Monday, January 31, 2011

Chicken pot pie

Double-Crust Chicken Pot Pie

Few things are more comforting than chicken pie. The kids and I are reading Little Town on the Prarie, and in the story the Ingalls are looking forward to having a brood of chickens so they can finally have fresh eggs and bake... chicken pie.

Right after Carter was born, our church very lovingly brought us meals. As a new nursing mom, I was ravenous, so you could imagine my joy when someone would arrive with a golden crusted chicken pie. However, we had only lived in that area for a short time, and there must have been a regional tradition that I had been unaware of up to this point: boiled eggs in the chicken pie. Lots of boiled eggs.

Now I love a frittata, an omelet, or a plate of scrambled eggs stirred into buttery grits. I even like fried eggs cooked over easy, where the yokes run out and soak up into your toast. But I have never been able to stomach boiled eggs- the texture of the slimy white contrasted with the chalky yellow... no, thank you. This can create a dilemma when ordering Cobb salad or chicken salad at most restaurants (even my beloved Chik-fil-a disappoints here!). And I always passed those Easter eggs onto my mom.

So it was a huge tease to be given these gorgeous, steamy chicken pies- that must have taken quite a while to prepare- only to discover under that flaky crust a rather large amount of chopped, boiled egg. I guess adding the egg keeps in theme with the chicken. But, really? The funny thing was that this must have been the church tradition, because I know we received at least 4 of those pies.

This is where I say that I appreciated those pies. Every one of them. We didn't deserve to be shown that kind of care, and we were very grateful. But you KNOW how thrilled we were when someone brought us the more mundane and utterly delicious roast chicken, mashed potatoes, and broccoli.

Our family loves chicken pie, especially in the winter. We usually eat it with salad on the side. I normally use pie crust, but when the new Southern Living came and had this beauty on the cover, I knew I had to try it. I am discovering a newfound love of puff pastry, which is great for appetizers and deserts, so I was happy to incorporate it into the main meal.

I do have to say that I followed this recipe closely, since it was my first time making it, but I found out that you do not have to use the frozen (expensive!) potatoes (barely cooked cubed potatoes will work fine, and you can just add a couple of tablespoons of green or red pepper if you like). The same thing is true of the (expensive!) leeks, which could be substituted for green onion. I loved the leeks, but using the green onion is an easy way to cut your cost a little.

For the chicken, I boiled a whole chicken with root veggies and seasoning, so I would have the broth as well. I had at least a cup of pulled chicken left over, and several cups of broth to put in the freezer for another time. But you could use a rotisserie chicken and a can of broth and it would be great!

The star of the show is the puff pastry, so the filling can be played around with. You could use broccoli, peas, or whatever you think sounds good. Just keep the flour/butter/broth proportions the same so you don't end up with sludge or soup inside your incredible crust.

1/2 cup butter
2 medium leeks, sliced
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 (14.5-oz.) can chicken broth
3 cups chopped cooked chicken
1 1/2 cups frozen cubed hash browns with onions and peppers
1 cup matchstick carrots
1/3 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 (17.3-oz.) package frozen puff pastry sheets, thawed
1 large egg

1. Preheat oven to 375°. Melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat; add leeks, and sauté 3 minutes. Sprinkle with flour; cook, stirring constantly, 3 minutes. Whisk in chicken broth; bring to a boil, whisking constantly. Remove from heat; stir in chicken and next 5 ingredients.

2. Roll each pastry sheet into a 12- x 10-inch rectangle on a lightly floured surface. Fit 1 sheet into a 9-inch deep-dish pie plate; spoon chicken mixture into pastry. Place remaining pastry sheet over filling in opposite direction of bottom sheet; fold edges under, and press with tines of a fork, sealing to bottom crust. Whisk together egg and 1 Tbsp. water, and brush over top of pie.

3. Bake at 375° on lower oven rack 55 to 60 minutes or until browned. Let stand 15 minutes.

Southern Living, FEB 2011

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Tomato Soup 101

While we were vacationing last fall in the mountains, we stopped at what might have been the world's worst restaurant. We were lured in by the signs claiming this place was 'famous', along with the strong hunger created by a morning filled with antiquing, driving the Blue Ridge Parkway with the windows down, and listening to blue grass music at the apple orchard.
So we pull off around Linville, and followed the signs to the 'famous' restaurant. Turns out this fine establishment is famous not due to its cuisine but because it was built where 3 or 5 (?) counties meet.

Scott and I ordered something or other that we are still trying to forget about. Scott was hopeful enough to send food back that was cold... turns out it wasn't much better hot. :) So in one last attempt at something somewhat satisfying, he tried Sophie's grilled cheese. It's really hard to mess up grilled cheese, and as he ate it, he exclaimed that grilled cheese is one of his favorite things to eat.

Well, that was enough for me. I love to see my husband and kids smile when they sit down at the dinner table. Dinner is a main event at our house, so when I heard Scott exclaim his love of grilled cheese, I was thrilled. This is doable almost any night of the week, no matter if there are soccer practices or meetings competing for our dinner time.

So of course my next thought was what could go with the beloved grilled cheese, and tomato soup was the obvious choice. I remembered seeing a yummy sounding recipe online, and here was the perfect opportunity to put it to use. And so began Grilled Cheese and Tomato Soup at our table.

Due to my kid's aversion to Kraft singles, or any American cheese (how did this happen?? I loved nothing more when I was a kid than to open the fridge and grab a cellophane-wrapped square of yellow goodness!), we use grated cheddar and real butter to prepare our grilled cheese sandwiches. The kids are onto something, because you have never had a better, more simple grilled sandwich than two pieces of whole wheat bread, spread with butter, sprinkled with a generous mound of cheddar, and grilled on the griddle. The bread gets golden and toasty, and the sweetness from the whole wheat and butter combine perfectly. And if a little cheese sneaks out and sizzles on the griddle, all the better.

But about the soup. It is hard to believe so few ingredients can come together to be so satisfying. A few notes: I use fire roasted canned tomatoes and half and half instead of heavy cream. Last time I made it, I used the tube of chopped basil (found right beside the fresh at the grocery store), and it turned out great. If you use the food processor, your soup will be chunkier; using the blender turns out creamier soup.

Le Madeline's Tomato Basil Soup

4 cups fresh tomatoes, cored, peeled, and chopped (8-10) or 4 cups canned whole tomatoes, crushed
12 -14 basil leaves, washed fresh
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 lb sweet unsalted butter
1/4 teaspoon cracked black pepper

Simmer tomatoes in saucepan for 30 minutes. Puree, with the basil leaves, in small batches, in blender or food processor. Return to saucepan and add cream, butter, salt and pepper while stirring over low heat.