Friday, February 15, 2013

In Brown Gravy

Let's just skip right over the fact that it's been a long time. So, hey, I'm cookin squirls!  In brown gravy!

Brown gravy just doesn't sound at all appealing, does it?  The first thing the words used to bring to my mind was the unfortunate time I once signed up for a "tasting panel" at McCormick Spice Company. McCormick is headquartered near where I live and you can sign up to do focus groups and taste testings at about $50 a pop. So I go in and taste literally ten different kinds of brown gravy, the kind you mix out of the foil packet with some water. Yes, as good as it sounds.

But then a trip to Louisiana last year, to hang out with the very last Cajuns who do crawfishing for a living, introduced me to a very different kind of brown gravy.  We got in late the night we arrived, but our incredibly sweet and accommodating hosts, Mike and Alice Bienvenu, were waiting up for us. They fed us leftovers from their own dinner, apologizing profusely the whole time for not cooking us a brand new meal from scratch at 1 a.m. And it was only the best thing I'd ever eaten - wild duck in this incredibly rich and complex sauce. I was sure I tasted all kinds of things - wild mushrooms, complexly carmelized dark sugars, exotic spice. What on earth is this ambrosia called? Brown gravy, said Mike. It's how we cook just about everything, said Alice.

Last week I called Mike and asked exactly how to make that dish, transcribing his every word. So when I cooked my very first squirrels two nights ago, brown gravy was on my mind - I've had squirrel before, but always in something like Brunswick Stew and never on its own, treated like a legitimate entree.  This is what he said to do (using duck) and I tried my best to replicate:
“First of all you gotta take the feathers off, and then you take the guts out.” (Laughs). “You can cut it in pieces or cook it whole, it’s easier to brown if it’s in pieces. Season it good with red pepper (cayenne) and salt -- make it red all over with the pepper.  Then you take the point of your knife and you stab it all over the breast and on the legs, because you want that seasoning to get in there good. Get a black iron pot and put little bit of grease in, not a lot a lot of grease but enough to cover the inside where the duck won’t stick too much. And then you just put it on medium high heat, about 6 or 7 on an electric stove. Throw him in there and get him good and brown all over, keep turning him til he’s nice dark brown. And then you put a little water in there, not much, just enough to keep from sticking, and you put a lid on.  And you let it keep on til the duck gets nice and tender. Once he’s tender you cut you some onions and bell pepper, and throw that in there with a little bit more water. Then you cover it up again and cook it til it surrenders. The main thing is to season it, and you want to brown it good.  And if you got a black iron pot then you shouldn’t have a problem.

“It’s kind of trial and error. You do it a few times, you start to pick up a few tricks. You get the feel of it, how to add some little bit of water just to keep it from sticking. Not too much.

“A duck to me takes, from the time you start until you finish, about three hours. You want to cook it long because you don’t want to fight it when you eat it, you know? You put the cover on it, that’s going to smother it and help tenderize. When you cover it, the pot is going to get hotter. And the duck is going to keep browning in the pot till the very end when you add the bell peppers and the onion. I don’t know how you all like that, but the reason we put the bell peppers and all in at the end is so they don’t cook down to nothing.  So when you put the gravy on your rice that you’re going to eat it with, you still have some onions and peppers in there. But that’s it.  And basically that is how we cook everything. Everything we eat, we cook like that.  The key to it is to season it and brown it, and then you got it.”

So I tried to do exactly as Mike said, only I quailed at the making the meat literally red with the cayenne pepper.  As I was shaking it on I thought, no way will this be edible with so much cayenne, and stopped while the squirrel pieces were more of a dusty dark pink with pepper. Two hours later, though, the heat from the capsaicin had faded, leaving behind a rich and complex flavor. But not as much as I remembered from eating Mike's master class version. So at that point, when I added the peppers and onions, I put in some more cayenne, but it was really too late.  Next time I'm going deep, dark red.

Still, it was crazy delicious.  The squirrels were meltingly tender, and the flavor rich and smoky with a back-of-the-throat memory of heat. We ate them over fluffy white rice and mopped every last drop out of the skillet.

Friday, May 13, 2011

I Guess I Really DO Mean What I Say

I spend a lot of time at my mom's house. Mom's sporadic help is the closest thing I've got, as a single mother, to someone holding the other end of the stick, and the boys and I all derive comfort and enjoyment from weekends at Nanu's. Thing is it's sort of like going camping: we don't simply hop in the van and drive the hour betwixt here and there. We gotta pack first, and not just our jammies and toothbrushes. My mom does NOT see the value in organic foods, to put it mildly, and so going to visit there means pretty much taking along everything I will be wanting us to eat while we're there.

She pretends she doesn't mind that we won't so much as drink her water (yes, we even bring our own water. I'm sorry but the water there tastes awful to me, plus comes from an aquifer contaminated with MTBE a few years back by a nearby gas station). I try to not make faces at the uber-industrial comestibles in her pantry. It works out. More or less.

Last weekend, though, Mom got me. I've just been struggling along for a good long while now through an incredibly protracted, difficult and penury-inflicting divorce. Simultaneously I get to enjoy feeling guilty that my standards regarding SOLE food just aren't as high as they used to be. It's not that my beliefs have changed. More that I'm too exhausted and overwhelmed to keep up the serious and continuous work that feeding us sustainably, organically, locally, ethically AND affordably entails. Take yogurt: I've gone from making my own, weekly, from grass-fed raw milk, to buying Stoneyfield organic cream top, to...well, this is depressing, but to hoping that Dannon uses non-rBGH cows and no lowly tricks like bulking up with dried skim milk. These days I'm too tired to look it up and honestly I just don't really care as much as I once did. Scurried a few rungs downward on Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs scale, have I. Anyway, once upon a time when energy and/or optimism flagged I could take my class privilege and buy Amish raw milk yogurt, or really fantastic local yogurt I utterly adore from a farm whose name I am too utterly tired to drag forth from my brain right now. Seven bucks a quart, though, I just don't have that kind of financial wherewithal anymore.

But I digress. Nanu had just returned from a visit to BJ's WHolesale Club with a clamshell of Campari (tm) tomatoes. It's early May and the last time I had a tomato that tasted anything like a tomato was probably October. But these were terrific: great texture, firm and aromatic and hoo boy tasty. Some dim memory twitched, something about genetically engineered tomatoes, wherein scientists figured out how to keep the gene for ripening turned on while switching off the (evoluntionally intertwined since dawn of time) gene for softening. I suppressed it, despite a longstanding prejudice against eating food that does not rot, not to mention produce that arrives packaged in plastic clamshells, but. That seductive, fecund tomato smell. Wow. It's something of an understatement to say that my life has for rather a long while been short on sensory indulgences, so I was an easy mark. An easy mark who ate like half the tray.

I've felt sorta bad about it ever since, but not bad enough to look it up on ye olde internet. I was pretty sure my memory was accurate, that these were GMO tomatoes that I'd gorged on, so why make it worse by knowing beyond all doubt?

So. A week later I'm spending Friday night shopping Costco because that's just the kind of wild woman I am. I'm provisioning for MAPS Meet, a primitive skills workshop next week where I'm going to be teaching wild foods classes, picking up stuff that the boys will eat and that will be relatively copacetic spending four likely warmish days in a cooler. One of my favorite Costco items is actual mozzarella di bufalo from Italy -- I used to live near the very farm this stuff comes from and I'm thrilled to be able to buy fresh Campanian buffalo's milk mozz in White Marsh, Maryland (although it's now pasteurized to pacify the USDA, something the Italians would never tolerate). I picked up a tub ($11.99), thinking I'd make sandwiches between teaching sessions of traditional food preservation methods. What I was really thinking was, wow, my tiny spindly little tomato plants still under a grow light because it's been such a cold spring and dude I'm at least two months away from a homegrown tomato worthy of this cheese. And then I thought: Campari.

Yep. Sure enough, Costco gots Campari. I stood there for a really long time, holding a clamshell full of fragrant ruby-red fruit, looking and looking and lusting in my heart. My basil plants are big enough to pick from, even if my tomatoes are spindly weaklings. Insalata caprese would taste soooo good...

After who knows how long I shook it off and said aloud, stick to your principals, girly, and step away from the tomatoes. I put them back, and also the mozzarella. It can wait for the right time. Eventually things are going to get better, and tomato plants grow tall and fruitful, and I can legitimately enjoy the flavorful magic that happens when ripe tomatoes meet buffalo mozzarella, basil leaves, a drizzle of good extra virgin olive oil, and a touch of coarse salt. Even tired, even hungry and lonely and sad, I'm still me under all that baggage. And the real me still cares enough to wait for the good stuff to come along, all in the fullness of time.

Friday, April 22, 2011


Spring sure is dragging its feet this year. First asparagus finally got itself up and out of the ground fully two weeks later than in 2010, and I desperately wish the morel mushrooms would take a page from asparagus' book because they are NOwhere to be seen. At least not by me.

Every year I always start looking too early, just in case. But I've never gone this long, and on this many fruitless forays, without finding a single morel. Or, as has occasionally happened, hollow-stemmed holes in the ground from where someone else got there first. This year, I swear, I'd happily take the holes -- at least I'd know I wasn't crazy, that I hadn't somehow lost my eyes. Because the season appears here at last, all the spring cosigns to morels pushing their wrinkled snouts forth from the leaf mold are present: poplars leafing out, may apples fully unfurled, jack-in-the-pulpits open for pontification and pollenation.

My first few forays I was ok with not finding anything, because I didn't really expect to. May apples were nothing but green spikes just emerging, and the trees were bare -- and this was barely two weeks ago. But since then we've had the couple days of rainy weather followed by a really warm day pattern that morels like. In fact we've had it TWICE. And still no morels.

I go at least every other day, looking. I most often visit a place I consider my bellwether spot -- over the years it never has a lot of morels, but it has them reliably. Also I can park, hop out of the car and be standing in the midst of where the morels should be in about 3 minutes flat. I check here often, have been there at least four times -- I'm starting to lose track, seriously -- and nothing. Was there this morning, the first time I could get there after Wednesday's first seriously warm day of spring (84 degrees) and STILL nothing. Not even holes. At this point I'd welcome holes. I know I already said that. But I'm starting to get a little nuts, now.

Looking, and not finding. With no control over whether the thing I so assiduously seek will even appear, no matter how long and how hard I search. The frustration is quite serious. It's very much akin to the frustration of asymptotically approaching, yet never quite being able to reach, sexual climax -- wanting, not getting.

It's at this point I begin to doubt myself. Maybe I'm not looking hard enough? Looking in the wrong places (even though they've been right places, years past)? Maybe I've somehow lost my ability to see?

I both doubt and completely believe this last. I doubt it because I do have good eyes; at last night's Little League game I found a tiny plastic toy, not even two inches long, my four year old had lost from his pocket -- in the middle of a 2-plus acre grassy meadow that he'd been running all around for over an hour. He was quite upset but also full of touching faith that I would find it for him. The toy -- did I mention it was mainly green in color? -- could've been anywhere, but with some patient pacing and triangulation I eventually found it. These are skills I learned hunting morels.

And, while hunting and not finding, I've found all kinds of other things. Some things that look like morels:

My heart leaps each time, but only for the briefest of flashes before crashing back to the same old morel-free ground. Amazing how much heartbreak can be contained in a pinecone half buried in dead leaves.

Furthermore, I know my eyes still work because I've found other things while hunting: oyster mushrooms, nettles, two animal skulls and tons of bones. I am happiest about finding a half dozen cool old glass bottles, including an intact blue glass Ball canning jar that is at least 70 years old. Don't get me wrong, I'm happy with these finds, yet they are mere consolation prizes. More consolation -- though I am not usually given to schadenfreude -- is that friends went to one of my morel spots (which I introduced them to: credit to them for asking, first) two days ago, when I could not, on super-warm Wednesday which SHOULD have been a prime day, and ALSO did not find morels. So it's not just me.

But it is me. I'm actively miserable over this. Downright grumpy. So I have a new theory: I haven't found any yet this year because I have yet to go morel hunting in the rain. It's too dry, despite the at least four days of rain we've had in the past two weeks including pounding thunderstorms complete with tornadoes and power outages.

Now all I need is some rain. And, apparently, a life.

Consolation prizes: stinging nettles, which were delicious sautéed in butter; bottles I found in the forest while not finding morels.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Opening Day

Jack started Little League baseball recently -- his first go at an organized sport. (I know, I know, I'm un-American, keeping my kid off the field of rec-league glory until the hoary old age of eight years). Jack is adapting beautifully to Life After Little League -- there's talk of making him pitcher, kid's got a natural arm on him -- but me, not so much. We're three practices into the season and we've been late to every single one. Shoot, you may as well also count us late for the one they canceled due to rain, because I'm sure we would've been the last ones there that night too...

I don't especially care if we're a few minutes late, but Jack does. So tonight I was determined to get us to the park on time, for once. We were, of course, fantastically and record-breakingly late. BUT this time, however, I have a bona-fide gold-plated excuse for our tardiness: First Asparagus.

Seriously, I was just going to stop by our favorite farm stand...pick up a couple bunches of asparagus that were waiting there for me...cook it up later, after practice was over. I swear I didn't mean to splay out those lovely green spears on a tray, roll them around in a little extra-virgin olive oil, coarse salt and pepper. They just, um, fell into that 450 degree oven all on their own.

OK, OK, I confess: I did it. I cooked that asparagus BEFORE practice, knowing that it would take half an hour when we had to leave the house in 15 minutes, 20 max, to be on time for baseball. But I did it for the best of reasons: because my two little boys begged me to. How could any mama say no to her children's pleas for vegetables?

I was astonished at their excitement over First Asparagus, at how badly they wanted to eat it. Cole loitered impatiently in the kitchen, asking every few minutes if the asparagus was done YET. And when it came out of the oven the three of us clustered around the pan, plucking up spears with gingery fingertips, burning ourselves, dropping them, doing it again and again until finally they were just barely cooled enough to cram into our eagerly awaiting mouths.

Yes, we were late for baseball. Half an hour, actually. So sue me. We also ate every last fat, luscious spear of asparagus and walked in heads held high, smiles gleaming with olive oil and satisfaction.

A note on the asparagus: last year's First Aparagus was March 30th. It's been chilly and wet this spring and this season is rolling along a solid two weeks behind last year's. I got tired of fruitless drives past the farm stand, which since we moved is no longer along any of my daily routes. So, this year I got smart: I started emailing the farmer. He promised to let me know as soon as he put asparagus out for sale. He even gave me daily asparagus status reports ("Only 4-6 inches tall today, we need a couple days of sun before they'll be ready -- maybe Thursday?").

And, bless his heart, he did email as soon as he put out his first three bunches. We got there within the hour, and bought all three. O happy day, that hath asparagus in it.

Monday, December 27, 2010

For the Record: Jambalaya

On Xmas eve, facing an incredibly busy 24 hours ahead, one of the tasks I needed to accomplish was coming up with some sort of Xmas dinner. I had planned to bake a ham my friend Deb hooked me up with earlier this fall when she offered to split half a pastured hog from Forever Endeavor Farm .

We've already feasted on the extremely tasty, super-thick uncured bacon from this hog share, and I am looking forward to trying the ham. The thing is, it's big, this ham. Also I've never cooked a whole ham before. I have a bit of Ham Anxiety going. Plus I really, really didn't want to wreck it, and when I'm multitasking like mad on 10,000 different things that need to be done NOW is precisely the time I tend to lose track of little things like the ham in the oven.

Then I just forgot to get the darn thing out of the freezer. Since it would require at least a day to thaw that pretty much took ham off our family's Xmas menu. Standing in the grocery store late on Xmas Eve afternoon -- me and the other bazillion last-minute grocery shoppers -- casting about for a replacement meal I came up with jambalaya. I've made this recipe literally dozens of times; it's always been a go-to dish for football weekends, open house holiday scenarios, any time there's an open-ended time frame yet lots of people to feed.

The recipe comes from a cook book that I alas no longer have access to. It's a church fundraiser cooking collection from some tiny parish in Louisiana, self-published in 1982 in blurry mimeograph print. There are recipes for muskrat and alligator in there, plus all kinds of Cajun dishes -- some common outside the bayou, others I've never heard of even in Paul Prudhomme. I've made some amazing dishes from that book -- a smoky, buttery crawfish etouffe prominent among them -- but always go back to this jambalaya. It's relatively easy to put together, holds well, and tastes even more amazing the next day.

I really really wish I could reproduce the original recipe in all its glory; the directions are quite eccentrically bossy and specific. But the ingredients are right. I made this late Xmas afternoon and we've been living off it ever since.

Serve with the best French bread you can find, sliced and thickly spread with lots and lots of sweet butter.

2 lbs shrimp, peeled
1 lb andouille sausage (the andouille from Neopol in the Belvedere Market makes for a truly outstanding jambalaya)
1 c chopped onion
i c chopped green pepper
1/2 chopped celery
4 cloves garlic
1/8 t cayenne
1/2 t salt
4 bay leaves
1/2 t chili powder
1.5 t thyme
1.5 t basil
1/4 t allspice
1/4 t cloves
2 cans stewed tomatoes, drained, reserve juice
2 c beef stock (use tomato juice to reconstitute stock if using beef base)
1.5 c rice
green onions
curly parsley
Crystal hot sauce

Sear andouille, set aside. In same pan, melt 2 tablespoons butter with 2 tablespoons oil. Sautee peppers and onions until softened, then add garlic, spices, tomatoes (drained, saving juice to make up stock if using stock base). Add stock and rice, bring to boil, cover, cook on low 20-30 min until rice is cooked. Add shrimp, stir frequently five more minutes. Stir in chopped green onions and parseley. Top with more of both, plus hot sauce. Don't forget the butter bread.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Maryjane Reunion

I am having a Not Great Day and the one thing that could seriously help right this ship, right NOW, would be some good chocolate. Since yesterday was Hallowe'en there actually is quite a bit of chocolate around the house. Unfortunately none of it's anything I want to eat. Why oh why do people not give Green and Black's for trick or treat?

So after ferreting through the guys' goody bags, rejecting inferior chocolatelike products - waaaay too much sugar, not enough endorphin-enhancing cacao -- I landed on some Mary Jane candies. Remember Mary Janes? Essentially unchewable nuggets of peanut butter and molasses? God knows what else is in there these days -- please don't tell me -- but I am really enjoying renewing my acquaintance with Miss Mary Jane, who has been around since 1914 courtesy of the Necco company. Chewing that hard, it turns out, is sorta cathartic.

Now excuse me while I go peel the wrapper off another one and crank up Cee Lo Green's single from his new album Ladykilla...Yes, the song is called "Fuck You" and it's also extremely cathartic. I highly recommend a listen, but only if you're not at work. Also you need to be someplace you can boogie frantically and without embarrassment. And if you choke on your Mary Jane candy while doing so, I am so not legally responsible.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Moment of Truth With Condensed Cream-of-Mushroom Soup

So I underwent a drastic rearranging of the old existential furniture, recently. As a result I've been very busy for a couple of weeks, moving the boys and me into a new, mostly empty, house, trying to settle us in and outfit us and keep everyone feeling cherished and safe. It's the discombobulation of a sudden new life in an unfamiliar space coupled with the keenly felt lack of small yet essential items like a pencil sharpener for Jack's homework, pot holders, dental floss, waste baskets...(when we first moved in, every time I needed to throw something away I had to journey from all over the house to the kitchen where the one and only trash can resided).

Many hands are carrying us right now -- close friends, family, even relative strangers. These people have cared for us, taken us in, given us emotional and financial support, cheered us on. We're slowly getting our feet under us here in this new life, starting to stand shakily on our own, but it's a huge and ongoing adjustment for everybody. Cole suddenly can't bear to go to the bathroom alone, asks for potty accompaniment; Jack resists bedtime like its lights out forever, not just until tomorrow morning. Me, I have developed stone cold insomnia, falling asleep easily enough but coming intractably awake at 3 am to ponder all the myriad mistakes I have made in my frivolous and wasted life.

One way I'm trying to take care of us, ease us all into the shallow end of this brand new pool, is by cooking. A lot. Part therapy, for me -- there have been remedial wee-hours blueberry scone baking incidents, for example -- and part just striving for normalcy. If in our old life we ate a lot of pancakes and paht thai, then eating those same meals in our new home, smelling the same smells emanating from a new kitchen, tasting the same flavors even though served on unaccustomed plates, will help make render the unfamiliar, familiar. Or anyway that is my passionate hope.

Given the huge amount of organization, setting up and shopping (oh god, the shopping -- I think the employees of our nearest Target store think I'm stalking them, given the frequency of my visits) required to get us settled, we've been either eating out more than usual or making use of convenience foods. Either of these are in some ways more stressful than just sucking it up and figuring out some way to stay home and make dinner for two boys who hate eggs and cheese, respectively, when eggs and cheese happen to be the only ingredients we actually have on hand. We live pretty far out in the country so driving to a restaurant, eating, and driving home is a solid 2 hour proposition. Tragically, our lovely rural setting also means pizza delivery is just so not happening at our house.

So, it's time - we live here now, and we've got to start eating here the right way, with SOLE-food integrity even if sometimes we do need to take turns with who gets to use the fork. My mom and I dropped the guys at school yesterday and headed to Wegman's to do a big time stock-up shopping trip. One of the recipes I was shopping for was chicken pot pie, a favorite of Cole's and a way to use up the remnants of the Sunnyside Farm chicken I'd roasted for our dinner the night before. It was a massive undertaking, this Wegman's trip, requiring multiple hours and carts. Although we even took a snack break at one point by the end we were both totally exhausted, overwhelmed and just plain used up. We were in the very last aisle and steaming hard for the checkout lanes when my mom reminded me that I need to grab ingredients for the chicken pot pie.

Now this pot pie recipe is a family treasure in its way, and my mom is unaware that for the past few years I've monkeyed around with its highly ritualized ingredients. When I am at the top of my game the vegetables in my pot pie, for example, come from either my garden or the CSA we belong to and not from a plastic bag of mixed frozen corn/carrots/peas as is called for in the ingredients list. Since I am currently locked out of my previous home, where all the food I've worked hard to grow, gather and preserve is stored, I recognize I'm not going to be able to hit this particular pot pie out of the park. I take comfort knowing that at least the chicken is righteous, as are the lovely Yukon gold potatoes picked up from the CSA last week, and so I don't feel too bad throwing a bag of frozen veggies into the cart. Scrolling the various ingredients for the biscuit crust through my memory, I see they'll too be anonymous but acceptable, some Bob's Red Mill organic flour that I can leaven with raw Amish butter. Okay. I can do this thing.

Until one last requirement stops me in my tracks: the Gienow classic version of this recipe calls for a can of cream-of-pretty-much-anything soup to bind the filling. It's not an optional thing, unfortunately. It's also getting late in the afternoon, I'm completely drained, and under pressure to get through the checkout line and over to school to pick up the boys in the next holy shit 34 minutes, school being a solid 25 minutes away. I'm standing there looking at the racks of Campbell's soup cans -- it would be so easy to just grab one and go, dinner deliverance right at hand. At this moment the idea of going home after all this shopping, rowdy hungry boys in tow, and whipping up a little bechamel sauce to put in the pot pie seems as within my abilities as turning loaves into fishes. But: Water, Mushrooms, Soybean Oil, Modified Food Starch, Wheat Flour, Contains Less than 2% of: Salt, Cream (Milk), Dried Whey (Milk), Monosodium Glutamate, Soy Protein Concentrate, Yeast Extract, Spice Extract, Dehydrated Garlic.

I. Just. Can't.

How can you have cream of anything that does not contain actual cream? (C'mon, less than 2% cream content is essentially a cream-free product). I guess it's the same way you can have coffee "creamer" that contains no actual dairy products -- some kind of industrial magic is worked on the soybean oil to create a convincingly cream-like product. I could just lighten the hell up: although cream of mushroom soup is like some sort of culinary punch line there's nothing in there that's actively harmful. Our food culture embraces convenience as though it were holy writ, despite the cost to our souls, waistlines and arteries. Plus, if anyone has earned a temporary pass to take a few culinary short cuts it is certainly me, now, in the middle of my own personal midlife maelstrom. The temptation to just ease on down the path of least resistance is powerful -- at this moment I am just so incredibly tired and, believe me, I really really really want to. But. I just hate food that lies to me. I place the can gently back on the shelf. I hear my mother sigh.

So we did get to Montessori pickup on time, just barely, and the boys were of course starving, all but gnawing their own arms while clamoring for dinner. And, yes, dinner's timely arrival on the table was delayed somewhat by the need for me to stand at the stove making a roux of equal parts flour and butter, browning that til the raw flour smell faded, and then whisking in chicken stock until the sauce was nice and loose before slowly stirring in cream off the top of a gallon of raw milk to get everything to the proper velvety consistency. I toted up the cost of scratch-made sauce ingredients in my head; it adds up to around the same 79 cents that can of soup would have cost. And really the pot pie still would have tasted pretty darn good, had I just gone that path of condensed soup least resistance -- no one would have known the difference.

No one, that is, except me. And the integrity of doing the right thing, even when it is the hard thing, is why I am here, cooking my heart out in this unfamiliar kitchen.


Oven to 375.

1 chicken's worth meat, chopped
1 can condensed cream of chicken soup
1 can chicken stock
1 bag frozen mixed vegetables
1 pint potatoes, scrubbed but not peeled, cubed

Boil potatoes in salted water, 8 min. Add frozen veggies, return to boil, boil 2 more minutes. Drain. Mix vegetables and chicken in 9x13 pan. Pour condensed soup into veg cooking pot; whisk stock into soup by the 1/4 cup until the soup is a thick but pourable consistency, then pour over vegetables and chicken.

1.5 cups flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1.5 cups milk
6 tablespoons melted butter

Mix dry ingredients, then quickly stir in wet ingredients. Pour over filling. Bake 30-40 minutes until topping is set and dark golden brown, and filling is bubbling around edges.


Oven to 375.

White Sauce:
3 tablespoons white flour
3 tablespoons butter
~ 1 cup good chicken or vegetable stock
~ 1/2 cup cream, half and half or whole milk

Melt butter in skillet over medium, then sprinkle flour over and stir together with wooden spoon. Keep stirring until the roux thickens and starts to turn deep gold. Slowly pour in stock, in 1/4 cup increments, and whisking between each addition, until roux loosens but still stands up. Whisk cream/milk in by the tablespoon until the sauce has thinned somewhat but still thickly coats the whisk or spoon.


2 cups cooked chicken meat, chopped or pulled into small pieces (from a pasture-raised chicken!)
4 cups total vegetables of your choice, prepped to be approximately the same size (for even cooking): i like diced carrots, green beans cut to about 1 inch lengths, lima beans, and peas. Baby pearl onions are really, really nice if you have them.
2 cups potatoes, scrubbed but skin on, cubed
2 cloves garlic
fresh rosemary

Boil potatoes in stock or salted water 8 minutes. Toss in veggies according to required cooking time -- limas take the longest time, peas the least -- returning to boil between additions, and cooking til just barely tender. Drain.

Place vegetables in 9x13 pan with chicken. Sprinkle with about 1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary and a couple cloves of garlic pushed through a press; go over with several good grinds of black pepper too. Stir in sauce until all is well incorporated. Taste for seasoning, add salt if necessary.

Pot Pie Crust:

1.5 cups flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1.5 cups whole milk
3 tablespoons melted butter
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Mix dry ingredients, then quickly stir in wet ingredients. Pour over filling. Bake 30-40 minutes until topping is set and dark golden brown, and filling is bubbling around edges.