I almost decided against writing for you today. The last time I had chicken pot pie, Mike made it as a way to use up left over crudités from a party we had. It was the first time he made it, and it was superb. He swears he threw the dough together using only flour, butter and a little bit of water. He didn’t remember any other steps or specific quantities. Challenge accepted! I was very sure of myself to start, and I couldn’t wait to come up with the perfect recipe. And maybe, just maybe…maybe I wanted to one-up him just a little. Shame on me. This is never a good look for me.

Five minutes later, I thought about scrapping the whole meal and starting over. I thought about making something easier like handmade lasagna with Bolognese sauce, a smooth bechamel and homemade ricotta! Let’s just say I had some challenges. The luck of the Irish was conspicuously missing from my kitchen. As the dough began falling apart before my eyes, I instructed Mike to run out and buy ready-made puff pastry. Maybe he was intrigued by the challenge. Maybe he just didn’t want to go to the store. Either way, my Irish fella salvaged my dough. Maybe I do have the luck after all.

What Went Wrong Wednesday

I had to leave the kitchen when he came in to assess the damage. Was it too late? There was flour everywhere, but none of it was mixing well with the butter. Did I use too much? Not enough? This dough was barely hanging on and the emerging crust (if you could call it that) was resisting at every fold. Eventually, Mike managed to convince the flour and butter to take shape between two pieces of parchment paper. Then, he gently, slowly coerced it from the paper and managed to place it over the filling of my lucky pot pie. The result wasn’t pretty, but it was a relief. This dough was causing trouble. It was getting in between me and the rich, creamy filling sitting idly by in my cast iron skillet, just waiting to be baked under a flaky, buttery canopy.

The trifecta of carrots, onions and celery mingled happily with chicken and peas like an edible Irish flag giving my less than authentic version of this meal just a pinch of Irish credibility. I had come this far. I couldn’t let a little flour ruin my St. Patrick’s Day recipe testing. It’s ironic that flour was my undoing. I love flour! I love, love making dough. For some reason (read: impatient and stubborn), I struggle when it comes to making this kind of flaky dough. This is not a roll up your sleeves, get your hands dirty, knead for ten minutes kind of dough. I should have followed a recipe. I should have watched a video. I should have learned from someone who makes pot pie the way I make homemade pasta. But I did it my way instead. It’s dough! How hard could it be? I think by now we all know the answer to that rhetorical question. I decided this was the perfect cooking experience to share with you, not despite the mishap but because of it.

Without A Recipe Wednesday

I would be doing you a disservice if I only shared the stuff that worked out perfectly. I’m not a chef after all. I’m a home cook. It’s more fun to see what went wrong, and it’s more informative to see why. I’m not sure if What Went Wrong Wednesday will be a regular feature, but it sure works today. My original idea was to do a spot called Without A Recipe Wednesday. I’ve been dying to get rid of recipes. It doesn’t have the same ring to it though so the recipes are safe for now. Alliteration aside, these two ideas actually work well together. Instead of presenting a recipe that I’ve made and tested many times, I’m bringing you in on my very first attempt. The good news is that despite my failing dough, the pie tasted delicious. There is no bad news after that. Good food is good food even if it doesn’t look perfect. Even it makes you cry a little in your kitchen (speaking for a friend). There is almost always a work around. And there is absolutely no shame in store-bought puff pastry if it comes to that.

The best part about chicken pot pie is the creamy filling anyway. I’ve always wanted to make it. I can’t remember the first time I experienced this dish, but I can tell you it wasn’t at home in my mom’s Italian kitchen. I only tasted it a few times, but I thought it was so exotic; the same way I thought macaroni and cheese was exotic in college. I guess I didn’t get out much as a kid. It would be years before I would ever attempt either of these dishes. With St. Patrick’s Day looming, I needed a dinner idea, and the time had finally come for chicken pot pie. When I met Mike, I thought it would be nice to split our cooking repertoire 50/50, Italian and Irish. So far it’s closer to 80/20. OK. OK. I’m not sure what the math is, but I only attempt Irish cooking once a year on St. Patrick’s Day. My intentions were good. At least this way it’s a very special meal each year. We make a big deal out of it and celebrate at home with a big dinner instead of in the crowded bars of NYC.

You can do this

If you’re looking for an Irish dinner idea, go ahead and try this half baked, non-recipe. You can buy ready-made puff pastry dough and use my Without A Recipe Wednesday guidelines for the filling. You don’t need more than that. You can do this.

Chicken pot pie crust gone wrongChicken pot pie baked in a cast iron skillet

If you want to test my mistakes, grab some flour

Since the dough has to rest for at least 30 minutes, we’ll start there at the scene of the crime. If you’re having trust issues (who could blame you), feel free to skip down to the meat of this non-recipe, and send someone out to buy puff pastry. For the rest of you who want to test out my mistakes, grab some flour. In my initial attempt, I used 1 cup of flour, 1 stick of cold butter and 3 tablespoon of cold water  which I mixed together in a metal bowl. In hindsight, I should have refrigerated the bowl first (more on that later). I meant to add a pinch of salt, but that omission was the least of my problems. As it turns out, I didn’t use enough flour or water, and as a result I could not get the flour to properly incorporate. The dough that did form was too soft and sticky. I also erred in how I mixed the flour and butter together. It’s true that you need a very light touch, and you absolutely must not overwork the dough. You do however need to ensure that the flour is pressed into the butter in clumps that you can then form into dough. I did no such thing. I was counting on the magic of my refrigerator to help things along. I was also impatient. This might be a Saturday meal, not a Wednesday meal.

If you’re brave and want to try this on your own before I perfect and post an actual recipe, here are few tips that should help. First, the butter and water must be very cold. Before starting, I would even put the bowl of flour and salt in the refrigerator until it is cold. You can blend the flour and butter with two knives, cutting the butter into the flour until it is crumbly, but if you have a pastry cutter, that will make it so much easier. When you add the water, mix it into the dough with a fork. Next, lightly press together with your fingers, and then turn mixture out onto the surface of your counter or baking board. Press together with your hands until you’ve formed a dough. Wrap it in plastic and put it in the fridge for 30 minutes.

The meat of the story

When I decided to look for help to correct my dough debacle, I discovered that most recipes online call for store-bought puff pastry! The dough recipes vary greatly, and none of them resemble Mike’s dough that I tried to mimic. Admittedly, this is a short cut dough. I know. There are no short cuts. I’m stubborn though so I’ll just keep working on it and report back. The filling however, came together easily. I chopped up 1 large carrot, 2 celery stalks and 1 onion. This amounted to about 1 cup each (give or take) of vegetables. Don’t get too hung up on the exacts measurements. I also cut 1 chicken breast (about a pound) into bite sized pieces and sauteed them in olive oil in my cast iron skillet with salt and pepper until they were light in color. I removed the chicken from the skillet and set it aside. Next I added about 2 tablespoons of butter and the vegetables to the skillet. I let them cook for about 7 minutes until they became soft. I always season with salt and pepper as I go. Season lightly and often so that you layer the flavor. Taste as you go and add accordingly. There is no use in using the amount of salt I prefer. This is about what you like. At this point I stirred in about 3 tablespoons of potato starch until it was fully incorporated. I added some more butter, followed by about a 1/2 cup of chicken broth and 1 cup of milk. This will make your filling creamy and savory.  Then I added a cup of frozen peas. It’s my favorite part of the dish and one of the few ways I can sneak them passed Mike. Let this mixture cook for a few minutes. The liquid will reduce slightly. In the meantime, take that crazy dough out of the fridge to rest or a bit.

I baked my pot pie right in the same cast iron skillet that I cooked the chicken and vegetables, but you could also transfer the contents to an oven safe baking dish. Then grab that pesky dough, sprinkle it with flour and roll it out until it is about 1/4 an inch thick. OK. Who are we kidding? Get the ready-made puff pastry dough and open it flat so that you can then cover your pie. Pinch the ends closed with your fingers, and then brush the top of the dough with an egg wash (that just means beat and egg and spread it on the crust with your fingers). All that’s left is to bake it in the oven at 350 degrees for about 25 to 30 minutes. Know your oven! I can’t stress this enough. Our oven is a huge liar. The knob will say 350, but the thermometer that we suck inside always tells a different story. You’ll know it’s done when the top gets a bit golden and the smell starts to make your stomach growl.

I hope you liked this debut no-recipe post. Let us know what you think. I’ll keep working on the pot pie and post the final product when it’s perfected. For now, go ahead an impress yourself. Cook without a recipe.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!