29 November 2012

Chicken Pot Pies - Classic Cold-Weather Comfort Food


I'm not really a collector, and I don't like to accumulate a lot of "stuff." But kitchen and dining things (oh, and books) are my one weakness. As if I needed any more of it, on a recent reconnaissance mission to a new thrift store in town, a couple of things jumped out at me and had to be purchased. Two lovely crystal goblets and four circa-1960 CorningWare (the original Cornflower pattern) 1 3/4-cup capacity Petite Pans. 

Of course, they were just screaming "Chicken Pot Pies," so I swung by the grocery store on my way home and picked up some organic chicken and vegetables. Turns out, the Petite Pans make the perfect size main-dish serving. I'm going to keep my eyes open, hoping to come across at least four more. I'll be using them next for my Shepherd's Pie or Vegetarian Shepherd's Pie.

Once I find four or eight more of these or similar pans (like these 16-ounce round Corning French White), I can take advantage of the next chilly, stay-at-home kind of day, making a double or triple batch and freezing them. It's so nice to be able to pull a homemade comfort food meal out of the freezer on a day you can't, or don't want to, cook.

What is your favorite cold-weather comfort food? Favorite vintage, or new, find?

Chicken Pot Pies


(Makes 4 main-dish pies)

Pastry (see below)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 1/4 pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts and/or thighs
3/4 teaspoon salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper, divided
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/3 cup diced onion
1/3 cup diced celery
1/3 cup diced red bell pepper
2/3 cup diced carrots
2 cups halved and sliced mushrooms (1/2-pound package)
1/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons dry sherry, optional
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
1/4 teaspoon dried marjoram leaves
3/4 cup fresh or frozen peas


1 In 12-inch skillet, heat oil. Season chicken with 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper; brown on both sides, cooking for a total of 20 to 30 minutes or until done. If you prefer your pies with shredded chicken, shred it now using two forks. If you prefer diced, set the chicken aside to cool a bit for neater dice. (Or you can use 2 1/2 cups or so of leftover shredded or diced cooked chicken, in which case you would skip this step.)

2 Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In same skillet, melt butter and saute onion for 3 minutes, scraping up the brown bits from cooking the chicken. Add celery, bell pepper and carrots; saute for 2 minutes. Add mushrooms and 1/4 teaspoon of the salt; saute for 5 minutes. Stir in flour and cook for a minute or two. Gradually add broth, cream and sherry; cook, stirring constantly, until bubbly and thickened. Season with remaining salt and pepper. Remove from heat. Stir in the chicken and peas. (It's easy to forget about the peas because all the other vegetables went in at the beginning. But don't! The peas are wonderful.) Adjust seasoning. Divide mixture among four 14-ounce ramekins.

3 Roll out the pie crust to nearly 1/4-inch thick. Using your ramekin as a template, cut out 4 circles (or in my case, squares) about 1/2 inch greater in diameter than the ramekins. Top each ramekin with a circle (or square) of dough, fold excess under, press down the edges or crimp with a fork, and cut a 1-inch slit, or prick with fork, to vent. Place on foil-lined baking sheet. Bake for about 30 minutes. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.

If you like, prepare ahead of time. Chill filling, assemble, cover pies and keep refrigerated until ready to bake. Preheat oven to 400 degrees 50 minutes before serving time. Put pies in oven 35 minutes before serving time. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.


Pastry 


(food processor* method)

1 1/2 dip-and-sweep cups (7.5 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes and frozen for 10 minutes
1/3 cup ice water
1 tablespoon lemon juice or cider vinegar


1 With metal blade in place, add flour, salt and baking powder to work bowl of food processor. Turn on for three seconds to combine. Add half the frozen butter and process for 10 seconds or until mixture has the consistency of coarse meal. Add remaining butter and pulse for six 1-second pulses, or until the frozen butter is the size of small peas.

2 In cup, combine lemon juice and ice water. Pour, a tablespoon at a time, over all of flour mixture, doing a 1-second pulse after each tablespoon, or just until dough forms large clumps; do not over-process. (The amount of water you will need depends on your climate and the moisture content of your flour.)

3 Turn dough out onto a piece of plastic wrap and flatten slightly into a 4-inch round disk; double wrap; refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or up to three days. (Let thoroughly chilled dough stand at room temperature for 15 minutes before rolling.)

* I have the Cuisinart DLC-10E, which (understandably after all the years I've had it) is no longer available. Here is the Cuisinart Pro Classic DLC-10S, a similar current model.

Note: This recipe is only slightly different than my smaller appetizer-size Chicken Pot Pies, for which the ingredients must be more finely diced.

22 November 2012

Afternoon Tea Review - The Grand Tea Room in Escondido

Photo courtesy of The Grand Tea Room
As you know, I never go on a business trip or holiday without researching afternoon tea venues first. On a recent trip to the San Diego area, I had the pleasure of checking out a new venue, The Grand Tea Room at 145 West Grand Avenue in Escondido. The three of us splurged on The Grand Tea, which included a soup starter in addition to the traditional British-style three-tiered afternoon tea. Usually I don't hold with departures (like soup or salad) from the traditional afternoon tea menu, but I made an exception in this case and was glad I did. That house-made tomato basil soup, served with a Parmesan toast, was extraordinary!
 
But let me digress from the food to the decor for a moment. Long a fan of the posh hotel tea, I often find tea rooms much too froufrou for my taste. You know what I mean--every surface swathed in cutesy. I just find all that sweetness cloying. I needn't have worried. The proprietor of The Grand Tea Room, clearly a woman of taste, has designed a tea room that has all the sweet touches one might expect of a tea room but without overdoing any of them. Even the bathroom was both charming and pristine. But back to the menu ...

 
The tea was properly made in beautiful 6-cup teapots, one for each of us. (Please don't ever bring me a tea bag and some tepid water in one of those silly little 1- or 2-cup pots; I came here for some tea!) One friend appreciated their having a decaffeinated black tea on the menu, something often lacking. The sandwiches and savory, a zesty little house-made crustless quiche, did not disappoint. The scones were delicious, but the bright pink glaze on their tops struck the only jarring note on the table. The tiny desserts were works of art. With no more serious cause for complaint than that pink glaze, we felt it was a fabulous tea all around!
 
The gift shop at the front of the tea room had a marvelous selection, everything from teapots to fascinators! My small collection of tea hats did not include a single fascinator (even after the Royal Wedding in January), and it was high time something was done about that! No photos yet, but believe me, it is fabulous. I'll be wearing it to the next afternoon tea, wherever that may be. And I expect to cause a sensation!

For reservations (not required at all times) or further information, call The Grand Tea Room at 760-233-9500 or visit The Grand Tea Room website. For tea at home, see How to Make a Proper Cup of Tea, Tea and Scones, and my review of the Zojirushi Water Boiler and Warmer.

Note: What are your favorite places for afternoon tea? I'm especially interested in tea rooms in the US, UK and Canada; but, wherever you've found a great afternoon tea, I'd love to hear about it! 

15 November 2012

Equipment Review and Giveaway - Wusthof Classic 3.5-Inch Paring Knife


Looking for gift ideas? Good cooks should have good equipment, right? Better than a whole drawer (or block) full of cheap knives that are going to frustrate you every time you use one, three good knives are really all most of us need most days: an 8- or-10-inch chef's knife, a 10-inch bread knife and a 3- to 4-inch paring knife. Start with those, and then gradually add to your collection as needed.

I've tried all kinds of paring knives over the years, and what I've learned is this. Give me a blade that is sharp and holds an edge for a long time, thick enough to be sturdy and thin enough to maneuver, short enough for fine work and long enough to be versatile. And, despite what some manufacturers and "experts" might say, a full-tang blade forged from a single piece of steel is a must for me. If you've ever had a paring knife break in two in your hand, as I have, you know what I mean.

As important as the blade is, almost more so is the handle. It doesn't matter how perfect the blade is if the handle doesn't feel right in your hand. I've had handles that were too long, too short, too narrow, too wide. One that was specifically designed for comfort is so bulky it's impossible to use. Another handle is so thin and narrow, every time I use it my fingernails dig into my palm. 


I had been on the hunt for a better paring knife, when the Wusthof Classic 3.5-Inch Paring Knife 4066/9cm was sent to me for review. Wusthof has a range of blade sizes, and this one is just right for me--large enough for any task, but not so large as to be hard to handle. And I love the way the Wusthof Classic handle feels in my hand.

This paring knife is extremely versatile, perfect for: peeling potatoes and apples, coring tomatoes, hulling and slicing strawberries, peeling and dicing shallots and garlic, dicing unpeeled avocado halves, deveining and butterflying shrimp, and making decorative garnishes (citrus crowns, fluted mushroom caps, tomato roses, radish flowers, strawberry fans).

Note: See my chef's knife review, bread knife review and 10 Favorite Kitchen Gadgets post for more gift ideas.
 
 
Wusthof  Giveaway

One winner will receive a Wusthof Classic 3.5-Inch Paring Knife 4066/9cm from Wusthof. All US residents who leave a comment about knives (one entry per person - and please include your email address in the body of your comment) on this post before 11:59 pm Eastern time Wednesday November 21 will be put into a random drawing. Winner will be announced here in the comments before noon Eastern time on Thursday November 22. If I don't hear back from the winner of the random drawing by 11:59 am Eastern time Sunday November 25, another drawing will be held and a new winner selected from the original entrants (those who commented before the giveaway deadline).

Buy It Now This knife is available online at Amazon.

08 November 2012

Fresh Cranberry Sauce - The Jewel of the Autumn Table


Fresh cranberry sauce is the jewel of the autumn table. Even if it didn't taste better than canned, I'd prefer it just for its beauty. Besides, the canned whole berry sauce contains corn syrup and high fructose corn syrup--so no thanks--and always seems to be full of stems I feel compelled to laboriously pick out by hand.

Some people insist they prefer the jiggly jellied cranberry sauce that comes out of the can in one piece and is then sliced (traditionally, with the can lid). I don't think anyone really does think it's better, though. I think it's just one of those nostalgia things, and I of all people understand that. If that's what you grew up with, then that's what you want. So I like to serve both.

Cranberry sauce goes with any meat or poultry, especially rich ones like goose and duck. And, of course, it's classic with turkey. I love it on a turkey and dressing sandwich. (And, yes, I say "dressing" rather than "stuffing" for two reasons: 1. that nostalgia thing, and 2. I always bake it in a dish rather than inside the bird.)

Another cool thing about homemade cranberry sauce: People who don't make it have this crazy idea that it's a big deal. So you take 15 minutes to make this simple dish with half a dozen ingredients, and people think you're some kind of culinary genius. Gotta love that! Make it really easy on yourself and cook it a day or two ahead. It thickens as it cools. The sauce below was room temperature, and the firmer sauce above was slightly chilled.

(And make your turkey gravy ahead -- a month ahead, if you like -- with my Make-Ahead Turkey Gravy and Turkey Broth recipe.)

Where do you stand on the great cranberry sauce debate? (PS Be sure to come back next week to enter the giveaway of an essential kitchen tool.)


Cranberry Sauce

(Makes about 3 cups)

3/4 cup water
1 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon mace, optional
1 12-ounce bag (3 cups) cranberries
1 medium orange, chopped


In 2-quart saucepan, dissolve sugar, salt and mace in water. Bring to boil; add cranberries (I used organic). Return to boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and stir in chopped orange and the juice that came out while you were chopping. Cool completely at room temperature. Chill. Serve in a pretty clear glass bowl.

01 November 2012

Swiss Steak - Rocky Mountain Organic Meats Giveaway


Technically, Swiss steak is round steak that has been put through a meat tenderizing machine or pounded with a tenderizer mallet and then braised in a tomato sauce. So I guess you could say, technically, my Swiss steak is not really Swiss steak at all because I don't tenderize the round steak and there's very little tomato in my recipe. But this is what we called Swiss steak in my family, so I have to go with it. 

Though the words "comfort food" often conjure up a picture of less-than-healthful eating, I'm pretty careful about what I eat, avoiding foods produced inhumanely, unsustainably, unethically, or with GMOs (genetically modified organisms), hormones, antibiotics, pesticides, herbicides, fungicides or any other "-cides." I look for non-CAFO (concentrated animal feeding operation), pastured or grass-fed and grass-finished meats; and if they are also certified organic, that's even better. 

This recipe always tasted good, but never better than this batch, made with 6 eye of round steaks kindly sent to me by Rocky Mountain Organic Meats, a great company you've read about here before, one that meets and even exceeds my requirements. And they are going to ship 6 eye of round steaks to one of my readers! See bottom of the post for giveaway details.

Swiss Steak

(Serves 8)

4 pounds round steak, cut into 24 pieces
6 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour, divided
5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper, divided
3/4 teaspoon salt, divided
1 1/3 cups chopped onion
3 cups water, divided
1/2 cup catsup 

4 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons marjoram

1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/4 cup each diced green and red bell pepper

1 Cut beef into serving pieces; pat dry with paper towels. Using up to 4 tablespoons of the flour, lightly flour one side only. If you have a 12-inch slope-sided skillet, brown the meat in 3 batches. If you have a 12-inch straight-sided skillet, brown the meat in 2 batches. In large skillet, heat 1 or 2 tablespoons of the oil. Add first batch of the meat to the pan, floured side down first, season with salt and pepper and brown very well on both sides. Put browned meat in Dutch oven. Repeat once or twice, depending on pan size. It's important not to put too much meat in the pan at once; crowding prevents proper browning. 

2 Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Add 1 tablespoon of oil to the skillet, and sauté onion about 10 minutes until lightly browned. Add 2 1/2 cups water, ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, marjoram and crushed red pepper flakes to skillet; heat to boiling and pour over beef in Dutch oven. Heat to boiling, reduce heat, cover Dutch oven with lid and place in oven to cook for 2 1/2 hours at 300 degrees. 

3 Move Dutch oven to stovetop. In jar, shake 2 tablespoons flour and 1/2 cup water until smooth. Stir flour mixture into gravy, cooking for about 5 minutes until thickened. Can be made ahead up to this point. If serving next day, let it cool, and refrigerate until 2 hours before serving time; stir in diced bell pepper and reheat slowly for 1 to 1 1/2 hours. For same-day serving, stir in diced bell pepper and continue cooking in oven at 300 degrees for 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

Note: Naturally, you'll want to serve this with Perfect Mashed Potatoes!

Another Note: You could also make out-of-this-world Chicken Fried Steak with these beautiful steaks!
 
Rocky Mountain Organic Meats Giveaway

One winner will receive 6 grass-fed organic beef eye of round steaks from Rocky Mountain Organic Meats. (Though the steaks are labeled as 8 ounces, which would total 3 pounds, they actually totaled nearly 4 pounds!) All continental US residents who leave a comment (one entry per person - and please include your email address in the body of your comment) on this post before 11:59 pm Eastern time Wednesday November 7 will be put into a random drawing. Winner will be announced here in the comments before noon Eastern time on Thursday November 8. If I don't hear back from the winner of the random drawing by 11:59 am Eastern time Sunday November 11, another drawing will be held and a new winner selected from the original entrants (those who commented before the giveaway deadline).

Disclosure: Product was sent to me for review purposes. I was not required to post about it and received no compensation for doing so. And, in case you don't know me, there is no amount of money or free product that can induce me to say something I don't mean!
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