Sunday, January 31, 2010

cold nights and warm pot pie

Lately I've been running everywhere. In the morning I run to the train, then I run in between all my classes, run home from the train, run to work and home again. If you could call it a run. An awkward winter hustle is more accurate, my hands shoved in my pockets, my head down low, an uncomfortable waddle as I try to keep my cheap backpack from smacking me in the face. 

The other night, after watching Heathers and pigging out on sundaes with a friend, I walked for the first time in weeks. It was a "warm night", about 25, and I was content just to walk briskly, shoulders back through the drunken wasteland that is my neighborhood on a Friday night. It helped I wasn't wearing a backpack. It felt so good to slow down and look around. 

Tonight, I'm running from homework. These past few days have been rough and I can't quite place why. Or I don't want to. So when I got off work today the last thing I wanted to do was sit down and work on my Research Methods project. Sexual promiscuity and gender differences was the last thing I wanted to delve into.  Instead, I turned to my favorite distraction: food. With the support of my family (and their wallets) I was able to make this fabulous pot pie my winter weary heart has been craving. So I slowed down for a little bit, labored over the stove, ate a meal with the family, and tried to breathe a little bit. 

And now to further postpone the homework, I thought I should immediately come home and share the recipe. I waited three weeks to make this, but that doesn't mean anyone else should have to. 

Chicken & Fennel Pot Pie
inspired by Bon Appetit, February 1995

Makes 8 individual portions or one large casserole dish. An aesthetic and availability choice really.

-5 cups low-sodium chicken broth
-1 large fennel bulb, trimmed, core removed, and sliced super thin
-1 3/4 pounds skinless, boneless chicken breasts, cut into 1 inch cubes
-1 cup diced carrot
-3/4 sliced button mushroom
-5 Tbs unsalted butter
-5 tbs unbleached white flour
-2 cups milk
-2 Tbs fresh lemon juice
-2 tsp. fennel seeds
-1/2 tsp. salt
-1 tsp. garlic powder

Pie Crust:
-3 cups sifted all purpose flour
-3/4 tsp salt
-3/4 cup unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks), chilled
-4 1/2 Tbs vegetable shortening, chilled
-6 Tbs water

1 egg white

Bring chicken broth to a boil in a dutch oven. Add fennel, cook about 7 minutes. Add chicken  and carrot next, simmer all until carrot is tender, about 10 minutes. Pour into strainer over a bowl, reserve.

Preheat oven to 375.

Melt butter in large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add flour, stir for 2 minutes. Slowly add milk plus half a cup of reserved broth (discard rest of broth, or save for another use), until sauce is thick, about 4 minutes. Add lemon juice, fennel seeds, salt, garlic powder, and the sliced mushrooms. Add chicken mixture. Pour into 8 individual ramekins or a casserole dish. 

Meanwhile, roll out dough. Place on top of ramekins or casserole. Brush dough with whisked egg white.  Bake in oven until dough is golden and your whole kitchen smells heavenly, about 40 minutes. 

Sit down, breathe, enjoy :)

Pie Crust
Combine flour and salt in processor and blend. Add butter and shortening and process, using on/off turns, until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add 4 tablespoons water; blend in. Add enough additional water by tablespoonfuls to form moist clumps. Gather dough into ball; flatten into disk. Wrap in plastic and chill until cold, at least 1 hour or up to 1 day. Makes 8 small cups or enough to cover a casserole. 

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

cloudy with a poached egg on top

I've heard good things about this cooking for one business. The self-indulgence, total reliance on your own taste and schedule, etc. Theoretically, it sounds okay. But to me cooking is all about sharing and experiencing food with those you love, those you're just getting to know, or those you really want to impress. However, a girl has got to eat. And a girl can't always wait on others to eat. So the reluctant attempt at cooking for one begins. 

But this recipe, so perfectly sized, so simple, so tasty... this recipe has changed my mind. Last week all this cold (12 degrees!) weather had me craving spaghetti carbonara, a primal instinct nurtured through a vague memory of my mother's pasta carbonara.  Finding no sufficient recipe in my cookbooks, I took to the internet where I found this perfect Ali sized dinner. 

I have made this recipe twice in the last week, and will probably whip it up again tonight. Indulgent and simple usually do not coexist. Fortunately for all of us ex-pat southerners miserable in this cold, here it does. This recipe takes me about 20 minutes to make, and provides the most satisfying single meal a girl could ask for. Just the thing to curl up with on the couch and eat. 

Pasta Carbonara with a Poached Egg
Adapted from the Gourmet Today cookbook

makes the perfect amount for just you

-2 bacon slices, cut into 1 inch pieces (i usually use turkey bacon to be virtuous)
-1/4 pound spaghetti or capellini
-1/2 Tbs. unsalted butter
-1/3 cup grated parmesan, plus a bit more for topping
1-2 Tbs. parsley or tarragon (optional)
-1 egg

Cook bacon in a large skillet until crisp. Move with slotted spoon to paper towels to drain.

Cook pasta in boiling water until al dente. Reserve 1/3 cup water, transfer pasta with tongs to a small bowl, shaking off water. Keep the water simmering.

Pour off all but a tablespoon of bacon grease from skillet, whisk butter in at medium heat. Add spaghetti, reserved water, cheese, and a healthy few shakes of pepper. Cook while stirring until sauce is thick and clings to pasta, about 2 minutes. Add bacon, herbs, and toss. Season with salt & pepper. 

Break egg into simmering water, poach about 2-3 minutes until white is firm.

Serve pasta topped with egg. Devour. 

Monday, January 25, 2010

the perfect pizza for your winter couch potato

I must admit I occasionally have the tendency to overload on flavors. My last pizza had 4 types of cheeses, crushing the delicate crust into soggy mush. When I found this recipe, which promised to unload my kitchen of several forgotten ingredients, I worried this would be another case of gilding the lily. 

Fortunately for me, and the boy sharing the pizza, the flavors complemented each other instead of getting into a sloppy fight for my taste buds' attention. Like that other pizza. The bright acid is the perfect foil for the intense gorgonzola, already a little subdued from the mozzarella, and the acorn squash makes me feel virtuous for embracing my winter veggies. 

The pizza, or arguably flat bread, base turned wonderfully crispy, the mozzarella and gorgonzola barely blistered on top. Top that with the sweet and spicy acorn squash then finish with the lemony arugula. I must say it was the perfect pizza to make on one of those days so gray your only option is to stay in and work through your stock piled Netflix movies. Preferably with the cute boy of your choice. Javier Bardem in Vicky Christina Barcelona did the trick for

Roasted Acorn Squash and Gorgonzola Pizza
adapted from Giada DeLaurentis

makes enough for about three people who are moderately hungry

1 1-pound acorn squash
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes or to taste
salt & pepper
1 pound pizza dough
1 cup shredded mozzarella
2/3 cup crumbled gorgonzola
fat slice of lemon

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.

Next slice your acorn squash into 1/2 thick half moon slices. Discard seeds and innards. (or toast the seeds with cumin for a tasty snack) Toss with brown sugar, olive oil, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper. Place on a foil lined cookie sheet and bake for about 20 minutes, until fork tender and delicious.

In the meantime, prepare your pizza. Roll the dough out on a flour dusted surface to about 12 inches diameter. Sprinkle with the cheeses and place on a cookie sheet or pizza stone. Once your acorn squash is out of the oven, toss the pizza in, still at 375.  Bake until the cheese blisters and the crust is golden, about 25 minutes. 

Top the pizza with the acorn squash (skins removed). Toss the arugula with a hefty squeeze of lemon, some salt and pepper, and place on pizza before serving. Eat.