As I look back on my childhood and teen years, I have come to realize why I love food and cooking so much. Oh, I could say it was the homemade macaroni and cheese that called for two full pounds (at least) of that hoop cheese and two sticks of butter. Or I could rage on about the homemade chicken 'n dumplings, or the sorghum syrup mixed with butter smeared on a hot, homemade biscuit, but I won't. My love for cooking and for food brings so much happiness and joy because it causes a huge amount of nostalgia for me; all the family get-togethers and nights around the supper table with lots of sharing and TONS of laughter. We would eat breakfast discussing what we were going to eat for supper. True story! It seemed our lives literally revolved around food.
In the early 90's, my Mama decided she wanted to venture out and open up a little restaurant of her own. She had worked in a local convenient store that had a small “country” cooking deli in the back and there she became famous around our parts for her cat-head biscuits and homemade fried pies. In that small deli, the inspiration for “Suzie's Snack Shack” was born, where she maintained a successful little business selling more biscuits than anyone could shake a stick at, and even more fried pies than that! The snack shack did well, but my Daddy was doing a little daydreaming of his own and before we knew it, the snack shack had evolved into “Dude's Family Steakhouse” (yes, it was named after my Daddy). We thought “Suzie's Snack Shack” was successful, but “Dude's Family Steakhouse” had people lined out the door waiting for hours to get in on Friday and Saturday nights for several years. It was not only known for it's fantastic food, but also for the friendly, down-home atmosphere. Unfortunately, that dream soon came to an end when Daddy was diagnosed with gastrointestinal cancer in 1998 and only four months later passed away.
I worked many hours in that restaurant doing prep work and running the deep fryers while my Daddy cooked on the grill. Oh, the memories of those few short years! Of course, once Daddy passed, the steakhouse was just too much for Mama to maintain on her own, besides the fact we could barely walk in the doors without shedding tears because of the wonderful, fun memories and the love and plans Daddy had for that place. It was truly his heart and his passion.
Today I own my own business, which was birthed out of Dude's Steakhouse and my Mama's talent for making homemade fried pies. I own and operate Old Fashioned Fried Pies. My pies are always made from scratch and I deliver daily to local restaurants. In the spring and fall months I set up my little pie wagon and fry pies at various arts and crafts festivals and community events around the area. That business has allowed me to be a stay-at-home mom for the last 15 years to the two loves of my life, Caleb and Jordan. And for that I am truly grateful.
My dream one day is to own my own little countrified restaurant. I already have a named picked out, “Little Taste of Country”, but being a single mom of two teenagers for the last four years has made that seem like a very far distant dream. However, I shall keep on a dreamin'! And that leads me to what is probably my most requested dish from friends and family, Chicken 'n Dumplings. It would most definitely be on the menu of my dream restaurant and, of course, my fried pies would be also, but I'm just not willing to share that recipe! Not to be rude, but a girl just has to keep some family recipes secret, right?
One more thing I must add that is very important for you to know about me. I am a HUGE fan of music. I almost always have music playing while cooking, unless it's a recipe that requires an enormous amount of concentration, in which case I must have silence. Total and complete silence. Favorite music, you asked? Well, you didn't but I will tell you anyway. Keith Urban is the love of my life. Of course, he doesn't know this...yet. Obviously, I love country music, current not the old stuff. Hair bands, without a doubt. I am a child of the 80's and I take much pride in the fact that my two teenagers are well-seasoned in 80's music! And, of course, I have to stay on the up and up with the current “pop” stuff. My daughter, Jordan, wouldn't have it any other way. I can only take that in small doses and very rarely listen to it, unless I'm trapped in the car with her.
On to the good stuff. As I said before, this is my most requested dish when cooking for friends or family. I use only name brand ingredients, except for the milk, shortening and chicken, as you can definitely tell the difference in the taste and richness of the dish. But then again, if you've never had these and you like to pinch pennies, by all means feel free to use store brand or your personal favorite brand!
Chicken 'N Dumplings
Note: This recipe will make enough to feed a small army, so adjust your ingredient amounts to the portion size you want. Since I always make these for a whole mess of people at a time, this is the recipe I always stick to.
1-5 pound bag White Lily self-rising flour
1 ½ cups shortening
2 to 3 cups whole milk
1 large can + 1 small can Campbell's cream of chicken soup
1 large box Swanson's chicken broth
1 ½ sticks Land 'O Lakes butter
3 large bone-in chicken breasts with skin
Wash chicken well, place in a medium-sized pot and cover with water. Add ½ stick of butter and as much salt and pepper as you like. I never, ever measure salt or pepper. I just throw it in and eyeball it. Bring to a boil, cover and let simmer until chicken is tender and pulls away from the bone easily. I prefer “falling” off the bone, but that's just me. The longer you can allow it to simmer, the better. Remove chicken from broth and allow to cool. Once it's cool enough to handle, pull the chicken away from the bone and set aside.
As for the dough: In a large mixing bowl, dump most of the bag of flour out in bowl, reserving just enough for flouring while pinching or rolling out dumplings. Make a well in the center of the flour and add the shortening. Cut in the shortening, if your fancy. If you're not, do like me and mix it with your hand. Slowly begin adding milk and working the dough, pulling the flour in from the sides until it becomes a large bowl of dough. Use as much or as little milk as you like but remember, the stickier the dough is, the harder it will to be handle when you get ready to pinch or roll your dumplings.
In a large pot, mix soup, broth, remaining stick of butter and broth left over from cooking the chicken. Mix well and bring to a rolling boil. Now you're ready to do the dumplings. Depending on your liking for dumplings, you can pinch them off into small balls or you can roll them out thin and cut them into strips, then pinch off into small squares. I prefer thin and square but this requires more time and makes a huge mess. However you decided to do your dumplings, keep the “soup” boiling, but reduce the heat to medium-high so the dumplings won't stick to the bottom of the pot. While the “soup” is boiling add the dumplings and DO NOT, under any circumstance, stir while adding the dumplings. Otherwise, you will have a big pot of goo that you will be able to hang wallpaper nicely with! Keep adding the dumplings and POKE with a large spoon to push down into the soup. Here again, you decide on the amount of the dumplings. Some like them soupy and juicy to eat with a spoon, most folks I know like fork-eatin' chicken 'n dumplings, so I use more dumplings. A nice little bit of information here, if you fancy the soupier dumplings, you can always freeze the dough you don't use for another pot of dumplings at a later date.
Once you have the amount of dumplings you want, turn off the heat and add the chicken, once again POKING, not stirring, the chicken down into the soup/dumpling mixture. The result? One dawg-gone good pot of chicken 'n dumplings. I can only hope you have as much success with your adventure as I always do with mine making these.