Chicken Pot Chicken Pot Chicken Pot Pie

It’s FINALLY FALL, Y’ALL.

Okay, technically I’m writing this post on the last day of summer.  But it’s been cold, rainy, and windy, and I’ve been wearing scarves and sweaters.  As far as I’m concerned, fall has begun, and that means it’s time for comfort food cooking.

Comfort food around this house isn’t as easy as it used to be.  Most of our favorite comfort foods involve cheese, heavy cream, butter, and eggs, which are all off-limits when cooking for my family.  My daughter, Emily, has multiple food allergies.  She can’t eat dairy, eggs, peanuts, or pumpkin.  Peanuts and pumpkin are easy enough to avoid in our own house (in fact, peanuts in any form do not even enter this house), but milk and eggs can be tricky.

I’ve been in the mood for chicken pot pie.  Can you imagine cooking chicken pot pie without milk and/or eggs?  Well, I went for it.  I made up a recipe on the fly using our go-to substitute ingredients, and as with many things I cook these days, I kept my expectations low.  Here’s what I did:

1. I made a basic white sauce using dairy-free margarine, flour, and unsweetened rice milk.  When it started to thicken, I tossed in a chicken bouillon cube and sprinkled in some pepper.

2. Once the sauce had thickened to my liking, I added a couple of cups of shredded chicken and half a bag of frozen mixed veggies and kept on the heat until the sauce was warm.

3. I spread out a Pillsbury pre-made pie crust into a glass pie dish.  Strangely enough, these pie crusts don’t contain dairy OR eggs.

4. I dumped the sauce/chicken/veggie mixture into the pie dish and covered with another crust.

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5. I baked for 20 minutes at 450 degrees F.

The verdict?  My daughter cleaned her plate, if you don’t count the green beans she thinks are evil.  I had to go back for seconds.  My HUSBAND, who never goes back for seconds, especially not when I load up his dinner full of vegetables, went back for seconds.  The best damn pot pie I’ve ever made, and without any dairy or eggs.

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Say something about my dirty stovetop–I dare you.

Don’t worry, I’m not going to get too cocky.  This is a rare victory for me.  *Has traumatizing flashback to the last time I tried to make vegan Alfredo sauce*  It is nice to have a good ol’ comfort food recipe to file away for later use, though.

Earlier this week I also baked a loaf of Dutch Apple Bread.  This one I actually made as a part of Emily’s six-month at home baked milk challenge.  Two months ago, her IgE numbers for casein (milk protein) dipped low enough that her allergist thought she could possibly tolerate baked milk.  When milk is baked, some of the milk proteins bake out. We started out with a baked milk challenge done at the allergist’s office so she could be monitored in case she went into anaphylaxis.  Unfortunately, she failed the challenge; she reacted to the milk, but it was a mild enough reaction that her allergist asked us to give her half of a muffin or slice of bread three times a week to help her body build up a tolerance for the protein.  The muffins and bread must contain a specific amount of milk so she’s getting enough, but not too much, exposure to those proteins.

LONG STORY SHORT…I baked bread.

I started out with this recipe, but I made several modifications.  First, I didn’t make the glaze.  Considering I have to make these things for Emily weekly, I figured she didn’t need all that extra sugar.  I did opt for a light sprinkling of cinnamon and sugar on top.

Second, I omitted the walnuts.  Emily is only a year and a half old, so I’m still cautious about choking hazards.

Third, I added half a teaspoon of cinnamon to the dry ingredients.  Just ’cause.

Lastly, I substituted ground flax for the eggs.

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That brown goop?  That’s “egg.”

THIS BREAD IS SO DAMN DELICIOUS.

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All in all, I feel pretty good about this week’s creations.

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Rolling in Dough

Over the weekend, I was bit by the baking bug. It happens quite rarely, but when it does…oh boy.

And of course I didn’t start off with something easy. On Sunday morning, I drank a cup of coffee for a burst of energy and then stepped right into my bread-makin’ shoes. (Note: I didn’t actually have any shoes on while I made bread. I did, however, bust out my trusty pink floral apron.)

Right off the bat, my husband had little faith in me. I can’t say I blame him. He’s more familiar than anyone with my work in the kitchen. But he had good reason to be weary of my bread’s success; I was making a mixed-grain bread that called for quite a bit of whole-wheat flour, which is notoriously more difficult to bake with than your standard all-purpose flour.

The husband went out for a mountain bike ride and I got to work mixing and kneading…and kneading…and kneading. Honestly, longest six minutes of my life.

And when my husband returned home, look at what I got to gloat about:

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He was quite impressed. Truthfully, it was too early to be genuinely impressed, as I hadn’t yet tasted it. Luckily, the first bite validated my ability as a baker; I baked one seriously delicious loaf of bread! I was telling my coworker about it, and in a surprised tone she asked, “You made your own bread? Like, with a bread machine?” Let me tell you how good it felt to tell her that I did all the dirty work by hand: it felt goooooooooooood.

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That same afternoon, I made these Oreo Cheesecake Cookies:

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I’m pretty sure this was the simplest cookie recipe I’ve ever used, and the cookies were to die for. I took them to a family get-together that evening, and within five minutes, they were gone. Every last one of them.

I recently posted a rant about my food looking nothing like the pictures in the recipes I find online, and what made me happiest about these cookies is that mine looked exactly like the pictures in the original recipe. FINALLY.

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Have you baked anything good lately?

Dough, take one: dinner rolls

Yesterday was the kickoff to my second “Two Week Technique.”  For the next two weeks, I will be teaching myself all about the art of making and baking dough!

Several months ago, I told my mom I wanted to make some bread and her response had been, “Don’t be disappointed if it doesn’t turn out well the first time.”  At the time, I had zilch for cooking skills and decided to put my bread dreams on hold.  Now I feel comfortable enough wandering into a doughier territory.

I opted to start with some dinner rolls from my Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook.  As I started the prep work, I knew just a few simple things about bread and dough-making:  you need yeast to make the dough rise, kneading is important, and dough needs time to rise.  However, what I did NOT know was that the temperature of the liquid being mixed in with the flour can be too cold to activate the yeast or too hot, which will kill the yeast.  Therefore, when I read that my mixture of butter, milk, and sugar needed to be between 120 and 130 degrees, I took it with a grain of salt.  In fact, I didn’t understand the importance of the temperature until after my batch of rolls had finished baking.  I simply waited for the butter to almost completely melt, and that’s when I added the mixture to the flour.

After what I have dubbed “The World’s Greatest Arm Workout,” I had a big ball of dough.

I transferred the dough ball into a greased bowl and let it sit.  I was pathetically excited to check on it every ten minutes to see if it had grown any.  Like watching a pregnant woman’s belly over time.

An hour later, my dough ball had doubled in size.  The recipe instructed to “punch” the dough down–I hadn’t expected that the whole thing would deflate!  Then, I moved it to my floured surface and divided it in two.

After some more time rising, I divided the dough into 16 miniature dough balls.  Then they had to rise another half an hour and I finally slid them into the oven.  While I waited, very nervously, I piled some things on top of my cat.  (Please don’t panic, he doesn’t mind it one bit.  He purred and stared at me lovingly the entire time.)

Twelve minutes later, this is what came out of my oven:

While they were still piping hot, there was no way I wasn’t trying one.  Despite my complete ignorance to the whole temperature-of-the-liquid thing, I managed to make some of the GREATEST dinner rolls I have ever tasted.  Tonight, I served them with some garlic Parmesan-Romano chicken and broccoli.

So.  On a scale of 1-10, 10 being the highest, my confidence level for my two weeks of dough-makin’ is a freaking 11.  Next up, I will tackle something that has always been a personal struggle:  pizza dough.  The only pizza dough I’ve ever made is the kind that comes in a Jiffy box, so I’m going to test my skills at the real deal.  Can’t wait!

Broiling final exam and experimental marinara meatballs

Today marks the final challenge of my first “Two Week Technique,” a 14-day assignment of learning all that is necessary to know about broiling.  After doing some much-needed reading on the subject, I made a list of the basics of broiling and found recipes for three different types of food to cook under the broiler.  First, I tried my hand at broiling grilled cheese sandwiches.  Second, I attempted (and failed) to make broiled stuffed potatoes.  Third, I surprised myself by successfully cooking sirloin steak under the broiler.

The final test was for me to choose something to broil without using a recipe.  I allowed myself to rely only on the things that I have learned in my three recent broiling experiences.  Without further adieu, here is the product of my education in the school of broiling:

So what on that plate is broiled?  Well, I ultimately decided that for my final test I would stick to a simple cheesy garlic bread.  Why?  Because what I learned is that if you’re cooking anything fancy, the broiler is best left for something a little less complex.  Since broiling cooks from above at a high temperature, it’s really better left for things that…well, need to be cooked from above at a high temperature.  If it doesn’t need to be cooked this way, it’s mostly a pain in the ass to try cooking it under the broiler.

Therefore, I chose to make cheesy garlic bread.  I made this decision based on the fact that I wanted the top–and only the top–of my bread to be cooked.  I started with this darling little loaf of artisan bread:

Then I sliced it, brushed each slice with melted butter, sprinkled the slices with garlic salt, and topped them all with grated Parmesan and Romano.

Then into the oven they went.  As they sat under the broiler, I checked on them about every 15 seconds.  Since I did learn the broiler is a bloody fast way of cooking, I didn’t want to risk the cheese burning.

I made some turkey meatballs to go with the cheesy garlic bread.  At this point, I’m able to wing it when it comes to meatballs–I no longer need recipes for them!  The meatballs tonight were simply seasoned with basil, oregano, and chopped onion.  After they were finished baking, I simmered them in a pot of marinara sauce.  While they simmered, they looked so delicious I just had to take a picture.  Unfortunately, the photo looked nothing like the pot of food in front of me; rather, it looked like a still from a zombie apocalypse film.  (This was confirmed by my fiance as I was saving the photos to my computer.  He saw the picture out of the corner of his eye and said, “Are you looking at a picture of a gunshot victim?”)

I can assure you, these tasted SO much better than they look in the picture above (I promise, this dish wasn’t inspired by Rudy Eugene).  I served them with some asparagus and the cheesy garlic bread, which was DIVINE!

I feel that my first “Two Week Technique” was successful.  Though I don’t feel I’ll be using my broiler much for anything other than cheesy garlic bread, I know I learned a lot and that it helped me grow as a cook.  Tomorrow will start my next TWT:  dough!