By DENISE HERSCHEL
Neptune resident Eleanor Cranston is a comfort food kind of gal. Anything with gravy and biscuits to dumplings and chicken is what she craves once the weather turns cold. Recipes that are guaranteed to fill your stomach and leave you feeling satisfied is what she looks for this time of year.
“Even though I am not from the South I do love my Southern recipes like macaroni and cheese, chicken and herb dumplings, chicken and biscuits. I feel like when I make this type of food it is like eating the food of my childhood,” she said. “Some of my father’s family were from Georgia and when they came to visit us in New Jersey they sure did like to whip up their favorite recipes. Many of the recipes they gave to my mother for us to enjoy but I have to say that no one made it quite like they did. They just had that magic touch.”
Cranston considers herself to be an “old-timer” in the kitchen having cooked for more than 46 years. She thinks that today’s generation does not cook or prepare home-cooked meals as much as her generation does or her parents’ generation did.
“My mom learned to cook at a very early age and was in the family kitchen helping to make meals for everyone by the time she was about eleven-years-old. There were six kids in her family and as the oldest she was responsible for helping out with dinner preparation. Her younger siblings had other chores like making the beds and folding laundry but cooking was her job. She didn’t do it every day but she said she was assigned to cook about three or four days a week. It probably seems shocking to hear that today but back then it was not that unusual to have the children taking on some of the family’s responsibilities. Everyone just chipped in and helped out,” she said.
In addition to cooking, Cranston also has an affinity for baking as well but said that cooking is really her first love and is something she looks forward to doing, especially when she comes across a recipe that she has never attempted before but would like to learn.
“I know many people use the internet as a source for new recipes but I do prefer to buy cookbooks or borrow cookbooks. I like the feel of a book and looking through it. I also have some friends that I share recipes with from time to time and my church group has a book exchange so on occasion we give each other cookbooks to read. Our group of women at my church all like to cook so there is never a lack of ideas,” she said.
Cranston added that she finds cooking to be rewarding as well as challenging because of the creativity factor.
“When you cook there are many variations you can do for one recipe. I might make the same recipe half a dozen times but I can try to improvise and do it six different ways. It’s the combination of ingredients and the addition or the subtraction of them that can make it very interesting. Cooking is never dull for me because I don’t let it be. I love to make a good meal that I can sit down and enjoy with my family and friends,” she said.
Here is a recipe for Chicken and Biscuits Casserole which Cranston said makes for a filling meal on a chilly winter day.
Chicken and Biscuits Casserole
One quarter cup of butter
2 cloves of garlic, minced
One half cup of chopped onion
One half cup of chopped celery
One half cup of chopped baby carrots
One half cup of all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons of white sugar
1 teaspoon of salt
1 teaspoon of dried basil
One half teaspoon of ground black pepper
4 cups of chicken broth
1 (10 ounce) can of peas, drained
4 cups of diced, cooked chicken meat
2 cups of buttermilk baking mix
2 teaspoons of dried basil
Two thirds cup of milk
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Lightly grease a 9 x 13 inch baking dish.
2. In a skillet, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Cook and stir the garlic, onion, celery, and carrots in butter until tender. Mix in the flour, sugar, salt 1 teaspoon of dried basil and pepper.
3. Stir in broth and bring to a boil. Stirring constantly, boil 1 minute, reduce heat, and stir in peas. Simmer 5 minutes then mix in chicken.
4. Transfer mixture to the prepared baking dish.
5. In a medium bowl, combine the baking mix and 2 teaspoons dried basil. Stir in milk to form a dough. Divide the dough into 6 to 8 balls.
6. On floured wax paper, use the palm of your hand to flatten each ball of dough into a circular shape; place on top of chicken mixture.
7. Bake in the preheated oven for 30 minutes. Cover with foil and bake for 10 more minutes. To serve, spoon chicken mixture over biscuits.
Yield: 6 servings