I love chicken pot pie. It’s an American staple. I grew up on Swanson’s frozen chicken pot pie. Even though I had to pick out the peas and carrots, I loved it and was always super excited when Dad was at the fire department and mom declared it chicken pot pie night. As an adult, I can’t eat that stuff anymore. The sodium count alone has me running for cover and don’t even get me started on the over-processed chicken. Yikes.

But…I still crave chicken pot pie. What to do? What to do? I know, I’ll make my own recipe! And I did. I spent a week or so off and on building a chicken pot pie recipe in my head. I ran drafts past friends (the extraordinary RouxBarb and BFF Lauren) and got notes. Good notes. Thanks ladies.

That brings us to tonight. G worked a morning shift, which meant that he’d be home tonight. It also gave me plenty of time to brunch (thanks Mandy) at Parish, grocery shop, read in the sun and spend a goodly chunk of time in the kitchen. It was a labor of love and it was SO worth it. OMG is it good. I mean really, really good. I’m having seconds as I type. I won’t lie to you and say it’s “light” or low-fat and it certainly isn’t a meal I’d have time to make during the week, but I am super happy with this recipe. So happy, that I’ll share it with you.

Here is what it looks like:

Yeah, we couldn't wait to eat, so you get a half eaten photo!

Beth’s Genius Chicken Pot Pie
(yeah, I’m totally modest)

For Sauce:
1 recipe bechamel Sauce (Below)
1 tablespoon fresh thyme
1 cup chicken stock
salt and pepper to taste

For Filling:
3/4 Rotisserie Chicken, shredded
2 large parsnips, sliced into 1/3 inch half moons
1 package fresh french beans, trimmed and halved
1 package pre-sliced baby bella mushrooms
salt, pepper, garlic salt to taste
1 tbsp olive oil

1 sheet puff pastry

Prepare bechamel Sauce according to directions. When it is finished, add 1 tablespoon fresh thyme, pepper and 1 cup chicken stock. Check for seasoning and add more if needed. Set aside.

Heat olive oil in a saute pan. Add beans, parsnips, salt, pepper and garlic salt. Saute for 3 minutes. Add mushrooms and saute until all are tender. Check for seasoning and add more if needed. Turn off heat and add chicken.

Stir together sauce and filling. Pour into baking dish (it will be thick).

Place puff pastry on top of filling. Bake at 350 until brown and bubbly (approx. 40 minutes)

Bechamel Sauce

1/2 stick unsalted butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 1/2 cups whole milk
2 1/2 oz. freshly grated parmesan cheese
1 teaspoons Dijon mustard
3/4 teaspoon salt

In a 3 quart heavy saucepan melt butter over moderately low heat and whisk in flour. Cook roux, whisking, 3 minutes and whisk in milk. Bring sauce to a boil, whisking constantly, and simmer, whisking occasionally, 3 minutes. Stir in Parmesan, mustard, and salt. Remove pan from heat and cover surface of sauce with wax paper.

{January 25, 2011}   The Happiest Place on Earth

No, I don’t mean Disneyland.

I mean, of course, The Atlanta Cupcake Factory on Highland Avenue in Atlanta, Georgia.

I was first introduced to The Atlanta Cupcake Factory (situated conveniently down the street from my office) in July of 2008. I remember the exact date not only because their cupcakes rocked my culinary world, but also because that is when BFF Lauren Gilstrap started planning her post-wedding party.

You see, Lauren and her lovely wife Melissa got married in San Francisco on July 11, 2008. I was an honorary bridesmaid from afar. When they returned to Atlanta, it was decided that they should throw a post-wedding shindig to celebrate their nuptials with friends and family in the area. This is when the search for the perfect cupcake began and very quickly ended with our introduction to Jamie at the Atlanta Cupcake Factory. Lauren and I, of course, felt obligated to taste every cupcake flavor they make…multiple times. The sacrifices you make as an honorary bridesmaid.

Jamie and crew did an amazing job making beautiful and tasty cupcakes with cherry blossom detail for their October wedding shindig and Lauren and I became regular visitors to the happiest little shop on the planet. The Atlanta Cupcake Factory was a delicious oasis during our lunchtime jaunts away from the office to the happy delight of our taste buds (if not our waistlines), coworkers (who often received cupcake treats) and significant others (who we brought cupcakes home to several times a week).

Two and a half years and god knows how many cupcakes later we still visit The Atlanta Cupcake Factory regularly for our fix of both Jamie’s warm smile and a little sugary afternoon delight. Between me, Lauren, Melissa, G and our colleagues we’ve probably tried (and fallen in love with) every one of their dozens of flavors.

Lauren and my favorite is Peanut Butter Banana (banana cupcake with to die for peanut butter frosting).

G and Mellie can’t resist Chocolate El Diablo (chocolate cupcake with chocolate cayenne frosting).

Other favorites amongst friends and colleagues are Sugar Cookie Latte, Sugar Cookie Salted Caramel, Sweet Potato Bourbon, Red Velvet, Chocolate/Chocolate, Peppermint White Chocolate, Strawberry, Key Lime, Lemon Blueberry and the unexpectedly amazing Sugar Cookie with Rosemary Brown Butter. I could go on and on and on and on and on and well, you get the picture.

The bottom line is that these are the best cupcakes in the city and if you haven’t tried one yet you are REALLY missing out.

{January 24, 2011}   Bitter Is an Acquired Taste

I was a major drama queen as a child, major, particularly when it came to food. You see, when I was a kid we were required to eat, at minimum, one bite of each food item Mom prepared for dinner whether we liked said food item or not (with the exception of “English Peas” because my Dad hated them as well). As I was a picky eater, dinnertime usually went like this:

Mom: Beth, you have to eat one spoonful of (insert food I hate here).
Me: I don’t want to (in whining voice).
Dad: Do what your Mother tells you. Just eat it.
Me: Mehhhhhhh. But it’s grooooooooosssssssss.
Mom: Eat it.
Me: But is smells bad. Ugggghhhhhhh.
Mom and Dad: *glare*

At this point I would take my tea glass in one hand, use the fingers of that hand to hold my nose, shove a forkful of undesirable food item x into my mouth and very quickly drown said item in tea. I would then hold my nose and chew while making gagging noises and trying not to vomit.

See? Drama Queen. Major.

As an adult, I’m still sort of a Drama Queen. I can admit that. But I’m more of a particular eater now than a picky eater (i.e. I eat a larger variety of foods and have fewer foods that I absolutely hate, but have a weird allergy to capsicum that makes me hard to cook for sometimes). I think part of this has come from living in different areas and different cultures and being exposed to a wider variety of foods and part from cultivating an interest in cooking, which has introduced me to new ingredients. I also think part of it comes naturally with growing older.

There are so many foods that I eat now that I absolutely hated (or would have hated, had I tasted them), as a child. Let’s take collard greens for example. They were one of my biggest nemeses as a child. I gagged them down with tea and loud protest every time they graced our table. Now, I can’t get enough of them (and other bitter greens in that family). The same is true for my new favorite vegetable of all time ever period: Brussels Sprouts. I’d have hated them as a child, but love love love them now.

So many of the flavors I enjoy as an adult, but hated as a child are bitter flavors. It makes me wonder if, like beer, bitter things are an acquired taste. What do you think? What do you like now that you hated as a kid? What is your favorite vegetable? What weird changes has your palate/taste undergone as you’ve aged? I want to know!

p.s. Some things never change. I still hate carrots. Gag. Ugh. Pass the tea!

Now that the snow is (mostly) melted, I am really trying to make an effort to get back into the normal swing of things. That means cooking and trying new recipes and telling you all about them. To that end I made North Woods Bean Soup last night. It was from Cooking Light (shocking, I know). And it was fantastic. Like, it will make it into my repertoire of staples, fantastic, which is saying A LOT. You see, I try lots of soup recipes. I even like some of them, but to make it into my regular rotation you have to be super special (and sort of easy, cause I’m a busy girl and all, you know?). Plus, G has to like it. Like, like it, like it.

So, why does this soup hit all of the marks? Let’s start with the fact that it’s easy. A little chopping, a little sauteing, a little simmering, a little stick blending, a little wilting and voila! Ok. Ok. I get that it doesn’t sound easy, but it is. And it’s quick. As in, start to finish in 30-40 minutes quick. That’s fast for a soup which ends up having such deep flavors. Mark two: I only had to substitute one ingredient. The recipe calls for carrots and I highly dislike cooked carrots. I used parsnips instead, which I love (this is a new relationship, but so far we don’t even argue). Thirdly, it’s hearty. Although I served it with cornbread muffins, they were gratuitous because the soup itself (what with all of the beans and turkey sausage) was really filling. Next mark? I got to use my stick blender. You know I love my stick blender. And finally, it has fresh spinach in it! That’s important for those of us who are constantly anemic. Oh, yeah and did I mention it tastes good?

So, hurray for a good new recipe that I will definitely make again! And hurray for being back on track and no longer being snowed in and spending my days glaring out the window, mumbling curses at the snow.

As I type I have Peanut Butter Cup Ice Cream agitating in my Cuisinart ice cream maker. I stuck my finger in the custard mix and O-M-F-G it is GOOD. I even have a cup of chopped up Reese’ cups to add end just before it’s finished. I can’t wait to try this treat out on my nephews tomorrow. They even get to spend the night this time. I’ve been practicing my Mario Kart.

Also this week I made Turnip Greens for the first time. Now, I grew up on old fashioned, southern style, cook it all day with a ham hock collard greens. This past weekend I was looking for something a bit….quicker. G was making his totally rockin, should be famous Salmon with Dill Butter and I was in charge of the sides. We decided on steamed corn and turnip greens. I infused a bit of olive oil with garlic and sauteed the greens in said oil with red wine vinegar and a tablespoon of sugar until they were just past wilted. I was hugely pleased. And, as a most of the time anemic it was great for me to learn how to make such an easy and iron filled dish!

Now onto the important stuff – I’ve been snowed in for nearly a week, like most of the rest of Atlanta. I hate snow. I have always hated snow. Just like I hate the cold. I was born to live on a beach near the equator. I also, it turns out, have major panic issues when it comes to me or loved ones driving on ice. It’s been a rough week. I still won’t drive out of my neighborhood alone (they have one end caution taped off because there are so many abandoned cars). I’ve been using beer and wine as Xanax to keep myself from throwing up every time G walks out the door for work. We’ve watched lots of Bones and done a huge amount of walking in the snow (the three mile round trip to Publix has been our most frequent route). I can’t wait until this shit is gone. CAN’T WAIT. CAN’T.

Remember how I told you that even though I was sick and slack as a mofo over the holidays, I would turn it around big time this week and make something UH-MAY-ZING? Well, I was right.

Last night, long time co-bff Abby came over to try out our new Wii (I’ll tell you about my love affair with the Wii later) so that she could decide if she wanted one of her very own. Because we wanted as much Wii trying out time as we could get, dinner needed to be something quick. And, as I’m trying to be healthier and Abby is an off and on health nut, I knew it also needed to be healthy. We settled on Gazpacho Salad with Cannellini Beans and Feta. Holy crap was this delish! I made the recipe mostly according to directions. I left out the onions (yuck) and used orange bell peppers because I LOVE them.

Not only was this salad delicious and juicy and tart and creamy, it was also packed full of bean protein and very filling. I totally recommend it. A lot. It was the perfect fuel for the back and forth Wii ass beatings we were dealing out as Abby tried out all of the games 🙂

{January 4, 2011}   33 Years In the Kitchen – MIA

Yes, I realize I haven’t posted any new recipes in the last two weeks. My excuse is that I was totally sick over Christmas and as a result tried to stay out of the kitchen to prevent my plague from spreading.

I did make a couple of new things.

1) Good friend Laura and I tried a new recipe out of the Cooking Light Cookbook she gave me for Christmas (excellent present), but it was for a family dinner she was having the next day so I don’t actually know how it turned out. It smelled really good. The raw batter tasted good. The glaze tasted good. Let’s cut a girl some slack and call it 33 Years in the Kitchen – Missing Week 25. Maybe Laura will comment and tell us how the Warm Gingerbread with Lemon Glaze turned out?

2) Because I was still recovering from said plague and not up to going out proper, G and I had a couple of good friends over on NYE to drink, snack and play the Wii (more to come on the Wii later). I bought a bunch of appetizers from Trader Joe’s (they were out of my favorite, the goat cheese and caramelized onion puff pastry tarts, wtf?) and then made a quick cheese dip that involved 1 block Velveeta, melted; 1 can refried beans and 1 can diced tomatoes with olive oil and garlic. I drained the tomatoes and mixed them with the other ingredients in a crock pot and it was heavenly. So, we’re going to call that 33 Years in the Kitchen – Missing Week 26.

Now, I promise to get back on track this week. I don’t know what I’m going to make yet, but I’m confident it will be amazing.

{January 2, 2011}   The Three R’s

As children we are taught the Three R’s – Reading, wRiting and aRithmetic. They are considered the core of our education. I must admit that there is no love lost between the third R and I, so let’s chuck it out the window. Ah, that’s better.

Now, where were we? Ah, yes, the Two R’s – Reading and wRiting. By now I hope you’ve figured out that I love to read and what is this blog if not an exercise in writing? So, this year, to show my support for the R’s I hold so dear I’m going to track all of the books I read (potentially with comments) on a single blog page. You can find it here or in the sidebar under “Stuff I Like.”

As it’s only January 1, there isn’t much there yet, but keep checking back. At the very least it’ll stroke my ego to have some sort of visual representation of my ability to devour verbiage. But maybe, just maybe something on this (I hope) ever expanding list will intrigue or inspire you. Let me know.

Pull out your glasses, folks. Let’s get our read on.

et cetera