Fourth of Advent

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”Fourth of Advent today,” my husband remarks. A gloomy, drizzly day, so typical of December in the Pacific Northwest. I actually like it, though. We’ll go caroling this evening. He plays Civilization, I watch BBC documentaries. How delightfully and pleasantly typical.

Take a deep breath

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Finally. The house is clean. The house is decorated. I even cleaned the office.

I can breath again…or maybe do some grading.

I did, however, accidentally wash the red table runner with the cream Christmas tablecloth and the brand new white IKEA curtains. Blergh.

God jol!

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Christmas decorations have begun to go up, spurred on by a surprise post-Thanksgiving snow storm! Over two inches of snow lasted almost a week, and it was the perfect inspiration for starting to get out the julbocken and julgrisen – that is, the Christmas goats and the Christmas pig! The julstjärna (Christmas star) is up on the windows, and we’ve been keeping the house a toasty 75 all evening long. It atones for the mornings when it’s fifty degrees in here!

Chicken Pot Pie

Chicken pot pie happens to be in my husbands top-five favorite foods. I rather like it myself (understatement of the year) and it is one of the handiest meals to have in the freezer. My sister in law was asking how I do this, so here’s my method.

Part 1: Chicken Stock

(There are other ways to do this – roast your own chicken, use chicken wings/legs, etc. This is my personal favorite, however, and probably the easiest.)

Step 1: Make your way to Costco. Purchase yourself one $5.00 rotisserie chicken and two loaves of their artisan bread. I like the Pugliese.   Have a nice, easy dinner or lunch with the breast of the chicken sliced on the bread. For an extra (expensive) kick, add some hard white cheddar. Yum!

(My father claims that if you make stock out of it, a $5.00 rotisserie chicken is one of the best food-for-money purchases you can make. I’m inclined to agree.)

Step 2: Strip the chicken of all of the remaining white meat. You can ignore the tough bits and the brown meat – they’ll add nice flavor. This job is much easier when the chicken is warm. Set the white meat aside, and put the carcass (bones, bits, skin and all) into a stock pot.

Step 3: Pour water over the carcass until it’s just about covered. This is usually about a gallon of water. Throw in an onion, peeled and quartered, three large carrots (washed but not peeled), and a couple of sticks of celery. You can also add a few bay leaves and/or cloves of garlic.

Step 4: Set this on the stove. Simmer for three to five hours. Don’t boil! Boiling gives it a weird, off flavor. My stove is a bugger and refuses NOT to boil something even when it’s on the lowest of low settings. I try my best but usually fail. Alas.

Step 5: Get a huge bowl or container. Normally, I use one of these. Set a strainer/colander in the top of it, and line the strainer with cheese cloth. Gently ladle the stock out of the stock pot into the strainer. The cheese cloth is there to give you a really nice, clear stock. Alternatively, you could just dump the whole stock into the strainer, sans cheese cloth, but it’s generally very cloudy if you do that.

Tada! You made chicken stock. I prefer to keep mine unsalted, but that’s a hangover from living and cooking at home, where my dad is on a fairly strict low sodium diet.

Next, let’s launch into the chicken pot pie side of things.

Part 2: Chicken Pot Pie

Credit where credit is due – this recipe is from the Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book, 1989 version. It’s what I grew up with and what I think works pretty darn well. It’s altered to how I make it here, but basically it’s the same.

I frequently double, triple, quadruple or even octuple this recipe.

Roux:
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/4 cups butter
1/3 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon rubbed sage
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper

Liquids:
2 cups chicken broth
3/4 cup milk
(Have some chicken bullion on hand. You’ll thank me.)

Filling:
2 chicken breasts, cooked and chopped
~ 1.5 cups chopped carrots
~ 1 cup frozen peas
~ 1 cup frozen corn

To start with, defrost you chicken breasts and pop them in the oven at 350°. They’ll take anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour to cook.

Slice your carrots and set them on a back burner to cook. Remember they’re there! The carrots will probably be done before the sauce is, so that works out nicely.

Melt the butter in a stock pot or large sauce pan. Saute the chopped onion with the butter until the onions are transparent.

Add the flour to the butter and onion mixture, along with the sage, thyme and pepper. Stir frequently until it’s well combined, hot and a tiny bit bubbly. It’ll be a thick mixture.

(At this point, this is called a roux. It’s the base for any dairy based cream sauce, such as mac-n-cheese or alfredo)

Pour in the milk and chicken broth all at once. Stir this until it’s thick and bubbly. It’ll probably take a while, but take heart – it will eventually thicken up.

Taste your sauce. If it’s not chicken-y enough, add some chicken bullion. I like Better than Bullion. If it’s a little bland, add some salt. Keep adjusting until it tastes right. Don’t over-do it on the salt, though. It’s easy enough to add salt on the table, and impossible to take it out once you’ve added it.

Once it’s thick, add the frozen peas, frozen corn and drained, cooked carrots. If it doesn’t look like enough of any of those, add more. I usually just add the peas and corn frozen, straight from the freezer. It takes a while for the whole mixture to heat up again, but that’s okay. It gives me time to cube the chicken.

This is also the point by which your chicken should be done. Check the breasts with an instant read thermometer. They should read at least 165°.  Pull them out, cube them and add them to the pot. (If you made the stock you used recently, remember to add the chicken you picked off before making the stock. Because I totally didn’t remember to last time I did this.)

Cook the whole mixture until it’s bubbly. Turn off the heat and let it cool down for a while.

And presto – chicken pot pie filling.

It is at this point that you have reached a crossroad. What will you now do with this filling! The options are endless!

You could make the traditional pastry crust. You could do that. But you could also . . .

– Serve it over rice. Seriously! It’s delicious, and it stretches it out nicely.

– Make a biscuit top. Use any ol’ biscuit recipe. If you want a more tender top, add an egg or two to your biscuit mix, along with the milk, so it’s more batter than dough. Pour this over top of the hot filling and cook until the biscuit is done.

– Make personal sized pasties. Make a pastry crust, about 12″ in diameter. Pour cold filling on one side, fold over the other side, then roll and flute your edges. Self contained, freezable, personal pies!

– Freeze it. I usually do 4 cups in a quart sized bag. Lay the bag on it’s side in the freezer and it’ll freeze nice and flat.  Frankly, this is what I do every time I do chicken pot pie – the last time I made it, I froze nine quarts of the stuff, plus the pie that we ate that night. There’s nothing quite like knowing you have ready-to-go, customized meals in the freezer. Just pull it out, defrost, and serve with a biscuit top or rice. It’s fast, easy and really yummy.

 

Washington DC – 11/18 – 11/22

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Saturday 1/18 – Air and Space Museum – NASA X-15

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Saturday 1/18 – Natural History Museum – Kayak made by Maligiaq Padilla

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Saturday 1/18 – Natural History Museum Rotunda

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Saturday 1/18 – Capitol building at dusk

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Saturday 1/18 – Washington Monument

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Sunday 1/19 – Natural History Museum gem collection!

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Sunday 1/19 – Freer Gallery, Whistler’s Peacock Room

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Monday 1/20 – Mount Vernon upper garden and greenhouse

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Monday 1/20 – Mount Vernon upper garden

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Monday 1/20 – Mount Vernon kitchen

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Monday 1/20 – Evidence of true (shoe) love.

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Monday 1/20 – Mount Vernon from the bowling green

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Tuesday 1/21 – Crack of dawn Harris Teeter run

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Tuesday 1/21 – Snow Day!

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Wednesday 1/21 – And the snow is still there. And it’s really, really cold.