Like most people, I learned the basics of cooking from my mother. Her most useful instructions include how to perfectly dice an onion; how to fry thin-sliced potatoes; and how to use a pressure-cooker without fear of blowing up the kitchen. She worked my entire childhood and so had to make dinner quickly when she got home. And God forbid if there weren’t both meat AND potatoes on the table. My stepdad was literally a meat-n-potatoes man. While we had a garden that produced a bounty I only now–as an adult who loves to eat my veggies—can truly appreciate, we never had a single meal that didn’t include beef, pork, chicken or sometimes fish (salmon, canned — in Oregon, land of salmon. But that’s a blog post for another day.) And that pressure cooker could blast out a slab of corned beef or a small roast inside an hour.
The funny thing is, as much as I cook and the fact that I started making the family dinners by late middle school (even manning the pressure cooker!), I realize I never now make anything that my mom made. No, that’s not entirely true. I DO make corned beef and cabbage – but I put it in a Dutch oven or slow cooker and savor the aroma all day. But other than that, I don’t make anything I ate growing up. No pork chops and gravy or fried chicken. Or this thing we called “rice junk” – a goulash of meat, mushrooms and celery in a gravy served over rice. It really wasn’t that bad despite the name. But I’ve never made it once.
Most people have recipes handed down from generation to generation. Mine seems to have skipped one as I do make what I call “Grandma’s French fries.” To die for and, just like when I was a kid, they barely hit the bowl before they are scarfed up. And her chicken and homemade egg noodles, which were an all-day endeavor.
My grandparents lived next door to us when I was in elementary school and I would wait for the bus there in the morning after my parents went to work – and again after school until they got home. On a Chicken and Noodles day, Grandma would be mixing up the dough in the early morning. It was essentially flour, eggs, and salt. That’s it. She would then roll it out flat on her tiny, linoleum-topped kitchen counter and let it sit. Sometime later, when I was in school, she would roll the whole thing up into a long cylinder and let it sit some more. About the time I got home from school, she would cut the cylinder about every half-inch or so – and this was the part I loved – she would then unroll each ribbon of noodle and leave them on the counter to dry some more. I usually pinched a few to eat “raw” until she chased me outside to play. On the stove was a big pot with carrots, celery, onions and, of course, chicken. Once she boned the cooked chicken and put it back on to simmer, it was time to add the noodles. About 5 minutes until they were done. And we never had dinner late. Grandpa got home and dinner was on the table.
I realize it has been too long since I made this. One thing I realized is that it’s not essential – probably not even a good idea—to leave an egg-based dough sitting around unrefrigerated all day like Grandma did. Dunno, but just like mom throwing her arm across our chest during a fast stop in lieu of the car seats we now use, it seems that it’s prudent to play it safe and either refrigerate the dough until you’re ready to cut it up or make it pretty much in tandem with the chicken and veggies.
Good thing fall has arrived because this is a perfect Sunday dinner once the cool air sets in.
CHICKEN AND NOODLES
1 cup flour
Salt to taste
8 cups water or chicken broth (about 2 of those cartons)
1 large onion, chopped
3 stalks celery, chopped
3 carrots, chopped
1 whole chicken (or the equivalent in thighs, legs or breasts)
1 tsp. each dried thyme, oregano and parsley
To make noodles: Put the flour in a bowl and make a well in the center. Add the eggs and stir until the dough is stiff and a little sticky. A fork works well – and it’s a good upper body workout! When you’ve got a solid ball of dough, split it in two and set it aside, or refrigerate. Put a good coating of flour on your workspace and keep it handy. Roll each half out to the thickness you want, as close to a large rectangle shape as you can. Don’t go nuts but it’s easier to roll and cut later if you do this. Sprinkle the dough with flour as you go to keep it from sticking. These noodles really grow in the pot, so thinner is usually better. Once you’ve rolled it out, start from one of the long ends and begin to roll it up into a cylinder. Once that’s done, take a sharp knife and cut into half-inch rounds (think refrigerated cookie dough – same process). Then unroll each one and let them rest and dry about 30 minutes.
To make chicken: Put water or broth in a large stock pot. Add onion, celery and carrots and bring to boil. Add chicken pieces and herbs and let simmer for about 45 minutes to 1 hour until chicken is starting to fall off the bone. Turn heat down to low, use a slotted spoon to remove the chicken pieces to a strainer in the sink. Let sit until chicken is cool enough to handle. Remove from bone and cut into bite-sized pieces and return to pot. Return pot to low boil, add noodles and cook 4-5 minutes or until at desired doneness.