Monday, March 1, 2010

Cheap Bastid's Chicken & Dumpling Soup

Cheap Bastid’s thing is to try to cook really tasty food on a tight budget. I like sharing that and maybe getting some other folks whose budgets are pretty tight thinking about food in a different way.

This week we’re talking Chicken and Dumpling Soup. Why? Well, a couple of weeks ago I was looking for something to cook that would provide some left-overs because my work schedule had me working until 8:30 several days in a row. I got rummaging around in both my brain and in the freezer and came up with chicken but wanted to do something different and old-fashioned. I had never cooked dumplings before and wanted to try them to be able to say I have done it and for the flavor and “old fashioned” idea of Chicken and Dumplings.

And in going through the freezer, I came across a couple of freezer bags with some freezer burned chicken legs and thighs. Once upon a time they would have gotten tossed. But I figured that it wouldn’t make any difference because I was tossing them in the slow cooker and making soup. I was right. So here’s another Cheap Bastid, stick-to-your-ribs, old-fashioned recipe that you may just enjoy.

Cheap Bastid’s Chicken and Dumpling Soup
4-5 pieces of chicken (legs, thighs, breast it can still be frozen)
2 cups chopped carrots
1 ½ cups chopped onion
½ cups chopped celery
16 oz chicken broth
3-4 cups water
Salt, pepper, cumin, rosemary or thyme
Pancake mix

Get out your slow cooker or a dutch oven (whichever you prefer to use). Put it on the stove at medium or turn the cooker on high. Dump in the chicken broth and water, then add the chicken. I also like to add some heartier broth by dumping in 3 or 4 beef or pork broth “ice cubes” that I keep in the freezer. Add salt, pepper, garlic and herbs (dried herbs work just fine). Start chopping your veggies and dump them in when you’ve got them prepped. (All of this is more or less depending on how much veggies you like in your soup).

Now you can relax and let this cook for 2-3 hours. Get the pot simmering—a slow roll works good—and cover the pot. Read the newspaper, watch some TV, whatever. This is going to start smelling good within an hour. After 2-3 hours check the chicken. When it’s about ready to fall off the bone (stick a fork in it and twist—if the meat wants to fall off, then it’s ready). Take the Chicken out of the pot, put it on a cutting board and then remove first the skin and put aside, then the meat from the bone. Toss the skin and the bone and shred the meat then chop it into about ½-3/4 inch pieces. Then toss all that back into the pot and clean up your cutting board. Taste test the soup for flavor. It should be starting to taste real “chickeny” and you should be getting some flavor from both the veggies as well as the seasonings. I really like the way this soup smells while cooking with the combination of chicken, celery and herbs.

Now is the time to leave the cover “cracked open”. This will release steam and let the liquid cook down a bit intensifying the flavor and thickening it a bit. Make sure you’ve got plenty of liquid in the pot so this can happen.

After about another hour of simmering, taste test again. This time it’s to check on the “doneness” of the vegetables. A bit of texture is a good thing—you don’t want “crunchy” and “mushy” is overdone. So, if they’re just a bit “al dente” now would be a good time to prep your dumplings.

I came across a recipe online that suggested using pancake mix for dumplings. That’s good because I didn’t have any “Jiffy” biscuit mix and didn’t have any baking powder to make the dumplings from scratch. The secret is that rather than the 2 to 1 ratio of mix to water that pancakes require, use a 1 ½ to 1 ratio—so that it’s a bit thicker.

Use 2 teaspoons to “drop” the batter into the pot. One to pick up the batter and the other to slide it off into the soup. Cover the whole top of the soup with the dumplings. Turn the heat down so that it’s not bubbling, cover and let it simmer for 45 minutes to an hour until the dumplings are nicely puffed up and bobbing around like pasty, yellowish buoys.

Soups on! It’s time to eat. The dumplings will give the soup a smooth silky texture and provide that something extra that takes a good chicken soup and turns it into something special—Chicken and Dumpling Soup. A fantastic, tasty, home-cooked, comfort food, country-style meal in a bowl.

The Cheap Bastid Test: Well, I should say that old, freezer burned chicken isn’t worth anything but, it was about 1 ½ lbs. of chicken that cost about $2.50 at the grocery store. The veggies cost maybe $1, the broth added about $.50 and I used about $.50 worth of pancake mix. Total for the meal: $4.50. This fed us dinner for 2 nights and lunch for 2 days—a total of 8 meals. That’s stretching a food budget dollar and making something incredibly tasty at the same time. Give it a try. Your family will love it.

That’s the Cheap Bastid Way: Eat Good! Eat Cheap! Be Grateful!

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