Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Pioneer Woman

Well, I've done it again.  I've gone and fallen in love with a book (and with Pioneer Woman, too, if I have to be totally truthful...).  This is the first time I've publicly confessed this about myself.  Does anyone else out there do this, too?  Something just clicks with a particular character and there you go, falling head over heels.  I also felt this way after seeing a play.  Aida, to be exact, when it was in Raleigh a few years back.  I cried just thinking about Radames all the way home.  (Luckily, I was alone.)  It happened when I read Blame It On Paris by Laura Florand.  The book is the story of how she met her Frenchie while studying in Paris and later married him.  I wrote my usual fan e-mail and lo and behold, heard back from her.  She lives right here in Durham for part of the year and teaches at Duke.  We made plans to meet for coffee, but it never happened.  That's too bad.  (Good grief, mon dieu, do I give off stalking vibes via email??) At the time, college-age son was taking a French course and I met his French professor.  Seems she had a bit part in the book.  She and the author are friends and were studying there together.  I will stop at these examples. 
Back to Pioneer Woman.  Her cookbook reads like a novel.  She tells the story of how she met her husband, aka Marlboro Man, and traded in her black pumps for whatever cattle ranchers' wives wear on their feet.  (The few that I've met in Nebraska wear boots, too.  The Ex-Ex is descended from cattle-ranching stock.)  The photos are stunning.  She took them herself-- no food photographer or stylist.  And I have a huge soft spot for cows.  Back in the olden days before digital photography and you actually had to pay good money to develop your photos, I would come back from our trips to Nebraska will rolls of cow pictures.  The Ex-Ex's grandfather would take us on rides through the pastures when he had to go out and check the salt licks and I would just snap photos of beautiful cow faces at every single windmill.
I love Pioneer Woman's recipes, too.  I am thinking about making her chicken pot pie recipe tonight.  I think the eaters will love that one.  She actually has the recipe for the cinnamon-sugar muffins I posted earlier this week.  Only she calls them French Breakfast Puffs.  Seems she took French as a 9th grader and learned to make them in that class.  I take this as a sign from the Gods of Cooking that Pioneer Woman and I were fated to meet.  It's just logical.  So, yes, I have left a comment on her blog (which is also full of stunning photos and funny, funny stories) and, in my head, we are already cyberspace BFFs.
Speaking of BFFs, The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Recipes from an Accidental Country Girl was a Christmas gift from my BFF.  We just exchanged gifts a couple of days ago... we are always a little late, but the timing has to be just right.  We need peace and quiet (translation:  no kids or husbands around) and a nice chilled glass of something dry and white in front of us.  Cheese and bread are optional but appreciated.  (All I had was Chex Mix, but the BFF didn't complain.  She wouldn't be my BFF if she did, now would she?) Anyway, the story goes that right at the beginning of Christmas break, the Ex-Ex and I were at the grocery store doing the weekly shopping (yes, we do indeed do this together in round two of the marriage!) and as I was contemplating what to make during the two glorious weeks off from school, he said something along the lines of "Don't make anything weird."  Now to his credit, he meant that I didn't need to go to a lot of trouble.  Chili, soup, panini, mac and cheese, lasagna-- all the old favorites would do just fine.  Bless his heart.  I relayed the story to the BFF and while shopping she ran across this book.  Just a glance at the cover and at a few of the pages would tell you that this cookbook is made for the eater in the Ex-Ex.  So, now it is all mine.  I promise to share a recipe or two from time to time.  And to make some of the recipes for the eaters in my house.  Perfect Pot Roast sounds right up their alley.
I can make no such promises about sending more fan emails or falling in love with the next book waiting on my nightstand.

Chicken Pot Pie
Makes one 9-inch pie

3 celery stalks
3 medium carrots
1 large yellow onion
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter
1/2 cup frozen peas
2 cups cooked chicken
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 chicken bouillon cube
1/4 cup white wine (optional)
1 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon ground thyme
1 teaspoon kosher salt, or more to taste
Black pepper to taste
1/2 recipe perfect pie crust (follows)

1.  Preheat oven to 400˚F.
2.  Begin by finely dicing the onion, carrots and celery.
3.  Melt the butter in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium heat.  Add the onion, carrots, celery and peas.  Sauté until the vegetables start to turn translucent, a couple of minutes.
4.  Add the chicken and stir to combine.  Sprinkle the flour evenly over the vegetables and chicken and stir to combine.  Cook for a couple of minutes, stirring gently.
5.  Pour in the chicken broth, stirring constantly.  Stir in the bouillon cube and wine, if using.  The flour will combine with the chicken to create a delicious gravy.
6.  Pour in the cream and stir.  Allow the mixture to cook over low heat, thickening gradually, about 4 minutes.  Season with the thyme, salt and pepper.  Remove from the heat.  Taste and adjust the seasonings as needed.  Be sure it is adequately salted!
7.  Pour the chicken mixture into a deep pie pan or small casserole dish.
8.  Roll out the crust so that it's 1 inch larger than the pan.  Place the crust on top of the chicken mixture and cut small slits in the top.  Press the crust gently into the side of the dish to seal.
9.  Bake for 30 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown and the filling is bubbly.  Cool for 10 minutes before serving.
10.  Use a large spoon to serve.
11.  "Mmmmm.  This is what I'm talkin' about."  -- Pioneer Woman

Perfect Pie Crust
Makes two to three 9-inch pie crusts

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups vegetable shortening
1 egg
5 tablespoons cold water
1 tablespoon distilled white vinegar

Combine flour and salt in a large bowl.
Add in the shortening.  Using a pastry cutter, gradually work the shortening into the flour until the mixture resembles tiny pebbles.  This step should take 3-4 minutes.
Lightly beat the egg with a fork, then add it to the mixture.  Next, add in the cold water and vinegar.
Stir the mixture together until it's just combined, then remove half of the dough from the bowl.
Place in a large plastic bag (do not seal) and slightly flatten with a rolling pin.  This makes it much easier to roll out the crust later.  After flattening, seal the bag tightly.
Repeat with the other half of the dough and place the plastic bags in the freezer, if not using immediately.
When you are ready to use a crust, remove one from the freezer and allow it to sit on the counter to thaw slightly, about 20 minutes.  Remove from the bag and place on a lightly floured surface.
With a rolling pin, begin rolling the dough from the center outward.  Be gentle and patient; it'll take a little time to get the dough completely rolled out.

** If using the crust for a pie and not the Chicken Pot Pie recipe, continue on--

Lift the crust carefully and lay it over a pie pan.  Using  your hand, lightly form the crust so that it fits inside the pan and overlaps the edges.  Tuck the excess dough under itself above the rim of the pan.  Then apply whatever decorative effects that you like to the edge.  Or you can leave it plain if you'd like.  Fill the pie crust with filling and bake according to the recipe's directions.  Or, for a pre-baked crust, fill with pie weights (or pinto beans placed on aluminum foil) and bake at 400˚F for 10 minutes, or until golden brown.

Bon appétit, Pioneer Woman!

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