One of my favorite summer events was going camping with other family’s from our church family. We would go to Indian Hills in the Laguna Mountains right outside of San Diego (one benefit of growing up in a town like Yuma, AZ). The parents would do who knows what, while us kids would find the most willing & easily taken advantage of adult to take us to the pool. We would also try to get some wax paper from the ladies who made the meals, because there was the monster of all slides with other puny playground equipment around.
After watching Swiss Family Robinson, I was convinced that living on a deserted island in a tree was pretty much the best place ever. And here in the middle of Indian Hills was a tree house that emulated all I ever dreamed. Aside from the stairs leading up to the tree house (the key was “Don’t Look Down!”), once you got to the top we would run toward our destiny–our anticipated ride down. The ride being the largest slide I have ever encountered. It was as if we were Fred Flintstone for a mere section in the opening credits as he slid down the Brontosaurus’ neck. In fact, the camp specifically had painted on the wooden side enclosing the slide, “NO WAX PAPER.” But we threw caution to the wind. At that very moment, we embraced all that we knew to be a kid. So what did we do? We would sneak some up anyway. There was a thrill knowing we were breaking the rules, in order to gain that perfect amount of speed and a little bit of vertigo. All for round two & three and so one as we raced back to the stairs to start again. It’s no wonder that kids are innately born with tons of energy with no awareness that their play is actually exercise. Any rational person would quickly realize the time it took us to climb up wasn’t worth the ride down. But we were living dangerously with our smuggled in wax paper.
It was also no wonder that when dinner time hit, we were starving like the deserted inhabitants we envisioned ourselves to be. While the Swiss Family Robinson’s dream hit the fan around 4:30, as we whimpered to our parents about our stomachs eating themselves. I strolled on over to the eating area around 4:00 where Gramma Naomi Quinn was preparing dinner for us. Now, Gramma Quinn was that quintessential, older lady that you envision having rhythm in the kitchen. She knew what paired well. She knew how to feed an army. And she knew how to give some of the best, big Gramma hugs a child (or adult) could imagine.
She was known by everyone as Gramma Quinn. When our church did a baking auction to raise money for the Youth Group, her homemade cinnamon rolls were the big ticket item. Because with those simple six words, “They were made by Gramma Quinn,” had more clout than a notary stamp. She came up to me, as I shivered in the cool breeze, and asked, “Kamille, what would you like me to fix for dinner?” By her asking me that question, it made me think the following: a.) I would be picking dinner for everyone else b.) that “Gramma Quinn” only asked me & no one else and c.) knowing she made the best (and only) Chicken-n-Dumplings I ever tasted in my whole seven years of living. “Your chicken-n-dumplings please!”, I replied. She smiled and said, “Well, I think that would be perfect on a cool evening like this. (and indulging me a little bit) And do you think that would hit the spot for you?” “Oh YES!,” I said.
That wouldn’t be the only time Gramma Quinn would make me chicken-n-dumplings, but this was the first where she made them to order on my request. Whenever I think about the creamy, salty, buttery dumpling laced with the gravy-like stew sprinkled with pepper on top, I always think of her and how she nourished my body and my soul with her big pot of goodness and her big Gramma bear hug. And so in her memory and my childhood nostalgia, make this hearty pot of chicken-n-dumplings. I think you’ll be recalling your own childhood dinner stories as you take your first bite.
My recipe is a transfiguration of sorts, which I find very handy when you’re trying to cook from scratch with shortcuts..if you will.
Chicken-n-Dumplings (printable recipe)
Now there are so many ways in which you could use chicken for the recipe. You could boil down a whole chicken, then use the chicken stock & the chicken for the soup. Or you could use some chicken breasts & pre-made chicken stock. Or you could buy a rotisserie chicken, remove the meat, then boil the carcass with the veggies to make your own stock. You be the judge.
One rotissiere chicken, meat removed & cut into bite sized chunks
6 cups water
2 carrots, big chunk slices
1 onion, cut into quarters
2 stalks of celery, roughly chopped
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 cup milk
1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
2 cups flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp kosher salt
3 Tb shortening
3/4 cup buttermilk
Making the broth: In a dutch oven or big stock pot, add your chicken carcass, cold water, carrots, onion, celery & salt. Bring to a boil, cover & lower heat. Simmer for 45 minutes (Time saving tips below). Remove chicken carcass. Strain veggies out & reserve the carrots & celery (discard the onion). Put a sieve over a bowl and ladle the chicken broth to separate any remaining particles. Rinse your pot, pour the broth back in and keep heat on medium heat. Now make those dumplings.
Make the dumplings: Combine the flour, baking soda and 1/2 tsp salt; cut in the shortening with a pastry blender or two knives until the mixture is consistency of coarse meal. Add the buttermilk, stirring just until dry ingredients are moistened. Turn dough out onto a floured surface and knead 4 or 5 times–no more, you’re going for biscuit like. Pat the dough down to a 1/4-inch thickness. Set aside.
Bringing it altogether: Put the pot of broth on medium-high heat & bring it to a boil, and stir in the milk & pepper. Correct seasonings, if you so desire. Take the dumplings and pinch off 1 1/2-inch pieces, one or two at a time and drop into the boiling broth & reduce the heat to medium-low. Stir from time to time to keep the dumplings from sticking. Continue dropping in the dumplings until there are no more. Cook for 8 to 10 minutes. Add the cut chicken, carrots, & celery to the pot and simmer until heated through. Remove from heat, a couple of grinds with pepper & serve.
Time Saving Tips:
- Use the rotisserie chicken for the chicken, but use boxed chicken broth instead of making your own.
- The original recipe calls for cooking up a whole chicken for 60-70 minutes to make the broth; however, I find an already roasted chicken makes for a deeper & richer broth.