Friday, September 19, 2014

Chicken Pot Pie

Chicken Pot Pie
I have decided that taking a "good" picture of one of the best homemade meals is practically impossible.  Chicken pot pie is one of my favorite dishes to eat and is a definite winner in my household among even the most finicky eaters.  Aesthetically speaking, however, it doesn't yield the prettiest of pictures.

Chicken Pot Pie
When I was growing up, I actually grew to hate chicken pot pie.  My mom can attest to this.  Back in the olden days, meaning before microwaves, it was about the only thing we could prepare ourselves on nights when my mom was teaching late.  Preheat the oven, take out the Swanson's pot pies from their blue boxes, puncture the crust several time with your fork, put it in the oven, and wait.  I think, for kids, we did a much better job at the waiting bit than kids today. We really had no choice. Those tiny individual pies had to cook at least 40 minutes before they were just brown enough on top and cooked through.  For a while I did love those little bubbly pies and the almost burnt rims that I saved for my last bites.  Eat the middle first and work your way to the outside.  Yet, after consuming so many pot pies over the course of a year, I came to dread those frozen boxes.

Chicken Pot Pie from Food Therapy
Yet, times have changed and so have my cooking abilities.  I have learned to make pot pies from scratch, and today I wouldn't have it any other way.  The recipe I use was adapted from The Pioneer Woman, Ree Drummond.  With a few changes here and there, I have made it my own.  And, with a few shortcuts, it's easy as...well, pie.

Chicken Pot Pie from Food Therapy
For this recipe, I roasted a small chicken during the day.  Don't feel the need to do the same.  You could just as easily buy a rotisserie chicken already cooked from your grocery store or you could buy a mix of chicken breasts and dark meat and roast them in the oven at a quicker speed.  The key is to use fresh meat because it really adds to the richness of the chicken/vegetable mixture.

Chopped Chicken

Chicken Pot Pie from Food Therapy
Pretty veggies
I have made it in the past using my own crust, which is great if you happen to have pie crusts stored up in your freezer. We all do, right? In this version, I used a frozen crust from Trader Joe's, and I don't think you really could tell the difference.  You only need one crust to go on top.  If you'd like, you can do one on the bottom and one on top.  However, you will need to pre-bake the bottom crust before adding the filling.  Otherwise, you will end up with a soggy crust.

Pie filling before pie dough is added
The filling is simple, and the longest part is actually chopping all of those beautiful vegetables.  Pictures of chopped vegetables do come out beautifully.  The more colors the better. In my pot pie, I found multi-colored carrots that really add a great texture to the look of the pie: purples, yellows, and oranges.  Celery and peas add some green and chopped potatoes add some white to the mixture.

What are those!? Carrots. Aren't they pretty?
What really adds to the taste in this particular recipe is the combined flavors of a cup of white wine and chopped shallots.  I prefer shallots over onions because they really add a richness without all of the acidity of plain onions once they are cooked and then combined with the white wine. They just plain go together.

The filling can be made ahead of time and refrigerated until ready to use.  You could also make the entire thing and then freeze the pie for another day.

For a print-friendly version of the recipe, click https://sites.google.com/site/chickenpotpiefoodtherapy/.

Adapted from The Pioneer Woman: Ree Drummond

Ingredients:
1 3-4 pound whole chicken
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 cup of water

3 carrots, peeled and finely diced
3 stalks of celery, finely diced
2 shallots, finely diced
2 small russet potatoes, unpeeled, diced into small pieces
1/2 cup fresh or frozen peas (if frozen, thaw ahead of time)

4 Tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups free-range chicken broth
1 cup dry, white wine
1 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon dried thyme
Salt
Pepper

1 refrigerated pie crust


Directions:

For the chicken:
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Rinse chicken and pat dry.  Place in roaster pan, lining the bottom of the pan with aluminum foil for easy clean up.  Season with salt and pepper. I like to add a stalk of celery, one carrot, and one lemon in the cavity, but it isn't necessary for this dish.  It does slightly flavor the chicken if you want to add it.

Pour one cup of water into the bottom of the roasting pan for moisture.  Cover the chicken lightly with foil.  Bake for 35 minutes, covered.  Remove foil and bake for an additional 10-15 minutes until chicken is browned.  Remove from oven and allow chicken to cool down before handling.

Once cool enough, remove the chicken meat from the bones and chop into smallish pieces, about 1-inch chunks.

For the filling:
In a stockpot, melt your butter over medium heat.  Add the carrots, celery, shallots, and potatoes. Season with a little salt and pepper. Continue cooking the vegetables over medium heat until they soften and the shallots are translucent, stirring continually for about 10 minutes.  Add in the chopped chicken and peas.

Sprinkle the flour and dried thyme over the vegetable/chicken mixture and stir gently to mix it in and coat the vegetables.
 Slowly add in the broth, stirring to mix it in with the flour.  Then, add in the wine, still stirring.  Cook the mixture for a couple of minutes to make sure the flour and liquids are well-mixed.  Pour in the heavy cream and turn the temperature to low.  Continue stirring and cooking over low heat until the gravy has thickened, about 5 minutes.

Pie Assembly:
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Prepare a 9-inch deep pie dish by spraying with a little cooking spray.  Pour the chicken/vegetable mixture into the pie dish.  Place your pie dough over top of the mixture and crimp any way you like.  Work fast, however, because the heat from the filling will soften the dough fast.  Place the pie onto a cookie sheet just in case it bubbles over while baking.  Then cut slits into the top of the pie crust for easy breathing.

Bake in the oven for 30 minutes or until your crust is browned according to your picky standards.  Cool for 10 minutes before dishing it out.

Note:  If you would like to freeze the pot pie, prepare everything as listed above.  However, allow the vegetable/chicken mixture to cool before adding it to the pie dish.  Place the dough on top, cover the pie with plastic wrap or foil, and place in the freezer.  You can bake it at 375 degrees straight from the freezer.  Just remove the foil or wrap and bake for 45 minutes, just like the good old days!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Mushroom Risotto with Sun-Dried Tomatoes and Peas

Mushroom Risotto with Sun-Dried Tomatoes and Peas from Food Therapy

It's somewhat embarrassing to tell you that my culinary experiences began in my college years.  Yes, I've been cooking on my own since I was about 10, but my repertoire was limited to chicken dinners and casseroles, brownies and cookies, and the odd family favorites like cheese grits.  This all changed when I began college in New York City.  I can tell you all about the different foods and restaurants I was introduced to, from Korean to Indian to the best Chinese food I have EVER eaten, but I'll save that for another time.

Mushroom Risotto with Sun-Dried Tomatoes and Peas from Food Therapy

My fondest food memories actually began right in my dorm suite's kitchen.  During my freshman year of college I met my female soul mate, Katie, living two doors down from me.  After a few conversations over breakfast, where I watched her pour syrup onto her bowl of grits (gasp!), I soon realized I'd found the one person who totally got me.  From our love of books to what is now called old-school rap and hip hop (it wasn't called "old-school" back then), we bonded over our common interests and our very short statures.  And, besides books, we both discovered our love for cooking, often combining the two as we exchanged cookbooks as gifts on many occasions.

Katie will probably laugh when she reads this, but one of my favorite dishes ever was right there in our shared kitchen.  No, it was not the beans and yellow rice, so nice, that certain suite mates ate nearly every single night.  It was risotto with sun-dried tomatoes and peas that I fell in love with.

Mushroom Risotto with Sun-Dried Tomatoes and Peas from Food Therapy
Almost there...but not quite
Being a young woman who'd grown up in Alabama, we didn't make much risotto. We didn't make any risotto.  I'd never even heard of such a thing. Is it rice? Is it pasta? Italian rice? Who knew! Well, my sweet Katie knew.

Imagine a time when you had time.  Classes were done for the day and there was reading to do and papers to write; but, that could all wait.  At a tiny table, which took up nearly the entire kitchen, Katie stood at the stove with one pot warming chicken broth and another pot where the risotto was slowly absorbing small amounts of broth, getting creamier and creamier with each stir.  It was a long process, but it gave us time to talk, vent, and just bitch. We had nothing but time and didn't foresee the day when all of our conversations would be interrupted by smaller people than us and all conversation would ultimately be broken and hard to follow.

Mushroom Risotto with Sun-Dried Tomatoes and Peas from Food Therapy
Just right
Well, the other night for dinner I was filled with nostalgia for those college years.  Tuesday nights have become the only night of the week when we have absolutely no activities and nowhere to be.  I had time.  No Katie to hang out with, but I did have the time to stand at the stove, drink a glass of Chablis, and listen to my music (and my how that has changed over the years!).  I was faced with the decision of what to add to my risotto.  I had some beautiful and plump sundried tomatoes in the pantry, fresh peas, and mushrooms.  I was set.  After gathering a few herbs to flavor the chicken broth, I slowed down for the evening.  I advise you to do the same.  Find a night when you're free.  Grab a friend, grab a spouse, or just be fine being alone.  Make risotto and enjoy the process.


For a print-friendly version of the recipe, click https://sites.google.com/site/mushroomrisottofromfoodtherapy/.

Ingredients:
4 cups Chicken Broth (more depending on the consistency of the risotto you prefer)
Mixture of fresh herbs for a bouquet (I used parsley, thyme, and sage)
1 cup risotto or short-grained rice
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 small yellow onion, chopped
1 cup chopped mushrooms (white or baby bellas)
1/2 cup fresh or thawed peas
1/2 cup chopped sun-dried tomatoes
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
Chopped parsley for garnish (optional)

Directions:
1.  In a medium saucepan, pour in the chicken broth and place your herbs into the pot.  Warm at medium heat. Do not bring to a boil.

2.  In a separate deep saute pan, warm olive oil over medium heat.  Add the chopped onions and sprinkle with kosher salt.  Saute until the onions are translucent.

3.  Add the uncooked risotto to the pan and saute for 3 minutes, continually stirring.

4.  Add the chopped mushrooms, peas, and tomatoes.  Stir to mix all of the ingredients together for a minute.

5.  Turn the temperature down to medium-low.  Remove the herbs from the warmed chicken broth.  Add one cup of the warm broth to the risotto/vegetable mixture. Stir, stir, stir until the broth is almost completely absorbed by the risotto.

6.  Continue to add broth 1/2 cup at a time until the risotto is the consistency and texture you desire.  Make certain to allow the broth to be absorbed by the risotto before adding each additional 1/2 cup of broth.  TAKE YOUR TIME and DO NOT RUSH the process.  If the temperature is too high, if you don't continually stir, and if you add the broth too soon, your risotto will most likely not release the starches properly and you will not achieve the creaminess that is the hallmark of good risotto.

7.  Stir in the parmesan.  Sprinkle parsley for garnish (optional).

8.  One final tip: it never hurts to warm up more broth than is required in the recipe.  Sometimes I only need four cups and sometimes a little more.  I continually taste and continually add the broth, not until it's gone, but until the risotto is the way I like it.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Blueberry Muffins

Blueberry Muffins from Food Therapy

One of my favorite smells in all of cooking is the combination of freshly brewed coffee and blueberry muffins baking in the morning.  When my brother and I were kids, it wasn't unusual on the weekend to wake up to that glorious smell as we came down the stairs.  My mom loved to make us our special muffin breakfast, complete with strawberries or peaches and whipped cream.  Those were the days when I could easily eat 2 to 3 muffins at a time and a little fruit and a whole lot of fresh whipped cream without even thinking twice. Of course, I'm not a 13-year-old girl anymore.  Indulging with no regard for calories aside, I'd probably make myself sick if I ate like I used to.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Dinner Party


I know my regular readers have been waiting with baited breath to hear about the dinner party.  After all, if you've spoken to me personally in the past month, you are probably just thankful you won't have to talk to me about it any more. Of course I'll be more than happy to relive every detail I can remember, but at least you won't have to hear me talk about the dishes, the planning, the worries about getting it all together.  Unless, that is, you want to hear about it all now...