About this Author
DBL%20Hendrix%20small.png College chemistry, 1983

Derek Lowe The 2002 Model

Dbl%20new%20portrait%20B%26W.png After 10 years of blogging. . .

Derek Lowe, an Arkansan by birth, got his BA from Hendrix College and his PhD in organic chemistry from Duke before spending time in Germany on a Humboldt Fellowship on his post-doc. He's worked for several major pharmaceutical companies since 1989 on drug discovery projects against schizophrenia, Alzheimer's, diabetes, osteoporosis and other diseases. To contact Derek email him directly: Twitter: Dereklowe

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December 30, 2010

Another Cold-Weather Recipe: Chicken Pot Pie

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Posted by Derek

Here, as promised, is another dish for weather like the present. It takes some time, but if the snow is coming down and the wind is rattling the windows, you may well have some. You'll need, at a minimum: a chicken, vegetables (carrots, celery, onions, peas, etc.), some flour and milk, and some source of pie crust, either home-made or bought. (Note that if you're going to make your own crust, that needs to be started early in the process so it'll be ready to roll out - see below. If you're a make-your-own-crust type, though, you probably already knew that, though).

First take the chicken (up to a 3-pound / 1.4kg one) and simmer it in water (to cover). I season this with salt, black pepper, and a bay leaf, but you can modify this to taste - you're going to have extra chicken broth when this is over (no bad thing!), so season it the way you like it. A half hour should take care of the bird - take it out of the broth and let it cool down enough to handle, then remove the skin and pull the meat off the bones. You'll need to cut the larger pieces down to size - 1 to 2 cm on a side, say. I usually put the chicken pieces into a large bowl; you'll be adding more to it in a few minutes.

Now, the vegetables: peel and cut up 3 or 4 medium-sized carrots into similar-sized pieces as the chicken, and do the same with two large stalks of celery. For the onions, you can chop up a large one, or do what I often do - take half to 3/4 of a bag of frozen pearl onions (8 to 12 oz., 230 to 340 g) and let them thaw while working on the other vegetables. If you like mushrooms, you can also add some to taste; I often do. If they're fresh, you'll want to saute them along with the other vegetables in the coming step, or you can add canned ones at any point.

Take the cut vegetables and saute them in a large pot in oil over medium-to-high heat for five minutes or a bit more - you just want to get them started cooking, and not brown them or make them actually soft. You can add salt and black pepper as desired at this point. Then turn them out into the same bowl as the cut chicken. Take the same pot and melt about 4 tablespoons butter (50g) in it, then add 1/2 cup flour (which I think should be about 60 to 65 g), and stir that in. Cook the butter-flour mixture (which will be pretty solid) for a minute or two, then add 2 cups (475 mL) of the chicken broth you have, whisking it in to break up that flour lump, followed by 1 1/2 cups of milk (350 to 360 mL). Continue to whisk this around vigorously while it's heating - it'll thicken into a sauce (more specifically, into a béchamel sauce).

This is a good time to get the oven going - heat it to 400F, or 200 to 210C. Now Season the sauce with some more ground black pepper and about a half teaspoon of dried thyme (0.75 g), then add the vegetables and chicken, and stir to mix everything. At this point, you can add a cup of frozen peas, as they are, to the mix - they'll come out festively green at the end. If you have some fresh parsley on hand, you can chop a small handful and add it now. It goes well, but I've made it without as well, and it's still completely edible.

This mixture is ready to go into whatever sort of form you wish your chicken pot pie to take. Store-bought pie crust, the kind that comes refrigerated and rolled up, can be used to line a large oven-proof bowl. You than empty the pot pie mixture into that and use the second crust in the package across the top. (Some people like a bottom/side crust, others don't). You can use a wider, shallower pan and just have a top crust, or break the recipe up into individual oven-proof bowls. Your call! They all work fine.

If you're going to go all the way and make your own crust, then I'm going to have to refer you to your favorite recipe for it, since I rarely make my own, to be honest. (I wouldn't recommend making your first one at the same time you're doing all the rest of this). Remember, though, jome-made pie crust has to be refrigerated for a half hour or so to get it ready to be worked. You can also use a biscuit topping, if you've got a recipe you like for that - I haven't tried it myself, but it seems like it would work fine.

Cook the pie at the above-mentioned 400F until the crust is starting to brown. Depending on the format of your pie (or pies, if you broke it up into smaller servings for a group), this could be as short as 20 minutes or more like 35 to 40. And there you have it! And as a side effect, you now have some chicken stock to freeze for later on. Enjoy!

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December 28, 2010

A Cold-Weather Recipe, By Request: Onion Soup

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Posted by Derek

If there's big pharmaceutical news going on right now, it hasn't reached me. So in the spirit of taking time off, here are some things I've been making here at home while the wind rattles the windows.

First up is French onion soup. I use pretty much the procedure that the Cooks Illustrated people recommend. Take half a dozen onions (this should be a bit over 3 lbs, or 1.5 kg) and slice them fairly thinly. The Cooks people recommend red onions, and those certainly work well, but I've used all sorts (and mixtures of whatever's on hand). Now comes the only time-consuming part: cook these in a pot with butter (2 tablespoons, or about 30 grams) over medium-to-low heat, stirring frequently, until they're quite dark but not burnt. This will take at least half an hour, and probably more. If you're using a conventional pot (not nonstick), you'll have a lot of stuff stuck to the sides, so be careful that it doesn't burn. This is the key step in the whole preparation: well-browned onions are the crucial ingredient, without which all is lost.

Now add a mixture of beef broth (2 cups, 500 mL) and chicken broth (6 cups, 1500 mL). I sometimes have the latter around frozen from previous chicken preparations, otherwise, you can use canned. Beef broth I almost never have around, for one reason or another, so that's almost always canned. (Note - using all canned beef broth makes a fairly nasty soup, while using all chicken broth makes an edible, but rather chicken-centric one). This step will loosen up all the caramelized onion stuff and get things into suspension, if not into solution. You can also add a half cup or so (125 mL) of red wine at this point if you like. Season it all with dried thyme, salt, and pepper to taste, add a bay leaf, and simmer the mixture gently for at least fifteen minutes. (If it goes longer, you can add a bit of water to bring the volume back up). Check the taste at this point - you might like it with more of a bite, in which case a few mLs of balsamic vinegar added to the pot will help out.

You can have this as is, or go the traditional gratineé method, with toasted bread and cheese on top. I use whatever's on hand in the bread department, just making sure that it's cut fairly thick and is well toasted, and then add some sort of Swiss-ish cheese - your choice. (You can even go as far, and as non-traditional, as mild Provolone, but I don't think that sharp cheddar (for example) would be a very good idea). The best way to do all this is probably to put the soup in some sort of heat-resistant bowl, plop in the bread, cover that with cheese, and run the whole thing under a broiler.

This, to me, is one of the best meals for very cold weather - I can't imagine eating it in July. Next post: chicken pot