My love of cooking shows started long before the Food Network. I just love them. Always have.
As a toddler, I had a very severe case of pneumonia, leaving me with a twice annual bout of bronchitis, usually in the spring and fall. As a result, all through my grammar school years, I was home at least 7-10 days at a time, propped up on the living room couch for easier breathing, eating poached eggs on toast, popping Smith Brothers Wild Cherry Cough Drops like candy and watching daytime TV.
Image courtesy of the internet. I. Loved. These. Things!
Sure, Dinah Shore and Merv Griffin circa late-60s were fun to see, but it was catching up with my friends Julia, Graham, Jeff and Justin “I gar-on-tee” Wilson that made missing school and my pals bearable (yes, I mean you, Alan, my best-friend-in-the-whole-wide-world).
And this was long before Mildred-Martha-Theresa-Studley-Kelly welcomed me into her kitchen and showed me in real-time how it was done.
So, imagine my delight when the Food Network launched in 1993! I actually had a reason to not only purchase a real TV (larger than 12"), but to also finally get cable (why at the age of 32, single and living alone I refused to pay for cable is a story for another blog). Suffice it to say, my thirst for cooking tips, ideas, tricks and tasty tidbits caused me to cave.
At the time, I was living in the North End of Boston. As Mayor Tom Menino (God rest his soul) would often tell me, “I may be the Mayor of Boston, but you, dear, are the Mayor of the North End.” And I was.
That's Mary Fiumara in the original commercial (click the image to watch). My apartment was where you see the fire escape on the right.
I befriended every neighbor, restauranteur and wise guy in the ‘hood. (Just kidding…there were no wise guys…wink, wink.) I lived on Powers Court, the original courtyard where Mary Fiumara hung out the window yelling for Anthony Martignetti in the original Prince Spaghetti advertisement from back in the 70s, but I digress. I was working in the Back Bay for Saunders Real Estate Corporation before I started my own public relations firm, TurnStyles.
Heady times those. I shilled for Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey, First Night Boston, Michael Flatley’s Lord of the Dance, U.S. Olympic Gymnastic Team Trials and more. So much more fun than creating marketing pieces for overpriced commercial space on Newbury Street.
Working out of my apartment afforded me the chance to not only indulge my cooking show habit, but I was also able to actually take the time to cook many of these dishes.
My friends and muses included Emeril, Ming, Tyler and Alton (I especially liked his scientific take on cooking). Just as the millennium hit, I found my newest crush, hunky Tyler Florence.
I always had made some version of a Chicken Pot Pie, but in 1999 I was gifted The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook (her show, Barefoot Contessa, wouldn't air on Food TV until 2002). I tried her recipe and it was good, but it was missing something. (NOTE: dear reader you will quickly realize I think EVERY recipe is missing something and ultimately tweak it until I make it my own.)
In this instance, it was flavor. But a little of this, a shake of that, and voila, another winner-winner-chicken-pot-pie-dinner is born.
Absolutely Fabulous Chicken Pot Pie
(Loosely based on The Barefoot Contessa’s recipe…not as much butter, more veggies and a few surprises. I like to cook the chicken, potatoes and carrots in the morning, then cut onions and assemble for baking later in the day…makes the work go easier. Serve with a cucumber (seeded and cut into bite sized pieces), cherry tomato (halved) and feta cheese salad…just toss with your favorite Greek dressing…the perfect way to round out the meal. And don’t forget to try with few drops of Tabasco on your serving…really perks things up!)
4 cups chicken stock (1 box), low sodium (Kitchen Basics is the best brand)
1+ teaspoons “Better than Bouillon” - chicken flavor
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon oinion powder
1 tablespoon garlic powder
4-6 good shakes of Tabasco
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 cups yellow onions, chopped (2 large onions)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup heavy cream (more if you like it extra creamy)
3/4 pound red bliss potatoes, cooked al dente
3/4 pound medium-diced carrots, cooked al dente
1/2 (10-ounce) package frozen peas
One sheet of Pepperidge Farm Puff Pastry at room temperature
Flaked sea salt & cracked black pepper
Preheat the oven to 350ºF for chicken; raise to 375ºF for pie.
Place the chicken breasts on a baking sheet and rub with olive oil. Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Roast for 50 minutes to one hour, or until cooked through. Upon removing from oven, pour enough water to loosen any yummy bits from the pan…you will want to pour this mixture over the torn chicken pieces to keep them moist and this liquid adds flavor to the gravy. Set aside until cool enough to handle, then remove the meat from the bones and discard the skin (yeah, right; eat it, you deserve it). Tear the chicken into good-sized pieces. You will have 4 to 6 cups of chicken. Cover with pan drippings. Par cook potatoes and carrots, add on top of chicken and drippings from pan. Set aside.
In a four-cup glass container, heat the chicken stock, Better Than Bouillon, Dijon mustard, spices and Tabasco in the microwave for five minutes. You want the stock warm when you add it to the onion/flour roux.
In a large pot or Dutch oven, melt the butter; add olive oil and sauté the onions over medium-low heat for 10 to 15 minutes, until translucent. Add the flour and cook over low heat, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes. Add the hot chicken stock to the sauce. Simmer over low heat for 1 more minute, stirring, until thick. Add cream, stir. Add chicken, carrots, peas and potatoes. Mix well. Salt and pepper to taste. Remove from heat.
Place mixture in an ovenproof dish, about 2 to 2 1/2” deep and roughly 12”x9” in size. Roll out the room temperature puff pastry to 1/8 inch thickness (placing the sheet between two pieces of plastic wrap makes for easy transfer to baking dish and, best of all, no clean-up). Place on top of pie…randomly poking slits to allow for proper venting and to encourage rising. Sprinkle with sea salt and cracked pepper. Place dish on a baking sheet (lined with tinfoil) and bake for 1 hour at 375ºF, or until the top is golden brown and the filling is bubbling hot.