Chicken Pot Pie

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I am a neglectful correspondent. It’s not a sweet flaw, like absentminded humming or an inclination towards messiness. Neglecting to respond to a longtime friend’s pages-long email, delaying a thank you note until long after decency allows, even going six months without penning a blog post – all of these are forms of rudeness, my absolute least favorite character trait.

The problem with being a neglectful correspondent is that the guilt of not having written is not something that goes away. Long after the intended recipient has given up any hope of ever receiving a reply, my own unsent words still weigh heavily on my mind. With every day that passes, I become both more convinced that I must write something and more assured that I simply cannot. I’ll spend time, at the gym or in the shower, composing just what I would say if I were to reply to that email, but once I’ve toweled off and sat myself in front of the keys, I find that I still can’t manage an answer. It’s been too long, I’ve already taken too much time, it’s just too hard.

There are plenty of easy ways to make chicken pot pie. You can buy one from any decent freezer section of a local grocery store, and it might even taste good. You can start with premade pie dough and a rotisserie chicken. Heavens, you can abandon the endeavor altogether and make shepherds’ pie instead. If you want to do it right, though, making chicken pot pie is not easy. Despite its reputation as cozy comfort food, chicken pot pie is complicated. Yes, it is very likely something our grandmothers could have made with ease, but that is only because our grandmothers would have thought nothing of spending several hours over a single dinner involving homemade piecrust, roux, and poached chicken breasts.

This recipe is not easy, but it is worth it. And, like correspondence, the steps get easier every time you do them. If ease and accessibility were all that ever mattered, we would all buy our pot pies and correspond only through brief Facebook messages. Sometimes, it’s worth it to take the extra time to do a thing right.

Chicken Pot Pie

 Adapted from Julia Child’s The Way To Cook, Pie dough adapted from Serious Eats & Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone

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Ingredients – Serves 6-8

Pie Dough (Can be made ahead and refrigerated for several days, or frozen for several months)

1 ½ cu white flour

1 ½ cu whole wheat flour

1 teaspoon salt

2 sticks (0.5 lbs) of butter, cold

3-5 ounces ice water, as needed

Poached Chicken

2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into long, thin strips (this is called “julienning”)

2 medium leeks, trimmed, washed & julienned

4 celery stalks, trimmed, washed & julienned

¼ tsp dried tarragon

1 bay leaf

1.5 cu. dry vermouth

1.5 cu. water

2-3 bone-in chicken breasts

White Wine Sauce

Poached chicken cooking liquid

4 tbs butter

5 tbs flour

½ cu heavy cream

Fresh lemon juice

Salt & pepper

Chicken Pot Pie

Prepared pie dough

Poached chicken breasts, cut off the bone and into bite-sized chunks

2 yukon gold potatoes, halved

2 tbs butter

2 large carrots, diced

2 celery stalks, diced

½ large onion, diced

6 small cremini mushrooms, quartered (or larger mushrooms, sliced)

¾ cu frozen peas

1 egg

1 tbs cream

1. Prepare your pie dough: whisk together the flours and salt. Add 2/3 of this mixer to a food processor. Give it a quick pulse. Cut the butter into small cubes and add them to the food processor. Pulse 25-30 times, until the dough begins to collect in small clumps. Use a spoon or a spatula to press the dough down, then sprinkle the remaining flour/salt mixture over it. Give it a few more short pulses, then transfer to a mixing bowl.

2. Sprinkle the dough with ice water, and stir and press the dough together until it comes together in a loose ball. It’s best to do this with a spoon or rubber spatula, so that the butter doesn’t melt, but I often give in to temptation and use my hands. Wrap the prepared dough in saran wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour. A note about this dough – I think the whole wheat flour gives the pot pie a very nice flavor, but it does make the dough a little more challenging to work with. Feel free to use all white flour if you’re so inclined.

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3. In the meantime, poach your chicken breasts. Toss together the julienned vegetables with the tarragon and bay leaf. Put a third of this vegetable mixture in the bottom of a Dutch oven.

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4. Season the chicken with salt and pepper, and add to the Dutch oven with the remaining vegetables, the vermouth, and enough water to barely cover the chicken. Bring this mixture to a simmer, and simmer for 25-30 minutes. Remove from the heat and let sit for ten minutes. Then, remove the chicken from the bone and cut into bite sized chunks. Strain the remaining liquid into a bowl and set aside, discarding the vegetables.

5. Boil the potatoes – place the potato halves in just enough cold water to cover them. Add half a teaspoon of salt, and bring to a boil uncovered. Reduce the heat to a simmer, and let simmer for 8-12 minutes. When a knife slides easily into the potatoes flesh, they are done. Remove from the heat, and rinse under cold water to stop them cooking. Chop the cooked potatoes into bite-sized pieces and set aside.

6. Place 1 tbs of butter in a large pan over medium-high heat. Once the butter has melted, add the onions, carrots, and celery. Cook, stirring often, until the onion turns translucent and the mixture smells fragrant and sweet. Remove from the heat and set aside. Wipe out the pan.

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7. Add the second tablespoon of butter to the large pan, and let melt over high heat. Once the butter is hot, add the mushrooms. Sprinkle the mushrooms with half a teaspoon of salt and a few grinds of pepper. Reduce the heat to medium high. After 1 minute, stir the mushrooms. Cook, stirring often, for 3-5 minutes, until the mushrooms have browned nicely. Remove from the heat and set aside.

8. Remove your pie dough from the fridge, and let come to almost-room temperature. In the meantime, preheat your oven to 375.

9. Time to make the white wine sauce. This step can seem a little intimidating, but the resulting sauce is absolutely heavenly and worth any fuss and bother. Melt the butter in a saucepan. Sprinkle in the flour to the melted butter, and whisk together. Cook, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes, until the butter and flour have completely come together. The butter and flour should stay nearly white or light golden – don’t let them brown.

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10. Remove the sauce from the heat, and whisk in the hot chicken poaching liquid. Return the mixture to medium heat. Add a sprinkling of salt and pepper, and let it simmer for 3 minutes. Then, add the cream in in little dribbles, stirring to combine. Squeeze in a few drops of lemon juice, then taste the mixture. Does it need more salt? More lemon juice? Add more of whatever you think it needs. Once you are happy with the way the mixture tastes, remove it from the heat and set aside.

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11. Mix together the poached chicken pieces, mushrooms, potatoes, carrot/onion/celery mixture, and peas in a large casserole dish. Pour the white wine sauce over the whole mixture, and stir to combine. The whole mixture should come just up to the edges of the casserole.

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12. Roll out your pie dough until it is a little wider than the casserole dish and about a quarter inch thick. Cut a hole in the middle of the dough, then carefully transfer it so that it covers the casserole dish. It’s ok if the dough falls apart a little here – as you can see from the pictures, mine clearly did. Just patch it together as best you can. It will still be delicious. The hole should be smack-dab in the middle of the dish.

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13. Pinch the dough down over the edges of the baking dish. If you want, and if you have extra dough, feel free to cut some pretty decorative cutouts from your dough: leaves, stars, hearts. Have at it! Brush the underside of the cutouts with water, and place them on the dough. Just before placing the pot pie in the oven, beat together the egg and tablespoon of cream. Using a pastry brush, brush the dough with the egg cream mixture. Place on a cookie sheet, and put in the oven. Let bake for 35-40 minutes, until the filling is bubbling up out of the hole.

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Serve with a lovely salad and a big glass of wine. You’ve earned it.

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Cocktail Week – Day 7: The Martini

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Shaken, not stirred, will get you cold water with a dash of gin and dry vermouth. The reason you stir it with a special spoon is so not to chip the ice. James is ordering a weak martini and being snooty about it.

-       President Bartlet, The West Wing

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There’s something about a Martini,

A tingle remarkably pleasant;

A yellow, a mellow Martini;

I wish that I had one at present.

There is something about a Martini,

Ere the dining and dancing begin,

And to tell you the truth,

It is not the vermouth-

I think that perhaps it’s the gin.

- “A Drink With Something In It,” Ogden Nash

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Certainly I’ll have another one. The water of life was given to us to make us see for a while that we are more nearly men and women, more nearly kind and gentle and generous, pleasanter and stronger, than without its vision there is any evidence we are. It is the healer, the weaver of forgiveness and reconciliation, the justifier of ourselves to ourselves and one another. One more, and then with a spirit made whole again in a cleansed world, to dinner.

- The Hour, by Bernard DeVoto (husband of the marvelous Avis DeVoto)

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So you see, what could I possibly have to add to discourse on the martini?

At the same time, how could I possibly not write about the martini? I’ve indulged in stinky cheeses, eaten ham by the pound, been comforted with avocados and chicken soup, but nothing has offered me so much pleasure in this life as a well-made martini.

For the king of the cocktails, let’s keep things simple: chill your glasses, use good gin, make it cold.

I’ve enjoyed drinking with you all for the past (two) week(s). Now, if you’ll excuse me, it’s Saturday night and I’ve got my dancing shoes on.

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Saturday: The Martini

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Ingredients

3 ou. good gin (I use Barr Hill)

½ ou. dry vermouth

Lemon peel, for garnish

1. Never has it been more important to thoroughly chill your cocktail glass than it is right now. Put it in the freezer at 5:15, and try to forget about it for the next forty-five minutes.

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2. Fill a cocktail shaker with ice. Pour the gin and vermouth over the ice, and stir. Keep stirring. Stir until it is very, very cold.

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3. Remove the cocktail glass from the freezer and strain the martini into it. Garnish with a lemon peel.

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(Dan likes his martinis like he likes his plants. To make a dirty martini, omit the vermouth and substitute olive juice. Garnish with an olive.)

Cocktail Week – Day 6: The Negroni

“Claudia knew that she could never pull off the old-fashioned kind of running away. That is, running away in the heat of anger with a knapsack on her pack. She didn’t like discomfort; even picnics were untidy and inconvenient: all those insects and the sun melting the icing on the cupcakes. Therefore, she decided that her leaving home would not be just running from somewhere but would be running to somewhere.” 

-       E. L. Konigsburg, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler

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Dan and I recently moved into a new apartment. The kitchen is everything we could want right now – no walk-in fridge or center island, but a gas stove and more cabinet space than we know what to do with. We’ve got so much cabinet space, we could put cabinets in our cabinets and still have room to stock all our pantry items.

Moving out of a studio, the sheer amount of room in this one bedroom apartment was astonishing. Dan could get up at 8 on Saturday mornings to write about mass atrocity responses and watch Saturday morning cartoons while I slept in blessed silence. I could stay up late making brownies while he finished his thesis in another room. We could watch TV in our living room, me splayed across our couch and Dan balancing on his exercise ball.

Unfortunately, as we’ve assembled one Target bookcase, then another, and another, we’ve come to realize this apartment may not be quite so spacious as we at first thought. We’ve got a serious book problem. We’ve filled three bookcases so far, and still have four boxes of books waiting to be unpacked. If that were all, I think we could manage – our house might resemble a very causal lending library, but some might find that charming. The problem is that we can’t stop. Bookstores are our catnip – any time we travel, finding the best local bookstore tops our to-do list (any good ones in Key West?).

While Dan has an ear for a finely tuned sentence, it’s the possession of knowledge that drives his bookstore shopping sprees. The pleasure I find in books isn’t half that admirable – facts always take the backseat to story in my book (the reason I prefer Josephine Tey to Agatha Christie). Finding a new series is like doing a surface dive – just as effective at blocking out the screams of the kids next to you at the beach as two feet of water would be.

One of the first books I remember falling headlong into was E. L. Konigsburg’s From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. It’s tempting to call reading a novel, or baking a pie, or shaking up a cocktail, a form of escapism, but that doesn’t quite capture the essence of the pursuit. Like Claudia running to hide out in the Met, diving into a book or a recipe isn’t running away from anything at all.

Mrs. Konigsburg died at the age of 83 late last week. I don’t know her favorite cocktail – I don’t even know if she drank – but I like to imagine the two of us sharing a Negroni. A little bittersweet, it’s the perfect parting glass.

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Tuesday (again): The Negroni, 2 Ways

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Classic Negroni – Ingredients

1 ou Campari

1 ou Gin

1 ou Sweet Vermouth

3 ou Club Soda

1 Wedge Orange

1. Pour the Campari, gin and sweet vermouth into an ice filled cocktail shaker. Shake vigorously.

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2. Strain into an ice-filled highball glass, top with the club soda and garnish with the orange wedge.

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Negroni Cocktail

1 ou Campari

1 ou Gin

1 ou Sweet Vermouth

Orange peel

1. Place a cocktail glass in your freezer at least 15 minutes prior to cocktail hour.

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2. Pour the Campari, gin and sweet vermouth into an ice filled cocktail shaker. Shake vigorously.DSC_1136

3. Strain into the chilled cocktail glass and garnish with the orange peel.

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