Thursday, January 24, 2013

Mighty Make-Aheads: Pot Pie

If there's an overarching theme to all the baby books and websites, parenting magazines and new mommy blogs, it's time: not having enough, how it flies, and how to save it.

I find myself running out of time even before the little one has arrived (as evidenced by my lack of a post in two months) and I have a feeling that being overwhelmed and "losing track of time" is a fairly universal sentiment. So. My next few posts will highlight recipes to be made in bulk, popped in the freezer and reheated when you find yourself in dire need of a few extra minutes--to calm a crying baby, wash another load of laundry, or simply spend a few (fingers crossed) quiet minutes with your loved ones.

Before my little peanut comes barreling out to unsettle the relative calm of our household, I've been stowing away meals: a mama squirrel burying nutritious provisions for the coming arduous weeks. I make one serving for dinner, and find with these recipes it's not much more effort to double or triple the quantity and stow the remaining servings--just make sure you have plenty of Tupperware or disposable aluminum pans and room in the freezer.

Biscuit-topped Pot Pie

Makes 3 eight to nine inch pies, 5-6 servings each
Active time: 45 minutes
Cooking time: 1 hour, 30 min

2 Tbs Vegetable oil
5 stalks celery, washed and diced (1 1/2 cups)
1 large onion, peeled and diced (2 cups)
3 large Russet potatoes, peeled and diced to 1/2 inch cubes (3 cups)
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups frozen or canned mixed vegetables of your choice
       (Costco carries a great organic frozen mix with edamame for protein)
1 1/4 lb diced cooked chicken or beef (Rotisserie chicken makes a great shortcut here)
      or 2 cups additional chopped vegetable if making a vegetarian pie
      (broccoli and cauliflower both work well)
1/3 cup all purpose flour
1 qt low sodium stock or broth: chicken, beef or vegetable
2 tsp salt 
1 tsp dried thyme
1 Tbs Worcestershire sauce (omit if you are a strict vegetarian--contains anchovies)
1/4 tsp dried ground mustard
dash cayenne pepper
additional salt and black pepper to taste

Biscuit crust:
3 cups all purpose flour
4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
9 Tbs very cold butter (1 stick plus 1 Tbs)
1 cup very cold milk (plus 2-3 Tbs for brushing crust)

Heat oil in a large soup pot over medium-high heat. Add celery and onion and cook, stirring several minutes until they start to sweat and soften. Add potatoes and garlic and cook, stirring 2-3 more minutes. Add the mixed vegetables and the chicken, beef or veggie addition of your choice along with the flour. Stir vigorously to coat and mix well. Add stock, stir, and increase heat to high while stirring. Bring to a boil.

Reduce heat to simmer and add 2 tsp salt, dried thyme, Worcestershire, mustard, and cayenne. Let simmer, stirring occasionally, 30-35 minutes.

While the filling simmers, prepare the biscuit crust.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt. Cut the butter into very small pieces (if you have a box grater, it is much easier to simply grate the butter over the largest holes) and rub into flour mixture with your fingers, so that there are small pea sized pieces distributed evenly throughout. Make a well in the center and add the milk, mixing with a fork until absorbed and a shaggy dough begins to form. Turn the dough onto a floured surface and knead several times until it forms a cohesive mass. Divide into thirds. Gently roll each third on the floured surface into a round that will cover the top of your pie pan. Cover with a damp towel or plastic wrap until ready to use.

Once filling has simmered 30-35 minutes, it should have the consistency of a thick stew. If it is too thin (it may vary depending on the meat and vegetables you choose,) you can vigorously whisk 1 Tbs flour with 1/4 cup milk in a small bowl and add to the filling, stirring to distribute evenly. It will thicken slightly while baking. Season to taste with salt and black pepper.

Divide filling amongst 3 eight to nine inch pie pans and allow to cool slightly before placing the biscuit crusts on top.  Brush crusts with milk and cut several slits in the center to vent filling.

To store: Tightly fit plastic wrap over the crust, followed by a layer of aluminum foil secured around the edges. Place on a flat surface in the freezer until fully frozen, to prevent filling spillage.

To bake: Preheat oven to 375 F. Bake, uncovered in the center of the oven 30-35 minutes if fresh, 40-45 minutes if frozen, until crust is golden brown and filling is hot and bubbly.

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