21 February 2012

Homemade Chicken Pot Pies


Slow Motion

Finishing up a few things last Wednesday evening I took an inelegant dive off a chair I was standing on. Falling was like slow motion as I grew in my realization that this was not going to end well.

When I hit the floor I knew something was broken. As it turned out I snapped my radius and spent the wee hours of Thursday morning discovering how finger traps, a set-up resembling a medieval torture device, can actually help realign the bone to prevent further injury until surgery. This Wednesday the doctor plans to fit my radius with a plate and some screws that will hold it all together again.

Meanwhile, my left arm is splinted and my left hand (yes, I am left-handed) is virtually useless except as a shelf on which to prop up my iPhone.


A Recipe of Comfort

While my time is passing in slow motion life goes on. My boys were on their way to Dallas to visit colleges. Thankfully my daughter, Kerrin of Brie My Love, was able to come home for the weekend to help out.

The list of what I needed help with this weekend was long and daunting. It could be discouraging but, as so often happens, time invested in the kitchen brought comfort. Kerrin found a recipe for Homemade Chicken Pot Pie. Then she dug through my cabinets till she produced a set of individual pie-sized ramekins. Before long she was stirring the filling and then a smooth sauce. After topping them with a pastry crust and some cute pastry cutouts she put them in the oven.

As the pot pies steamed invitingly, Kerrin put on Finding Neverland, and we watched Johnny Depp's sweet portrayal of J. M. Barrie and the relationship that inspired the classic tale of Peter Pan. Watching a compelling drama while waiting to dine on a fragrant pie filled with wholesome chunks of chicken and vegetables, bathed in a creamy sauce with the savor of onion and thyme and topped with a flaky butterfly shaped crust, a girl could almost forget her troubles; at least until she tries to awkwardly dig in... wrong-handed. Luckily Kerrin set my place with an oversized serving spoon, perfect for overcoming my challenges and scooping up every last delicious bite.



Homemade Chicken Pot Pies
Adapted from allrecipes.com

1 pound boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into ¾-inch cubes
1 cup carrots, sliced
1 cup frozen green peas
½ cup celery, sliced
1/3 cup butter
1/3 cup onion, chopped
1/3 cup flour
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper, ground
¼ teaspoon celery seed
½ teaspoon dried thyme
1¾ cups chicken broth, plus more for cooking the first step, if desired
2/3 cup milk
2 unbaked pie crusts

Preheat oven to 425F.

1. In a large saucepan combine chicken, carrots, peas and celery. Add enough water (you can use chicken or vegetable broth instead, if desired) to cover the contents. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Remove from heat, drain and set aside.

2. Using the same large saucepan, melt the butter. Over medium heat, cook the onions in the butter until soft and translucent. Stir in flour, salt, pepper, celery seed and thyme until smooth and bubbly, Slowly stir in 1¾ cups chicken broth and the milk. Simmer over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens. Remove from heat.

3. Divide the chicken mixture evenly between six 10 or 12 ounce ramekins. Pour the hot sauce mixture evenly over the chicken mixture.

4. Cut six circles from the pie crust, each a little larger than the ramekin it will top. Cover the chicken mixture in each ramekin with a circle of dough, fitting the dough down onto the warm filling and pressing the edge decoratively against the side of the dish. Prick through each crust with a fork several times to vent. From remaining scraps of dough, cut decorative shapes with cookie cutters or a knife, if desired. Apply the shapes to the top crusts. Place the ramikins evenly on a sturdy baking sheet.

5. Bake at 425F for 30 – 35 minutes, or until pastry is golden brown and filling is bubbly. Allow pies to cool for 10 minutes before serving.

Enjoy!

14 February 2012

A Shared Cornish Hen with Red Fruit and Orange Bourbon Sauce


Company and Creativity

Sometimes I am asked, “What's the best thing to serve for a Valentine’s Day dinner?” I love the question. There are so many good answers. Of course it depends. It depends on your own personal preferences, on what you have time for, on who you plan to share the meal with.

The answer might be a carefully choreographed seven-course menu. It might be a thoughtfully prepared entrée with a simple salad and dessert. It might be a loaf of crusty bread with cheese and olives picked up at your favorite deli followed by champagne and chocolates. More than the menu, the perfect Valentine's Day dinner is about the company you keep and the creativity you bring to the table.

I think a Valentine’s Day dinner shines when it includes a little hands-on involvement. That can take the form of a home-cooked meal or a handwritten Valentine. It can be shared in a carefully set table or given voice through a thoughtfully selected playlist. It can also take expression in an invitation to dig-in with all of your senses as dinner is served.


Grappling with Dinner

I like an invitation to grapple with my food. Think of lobster or crab legs, fondue or fried chicken, unpeeled oranges or unshelled nuts. I like breaking apart fortune cookies to find out what’s inside or dipping into a bowl of chocolate ganache to roll truffles with a friend. It can be fun to work at uncovering your meal, bite by bite. While it makes dinner more of a challenge it tends to prolong and expand the experience, making it more of an event to linger over and enjoy.

Another hands on dish I enjoy is a Cornish hen. A Cornish hen is a perfect size for sharing with a significant dinner partner while still saving plenty of room for dessert. You can cut a roasted Cornish hen in half in the kitchen, serving each half on a separate bed of rice. I think it is more fun, though, to serve it whole, one hen plated to be shared with your Valentine.

Add a hearty appetizer to the menu, to optimize patience with the main course. Serve it with an easily enjoyed side dish; roasted potatoes or root vegetables, for example. Then cozy up with your Valentine, side by side or across a small intimate table, and savor your entrée together... saving at least a little room for a special dessert.



Roast Cornish Hens 
with Red Fruit and Orange Bourbon Sauce

1 Cornish hen, rinsed and patted dry
½ clementine or lemon
several sprigs of fresh thyme
2 Tablespoons butter, divided
½ Tablespoon flour
½ cup chicken broth
¼ cup orange juice concentrate
2 Tablespoons bourbon
¼ cup dried cherries and/or cranberries (soaked in 1 Tablespoon bourbon or orange juice)

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Rub a bit of oil on the inside of a small roasting pan.

Rub the hen with a halved clementine or lemon, inside and out. Season the cavity with salt and pepper and tuck the citrus rind inside the cavity along with several springs of fresh thyme.

Place the chicken in the prepared roasting pan breast side up tucking it into shape. (I don't bother to tie it or truss it.)

Rub about 1 Tablespoon of butter all over the skin of the chicken. Season with a little more salt and pepper. Separate the skin from the chicken breast with your fingers, creating a pocket. Tuck several leaves of thyme, rosemary or sage into the pocket over each breast, if desired.

Place the roasting pan in the middle of a hot oven and roast the chicken, uncovered, at 450 degrees for 15 minutes. Lower oven temperature to 375 degrees and continue roasting until a meat thermometer inserted in the thickest part reads 170 - 180 degrees, or until juices run clear when cut between a leg and thigh, approximately 30 minutes more.

Remove from oven, tent with foil, and let the chicken rest for 10 or 15 minutes.

Meanwhile:

Blend 1 Tablespoon butter with ½ Tablespoon flour in a small bowl.

Heat chicken broth and orange juice concentrate in a small skillet or saucepan. Boil for several minutes to reduce the liquid and blend flavors.

Add the bourbon and simmer for another minute.

Whisk in the flour mixture and the soaked cherries and/or cranberries. Simmer sauce, stirring often, until it begins to thicken, about 2 minutes.

Spoon sauce over the Cornish hen.

Serve with a rice pilaf or Roasted Potatoes.

Share with a friend.

Enjoy!

07 February 2012

Spicy Hot Brie


There is no cheese more perfect for Valentine’s Day than Brie. Brie is smooth and sexy, silken soft and full of potential. Alone it is rich and mildly tangy spread on a crusty slice of baguette or eaten with fruit. As an ingredient it provides a dramatic canvas for a great variety of flavors both sweet and savory.

Brie can be dressed up or down, baked with mustard and pepper, mango chutney or apricot jam. It can be wrapped in a buttery crisp robe of puff pastry or baked into a quiche. It can also be turned inside out and sprinkled with spicy hot pepper flakes, herbs and spices.

This recipe for Spicy Hot Brie is gleaned from the December issue of Sunset. There it is suggested as part of a cocktail party menu. The simplicity of it caught my eye and the flavorful herbs and spices urged me to try it with a wedge of brie leftover from an earlier celebration.

Easy to put together, this tasty appetizer is ready to serve after just a few minutes in a hot oven. Simply sprinkle the herbs and spices over the brie before baking. Or, for a touch of drama, crack whole peppercorns with a pestle, then add the cumin seed and red pepper flakes to the mortar for a few quick grinds to blend the flavors and release the fragrance as guests arrive. Finally, snip the rosemary into the mortar and give the mixture one last grind before scattering it over the brie and tucking the cheese into a warm oven. In less than ten minutes the edges will begin to bubble and the cheese will be ready to share and savor.



Spicy Hot Brie
from the December 2011 issue of Sunset

12 ounces brie cheese
1 teaspoon black peppercorns, cracked
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
½ -1 teaspoon red pepper flakes, according to taste
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, snipped
rosemary sprigs, for garnish

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Split the brie horizontally,  evenly through the soft center of the cheese.

Arrange the cheese in a pretty baking dish with the soft centers facing up.

Combine the cracked peppercorns, cumin seeds, red pepper flakes and rosemary. Grind briefly with a mortar and pestle to blend and release fragrance, if desired. (It will release more flavor from the spices.)

Sprinkle the herb and spice mixture over the brie.

Bake at 350 degrees until the edges of the cheese begin to melt and bubble, approximately 5 - 10 minutes.

Garnish with fresh rosemary sprigs, if desired.

Serve with crackers, breadsticks or slices of baguette.

Enjoy!