Comfort Food

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Sometimes you can read a few simple words and your stomach will immediately sink. You don’t know what is coming next, but you know it can’t be good. That’ s what happened on Thanksgiving day when I went over to Annie’s Eats and saw, “Our Thanksgiving did not go as planned.”

As I read those words, I hoped that it was something food related, maybe her oven went out… But paired with the sweet photo of her father and daughter, I knew deep down it was more. And it was.

What was supposed to be a day of family, giving thanks, and delicious food, quickly turned into what I am sure was horrible nightmare with a phone call. That morning, Annie’s father passed away suddenly at the age of 59. You don’t need to read very far into her blog to find the words that will show what an amazing man he was and how much he meant to Annie.

When something awful like this happens, the first thoughts that usually run through your head are, “What can I do?” And when it’s someone close to home it’s inevitable that as you start thinking of ways to comfort that family, food has a way of coming right to the top of a short list of things that seem both comforting and appropriate.

The blogging community can be a really close one, despite the thousands of miles that can separate it. One such community that I belong to decided that since we can’t bring a covered dish right to Annie’s door, we would do the next best thing and bring a comfort food to her through our blogs.


It will never heal the hurt in Annie’s heart. It will never make her families sadness go away. But I hope that the thoughts and prayers we put into our comfort foods and blogs can close the gap between us and that Annie and her family can feel our support for her, from however far away we each are. If you haven’t already, maybe you can stop by her blog and leave some words for her.

Annie, I am so sorry. I know your dad was an amazing man.

As for my comfort food, this was the very first thing to come to mind. Chicken and Dumplings are one of my favorites, one of Jesse’s favorites and always warm and comforting.


Chicken and Dumplings

Ingredients
3 chicken breast, roasted and shredded*
1/4 cup shredded carrots
1 celery stalk, finely diced ~1/4 cup
1/2 of a small onion, finely diced
2 cloves of garlic, pressed
salt and pepper to taste
2 sprigs fresh thyme
2 tbsp butter
1 32-ounce carton low sodium chicken broth
2 cups water
1 cup flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp kosher salt
1 1/2 Tbsp butter, just slightly softened and cut into chunks
1/2 cup of milk

*I always use my fingers to shred chicken. It feels like I’m better able to get rid of all of the gristly stuff that’s really unpleasant when you bite into it.

Directions
In a large stock pot melt the butter. Add the vegetables and garlic and cook for 5 minutes to soften, add salt, pepper and thyme to season. Next add the chicken broth and water and bring to a boil. While the broth is coming to a boil make the dumpling dough by whisking together the flour, baking powder, sugar and salt. Use fingers to incorporate the butter into the flour, then stir in the milk. It should be wet and stick together, but not runny. Drop the dough one spoonful at a time into the boiling broth. Reduce heat to low and cover. Simmer for 10 minutes then add the shredded chicken and carefully stir. By this time the broth should have thickened but if it hasn’t, you can stir together equal amounts of flour and milk (a tablespoon or two) and add that to the broth.

Remove the sprigs of thyme before serving. Serve hot over mashed potatoes or by itself.

Sunny Side Up original recipe, dumplings dough adapted from Allrecipes.com

Chinese Dumplings

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So far, I would have to say that the highlight of my trip to China has been cooking alongside Mandy and learning how to make Chinese dumplings. I did my best to take notes, ask questions and keep a careful eye on all of the steps. I even consulted with Mandy via gmail chat as I wrote out this recipe to be sure that I had it right. That being said, Mandy has told me several times that the problem with making real Chinese food is that recipes and exact amounts are rarely used. Most people that she knows that cook do it by taste, smell, and texture. Or, to them a cup is the green cup that their grandmother had on the counter. So I encourage you to use your best judgment as you go forward with this recipe. If you’re mixing and it feels like there should be more soy sauce, corn starch, or even green onions for that matter, go with your gut. For example, after finely chopping the garlic and throwing it in the bowl she said, “I don’t know, what do you think, more garlic?” Of course I responded with, “Heck yeah more garlic.” Also keep in mind that the filling should stick to itself pretty well, but not the sides of the bowl.

A huge thank you to Mandy for opening up her kitchen to me and doing her best to teach me!


We started with shopping for fresh ingredients

Pork, Cabbage, and Mushroom Filling for Chinese Dumplings
As taught to me by our friend, Mandy

Ingredients
1 1/2 lbs ground pork
3/4 cup Chinese cabbage, finely chopped
3/4 cup mushrooms, finely chopped
1/2 cup onion, finely chopped
3-4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
3 green onions, including whites, finely chopped
1 Tbsp fresh minced ginger
1 egg
1 tsp chicken bouillon (or one cube, crushed)
2 tsp corn starch
2 tsp sesame oil
2 tbsp soy sauce
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp salt

~50 dumpling wraps*
1/2 cup water (for sealing the dumplings)

Corn oil and water for cooking

*Available in most well stocked grocery stores in the refrigerated section (or near produce) or can be found at Asian specialty stores. It might not hurt to call ahead and ask! I will add an updated link to this recipe when I get home and test out making my own dough!


Some of the ingredients


Chop Chop!

Directions
Place all of the first group of ingredients in a large bowl. At first, use two clean hands to lightly mix together and evenly distribute various ingredients. When the ingredients appear to be evenly distributed hold the bowl with one hand and use the other to fold the ingredients from the back side of the bowl to the front. Turn the bowl a quarter turn and fold again. Repeat until the filling is sticking together after each turn. This process keeps the filling from being overworked and getting tough. If for some reason it just doesn’t seem to be coming together you can try adding a little bit more cornstarch and a tablespoon of beaten egg.


Folding ingredients together

To fill the dumplings, hold the dumpling wrapper in one hand and place about 2 tbsp of filling in the middle. Wet one finger and run around the edge of the wrapper. Fold the wrapper (kind of like a taco) and pinch in the middle. The sides will still be open at this point. Now, each open end is going to get 3 pinches. Each pinch will work it’s way to the middle. You want the final dumpling to be able to stand on it’s own.


Filling


The theme of the evening was pinch, pinch, pinch

Heat one tablespoon of oil in a large skillet (with a lid) over medium heat. Add a group of dumplings to the pan and cook in oil for two minutes. After two minutes, add 1/2 cup of water (or enough to come 1/3 of the way up the dumplings), cover the skillet with a lid (careful there will be some splatter!) and cook for 6-8 minutes or until all of the water has been absorbed. Repeat with remaining dumplings.

For dipping, Mandy threw together some soy sauce, sesame oil, rice wine vinegar, garlic, and green onion. I didn’t get the exact measurements or a picture, though.


I made beef and mushrooms with gravy and mashed potatoes,
Jesse put it all in one bowl and enjoyed 🙂