Sunday, April 27, 2014

A visit to Juliette, Georgia

Wish I could say that this was my ride to the Whistlestop Cafe. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

I love places with literary connections. I've been to Hemingway's house in Key West and heard all the stories of carousing and six-toed cats. And I toured Mark Twain's house in Hartford, Connecticut, a stylish Victorian filled with books and stories. Closer to home, I've visited the Wren's Nest, home of Georgia's version of Twain, Joel Chandler Harris. My latest literary stop has all the charm of the others, but the advantage of crispy, crunchy fried heavenliness ~ fried green tomatoes at the Whistlestop Cafe in Juliette, Georgia.

Juliette, Georgia. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

Juliette is the middle Georgia town that became Whistlestop, the fictional town in Fannie Flagg's essential novel of the South, "Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistlestop Cafe." When filming completed in 1991 in this sleepy former mill town, the business owners banded together and made a tourist stop out of the picturesque setting, a charming street of buildings next to the train tracks.

We visited Juliette a few weeks back and here are some of my favorite scenes:

Haven't seen these prices for awhile. Lucy Mercer/ A Cook and Her Books

Luzianne Coffee. Lucy Mercer/ A Cook and Her Books

Texaco sign. Lucy Mercer/ A Cook and Her Books

Outhouse. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

Ruth and Idgy. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

Whistle Stop Train Station. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

As charming as the stroll around town was, the very best part of the visit was the basket of fried green tomatoes at the WhistleStop Cafe. They call this sauce a "radish sauce," but I could detect no radish in it. It was a spicy (is there any other kind?) remoulade with a healthy kick of cayenne.

Fried green tomatoes. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

If you ever find yourself near Forsyth, Georgia, on I-75, drive about 10 miles off the interstate and take in a meal and a stroll in Juliette. Ever been to Juliette? What's your favorite town or house with a literary connection?

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Easier Chicken and Dumplings

Chicken and dumplings. Laura Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

If there is one hour in my day that I wish to have all to my own, it would be 3 p.m. Back in the day, before work and school schedules conspired to block that hour nearly every single day of 30 something weeks of the year, 3 o'clock was naptime for the kidoodle and my time to leisurely begin supper. Two to three hours was a generous amount of time to prepare a meal ~ enough for a braised chicken with vegetables, or maybe a pot roast. I could turn out a dessert in that time frame, too, with a bit of luck and the right ingredients in my well-stocked pantry.

These days, I rush from work to two different schools, gather and sometimes redistribute children to piano lessons, play practices, what-have-you. And I rush back home to come up with supper. Sometimes, my wonderful husband will cook, usually a roast or lasagna that he prepared ahead of time, or a quick meal of fish and vegetables. And I get my act together occasionally, making stir-fries and fried rice and roasted chicken. And there are other nights when dinner is a grilled cheese sandwich or its South of the Border cousin, a cheese quesadilla.

So I await with interest what my fellow #LetsLunchers will create under the theme "3 Ingredient Recipes." #LetsLunch is a monthly gathering of food writers and bloggers who post on a given subject. This month's topic is quick recipes using just 3 ingredients. My go-to 3-ingredient recipe is pimento cheese, so maybe I'm not the best choice for this go-round.

Back to that magic hour that I wish I could call my own ~ in the past year, I've given up on Top 40 radio and NPR and switched to the Fish, the contemporary Christian radio station. All the girls in the car, from elementary to mommy agree. And one of the best reasons to listen to the Fish is afternoon drive host Beth Bacall ~ she's a mommy and a foodie, so I'm fed spiritually and mentally while I'm listening to her. 

One day Beth happened to mention that she had a recipe for "3-Ingredient Chicken Parmesan" and she would happily reply to email requests for the recipe. Here's the link for the recipe ~ it's one of those "dump and do" recipes that I need more of in order to turn out a tasty dinner in a reasonable amount of time. The recipe calls for boneless chicken breasts, coated in mayonnaise and shredded Parmesan cheese and baked. I served it with rice and a green vegetable and my girls ate every bite. I'm sad to say that I didn't get a picture of the chicken, it was nice and roasty-toasty looking when it came out of the oven.

I decided to make the recipe a second time and grab a picture for this post, when my eldest daughter revealed what she really wanted for supper, and it was not a 3-ingredient recipe: Chicken and Dumplings. Done properly, c and d is not a 3-ingredient recipe, it's a 3-part recipe: Broth, chicken, dumplings. The three components harmonize into a complete and completely satisfying dish.

Dumplings. Laura Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

In the spirit of 3 ingredients, I therefore present my streamlined recipe for chicken and dumplings, perfect for those weeknights when you have a little extra time and some helping hands.

Chicken and dumplings. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books.

Easier Chicken and Dumplings

My from-scratch recipe can be found here. It starts with a whole chicken. Here, I use boneless, skinless chicken breasts and doctored-up stock-in-a-box to speed things up. If you have leftover cooked chicken, save even more time by using it here.

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, sliced into 1-inch pieces
2 tablespoons oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 stars celery, chopped
3 medium carrots, chopped
1 (32 oz.) package low-sodium chicken broth
1 bay leaf
Salt and pepper to taste

1. In a nonstick skillet over medium heat, cook the chicken until cooked through, about 10 minutes.

2. In a soup pot or Dutch oven set over medium heat, pour in oil and saute onion until translucent. Add celery and carrots, cooking until soft, about 10 minutes. Add chicken broth and bay leaf and bring to a boil. Add chicken. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

3 cups flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup shortening
About 1 1/2 cups milk, more or less, for the dumplings
Additional milk for the stew

1. To make dumplings, mix together flour, baking powder and salt. Cut in shortening by your preferred method (I’ve given up on pastry blenders; hands are my favored tool for this), until mixture is mealy and the particles are small. Add enough cold milk to make a workable dough, up to a cup and a half. Knead the dough and lightly press out 1/2 inch thick with floured hands onto a floured counter. Cut into 1 - inch strips.

3. Gently drop dumplings into broth, allowing each to puff up and rise to the surface. When all dumplings are in, add milk to the stew to achieve proper consistency, about a cup or two. Taste for seasoning. Let simmer about 15 minutes. Feed to your hungry family.

This post is part of #LetsLunch, a global blogging party. Check back here for more links to fabulous food stories.