Rough Day: Egg Dumplings

In which I get lucky.

Let’s talk comfort.  The past week and a half or so have been incredibly difficult for lot of little reasons.DSCN3194Lately I’ve been finding pennies on the ground.  Lots of pennies.  Not all at once, just one here and there.  I know everyone finds pennies on the ground, it’s not an unusual thing.  It’s the frequency that has made this noteworthy.

A few weeks ago, while cleaning the bathroom, I was sweeping under the vanity.  I have done this at least weekly since we moved into the house.  You’d figure that by this time I would’ve swept up anything that was under it.  On this particular day, however, a penny appeared.  Not just any penny.  But a penny that must’ve been from some sort of experiment.  It was silver around the edges and still copper in the middle.  “Pennies from Heaven,” I thought tucking it into my jeans pocket.

Last fall while doing some last minute planting, I dug up a penny that was barely recognizable as a penny.  I showed the boys and tucked that one into my pocket.



In the last few weeks, I have been picking up pennies all over.  Right by my foot as I’m getting into the car in a parking lot.  Right by my coworker’s foot in the work kitchen.  Under my desk.  On the side of the road.  Pennies that didn’t exist that suddenly appear while I’m cleaning.  They always end up in the pocket of my jeans.

There is a certain comfort in these pennies.  It’s not a comfort of financial security, because all told, I’m probably about 50 cents richer for the experience.  Pennies aren’t worth what they used to be.  I’m probably finding them because other people don’t care that they are losing them.  So why am I looking for a sign or meaning in it?  Why do I find such pleasure in something that the previous owner thought nothing of?  I have read stories where people find pennies and know that loved ones are communicating to them from beyond the grave.  “Maybe it’s a sign,” I think.  “As long as I keep finding pennies, I’m on the right track in life.”  Or maybe not, regardless, I feel a little more cozy and secure every time I find one.

It’s like chicken soup.  I mean, they even wrote a series of books about the sort of comfort chicken soup provides.  I was not a chicken soup fan as a child.  I was the worst sort of ungrateful brat that turned my nose up at homemade chicken soup with homemade noodles. I would only eat creamy soups or stews or pretentious things like French Onion soup with melted Gruyere over the top, but only if the cheese was slightly browned.  I clearly had no idea how good I had it that I even had those options.  Thank goodness I grew up and learned to appreciate the gift my mom gave me with that soup. DSCN3198

I had my oldest help me make chicken broth a while back.  He was proud of himself for accomplishing something so great.  I was proud of him for having the confidence to approach fundamental cooking. As soon as the stock was finished and strained, I made him some soup and put the rest of the stock into the freezer. I debated breaking out a recipe for homemade noodles, but the idea of rolling out noodles even with the help of my pasta maker seemed intimidating for that day.  Dumplings seemed more accessible. Normally, I make my chicken and dumplings traditionally with a creamy broth, but this felt like a clear soup sort of day.

Before you wonder too much, the thing that looks like a bug floating in the broth is a piece of thyme.  I am not going to edit it out. (My husband suggested that I insert a joke here about not having enough “thyme” to edit it out, but I’m seasoned enough to know that peppering this post with ridiculous puns will make some of you salty.)

DSCN3196There is something about the addition of eggs to a basic dumpling recipe that elevates it.  I am betting these dumplings would make a can of soup better.  I have a dear friend that told me she fails when she makes dumplings.  I’m going to gently encourage her to try this recipe.  Keep the soup hot, keep the lid on and just let them cook.  You should end up with a fully cooked slightly moist biscuity dumpling.  It’s perfect comfort for those really rough days.Egg Dumplings

Swedish Ham Balls

In which I recommend a podcast.

There is something about ham balls.  Most people I know have no idea what ham balls are.  My mom waxes poetically about how one of her aunts made the best ham balls.  One year at Christmas, my mom brought me a huge pan of ham balls.  It took us nearly a week to eat them all.  I always laughed about the sheer Iowan-ness of ham balls.  One day while waiting in line to pick up small children, I heard this amazing Moth Podcast about Ham Balls.  DSCN3005



I have a bunch of ham ball recipes.  So be prepared.  This will not be the last one.  But for my brother who just grilled a ham today, if you decide not to make the Ham Loaf with Cheese Crust, this is a decent recipe to try with your leftovers.  (The kids complained, but mostly about the texture.)DSCN3008Swedish Ham Balls

Marinated Mixed Veggie Salad

In which I tell a dad joke.

You know how every once in a while I make something and you think to yourself, “Why in the heck did anyone make that in the first place?” and then you think “And why did she feel the need to repeat it?”.  Just remember, I’m trying some of these things out so you don’t have to. (Not that you’d really want to sometimes…)

Now before you get too excited, this recipe is not an actual failure.  It’s just another so-what recipe and I’ve been sitting on it for a while.  Let’s see what I can do to make this a lot more exciting for all of us.Marinated Mixed Veggie SaladIt was a dark and stormy night and all the frozen vegetables were sitting around the campfire… Nope, too scary.

I slowly bent into the freezer and grasped the bag of veggies with one hand.  I turned my head to look over my shoulder and asked the man standing behind me, “Is this what you wanted?”  Has the potential to get really inappropriate.


Once upon a time, in a land of frozen vegetables, Princess Corn was lonely, so she invited her friends Peas and Carrots.Seriously?

Why do Jolly Green Giant vegetables taste funny?  Because he stands over his corn and peas…

Yeah, maybe not. Maybe just a few helpful suggestions:

  • If you don’t want to fully cook your vegetables, at least thaw them before adding everything else.  Just trust me on this one.  Like I said, I did the research for you.
  • More substantial and different textured vegetables may work better.  Think things like California blend instead of just regular mixed vegetables.  Or some of the blends that include beans.
  • Better yet, use some fresh veggies and forget about the frozen ones.
  • There is a lot of dressing on this salad.  You can cut the recipe in half unless you feel like soup.
  • Unless you like mush, don’t used processed cheese.  And even thinking about what my great-grandma may consider cooked vegetables, it may be mush regardless of the cheese.
  • Add anything with any texture at all to this.  Bacon crumbles, perhaps?
  • If the recipe is followed, you will have about 11 servings too many of this salad.

This recipe, as I made it, is all sad trombones.  It may not even be as interesting as that.  It will probably nourish your body to a degree, but it will do nothing at all for your soul.  Maybe it’s good diet food?  You’ll get bored enough eating it that you’ll lose your appetite all together?  Having already tried the 4 Bean Salad, I can see how different versions of this salad could easily sing. This one is completely tone deaf.Marinated Mixed Vegetable Salad




Extra Special Biscuits (for an unspecial occasion)

When did my love affair with biscuits begin?  It’s hard to say with so many food memories being tied up with them.  They are the perfect cradle for sausage gravy with extra black pepper.  There is nothing quite like a hot biscuit with homemade jam (except maybe the heel end of a fresh loaf of bread with homemade jam).  They can top potpie elegantly.  They can be lightly sweetened and used as a topper for fruit cobbler.  They can be When done right, they are hard to beat, but they are so often done wrong.  (Think flavorless hockey pucks). I know, I know, people ask why they should bother making their own biscuits since there are products out there like Bisquick (which I used in Breakfast PieQuick Cinnamon Rolls) and cans of biscuits (Supper In a Bread Loaf), but trust me, homemade biscuits are just so much better.  The process of making them doesn’t take that much longer than using something premixed. Extra Special Biscuits top

The recipe, as published, has a very good description of the basic method of biscuit making, however, it’s not the way I do it any more.  I’ve read about method in Cook’s Illustrated magazine.  I’ve read about method in various southern cookbooks.  I’ve watched people make biscuits in different kitchens.  After trying out various options, I’ve settled on two that I like and are my go-tos.  Two?  Yes.  You see, I needed an option that used my hands for the days where I just need to get my hands dirty and really want to make perfect biscuits, but I needed another option for the days where I just can’t deal and want to hurry up.  Both ways make great biscuits, but the hands-on method really helps me adjust everything until it feels just right.

Ok, so for the hands-on method, you put the fat (shortening, in this recipe, but otherwise butter quartered the long way and then cut into smaller cubes using a bench knife) and the flour, salt and leavening ingredients into a large bowl.  Using clean hands, (because apparently I think you don’t know to wash your hands before cooking food??) Put your hands into the ingredients and start smooshing and flattening the fat between your fingertips.  I like to sort of use the “cash rub”.  You know the thing people do in the movies when they are saying something is spendy or they are asking for cash.  This is not to be confused with “Making it rain” because you don’t want that mess in your kitchen.  By lifting your hands above the bowl and letting everything fall back into the bowl, it keeps the fat cool.  Once the shortening and dry ingredients are all nice and incorporated (I like to leave some chunks slightly larger than others because it makes the biscuits more interesting), add the milk.  Unless you are planning on making drop biscuits, do not add too much milk.  With your fingers (which are quickly resembling monster hands at this point) fold the milk into the dry ingredients.  It should just take a couple of passes around the bowl and the milk will be absorbed.  Even if you don’t think the dry ingredients have been incorporated enough at this point, dump the whole mess onto a floured countertop.  Lightly knead the biscuit dough about 10 times.  At this point the rest of the dry ingredients should be incorporated and your dough should be just vaguely sticky.  I never use a rolling pin to help shape my biscuits.  I just pat it down into about the thickness I want and then cut from there. Straight onto an ungreased cookie sheet and into the oven. The bench knife I mentioned earlier comes in handy at this point to clean off your counter.  It also is useful if you haven’t floured your counter well enough and need a tool to keep your biscuit dough from sticking.Extra Special Biscuits Split

When I don’t want to get my hands dirty, I follow the same process almost exactly, but dump all the ingredients except the milk into the food processor (I got that thing in college and it’s still a workhorse) and pulse it until it looks like coarse crumbs (or that crappy kinetic sand stuff that is impossible to clean).  At that point, I add the milk, pulse until mostly incorporated and dump the mess on my counter.  From that point on, it’s exactly the same process as above.

Now, this recipe specifically?  It’s not my favorite biscuit recipe.  It’s a perfectly good basic biscuit, but it’s not complex or deep.  It lacks the lightness and tang from buttermilk.  They aren’t the same sort of flaky and moist that you get from using butter.  No one at my house was complaining about these, but it’s rare that anyone complains about bread fresh from the oven.  Extra Special Biscuits Close up open

I know what you are really asking yourself at this point.  What did we do with these biscuits?  Did we slather them with butter?  Did I top them with homemade apple butter or Apple Marmalade?  Nope.  We topped these biscuits with bacon gravy and ate them for breakfast.

Extra Special Biscuits (2)

When “Best” is Subjective (A Mac and Cheese comparison)

In which I travel north.

As I mentioned on Tuesday, I am in Canada for work and objected to my family thinking they could get away with eating nothing but boxed macaroni and cheese and pizza for the time I am gone.  I don’t object to macaroni and cheese.  But there are better things out there than Kraft Dinner (did you catch the Canadian reference?)  I mean, if I had a million dollars, I would still eat Kraft dinner (Hey, it’s a Barenaked Ladies reference and I’m in Canada. Isn’t it ironic?  (whoa, sub-shout out to Alanis)).  So while I am dining on poutine and sipping my Tim Horton’s (Sorry (with a long O sound) for all of you that aren’t), you can try out these mac and cheese recipes to see if “Best” is really better than that which is not labeled “best”.

In the macaroni and cheese world (and in the subsection of the world that is my household) there are a lot of opinions about what makes good macaroni and cheese.  Some people prefer a baked macaroni and cheese and some people prefer a stovetop one.  The creaminess of processed cheese is a crowd pleaser among certain people, while others tend toward a more sophisticated palate.  There are macaroni and cheese restaurants opening up across America because people can’t get enough of this classic comfort food (especially these days…).

I tried out two of my vintage recipes for macaroni and cheese.  One is called simply “Macaroni and Cheese” and the other is “Best Macaroni and Cheese”.

I made the Best Macaroni and Cheese first.  It’s a custard based (meaning the recipe calls for an egg and milk mixture) macaroni and cheese.  It calls for baking in a waterbath.  There is no crunchy topping. I did not add the MSG in the recipe because not only does no one need that kind of headache, I don’t keep any in the house (can you even buy it any more?)  I also doubled the recipe because we had guests for dinner.  One of our young friends thoroughly enjoyed the dish until he found out there were eggs in it.  He doesn’t like eggs.  I thought it was ok. Not the best recipe I’ve ever had, but not the worst.  I think it might’ve been better if I’d used a smaller pan to cook it in.  It allows the custard and cheese to melt together better.  This dish also didn’t call for any butter.  Butter makes things better. Best Macaroni and CheeseBy contrast, the simpler named, simpler prepared Macaroni and Cheese was an overall more satisfying dish.  While also custard based, it did not require a water bath to cook.  There were few ingredients, but the addition of bread crumbs created a more interesting dish. Macaroni and Cheese

My older son didn’t prefer any of these dishes because he doesn’t like baked macaroni and cheese.  He’s wrong.  The girl just wanted bacon and croutons on hers.  (I don’t know…this is the same kid that had the ideas about Shrimp and Olive pie).  The middle one ate plenty of each and would eat either again.  But the lesson to be learned here is that best isn’t always better (even when it comes to words).

Obvious ways to change this up are changing the type of cheese used, put in additives like bacon or broccoli.  Create fun and crunchy toppings out of cornflakes, bread crumbs, potato chips, or whatever.

And before anyone asks, yes, that’s Grandma’s dish that the macaroni and cheese is in.  I love it.  Every time I use it for food, it makes me happy.