Monday, April 26, 2010

Chicken Pot Pie with Cream Cheese Biscuits

I think I'd put just about anything into a casserole as long as it had a crust on top. My kids love pot pies, my brothers love pot pies, my friends know. This might be the essence of comfort food.

I make about forty three different versions (ok that's a little high), but this is one of my favorites. If you have homemade chicken stock you've already hit a homerun, but there's fabulous flavor here regardless. Best of all, this actually is a rather quick dish (especially for me!). It only takes a few minutes to throw the biscuits together, which you can do while the filling cooks on the stovetop. No rolling pin or floured surface required for these, and their super fluffy inside, while the tops back up golden and gorgeous. The inside is a silky cloak of creamy wow wrapping up beautiful chicken and tender veggies. A half hour in the oven and you're done. What's more Bombshell than that? (The answer would be 'nothing'!).

You'll need:

3-4 cups of cubed cooked chicken

2 medium carrots, diced (about 1 1/2 cups)

2 celery stalks, diced (about 1 1/2 cups)

1 large onion, diced (about 2 cups)

2-3 sprigs thyme

2-3 cups minced garlic

2 Tbl butter

2 Tbl olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

1/4 cup all purpose flour

1 1/4 cups homemade chicken stock

8 ounces cream cheese

1 cup frozen baby peas

For the biscuits:

2 cups all purpose flour

1-2 tsp kosher salt

1 tsp baking soda

1/4 cup cold butter

3 oz cold cream cheese

2/3 cups buttermilk

2 Tbl butter, melted

2 Tbl cream

Preheat oven to 350F.

Over medium heat in a large skillet, melt together the butter and olive oil. Saute onions, celery, garlic and carrots, along with the thyme for about five minutes, or until fragrant and crisp-tender.

Meanwhile, in the bowl of a food processor, pulse together the flour, salt and baking soda. Add the butter and cream cheese, and pulse until coarse and fully incorporated. Add buttermilk, and pulse just until combined. Dough will be nice and sticky.

To the veggies in the pan, once they've become tender, add the flour and stir well to combine. Add a cup of the chicken stock and stir well, bringing to a simmer. Add cream cheese and again stir well to combine. Bring just to a simmer, and remove from heat.

Stir in chicken and peas. Taste for seasoning, adding salt and pepper to taste. Place chicken mixture in a 9x13 casserole dish. Drop the biscuit mixture by heaping tablespoon onto the top of the casserole. Brush the tops of the biscuits with melted butter, then cream.

Bake at 350 for about 25 minutes - or until biscuits are golden and the pot pie is bubbly.

Basic Chicken Stock

Eventually I may get somewhat close to being able to tell you all the reasons that homemade stocks are worth making. May get close. The reasons frankly are too many to list. Think of it as the difference between canned spaghetti and your granny's homemade marinara with meatballs and real parmigiana.

Trust me when I say that once you've made the first three batches and seen the results in your cooking then you'll be hooked. So this is my blatant attempt to lure you into addiction to stock. You'll thank me for it. And not only is it a socially acceptable addiction, both your budget and your dishes will be grateful. You'll use it everywhere - sauces and gravies of course, but soups, stews, vegetable prep and braising...this is a workhorse in the kitchen. On top of everything else - this basic stock is not only super easy, but it's pretty much a free bonus with Roasted Chicken. See? Lovies all around!

Now classical technique calls for a multitude of different stocks - and none of them are this one. A traditional chicken stock is in one of two categories - white (or blonde stock) and brown stock. You can use these for different applications - if you want a delicate soup or butter sauce - you'd use blonde stock. If you want a heartier dish with stronger, richer flavors, then you'll want a brown stock. The main difference in these two is whether the chicken and bones are roasted ahead of time. The caramelization accompanying roasting has beautiful effects.

We're going to make this stock by stealing method from traditional stockmacking, and then shortcutting the fire out of it. I will certainly outline the methods for those techniques in their entirety soon - because they are NOT difficult, despite their reputations as high maintenance, and the results are frankly glorious. Classic technique is classic for a reason - and stocks are a great example of how good food can be elevated to miraculous.

However I would consider those to be Stocks 201. The only reason they are 201 classes instead of Stock 101 is because there are ideas that can be introduced earlier. Not even complex ideas. What I want to give you is Stock 101 - Introduction to Stock Making. The great thing about this is that what you'll get something out of it that will revolutionize your cooking - even if you never go beyond this class. Give yourself three times through this method and you'll see just where a great stock can take you.

Ready to rock? Let's go!

Ok - first off - this is 100% method - please understand that before anything else! I cannot - and will not - give you a recipe. Stock making is method - which if fabulous. But the best part is you don't need a recipe! Once you understand the method - you're completely free to do your stock as you want. I will explain why in just a moment.

I'll give you a shortcut rundown of the method in bullet form at the end of the article - but I really believe if you know WHY things happen, you'll be able to make things happen on your own when you want.

Start off with the carcass from a Roast Chicken. Whenever I roast one chicken, I'll usually just go ahead and do two. That jump starts me at least two extra meals in advance. Even if I use the extra meat for only one more dish (and I usually get two more out of it), I also have glorious stock to use as the base of another meal. For example, I will roast two chickens, and serve one as the center of a meal on it's own. (See Basic Brine for Poultry). I go ahead and 'pick' the carcasses - remove all the meat from the bones. I use the meat however I want - Boonie's Mile High Big Chicken Pot Pie, Chicken Pot Pie with Cream Cheese Biscuits, Quick Asian Chicken Salad, quesadillas, any casserole you can think of - even sliced for fabulous sandwiches. If your chickens were big (and I usually get the biggest ones I can find) you'll get at least two additional meals depending on how many you feed. The some of stock I make is used as the base for a meal on it's own, a hearty soup or stew like Chicken Love for Leigh, Chicken and Dumplings, or a risotto or grits such as Mushroom Parmesan Risotto or Creamy Cheese Grits Primavera. See? You have acres of applications for this stuff!

So - put your chicken carcass - all of it - into a stock pot and cover it with water. If you have a 'real' stock pot with a pasta insert great. You really want to use a pot that is taller than it is wide - a narrower pot is better. You want to minimize the rate of evaporation of your liquid. However, since this particular stock is not going to cook for 8-10 hours - it's really not that big a deal. The important thing is to keep all the ingredients covered with cold water. So your vessel really needs to simply be large enough to hold all the 'stuff' - bones, skin, any vegetables you roasted with it (but not citrus - discard that), and the 'goop' off the bottom of the roasting pan.

So - everybody into the pool - cover with cold water, and bring to a simmer. While more 'refined' stocks are never, never boiled, frankly I've walked away and boiled the fire out of half the basic stock I've ever made. I'm still allowed in polite society. Ideally, you want to only have the barest simmer - this keeps the taste of the stock cleaner because the fat is not emulsified into the stock itself by the movement of a boil that's too hard - instead staying seperate and floating to the top.

Once the stock has begun to simmer, skim off the scummy stuff that floats to the top. You'll see it - it's foamy and kind of a pale dirty brown. Skim it off with a spoon and discard it. Again - the world won't end if you don't get every speck, but take sixty seconds and get most of it.

Some people will tell you to go ahead and skim the fat off the top. In Stocks 201 you will probably do this - but in this stock I don't think there's any need. You added water - which is key to this. Water will dilute and remove all the fabulous flavors from the chicken and vegetables. It will then concentrate them as it cooks. It will also separate your fat for you if you let it. I'd let it. I'm all for a technique that will do the work for you.

That's it - allow it to simmer for anywhere from an hour to four hours. If you want to you make it even more low maintenance, put the whole pot in a 200F oven and walk away. Whichever you choose - oven or stovetop - just give it a peek every once in a while to ensure that the ingredients are still completely submerged. If you've lost volume due to skimming or evaporation, just add a little more water to make up the difference and continue to simmer.

Once you have hit the minimum hour (and I've even skimped to 45 minutes if I had a high chicken to water ratio), then you're ready to strain and store. Line a fine wire mesh strainer with cheesecloth, a clean nap-free washcloth or a clean cotton handkerchief. I like the reusable, washable options - they're cheaper and more readily available than cheesecloth. And for this they work really well. Just make sure you get 100% cotton, and that you don't have anything with a 'nap' that will separate and end up in your food. That's not luscious.

Place your strainer over a clean container, and pour your stock through, removing the large pieces of chicken bones and veggies. Discard all of that - it's worked hard for you. Let it go to it's eternal reward in peace. Say thank you and goodbye.

At this point - it's ready to use. You can run it through a fat separator if you wish - I usually do. But I also have a tendancy to be unable to find mine. My six year old likes to play with it as a construction scene accessory. It's doesn't matter - this is a great example of letting the kitchen science work for you. Because oil and water don't mix, the fat will rise to the top of the broth. Once it's chilled, it will solidify, and you can literally just lift it off.

Now - you'll notice that your broth is a rich, deep golden brown. That's perfect. Remember that color means flavor - try doing a side by side comparison with canned chicken broth or stock. You'll be amazed. I promise!

One last note - unlike most of my instructions, I don't say salt and reseason to taste. A couple of things here - you would have had seasonings in the roast chicken carcass you started with, especially if you had brined your bird before you roasted it. Yes, the water with which you made your stock will have diluted that a good bit, but you also spent at least forty five minutes to an hour concentrating those flavors. So be very careful there - you want your stock to taste underseasoned at this point. When you move to your next application, to use it in sauce or soup or a braise, you'll season then. Your broth will be far better if the seasonings are layered in - during the brine, then the roasting, then during the long simmer, and finally when you finish your final dish. That layering of seasonings means a depth and complexity of flavor you cannot get any other way.

Place carcass and any roasted vegetables in a stockpot with the juices from the roasting pan.

Cover carcass and all vegetables with cold water, and bring pot to a simmer. Don't boil - just a bare simmer.

Reduce heat to maintain the gentlest simmer possible. Skim the froathy foam from the top.

Allow pot to simmer for one to four hours, making sure to add water if necessary to keep the bones and vegetables covered.

Remove from heat. Strain and store in the fridge. Easy peasy!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Augostino's Baked Ziti Cover

Augostino's Baked Ziti Cover

In the town where I grew up for years was a great place named Augostino's. One of their signature dishes was a baked ziti that was out of this world. A couple of months ago I was asked if I knew how to do it - so I brushed off my old notes on previous attempts and gave it another whirl. I asked two friends of mine who had worked there how to make it - and while they didn't remember the recipe they did remember a few details that really helped (thanks Mark and Steve!). I named this a 'cover' - as when one band does a remake on another band's older song.
  1. You'll need:
    • 1 pound(s) of ziti - or mostacioli pasta
    • 2 ounce(s) of cans diced tomatoes
    • 6 ounce(s) of tomato paste
    • 1 large onion, diced
    • 1 tbsp. of olive oil
    • 1 tbsp. of anchovy paste
    • 1 bay leaf
    • 1 large sprig of thyme
    • 1 salt to taste
    • 2 tbsp. of dried oregano
    • 4 ounce(s) of pepperoni
    • 4 ounce(s) of sliced mushrooms
    • 3 cloves garlic, minced
    • 16 ounce(s) of shredded mozzarella cheese
    • 8 ounce(s) of cream cheese, room temperaturePreheat oven to 350F.
  1. Cook ziti according to package directions - just until al dente. Don't overcook - they'll finish off in the oven.
  2. In a large skillet over medium heat, saute onion and garlic in olive oil for about five minutes, or until fragrant.
  3. Add tomatoes, tomato paste, anchovy paste, bay leaf, oregano, thyme and salt - I use at least a teaspoon to start. Cook sauce for about twenty minutes, or until it has thickened and begun to reduce. Taste and adjust for seasoning.
  4. Remove sauce from heat. Combine sauce with zit and stir well to combine.
  5. In a 9x13 casserole dish, place a layer of the ziti. Top with a layer of half the pepperoni, a layer of half the mushrooms, a layer of half the cream cheese and a layer of half the mozzarella. Repeat with a second layer of each ingredient.
  6. Bake for about 40 minutes, or until the ziti is bubbly and the top has become golden brown. Allow to sit for about five minutes before serving.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Cream Cheese Quick Bread with Creamy Orange Honey Butter

For video instructions, click here!

I love quick breads. They go together so quickly, and are a fabulous way to dress up an everyday meal. You can find or adapt a quick bread to any number of flavorings, going sweet or savory as the mood takes you.
I adapted this one from a banana bread recipe, replacing part of the butter with cream cheese. The results were fabulous - the bread is tender, moist and packed with flavor!
You'll need:
  • 2 1/2 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 mashed banana
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 2 tbsp orange zest
  • 2 tbsp orange extract
  • 8 ounce cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1/4 cup butter, room temperature
  • 4 ounce cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1/4 cup butter, room temperature
  • 1/4 cup orange juice concentrate, thawed
  • 3 tbsp honey

  1. In a large mixing bowl combine flour, baking power, baking soda and salt. Wisk to combine. Set aside.
  2. In the bowl of a mixer (or by hand!), cream together 8 ounces cream cheese, butter and sugar. Add banana and orange zest. Mix well.
  3. Add orange extract, and mix to combine. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing after each until well incorporated.
  4. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, and add dry mixture to cream cheese mixture, mixing just well enough to combine.
  5. Preheat oven to 350F. Butter and flour a 9x5 loaf pan. Add batter to loaf pan and bake for one hour, to one hour ten minutes, or until wooden skewer inserted into the middle of the loaf comes clean.
  6. While bread is baking, combine four ounces cream cheese, 1/4 cup butter, honey and orange juice concentrate. Whisk well to combine.
  7. When loaf is done, allow it to cool on a wire rack for at least ten minutes before serving. Serve with creamy orange honey butter.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Southern Comfort Roasted Ham

For video instructions, click here!

I came  up with this recipe as a little tribute to my sister - who introduced me to gingersnaps in savory dishes years ago, and who loves a little Southern Comfort on occasion.
Coke and ham are a classic Southern combo, so it wasn't much of a jump from the cocktail to the glaze - with brown sugar, Dijon and a gingersnap crust, this ham is just to-die-for. It's really easy, if a tad messy for a bit - and the results are amazing. You'll like this one - trust me. :-)

The only special equipment you'll need is a spray bottle. Otherwise you'll need:
  • 1 smoked bone in ham - not spiral cut
  • 1 cup Dijon mustard
  • 2 cups brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup Coca-cola
  • 1/2 cup Southern Comfort*
  • 3 cups crushed gingersnap cookies
*If you want an alcohol free version, just use plain ol' Co-cola.
  1. Preheat oven to 250F.
  2. Rinse the ham well, and place it on a baking rack. Score the exterior of the ham with a sharp paring knife to create about two-inch sections. Don't worry about how pretty it is - it won't show.
  3. Insert the probe of a thermometer into the ham, and cover with foil. Bake at 250F until you reach an interior temperature of 130F. My own ham took about 3 1/2 to 4 hours.
  4. Remove from the oven. Using the score lines as guides, remove the skin and 'fat cap' from the ham. (save those - they make awesome stock!)
  5. Brush a layer of Dijon mustard generously over the exterior of the ham. Gently pat the brown sugar onto the mustard. This takes a few minutes - but just keep patting small handfuls on until the ham is covered.
  6. Increase the oven temperature to 350F.
  7. In the spray bottle, combine the Southern Comfort and Coke. Spritz a very fine mist over the brown sugar layer.
  8. Do the same thing with the cookie crumbs as you did with the brown sugar. The only tricky part is to work carefully so as not to knock off the crust you're building. Once the ham is completely covered with the gingersnaps, mist again with the Soco and Coke. Be sure not to over saturate - you'll make the crust too wet to stay put, and the flavors are plenty strong.
  9. Reinsert the thermometer, being careful not to hit the bone. Bake the ham again at the higher temp until the temperature reaches 140F internally. During this second baking, mist the ham with a very scant mist of the Soco and Coke about every ten minutes or so. My ham took about 45 minutes to reach the 140F.
  10. Remove from oven, and allow the ham to rest for at least 30 minutes before carving. All done!

Miss Evelyn's Carrot Casserole

For full video instructions, click here!

When I was growing up, a beautiful woman named Evelyn worked for my grandparents as a cook - and she could turn out the most wonderful things. One of my favorites was a carrot casserole. The funny thing was that I despised carrots and bell pepper both as a child. But the way she did it transformed both vegetables into something just extraordinary, and I asked for this all the time.
As an adult, I began making it myself, and changed very little about it over the years - although I've attempted a hundred variations. Her way was just the best. I did update the bechamel, and shortened the cooking time to maintain the vegetables' crispness, but not much else. This is very much comfort food for me - but even picky eaters love this one. My thanks to Evvie for the gift of this luscious dish.
  • 4 medium carrots, diced
  • 1 small green bell pepper, diced
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 2 tbsp.butter
  • 4 ounces cream cheese
  • 1 cup half and half
  • 3 Tbl flour
  • 1 pinch nutmeg, freshly grated
  • 1 tsp salt (to taste)
  • 1 tsp pepper (to taste)
  1. In a medium saucepan place the carrots, bell pepper and onion. Add just enough water to cover, and add a good pinch of salt.
  2. Place saucepan over medium high heat. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and simmer just until vegetables are beginning to get tender. Don't over cook them - you want them just barely done. About ten minutes with the physics of my kitchen. :-)
  3. Meanwhile, in a large skillet over medium heat, melt together the butter and cream cheese. Whisk well - it will be lumpy and odd looking - don't worry about it.
  4. Sprinkle flour into pan, and continue whisking well until you've got a smooth paste.
  5. A little at at time, about a 1/4 cup or so at at time, add half and half to flour mixture, whisking well to incorporate at each addition. Once all the half and half has been added, season with nutmeg, salt and pepper to taste.
  6. Preheat oven to 350F. Allow cream sauce to simmer for just a minute or two, then remove from heat. When vegetables are done, drain them well, and combine the vegetables and cream sauce. Place mixture in a 4 cup casserole.
  7. Bake for about 20 minutes, or just until the edges are beginning to bubble and the sauce has fully thickened. Don't overcook, or the veggies will get mushy.
  8. That's it - all done!