We sure love to talk about food.
Look at the English language. It’s full of idioms or sayings that relate to the act of eating.
We like to “Have one’s cake and eat it too,” while also admonishing people not to “cry over spilled milk.” Something may be my “bread and butter” while also being “easy as pie.”
I have no problem with these sayings. While cliched, they’re cute, and in some historical cases.
For example, according to Smithsonian magazine, the phrase “not worth one’s salt” dates to the Roman Empire. Back then, soldiers were occasionally paid in salt. Thus, a soldier who was lazy or incompetent was not worth his salary, which was literally salt. Cool, huh?
Well, I like it.
Some food languages, however, are less cool. At least I think so, and I’m not the only one.
St Louis Magazine did an entire story on cliches that it suggested should be banned by food writers. The list included describing a dish as “to die for” or “like crack.” It also recommended a ban on the words “mouthfeel,” “nom-nom” and “sammie.”
Let me applaud the magazine for its stance. I hate each and every one of these terms.
Yet, there are others I hate more. In fact, I might describe them as the literary equivalent of fingernails on a chalkboard.
Take the phrase “make your mouth water” (or “mouth watering”). It simply means food that is so delicious that the mere anticipation of it triggers your salivary glands.
Let’s be honest. Saliva is just a nice word for “drool.” I don’t think it’s cute when dogs drool (that whole experiment with Pavlov’s dog really leaves me cold), and I don’t like to think about people drooling either. It’s just not appetizing.
Another phrase you will never ever see in this column is a reference to foods that “stick to your ribs.”
Forget the fact that this is a tired cliché for foods that are hearty and warm. My problem is that it makes my skin — as well as my ribs — crawl.
Maybe it’s because I like eating ribs — from a cow or a pig, that is — and I don’t like thinking of my own body in culinary terms. It’s silly, but I don’t like thinking of myself as a collection of “parts” that can be roasted, basted or grilled.
Still, the phrase does have some value. For example, when I was preparing one of the soups for this week’s column, I was left with the thought that it was so rich and so thick that it would … well, you know.
So, since I can’t use the phrase that shall not be named, let me just say that this week’s topic is perfect for this time of year. As the thermometer dips lower and the snow piles up higher, I find myself craving soups and stews. They are warm and delicious and they make terrific leftovers, saving me from the need to cook every night.
They are not, however, “mouthwatering,” “like crack” or “nom-nom.”
This feature has standards, after all.
Chicken and Dumplings Stew
Have you ever had a strange craving that you just couldn’t explain? That was me with chicken and dumplings. This is a dish that is not on my regular rotation of dinner choices. Yet, when I started thinking about soups and stews for this feature, my brain fixed on chicken and dumplings, and it wouldn’t let the thought go.
I like this recipe because it can be prepared in a crockpot, meaning that you can fix it and forget it.
I found the recipe at the website Bless This Mess.
- 3-4 carrots, peeled and diced
- 2 stalks celery, diced
- 1 small onion, peeled and diced
- 2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¼ tsp pepper
- ¼ cup white wine or chicken broth
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- 2 cups chicken broth
- 5 chicken thighs, boneless and skinless
- 2 sprigs fresh rosemary (or 1 teaspoon dried rosemary)
- 2 sprigs fresh thyme (or 1 teaspoon dried thyme)
- 1 teaspoon dried basil
- 3 tablespoons butter
- ¼ cup heavy cream
- ¼ cup milk
For the Dumplings:
- 1 cup flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ cup milk
- 2 tablespoons melted butter
To prepare the stew:
Place the diced carrots, celery, onion, garlic, salt, pepper and ¼-cup chicken broth (or white wine) in a slow cooker.
In a small bowl, whisk together the cornstarch with the 2 cups chicken broth. Add mixture to the slow cooker.
Lay the chicken on top of the vegetables. Add the rosemary, thyme, basil and butter.
Cook for 3 hours on high or for 6 hours on low.
When the stew is done cooking, remove the thighs. When they are cool enough to touch, shred them with a fork. Return the chicken to the slow cooker. Stir in the heavy cream and milk.
Prepare the dumplings. Stir together the flour, baking powder and salt. Add the milk and the melted butter and stir until combined, and a loose dough has formed. Drop tablespoons of the dumpling dough onto the stew. Return the lid to the slow cooker and cook for another hour (resist the urge to remove the lid and check on the dumplings; the dough needs the steam to cook).
Italian Sausage Soup
Mike Wright made this for dinner a few weeks back, and I was skeptical. I enjoy smoked sausage — the kielbasa variety — in a soup, but I wasn’t sure about traditional ground sausage.
I needn’t have worried. It was very tasty, with just the right amount of spice. I think I had seconds.
The recipe comes from the Cooking Classy website.
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 lb. italian sausage
- 1½ cups chopped onion
- 1 cup diced carrots
- ¾ cup chopped celery
- ¾ cup diced red pepper
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 4 cups chicken broth
- 1 (15 oz.) can tomato sauce
- 1 (14.5 oz.) can diced tomatoes
- 1½ teaspoon Italian seasoning
- ¾ cup dry pasta (I used shell pasta, which was perfect)
- 1 tablespoon dried parsley
- 2 teaspoons dried basil
- Salt and pepper to taste
Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Break sausage into chunks in the pot and cook until brown on bottom (about 3 minutes). Turn the sausage and break it up, cooking until no longer pink. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate, but leave rendered fat in pot over medium-high heat. You should have about 1 tablespoon fat in the pot. If needed, add a little more olive oil or drain off some excess fat if there’s too much.
Add the onions, carrots, celery and red pepper and saute until starting to soften, about 6 minutes. Add garlic and sauté 1 minute longer. Pour in the broth, tomato sauce, tomatoes, and add Italian seasoning. Return sausage to pot and season mixture with salt and pepper to taste (you shouldn’t need much salt). Add the parsley and basil.
Bring to a simmer and then cover, reducing heat to medium-low. Simmer 5 to 10 minutes until vegetables are almost soft. Add the dry paste. Cover and let simmer, stirring occasionally (while scraping along bottom of pot as paste will tend to stick). Cook until nearly al dente. About 8 minutes.
Serve warm, topping servings with grated parmesan if desired.
Julia Child’s French Onion Soup
This is one of my all-time favorite soups. It’s best served as a first course rather than the main dish. Still, the mix of the onions, broth, bread and cheese is so amazing that I can’t believe I don’t eat it every night.
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- About 2½ pounds thinly sliced yellow onions
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon sugar
- 2 tablespoons flour
- 2½ quarts hot beef broth
- 1 cup dry white wine
- 4-5 tablespoons cognac
- 12 slices French bread, toasted
- 1-2 ounces Swiss cheese, thinly sliced
- ¾-1 cup finely grated Swiss or Parmesan cheese
Set your saucepan over moderate-low heat with the butter and oil. When the butter has melted, stir in the onions, cover the pan, and cook slowly until tender and translucent (about 10 minutes). Blend in the salt and sugar, raise the heat to medium, and let the onions brown, stirring frequently until they are a dark walnut color (about 20 minutes). This is when you need to watch the onions carefully so that they only brown and do not scorch (In other words, turn off the TV and focus on the onions).
Sprinkle in the flour and cook slowly, stirring for another 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat, let cool a minute, then whisk in 2 cups of the hot beef stock. When well-blended, bring to a simmer and add the remaining stock, the cognac and the wine. Cover loosely and simmer very slowly for 1½ hours, adding a little water if the liquid reduces too much.
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees, and set the rack in the lower middle. Line the bottom of a large casserole dish with half the slices of toasted French bread. Spread the sliced cheese over the top. Ladle on the hot onion soup and float over them the remaining slices off toasted bread. Top with the grated cheese.
Bake for 20-30 minutes.