Pillay’s Dal

October 24, 2017

Book Cover

Twenty years ago, my mother sent me three manila envelopes, each containing about 70 faded aerograms. I had typed these letters on a handbag sized Olivetti manual and mailed them home from Tanganyika in the early 1960’s. Suddenly a part of my almost forgotten past came alive again. With encouragement and direction from my friend and later husband, creative writing professor James Reiss, I forged segments from these 200 letters into a manuscript. For years no one was interested in my story until I had the good fortune of meeting Ami Kaye from Glass Lyre Press. She accepted the work and brought out The Njombe Road last month.

I’m thrilled to have the book; it’s a piece of living history. Throughout the memoir that traces twenty months Robert Wendel and I spent teaching and traveling in East Africa, food and cooking experiences kept me grounded. I learned basics of Indian cooking from the wives of village shop keepers, retraced pioneer practices of preserving and knew that if we wanted ketchup or peanut butter, I’d need to make it from scratch. Basic produce was limited and seasonal, but the shops with no electricity stocked lentils and rice. I had only known the brown lentils common in our markets, so the world of Chana, Toor, Mung, Urad was all new to me.

Mr. Pillay, a Bengali teacher on our secondary boys boarding school staff, prepared one of our first Indian suppers. I still make Pillay’s Dal just as I watched him in his tiny kitchen. This was my first taste of the somewhat medicinal ajwain seeds and the tang of tamarind. Recalling this soup still sends shivers down my spine and I see us sitting there deep in the bush around a wooden table under light from a pressure lamp savoring soup with our new friend.

If you’d like to travel back fifty-four years and explore East Africa at that time, you may order The Njombe Road from any bookstore or Amazon.


Pillay’s Dal

7 oz. (1 cup) Toor or Chana Dal or other Indian yellow or pink lentils

1 whole green chili

2 whole peeled garlic cloves

1 teaspoon turmeric

4 tablespoons vegetable oil

½ teaspoon brown mustard seeds

¼ teaspoon cumin seeds

1/8 teaspoon ajwain seeds (optional)

6 oz. (1 medium) onion peeled, quartered and thinly sliced             (1½ cups)

1 oz. (large walnut-sized piece) dry tamarind (or rounded teaspoon concentrate)

1 cup diced fresh or canned tomato

salt, cayenne (chili powder), lime juice to taste

yogurt and coriander (cilantro) leaves for garnish

Rinse lentils and place in deep pot or pressure cooker with 1-quart cool water, green chili, garlic and turmeric. Pressure-cook or simmer covered until mushy tender. (Soak lentils in water for 1 hour to hasten cooking time.)

Heat oil in medium frying pan and sizzle mustard, cumin and optional ajwain seeds until they begin to make a popping sound. Add sliced onion and fry gently until onion is reduced and golden brown. (This will take at least 15 minutes.)

Crumble tamarind into a bowl and soften in ½ cup boiling water. When tamarind has cooled enough to handle, rub the fruit with your fingertips to form a puree. Strain the puree to remove seeds and skins. (Or use rounded teaspoon prepared tamarind concentrate.)

When the dal has softened. Add tamarind, chopped tomato, and salt to taste.

Dal Soup

Remove the chili and for added spiciness, chop the cooked chili and return it to the soup. Add 2 cups additional water if lentils seem too thick and whisk to break up the lentils. Simmer 5 minutes.

Add seed scented oil with fried onion. Taste for seasonings, adding a generous squeeze of limejuice for added tartness, and a pinch cayenne or powdered chili for zest.

Serve the soup in bowls with a spoonful of yogurt and sprinkle chopped cilantro over the top. Serves 4-6.



Salted Caramel Coffee Ice Cream

September 14, 2017

Peaches with Salted Caramel and Coffee Ice Cream

Peaches take me home to the wind swept high desert valley ringed with rocky tops. In that sheltered Colorado valley, Grand Mesa always heralds east, the Monument west and the Book Cliffs north. The Colorado River runs through it and I’m never lost there. Before the current expanse of vineyards claimed the land, peaches were the cash crop bringing in ranchers like gold rush miners. Corporate orchards elsewhere, finicky weather and climate change made peach farming less reliable, but in the 1950’s the entire valley joined in the peach harvest. School openings were delayed, small businesses shuttered, housewives, teenagers and little kids all worked “in the peaches.” It was pocket money for the winter and sometimes a rollicking social festival in the packing sheds. Packers paid by the box, pickers by the strapped on bag, and sorters by the hour, everyone hungered for more work. Waiting for the box-loaded trailer to pull up to the shed, teenagers tossed each other into the irrigation ditch cooling off in the intense summer heat. Through it all our Palisade peaches were the best in the world!

I mumbled about peaches from Michigan for years, but now I find them excellent in the market here. The Elberta used to be queen of the crop and I look for the early Red Havens and later varieties with unfamiliar names. With ripening peaches spread across wooden trays, we savor our prized stone fruit. A pie or cobbler would be nice, but ice cream with peaches is always a good choice.

Recently I sampled a salted caramel and coffee ice cream at a premium ice cream shop and though the first tastes were shiveringly delicious, soon the confection lost my interest. It was over all too sweet. Excessive sugar has a deadening effect, and at $4.75 for a single scoop, only a few bites were all I could take. Time to create my own version.

This formula will make a quart of gorgeous ice cream in a simple home freezer, either electric or hand turned Donvier model.

Salted Caramel and Coffee Ice Cream

Caramelized Sugar

5 oz. (scant 2/3 cup) sugar

¼ teaspoon fine salt

2 tablespoons water

4 fl. oz. (½ cup) heavy cream

12 fl oz. (1 ½ cups) whole milk

2 teaspoons instant coffee (espresso recommended)

4 egg yolks

1 tablespoon sugar

8 fl. oz. (1 cup) heavy cream

1 teaspoon vanilla

In a heavy saucepan over moderate heat, melt the sugar with salt to a molten amber not quite light coffee color. Do not stir the sugar as it melts, but tilt the pan from side to side to encourage an even melt and color. Slide pan off heat; add 2 tablespoons water, cover then stir to form a thick syrup. Add 4 oz. heavy cream; return to low heat and stir into a smooth caramel sauce. Remove sauce to a bowl.

Freezing Ice Cream

In the same saucepan with caramel bits still clinging, heat the milk to a simmer; add instant coffee and dissolve. Beat 4 egg yolks in a small bowl with 1 tablespoon sugar. Add about ½ cup of the hot milk to egg yolks, whisk to combine and pour the yolk mixture into the simmering milk. Cook, stirring, to form a light custard (when the mixture coats the back of a spoon). Remove from heat; stir in the caramel sauce and cool. Add 8 oz. heavy cream, vanilla and chill.

Freeze the chilled caramel/coffee custard in any home ice cream freezer. Makes a generous quart.



Corn Trio

August 18, 2017

Farmers’ market produce

There’s some of my farmers’ market bounty, all red, green and yellow, looking like a summer flag. With August comes corn from our favorite Wisconsin vendor, and at last the truly sun ripened tomatoes. (As beautiful as they look, the green house tomatoes many farms offer earlier in the season never have the rich red sweetness of those sun kissed in the open field.) For several days we’re happy with the simple treat of corn on the cob boiled, grilled or roasted in its husk.

Then I’m ready to cut corn off the cob and take it to another level. Corn seems to combine best with its garden sisters. In this season there’s perfection in the mix of corn, peppers and tomatoes. Nudged along with a little good bacon, a touch of fresh thyme and a zip of chili, this week day braise reminiscent of Louisiana’s Maque Choux, is good hot, cool, the next day, served as a side dish, a main meal or even warmed for breakfast topped with a poached egg.

First a side note about cutting corn off the cob. Often cooks cut too deeply and include some of the tough tip cap or the part of the kernel that locks the corn seed onto the cob. For the best cut corn, use a sharp paring knife and cut through the middle of the corn kernels to release the juicy crisp tops and then scrape the cob to collect all the corn “cream”. This mix will give the best flavor and texture for the corn base. If the corn is fresh and young, the cut corn will cook in 2 minutes when added to the simmering tomato base, retaining the kernels’ pop and the succulent vegetable cream.

Corn Trio

Corn Trio

3 oz. diced bacon (1/2 cup) or 3 tablespoons olive oil

6 oz. diced onion (1 cup)

6 oz. diced red or green pepper (1 cup)

2-3 cloves garlic minced

3-4 springs fresh thyme, stripped and chopped or ½ teaspoon dry thyme

Several slices Serrano green chili or generous pinch crushed red pepper

16 oz. diced, peeled, seeded, fresh tomatoes (2 generous cups)

16 oz. cut and scraped fresh corn (2 generous cups; 4 full ears)

salt to taste

fresh parsley or basil for garnish.

In a wide shallow skillet, sauté the bacon over moderate heat until it releases all its fat (add a twirl of olive oil if the bacon is lean). Add the diced onion, pepper, cover with butter wrappers and sweat until the onion has softened. Remove papers, add garlic, thyme, chili and continue to sauté a few seconds. Add tomato, salt and cook briskly until the tomato breaks down. (Cover for a while if the tomato is firm.) Boil up most of the tomato juice if the mixture is soupy. Add cut corn, cover and cook gently 2 minutes if corn is young and up to 4 minutes if corn is more mature. Stir well and taste for seasonings, adding more salt if needed and freshly milled pepper if desired. Serve warm or room temperature. Enough for 6


Brother Peter and Frank’s Slaw

July 31, 2017

“Don’t miss the chance to reconnect,” chirped Barbara, as we walked through the park several weeks ago. I had just recounted how a manuscript fact-checking search linked me with Brother Peter Farnesi whom I met 53 years ago at Nandembo mission near Tunduru in Southern Tanzania. Google led me to the Salvatorian headquarters, and even though I had only a first name, a place and a date, I discovered Brother Peter, now 91, living in a retirement community in Milwaukee, not far from here.

When my choir mate, Amanda, mentioned traveling to Milwaukee to deliver her MFA thesis, I asked to come along and my quest was underway. Of course after all these years, I had no memory of his appearance, but when a lively gent bounded down the hall of the Alexian Village, I knew this must be Brother Peter. The hours flew by as we talked memories, both of us happy to recall and relate stories we could easily visualize from the experience of being there.

The son of Italian immigrants, Peter grew up in the San Joaquin Valley. He worked as a cowboy, rodeo performer, farmer, cook, carpenter before he was drafted. While in the army he felt a call to give his life to serving others. Joining the Salvatorian Brothers, he accepted a mission assignment in Tanganyika. When he reached the Nandembo station in 1960 it was a bare bones, Benedictine house. (In the African bush, missions were developed a day’s journey apart, for means of communication, supplies and basic contact with the outside world.) Over his 24 years at Nandembo, Brother Peter built a carpentry school for boys, a domestic science school for girls and a medical dispensary as well as a farm. The mission farm boasted 50 head of Zebu mixed cattle, flocks of hens, a drove of pigs as well as a large vegetable garden and an orchard of cashew trees. It was ‘shoulder to the wheel’ work for decades for this master craftsman and Jack-of-all-trades. Days were long and hot, often with distress calls to drive a villager to the hospital 30 miles away in the middle of the night.

Brother Peter lovingly fulfilled his commitment to live among and to help the native people. “No man wants to hear the gospel if he is starving or sick” but when bellies are filled this man may ask, “ Who is this God you pray to?”

Peter told the story of a local woman who came to the mission garden, saw a large beautiful cabbage and asked to buy it. “No, madam, I will not sell it to you,” he responded. “But I will give you seeds and teach you how to grow the same cabbage in your own garden.”

All the white missionaries are gone now from Nandembo. The African Salvatorians are carrying forward, and I’m sure Brother Peter is warmly remembered there. I left Milwaukee feeling I had stood in the shadow of a living saint, a man who walked among the neediest and gave his life to their service.

Cabbages were often available in East African village markets and this southern cole slaw recipe from my good friend Frank is welcome on any continent, in any climate, at any time of year.

Slaw fixings

Frank’s Cole Slaw

3 tablespoons sugar

4 tablespoons white vinegar (wine, rice or distilled)

½ teaspoon salt

1 ½ tablespoons oil (olive, sunflower or canola)

½ teaspoon celery seed (optional)

1 lb. green cabbage (6 cups shredded)

¼ large sweet onion (½ cup chopped)

½ green pepper (½ cup chopped)

1 tablespoon chopped parsley

In a small bowl, combine sugar, vinegar, salt, oil and optional seeds. Whisk to disslove sugar and salt dissolve. (This mixture may be boiled.)

Frank’s Saw

Shred cabbage using a Japanese mandolin if possible. Finely chop onion and pepper. Combine shredded and chopped vegetables in wide bowl. Pour over the dressing. Toss and allow cabbage to wilt for at least half an hour. Refrigerate until ready to use. Drain excess liquid before serving. Will keep for almost a week in the fridge. Serves 4-5.


Note: red cabbage and red onion may be substituted for green; shredded carrots, diced apple may be added.


Vinaigrette Dressing

June 22, 2017

My salad days may be in the attic, but a good salad is still a part of every day. Since the dawn of my cooking life, a routine salad always means soft greens with vinaigrette dressing. I wish I could remember who introduced me to the golden elixir, good olive oil, and its alchemic magic when combined with red wine vinegar. Maybe it was the Greek family that ran the market for the Basque sheepherders, or my distant Italian great aunt, or an ancient issue of Gourmet magazine. That watershed defined salad, removed olive oil from the medicine cabinet and has stayed with me ever since.

dressing mixed

For me and my children, salad after dinner never means coleslaw or Waldorf, but simply green salad. We may add dill, basil, arugula and tarragon as they leaf in the garden or true ripe tomatoes and cucumber in late summer, but nothing satisfies like fresh soft lettuce and vinaigrette dressing.

I’ve never been able to understand the popularity of bottled salad dressings. They’re usually composed of compromised ingredients, sold at inflated prices where you’re mainly paying for packaging and advertising. When a salad can be dressed simply with a pinch of salt, a twirl of olive oil and a squeeze of lemon why would anyone go with Kraft?

greens ready

For less than the price of most bottled dressings you can buy excellent olive oil, reasonable vinegar, and sea salt. The additions of wine and Dijon mustard are nice but not essential. It takes no more than two minutes to stir the sauce in the bottom of your salad bowl. Pile on the leaves washed and spun dry, and toss when you’re ready. Not a dressing to make ahead, it’s best when fresh, since good olive oil will solidify when chilled. This salad is light; it’s pure; it’s inexpensive and for us it’s usually dessert.

Vinaigrette Dressing

1 clove garlic

salad tossed

generous pinch coarse sea salt

1 tablespoon red or white wine vinegar

½ tablespoon white wine (optional)

generous ½ teaspoon Dijon mustard

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

In the bottom of a wide, shallow salad bowl, crush the garlic with salt using the back of a spoon. Add the vinegar, wine, mustard and mix well. Swirl in the olive oil. (Add a little chopped scallion or a few shaves of red onion and let marinate in the dressing if desired.) Pile washed, dry salad leaves on top and toss in the dressing when ready to serve.

Enough for 2-4.


Coconut Walnut Squares

June 9, 2017


For the last choir rehearsal before summer break, it seems like a good idea to take along a plate of cookies. There’s a package of coconut staring at me and walnuts left from winter cakes. I flip to that page in the Joy of Cooking with the old recipe for Angel Slices and see a series of notes. There’s an old file card with a similar recipe from Dorrie Waltz, the walnut shortbreads notes from the shop, and the memory of baking these bars for the nurses at DeKalb County Hospital who gave me so much support following Catherine’s birth decades ago. It’s a great recipe; time to bring it out again.

Baked squares

After years of experience, I’ll take the liberty to make a few changes. For the shortbread base, I’ll use my standard 1,2,3 proportions instead of the egg yolk pastry suggested. The basic 1,2,3 shortbread never fails especially when made with European style butter. This is the cookie recipe always to have in your hip pocket memory : 1 oz. sugar, 2 oz. butter, 3 oz. flour; include a pinch of salt with unsalted butter and a quarter teaspoon vanilla for free standing cookies.

Dorrie suggested half corn syrup and the Joy includes another ½ cup brown sugar which makes the squares way too sweet. I opt to cut

Decorated squares

the syrup and limit the brown sugar in the topping to 1 cup. The lemon glaze drizzle is optional but adds a festive flair if you have time for the fiddly bit. These old fashioned bars always bring a nostalgic swoon, a good choice to say goodbye and thank you.

Coconut Walnut Squares

2 oz. brown sugar (heaped ¼ cup)

4 oz. butter

6 oz. all purpose flour (1 cup + 3 tablespoons)

¼ teaspoon salt if unsalted butter


cut and plated squares

7 oz. brown sugar, light or dark (1 cup packed)

2 tablespoons flour

scant ½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon baking powder

2 large eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla

4 oz. walnuts, lightly toasted, chopped (1 cup)

4 oz. flaked, sweetened coconut (1 cup)


3 oz. powdered sugar

fresh lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 350º. Line an 11 by 7-inch baking tin with parchment for easier removal. Prepare the shortbread base by mixing the softened butter into the 2 oz. brown sugar and 6 oz. flour. Crumble the cookie mixture over the base of the baking tin. Pat the base evenly over the bottom of the tin, smoothing the top with back of a spoon. Bake the base 15-20 minutes or until lightly colored around the edges and the top beginning to lose the “raw” look.

Meanwhile combine 7 oz. brown sugar with 2 tablespoons flour, salt, baking powder and whisk in the 2 eggs with vanilla. Mix to insure brown sugar lumps are melted. Add walnuts and coconut.

When the shortbread base is ready, dollop the coconut mixture over the top and spread evenly with the back of a spoon. Return the tin to the oven and bake for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown on top. Remove to cooling rack and while still warm decorate with a thin icing made from powdered sugar and lemon juice. Use the tines of a fork or a pastry bag with a writing tip to drizzle the icing.

Cool thoroughly until the icing has hardened. Invert the cookie rectangle into a cooling rack, peel off parchment and upend it onto a cutting board. Cut into squares. Makes 36-48 luscious bites.






Rhubarb Ginger Jam

May 19, 2017

As I heaved yet another heavy load of weeds from my community garden plot, Elizabeth stopped by to say hello. She noticed the lush rhubarb plant in the front corner and asked if I’d tried Rachel’s rhubarb and ginger jam. ‘It’s lovely with a bit of aged cheddar; I’ll send the recipe,” she added and set my mind whirling. I’ve poached, stewed and roasted rhubarb. Baked it into pies, tarts, muffins and braised it with meats for Persian Khoresh. My sister sent a similar rhubarb ginger jam recipe a few years ago but then I had only the old fashioned green pie plant so my jam wasn’t rosy. Now that I have this healthy clump of red rhubarb, it was time to revisit the jam.

Rhubarb may be one of our most ancient cultivated perennial vegetables, though we use it as a fruit. It’s thought to have originated in Siberia and has long played a major role in traditional Chinese medicine. As we learn more about natural plant healing properties, rhubarb offers benefits for our bones, eyes and brains; it’s claimed to fight cancer, memory loss and tummy troubles At its very best right now, pick rhubarb for a healthy, delicious treat.

A fruit conserve goes nicely with cheese for dessert or a course on it’s own. The quince paste, membrillo, is trendy while in winter, little fig and almond cakes with fennel add that holiday touch of sweetness. This tart rhubarb jam fills in at any time and the punch of ginger makes it a perfect complement for crumbly cheddar, soft goat cheese or creamy Brie. It’s equally good on toast or biscuits or baked into pastry for jam tarts. If your rhubarb plant needs stalks pulled to prevent bolting and to keep it going through the summer, now’s the time to put up a few jars of jam. This small batch recipe will take only a few minutes to prep and about 15 minutes to cook, so in very little time, you’ll have something special to enjoy now or hold for later.

Rhubarb Ginger Jam

 16 oz. sliced rhubarb (4 cups)

15 oz. sugar (2 cups plus 2 tablespoons)

tiny pinch salt

4 teaspoons grated, peeled fresh ginger (use microplane)

grated rind ½ lemon

2 ½ tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 tablespoon finely chopped candied ginger (optional)

Remove leaves and end bits from rhubarb and weight 16 oz. clean stalks. Cut into ½ inch slices.

Cover cut rhubarb with sugar; add pinch salt, grated ginger, lemon rind and lemon juice. Mix well and allow to stand an hour or overnight until the juices start to run. Bring the mixture to a slow boil stirring occasionally. Increase heat and continue a steady boil, stirring occasionally, for approximately 15 minutes or until the mixture is jam thick. (test by watching jam drop thickly from a spoon, or place a blob on a small, ice cold saucer to check for the set.)

Have ready 2-3 sterilized jam jars and lids heating in a small pot of simmering water. Ladle the hot jam into the hot jars, wipe any drips from the jar rims and tightly pop on the lids.,Jam should seal as it cools. If you are uncertain of a seal, store in the fridge. Makes about 2 ½ cups jam




Spring Asparagus with Eggs and Linguine

May 2, 2017

Poached Eggs with Asparagus and Pasta

Last Saturday of April: local Farmers’ Market opens. Rain, bitter cold, fierce wind. . . Nevertheless, I’ve been waiting weeks for fresh eggs and hoping for first asparagus, so I’m early in line. With freezing fingers I fork over cash for precious pullet eggs, and tender purple asparagus. “What do you do with pullet eggs,” asks my friend who opted for the large instead. In actual fact, pullet eggs may be the best eggs a hen will ever lay, and I buy as many as I can early in the season. The yolks are usually larger in comparison to the white; they are richer and very tasty. Pullet eggs are perfect for small batches where you might need half an egg. Children love them for their cuteness and they make perfect companions for an egg added here or there as a garnish.

With my treasures in tow, I set about an asparagus and egg supper. Cooking for one the pullet egg yolk will be perfect for a couple dollops of Hollandaise sauce, and two poached pullet eggs atop a swirl of linguine with fresh asparagus will be gorgeous. I’ll add a sprinkle of shaved Parmesan or some diced smoked ham and send a drift of garden chives over the top. The rain continued to beat down as darkness fell, but I found Spring on my plate.

A little note on Hollandaise Sauce: remember this is an emulsion of egg yolk and butter. The yolk is whisked with a little water in a heatproof glass bowl and warmed over a simmering bath. Once the egg yolk is warm and still liquid (take care not to let it get so hot it scrambles) whisk in butter a slice at a time. The butter will melt and thicken with the egg yolk. Once the thick sauce comes together, season with a few drops of lemon juice, a pinch of salt, and thin with a little hot water if needed. There it is in just a few minutes, elegant sauce.

Asparagus with Linguine, Poached Eggs and Hollandaise

8 oz. fresh asparagus, purple recommended

2 oz. linguine or spaghetti

3 pullet eggs

1 teaspoon water

1 ½ tablespoons good butter

½ teaspoon fresh lemon juice

salt to taste

2 tablespoons diced smoked ham and/or shaved Parmesan

olive oil

Fresh chives or parsley

Trim asparagus and diagonally slice into bite-sized lengths. Set large pot of water on to boil.

Make Hollandaise: Choose a small saucepan half filled with water that will hold a heatproof glass bowl on top. The bowl base should not touch the water underneath. Bring the water to a simmer. Slice butter onto a saucer. In the glass bowl whisk (a tiny whisk is good here) the pullet yolk with teaspoon water and place over the simmering saucepan. (Save the white for meringues.)   Stir the egg mixture as it heats. When it feels warm to your pinkie, begin to whisk in the butter a slice at a time. As the butter melts and is absorbed, the sauce will thicken. Remove the bowl from the water bath; season the sauce with lemon and salt. Set aside in a warm spot.

Generously add salt to the larger pot of boiling water. (The boiling water should taste as salty as seawater.) Add prepared asparagus to the rapidly boiling water and cook for 2-4 minutes depending on the size of the stalks. Once the asparagus is tender, fish it out with a Chinese spider or a slotted spoon. Hold in a warm bowl. Add linguine to the boiling water and cook according to package directions.

Meanwhile break each of the remaining two pullet eggs into small cups, and warm the diced ham in a little butter or oil in a small skillet. Once the pasta is cooked fish it out with the spider, a strainer or slotted spoon, add to the warm bowl of asparagus. Drain any excess water and toss with a little olive oil. Swirl the boiling water with a spoon and drop in the eggs. Reduce the boil to a simmer and poach the small eggs about 2 minutes. As the eggs cook, mound the asparagus and linguine on a warm plate. Sprinkle with ham and/or Parmesan. Lift the cooked eggs from the water with a slotted spoon and drain on a paper towel before setting atop the asparagus and pasta. Lighten the Hollandaise with a teaspoon of the boiling cooking water and spoon the luscious sauce over the eggs and pasta. Sprinkle with chopped chives.   The best Spring Supper for One.



Chicken Pie

March 2, 2017
Chicken Pie Filling

Chicken Pie Filling

Still almost a month of winter and the morning wind blows across the park with a bitter chill. When at midweek it seems like a good idea to invite friends for Sunday lunch, I think a rich chicken pie for my new English pie dish will warm us all. Tender morsels of poached chicken robed in rich gravy with seasoning vegetables and all tucked up under flakey pastry will fill the air with appetizing aroma. Cooking a couple of days ahead makes chicken pie a simple task. One day poach the chicken in a fragrant broth; chill the broth to remove fat. The next day prepare the gravy; make the pastry. Bundle all into a lipped pie dish and chill the pie overnight. Forty minutes in the oven the following afternoon, and a princely feast awaits your guests.

Chicken Pie Ready to Bake

Chicken Pie Ready to Bake

Pot pies once a household staple for using up leftovers became the babysitter’s supper after Swanson popped them in everyone’s freezer. Those pasty, tasteless pies with faked out chemical seasonings need now to be forgotten. It’s time to resurrect the real McCoy from the archives of traditional cooking. Your run of the mill pot pie had two problems: too much soggy pastry and tasteless gravy. We’ll solve the pastry problem with a deep dish pie and a crisp, buttery top crust. A superb gravy needs an excellent stock base. If you have a lipped deep pie dish, that would be the best container, but a standard glass pie plate or baker will work equally well. Give yourself time to prepare the pie in stages. Each step will take only minutes, and the Sunday lunch rewards will keep the hounds of late winter far from your warm table.

Chicken Pie Served

Chicken Pie Served

This recipe makes a small pie that will serve 2-4, and it can easily be doubled for a family meal. Before you begin be sure you have good chicken stock, preferably homemade, and high quality, organic if possible, fresh chicken. I recommend thighs for tenderness and flavor.

Chicken Pie

1 lb, (3 large) bone in skin on chicken thighs

Sliced onion, carrot and celery

2 cups chicken stock

2 tablespoons butter

2 oz. each chopped onion, celery, carrot (total 1 ½ cups)

1 clove garlic, chopped

pinch dry thyme or teaspoon chopped fresh thyme

2 tablespoons flour

1 ½ cups reduced chicken stock from above

Salt and pepper to taste

Squeeze fresh lemon juice

2 tablespoons cream (optional)

chopped parsley

6 oz. unsweetened pie pastry*

cream or milk for glazing

Choose a heavy saucepan that will hold the chicken snugly. Line the bottom of the pan with sliced onion, carrot and celery. Top with the chicken, skin side up; sprinkle with salt and add chicken stock to cover. Top with lid and bring slowly to a simmer. Poach the chicken for 45 minutes or until tender. Turn off the heat and allow the chicken to rest in the stock 15 minutes. Remove chicken to a plate. As soon as the chicken is cool enough to handle, remove the skin, bones and any fatty bits, returning them to the stock. Pull the chicken into neat bite sized pieces. Simmer the stock another 15 minutes. Cool and strain. Chill the chicken and the stock separately allowing excess fat to rise to the stock surface and harden.

In a heavy saucepan, melt 2 tablespoons of butter and gently sauté the 2 oz. each onion, carrot and celery until softened. Add chopped garlic, thyme and sauté a few minutes. Add flour to the softened vegetables, stir to combine and cook for a few minutes. In a separate saucepan, bring the degreased stock to a boil and reduce to 1 ½ cups. Whisk the boiling stock into the flour-coated vegetables and stir all into a rich, simmering gravy. Boil gravy up a few minutes it seems too thin. Season with cream, salt, pepper, lemon juice and add a handful of chopped parsley. Once the gravy is nicely thickened, stir in the chicken, and pour the mixture into the selected pie dish, chill.

Roll the pastry into a 1/8th inch thick circle or oval as needed. Cut several ½ inch wide strips of pastry. Moisten the lip of the pie dish and stick on the pastry strips to give a base for the top pastry.. Cut steam vents in the remaining pastry. Brush the pastry strips with water and roll over the top pastry, trim excess. Flute the edges and bandage with damp strips of clean cotton (torn from an old sheet or T-shirt.) This bandage will prevent the edges from burning. Chill the pie.

An hour before serving, brush the top crust with cream or milk and bake the pie at 400° for 30-40 minutes or until golden brown. Turn off the heat and allow the pie to rest in the oven a few more minutes for further crisping. Peel off bandage. Allow the pie to settle a few minutes before serving. Add a green salad and serve 3-4.

*For a basic pastry recipe see Pie Crust, November 2016 and omit the powdered sugar for unsweetened pastry.https://mjcuisine.wordpress.com/2016/11/14/pie-crust/




Happy 100th Birthday Mom

February 28, 2017

imom-photomg_1678-4                                          Cleo Lapp McMillin

She was born in the little house across the road from Lapp’s blacksmith shop, February 28, 1917. The eldest of three daughters, Cleo Lapp grew up in the rural Dunker Brethren community of Appleton, Colorado where her family blacksmithed, farmed, tended a dairy herd, made cottage cheese, and went to church. It was a hard-scrabble life on edge of the Western high dessert, but the family carried on through the depression and the coddling moth infestation that took the apples away from Appleton.

Cleo left home to study nursing in Chicago in the late 30’s and worked as a nurse for 40 years. She married Joe McMillin from Palisade, Colorado in 1940. They lived in the Bay Area during the war years and returned to Western Colorado where they raised their four children.

Cleo traveled through her children’s lives, trips in a family RV and occasional ventures with her two sisters. She always sought new schemes to help the family along. There were herds of turkeys to feast on the plague of grasshoppers in the peach orchard, Nubian goats which gave precious sweet milk, capons to butcher, geese to produce down, and Suffolk sheep for prized meat and notorious fence jumping.

Through thick and thin, her creative mind kept her alert until she lost her sight and succumbed to Parkinson’s just before her 92nd birthday. She always reminded me that the Lords Prayer tells us we are forgiven AS we forgive those who hurt us. The truest giving person I’ve ever known, a humble saint, my guiding light; I miss her each day.

Happy One Hundredth Birthday, Mom