Here's a bit of background information for those who didn't read Learning to Cook I. When I was about eleven or so, I was put in charge of fixing supper every now and then. Most of my first forays into cooking supper were absolute disasters, but we had to eat them anyway, because when a meal was prepared and put on the table, you ate it...whether you liked it or not...or whether it was edible or not.
One night I wanted to make chicken and dumplings.
When I was little, my very favorite thing that Grandma cooked was chicken and dumplings. For those of you who have never eaten them, you are missing out on a real treat. Think of chicken and dumplings as being sort of like chicken noodle soup, only with LOTS of real chicken (not those little cubes) and better/richer/thicker broth and softer/better-tasting noodles. On the other hand, maybe a comparison to chicken noodle soup isn't a good one...but it's a start for those of you who are unfamiliar.
Chicken and dumplings are a LOT better at curing the common cold and feel real good to a sore throat, because if you can't swallow the chicken or dumplings, you can still swallow the broth. And... you know when you have been sick for a while and haven't been able to eat because nothing will stay down, but you are finally getting better and it's time to start trying some food again? What's the best thing to eat once you're past the flat coke and crackers stage? Chicken and dumplings. They are great whether you are sick or well. They are just about the best comfort food ever invented.
Some folks make dumplings that are thicky and doughy, and you drop them by spoonfuls into the broth...sort of like biscuits in the broth. None of that for my family! Our dumplings are flat strips. You have to make the dough and roll it out on a floured surface with a rolling pin and cut it into strips with a really sharp knife. It's lots of work. (Well, it wouldn't be lots of work to moehawk, but it is to me.)
The evening I wanted to make chicken and dumplings, I called Grandma to get directions, and she walked me through the process down to the point of putting them in the broth. I had a nice large stack of dumplings ready, and Grandma said to put them in one at a time, so I did. I didn't know you were supposed to put them in different places in the broth so they wouldn't stick together. I also didn't know that you didn't have to use them all. I also didn't know I had made enough dumplings for about 5 pots of broth.
So....I merrily dropped the stack of dumplings one by one into the broth, put the lid back on the pot and turned the heat down to simmer, and waited for 30 minutes, just llike Grandma said.
I was SO excited to see my chicken and dumplings, because if they were good (and why wouldn't they be? I mean Grandma had told me how to make them...) it would mean I could ALWAYS have chicken and dumplings, even when Mama and Grandma weren't around. After 30 minutes, I took the lid off the pot and just stared. There was a big greyish white solid glop of stuff in the pot.
I figured I'd wait until Mama got home to see what needed to be done to fix the problem. Long story short (too late, huh?) there was NOTHING that could be done. I had successfully prepared "Chicken and Dumpling" (singular). We had to eat the chicken and dumpling with knives and forks (since it was solid mass). A hue and cry went up from the rebellious siblings. They had to shut up and eat it anyway.
I did learn from my mistake, and have made tasty "Chicken and Dumpings" (plural) over the years. But making dumplings is a lot of trouble for me since I am basically a lazy cook....working with dough is too much like baking. There's a little old lady who lives in a town about an hour from here who markets frozen dumplings EXACTLY like Grandma's. I buy them at the local grocery store....no more "start from scratch" dumplings for me. They've put making chicken and dumplings back into the category of "easy to make" meals.
Not long after the "chicken and dumpling" disaster, the Alka Seltzer folks had an ad campaign that featured culinary disasters like heart-shaped meatloaf, or a giant dumpling. I have always wondered if there's a hidden camera in my house to give Madison Avenue ideas. Maybe I am the original "Truman Show"...oh, that's the topic for another post.