Chicken Pot Pie for the American Soul

Apple pie might get the American stamp of approval but I would argue so too does Chicken Pot Pie! Let’s be honest, pie crust makes your belly smile, no? So whether it is a vehicle for apples or chicken, I am likely down to try it and enjoy it. The weekends have been our time to shine in the kitchen. Once the littles go down for their afternoon naps, David and I get grooving in the kitchen. And this chicken pot pie was so delicious my served piece kept getting bigger and bigger as I sliced a little bit and then a little bit more…

For the pastry: (And/or you can just buy pre-made pie crust!)

  • 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp  salt
  • 4 sticks cold unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 2 tsp white wine vinegar
  • 1 cup ice water

For the Contents:

  • 1 Tbs unsalted butter
  • 1/2 yellow onion, diced
  • 1 stalk celery, finely sliced
  • 2 small carrots, sliced
  • 1 cup mushroom caps, quartered
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 1/2 tsp chopped fresh thyme
  • 1 Tbs plus 1 tsp. all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup cold water
  • 2 cups diced chicken thighs, cook ahead of time
  • 1 egg beaten with 1 tsp. water

To make the quick puff pastry, in the bowl of a stand mixer, stir together the flour and salt. Fit the mixer with the paddle attachment, scatter the butter over the flour mixture and mix on medium speed until the butter is the size of large peas and coated with flour. On medium-low speed, add the vinegar and then drizzle in the ice water until the flour mixture is moistened and starts to come together. You may not need all of the water.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface, gather it into a ball and knead lightly. Roll out into an 11-by-17-inch rectangle, 1/2 inch thick. Dust off the excess flour from the surface with a clean, dry dish towel. Roll out and fold in half. If the dough seems warm, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 15 minutes. Using the rolling pin, press the folded dough lightly. Cut the folded rectangle into thirds, and wrap each piece tightly with plastic wrap. For use in this recipe, refrigerate 1 piece for at least 1 hour or up to overnight.

Heat a saucepan over medium-high heat and warm the butter. Add the onion and celery and sauté until golden, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the carrots and mushrooms and sauté 3 minutes. Pour in the wine, bring it to a simmer and reduce for 3 minutes. Add the stock and thyme and simmer until the vegetables are crisp-tender, about 5 minutes.  Add the flour. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer until the vegetables are just tender, about 5 minutes. Add the diced chicken, return to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 5 minutes to heat the chicken through. Remove from the heat and pour into a bowl, let cool.

Preheat an oven to 400°F. Lightly butter a 9-inch pie dish. Pour the filling into the dish. On a floured work surface, roll the pastry into a 12-inch circle. Brush the top and bottom of the edge of the dish with some of the beaten egg. Lay the dough over the filling. Crimp the dough against the lip of the dish with the tines of a fork. Brush the top of the potpie with the remaining egg. Cut a few vents in the center. Bake until the crust is golden and the filling is hot and bubbling, about 45 minutes. Let cool for 15 minutes before serving.

That one time we spring breaked….

This morning, I rolled over in bed and pretended to still be asleep so I could squeeze in a little social media time before having to confront the day ahead. It was only 6AM and David had already gone downstairs with the boys. It was only going to be a quick 5 minute review of the latest friend posts. Then I saw my friend Becca’s latest blog post about that time she nearly died while we vacationed in Daytona Beach for Spring Break. It made me laugh out loud reading through the deadly story she shared only because that trip was doomed from the start! We were a couple of still too good for our own good Sophomores at BC when we decided to try our first big Spring Break getaway to none other than Daytona Beach. Now you might be thinking, this is the destination of choice for co-eds. Except BC’s break was at least 3 weeks before springtime temps so we headed to Daytona in February. While most coeds would immediately hit up some hostel near the water where college kids were guaranteed to find underage drinking, boys in high supply, and parties all hours of the day, we settled down at my grandmother’s boyfriend’s condo about 15 miles north of Daytona in Ormond Beach. Aside from our group of 8 girls, the next youngest resident at the Surfside North Condo must have been a snow bird from Canada spending retirement down south. It was a quiet, slow, and very low-key spring break. We baked cupcakes, watched TV, read books on the sand, and did homework! Not your typical Spring Break vacation but we were also pretty naive and I think we still are and I like that.

The wildest thing we did was we hung out with a couple of Embry-Riddle boys. My high school boyfriend, Vinny, was attending Embry-Riddle, and Becca fell for one of his friends, and we all went out a few nights to hang out with the boys our age and dance at a club. Becca was super sick & still trying to get some time with her boyfriend, Kellyanne was trying to take care of Becca and be her wingman, Kaelin wasn’t interested in the boy nonsense and frosted our cupcakes with neon green frotsting, Laura was ready to drag Kaelin out to the club with us come hell or high water, and I was interested in getting some solo time with Vinny. It was all a bit silly and dramatic and the condo was decorated like an old man bachelor lived there because oh yea one did for at least 6 months a year! Vinny and his friends entertained us with fashion shows of Bermuda shirts and golf pants from Mr. Mueller’s wardrobe which he had left behind in the closets.

Then one night, Becca went to the hospital and I was held up at gun point. I was coming home from dinner with Vinny. We pulled into the parking garage and just when Vinny turned off the car, he turned about and shouted “Duck.” Now, in a crisis, some people are born with the natural ability to follow orders or the ability to take the lead. In this moment, I heard “Duck” and immediately whipped around and saw a car had pulled up behind us, and a man was leaning out of his window with a gun beckoning us out. My immediate thought was, “This is how I die,” time to freeze up like a goat. Somehow Vinny made a move towards his car door and as he opened the door to follow the orders of the assassin, the car alarm went off and the driver hit the gas and sped away. Shaken and confused and sick to my stomach, I dialed the police and gave a rambling description of what happened and where we were. What felt like a lifetime later, the police arrived and escorted us into their car to identify the suspect who had been pulled over down the road for speeding. It felt like a daze and we saw the person again this time from behind the safety of the police car’s spotlight. He was apprehended and the police drove us back to the condo. We were given the card for the sergeant and told we would be hearing from a lawyer and going to court and coming down for depositions and going to trial, and my mind was racing. We walked into the condo to see our friends and I immediately burst into tears.

It has been over ten years since this happened, ten years since we botched our Spring Break which had some of us hospitalized and others of us mugged, but after the PTSD settled down for me, the silver lining to this wild tale (which I have never written down) is that I have never had jury duty and might never since my status is “victim” and so maybe something random did come out of that odd and funny friend vacation. It’s funny how despite all of our good intentions to have a mild Spring Break we still ended up with a hospital visit and crime checked off for our accomplishments. Interestingly, neither Becca nor I stayed with the boys who were present during those daunting times. Why did I add that? I am not sure, but I guess I always thought after experiencing something like that, something like an armed attack we would be linked forever, but not so much.

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Shepard’s Pie

On December 18, we eat sausage and rice casserole. David’s birthday request is a standard meal from childhood. A dish full of family folklore and a recurring request across all birthdays on David’s side. It is a simple and direct meal with few ingredients and even less prep. It is delicious and not a grain of rice is left after mealtime. Clearly, it is a birthday request meal I can easily stand behind. Then David said, “I think this might be my new favorite meal for my birthday!” What could this meal be? What dish could possibly unseat the casserole that has stolen hearts and minds for the past 36 years?  Hold your breath…..it’s shepard’s pie!

I know what you are thinking: Really?  Yes, really!

  • 2 lb ground beef or lamb
  • salt and pepper
  • olive oil
  • 8 Tbs unsalted butter
  • 1 large yellow onion, chopped
  • 3 carrots, chopped
  • 3 celery stalks, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/3 cup  all-purpose flour
  • 3 1/3 cups beef broth
  • 2/3 cup dry white wine
  • 2 tsp rosemary
  • 3 lb potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
  •  1/3 cup heavy cream
  • 1 cup frozen peas

Preheat an oven to 325°F. Season the beef with salt and pepper. In a large ovenproof pot over medium-high heat, warm the olive oil. Browned the beed. Transfer to a plate.
In the same pot over medium heat, melt 4 Tbs of the butter. Add the onion, carrots, celery and garlic, cover and cook, stirring, until the carrots are crisp-tender, about 5 minutes. Uncover, sprinkle with the flour and stir well. Stir in the broth and wine. Add the rosemary. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring to scrape up any browned bits from the pot bottom. Return the beef to the pot, cover, place in the oven and cook until about 1 1/2 hours. About 30 minutes before the dish is ready, oil a baking dish. In a saucepan, combine the potatoes with salted water to cover and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium, and simmer until the potatoes are tender, 20 to 25 minutes. Drain well. Cut 3 Tbs. of the butter into pieces and add to the potatoes. Using a potato masher, mash the potatoes while adding enough cream to create a smooth texture. Season the meat mixture with salt and pepper, stir in the peas and pour into the prepared baking dish. Spread the mashed potatoes on top. Cut the remaining 1 Tbs. butter into bits and use to dot the top. Bake until the top is lightly tinged with brown, about 20 minutes. Enjoy!

Don’t sweat the morning

8AM is the deadline. The distance is 30 miles. The task is to wake up, shower, dress, feed the family, dress the kids, wrestle them into the car, drop them off at daycare, hustle down the highway, park the car in an overcrowded lot, make it into the building and into class, teach a full day, attend meetings, and then reverse the routine and get home by 5PM. Each morning can feel like a battlefield and I might break out into a sweat before 6AM. But most days we make it, and on time, and in one piece and on a Wednesday, like today, when we are halfway through this maddening  routine, I can see the weekend ahead!

P is for Potter!

It might only be about two weeks into my new craft, but I am completely smitten by it all. Less than two miles from my home is this tiny white antique home whose first floor is entirely dedicated to pottery making. I ran by this little quaint home so many times when I was training for my half-marathon this summer and always wondered what exactly went on in the Center of Arts. When researched, it became clear that this little home was the cultural center of our town where kids and teens and adults flexed their creative muscles in classes from watercolors and acting to wheel-throwing. Immediately, I was intrigued! Could I take a class here? Could I make it work within the busy schedule of a full-time working mom? While the idea flirted about in my mind for months, it never felt like it would really work out. Between grading and little ones and wanting to connect with my hubs, when would I hone a hobby? Then on my 33rd birthday tucked into my birthday card, David smiled as I opened the piece of paper that said, “Surprise! For the next 3 months Tuesday nights are YOUR night to get creative, meet new people, and make new things.” It was awesome!

David is the king of hobbies and interests. He always has something cool cooking in his head from bread baking to the guitar to programming arduinos and chess, he is never short on ideas on how to hone his mind and entertain his spirit. I on the other hand have major struggles in this department. When we were dating, we googled “What are people’s hobbies” to help me look through an extensive list of what people get into in case there was something for me to get behind. I chose knitting and while that was fun, I suffered from narcolepsy whenever I settled into an afternoon of knitting and purling. Maybe it was too relaxing? Maybe I was not really ready for hobby and my body was like, “What are we doing something for ourselves…shut systems down!” It only lasted a season. Then my free time was mostly being a teacher. There is so much to bring home when you are a teacher that nights can easily be consumed by lesson planning, curriculum development, and grading. Oh, the dreaded pile of grading! Then came the babies and I was doomed to lose sight of creative exploits that I had yet to even really grasp.

Now that Owen is closing in on that two year birthday and Henry is 3.5, things just feel really different. We are all sleeping, they are eating well, and are so easy these days too. They play and pick up and go and life just feels lighter. My mind is so much clearer as it no longer is consumed with baby-logistics like: When will I breastfeed next? What do I need in my diaper bag? What toys and gear should we have? Where will the boys nap? How do we get home in time for naps? Do we just do a car nap? When will I cook dinner? How will I fold laundry or take a shower? Our routine these days is so simple and easy and I just love so much this stage of life. It literally feels like a light has switched on and I am able to look up out of the trench of early motherhood and look around a bit.

So getting that gift certificate to become a potter was the most exciting thing! On Tuesday nights, I kiss the littles and hold tight to David for a moment longer before putting on some cozy clothes and a pair of clogs (for some reason, I feel like as a potter I should wear clogs), and head to class. What I have learned so far is that I have a deep, deep need to be teacher’s pet. I also have false expectations about how easy it should be. When I made my first misshapen pot and beamed with pride, I turned to the woman beside me and saw her perfect Roman vase and thought, “damn this is hard stuff.” But I find that while I am not a prodigy of pottery, I am loving to learn and learning a lot from being a student, from being vulnerable, and from taking this risk on my own and going way out of my comfort zone. I have never been a maker but have secretly always wanted to make. I am hoping this journey teaches me how to make mugs, plates, and bowls but also how to have fun, learn a craft, believe in myself, learn a new discipline and a new patience, and build a long commitment to being a potter. I have this fantasy too to replace all the mugs in my house with ones I have made. So, if you would like me to make you something drop a line below because I am planning on going through all the clay in the studio and would love to share my misshapen (maybe one day shapely) creations with you too!