It has been so cold that all I have wanted to do is stand by my stove and cook. I heat my house with wood, so the wood-burning kitchen cook stove is going anyway, and the stove’s heat feels fabulous on my face and hands, and, for a little while, I can ignore my chilly feet and shins. It is a good time for slow-cooked stuff like venison chili, and cassoulet, a bean and poultry stew that I made with sausage and bacon, and wine.
I also put together a hearty vegetable soup of leftover roasted vegetables — carrots, Brussels Sprouts, potatoes, winter squash, leeks, garlic, cauliflower — with plenty of rich chicken stock, plus marjoram and oregano. That could have been enough, but something about frigid weather, ice-crusted windshields to scrape, and drifted snow to shovel really calls for comforting substance. Like biscuits or dumplings. This time I decided on dumplings, partly because I know that my beloved companion will eat almost anything with dumplings on it.
Dumplings are really simple. Biscuits, on the other hand, require a mixing bowl, spoon, plus a greased baking pan, and a cutter, plus adding shortening to the flour, and a preheated oven. Then there is patting out dough and cutting it into individual biscuits. For dumplings, one bowl, one spoon, flour, baking powder, and milk will suffice. They can simply be mixed and deposited (dumped, hence dumpling, says Toby) on the bubbling top of stew or soup.
There may just be a bit of dumpling competition developing around our house. Toby made a stew a couple of weeks ago, and added dumplings enhanced with herbs and a bit of cheese. They were very savory. My dumplings this week were a little more ad hoc, and I added flavor-boosting grated parmesan and black pepper to them.
Black pepper, by the way, really sharpens up the flavor of biscuits, pancakes, scones, and any muffins on the less-sweet end of the scale, as opposed to sugar-crusted dessert-like muffins. It doesn’t take much: a few grinds of a pepper grinder, or a shake or three to a half cup of flour. For enhanced dumplings, or biscuits, use two or three tablespoons of parmesan for every half cup of flour, more or less, to taste.
I heartily recommend playing around with dumpling (and biscuit) seasonings, unless you have strictly orthodox eaters in your house. Bits of cooked and crumbled bacon, garlic powder, celery seed, dried or finely-chopped fresh herbs, parmesan, Romano, or other hard or very firm, somewhat dry cheeses, grated.
For two of us, a half cup of flour sufficed. To my taste, leftover dumplings have no charm whatever, so my advice is not to mix absolutely any more than you need for one meal. The recipe that follows makes four servings, and is easily doubled or halved.
1 cup flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
Generous pinch salt
A few grinds black pepper
½ cup to 1 cup milk
1/3 cup grated parmesan
1-2 teaspoons oregano, basil, rosemary, or thyme
Garlic powder to taste
2 strips of bacon, cooked and crumbled
Have soup or stew hot, and in a pot with a tight fitting lid. Mix together the flour, baking powder, salt, and pepper, and any optional ingredients like herbs, cheese, or bacon. Add milk gradually, stirring just until you have a stiff and sticky dough. Drop soup-spoonfuls of dough on the top of the soup or stew, allowing a little space between them.
Put the lid back on the pot, keep the heat at a steady simmer, and allow dumplings to steam for ten to fifteen minutes. They are done when they are firm, and the surface is smooth and a little dry.
Makes four servings.