Chicken and Dumplings

In the past few days, I planned to blog about strawberry shortcake. That plan fell through (but you bet your ass you’ll see a recipe in the future!), then I planned to blog about chicken pot pie. But the most intriguing recipes for chicken pot pie called for obscene amounts of butter (almost a full pound of butter AND heavy cream for two 8-inch pies, really?), so fuck that. You wonder why Americans are so obese? That’s fucking why.

Basically in the process of learning to cook, you tend to end up flipping through recipes that call for both obscene amounts of butter and a ton of pretty expensive equipment and ingredients. Is it not possible to make something that’s hearty, relatively healthy, and tastes good?

Enter chicken and dumplings. This is not your normal fat-ass chicken and dumplings loaded with butter and shit. There are three goals here: 1) It uses just enough grease to be tasty but doesn’t overdo it, 2) It uses some of the absolute cheapest vegetables and meats you can find in the United States, and 3) It is chock full of said vegetables as to actually provide a balanced meal, something you can eat day after day without serious risk of heart disease.


Yo momma

I've got nothing against fat people, I just don't want to be one, yes?

Cook & Prep Time: ~90 minutes
Serves 3-5

Chicken Stew:

8-12 pieces of dark meat chicken (drums, thighs)*
1 large onion, diced
4-6 large stalks of celery, diced
3 medium carrots, diced
1 cup frozen peas
1 large russet potato OR 3-4 white/red potatoes, diced into 1/2 inch cubes**
2 bay leaves
1 tsp dried thyme
2 sprigs green onion, chopped into 1/2 or 1 cm pieces (optional)
4 tbsp cooking oil
3 tbsp all-purpose flour, sifted (MUST be sifted to avoid lumps)
1/4 cup cream (optional)
1/4 cup cooking wine***
3 cups chicken stock OR chicken bouillon****

You will also need: 1 large pot, 1 smaller pot (but capable of holding 3 cups of fluid)

*Many recipes recommend using breasts, which is far trickier since breasts are far easier to overcook. Thighs and drumsticks are dark meats which are a) more flavorful and b) do not overcook as easily.
**Depending on if you use russet potato or white/red potatoes, cook times are different. Russet potatoes tend to fragment after a period of boiling while white/red potatoes do not, so Russet potatoes should ideally be added about 15 minutes before cooking finishes.
***From what I can see sherry is the optimal liquor. I used Chinese cooking wine since it was on hand, which still works. I think white wine could also work.
****By which I also mean 3 cups of water and a chicken ramen flavor packet.


1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup milk
2 tbsp butter
1 tsp baking powder


1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
1 tbsp cooking oil
cold water

*I included two recipes which provide drastically different textures depending on your preferences. The first dumpling recipe produces soft, fluffy dumplings, which is more authentically American. However, I find this to be too mushy, and prefer the second recipe, which produces a dense, chewy dumpling. I did not include a water amount for the second recipe because I usually just eyeball it. You should add just enough cold water to produce a slightly damp ball of dough that isn’t floury on the outside, yet not very sticky to the touch either.


First, measure out 3 cups of chicken stock or water and bring to a boil in a small pot on the side. Add bouillon to the pot if you are not using stock.

We now start with the chicken. Pour two tablespoons of oil into your big pot over medium heat. Add chicken pieces, salt and pepper them, and brown them on each side (simply leave the chicken pieces without turning them until they are browned, then repeat for the other side). You may need to do this twice if your pot cannot fit all the chicken pieces. Don’t worry if bits of chicken stick to the pot bottom; these bits will come handy later.

Yo Poppa

"Mommy what happens to the rest of the chicken when the leg gets cut off?" "Well son, we get chicken legs when chickens accidentally step on landmines and their legs have to be amputated. There are actually large buildings just full of peg leg chickens running around." "Cool story brah."

While the chicken is browning, dice your onions, carrots, celery, and potatoes. Group the onions, carrots, and celery together; these are typically called the “trinity” in culinary speak, except in New Orleans where the carrots are replaced by green bell peppers. They are a trio of aromatic vegetables that can greatly enhance the flavor of many soups and other dishes. For this specific dish, it is the onions that are the most important because onions significantly enhance the flavor of chicken stock.

Remove your brown chicken and set it aside to cool. In the same pot, add your other two tablespoons of cooking oil and saute the vegetables until just translucent. Do not forget to salt and pepper the vegetables!

Yo Auntie

I messed up the pots/pans planning while doing this dish, hence stainless steel pan. In other news, I got a stainless steel pan so I no longer do atrocious things to my non-stick, like make caramel in it... Huzzah!

When the vegetables are ready, add your cream and wine. Stir everything around a few times and add your 3 tbsp of flour. The flour should thicken everything, and the liquids plus the sauteed vegetables should have loosened any stuck bits of chicken on the bottom of the pan. Add your boiling stock to your main pot with the vegetables right now, as well as the bay leaf and thyme. Add red/white potatoes at this time. Adjust your heat so the pot is at a bare simmer.

If you are going to make the dumplings that do NOT require baking powder, prepare your dumplings now: Bring together oil, salt, flour, and just enough cold water to mix into a cohesive ball. Knead ball until consistent. The ball of dough should have no excess flour and be slightly damp to the touch, but not sticky. Pat the dough flat on a very lightly floured surface until about 1/3 inch or 1 cm thick, then cut into 1-inch/2.5 cm pieces. Place the pieces into the vegetable stock mixture. They will have to cook for at least 45 minutes.

Yo Grandmomma

Not exactly "chock full" right now, but it will be. Oh, it will be

Once your chicken has sufficiently cooled (given about 20 minutes), take a knife to them on the cutting board, de-skin and debone them. I recommend this de-boning process since most recipes do and it makes for easy eating. However, if you are lazy, it’s perfectly fine to keep the chicken pieces intact. Add the chicken to the soup.

Now comes the critical part. If you are using the dumpling recipe that HAS baking powder, now is the time to prepare it. Bring all the dry ingredients together. In a separate bowl, bring melted butter and milk together. The most effective way to do this is to partially melt the butter by microwaving it at 5 second intervals, then adding milk, and microwaving until the rest of the butter is melted. Add melted butter and milk to your dry ingredients and mix just enough to combine everything. Do not over-mix!

The other dumpling type sinks, this type floats. Like how skinny people tend to sink in a pool and fat people float.

Now, IF you are using the dumpling recipe with baking powder: turn the heat up on the soup until it is actively boiling. Add russet potatoes at this time. The increased temperature will allow the soup to continue to boil even with the additional cool ingredients. Drop the wet dumpling batter two tablespoons at a time into the boiling soup. Cover the pot with a lid and let cook for 15 minutes. Do NOT take the lid off during this time for any reason. These dumplings need to steam to cook. The baking powder expands the dumplings, allowing the hot air within to quickly cook the dough.

Dumplings with baking powder should double in size.

Once the fifteen minutes are up, add your frozen peas and simmer for five more minutes. If you are using the dumpling recipe without baking powder simply time it so the russet potatoes are added 15-20 minutes before the dumplings are done and the peas are added 5 minutes before the dumplings are done. Meanwhile, chop up your green onions and spread over the finished soup. Try to remove the bay leaves if you are able to hunt them down. Salt and pepper to taste. Serve hot.

The Result

Give a man a bowl of soup, he eats for a day. Teach a man to cook soup, he laughs in your fucking face, goes to the grocery store, and buys it pre-made. Such is life today

4.8 / 5 Not bad, huh? And it doesn’t contain six sticks of butter? You don’t say. This is a nice hearty soup that sticks to your ribs but not in the way that’ll clog your arteries and kill you. Make a big pot, stick it in the fridge, eat it over a few days. Great for the winter time. If you ask me, this is the ideal way food should be. Tasty, healthy, and reasonably priced.

Well, unless… I can think of a couple of upcoming planned blogs that might go in the opposite direction of healthy >_>


Carrots, onions, celery, and potatoes are cheap. They are dirt fricken cheap where I live, and in most parts of the United States. At least two out of these four ingredients are present in my fridge at all times. As a result, I am intimately familiar with these vegetables. Necessity dictates that I become creative with these vegetables lest I become sick of them. The two dishes chicken and dumplings and chicken pot pie both use all of these ingredients to a similar (and very delicious effect). While I personally don’t mind making an emaciated, super-lean version of chicken pot pie for myself, it doesn’t quite taste rich enough to merit a legitimate blog. I will do more research to come up with a tasty compromise between richness and full-on heart attack.


Cheesecake & How to Learn to Cook

When I first started learning how to make pastries, I promised myself that I would make cheesecakes if strawberries ever went on sale. Well, here it is.

In previous installments of Food in Mind, I have always presented an item, its ingredients, and the cooking process. For this installment, however, my main goal is to share the learning process of how I approach learning to cook a new dish. I will do this using this attempt at making cheesecake as an example.

In a Day9 Daily-esque fashion, this blog will detail my research and thinking process during my first attempt to make cheesecake. Total time for prep, cooking, and waiting is about 4-5 hours.

Step One: The Idea

The first step to learning to cook is to picture in your mind how you wish for the dish to turn out. This is much easier if you are trying to learn to cook a dish you’ve eaten before. You should try be as specific as possible when you attempt to identify all of the salient features of the finished dish that you wish it to have: the taste and texture of the various components, which ingredients you might need, the effect you are trying to achieve with the combined ingredients, and the colors and smells your finished dish will have.

You missed out bro

I first tried blending cheddar cheese and a regular cake together in a blender, but that didn't work.

When I first tried to make bread pudding, I had never tasted bread pudding in my life, so it was a blind venture where I had to first simply follow a recipe I found online just to find out what it might look and taste like. Fortunately, I have had cheesecake a few times in my life. For my first attempt, I wanted to make something simple: a classic cheesecake flavored with vanilla, a golden graham cracker crust, and topped with a bright red strawberry sauce. Three isolated components, none of which I have ever made before.

Step Two: The Research

When you are truly trying to learn a dish, simply finding and following a recipe is not enough. You must dig deep into the components to find out why each ingredient is used, and what effect do these ingredients have in the dish. There are many, many cheesecake recipes out there, each with their own slight differences in ingredients. It is important to identify these differences.

First, I googled around and read through a bunch of recipes. Be careful when you look for recipes online! There are many sites where your average cook can post their own recipes which often contain errors or things you are not supposed to do. Even on Youtube there are hundreds of cooks far worse than I am skill-wise who confidently put up video walkthroughs for dishes when they in fact have no idea what they are doing. Generally, recipes posted on Food Network are decent, since they are crafted by established cooks and chefs. I have also recently come across the food blog Smitten Kitchen, where all the recipes, underneath layers of housewife babbling, reveal very lucid descriptions of the cook’s reasoning process behind her cooking procedure and choice of ingredients. Finally, Good Eats has hundreds of episodes uploaded on Youtube, which is always a good source of knowledge for whatever you may want to cook.

Ultimately I reduced by search down to four main recipe sources which I found most helpful:
And of course,

From these four sources I could craft a recipe that meets my own needs for all three components of my cheesecake: a graham cracker crust, strawberry compote, and cheesecake filling. Of course, I still lacked a proper pie tin, so I will be falling back on that old muffin tin to make mini-cheesecakes. I will have to guestimate the bake timings and temperatures for my cooking process.

Step Three: Planning the Ingredients

Who the fuck ever came up with the phrase "when life gives you lemons"? Lemons are fucking expensive, nobody's going to give anybody fucking lemons. See that half-grapefruit there? That's lemon substitute. At 3 for a dollar they're about six times cheaper than lemons.

Here is the ingredients list I compiled, and my reasoning for them below:


16 graham cracker squares, crushed*
3 tbsp butter**
1 tbsp sugar
pinch of salt

*You need about 32 squares for a full-sized cheesecake crust. But since I’m using a muffin tin, I estimated I only needed half. Also, no parchment paper is involved, since I plan to “wall off” the filling from the muffin tin using the crust.
**5 tbsp for standard crust. Again, this number is adjusted for my muffin tin.


8 oz (one block) of cream cheese*
8 tbsp (1/4 cup) of sour cream**
6 tbsp sugar
1 egg + 1 egg yolk***
vanilla extract
1 tbsp flour****
1 tsp vanilla extract

*You need anywhere between two to five blocks of cream cheese for a full-sized cheese cake, depending on the recipe. The reduced amount takes into account the reduced amount of filling muffin mold crusts can hold.
**New York style cheesecakes do not use sour cream, but many other recipes do. Sour cream makes for a lighter, tangier filling. Exactly what I am looking for.
***You need about three eggs to three eggs plus five yolks for a standard cheese cake, depending on the recipe.
****Some recipes call for flour, some do not. Some also call for heavy cream. Since I did not have heavy cream but did have flour, I decided to add some to see what happens. It wasn’t until later that I learned what purpose flour serves in cheesecakes; more on that below.

Strawberry Compote:

1 cup fresh strawberries, diced
juice of 1 lemon OR 1/2 grapefruit*
1/3-1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp salt

*Lemon juice is traditional. The acid is supposed to prevent sugar from re-crystalizing after melting. At first I was afraid that the fragrance of grapefruit juice would overpower the strawberries, but that did not happen.

Step Four: Planning the Execution

The ingredients list has been assembled. Now is the time to plan how the cheesecake will be made. No detail is too small to be unaccounted for. From a combination of the four source recipes, here is the amalgamated process:


And so I says to the terrified graham cracker, I will crust you with my bare hands.

Graham cracker crusts are very common among cheese cake recipes. They are generally a mix of graham crackers, melted butter, and a little sugar. I added a pinch of salt because salt adds a nice balance to sweet things.

First I stuck all the graham crackers into a ziploc bag and crushed them into small pieces with my hands. You do not need the pieces to be as small for a full-sized cheesecake; but for mini-cheesecakes, the pieces of crust must be smaller.

Then, I combined the crushed graham crackers with melted butter, salt, and sugar, and mixed everything together. Do not worry if the crumbs appear to be dry when all the butter is absorbed; all is as it should be.

Construction in progress, wear a hardhat.

I preheated the oven to 300F. Meanwhile, I took out my muffin tin and lightly buttered the insides. I poured about 3 tablespoons of crumbs into each mold and used a tiny butter bowl to press the crumbs into the sides of the bowl. This was more difficult than anticipated, since the crumbs preferred to stick to the small bowl than the sides of the muffin pan. I was worried that the crust would simply fall apart during the blind baking process.

Once the oven reached target temperature, I blind baked the crusts for 8 minutes, which is 2 minutes shorter than the time it takes to blind bake a full-sized cheesecake crust. The graham cracker crusts came out golden and perfect.

Murphy’s law states if I don’t fuck up here, I’ll definitely fuck up somewhere later on.


Here’s the tricky part. As someone who has only tasted cream cheese and sour cream maybe only once or twice in my entire life, I am far from comfortable with the ingredients required for the filling. All recipes I found online called for the use of a mixer to combine sour cream and cream cheese; I have a plastic container, some forks, and some spoons.

First, as per instructions from Good Eats, I measured out the sour cream and spread it around the container to prevent the impending arrival of cream cheese from sticking to the walls. Then, I put the cream cheese in…. and discovered why people recommended using a mixer. Mashing cream cheese into sour cream is fucking hard work. Oh well, time to lose some calories since I’ll soon be gaining a lot of it. Using a combination of fork and spoon, I slowly worked the cream cheese into the sour cream, and added sugar and salt and flour.

In a separate container, I beat together an egg and an egg yolk with some vanilla extract and just a splash of milk to aid the beating process. I then dumped this mixture into the sour cream/cream cheese mixture.

The most unappetizing photos of food before it's cooked, just for you.

Everything eventually came together nice and smoothly, except there were still small lumps of cream cheese within the mixture. I found out later from here that the cream cheese must be at room temperature before you use it in order to prevent lumps. It just shows that some things you’ll only learn by doing, and not from reading alone.

When I removed the crust from the oven, I reduced the temperature down to 250F, and placed a pan full of water into the oven. I planned to cook the cheesecake in a water bath as per Good Eats’ instructions. Meanwhile, I let the crust cook for a few minutes before spooning my filling into each crust. I then lifted the muffin tin about an inch off the tabletop and let it drop a few times to even out the filling and let the air bubbles surface from the filling. Then, I put the cheesecakes into the water bath. My estimated reduced cooking time for mini-cheesecakes was about 45 minutes; I checked first at 35 minutes, and the filling had already solidified, which signified slight overcooking, but there were no cracks on the top of my cheesecakes, which meant I was still doing okay.

Cheesecakes, in your future is only death, destruction, and the gnashing of teeth.

I shut off the heat for the oven and left the oven door open for a minute after baking, then closed it with the cheesecakes inside for another hour. This is the process of gently letting a water-bath baked cheesecake finish cooking. Once the hour is up, I chilled the cheesecakes in the refrigerator for another hour. Onto the compote.

Strawberry Compote

Some of the red pieces might have been the spleens of small children.

Finally we come to the easiest part. I combined diced strawberries, sugar, grapefruit juice, and salt in a small pot over medium heat. Then I simmered everything until the sugar was melted and enough water evaporated to create a glossy, slightly thickened sauce, which took about half an hour. Then I shut down the heat and let the sauce cool.

Step Five: Assembly, Consumption, and Post-Mortem

Can't believe you missed this picture, brah.

Urgh, at this time of writing I've already eaten three of these things trying to get a decent photo.

I ran a knife around the edge of each cake and removed them from the muffin molds. Just before serving, I topped them with the strawberry compote. They came out pretty good, despite all the small mistakes I’ve made along the way. But you can be sure that the next time I make cheese cakes, they will turn out even better.

Here are the things that I will take note of the next time I make cheesecake:

-Bring sour cream and cream cheese to room temperature before mixing.
-For water bath cheese cakes, no flour is needed.
-I should start checking mini-cheese cakes at about 25 minutes.

A relatively short list overall, thanks to all the research done ahead of time. Through this single process of making cheesecakes, and in taking the time to read through multiple recipes, I have gathered all the information I need to create fantastic cheesecakes of any type I wish in the future.


Thus concludes this demonstration of my approach to learning how to cook. I hope this will help some of the readers who are also serious about learning how to cook, and learning how to cook well. The general steps are to 1) construct a clear idea in your head of what you want the dish to be like, 2) do research on various recipes for the dish, 3) craft your own recipe based on these other recipes, 4) plan your ingredients and execution), 5) follow through on your plan, and 6) analyze what you have learned after the cooking process.

The next installment will return Food in Mind to its regularly scheduled programming of how to make random food items from whatever ingredients I have on hand.

Corn Bread and Ratatouille

It’s not easy being an ultra-cheap cook. Your ingredient options are limited, and you must always keep your eyes peeled for things that can be nabbed while on sale. But the cool thing is that every once in a while all the stars will align, and you just happen to have all the ingredients for some particular dish.

As a general rule, I almost never buy vegetables that cost over $1.00 per pound, and I never buy meat that costs over $2.00 per pound (not that I buy much meat anyways). But in the past week… asparagus for $0.99 per pound? Fuck yes please. And tomatoes were on sale too. And eggplant. And green peppers. Ratatouille instantly came to mind. Yellow squash and zuchini not on sale? Fuck them then, I like asparagus better anyways. It’s time to make some real food.

NOTE: If you are planning to make both items concurrently I recommend making the ratatouille first and corn bread second. Ratatouille is good at all temperatures (and increases in flavor as time progresses) but corn bread is at its peak hot from the oven.

Operation 1: Corn Bread

Deliciousness is just around the corn-er. The corn-iness is just beginning.

For the uninitiated (by which I mean the international readers), corn bread is a quick-bread made using a mixture of regular flour and cornmeal. The cornmeal adds a yellow hue to the resulting bread and creates an intriguing and wonderful gritty texture that must be experienced to be understood.

Total Time: 30-45 min


This is for six muffins. Double for an 8-inch pan.

1/2 cup all-purpose flour, sifted*
1/2 cup cornmeal*
5/8 cup milk
1/2 tsp salt
1 egg
1 tsp baking powder
3 tbsp white granulated sugar**
2 tbsp butter/margarine, melted

*This is very important! I know for most other batters there are ways to make a lumpless batter without sifting, but for corn bread sifting is essential. More on this later.
**The cornmeal-to-flour ratio can be adjusted to taste as long as the total sum of dried ingredients comes out to one cup. More cornmeal produces a more pronounced corn texture. Since cornmeal is more expensive that normal flour, this is a good balance between texture and cost.
***Honey is also wonderful here. Sugar quantity can be adjusted to taste; add one more tablespoon if you are making sweet cornbread or muffins.


Pre-heat oven to 400F. Meanwhile, mix together all the dry ingredients (sifted flour, corn meal, salt, sugar, baking powder) in one container. Beat egg and milk together in another container. Melt the butter in a small bowl and set aside.

I don't actually own a sieve (yet) so I sifted the flour with a fork. No tool, no problem.

Pour wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir until just mixed. The key to good cornbread is to stir the batter as little as possible, hence sifting the flour beforehand to reduce lumpage.

Once the oven has reached temperature. Stick your empty muffin tin into the hot oven for about 30 seconds. Remove from the oven, then add enough melted butter to cover the bottom of each muffin mold. Return the mold into the oven for about fifteen seconds to heat the butter.

Take the mold out of the oven yet again, and fill each mold up about 3/4 full with batter. Bake for about 15 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the muffin comes out clean. Do not worry about the edges browning. Cornmeal browns faster than regular flour and creates a fantastic crispy crust. If you are using an 8-inch pan with twice the ingredients, bake for about 25 minutes, but start checking a bit earlier.

Would you call this... food cornography? Except for that muffin tumor growing over there...

Cool muffins for at least two minutes before removing from mold. Serve immediately if possible.

Operation 2: Ratatouille

Ingredients as far as the eyes can see. Up to the wall. The wall is not a part of this dish.

Total Time: 45 min – 1 hour

Ingredients (for 2-3 servings)

1 green pepper
1 medium onion
8-9 asparagus spears*
4 roma tomatoes or 2 regular tomatoes
1/2 eggplant
2 tbsp vegetable oil
garlic (or garlic powder)**
black pepper

*Traditional ratatouille calls for yellow squash and zuchini. For this specific ratatouille recipe the cook times for yellow squash/zuchini and asparagus are about the same. This is a faster version of “real” ratatouille, which takes a few hours to make. One day I definitely will make (and blog) the traditional French recipe.
**All herbs can be fresh or dried. Dried is obviously cheaper.


Slice your medium onion into strips. Chop asparagus into roughly 3/4 inch pieces. Cut tomatoes, green peppers, and eggplant into 3/4 inch pieces as well.

Over medium heat, saute onions in oil until they are soft and slightly browned on the edges.

Megan Fox making out with Scarlett Johansen

Onions making you cry? Just rip out your tear glands. Problem solved.

Add eggplant, salt and black pepper, garlic powder, and thyme. As you may have noticed by now, we are going to add the vegetables individually with respect to their cook times. I personally find it easier to also add salt in increments to taste with each new addition of vegetables.

Cook the eggplant with onions for 7-8 minutes, or until the eggplant is starting to be softened on the outside. Add the asparagus, green peppers, and basil. Fold everything together and cook for another 7-8 minutes. Asparagus and green peppers generally cook fast in dishes such as stir fries. However, ratatouille calls for a softer consistency. Undercooking the green peppers will result in a bitter taste which you do not want.

Look at this healthy shit. A bowl of this is the real-life equivalent of a Mega-health in Quake.

Once the green peppers and asparagus are nice and tender, add the tomatoes and basil. Cook until the tomatoes are at your desired softness. For me, it’s about another 7-8 minutes.

Ratatouille can be served at all temperatures. Tastes even better the next day.

The Result

By our powers combined... CAPTAIN PLA- err I mean, corn bread and ratatouille!

4.7 / 5 Tasty and healthy? Well, at least the ratatouille part is healthy. It still bothers me a bit now that I’ve stumbled upon the proper way to make ratatouille that this isn’t it, but getting to it is only a matter of time.


Corn bread is an invention of the South, more properly the south-east region of the United States. It is usually consumed with a thick hearty chili, but unfortunately my beans are still dry (that sounds completely wrong in hindsight) and I forgot to soak them. Ratatouille is a rustic French dish. The two items pair together rather well, although not as well as chili and corn bread. Technically, I have written a blog entry on chili, although it could use some updating. Digressions aside, both of these items are fucking good and if you have some spare time, you should give them a shot.