Thursday, 7 July 2016

Lemony Leek Pot Pie




I have to admit that I'm a sucker for a good pot pie. Whether it's my rampant Anglophilia or just the fact that I love breaking through pastry to get to savoury fillings, I'm not sure... but if I had to offer up one of my personal ultimate comfort foods, it would be some type of pot pie.

I'll often bake these for people who are going through a tough time, as pies freeze well and can be heated up in the oven whenever someone actually has an appetite. They're not best suited for funeral receptions, but instead are ideal for savouring alone or with a couple of friends; people in whose company we're totally comfortable, so we won't fret if we drop a few creamy peas onto our laps while eating.

Omnivore and vegan options are listed side by side below: when I make a chickeny pie for myself, I'll make one with tofu or other faux chick'n alternative for Sir N.
As a side note, if you or the people you're preparing this for don't have to eat gluten-free, please don't feel that you're required to make your own pie crust for this: you can absolutely use frozen pie shells, or puff pastry, or even a few sheets of phyllo instead. 

Gluten-Free Pie Crust Ingredients:

This pie crust is a variation on Anna Olson's flourless pie crust: I've just reduced the sugar so the crust can be used with a savoury filling.
  • 2 cups brown rice flour
  • 1/2 cup tapioca starch
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup EACH chilled cream cheese and chilled unsalted butter (or 2 cups Earth Balance)
  • 2 egg whites (or 1/2 cup aquafaba)

Directions:

Use a whisk to combine all the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Cut the cream cheese and butter (or Earth Balance) into 1/2 inch pieces, and work into the dough with a pair of forks until a crumbly texture is formed.

In a separate bowl, whisk your eggwhites (or aquafaba) until frothed up, and then blend them into the dough. Take care not to overwork it: it should all just be combined. Separate the dough into 2 balls, flatten them into discs, cover with plastic wrap, and chill for an hour or so prior to use.



Pie Filling Ingredients:

  • 2-3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (OR a brick of semi-firm tofu, OR a package of Gardein Chick'n Scallopini)
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • A few twists of ground pepper

Marinate the chicken breasts in the above mixture for at least an hour, then sear in a hot pan until browned on all sides. Set aside until cooled a bit, then chop into bite-sized pieces. If using the Chick'n Scallopini patties, just chop them up and season with a bit of lemon and salt.



Filling:

  • 3 leeks, sliced thinly (white and pale light green parts only), washed, and drained
  • 1/4 cup butter OR Earth Balance
  • 2 cups chicken OR onion OR vegetable stock
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh tarragon
  • 1/2 teaspoon summer savoury (dried)
  • 1/4 teaspoon thyme (dried)
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/4 cup gluten-free flour
  • 1/4 cup whipping cream OR heavy coconut cream
  • 1/2 cup fresh green peas, or if using frozen, pre-thawed

Directions:

Preheat your oven to 350-375, depending on your oven. Grease a 6-cup deep pie plate/baking dish, or a few individual ramekins, depending on whether you'd like to bake one large pie or several small ones.

Heat the butter/Earth Balance in a large skillet on medium heat, and once it starts to bubble slightly, sautée the leeks for 3-5 minutes, or until the soften and start to look transparent.

Add the stock, herbs, lemon juice, and zest, and bring up to a boil. Add the chicken/tofu and green peas, and bring down the heat to low so that it simmers.

In a small separate saucepan, make a roux out of the olive oil and flour by whisking it together into a paste and cooking it until golden, and then add that into the simmering mixture, using a wooden spoon to combine everything well. Add the cream, and continue to simmer until the mixture starts to look glossy. Remove from heat.



***This is where you get to decide if you're going to make this a 1-crust or 2-crust pie. 1-crust is a good option for someone who wants to cut carbs. I like to make a 2-crust pie to make it a bit heartier. The only difference in preparation is that for a 2-crust version, you'll roll out one of the pastry discs and press it into your pie dish, pierce it slightly with a fork here and there, and pre-bake it for about 8 minutes to firm it up a bit. Then continue with the 1-crust directions as follows:

Pour this mixture into your deep baking dish, or those jaunty little ramekins. Roll out 1 disc of  pastry dough 1/4 inch thick and drape it over the dish. If you find that there's too much pastry hanging down the sides, trim it back a little bit, but leave enough that you can really seal the edges well. You can either freeze this leftover pastry if there's enough to use for something else, or you can cut out decorative shapes for this one and stick them onto your pie with a bit of leftover cream.

Cut a small steam hole in the crust, brush with cream or beaten egg, and bake for 30-40 minutes, or until the pastry turns gold and the inside mixture seems intent on bubbling out from beneath it.

As a side note, as delicious as this is as a pot pie, you don't have to put a crust onto it at all. It's just as gorgeous as a stew served over gnocchi or rice or dumplings or even just on its own. I've even been known to add some stock to it and make it a thick, creamy soup if I'm just making a batch for myself.

My usual suggestion to make it your own holds true: add more (or less) lemon, toss in some diced celery or carrots if you like them, or chopped tarragon, or big handfuls of shredded greens. It will be lovely no matter how you adjust it.


Saturday, 2 July 2016

The Ubiquitous Mr. Jello Mould



There seems to be one particular dish that has made its way to just about every funeral buffet I've ever attended, and that is the jello mould. From the mountains of fruit- and marshmallow-filled offerings brought by Mormon neighbours to the creamy coconut jelly I saw quivering at a Buddhist Chinese ceremony, the ubiquitous jelly seems to have infiltrated mourning services worldwide.

Occasionally referred to as a jello salad (for reasons I have yet to sort out, as I tend to see salads as vegetable dishes notably lacking in jiggle), these voluptuous variations had their heyday in the 1950s, and have yet to disappear from mainstream culinary culture. Whether it's someone's great aunt who makes the dish that has been her signature fare for the past 60 years, or a hipster who has discovered their parents' novelty cookbooks and has made something for nostalgia's sake, someone will inevitably show up with one of these babies to either the absolute delight or chagrin of everyone in attendance.



I did a recent poll on Facebook to gauge people's reactions to these dishes, and they were pretty much split down the middle as to whether they considered them treats or travesties. 

The ones who were nauseated at the mere thought of eating them shared horror stories about horseradish and cranberry concoctions, or shredded cabbage suspended in orange wibble, whereas the fans ululated praise for canned pear slices in lime gelatine, or citrus celebrations of layered yellow and orange packed with pineapple chunks and mandarin slices, respectively.

Personally, I've always associated Jello with being sick, as it was a mainstay in my family's fridge whenever one of us was ill... which was often. I suppose that memories such as those can be very comforting to many people, and loath as I am to admit it, it's a food that's fairly easy to knock back when one has a knotted belly or a sore throat.

Since I really can't put together a collection of funerary dishes without including a Jello something-or-other somewhere, I shall share a recipe for a wobbly sangria ring. Why? Because quite frankly, both funerals and gelatine desserts are far more tolerable when there's a copious amount of wine involved.

Sangria Jello Mould



Ingredients:

  • 2 packages (3 oz each) of strawberry, raspberry, or cherry gelatine powder
  • 3 1/2 cups sparkling white wine OR 1 1/2 cups white wine and 2 cups club soda*
  • 1 cup fresh strawberries, hulled and quartered
  • 1 cup fresh blueberries, checked for stems
  • 1 cup fresh mixed blackberries and raspberries
  • 1/2 cup black, red, or white grapes, halved 

*If you absolutely have to make this alcohol-free, you can swap in a high-quality grape juice instead of the wine. 
I suppose. 

Preparation:

Grease a 6-cup ring mould or bundt pan with cooking spray, and set aside.

Heat wine to boiling in a saucepan, remove from heat, and stir in the gelatine powder. Use a whisk to ensure that all of it dissolves, and then set it aside to cool for about 10 minutes. Refrigerate until it just starts to firm up a little bit: maybe 30-40 minutes at most.

Remove from the fridge and gently fold in all the fruit. Use a spatula to transfer this into your prepared ring mould, taking care to distribute the fruit as evenly as possible. Pop it back into the fridge and cool for at least 6 hours (although overnight is best).

Invert over your serving plate and shake gently to dislodge it. Be sure to cheer heartily when it plops out looking like an exotic, if rather wobbly jewel.



Note: nostalgic food can be great, but only if significant effort is made to make it appeal to modern palates.
If whatever gelatine thinger you choose to prepare contains meat, celery, cottage cheese, olives, pimentos, tuna, or eggs, you will be shunned by your family members as well as your friends, and you will deserve every moment of it.