New England in Prague: Homemade Pot Pies
Fall has officially arrived in Prague with unromantic fanfare. Autumn, the season that always seems to creep up on us much too fast and sucks the life straight from the warm days of summer. Unlike New England, it is repeatedly gray, damp, and depressing in Prague that would lead most American expats to reach for some Prozac, or at least a “pivo” (beer). The other night it had me reaching for a vegetable peeler and an apron, though. There is a silver-lining in the darker days as fall kicks off the official season of pot pies and warm casserole dishes. The husband happens to love my vegetarian pot pie, a hot menagerie of his favorite vegetables baked under a flaky homemade pastry dough that becomes moistened by a creamy herbal broth after plated.
Before I can get all blushy on how tasty this vegetable pot pie turned out I must admit that it started off with me being royally pissed off. Cooking, you see, isn’t always Norman Rockwell sketches or Betty Crocker magazine dreams – a kitchen can be a downright “stress test” on the nerves. I came home the other night after schlepping up 2 grocery bags to our fourth floor and flicked on the kitchen light (shorter days, right?). “What the — ?” I panted, hot and sweaty after my climb. All I could hear was microwave beeping like an alarm (not normal) and a dark computer screen over on the desk (also not normal). To make a long story short, the computer had taken her last breath and crashed and the microwave also blew. It was a double suicide. An appliance Shakespearean tragedy. “Oh shit. Shit.” Then I heard the door – yep, the husband was walking in to greet the defeated spouse, helpless with room temperature groceries on the tiled floor.
“Move.” he said. “Just .. go.” He sputtered. The words that are music to my ears (between you and I), that get me offline to resuscitate broken things as I have zero patience to fix anything (I am a work in progress). “So can I start dinner? I am making your favorite – veggie pot pie!” I can’t say he was enthusiastic about it as the house was in disarray, but he let me get to work with a gentle grumble.
First, friends, throw on your apron and start with those mushrooms. Wash and pat dry, either quarter or halve them. Mushrooms won’t brown if they are 1. wet, and 2. cooked too close together. They need space. I minced a shallot and added it to the mushrooms with fresh cracked pepper, salt, Provençal herbs, and a pinch of rosemary. Don’t skimp on that butter either – give them a tablespoon dollop with each batch of mushrooms sautéed. Then I started a second burner with leeks, scallions, and shredded carrot – all sautéing away in a butter-oil combination with my favorite herbs (especially thyme). As I did not have fennel heads, I cubed 3 russet potatoes (medium large) and added them to the carrot mix. With my two pans simmering away, I short-cut a vegetable stock (with a cube) in a small sauce pan so that I could create my broth to bake it in. One thing was missing though, music!
With the computer dead and thus taking iTunes to the grave with it, I was cooking to the soundtrack of butter. Sizzle, pop, splat. Sizzle, spat, stammer. Then it occurred to me; I have never cooked with no music or tv mumble in the background. I actually haven’t. Am I the only one who had never cooked in silence? It was relaxing, though. I spaced out a bit as I waited for those potatoes to cook though my mind took a detour into what it must have been like to cook before the advent of iTunes or Pandora. I was some sort of simple Pocahontas in the kitchen with my John Rolfe scurrying around the house with home repairs. Cooking in quietude. You could concentrate more with less distraction and focus. But then again, maybe I am the last person to cook alone in silence. What a novel idea – to be a Pocahontas with a spatula. Then I snapped out of my Virginian daydream.
30 minutes later, my vegetarian pot pie had baked and cooked through. It was already dark outside but I am sure the sky would have still been Prague gray. Since the days turned cooler, the windows were closed with the curtains drawn so the house smelled buttery, herby, and “New England-y”. Ah, home. Fall, you’re not so bad after all.
The microwave had gotten fixed (rebooted, and pulled a stuck button out of the key pad with a knife), and the computer was sort-of working (if you count a blue screen as working), and John Rolfe had assembled a new shelving unit in the laundry room for my pans and vegetables (wow, right? I also am a work in progress when it comes to IKEA assemblage). I might be a questionable homecook but one thing is definite, I am certainly a spoiled husband.
What are you cooking up these fall days? Pot pies are so versatile and are a great way to use up those summer vegetables and warm the house in the process. Besides being under-seasoned, I think the pastry can either make or break your dish. You can either purchase a ready-made dough (tsk, tsk) or create your own in under 10 minutes (see my recipe for homemade dough from last month!)
(PS: Anyone selling a computer?) 🙂
- 3 medium large russet potatoes
- 2 medium shredded carrots
- 3 cups of mixed mushrooms
- 1 cup peas
- ½ cup scallion
- ¾ cup leek
- 1 shallot
- 1 cup vegetable stock
- 1 cup whole milk
- 7-8 ounces of pastry dough, rolled out to 1/8 inch
- ¼ cup flour
- 1 egg yolk
- Seasoning (recommended: thyme, chives, parsley, oregano)
- Preheat the oven to 400 F (204 C) and center your baking rack in the middle of the oven
- Clean and dry mushrooms, quarter or halve them, sauté with butter, minced shallot, and seasoning (cracked pepper, salt, pinch of rosemary, pinch of Provençal herbs). Set aside. Begin to cook the scallions with the leeks. Once turning translucent, add the shredded carrot and peas and cook over medium low. Add the potatoes to the scallion/leeks and sauté until soft (appx 10 minutes). Add mushrooms back into the pan. Toss vegetables in flour to lock in their flavor. Add 1 cup milk and 1 cup stock to the vegetables and simmer on low (appx 5 minutes). Taste and correct seasoning
- Butter your casserole dish and pour vegetable mixture in
- Roll pastry dough over the casserole dish, making a design in the middle of the dough (to vent) and decorate the edges if desired
- Mix 1 egg yolk with 2 tablespoons of water and stroke gently over the dough
- Bake for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown and fluffy
- Remove from oven and let cool for 5 minutes before serving
- Storage: Casseroles and pot pies can last under refrigeration for up to 4 days and can be reheated either in a microwave or oven at 350 F, 170 C