Chicken & YUMplins

31 03 2010

For as long as I’ve been an adult people have always assumed and asked if  I’m from the south. I am from south of L.A. and South of California, but  I’m not from any region of the “South” as in confederacy or N’ahlin’s or hard hearted Hannah the vamp from Savannah.

A little Ella for ya

One time, while on some tour, I was in Northern Florida and a  guy asked me where I  was from and I said “L.A.” and he said in the most hickish southern accent you can possibly think of “Lower Alabama?”. Um  no and who ever knew Florida was apart of the south and while we’re on the subject why is  Virginia considered the south? It’s pretty far north, but if you’ve ever been there you don’t doubt you’re in the south. Once when I was in West Virginia we got to town (before internet) and called a local  bar to ask if they knew of any “happy” bars in town. After explaining  what “happy” meant the lady at the bar said on the phone in the most hickish deep in the hills missing tooth kind  of voice “I don’t know of any butt fuckin’ bars in town and if I did I wouldn’t tell any faggots  where they were” click. Welcome to WEST Virginia NOT for Lovers.

I do love the south, don’t get me wrong and I have several things to be thankful for in the south. One being Paula Deen, who will realize one day she wants to adopt me. Isn’t she cute!

Another thing I’m thankful for is The Waffle House where I learned to love grits and kitchens where I could actually watch them add a pound of butter to my food. Thank  you Waffle House for all of your after show meals & your drunken nights.

In Jackson, Mississippi I was surprised to find a  Gay & Lesbian Bank!!! G&L Bank AND they had an ATM!! We don’t even have one in West Hollywood! Don’t ask what I was wearing…it was 1998.

I guess my taste for food has always veered the southern way as well. I’m a huge fan of soul food,  southern,  creole,  fried anything and butter rolled in cheese dipped in batter fried and slathered with mayo. Another time on tour I was so excited when our bus driver’s Mom was going to host the whole cast at her southern home for a real home cooked southern meal. All 50 of us got there and the whole neighborhood had come together to cook us up some amazing food. There were quite a few vegetarians on that tour so it was pretty hard for them to find something they could eat that didn’t have pork something in it. They zeroed in  on salad and  biscuits. While biting into the biscuits we discovered something chewy like an apricot with no flavor. One curious vegetarian chimed in and said “what is this chewy stuff in the biscuits?”.  Momma of the South replied “Oh that’s just a bit of cracklin'” “Cracklin?” we said “What’s that?” Momma South said  “It’s pig skins”. I think all of their faces turned  green and they quickly covered their mouths with their napkins and ran top speed to the bathroom like a fire lit under their ass.  I was laughing my face off!!!  Oh man I still laugh to this day!

Anyhow, you’ll see a lot of  comfort southern inspired food recipes here because somehow it’s how my dna is geared.

The other night I had a hankerin’ for Chicken & Dumplins so here I share with you a KILLER recipe for this southern classic.  This recipe will not disappoint you!

Chicken & YUMplin Dumplins (2 hours start to  finish)

Serves  about 6

Tools: Stock pot, ladle, mixing spoons, tongs, ice cream scoop, paper towels, plates, bowls

5lbs. Chicken Thighs (you can get them prepackaged this way)

2-3 Large Carrots

2-3 Stalks of Celery

1 brown onion

6 tbl Flour

1/4 cup white wine

1/4 cup cream

4 1/2 c. Chicken Broth

2 Bay leaves (fresh is best if you can get it)

1 tsp Fresh Thyme (again  fresh is best but dry will do)

1 c frozen or fresh peas

1 tsp parsley

4 tbl butter

2 tbl oil vege or olive

Salt & Pepper


2 c.  Flour

1 tbl Baking Pwder

1 tsp salt

3 tbl. reserved chicken fat from frying

1 cup warm whole milk

OKAY!!  This  can be made in one pot!! First pat your thighs dry then salt & pepper them. Dice your onion and chop celery and carrots into 1/4 inch pieces and set aside. In your stock pot heat 2 tbl oil to cover bottom until just smokin. Add half  your thighs fat side down and fry both sides until golden brown about 5-10 minutes each batch. Remove to  paper towels and do the second batch in the chicken fat oil the same way and remove. Drain all the fat in the pan into a cup to reserve for use later. Melt the 4tbl of butter in the pan and add onion, carrots & celery. Cook until onions are transparent. Multi task while those are cooking by removing the skin off your chicken thighs. Once the onion is well cooked add the 6 tbls of flour to make a roux/thickener. Mix until all veggies are coated. Now slowly add your wine & chicken broth while mixing at the same time and then the cream. it’ll start to  thicken like a gravy almost. Now add your chicken, thyme & bay leaves. Bring to a boil then put on low to simmer for 1 hour. After the hour remove your chicken to a large cutting board and carefully shred the chicken off the bone being careful to remove  any fat or  bones. Remove the bay leaves and add the shredded chicken , parsley and peas.  Salt & Pepper to taste. I even add a little garlic salt and sometimes sliced mushrooms. Leave on a simmer. Now make your dumplings.

In a bowl combine flour,  salt and baking powder. In a micro proof glass heat your milk and chicken fat for about 30 seconds until around 100-110 F degrees. Add that to the flour and stir until fully incorporated. Take your little ice cream scoop or 2 spoons and scoop balls into your  chicken pot just setting right on top of the broth. The scoops can be any size but remember they will at least double in size. It should make about 16- 1 1/2-2 inch balls. Don’t worry about them touching or if they dunk in the liquid, but try to keep them on top. Cover with a lid and let them simmer for about 16-18 minutes. The steam and liquid will cook them perfect.

Now you’re ready to serve!! If your neighbors start coming  over like zombies because it smells so good either invite them in or tell them to bring back all that stuff they borrowed from you.

Here’s what mine looked like


Hawaiian Eye Yi Yi!!

1 03 2010

The Aloha spirit has been all around me the last couple of weeks.  I was genuinely concerned for the fragile islands this weekend with fear of the Tsunami washing away the beachcombers. Hawaii doesn’t need the bad press right now with tourism down. I’m glad everything turned out alright. I simply adore Hawaii with all its spirit and beauty.  I don’t know how it’s possible that I haven’t always felt this way.

I’ve been to Hawaii 3 or 4 times. Why can’t I remember? I think it was three times and the second time felt like 2 times. At any rate the first time I went was with my parents when I was about 8 years old. We stayed in Honolulu, Oahu and went to Lahaina, Maui for a couple days. I have such great memories of that trip. Well except for getting sun burned so bad I had a blister on my ear that I thought was cancer and was going to kill me. My Dad laughed and eased my mind that I would not die. Other than that it was awesome.

The second time I went to Hawaii was when we  ended a national tour of Bye Bye Birdie I was in. I played Hugo Peabody. It starred Troy Donahue who starred in several 60’s surf movies and tv shows including Hawaiian Eye, A Summer Place, Surfside 6, and many more.

Here he is with  Sandra Dee in A Summer Place

Many know his name for being used in lyrics in the musicals Grease and A Chorus Line. Troy was such an awesome guy. He was funny, down to earth and genuinely one of the good guys. He was a recovering alcoholic and I’ll never forget we celebrated his sobriety birthday on the beach in Honolulu at a bar! He of course wasn’t drinking, but that’s how cool he was. I miss the old guy. He wasn’t very old when he died of a heart attack at 65 in 2001. It was pretty shocking because he was in such great shape we all thought. His fiance, the amazing mezzo-soprano Zheng Cao asked me to speak at his funeral. Several celebs spoke as well. Most of them his ex’s like Connie Stevens and Suzanne Pleshette who was there with Tom Poston. I thought that was pretty funny, but Troy was such a cool guy everyone loved him, even his ex’s.

Here we are after a show with my friend Tresa.

At any rate during that trip to Hawaii I extended my stay an extra week because I met someone and thought I was in love. The second day of my second week I wanted the fuck OFF that island. I guess it’s what they call island fever. Whatever it was I quickly found out I was  not in love and that all I wanted to do was go home.

That left a bad taste in my mouth until I bought a trip to Hawaii for Dana’s birthday a few years ago.  Dana is a huge beach lover and has bugged me to move back to the beach as long as we’ve been together. He had a house in  Malibu for many years and misses it. It’s not that I don’t want to move there. I just want to move there for the summer. That’s not an option yet! Dana’s experiences in Hawaii have always been top-notch. For many years, Dana almost right out of USC in the late 70’s started working for The Beach Boys. He ended up managing them until the mid 80’s when he left them to manage Rick Springfield & Andy Gibb full-time. Dana brought The Beach Boys several times to Hawaii and as you can imagine they were treated like King Kamehameha. So we saw and did nothing but the best while we there. It was a pretty magical trip and once again I fell in love with Hawaii. We spent endless days on the beach being served Pina Coladas and nights out at the most amazing restaurants.  We had a great night at Hy’s Steakhouse. Nothing  about  it was very Hawaiian. As a  matter of fact it looked very old school fancy Hollywood, but it is exactly the old school flavor I love!  Check it  out here Hy’s Steakhouse .  We had a very Aloha spirit dinner at the Halekulani’s restaurant called Orchids. Our table was right on the rail overlooking the Ocean. That was so romantic and amazing! Check it out here Orchids at the Halekulani . And finally we went to a luau at The Royal Hawaiian aka The Pink Hotel which was a blast!

Check out this excerpt from the Luah at The  Royal  Hawaiian

A couple weeks ago my friend Ryan Polito had an awesome Tiki party called Cupid Vs. Tiki for Valentines Eve. Ryan is an amazing person and Director. I was Supervising Producer & Set Designer on the Miss California pageant we worked on together for television. Seen here.

He and his wife have a beautiful home in Santa Monica with an amazing back yard that looks like it’s right out of the Halekulani. He built a custom bar that looks like the Tiki room with vintage 40’s-60’s lighting and an amazing collection of Mai Tai glasses. They had Mai Tai’s and Blue Hawaiian’s already made and far too convenient to grab off the bar. They had it catered with a walk up taco bar and it actually went quite well regardless of it not being Hawaiian. Although there is an amazing Shrimp taco truck in Oahu if you’re lucky enough to find it. I brought them some homemade Pineapple Upside Down Cake which I  will share the recipe for later on in this blog.

Saturday my amazing friend Aimee treated me to an awesome night called Supercalifragilistic: A Night With Richard Sherman. This man and his brother wrote an incredible catalogue of songs most of which are world-renowned Disney songs. The first half he played and sang all of his hits as if we were in the office of Walt Disney when he originally pitched them. He spoke admirably and fond of Walt Disney and I had a smile on my face the whole time. I mean the man wrote Mary Poppins, The Jungle Book, Winnie The Pooh, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Bedknobs & Broomsticks, It’s A Small World and apropos to this blog The Tiki Room theme song!!!!

It was an awesome evening capped by a visit to Musso & Franks. Aimee & I are old souls. We love historic romps and preserved history. Musso & Franks has been a Hollywood institution since 1919! Musso & Frank’s fan site We sat at the bar because we both love the perfect Sidecar martini and we knew we’d get one at M & F’s. The interior is right out of the 40’s and the bar has been there even longer. Mario asked us what we wanted & when we said a Sidecar without hesitation he grabbed that shaker and started pouring the Brandy. Most people look at you with a scared look on their face and then you see them flipping though a recipe book! Need I say Mario made us the best damned Sidecar we’ve ever tasted. The staff there is top-notch and you feel like you’re apart of the family  there. So much so that the whole Musso & Frank family WAS there and sat at the bar with us sharing old stories and history about the restaurant. It was an awesome  night and if you ever get a chance I suggest you run down there and experience all the gloriousness of old Hollywood preserved. We wanted to finish the night at Tiki Ti but we were having so much fun we  couldn’t leave.

So onto our

Pineapple Upside Down Cake That’ll Turn You Right  Side Up.

1 springform pan, regular round pan or bundt

3 tbl. butter or margarine

1 8oz can crushed pineapple

1 can pineapple slices

Maraschino Cherries

1/3 c. Pecan pieces

2/3 c. brown sugar

1/3 c. shortening or softened butter

1/2 c. granulated sugar

1 egg

1 tsp. vanilla

1 1/4 c. sifted cake flour

1 1/2 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. salt

Preheat oven to 350  F

Melt the butter and put it into your cake round. swirl it around so it covers bottom. Drain the pineapple and save 1/2 c. of the juice or syrup. Arrange pineapple rings around the bottom and center each with cherries. Sprinkle your pecans over that. Now spread the brown sugar over that and then your crushed pineapple over that. Set aside.

Cake mix; Cream shortening and gran. sugar  until smooth. add the egg and vanilla. Beat until fluffy. Sift the dry ingredients together and alternate adding dry mix and pineapple juice into batter incorporating each first. Spoon your mix into cake pan evenly. Level the cake by lightly tapping pan on the counter.

Bake 45-50 minutes. Cool on a baking rack or near a draft for 5 minutes. Turn onto a cake plate. Served warm with coconut sorbet or vanilla ice cream  is like crack  (although I’ve never done crack it is how I imagine it to be).

Side note: you can omit the pineapple rings and just used crushed pineapple and it’s just as good. I do highly recommend using butter but if you are lactose intolerant a margarine or smart beat will work as well.

I forgot to take a pic of mine, but here is what it looks like  at Clifton’s Cafeteria (which is amazing btw downtown L.A. if you get a chance go!). Our’s will be a lot better than this one, no offense to Clifton’s it’s just the truth.  Clifton’s, although not pretty is pretty damn good.