Simple Pleasures Made Simply Delicious: Personal Chicken Pot Pies

Simple Pleasures Made Simply Delicious: Personal Chicken Pot Pies

Day 66

I wish I were more diligent about Sunday family dinners. Even as a child, I don’t remember that we practiced them quite as often as I would have liked, but we certainly shared them more than most families do today. My mother’s parents would frequently invite us over on Sunday afternoons for Southern fried chicken, buttermilk biscuits, vegetables slow cooked with pork, German chocolate cake, and tea so sweet it would make our teeth ache.

Copyright, Doug Kapustin Photography, 2014

Although we didn’t get together for these meals every Sunday, we probably did it at least once a month.

In the hustle and bustle of our busy lives today, I have not insisted on Sunday dinners with my family and friends, and that’s something that makes me disappointed in myself, to be honest. I really need to make more of an effort because some of my best food memories revolve around Nanny and Pawpaw’s old kitchen table. 

They lived in a house that was built in the late 1700s, finished around 1800, if you can believe that.  (The house is called Little Cherrystone and is located in southern Virginia, if you ever want to do an Internet search.) A Revolutionary War officer, Colonel Wooding, and his family were the original owners. My grandparents became tenants when my mother was a small child, so it was the only home I ever knew them to have when I was growing up. Today, the house is in the registry of historical homes in Virginia, and it has been purchased and somewhat restored by its current owner. It’s really a sight to behold, and I can’t even begin to imagine what those walls might say if they could talk. Seeing it in history books is a bit surreal for me, since my family lived there and I spent so much of my childhood visiting the old home. 

As a little girl who had a love-hate relationship with all things supernatural (I loved the goose-bump inducing stories but regretted and hated them later, once I was alone), I heard my fair share of ghost stories about Little Cherrystone from my mother, her brothers, and my father. As a result, the house

Copyright, Doug Kapustin Photography, 2014

has held a sort of magic and mystique in my memory bank all these years.  I passed untold hours and days exploring the grounds and trying to get the courage to walk through the crumbling, unchartered rooms of the house, so many in fact, that I feel like the old place is a part of me. I really need to ask permission to walk through it again with my daughter the next time we go home to visit; even she has memories there before Pawpaw died. 

The kitchen of the house, where we shared our meals, was actually an addition that has long since been torn-down. There was a cooking stove and an old gas heater in the kitchen, so it was always a swelteringly hot room. Nanny and Pawpaw never failed to have a side of fried fatback meat on the counter for sandwiches, instant coffee, and some sort of dessert for company. The fact that they cooked in a similar fashion to all of the previous inhabitants, dating back to the 1700s, is not lost on me today. I really like the fact that those food traditions never died as long as the house served as a home to families. Empty today, Little Cherrystone is personified in my mind as nostalgic, longing for heat and laughter and food. 

My mother, father, and I would arrive in Daddy’s pick-up truck on Sundays, usually greeted by Pawpaw sitting on the front porch. Pawpaw would start talking before we even got out of the truck, telling us about who had driven by, about his garden plans, and he would give us his ever-exaggerated weather forecast. Our arrival was always the same—predictable and comforting. By the time I landed on the top step, I could smell simmering pork, the fried chicken, and the yeasty biscuits straight from the oven. Once the meal began, I was silent, eating until I could not hold another bite. 

After dessert, I’d take my scraps outside to share with Dinky, their sweet Beagle, whom I adored. Life was good on Sunday afternoons, free of stress and weekly responsibilities. I want to have more of those traditions for my family, and what better place to start than with chicken pot pie? 

Today’s recipe can be made individually or as two large pies, and you’ll love the creaminess of the pot pie filling, accompanied by the flaky crispness of a perfectly baked piecrust. It’s an ideal way to begin a tradition of Sunday dinners, if you are so inclined. I hope you like it. 

(As an aside, I’ll share that my go-to chef is almost always Ina Garten; you’ve surely noticed this if you’re a regular blog follower. This recipe is no exception. I have used her filling and instructions, with only one ingredient addition (celery), and I’ll admit that I sometimes add a clove or two of garlic to the onions and celery when I sauté them, in case you are interested in that too. For many reasons, I’m very partial to garlic. The original recipe also includes baking bone-in chicken breasts with skin to use for the pot pies. Don’t change this step. Bone-in baked or roasted chicken is so much more flavorful and moist than boneless, hands down. It really does make a huge difference. Garten’s recipe includes instructions for making a puff pastry top for the pot pie filling, whereas I have chosen to purchase actual refrigerated pie crusts, simply for convenience. Of course, you could make your own crusts or use the puff pastry instructions in the original recipe. If you would like to make your own crust, here’s the link for Garten’s foolproof recipe: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/ina-garten/perfect-pie-crust-recipe.html. I’ve used it over and over, and it turns out beautifully every single time.  Bottom line, you have lots of options here, depending on your experience level and available time in the kitchen. You’ll find Ina Garten’s Chicken Pot Pie recipe link here too, just under the instructions for the dish. Look for it and happy cooking!)

Personal Chicken Pot Pies

For crusts:
10 5-inch mini pie shells (and 10 tops)
2  9-inch pie shells with tops

For chicken:
3 whole (6 split) chicken breasts, bone-in, skin-on
3 tablespoons olive oil
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

For pot pie filling:
5 cups chicken stock
2 chicken bouillon cubes
12 tablespoons (1½ sticks) unsalted butter
2 cups yellow onions, chopped (2 onions)
¾ cup all-purpose flour
¼ cup heavy cream
4 cups frozen peas and carrots, thawed at room temperature
2 celery stalks, diced 
1½ cups frozen small pearl onions
½ cup minced fresh parsley leaves

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Place the chicken breasts on a baking sheet and rub them with olive oil. Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Roast for 35 to 40 minutes, or until cooked through. Set aside until cool enough to handle, then remove the meat from the bones and discard the skin. Cut the chicken into large dice. You will have 4 to 6 cups of cubed chicken.

In a small saucepan, heat the chicken stock and dissolve the bouillon cubes in the stock. In a large pot or Dutch oven, melt the butter and sauté the onions and celery over medium-low heat for 10 to 15 minutes, until translucent. Add the flour and cook over low heat, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes. Add the hot chicken stock to the sauce. Simmer over low heat for 1 more minute, stirring, until thick. Add 2 teaspoons salt, ½ teaspoon pepper, and heavy cream. Add the cubed chicken, carrots, peas, onions and parsley. Mix well.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Pour into prepared piecrusts and cover with crust tops, using a fork to seal edges. Brush tops with raw, beaten egg wash (1 egg and 1 tsp. water, beaten together), make several slits to vent, and sprinkle lightly with sea salt. Place on baking pan, and bake at 375 degrees for 1 hour, or until the top is golden brown and the filling is bubbling hot. Allow to cool for 5-10 minutes before serving. 

Note: original recipe before changes, courtesy of Ina Garten- http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/ina-garten/chicken-pot-pie-recipe.html

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