26 October 2006

Better than Marie Callender's

A few Sundays ago I got a hankering for Chicken Pot Pie. I'd made the dish before, but it had been a while. And I think I used Veg-All. I wondered if I could make a pie better than Marie Callender's.

I think I did it. The secret to good homemade pot pie is to make a homemade sauce. Anything canned simply tastes too salty. It overpowers the veggies. Making a white sauce isn't difficult, and once it's tackled it opens the door to lots of hearty dishes.

The best part about the pot pie was it was way easier than I thought it was. The trick to cutting down on the prep time is to have the chicken already cooked and use the ready-made pie dough. Although I didn't try it, I'm thinking that you could prep the whole thing and pop in the fridge if you wanted to wait a bit to cook it. The leftovers kept us happy for days.


Two cooked chicken breasts, cubed
Two medium carrots, peeled and thinly sliced
One small onion, diced
One large potato
1 cup peas (thawed, if frozen)
2 cups warm milk
3/4 cup flour
3 to 4 tablespoons butter
One package of Pillsbury's ready-made pie crust (in the dairy section of the grocery store)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Line a deep pie pan with crust. Set aside top crust.

Combine the chicken and vegies in large bowl. Set aside.

Warm the milk just enough to take the chill off (in the microwave is fine). Have the milk, flour and a whisk handy next to the stovetop. Melt the butter over low heat, watching until the white flecks and foaminess is nearly gone. Then, slowly add the flour while continuously whisking. The mixture will begin to thicken. Whisk, cooking the flour and butter together on a low-medium heat for about a minute. Be sure not to burn the mixture, pulling it away from the heat or lowering heat as needed. Then slowly add the milk in small batches. Whisk to encorporate. Repeat until all the milk is used. Let the sauce cook over the stove top until thick. It should take only a couple of minutes until it can coat a spoon. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Remove the sauce and pour into the bowl of veggies and chicken. Mix to coat. Pour the veggie and chicken mixture into the pie shell. Top with second crust and crimp edges. Cut a few vent holes in the top crust with a sharp knife. Brush with melted butter for a more golden crust if desired. Cover with foil.

Bake for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and cook another 10 minutes or until crust is golden and sauce is bubbling through vents.

Crab Roll

Last weekend our friends Jake and Tiff introduced to the fun adventure of crabbing. We camped on the Oregon coast and got up early to head out on the water. The good news is the weather was fabulous. The bad news is the crabbing wasn't so good. Nonetheless, we made it back with some crab (albeit sympathy crab given to us by the guy who rented us the boat).

I pulled out all of the warm, fresh, flaky meat from the crab and asked Seth to slice four potato rolls left over from our dinner the night before. We plopped the sliced rolls down in a pan of melted butter, pulled them out and seasoned them with salt and pepper. I put a couple of tablespoons of melted butter, some salt and pepper into the crab meat. I toss around to coat. Then piled the crab mixture onto the rolls. We ate them like sandwiches. Then we wished we'd caught more crab!

Nothing beats simple, fresh food.

14 October 2006

Avocado smoothie

This recipe is inspired by our trip to Morocco. As I was on the rooftop of Abdul's family home, I was looking at several potted plants. In a fun conversation with one of Abdul's brothers, I discovered what each plant was. He spoke Arabic; I spoke English. We pulled on our knowledge of a little Spanish and together we were able to communicate largely through gestures, smelling and touching the plants.

I saw a small avocado tree, which I recognized by the leaves. I often buy them dried in Mexican markets to make my Oaxacan black beans (I'll share that recipe sometime). I asked what they did with the avocados in Morocco. Through motions, he shared with me that they make a blended drink out of them. I was sure I misunderstood.

In fact, I had not. At a cafe in Marrakesh I ordered an avocado smoothie. Theirs was made with milk and it had hint of banana in it. It was great. Of course, I LOVE avocados.

Here's my twist on that tasty snack. For those who are counting, it's very healthy, pulling from three food groups at once!


3/4 cup plain, nonfat yogurt
1/2 small, ripe avocado
1/2 ripe, browning banana
honey to taste

Dump the first three ingredients in a blender or food processor. Blend until you get a smooth, light green yogurt. Taste. Add honey to achieve desired sweetness, which varies depending on the banana.

Eat immediately. You could try to keep some in the fridge, but not for too long. If you do, however, put plastic wrap directly on the mixture to keep air from browning the avocado.

Don't tell the picky eaters about the avocado. Enjoy!

12 October 2006

Too many tomatoes?

Fresh fruits and veggies are never a bad thing. Here's something I cooked recently that was inspired by the bumper crop of huge red tomatoes from our garden. I suspect that a large can of diced tomatoes would substitute just fine. If you have access to good markets, try using a few different types of fresh tomatoes.

In most recipes I write I offer approximate amounts of ingredients. If an exact amount is neccesary I will make that clear. I always say, add more of things you like, less of those you don't. This recipes serves four.

Oh, and one other thing. I don't have some elaborate test kitchen. I'm just offering instructions on how I cooked a meal. If you see something that you think looks incorrect, send me an e-mail.

1 pound Italian sausage
4 large tomatoes diced
1 small onion chopped
2 to 3 cloves of garlic, minced
Few handfuls of bagged spinach leaves
1/4 cup of milk
salt and pepper to taste
Rigatoni pasta (or corkscrew, or anything you have on hand)
Grated mozzarella cheese

Brown sausage in a deep-sided pan. Drain excess grease once meat is cooked.

To the browned meat, add tomatoes (including juices if using canned), garlic, onions and milk. Bring to a simmer over low heat for about 10 to 15 minutes while pasta cooks.

Boil pasta in salted water until tender. Drain water and set aside.

Add spinach leaves to sauce and stir, allowing the leaves to wilt. Add drained pasta to the sauce and stir to coat pasta. Serve with cheese sprinkled on top.

Need sides?
Try a small salad and cheese toast.
To make cheese toast,
turn the oven on to broil and line a cookie sheet with foil for easy cleaning.

Lightly butter a slice of bread (regular sandwhich bread is just fine). Sprinkle garlic powder on the buttered side of bread. Place the bread on the foil. Sprinkle mozzarella on top. Place the bread under the broiler and watch (seriously) until done. This could take just a minute.

08 October 2006

Welcome to my table

After Julia Child’s death in 2004, I was reading a story in a newspaper summarizing her contribution to the foodie trend well before the likes of Rachael Ray and Giada De Laurentiis when I ran across a quote from the original vivacious cook.

“The dinner hour is a sacred, happy time when everyone should be together and relaxed,” she had once said, eloquently articulating a sentiment I’d long felt.

My own love of the dinner hour comes from my childhood. I can remember busting through the front door and seeing my mom hovering over hot, bubbling grease with flour-dusted fingers and watching chicken thighs turn a brilliant gold. Along with the fried chicken always came mashed potatoes. The real kind, made from a pile of dirty spuds, peeled and boiled and whipped together with butter and milk. And, without fail, she'd take some of the grease and make a cream gravy speckled with black pepper.

Even as a kid, it registered that this was a special meal, but not because of expensive cuts of meat. She spent no extra cash on pre-cut chickens; she bought the whole bird and cut it up herself. The meal was special because it was a labor of love. It took time. It made a mess. But it was impossible to not have a wonderful feeling sitting around that dinner table.

Food is powerful.

It feeds our bodies and spirits, serving as a cultural touchstone.

And while we may still be able to connect and be sustained by our contemporary food culture, it surely lacks an essential element of that sacred, happy time about which Child spoke.

My goal is to help people make those connections once again. To buy fresh food, trusting their guts not their grocery lists. To learn a few basic kitchen skills that open the door to creativity.
And, most importantly, to cherish the dinner hour.


Watch this site for weekly recipes. I'll post a quick how-to on a meal I've made recently.

Sometimes I'll also post some of my favorite family recipes. And I may also sneak in some tips, fun stories and happenings from my kitchen.

I hope you find this useful, heartwarming and fun.

Above all, enjoy.

- Amy