Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Am I late to the party?

Chicken and dumplings. Am I late to the party with this one? Considering we've been going on six months of snow - honestly, guys, six months of snow - and are just now starting to peek our heads out of our burrows with the promise of warmer days this weekend. And I'm just now coming here with a creamy stew that will warm you to your toes?

I can think of so many days this year that would have been the right time to bring out the chicken and dumplings.

Like two months ago, when I went downhill skiing for the first time, my body a gumby after snowplowing in an exaggerated zig-zag down the slopes all day, far into the evening when the sun sank down behind the hills.

Or after any of our Saturday morning runs over the past two months, when my friend Elizabeth and I would meet at 8:30 with our running tops zipped up to our chins and fleece headbands covering our ears.

Or, oh, you know, last week, when Minneapolis sidewalks were four inches deep with slush, and I, wearing my Puma sneakers for the first time since last fall, stood with cold water soaking its way immediately into my socks, then slowly up the back of my jeans while traffic did not move for forty minutes, my bus nowhere in sight.

No, it was not until last Sunday that chicken and dumplings made its first appearance of the year for me. And, late to the party or not, I need to tell you about this!

Sunday was, yet again, a dank and dreary day; cold drizzle with the threat of more snow. I was in a dank and dreary mood, too - owing to the fact I had a been a little "festive" the night before at a bachelorette party. Anyway, I woke up on Sunday with low intentions, and let a few hours pass by without even noticing. When it came time to think about dinner, I sat myself on the floor in front of my shelves of cookbooks and stared at the bindings, hoping one would fall on the floor and flop open to something easy and relatively healthy that I could muster up for dinner that night.

My cookbooks didn't budge. I pulled out a few - Super Natural Every Day and Cook with Jamie - and paged through them, but nothing called to me. So I turned to my laptop and started through the sites I frequent for meal ideas. On Chow, I came across this Chicken Soup with Chive Dumplings.

That seemed about right. The soup part was just a handful of vegetables and chicken tossed into broth. Then, the dumplings were a simple mixture of flour, a bit of butter, milk and chives pinched into dumplings that bob in the broth until they puff into a doughy cap over the soup. I was certain this would be simple to make and fill my belly, but I didn't expect to be wowed. And that was fine for me.

I was wowed. The broth becomes utterly velvety after the dumplings plump up and kick off some excess flour into the soup. I think this soft, unexpectedly creamy broth is the best part. Or, it could be the dumplings. Salty and light with just a bite of chives to wake things up. Yes, the dumplings might be the best part.

Bring on spring, or even summer. But I'm hanging onto this recipe for the next rainy day.

Chicken Soup with Chive Dumplings
From Chow

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, diced
6 cloves garlic, minced
8 cups of good-quality chicken broth
1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into bite-sized pieces
2 cups flour
1/3 cup fresh chives, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon kosher salt (if using regular table salt, I would cut this down to 2 teaspoons)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup milk - 1%, 2% or whole
3 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled
4 carrots, diced
4-5 cups thinly sliced green cabbage (about 1/4 of a medium head of cabbage)

Heat the oil in a large, wide pot over medium high heat. Add the onion, celery and garlic; season with a pinch of salt and cook until softened, about five minutes. Add broth and chicken; raise heat to bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium and simmer until chicken is cooked through.

In the mean time, stir together in a large bowl the flour, chives, salt and baking powder. Stir in the milk and butter; stir until just combined.

When chicken is cooked through, add the cabbage and carrots to the pot. Then, time for the dumplings: drop spoonfuls of the dough (about one tablespoon-full) into the soup, until you've used all of the dough. Cover the pot and cook for 10 minutes, until the dumplings are fluffy and cooked through.

To serve: this soup goes great with a pint of dark beer.