Home cooking: Pies for cold winter nights
There were three generations of Muellers in attendance at Joyce and Ted’s log cabin for Thanksgiving dinner. Their son, JT, built the cabin 18 years ago, and it has been transformed by Joyce’s elegant style which she brought from her 38-year career in New York’s fashion industry.
There were 18 of us to enjoy two smoked turkeys from Moe’s BBQ in Breck, roasted salmon and a plethora of side dishes brought by the rest of us. My favorite was the gravlax (cured salmon) made by Tony, the boyfriend of Sierra, one of Joyce and Ted’s lovely granddaughters.
Dinner started at 4 p.m. and when I left after 7, with Joyce generously driving my night-sight-impaired self the short distance home, my heart was filled with happy thoughts about how holiday meals bring us together. From the passenger side of the car, I spied a gorgeous full moon peeking through towering pines and scudding between clouds that spilled snowflakes.
For the next two days it snowed. Tucked under a colorful wool blanket I’d knit two years earlier, I spent the weekend knitting scarves to give away during Advent, while watching my beloved Michigan Wolverines get pulverized until I surrendered to Netflix to watch a series called “Dogs,” about dogs. I continued to knit and watch the falling snow and thought about the perfect food to serve during a snowstorm.
Comfort is what we need. Hearty pies, not sweet, but savory. Filled with meat and vegetables. Easy to make but filled with reminiscences of fireplaces, star-filled cold nights, red wine, friends and family.
I’ve read there’s another snowstorm on the way this weekend. Which means it’s time to get cooking.
Chicken Pot Pie
Or a seafood pie for something equally delicious
Honestly, this pot pie can be made with lots of shortcuts if you’re in a hurry, as you’ll see below. I won’t tell, and your guests likely won’t notice. If you’re feeling adventurous, substitute the chicken with hearty chunks of salmon, cod and shrimp, and leeks for the onions. Gently sauté the uncooked seafood in the milk (bechamel) sauce for a minute or two, it will finish cooking in the oven.
2-3 bone-in skin-on chicken breasts (Shortcut: use a store-bought rotisserie chicken)
2-3 carrots diced
2 stalks celery diced
1 onion diced
(Shortcut: you can buy a bag of pre-cut carrots, celery and onions in the frozen vegetables aisle)
2 tablespoons of butter
2 tablespoons of flour
1 cup of milk or half and half
Grating of fresh nutmeg
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
Salt and pepper to taste, sprinkling of paprika
1 sheet of defrosted puff pastry
1 egg beaten (for egg wash)
Preheat oven to 400°. If you are using the bone-in chicken breasts, sprinkle with olive oil, salt and pepper, place on a sheet pan and roast the chicken breasts in the oven for about 35 minutes. Remove the chicken breasts and allow to cool to room temperature. Remove the meat from the bone and roughly tear into bite-sized pieces. If using a rotisserie chicken, do the same with the cooked meat.
In an ovenproof skillet, like a cast-iron skillet, sauté the diced vegetables in 1 tablespoon of butter (called a mirepoix) until just tender, but not soft.
Remove the vegetables from the skillet and then melt the remaining tablespoon of butter, add the flour and allow the flour to cook until a golden color. Then add the milk and stir vigorously with a whisk or fork until the bechamel sauce thickens, stir in the seasonings to allow the sauce to absorb their flavors. Add in the sautéed vegetables and chicken (or seafood). Gently mix together and remove from the stovetop heat and allow to cool for five minutes. Top the skillet with the puff pastry, gently pressing the pastry edges along the outer edge of the skillet since it will shrink as it bakes. Cut 2-inch slits in the top of the pastry to allow steam to escape and brush pastry with beaten egg, which will give the pastry a golden glow. Place the skillet in the oven and bake until the pastry is puffed and deliciously golden brown. Remove from oven and allow to rest for 5–10 minutes before serving. Yes, all good things come to those who wait.
Mushroom or Beef Shepherd’s Pie
Here’s what I’ve learned this year: Vegetarian versions of our favorite meat dishes are not only easy to create, they are equally delicious. As you’ll see this dish provides the option of using either 1 pound of mushrooms or ground beef. If you have stalwart carnivores whose horizons you’re trying to gently broaden, why not try a half pound of each? Honestly, I love that option.
For the filling
1 1/2 pounds of cremini (or a mixture of) mushrooms or 1 pound of ground beef, or half of each
1 tablespoon of butter if you’re sautéing mushrooms, unnecessary if you’re cooking ground beef
1 large onion diced
2-3 carrots diced
1 clove of garlic minced
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 good swirl of Worcestershire sauce
Salt, pepper, freshly grated nutmeg to taste
For the mashed potato topping
4 russet potatoes, cut into large chunks (I like to keep the skins on, but you can remove them if you prefer)
½ cup milk or half and half
4 tablespoons of butter
1-2 cloves of garlic
1 tablespoon of fresh thyme leaves
1 cup of shredded cheese, cheddar or your favorite hard cheese
Preheat oven to 350°. In an ovenproof skillet — cast-iron is great here — sauté the carrots, onions and mushrooms in butter, (or fry the ground beef) until cooked through. Add the tomato paste, Worcestershire sauce and season with salt, pepper and freshly grated nutmeg. While the vegetables and/or ground beef cook, boil the chunks of potatoes and the cloves of garlic in a pot filled with salty water until easily pierced with a knife. Drain the potatoes and garlic and mash with milk and butter. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg and set aside. Gently spread the mushroom, beef, vegetable skillet with the mashed potatoes. Add the grated cheese and bake until heated through and the cheese is melted. Remove from the oven and allow to rest for 10 minutes. Add a few slivers of butter to melt on top of the potatoes and sprinkle with thyme leaves for a fragrant finishing touch.
Suzanne Anderson lives in Breckenridge.
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