Tag Archives: snow

Sing a song of sixpence

If you look in the branches, you can see those pesky little robins, who made a mess of my front porch but gave me a great idea for dinner.

You never know where you’ll get the inspiration for a meal. Last night’s dinner came from a flock of robins that I spotted perched yesterday morning on our storm-damaged crape myrtle tree — that is, the idea for the dinner came from them. A lot of people around our Capitol Hill neighborhood — and over into the Southwest Waterfront area — have been noticing that we seem to be invaded by flocks of robins just before a snowstorm hits. Seeing as how we had four storms in a matter of 10 days, we have all been seeing a lot of robins lately. Personally, I am beginning to wonder if they are harbingers of snow, and so I am suspicious now when I see them.

As my husband and I went outside in the midst of yesterday’s blizzard to begin doing battle with the snow piling up on our sidewalk, we noticed even more robins on our neighbor’s dogwood tree, which stretches across our front garden. When we came back up to the house later on, the flock of birds suddenly flew out from our front porch — we thought perhaps they were taking refuge from the storm and were feeling sorry for the little things until we actually walked up onto the porch and saw that they had decided to use the floor as a toilet. As if we hadn’t just had enough fun cleaning up another foot of snow. Jokingly, my husband said “We should catch those stupid birds and put them in a pie!”  At least, I think he was joking.

And, thus, dinner was born. Now I can’t get that old nursery rhyme out of my head: “Sing a song of sixpence/Pocket full of rye/Four-and-twenty blackbirds/Baked in a pie.”

Pot pie is one of those things that people don’t really make, maybe because it is associated with frozen t.v. dinners. But it is incredibly easy to make and really satisfying on a cold winter’s night. What I love about it is that you can literally clean out your refrigerator — all those bits and pieces of leftovers are perfect for a pot pie, and the transformation gives them new life. My pot pie included some leftover barbecue, herb-seasoned french fries, breakfast sausages, and carrot sticks, to which I added some vegetarian “chicken”, onion, green bell pepper, and frozen corn.

Being pretty tired from seemingly endless days of digging out from snowstorms, I went the quick route with the pie crust, using a food-processor method which takes a cup of flour, a stick of chilled butter, a little salt, and some ice water — the whole thing comes together in about two minutes flat. You can make pie crust in a food processor, as long as you don’t work the crust too hard; they tend to get tough if you spend too much time mixing and kneading.

If the idea of making a pie crust from scratch is going to keep you from making a pot pie, then just buy a ready-made pie crust. There are several good varieties out there; I have used the Trader Joe’s one a couple of times (it does not contain lard, as many others do) and it’s a pretty nice crust. If you want to try the food processor crust, here’s the link for the recipe by Alton Brown of the Food Network:

http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/alton-brown/pie-crust-recipe/index.html

This recipe calls for a combination of butter and lard, but I just made it with 8 tablespoons of butter (1 stick).

Once you actually make a pot pie yourself, you will realize what a crowd-pleaser it is. What could be more cozy than a steaming slice of savory pie as the wind is howling around the eaves and you are plugging the drafts under the door with old towels? So make a pie, snuggle up with your family far away from the storm, and dream sweet dreams of springtime and flowers.

Now wasn't that a dainty dish to set before the king?

Cozy Pot Pie

This is not going to be a standard recipe, so bear with me. Making a filling for pot pie is not rocket science, so I’m just going to give you some general guidelines. You’ll need about 1-1/2 cups of protein and about 3 cups of vegetables. Here are some suggestions for the filling:

Protein: Chicken, beef, turkey, sausage, to name a few. I remember as a kid in New England that pot pies also often had fish in them — of course, that’s when cod was still readily available. Any kind of chunky fish would work, though, such as salmon, tuna, or swordfish. In the mid-Atlantic area, pot pies often feature crab and ham.

Vegetables: Obviously potatoes, carrots, and onions. Also, peas, green beans, corn, broccoli, cauliflower, mushrooms, leeks, and just about anything else you like. Fennel bulb is fabulous in a pot pie (a nice alternative to celery), and so are chunks of apple. I would stay away from tomatoes, or use them sparingly, simply because they tend to be a little watery for a pot pie.

Secret ingredient: I like to throw in chunks of cheese as I’m filling the pie pan (don’t cook it with the filling beforehand). I used an Irish Guinness Cheddar in last night’s pie — yum.

A pot pie filling should be pretty much cooked before it goes into the pie pan. The protein should be completely cooked, and the vegetables should be partially cooked (they’ll finish cooking in the oven). Start with sauteéing the onion in olive oil until it becomes translucent, then add the protein and brown it slightly. Then add the other vegetables one at a time, about a minute apart, stirring frequently. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste, along with any other herbs and spices (I like to use thyme, paprika, and a smoked chipotle powder). While over medium heat, add about half a cup of milk and stir to thicken. Allow to simmer over low heat and add another half cup of milk until you get the right consistency. You want the sauce to be a little juicy but not too thin, otherwise it will drown the crust.

As to the crust: You should have enough dough for two crusts. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Roll out half the dough (leave the other half in the fridge for now) into a circle large enough to fill your pie plate,with about an inch hanging over the edge. Fold the additional dough up to the edge of the pan and crimp with a fork or your fingers. Line the bottom of the crust with a piece of parchment paper and fill with pie weights or raw beans (this keeps the crust from creating air bubbles). Bake for about 15 minutes, then remove the weights/beans/parchment and bake for another 5 minutes. This is called blindbaking — basically, cooking the crust about half-way.

To assemble the pie: Now that you have blindbaked the crust, you can add the filling. It should be a heaping mound — don’t worry about that, because it will settle in the oven. Roll out the other half of your pie crust, lay it over the top of the whole shebang and crimp the edges together with those of the bottom crust. Cut three or four slits in the top to allow the heat to escape. Brush the crust with heavy cream or an egg wash (one egg mixed with a teaspoon of water). Bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes or until the crust is golden and you can see the filling bubbling up between the slits in the crust. Let the pie sit for about 10 minutes before serving.

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Stewed up over dumplings

Yes, somewhere beneath all that root-vegetable goodness, luxuriating in a complex and savory broth, is a charming little dumpling, fluffy and plump.

Snowed in as we are here in DC, we were unable to travel out to a friend’s Superbowl party this past Sunday, so I decided to make a stew for dinner. Diving into my pantry, I pulled out some of those items from my last blog (“Panty…uh… Pantry Raid!”) that are necessary to the perfect stew. Stews should be savory with just a touch of sweetness; you can do this with tomatoes, dried fruit (like prunes or, as they are called these days, “dried plums”), or some of each. To balance out those flavors, I make a Salted Apple Dumpling, which combines chopped tart apples into the dumpling dough and is then lightly dusted with kosher salt just before they steam.

I got this idea a few years ago from one of my favorite cookies — a local favorite here in DC — known as a Salty Oat Cookie. I cooked at an event some years ago with the pastry chef from 1789, a fancy-schmancy Washington restaurant favored by politicos; she had created the cookie for another restaurant, Teaism, a cool Asian-fusion casual eatery that Rachael Ray once profiled on that show she does about how to eat out on $40 a day. The Salty Oat Cookie is truly delicious, and I am not a big oatmeal cookie fan. It is big and tender and it has this dusting of salt across the top which perfectly complements the subtle sweetness of the cookie itself. I have tried to replicate it but can never get it quite right, so I came up with the Salted Apple Dumpling instead. Sometimes you gotta know when to move on.

Don’t be afraid of dumplings — they are basically just steamed biscuits, and they have a fluffy texture that makes your mouth sing, especially when they soak up that luxurious stew broth. My stew recipe below is vegetarian, but you should make yours exactly the way you like. Pork, beef, and chicken would all work really well for this recipe, just make sure that you are browning them properly first and stewing those meats until they are cooked through. The vegetarian version comes together quite quickly because vegetarian proteins are really already cooked, so they are just being browned and then heated through; give yourself more time if you are using actual meat. I used a meatless “beef” strip, but it would work equally well with tofu, beans, or portobello mushrooms.

People often ask me why vegetarians bother even being vegetarian if they are going to put meat-like substitutes in their recipes. The simple answer is that many vegetarians grew up eating meat; we like beef stew as a flavor, but we don’t want to eat actual beef. My teenage daughter, however, has actually never eaten meat; when she was about 5 years old, she was with a group of friends before school in the playground and one of the boys was talking about how he had recently eaten a piece of alligator. Another child asked “What did it taste like?” The boy considered this and finally replied “Like chicken.” Everyone nodded their heads wisely, except our daughter, who stared at him for a moment before asking “What does chicken taste like?”

Here is the stew in progress, with the raw dumplings just added to the top, ready to steam into fluffy perfection.

Winter Stew with Salted Apple Dumplings

for the stew:

One pound protein (see above for suggestions)

2 cups potatoes — any variety — chopped into 1-inch pieces

1-1/2 cups Brussels sprouts, quartered (trust me)

1 onion, coarsely chopped

1 cup carrots, coarsely chopped

1 cup celery, coarsely chopped

1 cup mushrooms, quartered

1 cup frozen peas

1 cup frozen corn

1/2 cup prunes, chopped

1/4 cup sundried tomatoes, chopped

3 cups broth (any variety — I like to use mushroom broth)

1 cup red wine

salt/pepper/herbs (I like to add a couple of bay leaves, a little crushed rosemary, some smoked paprika, and a dash of cayenne)

olive oil

balsamic vinegar

for the dumplings

1 heaping cup all-purpose flour

2 tsp. baking powder

1/4 tsp. baking soda

1 egg, beaten

2 tsp. melted unsalted butter

1/3 cup milk

1 apple, chopped (Granny Smith is good, or soak some dried apple in hot water for 15 minutes and chop that up)

kosher salt

Heat a couple of teaspoons of olive oil over moderate heat in a stockpot. Brown your protein, then add the Brussels sprouts. Stirring frequently, allow the sprouts to get just slightly browned, then sprinkle a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar over the sprouts and protein. Stir for a minute, then add the onion. Cook, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes, then add the potatoes, carrots, and celery. Cook for another 5 minutes, still stirring frequently, then add the mushrooms, prunes, and sundried tomatoes. Stir together for a minute, then add the broth, wine, herbs, and salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, then reduce heat to low and cover loosely with a lid (that is, allow some steam to escape, but not too much). Cook for about 30 minutes, until vegetables are tender but not mushy. If you are using meat protein, check for doneness (i.e. not pink in the center).

Add the frozen peas and corn and stir well; if the stew is losing liquid, add a little water. Keep heat very low while you mix up the dumpling dough. To make the dumplings, mix all dry ingredients together in a large bowl, then add the wet ingredients and mix together until you have a soft dough. Fold in the chopped apples until they are somewhat evenly distributed.

I can get about 6 large dumplings out of this amount of dough. Use a soup spoon to measure each one out — it will just look like a large lump, which you will nestle right into the top of your stew. Add each dumpling to the stew, about a 1/2 inch apart and sprinkle the tops of the dumplings with just a small pinch of kosher salt. Cover with the lid and let steam for about 12 minutes or so over low heat. They are done when the tops are springy to the touch and no longer sticky. Spoon a dumpling into each bowl and ladle the stew around it. If the stew broth has thickened too much while the dumplings were steaming, then just add a little broth or water to get it to the right consistency — not too soupy, but like a thin gravy. Serves 4.

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Panty — uh — Pantry Raid!

I saw this little stash in a pile of snow on the sidewalk as I went on a walk yesterday. Who needs the grocery store when you can find this stuff on the street?

Snow is coming to Washington, DC. We are not Chicago, or Fargo, or Buffalo, and we don’t handle snow well. And this is not just a little bit of snow, but major snow — perhaps two feet. It has been seven years since we had that much snow on the way, and the city shut down for a solid week back then.

There was panic at the grocery stores yesterday, and, from all accounts, the shelves have been stripped bare. I find this amusing, since we live in a major metropolitan area, not in the wilderness — it is unlikely that people are going to starve. We should be more concerned about making sure that the homeless are sheltered and warm. The rest of us will be just fine, and statistics would indicate that a lot of us could do without a meal or two.

My only nod to the grocery issue was to pick up a half-gallon of milk, thinking that we might want hot chocolate this weekend after tromping through the snow, or I might want to make a loaf of bread, and my favorite recipe calls for a cup of tepid milk. However, otherwise, I have decided that this coming storm presents a perfect opportunity to raid my pantry.

This shot is only the tip of the iceberg for my pantry, which is embarrassingly overloaded.

Our pantries tend to be chock-full of really weird things, along with the requisite bags of stale chips and cans of pumpkin that we forgot to use at Thanksgiving. The corners of my pantry are always tucked with those jars of things that come in gift baskets at Christmas; I tend to feel guilty about getting rid of the fancy jams and milk chocolate truffles, and then they seem to breed like rabbits. This morning I discovered Maple Mustard Dip, Hot and Sour Wasabi Mixed Nuts, Candied Apple Caramels, Cocktail Onions, and a pound of Dried Kiwi. Now, that’s a meal.

Of course, once you get past the Kirsch Royale Chocolate-Covered Cherries, there’s a fair amount of decent stuff stashed away in my pantry. I figure that a pantry should have enough stuff in it to save your dérriére on those nights when you actually don’t have anything fresh to cook. A pantry should also include your freezer, which can be stuffed with frozen fruits and veggies, various proteins (mine are meatless, but yours may be chicken, sausages, and leftover turkey hash), and, of course, really good ice cream. I am one of those people who picks up things like frozen challah out of the “Hebrew Foods” section in the “Ethnic Aisle” (I love the way they categorize things in grocery stores). You can pull it out of the freezer in the morning, set it out to rise while you’re at work, and pop it in the oven for 30 minutes when you get home. There is nothing like the smell of baking bread to make even the worst day at the office suddenly insignificant.

I have gone through my pantry today and found enough meals to get my family through the Storm of the Century and keep me out of the grocery store insanity. Even if the air is soft and warm wherever you are, check out your own pantry, and see if you have enough to ride out the next calamity. Here’s what I found:

Pretty sure we're not going to starve.

Pasta E Fagioli: One pound of Dried Tubetti, can of Great Northern Beans, can of diced Fire-Roasted Tomatoes, jar of Cocktail Onions

Thai Curry Stir-Fry: Rice Noodles, can of Coconut Milk, Extra-Firm Tofu, Cashews, Red Curry Paste, Frozen Bell Pepper Strips

Cuban-Influenced Black Beans and Rice: Can of Black Beans, package of Minnesota Wild Rice, jar of Sundried Tomatoes in Olive oil, bottle of Uncle Brutha’s Fire House Sauce No. 9, supplemented with limes and onions from my produce bin

Winter Stew with Salted Apple Dumplings: Flour, Dried Apples, Dried Morels, Yves Meatless “Beef” Strips, Frozen Petite Green Peas, Frozen Sweet White Corn, Dried Plums, Mushroom Broth, Red Wine, supplemented with Yukon Gold potatoes, onions, carrots, and Brussels sprouts from my produce bin.

Garbanzo Beans with Curried Polenta: Dried Polenta, can of Garbanzo Beans, frozen shredded zucchini (from my garden last summer), dried currants, jar of Farmhouse Chutney, supplemented with frozen Garlic Naan bread and yogurt from the refrigerator.

What’s in your pantry? Let me know!

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