Sunday, October 28, 2007

Chicken and Fall Vegetable Pot Pie

I know, I know, I just had a pot pie post fairly recently. I'm a pot pie fiend. Something about 3, possibly 4 food groups all smooshed together in one dish really appeals to me.

Chicken and Fall Vegetable Pot Pie

This particular one came up as the Epicurious featured recipe of the day a couple of weeks ago: Chicken and Fall Vegetable Pot Pie. Fresh Market had everything I needed except turnip greens, so I decided to substitute some baby spinach instead. Got three huge and absolutely gorgeous chicken breasts back at the butcher counter, and while I waited for my turn, I had some entertainment from the kids at the "make a creepy halloween cupcake" table. Cupcakes, frosting, and every kind of gummy creepy-crawly imaginable... The kids there were having a grand time.

Anyway, there's a reason that this has a 95% "would make it again" rate, with a 4-fork rating... it's really good. With the wine, leeks, and shallots in the sauce, and the departure from the normal "peas, carrots, onions" vegetable mix, this is a slightly more sophisticated version of a pot pie. It's very filling, full of lean protein, vegetables, and greens, with the only "unhealthy stuff" being the butter and shortening in the crust, and the heavy cream in the filling. I like to think the "good for you" cancels out the "not so good for you" in dishes like this.

This was a nice way to officially welcome fall to our corner of Maryland.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Sweet Spelt Sourdough Bread

Oh no, she's breaking out the whole grains...

I promised healthier after my eggs and cheese and butter extravaganza in the previous post, so here's the Sweet Spelt Sourdough Bread from King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking.

Spelt Sourdough Bread

Spelt is a new grain for me. The natural store that I shop at carries it, and I got a 1 lb bag on a whim a couple of months ago. I haven't found tons of recipes using spelt, as it's only recently started gaining popularity. This sourdough recipe not only provided a way to use some of the spelt that I'd bought, but also gave me an excuse to poke my starter and see if it was still going strong after several months hibernating in the refrigerator (answer: Yes. Sweet Fancy Moses, yes. It'll probably outlive me.).

The recipe calls for an all-spelt levain. Bakers have a whole bunch of terms that mean "starter".. levain is one of them. It's kind of an intermediate step between your permanent starter and the finished dough. Basically, take a little bit of your starter, feed it, and that's your levain. This recipe actually calls for you to begin with a spelt starter... my starter is good ol' AP flour and bread flour, and I absolutely wasn't going to convert the whole thing to spelt just for the 2 tablespoons that are used to make the levain. I used two tablespoons of my existing starter, fed it with the amounts of spelt and water specified, and set it on my warm oven to ferment. ("Room temperature" for bread tends to be warmer than my room temperature here. Any time I see that something needs to rise at room temperature, I turn on the oven as low as possible and set the rising container on top.)

Now, here's where my fun really started. The basic sourdough recipe that I've made in the past calls for the levain to expand for up to 16 hours... my yeast does this in 4 hours. Using the (faulty) assumption that I would also have a faster rise with this one, I started its 12-hour rise at 5:30 pm on Friday. I figured, even if it took half the time called for, I'd still be able to make the dough around 11:30, nap during rise times, and take fresh baked bread in to work with me Saturday morning.

Of course, this time it took the full 12 hours to rise. I stashed it in the fridge so it wouldn't continue to expand so quickly while I was at work and then out Saturday evening. I got the levain out on Sunday morning, let it come up to room temperature, and then made my dough. This dough was hard as a rock. It sucked up all the liquid and still left about half a cup of dry flour on the bottom of the bowl. I added enough water to make a very wet and loose dough with the flour that hadn't been absorbed, and folded that into the rest of the dough. Slowly, it started to loosen up to a point where I could actually knead it.

Spelt Sourdough Bread

From there, all that was left was to let it rise, shape it, slash it, and stick it in the oven. The recipe calls for one 8" x 4" loaf pan... the one size I don't have. I split my dough into one 7" x 3" and two mini-loaf pans, baked the two mini-loaves for 30 minutes each and the larger one for 40 minutes. After all the various things that had gone wonky with this bread, I wasn't expecting much, so I was very pleasantly surprised to pull out 3 nice, risen, crusty loaves of bread.

The flavor of this is completely unlike any bread I've ever had, and one mini-loaf was entirely gone within two hours. The most surprising thing to me was that, while it smells like regular ol' whole wheat bread, there's none of the bitterness that you sometimes get with whole wheat flour. The finished bread is slightly sweet, slightly tangy (from the natural starter), with a dense crumb that's not overly chewy. Great toasting bread.

Spelt Sourdough Bread

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Turkey Cream Puff Pie

This is one that's been in the (virtual) recipe box for a while, just waiting for the first cooler day of the fall. It does not involve dessert cream puffs in any way; I think it acquired that name because the crust is a choux pastry, like what you use to make cream puffs... but it should probably be "turkey cheese puff pie" or "turkey gougere pie".

Turkey Cream Puff Pie

Making choux pastry is one of those times when you feel like something magic is happening in front of you. Every time I make a batch, I can't believe what happens. You dump the flour into your butter/liquid mixture and think, "Oh, this will never smooth out, I'm going to have a lumpy mess." Lo and behold, it smoothes out and all the lumps disappear. You add your eggs one at a time, and it looks like there's no way the dough will absorb each additional egg... and then you look and the egg you just added is gone. And all of this comes before you even bake it, which causes your sticky, buttery paste to rise and puff and turn a gorgeous golden brown.

Turkey Cream Puff Pie

I've made choux pastry a bunch of times, mostly for gougeres. The idea of using it as a savory pie crust, however, came from Gourmet magazine (recipe available on Epicurious). I subbed in my usual veggie combo of carrots, corn, peas, and broccoli, and also added a couple of tablespoons of sherry to my filling.

The smell of this baking is out of this world, by the way--my whole apartment is filled with the aroma of butter and cheese. The finished pie is pretty darn delicious. There's absolutely no confusing the choux pastry with a typical pie crust. It's dense and eggy and moist, with pockets of Swiss cheese throughout.

Something healthy next time, I promise.