Sunday, October 5, 2014

The smells of childhood

It is Sunday afternoon and my kitchen smells like childhood. Specifically, like chicken soup and rice pudding. I only realised as an adult how spoilt we were food-wise (and in plenty of other ways) growing up - both my Mum and Grandma and excellent cooks and Mum always went to considerable effort to make sure we had fresh, healthy, delicious food available to us.

Growing up, chicken soup was a regular feature on our winter dinner table, and it reliably featured whenever anyone was sick with a cold or upset tummy. When I was newly home from the hospital with baby C, it was a big pot of chicken soup that Mum brought over. I was pleased to be able to make it recently for my FIL during his recovery from surgery. It's good convalescent food but can definitely be enjoyed by those in good health too! E still refuses to eat soup of any kind, but now when I make this I use at least some chicken legs, and then extract a plain one for her to have with salad whilst D and I have soup. I am looking forward to baby C being big enough soon to eat some of it blended. And despite having cooked this recipe a number of times I have only just nailed the dumplings. It's good on its own but it's even better with dumplings!

Rice pudding was another of my favourites growing up. I have never liked milk on its own, but I do like sweet, creamy rice with a brown volcanic crust. You can make it with very little sugar and call it a healthy dessert and if you like, eat it with fruit, fresh or tinned. I like it with fresh or stewed strawberries, or frozen raspberries, or tinned cherries or tinned pineapple. Or it's good on its own. It's also good for breakfast the next day! E is already a convert. C is still not old enough for anything containing sugar and is still stubbornly gagging on the slightest lump but soon I shall make a sugar free version for her.

Anyway, here are the recipes for rice pudding and chicken soup with dumplings. They make a good two course dinner because the soup is not so substantial you're too full for dessert, and it's light enough to justify a carb-heavy second course. I think the rice pudding was originally courtesy of the AWW cookbook and the chicken soup is courtesy of my Grandma.

Chicken soup with semolina dumplings
  1. Put 1kg skin-on chicken pieces (either wings or legs or a combination are best although you can also use a whole chicken chopped into pieces) in a large saucepan, cover with cold water and turn on heat. If using wings then chop each wing into three pieces first.
  2. Meanwhile, in a separate frypan, heat a little olive oil and add a large diced brown onion, two chopped carrots, two sticks of celery (and optional – a handful of mushrooms thinly sliced) – mix until combined, then cover and gently sweat for a few minutes until the vegetables brighten and soften a little.
  3. Then mix two dessert spoons of plain flour with half a teaspoon of sweet Hungarian (not smoky) paprika and stir it into the vegetables. Sweat for another 30 seconds then turn off the heat.
  4. Keep an eye on the chicken pot and using a slotted spoon remove any scummy stuff that comes to the surface.
  5. Take a large tomato, score a cross in the skin, and put it in a bowl covered with boiling water for a few minutes. Then peel away the skin and finely dice the flesh.
  6. When the chicken comes to the boil, add the vegetables from the frypan, the diced tomato and a few more inches of water.
  7. Cook for at least 45 minutes, until the vegetables are soft and the chicken is cooked through. The cooking time will depend on the size of the chicken pieces you are using.
  8. In the last 10 minutes you can add other soft vegetables if you want – Mum sometimes puts in a drained jar of asparagus spears, or a cup of frozen peas, or diced capsicum, or diced green beans.
  9. If you have used chicken wings you can leave the meat on the bone if you want. If you used bigger pieces then take them out, shred the meat from the bones and replace the meat in the pot.
  10. Optional semolina dumplings – per 75gm of egg add 4 tablespoons of semolina, 1/2 tspn salt, a 1/2 a dessert spoon of softened (but not melted) butter and some very finely chopped parsley. Stir hard to blend the butter into the egg and semolina. Put in the fridge for at least 15 minutes so the batter thickens.
  11. Once the soup is cooked, drop small dobs of batter (about half a teaspoon - they will puff up as they cook) into it and simmer for about another 10-15 minutes. You can take one out to test and chop it in half to see if it is done, they need to be soft and cooked all the way through. The dumplings absorb the broth so you might need to add a little extra water if using dumplings.  Alternatively you can cook the dumplings in a separate pot of boiling water and then add them to the soup once cooked.
  12. Serve the soup sprinkled with more chopped parsley, good bread and a dose of nostalgia.
Baked rice pudding
  1. Preheat the oven to about 200C.
  2. Get an oven proof casserole dish and into it stir together:
    a) 1/2 cup of rice - aborio is good but long grain also works
    b) 2.5 cups of milk - if you're feeling particularly indulgent you can substitute some of the milk with cream but we rarely have cream so I almost always use all milk and it works out fine
    c) 1/4 cup of brown sugar (less if you are trying to be healthy)
    d) 1 tspn of vanilla essence or some grated vanilla bean
    e) the finely grated rind of half a lemon
  3. Over the top of the liquid scatter a dessert spoon of butter, broken into little knobs and about 1/2 teaspoon of grated nutmeg.
  4. Cook for about an hour depending on how solid you want it. It's helpful to use a glass dish as you can see how cooked it is. The top should have a brown, puffy crust which will collapse when stabbed with a spoon.
  5. Serve with fresh or tinned fruit.

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