Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Never Waste a Chicken

       Before I left for Nashville our stove had just been repaired. Normally I would have left homemade casseroles, but instead filled the freezer with corndogs, frozen pizzas and the like. The kids were happy about it; convenience foods are a treat to them. Marie had specifically asked for a couple of rotisserie chickens, hot out of the oven.

       Like many busy Moms, sometimes the menu plan has not been made and we're left looking at the cupboards. I play a game with myself--that I'm on Chopped or The Next Food Network Star and I'm given some random ingredients with which to make a dish. Today was easy. I tell my kids to never throw away chicken or turkey carcasses. I keep hambones, too and freeze them for later use in soups.

       So today the rotisserie chicken leftovers became a lovely pot of chicken and dumplings. My mother used to make it, and my grandmother before her. It's super-easy.

Grandma Breiner's Chicken and Dumplings

Chicken bones and leftover parts
Two or three stalks of celery
One coarsely chopped onion
Two chicken bouillon cubes
Two cups of flour, divided
Two eggs
About six to eight cups of water
Salt and Pepper to taste

Cover chicken bones, and leftover meat with water in a soup pot. Add about a teaspoon of salt, and the chopped onion and celery stalks. Bring to a boil, covered, then reduce the heat to low and allow to cook two to three hours (you can rush it in about one hour, but the flavor will not be as developed). 

Turn the soup off and allow to cool until you can handle the chicken, about an hour. Strain the soup into a large bowl, preferably with a pouring spout. I use a glass one from Anchor Hocking or Pampered Chef. Separate the edible pieces of chicken and break up into bite-sized pieces, placing them in a separate bowl. I have a bowl for bones, and bowl for the soft cartilage and skin, which will later be fed to the outside dogs. 

Once separated, throw out the bones, unless you have another use for them. I am told that pets can eat raw bones, but that cooked chicken bones break into sharp shards. I play it safe and feel I've gotten great use out of them. Press the soft, inedible pieces in the strainer with the back of a spoon to allow juices to run into to the large bowl of soup, Return the soup to the pot. 

Stir about half a cup of the flour into a cup with about a cup of water. Beat it until the flour is no longer in clumps, and add this liquid to the pot. Whisk it and turn the heat on medium to bring to a boil. The flour mixture will thicken the soup slightly. Stir it frequently. I add a couple cubes of chicken bouillon for extra flavor, and add about a quarter teaspoon pepper. Taste and see for yourself.

For the dumplings:

My grandmother used to put a pile of flour right on her kneading board and make a well in it, to which she would crack a few eggs to make her dumplings or noodles. Using a bowl is more "modern." Today I put about a cup and a half of flour into a medium bowl and cracked in two eggs. Beat the eggs while pulling in a little flour at a time, and add water a little at a time, until the mixture is a very thick batter, not pourable--more like a wet bread dough. Let it sit until the soup in the pot is bubbling and has thickened. Then, using a teaspoon, scrape up the side of the bowl, bringing a teaspoonful of the batter up. Drop it into the soup, allowing the spoon to get wet--which keeps the next spoonful of batter from sticking to the spoon. Repeat this until all the batter has been spooned into the soup. Return the saved chicken pieces to the pot and stir gently. Turn off the heat when the dumplings are floating and allow to cool a bit. Serve in big bowls with a salad or green vegetable on the side, and some bread. There are rarely leftovers to refrigerate, but if there are, they taste even better the next day. Enjoy!

Chicken and dumplings also come up in the Renata story a little later on. For now, here's the next chapter:

Chapter 5

2016

       Ernesto was starting to loosen up and have a good time on the trails. Karl had already rolled his Odyssey, much to his happiness as they were designed to roll and keep going. Ernesto was more at home thirty feet high on a beam than four-wheeling, but the adrenaline was beginning to flow chasing the guys around. The jumps were pretty fun. It was a beautiful, crisp day, it had rained the night before but most of the trails were already dry.

       Suddenly his front wheel hit a patch of mud and the whole ATV shuddered and went into a spin. When a second wheel caught, the whole thing heaved over and dumped Ernesto over a bank into some brush. It all happened so fast, his friends in front of him turned to hear, 

       "Oh! Shiiiii..."

***
       "...iiiit!
       
Bev turned back to look up the slope as she heard someone yell.

        "Help!!"

       In a second, Bev's skis were off and she ran as best she could up the slope. She recognized a ski sliding past her as Claire's. She looked over the bank and saw that Claire had taken a fall. She looked conscious.

       "Claire, you ok?! I'll flag down ski patrol!"

       "Oh, man! I think I broke my wrist!"

       Claire hated the fuss and bother and staring, but when she looked back on it hours later, she had to admit that being papoose'd and slid down the mountain by buff ski patrol men was kind of fun. 

       But the injury-- Oh, man, this blows my weekend! And she knew, there would be looks and shaking heads when she returned to work on Monday.

***

       Luckily, Claire was right-handed and she'd fractured only the ulna of her left forearm. Her lime green cast garnered many looks when she was back at work. Jan and Phil would not let the subject go, they always warned her that she took too many risks skiing.

       Claire finished putting some things away at her desk, picked up a portfolio and pen and started off toward a meeting. She worked in human relations, and read the memo to Jan that morning, "...you will work closely with Ernesto Smith from the construction company, to monitor time-line, make recommendations  and keep Corporate apprised."

       She cleared her voice. "Ernesto Smith. Makes me think of a chubby, balding, middle-aged guy with a cigar."

       "Claire," Jan frowned.

       "I'm just trying to be funny. I have to try to laugh after that weekend," Claire lamented.

       The conference room was humming with the chatter about people's weekends. Claire filled her coffee mug carefully and took a place at the large table. About a dozen people would be at the meeting. Her boss, Chris Walker, announced that it was time to begin. He was a nice guy about six years older than Claire. He'd moved up in the company quickly and most agreed he'd deserved it. Claire had always been on good terms with him and had good evaluations each year.

       "Ok, everyone," Chris began, "Thank you for being prompt, I know it's not easy on a Monday morning. I promise we'll finish up quickly." 

       He went on, beginning a presentation on the white board, and Claire noticed one man coming in just as the meeting started. He was dressed in a sweater and khakis, with work boots. His eyes met hers and he flashed a brilliant smile. Did she know him? Oh! This must be Ernesto Smith.

       He took a seat directly opposite and she noticed he had an old Thermos. He had a little difficulty pouring his coffee into the silver lid-cup and Claire immediately noticed why: Mr. Ernesto Smith was wearing a fresh, tan-colored cast on his left wrist, identical to hers. She looked up quizzically and met his gaze. He'd noticed her cast and raised his cup in tribute. She managed to get her left fingers and thumb around her mug and raised hers as well.

       Claire sneaked a sideways glance toward Jan, and saw that Jan had taken note of him also. Jan's eyebrows raised almost imperceptibly at Claire. How could one not notice? Ernesto was not bald, fat, nor middle-aged. He looked a bit older than Claire, with chiseled features, a strong chin, beautiful green eyes and thick, dark hair. Mexican? She thought to herself. She felt a line of perspiration break out above her upper lip. He was disconcertingly good-looking.

       Chris' voice broke through her distraction, "Claire--I see you've met Ernesto. You two will be working with each other to ensure that we stay on time with the parking project. Please develop a schedule to meet regularly and let me know if there are any problems." Chris did not notice their casts, he was all business and efficiency and jumped immediately to the next item on his agenda.

       Ernesto mistook Claire's stare for one he encountered regularly. People were always guessing at his nationality. His last name of Smith did not help. Usually, with a name like Ernesto, they thought he was Latino. People were usually bold in their curiosity and Ernesto learned long ago not to take offense. Often, he would play along and let them guess a while, or he would fake an accent. Rarely were people actually rude or racist, but he had encountered it enough to learn how to deal with it.

       As the meeting broke up and people got up from the large table, Ernesto made his way over to introduce himself properly. He, also, was efficient and meant to keep a tight schedule. He needed to get back out as soon as he could. But there was something about this Claire Greene. Not beautiful, but more than cute. He wasn't usually shallow, but there was something he felt very attracted to. He decided this might be a good time to have a little fun.

       Jan got to Ernesto first. She was a very attractive, older woman, her red hair pulled up in a bun. She wore a suit that had to be tailored to her; she was, in a word, curvy.

       "Hi Ernesto, I'm Jan Goedtze, I work with Mr. Walker and with Claire. Oh, here's Claire. You've met?" She looked at Claire who had just come up beside her, and Jan raised one eyebrow at Claire. Claire reached out her hand.

       "Claire Greene. We'll be working together."

       Ernesto affected a fake Mexican accent, rolling his r's and exaggerating his vowels. "Pleeezy to meeet you. I. Am Errrnesto." He bowed slightly when taking Claire's hand.

       Claire's eyes widened. This might be harder than she thought. She repeated, slowly, "We_will_be_work-ing_to-gether." 

       Ernesto couldn't continue, it would be too inappropriate, too coarse. He laughed, "I'm kidding, I'm sorry. I speak English, very well in fact. I was raised here. No offense taken, I hope."

       Jan and Claire both laughed. "I don't mind jokes," Claire began, "And my Mom always told me "Laughter heals bones" so I think both of us could use it. What did you do?" She indicated his cast.

       “Rolled an ATV this past weekend.”

       Claire shuddered. “Oh, I hate those things! So dangerous!”

       Ernesto grinned wryly and nodded. “What did you do?”

       “Fell off the side of a mountain, skiing.”

       It was Ernesto’s turn to react, a little loudly, “Oh! Geez, you’re lucky to be alive. Remember poor Sonny Bono.”

       Jan’s face fell, “God rest his soul! I grew up watching him. And I said the same thing to Claire. She’s a dare-devil.”

       “I am not. There is a difference between taking a risk you are not prepared nor skilled for, and in pushing physical skill to…”

       Jan cut her off…”I’ve heard it before, I know. I just can’t help worrying about you.”


       Claire put her hand on Jan’s shoulder. “I love you. I know. Hey, Ernesto, when do you want to meet?”

       "Thursdays are best for me. Toward the end of the day?"

       "This Thursday it is, then. I'll meet you at the site."

       "Great. Jan. Claire." He bent his head slightly and turned away. After he'd walked out the door, Claire and Jan realized they were last to leave the room. They looked at each other with wide eyes.


          



       


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