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Chicken and dumplings perfect comfort food for frigid days

Thursday, February 25, 1999

Frigid weather is bent on making us miserable. We need comfort food, hearty and deliciously satisfying food.

Today's first recipe, Cracker Barrel Chicken and Dumplins, is a version of the dish served at the Cracker Barrel Restaurants from the book "Top Secret Restaurant Recipes" by Todd Wilbur. This stew-like dish is a perfect comfort food, chunks of chicken combined with fluffy dumplings in a flavorful gravy-like sauce. The recipe suggests serving a vegetable on the side. We added three sliced carrots to the pot while it was cooking to make it a one-pot meal.

The next recipe is Mock Turtle Soup. This soup has a combination of flavors, from spicy to tangy. Mock Turtle Soup is not a chunky or bisque-like soup - it's more of a light tomato broth. Try serving Mock Turtle Soup with a sandwich or salad and hard rolls for a full lunch or light dinner. As in all recipes, there's no law against trying your own version, so to make this soup a little more filling we added egg noodles.

Certain recipes call for certain types of chicken, so we thought you might be interested in knowing the difference:

Broiler-fryer chickens are used for just that, frying or broiling.

Roasters are the ticket to a perfect roasted chicken because they have a high fat content.

Stewing chickens, also known as hens, are older chickens, which makes them more flavorful but less tender, so they're best cooked with moist heat, as in stewing.

Jean Klein of Glenshaw requested this recipe. It was sent in by Cathy Fitzgerald of Squirrel Hill.

Cracker Barrel Chicken and Dumplins

ingredient 1
ingredient 2

Chicken and broth:
3 quarts water
1 3- to 4-pound chicken, cut up
11/2 teaspoons salt
1 small onion, sliced
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 clove garlic, peeled and quartered
1 bay leaf
3 to 6 whole parsley leaves
1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
2 cups all-purpose flour, see note
1 tablespoon baking powder, see note
11/4 teaspoons salt
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons milk

Bring water to a boil in a large pot. Add the chicken, 1 teaspoon of salt, onion, celery, garlic, bay leaf and parsley to the pot. Reduce the heat to simmer and cook the chicken, uncovered, for 2 hours. The liquid will reduce by about one third.

When the chicken has cooked, remove it from the pot and set it aside. Strain the stock to remove all the vegetables and floating scum. You want only the stock and the chicken, so toss everything else out.

Pour 11/2 quarts (6 cups) of the stock back into the pot (keep the leftover stock, if any, for another recipe - it can be frozen). Add coarsely ground pepper, the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and the lemon juice, then reheat the stock over medium heat while preparing the Dumplins.

For the Dumplins, combine the flour, baking powder, 11/4 teaspoons salt and milk in a medium bowl. Stir well until smooth, then let the dough rest for 5 to 20 minutes. Roll the dough out onto a floured surface to about a 1/2-inch thickness.

Cut the dough into 1/2-inch squares and drop each square into the simmering stock. Use all of the dough. The Dumplins will first swell and then slowly shrink as they partially dissolve to thicken the stock into a white gravy. Simmer for 20 to 30 minutes until thick. Stir often.

While the stock is thickening, the chicken will have become cool enough to handle. Tear all the meat from the bones and remove the skin. Cut the chicken neatly into bite-size pieces and drop them into the pot. Discard the skin and bones. Continue to simmer the chicken and dumplings for another 5 to 10 minutes, but don't stir too vigorously or the chicken will shred and fall apart. You want big chunks of chicken in the end.

When the gravy has reached the desired consistency, ladle four portions onto plates and serve hot. Serve with your choice of steamed vegetables, if desired.

Note: We found that we needed about 3/4 cup more flour than the recipe called for. We added 1/4 cup of flour at a time to get the dough to rolling consistency and we added 1/2 teaspoon of baking powder.

Eleanor Balint of Bridgeville requested a recipe for Mock Turtle Soup. Here's a response from Heidi M. Souza of Monroeville, accompanied by a definition of Mock Turtle Soup from the "Food Lover's Companion," 2nd edition, by Sharon Tyler Herbst.

1 large onion, finely chopped
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 pounds oxtails (as meaty as you can find)
1 garlic clove, mashed (or more to taste)
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1 tablespoon flour
3 cups hot water
3 cups chicken stock
1 cup chopped, peeled tomatoes
1/2 thin-skinned lemon, chopped (rind and all, we used a food processor)
Salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon parsley
2 hard boiled eggs, chopped

Brown onion in butter and oil, add the oxtails and brown slightly. Add the spices and herbs, then stir in the flour until it bubbles, adding more butter and oil as needed. Pour in the hot water and stock and bring to a boil. Add the remaining ingredients, except the egg and sherry. Simmer for 2 hours. Remove the oxtail, cut the meat and marrow away from the bones and add it back into the soup.

When ready to serve, stir in some of the eggs and a teaspoon sherry to the bowl. Serves 4-6 people.

Mock Turtle Soup: This soup has nothing to do with turtles but is made instead from a calf's head cooked in water. After cooking, most recipes call for the head to be taken out of the broth and cooled, after which the meat is removed and cut into small pieces. Just before serving, the meat is returned to the clear, brownish broth, which is often flavored with wine and various spices, and usually thickened. Mock turtle soup is sometimes garnished with calves' brains.


"Could you or your readers tell me where (other than the Strip District) I can buy any brand of Dutch process cocoa. All of the stores east of Pittsburgh, Giant Eagle, Shop 'n Save, Foodland, and even McGinnis Sisters, carry only the regular Hershey brown can cocoa. About three years ago the silver can Hershey's showed up in stores, but has since disappeared.

"Many chocolate recipes often call for it, and when I tried the Hershey brand, I like the results very much. People mention it casually in recipes like it is easy to get. I want to know where."

Lora Lynch
North Huntingdon

--By Arlene Burnett

If you want to answer a recipe request from a reader or are looking for a recipe yourself, please write to Kitchen Mailbox, c/o Arlene Burnett, 34 Blvd. of the Allies, Pittsburgh 15222. Please include a name, neighborhood and a daytime phone number. All recipes are kitchen-tested by the Post-Gazette.

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