WFD? Lemon, Chicken & Leek Pot Pies

What’s For Dinner? Individual Chicken Leek Pot Pies with Lemon and Tarragon.

It’s feels natural to jump on the comfort food bandwagon in January. Enough with the holiday finger food, the bowls of nuts, and elaborate dinner parties; what we need now is a one-pot meal to sink our fork into and forget about how dang cold it is outside. I think you’ll find this updated pot pie pretty satisfying.

Although I’ve been making variations on this dish for my family for a while, I might never have posted the recipe if it wasn’t requested by an old friend of mine. OK, maybe ‘request’ isn’t the right word, it was more like an order. In fact I believe her exact comment in response to this post was:

“I want your chicken leek pot pie recipe. I don’t like baking, but I like cooking so lets get on with the real food!”

Yes madam! Well, she did used to boss me around something fierce back in the day, so it comes naturally to her. I guess some things never change, eh?
So here you go, Kelly, I’ve done my part. You better make these now to feed all those bambinos of yours. Trust me, they will thank you for it.


I usually make these in massive batches as they freeze and re-heat wonderfully.
(edit 1) Since we sometimes need ‘heat & serve’ instant meals (little children’s tummies don’t understand waiting), I bake these as I normally would for a dinner, then cool them down, wrap them well and freeze for a later date. I re-heat them in the oven to keep the pastry crisp.
(edit 2) I find blanching my garlic alleviates some of the not so fun side effects while maintaining the full flavor that we love around here. However, this is not scientifically proven, just an opinion. I don’t do it often, perhaps just when I want to serve the dish to 10-month-old Mateo.

Chicken, Leek and Lemon Pot Pies

About 4 cups cooked, shredded chicken (I prefer dark meat and usually use thighs)
8 cloves of garlic, peeled and de-germed

3 leeks

1/4 cup butter

1/4 cup flour

2 cups chicken stock

1/4 cup white wine (Optional)

1 tbsp chopped fresh tarragon or 1 tsp dry
(thyme is good, too)
1 tbsp lemon juice

1 tsp grated lemon rind

1/4 cup whipping cream

Salt and plenty of freshly ground pepper
3/4 cup green peas, defrosted if frozen

1 recipe pie crust or 450g puff pastry
(my lazy way out, although in the photos I used my usual pie dough.)
1 egg, beaten with a pinch of salt


Preheat oven to 375°F (190°C).
Place garlic in cold water, bring to boil, and boil for a minute or so. Drain and roughly chop. Reserve.

Cut very dark green leaves from leeks and discard. Wash leeks well and slice into 1/2-inch (1-cm) sections (I use about 2/3 of the leek)

Heat butter in skillet on medium heat. Add leeks and garlic and sauté for about 3 minutes or until leeks soften. Stir in flour and cook until pale gold, about 4 minutes, adding more butter if needed. Stir in chicken stock, white wine if using, tarragon, lemon juice and rind. Bring to boil. Add cream, reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes or until thick and glossy. Season well with salt and pepper.

Stir in green peas and chicken. Place in a 6-cup baking dish or individual baking dishes. Roll out pastry 1/4-inch (5-mm) thick to cover top of dish. Cut a steam hole, decorate with any extra pastry cut in shapes, if desired. Brush with egg.

Bake pies on middle shelf of oven for 30 to 35 minutes or until pastry is golden and mixture bubbles.
I usually set my baking dish or dishes on a cookie sheet as I inevitably get one that overflows.

Mulled Cider and Muddled Thoughts

We were off to such a good start around here with our Christmas preparations, but a vicious head cold has rendered the wee ones and I useless. You know you’re sick when the everyday motions become huge hurdles, and you congratulate yourself on having two babies fed and dressed by 11:00 AM. Thank goodness the Christmas cards are almost done, the boxes of goodies mailed to loved ones far away, and the shopping taken care of, or I’d really be freaking out. Still, pray that I shake this, because I have a bevy of baking to attend to.

On a happier note, we had the prettiest blanket of snow blow in today. With the wind whipping around the eaves, swirling the fast-falling flakes, I was happy to have a mug of this hot spiced apple cider to keep me warm.


Look at the fragrant ingredients that make this cider so aromatic: cinnamon, cloves, star anise, bay leaves, ginger and lemongrass. Mmm, it’s practically a cure for a cold in itself.
My husband likes this cider as sweet as it can be, but if I’m offering it to children, or drinking it while sick as I am now, I prefer to pass on the brown sugar. Feel free to spike it if you like, I won’t say I pass on that!


Mulled Cider (makes 5 cups)
(Adapted from In Praise of Apples by Mark Rosenstein)

4 cups fresh apple cider
1/4 cup light brown sugar, tightly packed (optional)

1 cinnamon stick

4 whole cloves

1 star anise

1/2 teaspoon peeled, sliced, fresh ginger

1 stalk lemon grass, bruised (or 1 sliced lemon)

1/2 bay leaf

Combine all the ingredients in a saucepan. Place over medium heat, and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer, covered, for 10 minutes. Strain and serve.

SHF: Very Vanilla Cupcakes and I get crafty again.


So the vanilla cupcakes aren’t the real reason you should be excited about this post. I’m about to give you a step-by-step tutorial on how to make your very own cupcake stand like the one pictured above!

I don’t know what’s gotten into me lately. I’ve been bitten by the craft bug or something. It all started with the party hats and various other projects from Noah’ s birthday party, then the hand embroidered aprons for the jam swap, and now this. (There’s also some felt Christmas stockings in the plans for the little ones, but let’s not hold our breath on those.)

What’s going on?? It’s like I turned thirty and boom, I woke up with a glue gun in one hand and a pair of knitting needles in the other. I would never consider myself to be a crafty person, yet I now have a (very large) box labeled “Arts & Crafts”in my closet full of ribbon, glue, and glitter. If you can help me understand this, ahem, creative phase of my life, I’d appreciate it.

Wait a sec, this isn’t menopause, IS IT? Because I was planning on combating that head on with an extra glass of wine or two, not pinking shears and rick-rack. This craft thing is too expensive to become a crutch. Any idea what a good pair of scissors costs these days?


Anyway, this cupcake stand came to be when I found myself in need of a way to display the 60 or so cupcakes I had made for my mother-in-law’s wedding shower last weekend. I love to use height in my food presentations and I’m sorry but those Wilton cupcake stands just don’t do a thing for me. I was convinced I could make my own and thanks to CakeJournal, I did!

Now, we’ll get to the cupcake stand in a minute, but first, the Vanilla Bean Cupcake:


I have to say, it was a pretty decent all-around indulgence. With a moist, buttermilk cake base (also laden with vanilla bean seeds) and the fluffiest of buttercreams, this darling is going to be a staple around here. To further emphasize the pure vanilla in these cupcakes, I topped them with a sugared shard of vanilla bean, and with that sparking touch, this cupcake is making it’s way over to Susan at The Well-Seasoned Cook for the November Sugar High Fridays Event!

Susan’s blog is new to me, but I loved her choice for this month: All That Glitters. Brilliant! (Of course the New Artsy-Crafty Aimee is secretly thrilled that the challenge has the word ‘glitter’ in it.) A big thank you to Susan for hosting this event and be sure to check out her blog on November 28 for the entire luminescent round-up! I can’t wait to see what other people have come up with and I’m sure their submissions will shine a lot brighter than my little twice-licked, once-dipped vanilla bean. Not exactly a light-bulb moment in my culinary career.
OK, OK, I’m joking, I didn’t lick the vanilla beans…. And all the ladies reading from the shower just gave a sigh of relief (Hi Barb!)
Recipes at the bottom, as usual.
Oh, and yes I am aware that I am only giving you the recipe for the Vanilla Bean Cupcakes, yet there are several other varieties pictured! Don’t pout on me now. The ring-topped cupcakes are none other than my recently posted Pumpkin Spice Cake with Maple Frosting, which, for the record, makes a phenomenal cupcake. As for the chocolate ones? We’ll you’ll just have to wait for them, but here is a little hint. Yeah, insane.


All right, time to get out the scissors and paper. What’s so great about this stand? Well for starters, you can customize it to any event you need by coordinating the paper and ribbon to match the event type. My MIL is having a winter wedding, hence the snowflake theme. Or you can adapt it to match your cupcakes, even better.
It’s also so darn easy to make, why not indulge your inner Martha? Trust me, if I can make this stand, you can too, provided you have the right materials. Here’s what you need to get started:


Three cake boards
: 8″, 12″ and 14″ (I purchased mine from Ares) These are the silver rounds you see in the photo above. Naturally you can use whatever sizes you want (8″, 10″, 12″ works well) but I wanted a large stand.
Heavy duty gift wrap paper
Glue and glue stick (not pictured)
Cake Dummies
: These are the two Styrofoam-looking rounds and are use for practicing wedding cakes. Also found at Ares. Note: Ideally I would have use one 2″x4″ dummy and one 2″x6″, but they only had 6″ so I went with two of those.
Ribbon: enough to wrap the dummies and trim the edge of the cake boards.
Scissors
Pencil

Straight pins
(should match your ribbon.)

Start by tracing the cake board rounds onto the wrapping paper that you will be covering them with. Lay them on the underside of the paper and trace with a pencil. Cut out the rounds.

Using your glue stick with a light hand, glue paper onto the cake boards. Working from the middle out, smooth with your hands to push out the air and remove bubbles. Allow to dry. If you wish, glue ribbon around the edge of the boards. I skipped this step as my silver cake boards already matched my silver paper–also I ran out of ribbon…Classic.

Wrap cake dummies with chosen ribbon. Start by securing one end with a straight pin. Wrap until entire dummy is covered and secure again with a pin. You can also glue the ribbon on, but this way makes for an easy removal of ribbon.

Assemble cupcake stand starting with the bottom layer. Place largest cake round on your workplace and glue ribbon-covered dummy directly onto the middle. Apply glue to the top of this dummy and place middle sized cake round on top, make sure it is centered, and press firmly to attach.
Glue second cake dummy in the center and glue the final and smallest cake round on top of it.
If this sounds like a lot of gluing, you’re right! I also used a ruler to make sure things were centered and balanced.
Stand should resemble the above photo. Now put something slightly heavy on top and allow to dry overnight. Your cupcake stand is now ready to party!
Shoot me an email with a photo if you decide to make you own. Have fun!

Note: if these directions made no sense to you whatsoever, here is the complete tutorial on Cake Journal. I tried my best…
Note 2: In the photo at the very top of the page, you’ll notice my stand has a extra tiny tier to it. Yes, I played around with some extra Styrofoam and rigged up a little topper for my cupcake stand featuring my Re-Ment mini cake stand that I recently won. I couldn’t resist showing it off!

Right, about those recipes….This is making for a VERY long post. My apologies.

Very Vanilla Cupcakes
(These were heavenly fresh from the oven and still pretty decent the second day; however, they didn’t freeze well and shriveled up into dry little morsels.)

8 Tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temp
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs, at room temp
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 vanilla bean
2 cups cake flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup buttermilk

1. Preheat the oven to 325. Sift together flour, baking powder and baking soda. Add the kosher salt after sifting and set aside. Measure out the buttermilk.

2. Cream the butter and the sugar using an electric mixer, until the mixture is pale and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, letting the eggs beat for 1 minute in between additions. Scrape down the bowl in between additions. Add vanilla and beat well. Slice vanilla bean lengthwise and with the tip of a knife, scrape out the seeds and add the to the butter mixture. Mix well.

3. Add the dry ingredients alternately with the wet ingredients. Start by adding one third of the flour mixture. Mix just to incorporate. Add half of the buttermilk. Add another one third of the flour mixture. Mix to incorporate. Add the last half of buttermilk, followed by the last third of flour.

4. Spoon into paper lined cupcake pans. Check the cupcakes after 12 minutes. Remove from oven and cool completely before frosting with Vanilla Bean Buttercream.

Makes 16 small or 12 large cupcakes.

Vanilla Bean Buttercream
Makes about 2 cups

2 large egg whites
1/2 cup + 2 tbsps sugar
3/4 cup unsalted butter at room temperature, cut into tablespoons
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 vanilla bean

In the bowl of an electric mixer set over the saucepan of simmering water, combine egg whites and sugar. Cook whisking constantly, until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture is warm to the touch. Attach the bowl to the mixer, fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat on high speed until it holds stiff peaks. Continue beating until the mixture is fluffy and cooled. Switch to the paddle attachment. With the mixer on medium-low speed, add the butter, several tablespoons at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla extract. Split the vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape out seeds with the tip of a knife. Add to buttercream and beat on low speed to eliminate air bubbles – about 2 minutes.

Using an offset spatula, generously frost cupcakes with buttercream.Serve immediately, or refrigerate up to 1 day.Remove from fridge and bring to room temperature before serving.

Thanksgiving Part 2: Side Dishes

Guess what arrived in my mailbox yesterday? The Martha Stewart Living November issue with a big, fat, perfect turkey on the front and the title “Thanksgiving Solved!” We’re a little ahead of the game here at UtHC.
I think my side dishes–not to mention my stuffing–were better than the ones she featured, but you can decide for yourself! Let’s continue with our meal.


First up we have Maple Glazed Baby Carrots, harvested from the earth the same day they were served. They were so naturally sweet, the syrup was an unnecessary, but lavish touch. Wondering why they are a funny color? These are my purple carrots, which look almost black when they are cooked.


I’ve enjoyed brussel sprouts every time I’ve had them; I can’t understand why they have such a bad rap. They brought such gorgeous color to our Thanksgiving table and were far more elegant than the common green bean (and don’t even get me started on canned peas!). Just a head’s up for the mama’s reading: there were plenty of brussel sprouts rolling around under the high chair as these were not a hit with the little ones. More for us grown-ups, that’s all!

Pan Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Toasted Walnuts and Lemon

Brussel Sprouts
Butter

Lemon,
zested
Walnuts, lightly toasted

Salt and Pepper

Bring a medium pot of water to a boil and salt generously. Prepare brussel sprouts by peeling away one layer of outer leaves and scoring an ‘X’ in the bottoms, about 1/8th of an inch deep. Drop brussel sprouts into the boiling water and blanch for about 3 minutes, less if they are really small. A sharp knife poked into the center should still meet with some resistance. Remove from water with a slotted spoon and allow to drain on a tray. (This part can be done well before the meal)
Just before serving, melt butter in a sauce pan and toss in a pinch of the lemon zest. Add
brussel sprouts and pan roast until they start to get some golden patches. Some people prefer to slice them in half and brown the cut side generously. Mine were very small, about the size of a grape, so I chose to leave them whole. Toss in the rest of the lemon zest and a handful of walnuts. Season with salt and pepper and serve.
This dish held up well in a warm oven for about 15 minutes while I brought the rest of the meal together.


Lest I lead you to believe I cooked this entire Thanksgiving dinner on my own, let me assure you that I didn’t! It was a joint effort, a well-executed pot-luck, I would go so far as to say, and that made all the difference. How else would I have been able to photograph every dish for your viewing pleasure?!
The best part of a pot-luck is getting to try new dishes that you may not necessarily have made on your own. My brother-in-law, Kevin (of the Egg McMuffin) contributed this amazing Butternut Squash Gratin, which was so light, it reminded me of a soufflé. I am not accustomed to cooking with Miracle Whip–I’ve never purchased it in my 30 years–but this gratin just might make me a believer. Maybe.
If you have family members who protest when you serve squash, try this dish and see if any one is complaining! I don’t think you’ll hear a peep.

Butternut Squash Casserole

3 cups chopped butternut squash
1 onion, chopped

2/3 cup sharp cheddar, shredded

15 crackers (Ritz like), crushed

1 egg, beaten

2 Tbsp. Miracle Whip dressing

Heat oven to 350F. Cook squash in boiling water in covered saucepan 15min. or until tender. Rinse under cold water; drain. Mix squash and remaining ingredients; spoon into 8-inch square baking dish.
Bake 1 hour or until heated through.
Enjoy!

Dinner is served! Clockwise from top center: Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes, Sweet Onion Buttermilk Rolls, Apple & Fruit Stuffing, Maple Glazed Purple Carrots.



My sister contributed these Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes; comfort food at it’s best. She also found time between volunteering at the SPCA and writing an essay to whip up a gravity-defying deep-dish Apple Streusel Pie, but I’m saving that for the next post! Stay tuned.

Click here for Thanksgiving Part 1: Turkey & Co

Thanksgiving Part 1: Turkey & Co.


This was my first time cooking turkey dinner at home since…I can’t remember, and I got off to a terrible start. Do these things happen just to me? Read on.

Normally I am a big planner; life with two babies is just much more negotiable when I am organized and able to plan ahead for event such as holidays. However, when plans to dine elsewhere for our Thanksgiving dinner went awry, I decided to host it here–with five days to go.
I managed to hunt down a fresh turkey and get some Sweet Onion Dinner Rolls in the freezer, but that was the full extent of my dinner prep, due to an especially jam-packed weekend.

With Thanksgiving dinner planned for 3 PM Monday afternoon, I found myself in my kitchen around 10:30 PM on Sunday with every intention of getting started on the preparations.

My ears were still ringing from a lively and thoroughly enjoyable Indian engagement party we had just returned from and my shoulders ached from that wedding I photographed on Saturday (who knew that six hours of continuous shooting could take their toll?). I should have listened to my body and hit the sack, but as many of you know, I can be rather hard-headed, and it seemed perfectly logical to start cooking at that time of night. I at least wanted to get my cranberry sauce made so it could set all night in the fridge, so I juiced a few oranges, tossed the ingredients in a small pot, cranked my stove and went to check my blog feeds. (Can you see where this is going?)

A minute or two later I was squealing with excitement upon discovering that I had won a giveaway from the fabulous Michele over at Fine Furious Life. You would be excited too! All thoughts of cranberry sauce evaporated rapidly from my brain as I lost myself in the fun of discovering what I had won. It turns out the cranberry sauce evaporated too.

I didn’t smell the smoke, and I really don’t know what ejected me from my chair with a smothered shriek, but as I skidded into the kitchen I could see the smoke billowing from the pot.
I yanked the pot from the stove and like a true die-hard, thrust my finger into the molten mass and tasted it. That motion was enough to confirm what I feared, this wasn’t just a first-degree burn, where the top can be scraped off and used, this was scorched through and through. I’d be lucky if the pot survived.

Update: It didn’t.


Time to talk turkey! I had so much fun cooking this dinner and the burnt cranberry sauce–which I blame entirely on Michele–was the only bad part of the menu. As you can see from the photo at the top of the post, I had some cranberries reserved and was able to use them for a second batch of sauce.

Now, recipes you want and recipes you shall have. I am giving you this menu in three parts: 1) Turkey & Co, 2) Les à’côtés (or sides) and 3) Desserts, to give myself a chance to write up the recipes and remember what I did for each dish.

OK, the turkey is obviously the star of the show, although I admit, mine looks a bit like a washed-up has-been. How do they get them to look so great on those magazine covers?
In the past I’ve done it all to try and keep the turkey moist: the 24 hour brine bath, the wine-soaked cheese cloth wrap, and the heavy butter basting. This time I just kept in simple and was happy with the results. This isn’t a recipe, per-se, but here’s the method I used.

Basic Roast Turkey
Note: this is for an unstuffed, 10-12 Lb fresh turkey.

Remove turkey from it’s wrap and rinse under cold running water. Pat dry with paper towels and place on a wire rack in a roasting pan. Allow to sit for about 2 hours to come to room temperature. Preheat oven to 350F. Season the bird inside and out with plenty of salt and pepper and place in the oven. Roast for about 2 hours, turning as needed to allow for even coloring.

In a small heat-proof bowl, melt 1/4 cup of butter and combine with 1/4 cup of maple syrup. Brush over turkey to coat completely and continue to roast another half an hour or so until an instant-read thermometer reads 165F when inserted into the thickest part of the thigh. Remove from oven and let stand, covered loosely with foil for a half an hour before carving.
Reserve the drippings in the pan for your gravy.


Ah, la farce or stuffing. I was drooling over different recipes featuring chestnuts, fennel, sausages and other tantalizing ingredients, but didn’t have time to get out shopping and so this one came together at the last minute out of items I already hand on hand. Surprisingly it was fabulous and a lovely balance between old-fashioned heavy-on-the-savory stuffing and an updated, fruity stuffing. Fresh thyme, sage and parsley from the garden certainly worked their magic in this dish, while several apples from our apple picking outing sweetened up this stuffing.

Aimée’s Fruit & Herb Stuffing

1 cup butter
1-1/2 cups celery, chopped

2 cups sweet onions, chopped

3/4 cup dried cranberries

1/4 cup golden raisins

1 large loaf of crusty Italian-style bread, cubed

1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves

2 teaspoons, chopped fresh sage, loosely packed

1/2 teaspoon dried savory, ground

1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper

1 tablespoon salt

2 cups chopped apple

1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped

In a large skillet, melt 3/4 of a cup of butter over medium heat. Add onions and celery, stirring often to sweat. Add thyme, sage, savory, salt and pepper and continue to cook until vegetables are tender. Add apples and cook gently for about 2 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and toss with bread cubes. Plump cranberries and raisins in hot water for about ten minutes. Drain and add to bread mixture. Add parsley and toss well. Melt remaining 1/4 cup of butter and pour over stuffing. Mix well to combine. Butter an ovenproof dish and pack stuffing into it. Bake at 350F for about 45 minutes of until golden brown on top. Serve hot. Stuffing can be assembled the day before and baked off with the turkey.


The last item to be included in Part One of this series is my favorite: the cranberry sauce. You already know how the first batch turned out, but the second fared a little better! Of course you don’t have to make it in a mold and I even wonder why I did… AsI was serving dinner I made the mistake of setting the pretty cranberry sauce, pink plate and all, in front of Noah. I turned my back to get something and–chop, chop, chop–with three swift motions of his spoon, he had flattened the entire thing. Oh well, I had to laugh.

Orange-Anise Cranberry Sauce
serves 6

2 cups fresh cranberries
1 orange, in suprêmes
1 whole star anise

3/4 cup sugar

1 leaf of gelatin

Roughly chop orange suprêmes and combine in a small pot with cranberries, star anise, sugar and 1/4 cup water. Bring to a boil, stirring often (do not leave the stove and go check your email!). Reduce heat and simmer gently for about 10 minutes until berries have ‘popped’. In a small bowl of cold water, soften gelatin until limp. Whisk into hot cranberry sauce. Line a small bowl with plastic wrap and fill to the brim with sauce. Allow to chill thoroughly in the fridge. Just before serving, place plate on top of the bowl and swiftly invert. Remove bowl from on top of the cranberry sauce and peel away the plastic wrap. Garnish with another star anise, fresh cranberries or whatever you desire.


Stay tuned for Thanksgiving Part 2 and see some wonderful recipes for side dishes!