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Thursday, January 17, 2019

Lessons learned

Cooking is an ongoing learning lesson for me. Even when I cook old, familiar recipes, I discover something new, some trick to improve the process or the end result. So it was yesterday when I fixed chicken pot pie to welcome Jordan home from a business trip. Jacob loves chicken pot pie—I once watched him use fresh strawberries to scoop up the remaining sauce on his plate. Yesterday, I decided to try a new cooking technique for the chicken and an idea I’d found elsewhere for topping.
First the chicken. You know how when you cook chicken in seasoned water, the meat turns tough if you let the liquid boil? Thanks to Sam Sifton of the New York Times for this suggestion in another context. Bring a generous pot of water to a rolling boil in a deep Dutch oven with a tight-fitting lid; season it as you would for cooking chicken—perhaps some onion, celery, carrot, peppercorns. Whatever.
When the water boils, turn off the heat and slide the chicken in; cover and ignore for at least two hours—I let three boneless, skin-on breasts sit three hours and the liquid was still warm when I removed them. Cut to the bone in a thick part to be sure there’s no pink—if there is, turn the burner on to simmer and let the chicken cook a bit more, like twenty minutes, on that low heat.
I started out with plenty of time to make the dish, even put the cream cheese out to soften first thing in the morning. But I then I got behind and ended up putting all the ingredient together all at once, without first defrosting the peas and corn (I may be the only person in the world who puts corn in chicken pot pie, but my local family loves corn and peas not so much, so I mix them—if anyone objected I was prepared to say the peas are needed for color; my mom taught me that food is half eaten with the eye; alas, no one objected—I’ll save that  line for later.).
But when the frozen peas were stirred in with the nicely softened cream cheese, the cheese got cold and hardened up again so that it was difficult to stir in. In a flash of what I thought was inspiration, I pre-cooked the entire casserole in the toaster oven, just got it warm enough that I could stir it easily. Then I cooled and refrigerated it—this was in the morning. As usual, I was cooking way ahead of myself.
My topping experiment was a success too. I saw a recipe for individual turkey pot pies with bread dressing as a topping. In that recipe, you made the dressing from scratch, but I cheated and used herb-flavored Stove Top™. I had made a double batch of the chicken filling, and one box of Stove Top covered it nicely and gave it a delicious, crunchy top. Instead of water, I used chicken broth to reconstitute the dry stuffing mix.
Jacob ate two large helpings, so I guess I was a success.

Here’s the recipe for the pie filling to feed two or maybe three:
1 cup cooked chicken, diced, or a bit more
½ cup frozen petite peas
½ cup frozen corn kernels
½ can cream of chicken soup
4 oz. cream cheese
½ c. cheddar cheese
Mix all together and put in greased 8x8 dish.
I must learn to take pictures of my creations! Sorry about that. No picture this time. The little bit of leftovers are now stuffed into refrigerator dishes and, while still tasty, not at all picturesque.

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