Friday, January 13, 2012

Last Holiday Thoughts & "Chicken Stuffs" - the Recipe

Holiday Thoughts:  I must say that I found this Holiday season very enjoyable - from Thanksgiving on through the New Year.  I have been trying to analyze why I am holding such fond memories, more than usual, of what is always a fun, but hectic time.  And it was hectic:  cooking, home making, decorating, buying and making gifts, seeing friends and family, and being happily surprised.  I was also struck this year at the wonder of our lovely city block - folks beautifully decorating the Point (our little city "park"), and the corner coffee shop and deli folks donating hot drinks and food for our Toys for Tots event. Many of us decorated our homes, and, amidst it all, we managed to get together to exchange small gifts and tall tales.  It was all good. It was what it is supposed to be.

I know that country folks like to talk about the great "togetherness" of their small towns, but our little piece of urban heaven has a lot of that going for it.  I hope we hold on to it.  We have a few Grinches on the block, but they are vastly outnumbered!

Just a Reminder:  Two Farmers Markets remain open all year:  Rittenhouse Market and Clark Park.  And, of course, if you haven't been to Fair Food Farms in the Reading Terminal Market, you must check it out and you'll be a regular.  Another "new" favorite of ours is Green Aisle Grocery on East Passyunk Avenue (on Passyunk between Tasker and Morris).  The owners of Green Aisle are committed to local, seasonal and single producer products.  They also feature some wonderful items made for retail sale by chefs from restaurants in the area. 

"Chicken Stuffs" - A Super Comfort Cold Weather Recipe:  My better half has talked for years about the dish her Mom would make that they all loved and went crazy over. During the week after the holidays I finally talked her into to checking with her Mom and making it.  You must try it.  Now she's the youngest of nine, so I am offering here the recipe for 2 - 4 people.  The most important aspect of this recipe, called "Chicken Stuffs" by my in-laws, is that you must, must make it with a real "old hen".  Stewing chickens in a supermarket are only a month or so older than all factory produced chickens and they have not laid eggs.  A genuine old hen has had a free range life of producing eggs, pecking the ground for goodies, living a good 2 - 3 years.  These hens actually appear thin; rather long and narrow if you will. They are the ONLY chicken that will withstand the 3 plus hours of cooking that this recipe demands.  Ours is from the Livengood family - the Livengoods are at many of our local Farmers Markets all year around.  You may have to put an order in for an old hen.

Ingredients:  One old Hen - again, this may not necessarily be a supermarket "stewing" chicken - you want an old hen; a large onion; a couple of large carrots; 3 ribs of celery; 1 cup of whole milk; whole black peppercorns; bay leaf; parsley; thyme; oil or butter; flour

Method:  Cut up the Chicken - split the legs, take off the wings, cut down the middle of the breasts, remove the backbone and remove the neck.  This cutting of the chicken does NOT have to be "artistic" - you just want the pieces of a size so that you don't need too much water in the pot to cover. Chop the onion, one carrot and 2 ribs of celery, large dice or small half moons are fine.  Saute the vegetables in the smallest amount of oil for 2-3 minutes, just until you can smell the onions.  Add the cut up chicken to the pot, including the back and the neck if you have it (do not add innards).  Barely cover everything with water.  Simmer - do NOT boil - for one (1) hour.  Then add some whole peppercorns, not more than a teaspoon of salt, a few sprigs of thyme and a bay leaf or two.  Simmer for another two (2) hours.  Note:  if you did this to a supermarket stewing chicken you would have broth and tasteless strings, with an old girl you'll have broth and tender tasty meat.

Remove the chicken from the pot.  Strain the broth into a bowl - be as fussy, or not, as you want.  When cool enough to handle, pick all the meat off of the bones.  Make a light roux  with 2-3 tblsps butter or oil and an equal amount of flour (you want a color similar to coffee with lots of cream) . Chop another carrot and rib of celery (chop nicely now, this will be in your dinner)  and add it to the roux.  Toss to coat.  Add the strained broth back to the pot.  Reduce until it looks like the right amount of sauce for your chicken, add salt to taste.  Add the chicken back to the pot and warm through.  Taste and add more thyme if you'd like.  Finally add about 3/4 to 1 cup of milk.  Warm through and serve over rice. 

Serving Suggestion:  a green salad and some warm dinner rolls make a nice well rounded dinner and the rolls are wonderful for sopping up the brothy sauce of chicken stuffs.  Enjoy!

A plate of "chicken stuffs"

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