Chicken stew

When you grow up eating a certain dish, you may not realize that it’s not something known all over. It may, in fact, be a regional dish specific only to where you were raised. This could be the case with our chicken stew here in Yadkin County. From what I can tell from polling friends near and far, our version of chicken stew is specific to Yadkin, Surry and Stokes counties.

My dad, who grew up in Forsyth County in Winston-Salem, said he never had chicken stew until he met my mom, a native of East Bend. A friend told me her husband is from Lewisville, which is also in Forsyth County, and he had chicken stew growing up. So it’s possible there are little pockets in other nearby counties where this dish is also enjoyed.

As any native Yadkin County resident knows, chicken stew is a soup made from chicken broth, milk, butter, plenty of salt and pepper and served with saltine crackers. The term chicken stew can also refer not only to the soup itself, but to a gathering of friends and family enjoying the soup.

“In Yadkin County where I grew up, [chicken stew] means an event — family, friends and neighbors gather on a cool fall evening to share the stew, which is cooked in a big black pot over a fire. The stew itself is simple — chicken, water, milk, butter, seasoning. The event also could include wieners roasted over the fire, and plenty of desserts contributed by everyone. Each person is also encouraged to bring his own bowl. Of course, the stew can also be cooked in the kitchen, which my mama often did for winter Sunday dinners. It was just as delicious, but without the fellowship of a large gathering outdoors,” explained my friend Gray.

For non-Yadkin natives, this dish and event are often confusing. My friend Bill who grew up in Elkin, but in the Wilkes County section, said he did not grow up eating or going to chicken stews and once he figured out what a chicken stew is, he now avoids them at all cost.

“I can’t get too excited about an evening whose high point will be a bowl of hot, chicken-infused milk with a few saltines and maybe some hot sauce as a last desperate attempt at flavor,” Bill said. “Chicken stew, which is a misnomer, by the way, a stew is a thick, hearty, chunky soup, is pretty lame even as a first course. As a complete meal, it’s totally unacceptable. I am completely baffled by its popularity.”

For those who do love a chicken stew, it can become a quandary if they move away to a non-chicken stew serving locale. Nicholas told me that growing up in Yadkinville, chicken stew was just a normal part of life.

“It wasn’t until I moved to Seattle in my twenties that I realized it was a local tradition,” Nicholas said. “I would ask my coworkers if they knew of anyone hosting a chicken stew and they would look at me like I was crazy. It was difficult even to find any information online. I ended up having to call friends and family in NC to tell me how to make my own.”

My research at first was leading me to believe that chicken stew was only found in Yadkin County, but thanks to Jessica, I know that Surry and Stokes county folks enjoy it as well.
“I love chicken stew!” Jessica Johnson told me. “It is a milk-based stew with shredded chicken. There are no veggies or other meats added. Usually served with regular saltine crackers, salt, and pepper. I’ve had one that had red pepper flakes in it and it was good, but that is not the traditional way to make it. I grew up in Surry County — graduated from North Surry High School. I grew up eating it at church suppers, get-togethers, and fundraisers in Surry and Stokes County.”
Jessica J. also said that Stokes County hosts the World Championship Chicken Stew every year at a park in King.
“It’s awesome and you get to sample a ton of different chicken stews made by local organizations and church groups and then vote for your favorite,” she said.

My friends who grew up in the eastern part of the state were a bit confused about our chicken stew.
“Is that the same as chicken bog?” asked my sorority sister Jessica W. I told her I wasn’t sure, because I had never heard of chicken bog.

“Chicken bog is a big deal in Robeson County, but maybe that’s because we’re on the NC/SC border,” Jessica W. told me. “My dad usually adds onions, green peppers, carrots and mushrooms in with the chicken, smoked sausage, and rice. Delish! We also cook it outside in the big black pot. I swear it tastes better that way! We usually make a big pot of chicken bog whenever we have a big family gathering.”

My sorority sister Jessica F. also said chicken bog was popular in Pender and Onslow counties as well.

Donna, who grew up in Cary, said she was more familiar with Brunswick stew.
“The best must be made with hens, no males allowed. Full of chicken, butter beans, corn and vegetables. The best is from Nash County where my grandparents lived,” Donna said of Brunswick stew.

My godmother Connie also said she was a fan of Brunswick stew.
“In the Eastern part of NC, Roxboro, where I grew up, church groups and civic organizations in the fall would make huge cast iron pots of Brunswick stew to sell for fundraisers,” Connie said. “The women in the group would cook the meat and supply all the ingredients the day before and the men would stay up all night cooking the stew in the black cast iron pots outside over an open fire. They used long wooden paddles to stir the stew continuously while it was cooking so that it wouldn’t stick or burn on the bottom.”

So just how did the chicken stew specific to our area come to be? Luann said she has a good idea.
“Our family would have chicken stews at the end of tobacco season. I think it was an inexpensive way to celebrate completing the harvest because most families had chickens,” Luann said. “My Dad’s sister and her husband, in East Bend, always had them in the fall after all the tobacco was finished. They had huge cast iron pots and cooked the chickens over an outdoor fire. Sometimes we also had oyster stew in a smaller cast iron pot. All the families brought sides, desserts, drinks, etc. My Mother’s family, the Kimmers, in Jonesville, also had them but not as traditionally as the Williams family. That was a fall tradition. Our chicken stew was whole chickens cut up and stewed in water, butter and seasonings to make the broth with milk added for the stew. I remember having stew with no thickening added and having stew with a flour slurry (they call it now) to thicken the milk/broth. We always had saltine crackers with it. The meat was left on the bone and you tried to get a drumstick/thigh/breast in your bowl of stew. It just seems to taste so much better when cooked over an open fire with family!”

I think Luann is right on the money about chicken stew stemming from an inexpensive way to feed a lot of people. A number of meals that hail from another time came about in this manner and I think this is definitely the case with our chicken stew.
Glenda found a great article for us that indicates that chicken stew actually originated in northern Georgia, where it is known as chicken mull. You can find an in-depth article on the subject at http://www.seriouseats.com.

You can’t beat a steak dinner

Pan-seared Ribeye with mushroom gravy, creamed potatoes and asparagus

One of my all-time favorite meals is a big juicy steak with baked potato and salad. It doesn’t get much better than that! Steak is one of those menu items most everyone has a firm opinion of how it should be prepared and what cut of meat is their favorite.

A rib-eye is the cut of steak my husband prefers. Yes, you read that right, husband. Morgan and I tied the knot on Saturday and as you read this we are honeymooning in Key West, but I digress.

My husband (still, trying to get used that word) says that the marbled fat within a rib-eye is what makes this cut of steak the best. It’s juicy and full of flavor. When we prepare steak at home he likes to season a rib-eye with a dry rub of paprika, garlic powder, salt and pepper and sear it on the grill to about medium temperature.

Dad and I prefer a T-bone steak. To me, it’s the best of both worlds with a strip steak on one side and filet on the other. It’s kind of like a two-for-one. I like to season mine with garlic powder, cracked black pepper, Tony Chachere’s creole seasoning and Worcestershire sauce. A secret my friend Sarah turned me on to a few years ago is to wait until just before cooking the steaks to sprinkle a little kosher salt on the meat.

My friend Donna said she agreed with Morgan that a rib-eye is the best cut of steak. She likes hers “medium rare to kicking, grilled outside if possible, with no seasoning other than salt and pepper.”

The temperature a steak should be cooked is another controversial topic for some. Many want their steak cooked completely done with no hint of red at all, while others insist the steak is only good if cooked somewhere around medium temperature and some want theirs practically mooing! I started out as a well-done kind of girl, but slowly have begun eating them closer to medium. I’m still not the type to order one medium-rare and definitely not rare, but if there’s some blood on the plate I don’t freak out anymore.

My cousin Carrie said she likes her steak grilled medium, covered in Montreal steak seasoning by McCormick.

“Pepper, char and slightly bloody beef goodness,” she said.

My sorority sister Lauren likes hers medium rare.

“It’s best marinated overnight with Lawry’s marinade, served with salad, baked potato or sweet potato,” Lauren said.

Branching out into a little more exotic methods of steak preparation, my good friend Bill prefers steak au poivre.

“I like both Julia Child’s and Alton Brown’s version,” he said. “My wife Lynda is philosophically opposed to sauces and in a restaurant, asks for hers on the side, which means more for me. Steak-frites too. Both of these are pan-fried, but I don’t turn up my nose at a grilled steak either.”

Steak au poivre is essentially a steak seasoned with crushed peppercorns and served with a pan sauce. Several chefs claim to have created the dish according to some interesting history I read on cooksinfo.com. In a 1950 cooking magazine called La Revue Culinaire, Émile Lerch claimed he invented the dish in 1930 after receiving a shipment of frozen beef from America that looked appealing but wasn’t very flavorful. After the article was published, letters flooded in from other chefs claiming that they invented the dish as early as 1905.

If you don’t have Julia Child’s cookbook on hand, I found a good recipe for steak au poivre over at Cooking with Julian!

Fall is here, break out the pumpkins

Fall is finally here and to be honest, I have mixed emotions about this. My recent honeymoon in Key West has left me longing for warm days, floating in the ocean and sipping cool cocktails by a pool. I’m not a huge fan of cold weather and I really think I could get along fine living somewhere the temperature never gets below 70 degrees.

But alas, that is not the case, and I do love the Yadkin Valley and I would be sad to leave that behind if I ever decided to pack up and move further south. So, the only thing to do to beat the post-honeymoon/end of summer blues is to find the fun things about fall to celebrate.

Of course, one of the things I do love about fall is the food. Now begins the time for warm comforting soups and fun desserts made with Halloween candy.

While I would prefer to be floating in the beautiful warm Mother ocean, there is still something delightful about that little chill in the air that makes you want to snuggle up in a cozy sweater and watch spooky movies while munching on popcorn balls. And, let’s not forget, fairs and festivals are happening this time of year and there are certainly some yummy treats to be eaten there.

I did a quick survey of friends on Facebook to find out what some of the favorite fall foods are. Here

is the list they came up with: apple pie and pumpkin pie (with homemade crust), sweet tango apples, pumpkin pie dip, cider braised chicken thighs with sweet potatoes and sage, pumpkin spice doughnuts, pumpkin spice lattes, pumpkin seeds that have been salted to death, apple cider that got a bit fermented, chili and more pumpkin pie, wine. Oh wait, this friend said, that wine is for every season. Everybody’s a comedian.

Also on the list was apple cobbler, fresh banana or zucchini bread, hot apple cider and mulled wine, chili, homemade beef vegetable soup and warm homemade bread and, of course, pumpkin anything. Chai tea, apple crisp served with hot coffee, taco soup and potato soup, shrimp and corn chowder, pear pie and more chili, plus the famous green chili stew made in New Mexico were all also on the list.

As you can see, pumpkin came up quite a few times on the list of favorite fall foods. Gone are the days when pumpkin pie is the only choice for a pumpkin food, now you can have pumpkin flavored pretty much anything. There’s pumpkin cake, pumpkin dip, pumpkin muffins, pumpkin coffee, pumpkin beer and much more.

Of course, pumpkin pie is the classic and always will be, but if you’re looking for a quick pumpkin fix, I highly recommend whipping up some pumpkin fluff dip. The recipe is super simple and you can dip ginger snaps or any favorite cookie into the dip or fresh apples. It’s a great snack to take to friends’ houses for fall parties as well. Variations on the recipe abound on the internet, but I use the recipe from one of my favorite food blogs,The Girl Who Ate Everything.

I will note that when we made this last week we did not use the entire 16 ounce container of Cool Whip. I would suggest putting a little less than half and taste as you go to see how fluffy you want your dip. We ended up using only about half of the container of Cool Whip. Also, if you don’t have any pumpkin pie spice on hand, I’d recommend using the Libby’s Pumpkin Pie Mix rather than just the canned pumpkin.

Pumpkin Fluff Dip (Recipe from www.thegirlwhoateeverything.com)
Ingredients
• 1 (16 ounce) container frozen whipped topping, thawed
• 1 (5 ounce) package instant vanilla pudding mix
• 1 (15 ounce) can solid pack pumpkin
• 1 1/4 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice (adjust this to how “pumpkiny” you want it.)
Instructions
In a large bowl, mix together instant vanilla pudding mix, pumpkin and pumpkin pie spice. Fold in the thawed frozen whipped topping. Chill in the refrigerator until serving. Serve with ginger snaps, Nilla wafers, or cinnamon graham crackers.