Sunday, January 3, 2010

Pot-Pied

I like all this snow. One of the joys of being unemployed is staying home as much as you want, and I do.  When it's snowing, my guilt level about this drops to minus zero, and I relax. Technically, I hibernate. On frosty days, I enjoy rousing myself from my stupor to warm up our drafty apartment by putting some hearty, casserole-type dish in the oven. Or I bake tollhouse cookies, a snow-day tradition around here that can be accomplished while semi-conscious.

The Warren Tavern in Charlestown makes a delicious chicken pot pie with a puff-pastry top, and I decided I wanted to make that for our New Year's Eve dinner. I bought phyllo dough instead of frozen puff pastry, figuring I'd get the same effect with far fewer fat calories. Since I enjoy cooking without using a recipe (one of the few ways I choose to live dangerously), I perused a few online pot-pie recipes to get the general idea, and wandered into my kitchen around 5 o'clock on the Eve.

Cooking without a recipe means you have to be on your toes. Without written instructions, I need to rely on every drop of common sense and kitchen experience I have, plus all my senses — taste, sight, and smell, of course, but also hearing (Hey, what's exploding in the oven?) and touch (Hmm, this vegetable is unusually slimy...).

So I began by poaching some fresh Bell & Evans boneless breasts in homemade stock (from my freezer). As they were quietly simmering in their saucepan, I cut up potatoes and onions and sautéed them in butter in a big pot. After a while, I added celery, diced baby carrots and frozen baby peas. I contemplated some baby bella mushrooms, and changed my mind. Already enough babies in this pie.

When the chicken was done, I added the strained broth to the vegetables along with some milk, flour, and a bit of cream, and watched it turn into a convincing, creamy broth as I stirred. With enough salt, pepper, and thyme, plus a dash of nutmeg, it tasted pretty good. I cubed the chicken, added it to the stew, and got out a variety of shallow dishes to make single and double servings.

Then I got the phyllo dough out of the freezer. Duh —the instructions say that you're supposed to thaw it at room temperature for 2 hours, or keep it overnight in the fridge. Here's an example of how cooking without a recipe can be quite interesting. So interesting that you find yourself making and eating an entirely different dinner because you screwed up.

 I could have made pastry or biscuit dough from scratch pretty quickly, but I was not in the mood, and we were very hungry for our dinner.  So we ate sandwiches on good Iggy's bread on the last night of the old year. I stuck the phyllo in the fridge for another night.

We had lovely chicken pies last night and tonight, topped with dramatic, sculptural crumplings of buttered phyllo and accompanied by a green salad with mushrooms and garlicky dressing. I'll definitely make these pies again, but next time, I think I'll try puff pastry and READ THE DIRECTIONS.

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