It’s harder to start again, than it is to begin. – Stan Rogers, Canadian singer, songwriter
The excuses for my long absence are, like those of the bad boyfriend I hope you didn’t marry, too numerous and too tedious to recount. I will only say I have missed writing terribly, but every time I commenced, I was distracted by a surreal election season. Having lurched around like a zombie since November 9th, I finally had to make a choice, Eaters. I had to choose not to eat brains (not least because there’s a national shortage). So rise up with me, reanimate your corpse, and let’s live again. That means we need something to do, and something to eat.
Anyone for comfort food? Last week, I had a hard day, one in a series. But I returned home to find that my husband had made chicken pot pie, the kind with biscuits on top! Pot pies can be made with pastry crusts, biscuits or mashed potatoes atop. Any version of a savory pie is comforting (I have even made fish pie, though God only knows why). When I make it, I use minimal butter, and milk rather than cream. That is why my husband’s rendition was, inevitably, way better than mine. Those lofty, buttery biscuits blanketing the gravy-swathed filling are kindness in food form.
For anyone meatless, this dish is also good with tofu, especially if you use curry seasoning in place of sage. Tofu is tricky as a substitute, and you won’t catch me using it in desserts, (do not mention tofu puddings and “cheesecakes” in my presence) but it works here.
I have also been enjoying soup, and have found it helpful to put the parts of the soup that can tolerate long cooking (carrots, onions, root vegetables) in the slow cooker in the morning, then you can think about the soup all day. When existence becomes particularly trying, when someone shows you a fake news story about the pope endorsing a presidential candidate, you can say to yourself, “Yes, but there’s soup at home,” and smile a wan, anesthetized smile. Later, you can add the last minute items (frozen edamame, tofu, greens, leftover vegetable or meats that are already cooked, et cetera). Herbs (I love parsley in almost any soup and cilantro in Asian-themed ones) can be added to each bowl upon serving. I often want something hot and soothing, but I need that touch of green to freshen it up. If you are feeling ambitious, you can blend the herbs into a green sauce (along with olive oil, maybe garlic) and drizzle it on top. But, I have never actually felt ambitious.
I hope you will find my suggestions restorative, and please, send me some of your own. In my time away from writing, I have witnessed madness, rage and pain. But I have also stumbled upon beauty, great and small. Look and listen; you never know what might bring you back to life. Hopefully we will find, as Mark Twain did, that the reports of our death have been greatly exaggerated.
From top left: all it needs is a toad, rainbow at Ward Lake, the enormous mango of legend, Falls Creek Falls, a certain quality of light on the night of the rainbow, (also, see final photo below)
Mark Bittman’s Chicken Pot Pie recipe (in his own words) including variations
Whether you start from scratch (as in the main recipe) or with leftovers (as in one of the variations), chicken pot pie is extreme comfort food. Don’t let the extra steps put you off, since each component (the piecrust, the chicken and sauce, and the vegetables) can be executed a day or two ahead and the whole assembled right before baking. For vegetables I use carrots, peas, and pearl onions—the classics—though you can try other complementary trios, like parsnips, green beans, and shallots or rutabaga, celery, and leeks.
- 1 whole chicken, 3 to 4 pounds, trimmed of excess fat
- 2 onions, quartered
- 3 bay leaves
- 10 whole black peppercorns
- 1 recipe Sweet Tart Crust, chilled
- 2 tablespoons butter or extra virgin olive oil, plus more for greasing the baking dish
- 1 cup pearl onions, peeled (frozen are fine; run under cold water to thaw a bit, then drain)
- 2 large or 4 small to medium carrots, diced
- 2 tablespoons all‐purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage or 1 teaspoon dried sage
- Freshly ground black pepper
- ½ cup cream
- 1 cup peas (frozen are fine; don’t bother to thaw)
- 1 egg, beaten
- Put the chicken and onions in a large pot with just enough water to cover. Bring to a boil over medium‐high heat, then immediately reduce the heat to medium‐low. Skim any foam that rises to the surface. Add the bay leaves, peppercorns, and a generous pinch of salt. Simmer until the chicken and vegetables are nearly tender and the chicken is cooked through, about 45 minutes; the bird is done when an instant‐read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh reads 155–165°F.
- Remove the chicken to cool and save the cooking liquid. (This is a good time to make the tart dough if you haven’t already done so.)
- Remove the chicken meat from the bones, roughly chop or pull into pieces, and reserve. Return the carcass to the pot (break the pieces up a bit so they’re all submerged, but don’t add any more water), and bring the liquid back to a boil. Reduce the heat so the liquid bubbles steadily and cook, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes or so. Strain into a wide pot, bring the liquid to a boil, and reduce until you have about 1½ cups, 15 to 30 minutes, depending on how much you started with. (At this point, the chicken and cooking liquid may be stored separately in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.) If you’re baking the pie now, heat the oven to 375°F and generously grease a 2‐quart baking dish.
- Put 2 tablespoons butter or oil in a deep skillet over medium heat. When the butter is melted or the oil is hot, add the onions and carrots and cook, stirring frequently, until just beginning to soften, about 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium‐low and stir in the flour; continue cooking and stirring until it just turns tan. Add the sage and cook and stir for another minute. (At this point you can refrigerate the vegetable mixture for up to a day, then reheat just before proceeding.)
- Add the chicken‐cooking liquid and the cream to the vegetable‐flour mixture and turn the heat up to medium. Cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture begins to bubble and thicken, but don’t let it come to a rolling boil. Taste and adjust the seasoning, turn off the heat, and stir in the chicken pieces and the peas. Put the mixture into the prepared baking dish. (At this point, you may cover and refrigerate the filling for up to a day; bring to room temperature before proceeding.)
- Roll out the tart crust large enough to cover the baking dish. Lay it on top of the dish and flute it as for a piecrust (see Crimping the Pie Shell) or just leave it draped over the sides a little. Use a sharp knife to cut 3 or 4 vents in the top. Brush the top with the beaten egg. Bake for 50 to 60 minutes, until the crust is deeply golden and the filling is bubbling.
Faster Chicken Pot Pie
For when you have leftovers or pick up an already‐cooked bird: Skip Steps 1, 2, and 3 and start by putting 4 cups of chicken stock (to make your own, see Quickest Chicken Stock) in a large pot and bringing it to a boil. Reduce by about half. Meanwhile, bone and chop the cooked chicken. You should have about 3 cups, but if not, simply substitute more vegetables (green beans are nice) to make up the difference. Proceed with the recipe from Step 4.
Chicken Pot Pie With Biscuit Crust
Replace the tart dough with 1 recipe Buttermilk Biscuits Proceed with the recipe through Step 5 or follow the first variation. In Step 6, roll out the biscuit dough into one piece large enough to cover the baking dish or cut into biscuits; top the filling with the biscuit dough or the cut biscuits. Bake as directed.