful of dried cranberries
  • Handful of pecans
  • One apple peeled, cored and chopped (I usually use a Cortland)

Melt your butter in a small skillet. Add the apple, cranberries and pecans. Cook until the apple is soft. Add the mixture to the 4 cups of stuffing. Bake as directed above.

Now, if more of your guests like funkier stuffing, you may want to adjust these proportions. At my table there are only a few of us who like it this way.

I am grateful for many things this Thanksgiving. One of my many blessings is having fellow foodies to share recipes with. Happy Thanksgiving, my friends.

Why make boring pumpkin pie when you can make pumpkin pizzazz?

I know it’s probably culinary sacrilege to suggest making something instead of pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving. In fact, there may even be some sort of Thanksgiving rule, written by one of the Pilgrims, which stipulates that each of us who labors to make the Big Dinner must provide pumpkin pie.

But plain pumpkin pie is so, well, plain, don’t you think? Even if you add a big dollop of whipped cream it’s still kinda dull.

There are so many other pumpkin options that should satisfy your pumpkin loving Thanksgiving guests.  Here are a few that I’ve made in Thanksgivings past to rave reviews:

However, if you happen to be cooking for some Thanksgiving traditionalists, who want their pumpkin pie, try this one – pumpkin pecan pie – which should make them happy but also please your other guests who want a little pumpkin pizzazz.

Ingredients:

For the pumpkin layer:

  • 1 unbaked 9-inch pie shell
  • 1 cup solid pack pumpkin
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice

For the pecan layer:

  • 2/3 cup light corn syrup
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3 tablespoons melted butter
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup pecan halves

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

For the pumpkin layer, combine the ingredients into a bowl, stir until combined, then spread over the bottom of the pie crust.PumpkinPie1

For the pecan layer, combine the ingredients in the same bowl – why dirty more dishes? – and spoon over pumpkin layer.

PumpkinPie2

Bake for 50 minutes or until knife inserted in center comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack.

PumpkinPecanPieceSlice

My Thanksgiving crew is getting this. Is yours?

Clam chowder so good a New Englander will love it

With the colder weather creeping up on us – unless, of course, you live in Orlando or Key West or St. Thomas – it’s the perfect time for soup. Last week, I shared recipes for two of our favorites: taco soup and sausage and lentil soup.

Today it’s clam chowder, a rich, creamy, delicious chowder that will keep you warm no matter how cold it gets outside. My chowder recipe is one I adapted after twisting Paula Deen’s recipe for corn chowder.

Ingredients:

  • 1 stick of butter
  • 1 small onion diced
  • ½ cup flour
  • 6 slices thick-cut bacon cooked and chopped
  • ¾ pound golden potatoes diced and cooked
  • 4 6.5-ounce cans of chopped clams with the liquid reserved
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 cups half and half
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Dried thyme

Chop and cook the bacon, then drain on paper towels. Dice the potatoes and add to a saucepan of water. Cook until fork tender. Drain and set aside. Drain the clams and save the liquid. You should get about 2 cups of liquid. ClamChowder1USE

Melt the butter in a large saucepan. Add the onion and sauté for about two minutes. Add the flour to make a roux. Cook until the roux is slightly browned, stirring frequently. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature.

In the saucepan you used to cook the potatoes (no need to dirty more dishes) add the clam liquid and enough water (probably about a cup) to make three cups of liquid. Bring to a boil. Gradually pour the boiling liquid into the saucepan with the roux, whisking to prevent lumps. Return the pot to heat and bring to a boil.

In a small saucepan, slowly heat the half and half. When warm, stir into the thickened mixture. Then add the clams, potatoes, bacon, salt and pepper. Just before serving, add some dried thyme. He Who Must Be Fed thinks he hates thyme, but he’s wrong. He just won’t give it a chance. Add it to your chowder. It’s delicious.

ClamChowder2USE

Enjoy. If you try this, let me know how it turned out for you. Stay warm, my friend.

Sausage and lentil soup better than Carrabba’s

A few weeks ago,  my husband and I were eating dinner at Carrabba’s. He had forgone the salad — no surprise there, my guy’s not a huge fan of leafy, green food — for the sausage and lentil soup. While he was lapping it up, he was raving at how delicious it was while I was nibbling on my salad and wishing I had followed his example (although I’m a pretty big fan of green food).

He was enjoying it so much that I almost felt as if the chef at Carrabba’s were challenging me. “So, signora, you see I make the soup your husband loves best,” I imagined the chef saying, with a condescending sneer.

So, I said, “You know, I can make that.”

“You can?” He Who Must Be Fed answered, with love in his eyes.

“Certainly.”

Of course, that meant  that I would have to produce said soup because He Who Must Be Fed would not forget.

I decided to alter a recipe for lentil soup with peas and ham that I had already made. So, I did a little recipe experiment.

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 3/4 pound Italian sausage (I used part sweet, part hot)
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon fresh basil, chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, diced
  • 2 medium carrots, peeled and diced
  • 1 pound Yukon gold potatoes, diced (that’s about three to four medium potatoes
  • 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 2 cups water, divided
  • 1 cup dried red lentils
  • 3 tablespoons plain yogurt.

Heat the oil olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the sausage and onion and cook until the sausage is brown and the onion is tender, about 10 minutes. Stir frequently. Add the celery, carrots, potatoes, 1/2 cup water and salt and pepper. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are soft, about 10 minutes.

Add the chicken broth, 1 1/2 cups water and the lentils. Cover and bring to a simmer. Uncover and cook until the potatoes are tender, and the lentils begin to fall apart, about 15 minutes. Stir in the yogurt and basil.

PotoforNov.15Post

The result? I nailed it.

Try it and let me know if your loved ones love it, too. Then we can go back to Carrabba’s and give the chef the evil eye.

Super (and super easy) taco soup

There are a few reasons why I look forward to blustery, cold weather coming to Northwest Pennsylvania. My two favorites are sipping hot tea while curled up with a good book (as opposed to sipping iced tea while curled up with a good book in the summer) and making and eating soup.

Over the years, I’ve tried — and we’ve enjoyed — so many soup recipes that I no longer buy canned soup. Canned soup can be convenient, but most of the soups I make are so simple, and they taste about a million times better than anything those soup makers can make, so why buy it?

This easy and awesome taco soup recipe came from my friend, Margot, who made it for a campus event. It was by far the best soup there, and she was kind enough to share the super easy and super delicious recipe.

Ingredients: PhotoForNov.10Ingredients

  • Two pounds of ground beef
  • One medium onion diced
  •  Two 4-ounce can of chopped green chilies
  • two cans Rotel tomatoes with green chilies
  • two 15-ounce cans of kidney beans
  • one 24-ounce can of Bush’s Black Bean Fiesta Grillin’ Beans
  • one small can of corn
  • one package of taco seasoning
  • one package of dry ranch-style salad dressing mix
  • one cup of water

Cook the beef and onions until the beef is brown and the onions are tender. PhotoforNov.10GroundMeatThen add all of the other ingredients. Cook for about 10 minutes to allow all of the flavors to get comfortable with each other.

If you’d like, serve with some grated cheddar cheese, green onions, sour cream and crushed tortilla chips on top.

PhotoForNov.10PostSoupIsDone

If you try this and add anything else funky on top, let me know.

Passing down the love of cooking

I learned to cook from some of the people I love the most. I remember:

  • watching my mother use her fingertips to pluck hot lasagna noodles out of the colander and layer them in her long, glass pan to make lasagna.
  • seeing my grandmother’s hands covered in flour, her fingers nimbly working the dough for cookies or pasta.
  • admiring my dad as he expertly dropped eggs into a pyramid of flour, worked the gooey mixture over and over, then rolled them out to create noodles.

They didn’t give me cooking lessons per se. I learned by watching, standing at their elbow and watching them work their culinary magic. Occasionally, I’d ask a question: “Dad, why do you use two egg yolks but only one whole egg for the noodles?” Without interrupting his rhythm, he explained that one egg white helped to stiffen the noodles.

Since I learned so much from them, I feel it’s my responsibility to do the same. Enter my 3-year-old granddaughter, Briar. When she was just the size of a pea, I secretly hoped I could teach her to cook. (Well, I knew I had the ability to teach her. I was hoping she’d have the interest to be taught.)

LickingtheSpoonThen, one magical day, we made our first cake together, her standing on a kitchen chair at my elbow, my helping  her crack the eggs and measure the flour and baking powder. As she added each new ingredient, she wanted to take a taste. She  learned that brown sugar tastes awesome; flour, not so much. She also learned that one advantage to cooking is licking the spatula.

The next two times, we made cookies. I rolled out the dough, and she pressed the cutter to make the shapes. I frosted them, and she liberally (and I do mean liberally) decorated them with sprinklesphoto (4)

So far, it’s been everything I had hoped for — and more. Usually when I see her now, she asks me when she’s coming to my house to bake cookies. It may be cookies and cake now, but I hope in a few years she’ll want to learn how to make graham cracker cream pie, Papa’s favorite; oatmeal cookies with brown butter frosting, Daddy’s favorite; and cheesecake, everyone’s favorite.

I hope cooking together will continue to be something special she and I can share. I also hope when she’s older, she’ll remember our cooking adventures with as much love and admiration as I have for those who taught me.

Have you passed along your culinary talent to anyone? If so, let me know.

Braised chicken thighs with carrots, potatoes and thyme

Remember last week when I mentioned being in a food rut? Well, I’ve found another great recipe that will help you get out of that sad and boring place. And this one may be even better than the last, based on the opinion of He Who Must Be Fed.

Braised chicken thighs with carrots, potatoes and thyme  is an easy, one pan, cook-it-after-work kind of dish.

BraisedChickenThighs

This recipe was perfect for a weeknight dinner because:

  • It only dirtied only pan.
  • It calls for red potatoes, so there was no peeling, which is a bonus. Although you have to peel the carrots, but they’re easier.
  • It took only about 40 minutes from start to finish.
  • The mixture of paprika, olive oil, chicken broth and white wine made a marvelous sauce.
  • Oh, and it was de-freakin’-delicious.

Full recipe disclosure: My husband is not a huge fan of thyme, so instead of using the 1 ½ tablespoons of fresh thyme, I probably added only a teaspoon.

If you try this, let me know how it turned out for you.