Friday, November 30, 2012

Almost Turkey and Waldorf salad

              Uncle Frank stood his ground at the head of the table, knife in hand, relishing his importance as the annual turkey carver. My Aunt Roberta smiled deviously from behind; her two sisters Myrtle Mae and Loretta supporting her with devilish grins of their own.
                  Frank lifted the tinfoil covering pressing the outline of what appeared to be a rather large bird, slowly at first and then quickly to reveal a small Cornish hen seated in the center of the otherwise empty platter. His mouth flew open but no sound emerged. “Well, I believe we see Frank speechless for the first time in his life,” said my grandfather, who followed the remark with a laugh that vibrated around the room, joining the laughs of others just now getting the joke.
                  Finally, Frank laughed too. “Okay, you girls got me. Now, where’s the real turkey?”
                  My aunts and mother content with knowing they bested the biggest prankster of the family returned to the kitchen and retrieved one of the largest turkeys ever served at one of our annual family gatherings.
                  Years later I have often wondered how long it took those three women to create and pull-off this legendary act that became known in the annals of our family as the “incredible shrinking turkey” prank.
                  I thought of it again last week as I pulled my Thanksgiving Cornish hen from the oven. This was the first Thanksgiving in years that I stayed home rather than making the drive to Kansas to be with family. I missed the camaraderie much more than the food, but somehow it seemed important to keep the day by preparing at least a couple traditional dishes like mashed potatoes and gravy to pare with my tiny turkey substitute.
                  I drew the line on pumpkin pie since I would need to eat the entire thing myself, but wanting something sweet, I settled on a fruit salad based lightly on a Waldorf salad. It went perfectly with my tiny bird, not too heavy but sweet enough to tickle the tongue if not the funny bone.

Almost Waldorf salad
1 Red delicious apple, cored and chopped
1 Banana, peeled and sliced
1 Orange, cut in half
1 Cup red, seedless grapes, halved
1 Tablespoon mayonnaise
1 Tablespoon plain yogurt
¼ Cup chopped walnuts (optional)

1.     Place apple chunks and banana slices in a small bowl. Squeeze the juice from one of the orange halves over the apple and banana and toss to coat. Remove the peel from the remaining half of the orange, cut into sections and add to the bowl along with the grape halves.
2.     Mix the mayonnaise and yogurt together, pour over fruit and mix well. Stir in walnuts if using.

                  Note: This makes three or four servings, but keeps well in the refrigerator for a couple of days. The orange juice keeps the apples and bananas from turning brown.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Chicken with Death-Defying Noodles

           Loretta Arlene Elder Clasen Lallman made noodles that melted in the mouth like chicken-flavored pudding.  But this feisty woman, who happened to be my mother, made noodles only when the mood struck her because cooking anything just because someone wanted her too might indicate a weakness of character, something no one dared suggest she possessed.  We never knew when the mood would strike, or what that moment might celebrate.  We just waited for the words, “I think I’ll make noodles” and prepared ourselves for a heavenly treat; think cliché, “to die for.”
            All of my mother’s cooking depended on her mood, which meant delicious when she felt kindly toward the idea; not so good, possibly terrifying, when she felt forced into the kitchen, which rarely happened mainly because no one wanted that experience.
            I believe she inherited that attitude from her mother.  My Grandmother Grace could create one of the most delicious pots of Chicken Gumbo ever to grace, pun intended, a southern table, but expect burnt crusted, interior bleeding when it came to fried chicken.  She could also massacre pork chops and steak and do not even mention eggs unless you want yours over hard and crisp.
            Once as I watched Grace making gravy, which always tasted burnt like the chicken, a bowl of sugar fell from a shelf above the stove and landed in the skillet.  “Oh, well,” she said, removing the bowl and stirring the spilt sugar into the gravy, “no one will notice.”  Of course, they did, but no one dared say a word.
            The cooks in the family included two of Grace’s daughters, Roberta and Myrtle, and two of her daughters-in-law, Jean and Polly.  These four women manned the kitchen at family gatherings that happened nearly every Sunday when I was growing up.  The fare might include: fried chicken, Aunt Roberta’s specialty; ham baked with a glaze of honey and Heinz® 57 Sauce, Aunt Polly’s treat; always an array of flaky-crusted pies and light and fluffy cakes, Aunt Jean’s contribution; a variety of salads, generally furnished by Aunt Myrt; plus mashed potatoes and gravy, green beans (cooked with bacon until mushy); or other vegetables depending on the season.
            On rare occasions, to everyone’s delight, my mother added chicken soup with homemade noodles.  How she made noodles so velvety and smooth remained her secret until well into my adulthood when she finally fessed up, mostly because she had given up cooking entirely and wanted to make sure mine would measure up.  Her secret; she used only the yolk of the egg and replaced the white with two tablespoons of heavy cream.  Yes, that is a huge amount of fat.  But as Loretta would say: “Do you want to live forever or enjoy your time on earth while it lasts?”
            Those who want to live forever can make the noodles using the entire egg and skip the cream.  Just be warned that they will not be “to die for.”
Chicken soup with homemade noodles
(Makes 2-3 servings)
For the Broth
2 Chicken thighs
1 Tablespoon canola oil
5 Cups water
1-2 Bay leaves
3-4 Sprigs fresh parsley

1.     Heat the oil in a 3-quart saucepan until smoking and hot.  Add thighs, skin-side down and fry until crisp and brown, 4-5 minutes per side.  Add water, bay leaves and parsley. Bring to boil, lower heat and simmer 30-45 minutes.
2.     Remove thighs to a plate and set aside.  Pour broth through a strainer lined with cheesecloth, skim off any excess fat and set aside.  You should have about 5 cups of broth.  If not, add enough water to make 5 cups. Note: At this point, the broth and thighs can be stored in the refrigerator for several hours or over night.

For the noodles
1 Egg yolk plus two tablespoons heavy cream, lightly beaten (as an alternative, use one whole egg, lightly beaten)
½ Cup all-purpose flour plus more for rolling

1.     Place the flour in a bowl and make a hole in the center.
2.     Pour the egg into the hole and using a fork, mix until flour and egg come together.
3.     Scrape from the bowl onto a floured board and knead, adding enough flour to make a stiff dough.  Do not over knead.  
4.     Roll out to a thickness of 1/16-inch (the thinner the better), using flour as needed to keep the dough from sticking to the board and rolling pin.  Allow to dry uncovered 10-15 minutes before cutting the noodles.
5.     To cut the noodles, roll into a tube and, using a serrated knife, cut across the role at ¼- ½-inch increments, depending on whether you prefer narrow or wide noodles.  Unroll each section and lay on the cutting board to dry another 10-15 minutes.  Note: You can also cut the long strips into pieces if you prefer shorter noodles.
6.     While noodles dry, make the soup.

For the soup
1 Tablespoon canola oil
2-3 Carrots, chopped (1 to 1 ½ cups)
2 Stalks celery, chopped (1 to 1 ½ cups)
½ Onion, chopped (1 cup)
5 Cups chicken broth (recipe above or use canned broth)
1 Recipe egg noodles (above)

1.     Heat oil in saucepan over medium-high heat.  Add vegetables and sauté until soft, 5-6 minutes.
2.     Add reserved broth to the saucepan, bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until vegetables are soft, 20-30 minutes.
3.     Meanwhile, remove skin and bone from chicken thighs and cut meat into bite-sized pieces.  Set aside.
4.     Bring the soup to a full boil and stir in the noodles.  Cook at full boil until done, 8-10 minutes.
5.     Add the thigh meat, season with salt and pepper to taste and heat through, 4-5 minutes.  Serve and enjoy.  Note: Notice that I do not add salt until the end to prevent over salting.