Search This Blog

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Turkey Pot Pie

I used to serve as a student minister in a church that had monthly turkey pot pies throughout the summer. It was in a picturesque region of central Maine, in the midst of popular campgrounds, and notices were posted at all of them of each upcoming supper. A big sign went in front of the church with the date of the next one.

These were not bigger versions of Swanson's pot pies, pallid little things that they are, with pathetic diced carrots and potato in an insipid sauce. And they weren't Mrs. Tweedie's chicken pies, with some old laying hen stewed into stringy gravy. These were properly roasted turkeys, real gravy, and no apologetic vegetables, in a truly crusty homemade crust. Big bowls of mashed potatoes, turnip, carrot and what ever garden vegetable was handy were served on the tables, with additional gravy and lots of fluffy bread rolls. Pie was also on the dessert menu, too, with coffee and tea. It was not a low-fat, low-calorie meal. It was the apex of church suppers. Everything else is just trying to reach that degree of near-perfection. I suspect that the heavenly banquet will include St. Martin's turkey pot pie menu.

This is a satisfying meal. It uses up a lot of turkey at once. It takes all afternoon, but there you go. It is definitely for a post-holiday weekend when there are extra hands to carve the rest of the meat, help make the gravy, and roll out the crust. One pie will serve six to eight people, depending on what there is for vegetables to go with it. We eat it over three days quite happily.

I recommend pot pie if you are serving a crowd of people who are expecting a turkeyish dinner experience, but you can't manage two large roast turkeys with all the goings-with. Roast the turkey, and strip the frame of the meat. One turkey will make at least two pies or more, depending on the size and type of turkey. Simmer the frame, giblets and neck, plus skin and strange bits into stock for the gravy. (If you have never made stock before: Put the bare turkey carcass along with the giblets, etc. into a large stockpot. I sometimes have to cut apart the carcass with kitchen shears to get it to fit. Cover it with water, add a bay leaf or so, and other whole spices like peppercorns, just a little. You don't want stock overseasoned. Don't salt at this stage.)

Make gravy from the stock: Melt butter or chicken fat or lard or use olive oil, about two-four tablespoons, in a saucepan, and whisk in quickly at least two tablespoons of flour, making a smooth, not lumpy, paste. Don't get it too hot, or you will burn the flour. Then pour in, slowly, warm turkey stock, at least two cups, whisking all the time to keep it from lumping. I'd make a good four cups of gravy for the pie, and you will want extra for the mashed or baked potatoes you serve with it. Heat to a slow boil, and stir, stir, stir. If it doesn't thicken much, whisk a couple more tablespoons of flour into a half-cup of cold water, and add in a trickle, still stirring. If you use cornstarch instead, you won't need as much. The flour thickened gravy is more traditional, and most people like the taste best. I've substituted arrowroot for cornstarch, but it has a different flavour some people will notice. Season the gravy with freshly ground black pepper, a pinch of sage and summer savoury, and a wee bit of salt.

Make a double pie crust for each pie, using my standard crust recipe: or any kind you favour. Paula's at: is a good one if you don't like the shortening type crust. Line the pie plate with the bottom crust, then heap lots of turkey in. Don't stint.

Spoon gravy over the turkey until the turkey is well-covered. It will take a good two cups of gravy. I don't mix the turkey and gravy together and pour it in the pie shell, because the bottom crust should have a few minutes in a hot oven to crisp, and if the gravy is on top, the bottom crust won't be as soggy. Cover with the top crust, and crimp the edges, which I do by trimming the crusts along the pie plate rim, and then rolling the two crust edges in toward the center, just so it clears the flat rim. My mother always crimped against the rim with a fork, and while this looks nice, her pie fillings always bubbled out and made a caramelized mess in the bottom of the oven. Make sure to cut a good sized vent in the top. I make a cross with a sharp knife, then fold back the edges.

Start the pie at 425F, and after fifteen minutes, turn the temperature back to 375F and bake for 45 minutes to an hour, until the crust is starting to brown a bit and the gravy is bubbling hot. Let it cool for twenty minutes - it won't get tepid if the kitchen is warm - and then slice it.

Serve with mashed, baked or boiled potatoes, steamed vegetables, and more gravy.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Copyright Notice

Please be informed that all my material here, recipes, instructions and photos taken by myself, are under copyright. Do not reprint, borrow, copy or post to tumblr, facebook, google+ or any publishing platform online without my permission. Do not extract recipes to be included in newspapers, magazines, newsletters or books.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Cooking Disasters

I may have given some of my friends the idea that I have always been some fabulous cook. Yes, I'd like to think of myself as Nigella Lawson in cape dress and prayer kapp.

Probably I look a little more like this.

My mother had this cookbook, as did many women in the 1960s and 1970s. I don't hate to cook, and some of the recipes from this book were quite revolting, involving cans of tuna or salmon, cream of monstrosity soup, and noodles. And tinned peas. And catsup as a sauce.

I've had my share of kitchen mishaps and total disasters. I left home when I was seventeen, settled down into my own home at eighteen, and proudly invited my mother's parents to a Thanksgiving dinner. What is so hard about that? Mashed potatoes, roast turkey with stuffing, salad, two vegetables, and Nana bringing two pies.

No one told me that turkeys come with the giblets and neck stuffed in the cavity. I had used a spoon to stuff the bread mixture into the hollow place where Mr. Turkey was once solid, and I was a little surprised that more did not fit, but the Better Homes and Garden Cookbook said to pack it loosely. I put the rest of the stuffing in a baking pan and basted it with turkey pan juices, as my mother had done.  Nana asked if I wanted to make gravy with the giblets, but I said, "The turkey didn't come with any." She thought this was a bit odd, and wanted to know where I had bought the bird; she had been a butcher for the IGA for several years.

When it came time to serve, my grandmother came into the kitchen and helped me carve the turkey. She scooped out the stuffing and then exclaimed, "Oh, my! Whatever is..." And then she started to laugh. Nana had a piercing, cacophonous laugh. I'm sure the neighbours heard her, and they probably heard about the cause of the merriment. ("Donald, you will never believe what your granddaughter did!") The gizzard, giblets and neck were nicely cooked inside their cellophane wrapper, inside the bird. She soon relayed the story to my mother, and it was something of a family legend.

I managed to get through a few more years without a total failure beyond a pot of burned rice. I turned out a fair number of grilled pork chops, beef stews, pots of soup and loaves of bread, although I shied away from exotic things like pie crust and cake. I had the opportunity, though, to work on a cookbook for the importer of a quality ingredient (expensive and rare, and I had the luxury of oodles of it to work with) and my cooking skills expanded and improved. I made infused Austrian tortes, baba au rhum, and bay scallops en flambe. I made real corned beef, and juniper scented aged roasts. Then I was asked to produce an authentic Swiss fondue, flavoured with my rare and expensive ingredient. I was to host a small party, with the daughter of one of the company's principals invited along.

This daughter was a bit of a flibbertigibbet, beautiful, young and careless. She was a darling to her father and his associates, and it was unthinkable that we would have the party gather at the table without her. I started the fondue in the kitchen, hovering over the pot like a mad scientist. I timed it right down to the minute I planned to serve, with a heap of french bread cubes ready to serve in bowls with the fondue forks.

The darling daughter was late, late by half an hour. My precious fondue suddenly gave up, and glopped into particles of cheese curds in a greasy wine soup. I simply did not have enough cheese on hand to make another pot. I grabbed my whisk, and did all the things one does when the cheese fondue separates. I managed to get it back into a passable suspension, but it was hardly fondy anymore. I buttered a casserole, tossed the bread cubes and some diced parsley in, beat in my special ingredient, poured the cheesy sauce on, sprinkled lavishly with bread crumbs, and baked it for fifteen minutes, finishing it under the broiler. I snatched the fondue forks off the table, laid out proper flatware and plates, served the salad, and presented my fromage en croute as the divine daughter arrived. I poured white wine generously, and little Miss D.D. said, "Oh, I thought this was going to be fondue."

"It is," I said through gritted teeth. "It's an oven fondue. Something new."

I am not a casserole person. I can make a nice white sauce in the blink of an eye; I make my own noodles; I am not opposed to meat and vegetables mingling in a dish. But the average casserole recipe leaves me uninspired. Unless they contain lobster and shrimp, with a touch of kirsch perhaps, I am not fond of a casserole. I make them for other people occasionally, but I'm more likely to serve my leftovers in a soup or simply heated in the oven under a blanket of gravy.

My church was having a huge public buffet dinner, the one big moneymaking fund raiser of the year. I had been let off the hook from cooking for some other event, on the grounds that some of the ladies had been in my kitchen, and I had no food. This was not true - I had chicken breasts and shrimp along with some packets of lovely, high-end frozen vegetables in the freezer. I had a wedge of Parmesan to grate. I had fresh angel hair pasta. I had salad ingredients. I had flour and yeast and salt and honey and olive oil. I had hummus and toastable

I had nothing in a tin or a can or a box. I had a bowl of fresh eggs from my own chickens, but I never bought a dozen eggs.

I lived alone. I was thin and elegant and ran three times a week.

The week before the big event, one of the women on the committee called me. "It's your turn to make a casserole." I put my head down on my desk. I hadn't made a casserole in about 20 years.

"Couldn't I bake some bread? Or brownies? Or baba au rhum?"

"No, the baking is all taken care of. We need a casserole."

"I've got a great recipe for a salad that has watermelon and feta cheese and black olives. From Nigella Law..."

"I'm afraid people are expecting a casserole."

I called a sister. "What do I make for a casserole? Not tuna. And not Nana's salmon loaf."

She suggested one my mother used to make. Tinned corned beef, macaroni, cream of something soup, with those fried crispy onions from the fancy little can ornamenting the top. I think it had a grated cheese product in it, too.

I threw this concoction together, baked it and sneaked a bit out from under the oniony crust. Bland, ugly and salty. I took it down to the community hall anyway. The ladies in the kitchen eyed it, and I know as soon as I went out to help serve, they hid it under a box.

At the end of the evening, as I helped clear tables and bag the trash, one pulled out the remains of the woebegone casserole. It looked as if someone had half-heartedly tried a spoonful, to show willing. "We didn't get this served until the end," she said. "Do you want to take it home?"

No, I did not. And as I had wisely baked it in a foil pan, I foisted it off on someone with a family. I don't know if they ate it, but I never heard anything of it again.

Friday, 7 October 2011

Cooking Hiatus

Well, I still have to cook...but I am on a month long restricted diet, a tempting to clear up a problem with allergic reactions. It is bland and monotonous, so I haven't felt much like cooking for the blog. I will try to get some posts up next week from photographs I already have.

Monday, 3 October 2011

Recipe Ethics

Not "ethnic recipes.|" It's happened to me before - I post a recipe - a tested, photographed and annotated recipe I developed from an older one, or even one that is creatively new, and someone posts it elsewhere with no credit, no link back to my work. I've called strangers to task for it, because this is plagiarism.

Recipes are really, really susceptible to it. There are only so many ways to make bread, or noodles, or roast beef. We are all working from the same basic techniques.

I don't have a lot of recipes on this blog yet because I do test every single one. I am as meticulous about it as a scientist in the lab. I make notes as I go, weigh and measure twice, take photographs, and sometimes make the recipe several times before I am satisfied. If I am using a vintage recipe, I must modify it for modern kitchens and ingredients, and every time, untangle and interpret the instructions, and improve on them for people who don't know what "cream butter" and "make sponge" mean.

Obviously, I put hours into every dish. I will accredit the originator of the recipe, if I know it, without plagiarizing, and if necessary, note the variants I have added.

If you take my recipe and directions and repost them, even if a little altered, then you have stolen my work. Maybe you wrote the recipe long hand and didn't note the source; maybe you copied and pasted and didn't think it mattered. But the minute you expose that recipe to a public audience- on a blog, on Facebook, demonstrating it on television or youtube even - you have stolen my hard work.

There is an implied international copyright on everything written, photographed or created. The creator has a right to control their work until they sign away the rights. This is the only blog I have with advertising. One of the ways Google designates the value of the advertising is by the number of visits to the site, and the number of links posted to the site. If you take my work and use it without links back to it, then I don't get those page visits, which keeps my statistics low and makes my site less valuable for advertising.

I hope this clarifies what can be borrowed or re-used. Ask questions if you want more information.