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

Dumplings

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





Comfort Food Junkie

25 02 2010

My name is Ryan Black and I’m a comfort food junkie.

Is it even possible to NOT like comfort food? I have no idea. I have no real grasp on that. Anything that has butter or cheese or  sugar or flour is usually on my daily menu. My friend Aimee is allergic to Dairy AND the only meat she eats is fish. I don’t know how she does it?!! I  just can’t imagine my life without dairy and lots of it. No cheese? No butter? That’s one of my worst nightmares!!! I need my dairy fix and I need it now!! How do I do it and keep my girlish figure? I don’t.  1 year ago I was 40 pounds heavier. Gaining weight is definitely not a problem for me for as long as I can remember. I’ve also always been afraid of gaining weight for as long as I can remember. I come from a family of weight gain. Both of my parents have yo yo’ed. My Dad’s done the most yo yoing of both, but both have maintained being overweight my whole life. My younger sister is probably the most overweight, while my older sister & I have  maintained our weight fairly well. Fat runs in the family I guess. My Grandparents were fat, but oddly my great grandparents weren’t. Is it the crap in our food now? Is it the go go grab & go of our daily life? I’m sure there are many contributing factors. I can pretty much only speak for my own eating habits. I can say this though about my younger sister and that is she is almost completely unaware of what she eats. She lived with me for a short while a couple years ago and she always talked about how she didn’t eat any more than any other person. Then she would have 3 doughnuts and a coke.  I love my sister, don’t get me wrong, but I think one of the biggest problems is that people aren’t aware of what they eat. This is why they tell you to log the food down that you eat in a journal. I think most people would be shocked. You hear it all the time “Everything in moderation” &  “Balance”.

I’m not exactly worthy of calling my daily meals balanced, but I can say I am acutely aware of everything I eat and take full responsibility for it! I started becoming aware of weight and eating at a very young age. I can remember all the way back to summer camp when I was 8 and I didn’t want to take my shirt off  at the pool because I thought I was fat. This stigma went  on for many years. I remember my Mom saying time and time again “You don’t want to grow up to be fat like Mom and Dad do you?”. Yes Mom, it’s my dream to be fat just like you and dad. Of course not! Hello!?! Who wants to be fat?

Growing up I was teased for the junk in my trunk. Even my parents called me bubble butt. Although when I grew to be an adult I fully embraced my bubble  butt and realized it was an asset (pun intended). I remember when I was in little league, yes I played baseball and was pretty damned good thank you! Back to back home runs & a triple in one game to lead my team to division champs! Anyhow, when  I was in little league I can remember this kid looking at my legs in my tight white baseball pants and I said “what are you looking at?”. He said “you have fat legs”. I think my response was “yeah well you’re gay”. I think he was actually and wasn’t that the pot calling the kettle Ryan Black. I can remember back to 1st or 2nd grade when little Mark  Emmons saw my Mom after she dropped me off and said “your Mom is fat!”. I never saw her that way and I went home that day and cried to my mom about what he said. It really disturbed me.  Besides my Mom wasn’t obese, she just had a lot of junk in the trunk.

In High School it got worse. I was always dieting one day and eating a Hostess Cherry Pie the next day. My Grandmother always shopped on HSN and was a sucker for gadgets and deals. One time she bought Richard Simmons Deal A Meal. It was this little pocket-book folder with cards on one side and slots on the other.

Each card had a food group on it and every time you ate something on that card you moved it over to the slots. When your cards were gone you couldn’t eat anymore. She used it for a week and then I took it. It actually taught me a lot about eating. My cards were usually folded  by lunch. EEK! Well…schools have horrible menu items and snack bars. It’s too easy to eat like shit in High School. Endless amounts of sugar and fat.

The straw that drank its last milk shake was when I was in college in a dance class and my ballet teacher Casey Colgan said I needed to lose ten pounds.  We wore tights in class which was completely mortifying to me to begin with. They showed everything! I even had cellulite! That was humiliating. A boy with cellulite? I’d ask God “Why God? Why me? Why cellulite?”. Yeah  I was pretty dramatic. A couple months later I left school and came home. When I got home I got my first gym membership at 18. That was it! No one anymore is going to comment on my fat, my ass, my legs or anything else negatively related to my body. I’m taking control!! Kind of. At least control of me.

Well, I was never really that consistent at it, but it was a start. I started learning about running and weight lifting and cardio and heart rates and body fat ratios. I wouldn’t say I became obsessed, but I definitely started to notice a difference and I liked that. I’ve continued over the years going back and forth to gyms. In the last year I’ve been my most successful. 2 years ago I was at the fattest I’ve ever been. I know exactly how it happened. I was depressed. I was unmotivated. I felt empty. Food ah my lovely friend. It’s always there for you isn’t it? I know it’s always there for you because there’s a 300 pound homeless man that stands outside of 7 11 all the time asking for food or money.  I usually opt to give him money.  Back to my weight gain.  I am a control freak and a perfectionist and I’m cast as type A. So this can go one way (or weigh) or the other. When my career is down, my weight is up. When my career is up, my weight is down. When my love life is down, my weight is up. When my love life is up, my weight is  down. Some of these things you’d think would be the opposite. As a control freak why can’t I control it all. I think because I give up control to try to control the other. Why can’t they coexist? They can. We just try to fill voids in our life. Things get boring, monotonous, redundant, repetitive or any other adjective you’d like to choose as an excuse. I had to choose to control it all. I’m not happy being over weight. I’m not even that happy eating that horrible food, well that might be a lie. I  love a big mac, a hostess cherry pie, pizza blah blah blah, but I realized I could have my cupcake and eat it too.  I had to get control of my life and my weight again. For the clothes buying experience alone! There’s nothing more frustrating than not being able to fit into anything because your eyes still see your old waist size. I’d eyeball jeans and try them on only to be shocked that they didn’t fit! I didn’t understand. I didn’t look that much fatter to me. I have the fortune or misfortune of gaining weight fairly equally on my whole body with a special nod to my legs and ass. It takes me a while to notice my weight gain. This is why it became imperative for me to measure my own body. Sounds like a pain, but especially when you’re working out it’s important. Muscle does weigh more than fat and the scale does nothing to show you that. So each week I would log my measurements head to toe. Contrary to popular belief my head never increased in size.  This was excited to me. Seeing the progress or lack thereof was both motivating and  fun.  I don’t always like to workout but I started to find things that I love. I love to hike our local canyon called Runyon. I love to see the difference in measurements. I love the pina colada protein smoothie at the end of my workout  (wish it had rum in it though). I love the music on my ipod. I shudder to say I love my orgasm more tee hee.  I love getting out of my home office and seeing the world. I love a good stretch at the end of working out…so peaceful and tranquil.

You have to find the joy. It’s work like everything else, but it’s all in how you set your mind. I’m not saying I don’t fall off  or have a day where I don’t want to, but you have to find the joy in it. And everything for that matter. It’s too easy to bring the negative into everything and I’m as guilty as anybody if not more so of that. There are very few things we have total control of in our life. We can’t control that annoying person on their phone in the car in front of us. We can’t control our friends who make the wrong choices.  We can’t control the person who has 20 items in the 15 items or less line. We can’t control the people who don’t pick up their dog shit. We can’t control the idiot at my gym who clearly doesn’t believe in bathing.  I could go on for hours BUT we can control our own bodies. Isn’t that empowering to think? We spend so much time trying to control so many things around us while paying little attention to the one thing you can control the most and that’s you! You are the most important person in your life. Without you, you can’t make a difference in the world. Without you, you can’t make the company you work for better. Without you, your kids or your dog for that matter wouldn’t have a better life. It all starts with you.  It’s  like when they tell you on an airplane if we’re going down put your mask on first then put a mask on your child. That always sounded odd to me because your child should always be first, but your child is history if you pass out from lack of oxygen. So you have to take control of your own air first so that your child has someone to rely on. That bachelor wall street guy sitting next to you’s not gonna be thinkin’ of your kid while he’s cryin’ for mama.

So enough of the Oprah hour and back to comfort food. I guiltlessly present to you last nights comfort food. I had a couple t-bones in the freezer and really wanted a meat & potatoes meal. I made Au Gratin Potatoes  and OH MAH GAW. All in moderation right? That’s why both Dana & I paused American Idol to get seconds. I’ll give you the recipe here for both that & my candied carrots I call Kettle Carrots. Then I will go work out for 2 hours.

OHHH Gratin Potatoes

serves 8 (or 4 in my family)

5  med. white potatoes

1 white onion

6 pieces bacon

1 1/2 c. milk

1/4 cup cream

1 1/2 c. extra sharp cheddar cheese grated

1/4 c. sour cream

3 tbl. flour

2 tbl. butter

1/2 tsp. Paprika

Pepper

Salt

Parsley

Preheat oven to 400F

First I slice the onions & potatoes with a mandolin. I bought my first mandolin a couple months ago and I LOVE it. I don’t know how I lived so long with out one. It’s OXO brand and it looks like this

They have them at William Sonoma,  Sur La Table & Bed Bath & Beyond I believe for $39. I’m sure they’re online as well. Well worth it!!

So either slice both potatoes and onion thin or on the mandolin I do 1/16th cut. You may like them thicker depends on your taste. You’re in control! See?!

Put a pot of boiling salted & oiled water on the stove for potatoes. In the meantime fry the bacon to a chrisp. Remove to paper towel. Reserve 2 tbl. of bacon grease and put into a medium sauce pan.  Over medium heat put the butter into the saucepan and melt with bacon grease. Slowly whisk flour in to make a roux/thickener. Immediately whisk in milk and cream bring to a simmer and turn off heat. Mix your cheese into this and then your sour cream.  Add paprika, salt & pepper to taste. If you think it’s too thick add a little milk and heat on low for a minute or two. Chop two tbl. parsley and crumble bacon. In your boiling water add the potatoes & onions carefully. Boil only for 2 minutes and completely drain being careful not to break the potatoes.

In a gratin or casserole dish sprayed with cooking spray layer potatoes, bacon, & sauce in that order twice. Then top with parsley & more paprika and pepper if you like.  Bake at 400 for about 35 minutes until golden and bubbly on top. I like it a little more done so I bake for about 40-45  mins.

Kettle  carrots

serves 2

1/2 pound carrots  (i get the already peeled & prepared kind)

1 tbl butter or margarine

1 tbl. brown sugar

pinch of salt

Boil the carrots in a medium sauce pan for about 10 minutes & drain. In the same pan melt butter, then add salt & sugar. Blend until combined completely about 1 minute or less. Add carrots,  toss & swirl around in pan. Serve.

OHH Gratin

The dish