Laura’s Chicken Pot Pie

Laura’s Chicken Pot Pie

Ten years ago minus ten days, our chicken pot pie tradition began. It was Halloween and the doorbell kept ringing. Our kids were gone to college and beyond. We existed in the eerily quiet empty gap years between sending our girls off to start their lives and welcoming grandchildren, so we fought over answering the door to see the goblins and fairies.

I was covered up to my elbows with flour from the pie crust I rolled. Chicken chunks browned in butter in the pan. An open can of vegetables waited by the sour cream for mixing, and the preheating oven took the early fall chill from the kitchen. We were hungry and trying not to eat too much candy while we waited for our dinner to bake.

I cleaned up and let Mike answer the door for a while, tired from the day of teaching and research and thinking about an upcoming presentation I’d make in seminar. Time flies when I’m busy and soon the tricksters were home counting their loot and we could eat real food: my first chicken pot pie.

As a chemist, I know how to cook without a recipe. The gravy had thickened, the chicken had browned. The crust rolled like a dream. Yet when I sliced into the steaming pie, my knife hit solid. A stone? A bone? What in the world lurked at the bottom of my beautiful pie?

I used a spoon to scoop the first piece. It was heavy and fell apart as I lifted. With a tingling clink, a spoon (not my scooper) crashed to the table. A spoon. Baked in the pie. “Little Jack Horner…eating his Christmas pie…stuck in his thumb, pulled out a plum…”

You know what we did, of course. We chucked the hot and slimy spoon into the sink and ate it anyway. The only other available food was chocolate. And the pie, flavored by spoon, was delicious.

I remembered this baking fiasco this morning while I whipped up this year’s chicken pot pie. I won’t be home on Halloween, so the tradition must be flexible. There is no recipe to follow. It’s just in my head. But today I paid attention, so I give this pie to you. Try it and let me know how you do.

Laura’s Spoon-free Chicken Pot Pie

THE FILLING

Brown a small chopped yellow onion in a blob of melted butter in a frying pan. Add about 1.5 pounds of chunks of boneless chicken thighs and brown. Add a half a cup of water and a package of brown gravy (or mushroom, or chicken, or whatever kind of powdered gravy you like). Stir in and boil for a minute. Then cover the pan and turn off the heat while you make the crust.

THE CRUST

Preheat the oven to 375F. Place a cookie sheet in the oven for the pie to bake on, to prevent the dreaded soggy bottom.

Mix 2.25 cups flour with a teaspoon of salt. Cut in 1 stick of butter. Add about a quarter or a third of a cup of sour cream and stir. Add milk to form dough. I just pour it from the jug. I think I added ~2 tablespoons milk and stirred, and then ~2 more tablespoons and stirred. You can tell you added enough when the flour is all wet (but not sticky) and the dough forms a ball when you stir with a fork. If it feels really sticky, add handfuls of flour and remix as needed.

No need to knead the dough. Just squeeze it all together and then rip it in half. Use your hands to form a ball, then flatten the ball and pinch around the edges to smooth it out before you roll it out on floured waxed paper (two 2-foot long pieces overlapped on the long edge by about three inches) until the circle is at least four inches larger in diameter than your pie pan. Try my flip trick: Put your forearm over the middle of the dough and lift the edge of the wax paper with your other hand to flip it into the pie pan. I put the pie pan on the right. Use my right forearm, and lift the waxed paper with my left hand. If you have trouble on your first try, don’t worry. That’s the bottom crust. Just do it the other way on the top crust (in a few minutes). Roll out the top crust and leave it there while you work on the filling again.

Back to THE FILLING

Stir in ~0.5 cup of sour cream. Stir in a drained 29 ounce can of mixed vegetables. Add salt and pepper to taste. If you have no idea how much to add, just don’t. You can add it when you eat it. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the solids to the pie shell. Boil down the remaining gravy and juices to about half volume and then spoon over the filling.

Back to THE CRUST

Do your flip trick to put the top crust on the pie. Fold the two layers of crust together and under all the way around. Pinch the edges to seal. You can press with a fork, or use your thumb and finger. I use the edge of my straight thumb and above the knuckle of my bent pointer finger. I suggest spinning the pie clockwise (and pinching around counter-clockwise) if you are right handed, or the other way for lefties. Do a light pinch at about 45 degrees. It’s more a press down than a pinch together. Lift your hand and place your thumb in the dent from your pointer finger and continue around. I usually give it an extra spin and re-pinch as needed. Use a pointy knife to make steam holes on the top.

Refer to my pictures to guide you so you know how it should look if all goes right. No need to bake in a spoon. It tastes the same either way, but it’s easier to slice without the metal surprise.

Bake for 10 minutes at 375F, then turn down the oven to 350F for 30-40 more minutes. The filling is already cooked, so you are really trying to bake and brown the crust. Keep an eye on it and don’t let it burn.

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Note: On the second day, after resting in the fridge, slicing cold, and reheating, this chicken pot pie tastes even better. Some kind of magic.

 

 

 

 

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Pie 15.0

Pie 15.0

Remember that old song lyric “If I knew you were coming I’da baked a cake”? That always sounded so welcoming, so I never do a drop in. I always call ahead before I visit so I’ll be greeted with a cake. It doesn’t work, but I still try. I mean, there’s a song, so somebody must make cakes for expected guests, right?

Anyway, my sister was coming, and I knew she was coming, and it was all a big secret surprise for my other sister, so I baked a pie.

Pie 15.0. Baked late at night in an ill-equipped kitchen. No rolling pin. No teaspoon (but I always have my palm). No whisk. No blades for the mixer (so I brought mine from home). No big bowl (so I used a cereal bowl). No pie pan (so I bought an aluminum one from the stupid market). You get the picture.

Speaking of stupid market–they didn’t sell chocolate covered coffee beans. Nowhere to be found. So I compromised.

Back up the bus. I forgot to describe the pie. It’s officially called “Wake Up and Smell the Coffee Pie” from page 123 of the Sugar Butter Flour cookbook. It was chosen while in the stupid market, when my sister responded to my text question about what we should eat for the weekend we would spend together with this: “Sat morning coffee. Sat evening eat out. Sunday morning coffee. Sunday lunch your choice.” We are Irish twins, live 1000 miles apart, and both love coffee.

Anyway, I started the pie in the dark by crushing the package of graham crackers with my hands and mixing them with melted butter. I pressed the mush into the tiny pan, chilled, baked and chilled. You know the drill by now.

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Then I made espresso in my little pot. Drank some, let some cool, and made the filling.

20181012_165534Here is the nasty smelling unflavored gelatin.

20181011_20111020181011_201050I had to whip some egg whites to fold into the cooked coffee/gelatin/other ingredient concoction, but I should have used a bigger bowl.

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There was way too much filling for the tiny pie shell.

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This had to set and cool in the fridge for many hours, so I went to sleep.

The topping called for Kahlua, but I didn’t have any, so I made some by boiling down some espresso and mixing with whiskey.

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Then I whipped the cream and added the yummy tasty ingredients and spread it on the pie filling.

 

As I mentioned, the store didn’t sell the required chocolate covered coffee beans, so I shredded a tiny Hershey bar and sprinkled it on top. Voila!

Yummy Beige Pie.

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I love my sisters more than coffee.

Pie 14.0

Pie 14.0

This is the best pie I have ever tasted.

(So far.)

I made Pie 14.0 in my sunny kitchen yesterday morning. I started at 8 am and didn’t take a taste until 7:30 pm. I found her on page 83 of the Sugar Butter Flour cookbook.

It only took two trips to the store to buy all the ingredients. Two trips are annoying, but they were both during my 2-hour Friday evening commute, and together they extended my commute to 3 hours, but what’s an hour in a long work week in the 7th week of a semester that’s blowing by like a typhoon?

I awoke yesterday before the sun. Weekends cannot dent my internal clock during the semester. My brain snaps awake and wonders what it forgot to do. My first thought was pie. My second thought was coffee. Instantly I stopped worrying about the tortuous mess we are in and set my brain on bake. This is my self-soothe. Let me share it with you, at least in words and pictures, if not in the hug it brought me to bake and taste.

The crumb crust called for chocolate wafers and both stores did not sell any. I used chocolate graham crackers because, obviously, I’m a genius.

Instead of my normal crumble technique with a Ziploc bag and a rolling pin, I slammed a whole pack of crackers on the counter and then squeezed them with my bare hands around the throat until they were pulverized. Like I said, I’m a(n angry) genius.

While the crumb crust chilled and baked and cooled (an hour process, at least) I tackled the strawberries. First, I hulled all the strawberries as directed. Then, I crushed five of them with a fork until they were mush and put them in the fridge. Next, I melted chocolate chips with a secret ingredient in the microwave at reduced power for many, many cycles of 30 seconds. I stirred until glossy. I did not lick my fingers.

And then I was momentarily stumped by the directions “Holding the berries by the stem end, dip them one at a time into the bowl.” The stem end was obvious, but the stem for holding was gone, hulled away by the genius. That made the task tricky. How the –bleep- to hold the stemless berries while dipping? Needless to say, the genius got quite sticky. Yet, still she did not lick her fingers.

Here I am! Back from third-person-land, a blackhole that tried to suck me in. Anyway, almost half of the melted chocolate was left over after the strawberry-dipping. I considered re-dipping them. Then I considered eating it all with a spoon. (No, Laura!) And then I poured it all onto waxed paper to harden and save for another pie.

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I was delighted by the next step. I snuck some strawberry preserves from the fridge and added a secret ingredient. I spread the mush onto the bottom of the crust and put her back in the fridge so I could attack the filling.

I forgot to mention the formal name of this pie: “Jenna’s Devil’s Food Chocolate Oasis Pie.” The filling needs some separated eggs, a LOT of milk, the magic of cornstarch, and bittersweet chocolate. There is boiling and whisking and sieving involved. It was all too complicated to describe and almost beyond the ability of this baking genius. The hardest parts required three hands. Like the pouring of the massive quantity of milk in a “slow steady steam” while whisking (and holding the handle of the pan). And the pouring of the heavy hot chocolate concoction through a sieve while pressing with a spatula. I only swore a little. Most of the chocolate I spilled has been found and wiped up.

The hot chocolate concoction had to be cooled to room temperature under a buttered wax paper in a glass bowl. The cooling took 2.5 hours. The buttered wax paper was the butter wrapper. What? It’s clean on the inside and it was already buttered.

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I eversocarefully dumped the filling over the surprise strawberry layer in the crust and got to work on the topping (5 hours later). In the meantime I napped and watched football. The chocolate filling had to cool for half a day. Eventually I got to the topping.

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After a dozen pies, I’m finally pretty good at whipping cream. I folded in another secret ingredient (listen, if you want to know the secrets, you have to buy the cookbook) and spread the deliciousness over the chocolate. Then I pressed on the huge chocolate covered strawberries and Pie 14.0 was complete in all her splendor.

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I ate just a tiny sliver (what? I’m on diet again, ok?) and almost groaned at the light and fluffy combination of strawberry/chocolate/whipped cream/crunchy crust in my mouth. This was the best pie I’ve ever tasted. Yet. There’s a lot left if you want to come by for a slice.

 

 

 

 

 

Lucky Pie 13.0 LIVE

Lucky Pie 13.0 LIVE

When I began this pie adventure, I envisioned stories where I wowed readers with my baking skill. Instead, I’m humbled by my mistakes, grateful you still read, and incredulous by my luck that the pies taste incredible. (Usually. There was that burned one. And that savory one.)

My routine is to endure the stupid market, enjoy the bake, eat the pie, and then finally in about a week write a blog post about the experience. Today, things are going quite badly already, so I’ve decided to blog LIVE, as the bake progresses. It won’t be as fun as watching Mary Berry and her pals, but let’s give it a try.

Last night, by candlelight, I made the double pie crust for Pie 13.0, aka “Big Guy Strawberry Pie” from page 41 of the Sugar Butter Flour cookbook. Today I have time to type and drink coffee while I wait for the crust to be ready to roll. There she is late last night when she was but a good idea, and right now–too cold and hard to roll. That’s why we’re waiting. (We = me + my crust)

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There was a slight measurement (or perhaps reading comprehension) problem last night having to do with the appropriate quantity of butter. (It’s always the butter, isn’t it?) Anyway, when the error was discovered, the second half of the forgotten / missing / necessary butter was chunked up and added in last. (Not my brightest idea. The dough has globs of butter. I’m hoping it somehow comes out–I don’t know–flaky?)

Just tried to roll it. Not ready yet. So I’m just sitting here in a dirty apron and hairnet, drinking coffee and wondering what my wet hair will look like later when I release it from captivity.

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Made a little progress…

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OMG. I had to add a lot of flour to combat the globs of butter spots. Here she is in the pan.

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And here she is napping in the fridge with her top half ready to roll (on the right). Thank goodness it’s time to slice strawberries.

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It took an hour to slice the strawberries because I talked on the phone with my daughter while I sliced and she fed eggs to the baby and laughed at her silly little ones. There’s a cookie pan in my oven right now getting nice and hot at 425F so the bottom of the crust cooks quickly to avoid a soggy bottom. The recipe calls for some strawberry jam but I only have preserves, so there’s modification number two (after the crust/butter fiasco). I’m rolling out the top crust right now…

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I placed it on after cutting 8 little circles out of the edge. I tucked the top crust around and under the bottom one and pinched it the way my momma showed me when I was small and she made apple pie and blueberry pie with the fruit from the can. I pinched the little circles to make them look like strawberries and glued them down with an egg wash. (They look like acorns.) I cut open the little window in the center of the crust just like the picture. Egg washed the whole enchilada and sprinkled with the expensive large crystal sugar. While she bakes for 45 minutes in two temperature stages, I have time to make the weird basil infused whipped cream.

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{My hair is completely dry under the hairnet and matted to my head. Lovely. And I’m sticky almost up to my armpits with egg and butter and flour, so much so that my electronic devices and mousepad refuse to notice my touch. My fingertips are invisible. See? You just can’t get this depth of detail without the live blog feature.}

Hey, so something worked out pretty good. The pie is on it’s second stage of cooking for the exact same time the cream is cooling. Of course, the cooling cream should have been about ten minutes ahead, but we must account for the time it takes to make a mistake. See, the heavy cream gets heated BEFORE the basil is added. This is what the basil looks like when you remove it with a fork from the pan of heating cream because it shouldn’t be in there yet. Whoops.

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I’m on break for about a half an hour. I think I’ll clean up the mess.

I whipped the weird cream after it chilled in a bowl nestled in another bowl of water and ice in the fridge for an hour. An hour. In a bowl of ice. I’m not kidding. Details, people. Anyway, it took 7 freaking minutes to whip. I didn’t think it would ever get there. I scooped it into the icing bag and put it in the fridge for later. And, yes, I tasted it. I popped that test blob on the spoon right into my mouth and, man, basil tastes (and smells) weird in whipped cream. Like I made Italian spaghetti sauce and then used the dirty bowl to whip the cream. Maybe it’ll taste incredible with the sweet pie. You-know-who has no idea of the weirdness of the whipped cream in his future. I bet you a dollar he scarfs it up and asks for more.

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Pie 13.0 is a beauty. She’s too hot to eat, and there’s nobody here to share her with right now. But I will surely garnish each slice with a sprig of basil and a dollop of whipped cream as instructed. You’ll have to just imagine it, as usual, unless you go ahead and buy the cookbook and make one yourself.

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Pie 12.0

Pie 12.0

My daughter chose “Lulu’s Lemonade Pie” from Sugar Butter Flour for Pie 12.0, a perfect choice for a hot summer day in the southland. The picture in the cookbook is pretty and pink. Take a trot to this site to read about the purported history of how pink lemonade got its pinkness. Ahh, refreshing, right?

I didn’t realize my first mistake for hours after I made it. As I lined up the sugar and butter and flour for their portrait for this post, while the dough for the crust chilled in the fridge, I realized (whoops) I used bread flour for the crust. I traded the bread flour for the regular flour for the photo, but it was too late for the crust. What a way to start. When I rolled out the dough it was quite tough. No kidding.

While at the beach a week ago I got a text and email from my sister about a package that could not be delivered to my house. We’d stopped our mail during the vacation. Anyway, in our text exchange I asked her what was in the package. I always ask this before birthdays and holidays, and nobody ever falls for it and tells me. My sister, fresh from watching all four seasons of the Great British Baking Show, couldn’t contain her excitement and told me: New icing tips and bags! Surprise (almost). No more cutting the corner off a Ziploc for my pies.

At the stupid market I had contemplated the lemons by weighing them in my hand and guessed I’d need at least four for the recipe. I bought five. I don’t have a juice squeezer thingie but I do have strong hands, so I put the flour sifter in a small blue bowl (to catch the seeds and other solids) and I squeezed those lemons by hand. Turned out, I only needed two.

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Also in the stupid market, I checked off the ingredients carefully from my list. Eggs. check. Lemons. Check. Butter. Check. Heavy cream. Check. Half and Half. Check. Back home I sighed and dropped my clenched shoulders. I unloaded the bags in my kitchen to find there was no Half and half. None. I scanned the receipt. None. I closed my eyes and relived the dairy section in the stupid market.

Milk, heavy cream, coffeecreamersourcreambuttereggscheese.

Hmm, said my mind, you’re such a dithering dolt. I did not even look at the Half and half. Who the heck crossed it off the list? Anyway, extraordinary chemist that I am (recall the raspberry vinegar from a recent delight) I made my own: 1/2 whole milk, 1/2 heavy cream. How hard can it be?

I didn’t have any red tights to boil, or red cinnamon candies to dissolve, or any cranberry juice, so I just followed the recipe to make my pie pink: I added three little drops of red food coloring. Pink enough.

I must confess, the actual name of this bake is “Lulu’s Lemonade PieS,” as in many mini pies. The crust dough and all the fillings were to be divided amongst eight little cutie-pies. But, like the lemon squeezer and (until recently) the frosting tips, there are no mini pie shells in my kitchen. Gasp. Get over it. So I made one big pie instead of eight little ones. The physics of this modification demanded a 50-minute bake, rather than 30. When I checked the monster at 30 minutes, the filling almost sloshed over the side. You can imagine how my bread-flour-based-crust reacted to 20 extra minutes of drying in the oven. (Alas, someday I’ll get it right. Perhaps I’m not quite ready for my debut on TGBBS.)

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While I worked and sweated, across the counter from this old baker sat a lovely young woman and her lovely friend. Together they are not yet 60 years old. They chatted and drank coffee and laughed. One was my daughter, and the other calls me Aunt Laura but is not my niece. My daughter’s sole job, besides choosing the pie recipe, was simple: separate the pink from the non-pink jelly beans. There were 17 and I needed 16. Perfect. At least something was going right.

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I whipped up the cream for the topping and spooned it into a frosting bag with one of five or six tips I wanted to sample. After many frosting tips it was clear: I’m not qualified. I must practice. To the utter horror of my audience, I scooped up my first attempt with a spoon and tossed it back in the bowl to try again. The lovely chef/caterer who thinks I’m her aunt suggested I practice later with actual frosting instead of whipped cream. She’s pretty smart. She and daughter licked that whipped cream bowl to a shine.

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As an encore, I must disclose my dear husband helped RE-decorate after he saw my messy pie. We were just back from the beach where we made drippy castles (with no children helping–just two oldies playing in the soft silky sand) every day.

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So my DH jumped in and made drippy castles on my pie with the new frosting tips.

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Pie 12.0, like almost all her predecessors, turned out delicious despite my strenuous efforts to screw it all up. Conclusion: if it tastes delightful, it can look like a sand castle. Your mouth won’t know.

The fall semester starts in four (4!) days. Either I will be too busy to bake, or I will be desperate for the relief of baking. It is quite impossible to predict these things. Please excuse me either way.