Monday, March 30, 2009

Chicken Pot Pie - My Way

I've been behind in everything these days. I'm behind in blogging. I'm behind in keeping up with everyone else's blogs. On the good side, I finally added some long-needed new links to my blogstalking list. If you're not reading these blogs, you should be! I think part of the reason I haven't posted much lately is I haven't been cooking anything interesting. I need some new inspiration. Perhaps the new fruits and veggies of spring will inspire me.

I had been hoping to make a brand new recipe that I had never made before with ingredients I had never used. I found a recipe for Millet Cakes in Eating Well Magazine. I was reluctant to eat birdseed for dinner, but I need to expand my palate a bit, so I decided to try it. Well, it was another recipe failure. These cakes were not the least bit cohesive and I ended up ordering Chinese food for dinner. Since I've been stuck at home recovering from the flu, having someone else cook was the best thing for me. Also, hot and sour soup is great for the sinuses.

As a food blogger, I have to start cooking again at some point. People will stop reading my blog if I stop providing entries and I certainly don't want that to happen. On Friday I was finally feeling a bit better, so I opted to cook some old-fashioned comfort food.

Chicken pot pie is a classic comfort food and there are as many ways to make it as there are people who love it. Some people make it as a soup. Some people make it into a full pie. Some cooks prefer to just lay a crust over the top. I like chicken pot pie in theory because chicken in a creamy sauce covered in a crust is a yummy idea, but there is always one problem with it. All too often it's made with vegetables I hate, particularly peas. I don't eat much chicken pot pie because I hate having to do the big pea pick-out.

This nasty illness has me craving comfort food though and I thought chicken pot pie sounded like a wonderful remedy for the soul. There is one way to solve the yucky vegetable dilemma. I would make it myself and only use vegetables I like.

For my chicken base I used broccoli, onions, and mushrooms in a while sauce flavored with sherry. I didn't bake it in a full crust, but baked it in a dish covered with homemade biscuit dough. Sir Pickypants and I both love our biscuits!

Nice, thick, puffy crust. Mmmmm. Too puffy perhaps? That should be everyone's problem!

When I first served it, I said that my pot pie was a little unorthodox. Sir Pickypants knew exactly what that meant. He said, "No peas." Well, yeah. Sorry about that.

My pot pie might not be as colorful as your typical pea-and-carrot-studded number, but I think it looked very attractive in its own way and it tasted even better. Hubby's comment was that is was delicious and I ought to make it more often. Best of all he said it was "Better than any Swanson pot pie I ever had." Remember, this is a man who loves peas.

The Short (dis)Order Cook's Chicken Pot Pie


2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1 Tbsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 cup buttermilk
1/3 cup butter


Oil for sauteeing
1-2 onions, finely diced*
2-4 cloves of garlic, minced**
8 oz mushrooms, sliced
1 10-oz package frozen broccoli cuts, thawed***
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup milk
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp white pepper
Pinch nutmeg
2 Tbl dry sherry.****
2-3 cups diced cooked chicken (I used the meat of two roasted breasts)

To make the filling saute the onions in a little olive oil until soft. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant. Add the mushrooms and keep cooking until they give off their liquid. Remove from pan. You can mix them together with the thawed broccoli at this point.

Melt butter in the pan and whisk in flour. Cook until it loses some of that raw flour taste. Whisk in the milk and cook over medium heat until thick (this should happen pretty quickly). Add the salt, pepper, and nutmeg to taste, adjusting amounts as you see fit. Add the veggies and chicken to the sauce and then mix in the sherry. Pour into a baking dish and cover with the crust.

Now make your crust. Heat oven to 400 degrees. Mix together dry ingredients. Cut butter into flour using pastry blender, your hands, or a food processor (my preferred method). Gently stir in buttermilk until ingredients are moistened.

Place the dough onto a floured work surface and gently knead, no more than 10 times. Roll out to the length needed to cover your filling in the dish. Lay gently over the filling. It doesn't have to look perfect and even (at least I keep telling myself that). Slice some ventilation holes in the top. Place in oven and bake for 15 minutes or until crust is nice and golden.

*Depending on size or how much you like onions

**Depending on size of cloves or how much you like garlic

***Yes, I said frozen. If you're that big of a purist, chop up some fresh broccoli and cook it ahead of time. But I don't think there is anything wrong with frozen vegetables. Look, I said frozen, not canned, sheesh!

****Made you look! Ha ha!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Weekend Baking Adventures

Okay. Adventures is too strong a word. I baked some pretty easy (but very tasty) recipes this weekend. I had quite a lot going down.

It started on Friday. A few people were celebrating birthdays in my office this weekend, so I thought it would be nice to bake a cake for the office.

I reviwed Ruth Reichl's Garlic and Sapphires last week. The one thing I didn't mention about the book is that it includes many of Reichl's recipes. I found myself very drawn to one of the most basic recipes in the book: Nicky's Vanilla Cake (Nicky being her son). It was a basic pound cake type recipe that looked simple and satisfying. I decided to try it (even though it was one of those dreaded Bundt cakes).

I never took a photo as the edge broke off when I was taking it out of the pan. I cut that piece off and told Kevin it was the piece I was saving for him. Then I took the rest of the cake to work where it received rave reviews.

Nicky's Vanilla Cake (From Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl)

2 sticks butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs
2 cups flour
1 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1 cup sour cream
2 Tbl vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour Bundt pan.

Cream butter and sugar together until fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, blending well after each addition.

Mix together the dry ingredients. Add this to the butter mixture and mix well. Add the sour cream and mix well. Then mix in the vanilla.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 40-45 minutes or until golden. Cool on wire rack for 5 minutes and remove from pan and leave on rack to cool completely.

Sunday night Oxbow Stables was holding its annual awards dinner. Most of the awards are related to the children's activities like the 4-H and the Pony Club stff. They also have the year-end horse show point accumulation awards. Some extremely important awards are handed out there, although none as important as last year's.

It's a potluck and everyone is assigned to bring something. I had to make a dessert. I opted for Bunny's delicious looking Cherry Cheese Crumb Bars.

These were really delicious. The crumb crust tastes like crumbled shortbread and the cherry-cheesecake-like filling was incredible. I'd say quite a bit of it was eaten by the end of the night and I received many compliments on it. I will, of course, pass those compliments on to Bunny for her recipe.

As for the rest of the food that evening...

The salads.

The hot foods.
It was standard potluck fare: Lasagne, chicken parmigiana, eggplant parmigiana, roast chicken pieces, sausage and peppers, ziti. There were a couple of surprises though like spicy fried polenta squares and sweet potatoes in curry sauce.

My dessert plate, including my share of the cherry bars.

A few people at my table had these and I received compliments.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

TERP Has A Blogiversary

My first post at The Essential Rhubarb Pie was two years ago today.

It's been a fun two years. I think I started this blog not really sure what a food blog should be, or how I should structure one. I just wanted to talk about food and have a place where I could archive and share my ideas for recipes. This has grown to much more and has become a very special project for me.

I've been through a few changes for the better. I've grown better at actually making my recipes be recipes. I've also finally begun to add photos in the past year. I like finding new and different ways to illustrate this blog.

Best of all, I keep making all kinds of new friends. My blogstalking list is growing all of the time as I discover more wonderful blogs out there. Chances are some of you reading this right now might not be officially on the list because I've been too lazy to add you, but I'm reading so many more new great blogs every day, so it will be there soon. There are blogs that make me think, and blogs that make me laugh, blogs that make me cook, and blogs that aren't about food at all. I love reading them all and getting to know all of you. I've even had the privilege of meeting some of you. I hope to keep expanding my readership as well. I remember how in recent months how thrilled I was to get TWENTY follow up comments on a post. I hope I make enough friends to double that this year. As I said during my Lupa lunch when we discussed our audiences, "Well, some of the cool people read my blog!"

So thanks to all of my readers, regular and casual (my god, this blog has FOLLOWERS - how cool is that?), for keeping me going and encouraging, and best of all putting up with my goofiness, my strange eating habits, and my bad puns. You keep me going. Also thanks to all of you bloggers out there who are always inspiring me.

On to another year!

(BTW, I'm sorry I haven't been posting much lately. I haven't been coming up with much interesting food lately or stories lately. I do hope in a day or two to discuss all of the baking I did this weekend.)

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

My Favorite Stuffed Pepper Recipe

I love bell peppers. As an only marginally reformed picky eater, there aren't too many vegetables I can say I really love. Many vegetables out there I only like prepared certain ways. Peppers, however, I like almost any way. I prefer they not be overcooked, but even then, they're not so bad.
Peppers are the perfect vegetable for stuffing because they're big and hollow inside. You can eat an entire pepper in one meal - a whole vegetable - and that helps with that vegetable guilt thing.

I know some people think stuffed peppers are just too overcooked, which is probably true. If you're stuffing a pepper with raw meat, you really have to cook the heck out of it before the meat is cooked. My solution - don't make a filling that needs to be cooked. Make one that just needs to be warmed up a bit.

My stuffed peppers are vegetarian and you could eat them raw if you wanted to. They're filled with nuts, fruit, couscous, and feta cheese (I've tried putting bits of hard-boiled eggs in them, but it's not so great when they get overheated and rubbery). I like to bake them a bit because it's easier to eat the pepper after it has softened. It also warms up the cheese and creates crispy edges. Feel free to tweak my recipe. My measurements are rather inexact.

Easy Stuffed Peppers

5-6 peppers (depends on size)
1 cup wholewheat cous cous
1.5 cups water
Dash salt
6 oz. feta cheese, crumbled
1 handful pine nuts (or sliced almonds)
1/2-1 cup chopped apricots (or raisins or cranberries)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a cookie sheet.

Cut tops off of peppers, leaving lots of room for stuffing.

Bring water and salt to a boil. Add cous cous and remove from heat. Cover and wait about 5-10 minutes. Fluff with a fork. Mix in other ingredients.

Fill peppers with mixture. If you think it's a little dry, add some broth. Place on cookie sheet and
bake about 20 minutes, or until the peppers are softer, but still firm.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Why, Food Network, Why?

I don't want my blog to be all about Food Network rants, because if I have that big of a problem with the Food Network, I should just not watch it. Since it's hard for me to not watch anything that involves food, I do find myself drawn to the Food Network as my favorite background noise while I'm doing my Saturday morning chores. For a while I thought they were doing okay. Now they're pissing me off again.

For a while I thought they were changing. They were adding more new and interesting hosts. They brought back Jamie Oliver. They brought in Alex Guarnaschelli. They gave Anne Burrell her own show. Maybe, just maybe, it seemed like they cared about those of us who enjoy real cooking and wanted to learn useful recipes. Wow. I was ready to take down my Bob Tushman dart board.

*Sigh* It didn't last long did it? Jamie and Alex are gone. It's back to RachaelRayRachaelRayRachaelRayRachaelRayAnother crappy cookRachaelRaymaybeone decentchefRachaelRayanothercrappycookSANDRA LEE!

This morning it seemed like Tyler Florence and Anne Burrell were the only hosts with any sort of real relevant experience or training. Tyler was on pretty early. I think they only keep him around because he's hot and he's been there a while. They keep Anne because she's a female Guy Fieri. It it weren't for the fact that she knows her stuff and give useful information, she'd be in the annoying Rachael Ray territory.

I am just really feeling anti-Sandra today. Her show just never stops pissing me off. Today she appeared in a top that wasn't that unattractive (although those long dropping sleeve looked like a fire hazard/bacteria trap) but she wore this weird corset thing on top. It was completely unnecessary to the outfit. Very dumb looking. She made meatloaf mixed with Shake 'n' Bake, CANNED mushrooms, CANNED SOUP, and onion soup MIX. She cooked that in a SLOW COOKER with more canned soup on top. MEATLOAF IN A SLOW COOKER THAT IS JUST SO WRONG!!!!!!!! She cooked it on top of frozen hash browns and then got all redundant by serving potato soup on the side.

Then Rachael Ray made "risotto" with broken up spaghetti and talked about her love of Rice a Roni and more stupid storeis. She brags about how she "murdered" an oninon. I made a beautiful risotto last night for dinner. This show made me cry.

Someone give me a better cooking show!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

How to Catch A Tory

Let's talk about a well-loved Italian-American restaurant staple, chicken cacciatore, or "hunter's chicken". (Also called chicken cacciatora, which I guess depends on whether one hunter or multiple hunters are involved in the dish.)

Back in the old days, hunters would cook their game in wine to mellow out the flavors and would add the things one might find in the woods or in the kitchen garden like onions and mushrooms. It was a very rustic and simple dish.

I'm not sure how that was translated in the United States as chicken cooked in tomato sauce with peppers and onions, and the occasional mushroom depending on the cook. But then again, to me it doesn't matter. It's like having dinner at my favorite neighborhood "red sauce", Italian-American restaurant. It may not be authentic. It may be Italian food as translated by Americans far removed from their immigrant ancestors, but so what? It's still good. In fact, chicken cacciatore is a big favorite of mine when I visit those inauthentic restaurants.

I had bought some cans of tomatoes on sale a couple of weeks ago figuring I'd always use them. I've been on a bit of a budget this week and thought it would be a good time to use one. Chicken seemed like a good option. I have also been a bit time crunched, so I'm not all that inclined to slowly stew bone-in chicken parts. My cacciatore was going to be a slightly quicker version with all of the traditional elements for both the Italians and the Americans.

Since my recipe is so inauthentic, I decided to set a trap and catch a Tory. What I'll do with that Tory once I have it is beyond me (just throw it back I suppose). I thought about catching a Tori instead. But which Tori would I catch? Catching Tori Amos would be cool. Tori spelling not so much.

How inauthentic is my recipe? Let's see.

Boneless, skinless chicken thighs. They cook quickly and have way more flavor than breasts.
Tomatoes. Everyone associates tomatoes with Italy. Come on! They're indigenous to the western hemishpere. Okay, so Italians have been eating them for centuries. So what? What if that hunter caught his game in the fall when it's past tomato season?

My other starring players. (Am I beginning to plagarize Ree or Cathy here?) The peppers, onions, garlic, and shrooms. I don't normally like cooked green peppers, but I love the flavor they add to dishes like this.

Put it all together and serve with polenta squares. I'm obsessed with polenta these days.

This recipe does require a bit of slicing and chopping on the part of the cook, but once it's all cut up, it comes together fairly quickly because of the boneless chicken. The vegetables smell wonderful when you cook them. You know the dish is going to be good even if it's not "real" cacciatore. It is a delicious and satifsying weeknight meal. I received rave reviews from the Other Half.

Chicken Catch A Tory (Quick and inauthentic chicken cacciatore)
2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs
Salt and pepper
2 Tbl olive oil
1-2 onions (depending on size) finely diced
10 oz. mushrooms (I like cremini) thinly sliced
1 green bell pepper, diced small
1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
1 cup hearty white wine

Sprinkle chicken on both sides with salt and pepper and brown in a pan with the olive oil on both sides. Remove from pan.

Add the mushrooms, onions, and pepper. Cook until softened. Add in tomatoes and wine. Adjust seasoning. Allow to cook down a minute or two.

Add chicken back into pan and simmer until cooked through.

Serve with pasta, polenta, crusty bread, or whatever else you like to soak up your sauce.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Garlic and Sapphires - by Ruth Reichl

I said when I started this food blog that I would review food-related books. I really meant to do that. I really did. I swore I would write my review of Jennifer 8. Lee's The Fortune Cookie Chronicles. I really meant to. Somehow my review never made it here. I had too many recipes to share I guess.

Anyway, I'm trying to uphold my own intentions by reviewing Ruth Reichl's Garlic and Sapphires. I feel as if I'd be doing a disservice if I didn't review it.

If you love eating in restaurants, you will not be able to put this book down. The book chronicles Reichl's first-person experience in her career as the restaurant critic for The New York Times. As soon as she comes to New York, she is warned that her photo is posted in kitchens at restaurants all over the city. Everyone knows she is the new food critic and she is aware that this will affect the quality of her meal.

In order to remain anonymous, Reichl adopts a series of disguises. With each disguise she creates a new persona as well. Her character determines how she will treat the staff. It is particularly funny when she impersonates her overbearing mother in The 21 Club. (You actually feel sorry for the staff.) The contrast you see of how she is treated when she is not in disguise is shocking as well. A particularly horrific contrast is how she and another Times VIP are treated at Le Cirque after she had been there in disguise and was treated horribly. If you have ever suspected that VIPs get better food and better treatment at the finer restaurants, this will confirm your every suspicion. The hottie-tottie places are not all that keen on giving the best of everything to ordinary folks (even the size of the raspberries in the dessert changes when you're a big shot).

Of course the other fun part of this book is Reichl's description of many of the foods she eats. Reichl was highly criticized for her affection for Asian cuisines when she started at the Times. It's hard to believe such a thing considering how she reviews these places. She made me crave Chinese, Japanese, and Korean all within a few chapters. I don't eat fish and she made me want to eat sushi after one particular chapter. You will come away from this book craving soba noodles like you have never craved them before. Of course her descriptions of some of the better fine dining establishments made me wish I had a bigger food budget.

I think one thing I really took away from this book is how writing and reviewing food (a subjective subject) and the ability to really savor, enjoy and taste are so entertwined. Reichl goes into so many details about the nuances of things she eats. You have to really be tasting things to be able to write so many adjectives about them. It made me conscious of how my food blog could be better and also conscious of how I taste things. Although I'm a picky eater, I'm easy to please in many ways. How often do you hear me say bad things about restaurants? I often like places other people think are overrated. I think that's because I tend to snarf my food down. When you hose a plateful in 10 minutes, you not only miss a lot of flavor, but you also put yourself at bigger risk of stuffing yourself. If I ate a bit more daintily, perhaps I'd have less of a weight problem.

If you love a good food read, run to your bookstore now and pick up a copy of this book!