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My mother made extraordinary pastry as did my father’s sister, Mary Frances.  Their skill intimidated me and, until I decided to make pot pies commercially, I never made pastry, I would always ask mom to make it for me.  So, when I decided to open my pie shop MOM in the 1970s, I had to spend many, many hours carefully watching her make her famous pastry.  She worked with me and my dear friend, Hu Pope, who would be making the pastry daily in the bakery, torturing us with her skill and our ineptitude.  Of course, the fact that she never measured anything and kept telling us that it was all in the feel didn’t help either.  We eventually got it, but I still believe that it was mainly the use of a big Hobart mixer and a commercial pie shell press which kept our hot hands from touching the dough that gave our acclaimed pastry the same flaky texture of her homemade dough.  However, the years in the bakery eliminated all intimidation and I began fearlessly tackling pastry making.  I usually do a fine job but I still miss my mom’s touch.  Since I made chicken pies every day for 10 years, I now generally leave their preparation to the kids, except for those chilly days when I miss my mom.

When I was a child, chicken pie was often made from leftover roast chicken and gravy.  It is one of those homey dishes that can be made in almost any way – the chicken can be dark and white meat, all white meat, chopped, shredded, cubed, or turkey; the vegetables can be cubed, diced, sliced (Chris’ method,) chunked; mushrooms added.  You get the picture.  This recipe is the basic – it’s up to you to make it your own.

I share photos of my individual chicken pie.  I usually make these as an introduction to people dining with us for the first time.  I think they are homey, delicious, warming and do all the things you want to do to bring people to your table.  I also share a recent photo of one of Chris’s West Coast famous chicken pot pies.  How proud my mom would be of him.

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Serves 6 to 8

One 4 pound chicken, rinsed and cut into pieces (or 2 pounds boneless,

skinless chicken breasts cooked in about 3 cups canned, fat-free, low-

sodium chicken broth)

Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Nana’s Flaky Pie Crust (recipe follows)

4 organic carrots, well-washed, trimmed, and cubed

3 medium organic potatoes, well-washed and cubed

1 organic onion, peeled and diced

1 cup frozen petit peas, thawed

2½ tablespoons chicken fat or butter

2½ tablespoons sifted all-purpose flour

Place the chicken in a heavy saucepan, cover with cold water, and season with salt and pepper to taste.  Place over high heat and bring to a boil.  Lower the heat to a simmer, cover, and cook for about 1 hour or until the chicken is cooked through.  Remove from the heat and strain through a fine sieve, separately reserving the chicken and cooking liquid.  Set aside to cool.

While the chicken is cooking, make the pastry.  Divide the dough into two equal pieces, wrap each piece in plastic film and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes to chill before rolling.

When cool, remove and discard the chicken skin.  Pull the meat from the bones and, if necessary, cut it into bite-sized pieces.  Place the meat in a heatproof bowl and discard the bones.  Set the meat aside.

Preheat the oven to 450ºF.

Pour 3 cups of the reserved cooking liquid into a large saucepan.  Place over medium-high heat and bring to a boil.  Add the carrots, potatoes, and onion and again bring to a boil.  Season with salt and pepper to taste, lower the heat, and simmer for about 12 minutes or just until the vegetables are barely cooked.  Remove from the heat and stir in the peas.  Strain the vegetables, separately reserving the vegetables and the liquid.

Place the chicken fat or butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat.  When melted, stir in the flour.  When blended, whisk in 2 cups of the hot broth, cooking for about 5 minutes or until the broth has thickened.  Pour the thickened gravy over the chicken meat.  Add the vegetables, gently folding the mixture together.  If the mixture seems too thick, fold in some of the remaining unthickened cooking liquid.

Remove the dough from the refrigerator.  Unwrap and, working with one piece at a time, roll the dough out as directed in my NOTE.  Fit one piece into a 10-inch pie plate and prick the bottom with the tines of a fork.

Pour the mixture into the prepared pie plate.  Fold the remaining top crust in half over the rolling pin, lift, and place over the filling.  Unfold to cover the filling and attach to the bottom crust by pressing the excess dough from the edge of the top and bottom crust together with your fingertips.  Fold the pressed dough edge up and inward, making a rim around the edge of the pie.  Starting at the edge opposite you, pinch the dough between your thumb and index finger around the edge of the pie at about ¾ inch intervals, forming a fluted design.  (The pie may be made up to this point and stored, well-wrapped and frozen, for up to 3 months).

Place the pie on a baking sheet in the preheated oven and bake for 15 minutes.  Lower the heat to 350ºF for an additional 20 minutes or until the crust is golden and the filling is almost bubbling out.

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Nana’s Flaky Pie Pastry

Enough dough for one double-crust 10-inch pie

            2½ cups all-purpose flour, sifted

            ¼ teaspoon salt

            Pinch sugar

            ¾ cup plus 1 tablespoon vegetable shortening, chilled

            ½ cup unsalted butter, cut into cubes and chilled

            ½ cup ice water

Combine the flour, salt, and sugar in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade.  Process to aerate and blend.

Add the shortening and butter and, using quick on and off turns, process just until crumbly.  With the motor running, add the water and process just until the dough begins to ball.  Scrape the dough from the processor bowl and divide it into two equal pieces.   The dough may also be frozen; thaw before using.

NOTE:  My mother never used a food processor to make her dough but I think it makes great pastry, particularly because the processor allows you to make quick and easy work of the job without handling the dough too much.  However, if you over-process, the heat created from the speed of the machine will toughen the dough.

Some pastry recipes give an approximate measurement for the water, but that always scares me.  How do you tell when enough is enough if you’re not a seasoned cook?  Most approximates are based on flavor so it really becomes a matter of taste but, with pastry making it is all up to the kitchen witch.  Rainy days, humid days, hot days, warm kitchen, glutenous flour – all of these play in how much water will be enough water to create a dough that just holds together and does not toughen.  I’ve found that the ½ cup of water is nearly always the correct amount.  Add the water slowly and watch carefully.  The incorporation moves much quicker with the food processor than it does when making dough by hand.

If you have never made pastry before, the rolling out is usually the most frightening task.  I have found that Wondra flour is terrific for flouring the work surface and the rolling pin as it only adds a light coating of flour to the dough.  Then, don’t panic; use a light hand, pushing the dough out from the center, lightly coating it and the rolling pin with Wondra if it seems to hang onto the rolling pin.  Lift the pin gently as you near the edge of the pastry to prevent breakage.  When the desired size is reached, lift the pastry by gently folding it in half over the rolling pin and slip it, still folded, into the pie pan.  Carefully unfold it to cover the bottom of the pie pan and remove the rolling pin.  Do not stretch the dough or it will shrink when baked.  If the pastry tears, not to worry, just gently pinch it back together.  Smooth the pastry down into the pan with quick pressing movements.

A further note:  If you can find an excellent quality lard and you aren’t concerned about fat in your diet, use it in place of the vegetable shortening and butter when making a savory pie.  It adds a wonderful meaty flavor.

From my son Chris:  Longing for home on a chilly, foggy San Francisco afternoon, I decided to make a chicken pie.  I was feeling a bit challenged as I wasn’t sure that I could live up to my pot pie heritage.  Nana, mom’s mom, made the flakiest pie crust you have ever tasted and I had spent my teenage years living off of the acclaimed chicken pies that mom made at her bakery.  I called mom and got the basic recipe, did my shopping, and announced to Canada that we were going to have a MooMoo dinner.  I was worried that I had overestimated my skill but forged ahead.  I was aiming for Nana’s flaky crust and a pie that could be cut into nice even pieces with just a calm oozing of gravy.  But although the finished pie looked terrific, the crust wasn’t as flaky as I had hoped and the filling ran all over the place once I cut into it.  Didn’t matter – Canada loved it and so did I.

Determined to master the craft, we added chicken pie to our favorite menu list.  After a good many tries, I like to think that mine is now equal to Nana’s.  I always use organic vegetables, but conventional can easily be substituted.

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It’s that time of year — asparagus is filling the green markets and being plucked from home gardens.  There is nothing as delicious to see than those bright green heads peeking up through the softening earth.  When I was a little one – there I go again talking about when I was —- my mom and aunt would take me in hand as they scouted the edges of irrigation ditches looking for the first spring crop.  I have absolutely no idea why asparagus grew along the ditches but if any of you readers do please tell me.  We would have asparagus every night until it got too warm and the asparagus disappeared.  It would also be canned and pickled.

When I use it in risotto, I like to add the trimmings to the stock to deepen the asparagus flavor.  And, if you don’t have stock or broth on hand, just add the trimmings to water and that will give you a flavorful stock.  If you have any on hand, a small dice of fennel also works to add some complexity to the final dish.

Serves 4

Approximately 4 cups hot chicken stock or low-sodium chicken

broth

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

¼ cup finely diced onion

Salt

1 cup Arborio rice

½ cup dry white wine

1 pound fresh asparagus, trimmed and cut, on the diagonal, into

thin pieces

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

1 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Pepper

Place the chicken stock or broth in a large saucepan over medium heat.  If you have them, add the trimmings from the asparagus to the stock to add flavor.  Bring to a simmer; then, remove from the heat and keep warm.  

Place the butter in a heavy bottom saucepan over medium heat.  When melted, add the onion and season with salt.  Cook, stirring frequently, for about 3 minutes or just until the onion begins to soften.  Lower the heat, add the rice and cook, stirring, for about 5 minutes or until the rice is shiny and has absorbed some of the butter.

Return the stock to low heat.

Add the wine to the rice and cook, stirring constantly, for about 5 minutes or until the rice has absorbed the wine.  

Begin adding the hot stock, about ¼ cup at a time, and continue to cook, stirring constantly, as each ¼ cup is absorbed and the rice is creamy but, al dente.

Stir in the asparagus and olive oil and cook for an additional 4 minutes or until the asparagus is still crisp-tender.

Remove from the heat and stir in half of the cheese.  Cover and let stand for 3 minutes.

Uncover and pour into individual serving bowls.  Garnish with the remaining ½ cup of cheese and a sprinkle of pepper.

Serve immediately.  

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Chicken Thighs with Cabbage

Pantry cooking is in many ways, a luxury.  Although we think of it as money- and time-saving, a cook has to have the space, the budget and the hours to build a storehouse of ingredients that will make putting a meal on the table an easier task.  As COVID-19 has shut down my city as well as many other cities and towns across the world, pantry cooking has become the online talk-point of the moment.  Chefs and home cooks alike are featuring recipe videos telling us how to cook with what we have on hand.  It is almost overwhelming to be told constantly that there is nothing easier than cooking with what you have on hand.

I have to say that this is something I’ve been doing for most of my life.  There are a number of reasons for this.  My mother remembered the Great Depression only too well and was very careful with her food budget – she always had something on hand to create a tasty meal and leftovers were turned into another dish.  For years, because I lived in a lively neighborhood in NYC, I shopped daily from all of the extraordinary shops that lined the Avenues – butchers, bakers, produce markets.  I loved the thrill of deciding what our meals would be on these spur of the moment shopping forays.

Then, for some years we lived in a rural setting in upstate New York where the winters were long and harsh.  I learned to keep a stocked pantry if I intended to cook and bake as I always had.  Powdered milk, yeast, powdered buttermilk, canned goods, frozen meats were never out of reach so that I could bake bread and cakes, make tasty dinners and filling breakfasts every day.  And, when I returned to the city, I just kept the country ways.  I keep my kitchen pantry stocked so that I can entertain unexpected guests, feed my grandson on his lunch break or simply save myself daily shopping trips.  In addition, because I am more and more aware of people going hungry even in our richest cities I am increasingly careful about food waste.  Going back to my mother’s thriftiness, I recycle all leftovers and do my best to use what I have on hand before opening a new package, preparing a new vegetable or ordering a take-out meal.  

This recipe is a good example of cooking with what you have on hand.  If you don’t have shallots, use a small onion.  No garlic, omit it.  No chicken stock, use water.  No preserved lemon, use a fresh lemon – with this charge, the taste will change but, the dish will still be tasty.  And the only reason you seem some green is that I had a bunch of cilantro that was wilting fast so thought it would give a bit of freshness to the finished dish – certainly not necessary at all.

Chicken Thighs with Cabbage and Preserved Lemon

Serves 4

4 skinless bone-in chicken thighs

Wondra flour for dusting

Salt and pepper

1 tablespoon olive oil

½ large head cabbage, cored and shredded

1 large carrot, peeled and shredded

1 large shallot

1 large clove garlic, peeled and minced

1-½ cups chicken stock or low-sodium chicken broth

Juice and zest of 1 small orange

1 small preserved lemon, seeds removed and finely chopped

Trim off and discard any large pieces of fat from the chicken thighs.  Lightly coat each one with Wondra flour and season with salt and pepper.

Heat the oil in a large frying pan over medium heat.  When hot, add the coated thighs and cook for about 5 minutes, turning occasionally, until golden brown and beginning to cook through.

Remove the thighs from the pan and set aside.

Add the cabbage to the pan.  Toss in the carrot, shallot and garlic and cook, tossing occasionally, for about 5 minutes or just until the cabbage begins to wilt.  Season with salt and pepper, add the stock and orange juice and zest along with the preserved lemon and toss to blend well.

Nestle the thighs into the vegetable mix.  Cook, without stirring, for about 20 minutes or until the vegetable mixture is soft and mellow and the thighs are cooked through.

Remove from the heat and serve.

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I know I disappeared once before and then promised to do better about keeping my blogging moving ahead.  Then, it just seemed as though there was so much information and so many recipes and food talk online that what I had to add didn’t seem necessary.  So, once again, I shut down.  However, through this past year or so, friends kept asking me to return to the blog.  When I would ask why, the general answers seemed to be about the same – your recipes are easy, your comments light and comforting to novice cooks and fun to read.  Even those great cooks told me that they enjoyed my banter as much as they enjoyed seeing what I was cooking and why I was cooking.  All that to say as the pandemic is raging across the world, I’m back.  And, I dearly hope, here to receive plenty of comments from all of you who take the time to read my ramblings.  It’s you who make this all worth doing.

Here is a “Welcome Back” photo from my dear husband, photographer Steve Pool.  You can visit his work on his website www.stevepool.net – his show this past October was a sold-out event.  It features Sausage Rolls, a specialty of my dear friend, Stuart Clarke, and was taken at my December DeGustibus at Macy’s Cooking School class

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If you follow my blog, you know that the photos on it are taken by my husband, Steve Pool.  After many, many years of prodding, we finally got him to put himself out into the internet world through a website which is www.stevepool.net.  I share one of his much-loved flower photos with an urge for you to visit his website.  He sells prints and should you desire, I think he might make cards from any of the photos on the website or from any photos on my blog that lend themselves to the card format.  We – his friends, family, and editors – love his work and I hope you will share it with others also.

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It’s been quite a while since I wrote my last blog post.  I don’t exactly know why I stopped. Maybe I felt I had run out of things to say. Maybe I just got lazy.  Maybe I wondered if I had been at it so long that I couldn’t write another recipe that was interesting.  But if I really wanted to speak the truth I think that after I lost my oldest son to lung cancer, my heart just wasn’t interested in doing too much of anything other than watching my grandchildren grow up, particularly our youngest granddaughter who is 15 years younger than our middle granddaughter. Watching her as she celebrates her birthdays gives us one more chance to feel the joy of watching a little one grow up to be an amazing adult.

One day last week the thought came to me that I’d like to be back at it.  So here I am.  I hope that I have a little stick-to-it still in my bones and that I will keep writing recipes for years to come.  More than anything, I would love to hear from you if you come across the blog. I would love to hear about the foods you enjoy, favorite recipes, and, of course, tell me if you enjoy the blog or even if you hate it.  If the latter I’ll try to do a better job.

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Mussels cooking

 

Fortunately, our Union Square Green Market isn’t just vegetables and fruits – we have cheeses, meats, poultry, fish, plants, and cut flowers to complete the outdoor shopping experience.  I was looking for some inspiration on Saturday and found some merguez sausage at the Flying Pigs Farm (www.flyingpigsfarm.com) stall.  That purchase led to a couple of pounds of mussels at Seatuck Fish Company (www.seatuckfish.com) and the two of them led to dinner pulled together in my beautiful Scanpan covered chef’s pan.
Here’s how it came about:  I sautéed some onion and garlic in a bit of olive oil until just softened.  I sliced up the sausage and added it to the pan and cooked it until it had lost its color.  Then I added about 1 cup of dry white wine, brought the mix to a boil and then lowered the heat and simmered for about 4 or 5 minutes to evaporate the alcohol.  That was followed with ¾ cup of pureed fresh tomatoes, 1 cup of clam broth, and some basil and chile flakes.  I cooked the liquid for a bit to allow the flavors to blend.  Then I added the scrubbed mussels and covered the pan.  Since the lid is glass I could watch the mussels open so just as they began to open I added a big handful of yellow cherry tomatoes and another handful of sliced baby red, yellow, and orange bell peppers.  Again, I covered and watched the mussels finish popping open.  Voila! A one pot dinner came to the table, 1,2,3!

 

Mussels plated

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The only real spring product in this dinner was the asparagus, but it was, at long last, local.  This has been such a long winter that any sign of spring has been welcomed with enthusiasm.  Very slowly, spring omens have appeared – first thin stalks of asparagus, just the past week ramps have shown their bright green leaves at the farmers market, but I think that they are being picked far too young as you barely see the white stalks as they are so thin and not scallion-like or bulbed at all.
I sautéed the asparagus with some parmacotto ham that I had leftover from a little pre-wedding cocktail gathering we had for friends.  I seasoned it with a touch of sherry vinegar and that was it.  The sweet potatoes were the last touch of winter and the chicken breast is my year-round go-to for a quick dinner.

 

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I had some dried chilies on hand so decided to make harissa. We all love spicy food and a little dab of harissa can turn even the dullest dish into a hot tamale. Should you have some extra dried red chiles on hand, here is my recipe. Don’t remember where I got it, but it certainly does the job up right.

½ pound dried red hot chiles, stemmed and seeded
6 large cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
1 teaspoon toasted mustard seeds
½ to ⅓ cup extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt to taste

Place the chiles in a heatproof bowl with boiling water to cover by 1-inch. Set aside to soak for 2 hours, or until the chiles are very soft. Drain well and pat dry.
Place the soaked chiles in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Add the garlic and mustard seeds and, with the motor running, slowly add ½ cup of the olive oil. When well blended, add the salt and process to incorporate. If very thick, add the remaining olive oil to thin.
Transfer the harissa to a nonreactive container and store, covered and refrigerated, for up to 1 month.

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Just in case you are tired of the same old toss green salad, here is something that will add some zing to your dinner table. I shaved a bunch of radishes (which were unusually crisp and pungent) over a container of daikon radish sprouts. I tossed the mix with a dressing made with sesame oil, lemon and orange juice, soy sauce, sesame seeds, and pickled ginger. A sprightly mix that highlighted an otherwise ordinary dinner. It is a salad I will return to often.

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