Down Home Chicken 'n Dumpling Pie

The east coast has been hit yet again, but this time with a soft, powdery blanket that makes a snow day all that much more enjoyable. The ordeal of shoveling diminishes into a minor chunk of work taken out of an otherwise peaceful day, where schools are closed and families are home, but we are not all completely stranded by blizzard-level accumulation. As much as I dislike the cold, I love a snowy winter, and what's more, I love the food that it evokes. I haven't had hot chocolate yet and I did just eat a salad for lunch instead of a body-warming soup, but the dish that I have for you today is the epitome of snow day suppers: chicken 'n dumpling pie.

As with most casserole or classic meals that I make, this one is loosely based off of the recommendations of several online recipes I found. I didn't really go out and shop for ingredients, except for the chicken which I didn't have on hand; mostly, I used what was in my kitchen, and I think that's what makes this dish so perfect. It's malleable and forgiving, but no matter what you throw into it, it's a comfort to eat it. There's just something about a snow storm that makes me want to gather around a table with a group of people and eat something tried-and-true, a classic American specialty.

With all of this being said, I'm not a die-hard fan of pot pies. Nowadays, I can't go around eating most of them because of the pie crust ingredients, but even back when I didn't give a hoot about nutrition and what type of fat was in my food, I just didn't go crazy over this meal. I find the filling to be lackluster or, if it does have a flavor, overly salted - neither one of which flies in the Floptimism kitchen. I won't say that this dumpling pie is a complete revolution to this stigma I've attached to chicken pot pie and its relatives; it is not robustly flavorful in the way that an Asian stir-fry or Indian chutney is, but it is richer than most pot pies and chicken casseroles I've encountered. I enjoyed it; it warmed me up and comforted me, and left me very satisfied. And I have to admit, the warm-and-fuzzy emotions the are created by eating this with loved ones on a cold and potentially stormy night trumps complex spices and zesty flavor any day.

Down Home Chicken 'n Dumpling Pie, adapted from Gourmet Mama and A Dash of Flavour
Yield: 6 servings

The Ingredients - The Filling
3 small chicken breasts
500 milliliters (2+ cups) water
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 teaspoons chicken stock powder (no salt added)
1 teaspoon garlic
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
cooking spray, olive oil or butter
2 medium carrots, diced
1 cup frozen peas
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 onion, diced
1 medium-large stalk broccoli, chopped
1 stalk celery, diced
3 tablespoons whole wheat flour
1 cup whole milk (substitute any type of milk - I just had leftover from baking that I was trying to use up)
1 1/2 cups frozen corn
2 teaspoons desired herbs (the original calls for sage; I used parsley and thyme)

The Ingredients - The Dumplings
1+ cup flour
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk

The Method
Bring the chicken, water, wine, stock powder, garlic, and pepper to a boil in a medium sauce pot. Once boiling, reduce the heat and continue simmering for an additional 15 minutes. Remove the chicken to a cutting board or plate to cool, and transfer the stock to a large bowl temporarily. Meanwhile, microwave the carrots, peas, and broccoli until just tender, 2-3 minutes, and then drain. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and grease one 9x13 inch glass baking dish, or six individual ramekins.

Heat the oil in the pot that the stock was just in, and saute the onions until soft, 3-4 minutes. Stir in the flour and then lower the heat slightly to cook gently an additional 2 minutes. Stir the milk and stock in off the heat, and then return the mixture to the heat to bring to a boil. As this begins to reduce, set a water-filled pot with a large diameter on a burner and begin to heat; this will be to boil your dumplings.* Shred the chicken while you're waiting for both pots to boil, and then start on the dumplings.

Place the flour for the dumplings in a medium-large mixing bowl and top with the egg and salt. Mix well, then gradually add in the milk, only adding in enough to reach a slightly sticky consistency. More flour will dry it out and more milk will make it stickier, so adjust the dough accordingly. Once done, set aside.

Keep an eye on the stock, and is it reaches a boil and starts thickening**, add the vegetables, herbs, and chicken. Simmer for 5 more minutes. Also keep an eye on the water for the dumplings, and as soon as that's boiling, spoon the dough into it and begin to cook. When they're done, they will rise to the top.* Pour the filling into the prepared baking dish(es), and bake for 10-15 minutes.

When the dumplings finish, remove the filling from the oven, switch the settings and the rack for broiling, and top with the dumplings. Sprinkle the top with paprika and return to the oven to broil, no more than 5 minutes, keeping a close eye. Remove when golden or lightly browned, and serve!

*You want a pot large enough to easily fit all of the dumplings on the bottom, preferably with a little space between each one. My pot was not large enough, although I used the largest one I had. The dumplings stuck to each other at the bottom of the pan, preventing them from individually rising as they finished. If they seem to be taking a long time to cook or look particularly crowded, take a knife and cut between them to try to free them a little.
**Really be patient with this as it thickens. I tried to rush it as dinner was taking longer to prepare than I had anticipated, and I wish the filling's gravy had been more substantial.

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