By Sandy K.
I’ve always wanted to be one of those cooks that could cook chicken soup from scratch, but it was the memory of my mom’s homemade dumplings that drove me to try the Chicken Noodle Soup with Dumplings recipe (Those recipes are below). Truth be told, that recipe alone would have tempted me to buy the 100 Best Gluten-Free Recipes book by Carol Fenster. I was quite flattered when my friend, Mike Mitchelson, asked me to review the book and do a blog on my efforts. I immediately said yes and then realized that would mean I’d actually have to cook—I’m sure my husband paid him to ask!
My husband and I have been gluten-free for several years—at least eight years, perhaps nine. In all that time, we’ve never really found a gluten-free dumpling that made the cut.
So I start out with high hopes gathering all my measuring utensils first and donning my mom’s old apron hoping to channel her expertise. The utensils are buried in a drawer, so it took me a bit. Yes—it’s been a loooong time since I ventured to make anything from scratch! So I’m the true test of whether the recipe is fool-proof! (Did I mention that while I’m un-naturally blonde, I’m also very naturally and very proud to be Polish? We Poles can make comfort food like no other, thank you very much, so no jabbing at my last name!)
I’m totally not trying to be funny when I ask my husband (who is nervously eyeing me in the kitchen since that truly is his domain), what exactly is a whisker? I mean I’ve heard of an egg beater…is that the same thing as this “do-hickey”? Um…yes. He’s very patient.
Carol’s “Sorghum Blend” flour calls for “whisking the flour a few times to aerate or fluff it up”. “Is that the same as sifting the flour?” I ask my husband again. Well, what does she say to do? Whisk or sift? Okay, okay….I’ll use the whisk! I’m taking this perhaps way to seriously, but I don’t want to “get up to 20 percent more flour” in my measure if I do it wrong!
I swear this is before the wine. As I’m reviewing the ingredients for Carol’s Sorghum Blend, I come to the “1 cup tapioca flour”. I can’t help but wonder why “tapioca” rings a funny bell with me. So I ask my husband, since the longer we are together the more our memory banks are the same. He immediately reminds me it’s from “Who’s Line is it Anyway”, and we both burst out with “Tapiooooca!” (Check out the original here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bVpyhwuzFJY.) This cooking thing is becoming fun!
I wonder out loud what a “large soup pot” is—size does matter in this instance I’m thinking—and then I realize that if it fits the four inches of water, I’m probably good to go. This may have been my first mistake. We don’t have a pot easily available that fits a full four inches of water so I choose the biggest one we have. It holds, perhaps, three inches. Good enough? My husband thought so, and that was good enough for me to continue.
Just to give you an idea how long it’s been since I’ve had to measure any baking powder, the container’s built-in product skimmer really amazed me. It wasn’t just the cardboard edge of the box like I’d remembered. Seriously, no wine yet. Before you think I’m making this all up, keep in mind that it’s my nature to be amazed easily. What’s that John Powell saying? “Blessed is he who has learned to laugh at himself, for he shall never cease to be entertained.”
Going back to the ingredient list, it says “salt”. We rarely use salt. So for a moment when I can’t find it in the cupboard, I’m thinking perhaps I’ll need to steal my stash from the bathroom—I shower using sea salt sometimes, but that’s another story. No—this isn’t near as fun as “Blanche” from “Golden Girls” needing to go to the bedroom for whipped cream, but the thought makes me giggle a bit as I find our “regular” salt in the cupboard.
“Buttermilk”—yes, I have a story for that too! My Dad used to love buttermilk, but as a child, I didn’t. He would offer me a quarter if I drank a cup. So as I was adding the buttermilk into my recipe, I couldn’t help but think of the quarters I earned. Carol has a homemade buttermilk recipe I could have tried, but I put that down on my to-do list for another day. I figure if this doesn’t turn out, I want the list of possible reasons why to be as small as possible!
Possible mistake number two was not having room temperature butter. Easily fixable, I thought. It was after I put the metal container containing the butter stick into the microwave that I asked my husband to uncork the wine. I think it was the 50% power that saved us from being blown up. (This wasn’t as bad as microwaving our contact lens containers many years ago….so I consider ourselves lucky.)
I start to mix in the butter with the egg mixture and the butter is clumping a bit so I’m left wondering if it’s really achieved room temperature. I keep mixing. That leads me to another conundrum. I remember from my outdated history of using flour that I often got my hands into the mixture. So I’m wondering if I should be using my hands, a fork, or a spoon? Yes, I’m a bit detail-oriented. I stick with a spoon to start and revert to a fork until I get to the desired stiffness. My husband nods his approval.
Now here’s where Carol’s recipe falls prey to my lifetime motto. “If a little is good, a lot is even better”. So when she says to “drop the dough by the tablespoonful”, I’m using a heaping tablespoonful. I either had them way too big, or maybe it was the lack of a full four inches of water in the pot, or perhaps it was the micro-waved butter. I kept the lid on for the required 20 minutes “without lifting the lid”, but they were nowhere near done. So I pulled each dumpling out onto a plate, cut them all in half, and covered them again. This time increasing the heat a bit (perhaps another mistake), and letting them simmer for another 30 minutes beyond the initial required 20. They still seemed a bit loosely textured on the outside by the time the soup was ready to be consumed, but at least they weren’t doughy inside. Perhaps it was fool’s play thinking I could create something equal to the memory of my mom’s excellent dumplings from at least 25 years ago. But I still enjoyed them; and seriously—they were actually pretty darned good the second time we warmed them up. So all was not lost!
Getting back to the soup part of the recipe as the dumplings were cooking, I’m realizing that the chicken should have been cooked already! My husband to the rescue! He quickly takes them outside to work his wonders with chicken breasts on the grill. (He uses olive oil on both sides, then tenderizes the chicken by poking it with a fork several times, and sears both sides on a hot grill approximately five minutes each side, then grills them another five minutes on each side—my mouth is watering.) I’m beginning to feel like I’m cheating by not having cooked the chicken myself—the way my mom used to do it—a whole chicken in a pot of water along with all the assorted spices. Somehow using skinless chicken breasts on a grill seems to lack the “from scratch” definition. Seriously though, I was about to boil the chicken breasts in water when my husband saved me from drying them out that way. Maybe next time I’ll try using a whole chicken the way good ole’ Mom did.
Starting the soup mixture in the “large, heavy saucepan” (there’s that “large” description again…chill, Sandy!); I discover we really don’t have any canola oil. So I substitute olive oil as I hear that voice inside my head counting the mistakes aloud…mistake number four? (Don’t you hear voices in your head? You’re just jealous the voices like me better.) I end up using more than the one teaspoon it calls for as I’m trying to brown the celery and onion. It was either that, or burn them like so many other failed attempts at cooking! Not this time!
Let me also say here that it just seems wrong it took three grocery stores to find both the white pepper and fresh parsley. What’s the world coming to? I remind myself I’m going to Google what the difference is between white and black pepper and why you’d choose one over the other. I can only recall that Mom’s reason for using it was to fool my future husband into thinking there was no pepper in her dishes since he couldn’t see it if it were white! She wasn’t far off in her reasoning! According to what I found on Google, white is used mainly for aesthetic reasons so you don’t see the black flecks. There are some, however, who think white pepper has a milder taste.
If not for the fact that I had already diligently chopped all the required parsley from the soup ingredient list, I may have opted not to take the time for garnish had I known that’s what it was for. No, I take that back—I’ve never had to take a picture of the done deal before!
I used Bionature brand pasta for the “gluten-free pasta of choice” called for in the recipe. I’m thinking the pasta made the broth thicker than a regular chicken soup would be and might opt to only add the home-made dumplings on the next try. Now that we’ve found out the second time around the dumplings taste better, I just might try my hand at it again—using teaspoonfuls of dough vs. tablespoonfuls just to be on the safe side. Oh, and the next time, I might uncork the wine a bit sooner!
Sandy K. is the one-and-only Sandy Krzyzanowski, the owner (and uber-certified instructor) of Better Day Yoga, based in Brooklyn Park but with classes in multiple locations. She can’t consume gluten, and therefore can’t drink beer, but nevertheless qualifies as a Bloated Belly contributor because she can still drink lots of wine.