Don’t be intimidated by the recipe for “Lighter Chicken and Dumplings,” from the September/October 2009 issue of Cook’s Illustrated (recipe below). Indeed, you’ll need to follow a few particular cooking steps, but the rewards will be great. My diners loved this soup. And really, the preparation is not too difficult. You’ll notice that everything takes place in one pot -- a Dutch oven -- and the dumplings are simply dropped in to float and cook atop the soup.

Lighter Chicken and Dumplings
Cook’s Illustrated, September/October 2009
Serves 6

Stew:
6 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs, trimmed of excess fat (about 2 1/2 lbs)
2 tsp. vegetable oil
2 small onions, chopped fine (1 1/2 cups)
2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 3/4 inch pieces (2 cups)
1 celery rib, chopped fine (1/2 cup)
1/4 cup dried sherry or dry white wine
6 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1/2 tsp. dried thyme (or 1 teaspoon fresh)
1 lb. chicken wings
1/4 cup flat leaf parsley

Dumplings:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. salt
3/4 cup cold buttermilk
4 Tbsp. (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled for 5 minutes
1 large egg white

For the stew: Pat chicken thighs dry with paper towels and season with 1 teaspoon salt and 1/4 tsp. pepper. Heat oil in large Dutch oven over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add chicken thighs, skin-side down, and cook until skin is crisp and well browned, 5 to 7 minutes. Using tongs, turn chicken and brown on second side, 5 to 7 minutes longer; transfer to large plate. Discard all but 1 teaspoon fat from pot.

Add onions, carrots, and celery to pot; cook, stirring occasionally, until caramelized, 7 to 9 minutes. Stir in sherry or wine, scraping up any browned bits. Stir in broth and thyme. Return chicken thighs, with any accumulated juices, to pot and add chicken wings. Bring to simmer, cover, and cook until thigh meat offers no resistance when poked with tip of paring knife but still clings to bones, 45 to 55 minutes (as a side note, when I halved this recipe it only took 35-40 minutes to reach this point).

Remove pot from heat and transfer chicken to cutting board. Allow broth to settle 5 minutes, then skim fat from surface using wide spoon. When chicken is cool enough to handle, remove and discard skin. Using fingers or fork, pull meat from chicken thighs (and wings, if using) and cut into 1-inch pieces. Return meat to pot.

For the dumplings: Whisk flour, baking soda, sugar, and salt in large bowl. Combine buttermilk and melted butter in medium bowl, stirring until butter forms small clumps; whisk in egg white. Add buttermilk mixture to dry ingredients and stir with rubber spatula until just incorporated and batter pulls away from sides of bowl.

Return stew to simmer; stir in parsley and season with salt and pepper to taste. Using greased tablespoon measure (or #60 portion scoop), scoop level amount of batter and drop over top of stew, spacing about 1/4 inch apart (you should have about 24 dumplings). Wrap lid of Dutch oven with clean kitchen towel (keeping towel away from heat source) and cover pot. Simmer gently until dumplings have doubled in size and toothpick inserted into center comes out clean, 13 to 16 minutes. Serve immediately.

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I cooked my onions/carrots/celery for 8 minutes. Instead of using dry sherry, I used marsala wine; instead of chicken broth, I used vegetable-bouillon broth. My final soup needed 2 1/2 tsp. salt and 1/2 tsp. black pepper. My dumplings were big and “light” and lovely. Be proud of this soup.

I also made the “Asparagus with Citrus and Oregano,” from the April 2009 issue of Saveur. I was amused by the notion of cooking asparagus in the microwave; I hadn’t fathomed this before. They were perfectly cooked in the microwave, ending up just a bit crispy. I added 1/2 tsp. salt and 1/4 tsp. black pepper to the dressing. The orange segments and the olive oil paired nicely. This is a dish that appears quite glamorous, but is quite simple to put together. It can also sit around while it waits to be served. No pressure here.

PRICES
Chicken Thighs (~2.5 lbs.) = $4.75
Chicken Wings (~1 lb.) = $2.72
Asparagus (1 lb.) = $2.48
Organic California Oranges (2) = .58¢

RECIPES: straightforward chicken and dumplings are a dignified, delicious achievement; microwaved asparagus is a kick
PREP TIMES: soup might be ready in 2 hours; zesting your orange will take more time than microwaving your asparagus
TASTES: chicken thighs are very flavorful, the light dumplings are addictive; asparagus, oranges, and olive oil are boldly kissed by lemon juice and scallions

Next time, I want to embrace another grand cooking exercise. I will cook “Spice-Rubbed Duck Breasts with Roasted Grapes and Cavolo Nero,” from the October 2009 issue of Bön Appetit, along with “Zesty Lemon Potatoes,” from Allrecipes.com. Wow! Come back to my site on Sunday, March 14, to see my results.