Nothing Says Happy Winter Birthday Like Potpie

My mother’s 86th birthday is coming up at the end of January and I always have her and my dad for dinner on their birthdays. Of course, they are invited for dinner at several other times during the year as well, but birthdays are extra-special. For this birthday, I want to make one of the dishes that they always seem to love: Individual Chicken Potpies!!

Now, if truth be told, Mom and Dad always seem to like what I make for them. However, when I make those individual potpies, they go a little crazy and make mmmmm noises as they eat. They are like little kids enjoying their food. I can’t blame them, because they are right. Those crazy chicken potpies are to die for! Truly.

I have made large potpies that you cut into wedges, and they are quite good, BUT a potpie that you don’t have to share with anyone else is HEAVENLY. First, you break through the flaky crust on top, and then you get into the silky, saucy chicken and veggie concoction on the bottom. You can use any combo of vegetables that you like, but my favorite combination is what is in season at the moment.

In this version of my birthday, chicken potpies, I will use poached chicken, mixed with cubed and roasted butternut squash, fennel, green beans, onions and garlic. It’s a killer combination. When everyone at the table is moaning over the food, because it is so yummy and comforting, especially during this COLDEST of Winters, you know you have a winner and a keeper of a recipe.

I build my potpies in ovenproof soup bowls or coquettes. They are pretty deep, and larger than just a ramekin, and they give everyone a really, generous portion.

Once you have made the filling, you start building the pies. First, place some filling into each of the heatproof, containers (whatever you decide to use), then brush some egg wash all along the edges of the containers. The egg will help the dough to adhere to the containers or bowls. Then roll out some circles of flaky pie dough, or even some store bought puff pastry or my Puff Pastry in a Hurry recipe. Make sure the dough circles are large enough to completely cover each container of filling, and be sure to have a large enough circle so that the dough can be pushed down over the sides a bit as well.

At this point, you will want to make some steam holes, and they can be simple or you can get creative. A simple, unadorned steam hole can be made by taking a paring knife and making about 2-3 slits across the top of the pies. To serve as a fancier steam hole, I love to carve my guest’s names or initials into the dough. I do this with a paring knife. The baked potpie looks very personalized when you serve it, and your guests will know that you created that little pie JUST FOR THEM. Now eggwash the entire top of the pie and bake until golden brown and the slits are bubbling up with the filling.

A super quick way to create a potpie is to take a stew, like beef or lentil, or any thick soup that you have made, or purchased, and add things to it. For example, you can add some store bought, roasted, shredded chicken, or roast pork, ham or turkey to the soup or stew for an easy filling. Then you can just purchase a pre-made pie crust, and you’ve got the makings of a great, “thinking ouside the box” meal.

I will let you know how those chicken potpies come out, and how the birthday girl, and the rest of the family, enjoyed them. Until then…

Happy Baking!

Chef Gail

Warm Yourself Up with Coffeecake

During these cold winter months, I love to make coffeecakes to serve for breakfasts, brunches or a fast, warm, comforting dessert. The batters take only a few minutes to make. Before you know it they are ready to be baked. They freeze well ,after they are baked, as long as they are wrapped airtight. They can then be re-heated quickly to get that “just baked” taste and texture.

Coffeecakes are a type of quick bread. Quick breads can include any of the following: muffins, biscuits, scones, popovers, pancakes, and loaf breads like banana, corn and zucchini, to name just a few. They typically use chemical leavening agents like baking powder and baking soda to help them to rise. These easy to make “quick” quick breads can be contrasted with yeast breads, which need to rise before baking, and can take quite a long time to prepare.

My favorite type of coffeecake has a streusel topping on it. This is a simple flour, sugar, cinnamon (or other spices), and butter concoction that you blend together with your fingers until the mixture forms small clumps. Other ingredients may, also, be added. These include but are not limited to: oatmeal, chopped nuts, chopped chocolate, coffee (for a TRUE to the name “coffeecake” taste), shredded coconut, dried fruit, granola and various spices.

The streusel topping is scattered on top of the batter in the pan before it goes into the oven.¬† For a truly decadent variation of this, half the streusel is sprinkled over half the batter in the pan, and after the remaining batter is spread over the streusel, even MORE streusel topping is sprinkled on top of the remaining batter. After the whole cake is baked and you cut into it, you will find a “ripple” of streusel baked inside.

The cakey, bottom of the coffeecake or what’s beneath the streusel topping, is comprised of a simple batter that may or may not include fruits. The fruit can be fresh, frozen or dried. The fruits that I love to use include: thinly, sliced apples, pears, peaches or plums. Any fruit goes!

The great thing about coffeecakes is that they can be baked in any shape pan you like. If you only have a 9 inch square pan, that’ll work fine. Only have a round cake pan, that’s OK too.

Restaurants also love to serve quick breads. Why? Because they want to make money! Customers that return to the same restaurants come for the specialty items like coffeecake, or scones. Any restaurant can serve Italian or French bread to its’ customers. SO BORING!!!

I went to a restaurant while traveling a few years back. That restaurant did not serve bread before dinner. It served blueberry scones. And they were WARM, blueberry scones! I don’t remember anything else about this restaurant other than those AMAZING scones served before dinner. They were incredible.

If you want to impress family and friends and just make an all-around GREAT impression – serve them coffeecake or some other type of a quick bread. That they will remember!

A wonderful recipe for my Cinnamon Crumb Coffeecake is in my newest book “Baking with Success”. Try it.

Happy Baking!

Chef Gail

Fun Uses for Puff Pastry

I love both savory dishes and sweet desserts made with puff pastry. Adding flakiness and a crunch to any food is what puff pastry does. In other words, whatever it is added to is elevated to the highest level of “deliciousness”! Incorporating puff pastry into your cooking and baking repertoire is easy as well.

You can purchase ready made puff pastry from the freezer section of the grocery store OR you can make my “Puff Pastry in a Hurry” recipe which is available on a baking video on this website. It is also included in my newest book, “Baking with Success”.

Puff pastry can be used under foods, as in a tart or turnover, or on top of foods, as on a potpie. It is really foolproof and can be used as a great “fakeout”. By that I mean that you can look like you really slaved all day on a dish or dessert, but in reality, you only spent the bare minimum of time in the kitchen. It really is a win-win situation.

Here are some great ideas for using puff pastry and making it FAST:

  • A quick fruit tart. Roll out a rectangular piece of puff pastry and top it with thinly sliced apple or pear slices, or any other relatively dry fruit. Drizzle some caramel sauce over the fruit and bake it in a 400 degree Fahrenheit oven until it gets nice and brown and puffed. Don’t allow the caramel to burn. Serve with ice cream or whipped cream!
  • A vegetable tart for an appetizer or a meal. Roll out a puff pastry rectangle or circle and brush the entire dough with melted butter. Sprinkle with some minced shallots, and bake in a 400 degree Fahrenheit¬† oven until puffed and golden brown. Remove from oven and spread the entire surface with some hummus, and top with a lightly dressed salad using arugula or mixed baby greens. Drizzle the entire surface with some high quality extra virgin olive oil and serve!
  • Individual pot pies. Make your favorite savory filling or stew with chicken or beef, pork or lamb. Allow it to cool thoroughly or make a day in advance. In greased, individual ramekins, add the stew almost to the top. Cut out circles of puff pastry that are large enough to cover each ramekin. Lightly brush the edges of each filled ramekin with some beaten egg, and place the puff pastry circles on top, and fit them over the edges pressing to seal. Brush the tops of each ramekin with some egg as well, make a few slits on the top of each pot pie with a knife, and bake them at 400 degrees Fahrenheit until the tops are nice and brown and the filling is bubbling through the slits. Serve at once!
  • Cut the puff pastry into small squares an cover each with some pesto and top each with a slice of soppressata or chorizo sausage. Sprinkle each with some shredded parmesan cheese. Bake on a parchment lined sheet pan at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for about 6-10 minutes or until the pastry squares are puffed and golden brown. These are yummy as an appetizer, as a soup topper or as funky “croutons” on top of a salad.

Try some of these ideas and let me know how they came out or if you have any other suggestions on how to use puff pastry.

Happy Baking!

Chef Gail

Bread Pudding: An Easy Dessert to Ring in the New Year

Every New Year’s Eve I have a few friends over for dinner. Life sure is hectic around this time of year, so this year I have decided to make a simple and delicious Bread Pudding for dessert.¬† For those of you who have never had or made a bread pudding – pay attention. They are underrated and scrumptious! A bread pudding is simply bread of any sort (the more stale, the better!), eggs, and dairy like milk, heavy cream, half and half. Basically, it is a custard with bread in it, all baked together and served warm. It is truly yummy! Bread puddings can even be made savory with the addition of meats,vegetables and cheese and served as a light lunch or supper.

Bread puddings can be plain or tricked out. The choice of breads you can use are endless, and even the word “bread” can be taken to mean anything you wish. I have made bread puddings using leftover challah, brioche, white bread, whole wheat bread or any other type of bread, unfrosted cake, muffins, croissants, doughnuts and anything else your imagination can come up with.

The bread can be cubed or sliced into triangles or just ripped into small pieces. The bread is then placed into a greased baking dish like a casserole or baking pan that is not too deep. The custard ingredients are whisked together and poured over the bread pieces and left to sit for a bit before baking.

The most important thing about a bread pudding is to let it get soft: once you place the “bread” in a baking dish and cover it with the custard. The bread needs to soak up some of the custard so that it gets very flavorful and has almost a creamy texture to it. Some bread puddings can even be left overnight in the fridge and then baked the next day. After they are baked the custard is soft and combines with the bread giving a soft, pudding like consistency. It is very comforting, but most of all, delicious.

I like to serve my bread pudding warm topped with ice cream. This New Year’s Eve I am making a caramel, rum bread pudding topped with my home made pumpkin ice cream.

Try to make your own bread pudding, and let me know how it came out. What are your favorite ingredients to use in your puddings?

Happy Baking!

Chef Gail


Ending the Year on a High Note

I am so glad to be back blogging with you. It’s been awhile, and I am sorry that it took me so long to get back to blogging. Much has happened since I last reached out to you.

The first thing that has happened in my life is that my kitchen is FINALLY DONE. Without trying to sound like a spoiled brat, it was an intense experience, but a learning one. When you remodel a kitchen you face many choices and obstacles. You really need to know what your wants and needs are in such items as: appliances, counter space, gas or electric stovetop, etc.

The hardest part of a remodel is the stage the contractors call “demo”. That stands for demolition, and it’s LOUD!! The greatest part of the remodel is that it is finished, and I now have a GORGEOUS and very practical space that is organized. I never want to do this again and hopefully I won’t have to.

My newest book “Baking with Success” came out and I have had two wonderful book signings so far. One of the most fun I had promoting my book was to appear at the Wine and Food Fest in Rhinebeck, New York. I did a wonderful demonstration for a recipe from my new book, and I got to meet about 10,000 people! It was CRAZY!! One fun person I met was Shaun O’Neale, winner of MasterChef season 7! We even exchanged cookbooks. He is really a nice person!

I, also, was asked by WAMC, to appear on Food Friday, the Friday before Thanksgiving, with Deanna Fox, the fabulous food contributor to the Times Union and blogger. What a blast that was! I made my Meringue Mushrooms and Free Form Apple Gallette. Deanna even took some of my gallette home with her. That was such a complement.

I am so excited about some of my future endeavors that are in the works!

Happy Baking!

Chef Gail