A few weeks ago, I found myself with nothing to do on a Friday night. However, rather than watch Death Becomes Her for the 15th time, I decided to be brave and head out to a restaurant on my own.
Official photo for Death Becomes Her–a must see B movie
My friend Jon from Miami does this all the time. He goes out to eat several times a week, sits at the bar and chats with his neighbors or with the bartender for a couple of hours before heading home. I always felt like these types of bar flies were either alcoholics or total weirdos with serotonin overloads. I’m a fairly friendly chap, but I can’t say I’m drawn to situations where I have to make chit chat with random people. Perhaps I’ve spent too much time living in New York, but it’s a a skill that has slightly atrophied over time. Self-preservation in the concrete jungle, I suppose!
But where I may have developed a minor aversion for complete strangers, I have also developed serious horse power in picking myself up by my boot straps to get #$%! done when I’m determined, which I was the night I ventured out to Woodberry Kitchen to eat at the bar.
Surprisingly, it was one of the most enjoyable nights out I’ve had in a long time. I sat at the bar, ordered, ate and drank as slowly as I wanted, and learned all about my new dinner-mate/bartender, Whitney who had followed a dude to Baltimore from Minneapolis a few years back.
I love Meryl, but this was a far better use of my time than sitting on my couch waiting for her to blow a hole in Goldie Hawn’s gut with a shotgun!
Beyond the sense of independence I felt, I enjoyed, as always, the food and service at Woodberry Kitchen. I ordered toast with quince butter and crushed peanuts, six different local oysters, and a winter vegetable pot pie. The pot pie, which arrived in a cast iron skillet, was very creamy and delicious. So much so, that I decided to try my hand at a variation–dare I say, an improvement?–a smoky winter vegetable pie made with carrots, sweet potatoes, turnips, parsnips, yellow beets, thyme, paprika and cinnamon.
Make this pot pie quick, because spring is around the corner and you and I will soon have little excuse to hibernate that winter belly. Lucky for you, pot pie is actually very simple to make. Sauté some vegetables in a large Dutch oven, spice them up, simmer in carrot juice, thicken with cream, toss into individual bowls or a cast iron skillet, lay some puff pastry on top, brush with an egg wash, and cook for 25 minutes. If I can do it, you can do it. To get started, gather all of your ingredients/ get your “mis en place” in order. Here is mine (fancy I know…)!
As you can see, I used a mixture of vegetables–2 sweet potatoes, 2 parsnips, 2 turnips, 4 or 5 carrots, and 2 yellow beets. With this many vegetables, I had enough pot pie to feed a good 8 people or so. So if you are feeding less, feel free to cut down on the number or variety of ingredients. Don’t cut out the sweet potatoes though, they’re the best!
Next, dice all of the vegetables. In the photo above, I left some of the potatoes sliced, but this is just for show. I later diced up everything. This is important, or your vegetables will be harder to cook.
On medium heat, heat the oil so it’s nice and hot. Don’t let it crackle or steam, but the oil should appear thin and runny. Toss in the vegetables and sauté in the olive oil for 10 minutes, moving the vegetables around in the oil throughout. The vegetables should soften slightly, but they should not brown or become mushy in this amount of time. At the 5 minute mark, toss in the paprika, cinnamon, salt, pepper and thyme.
Add the carrot juice and bring the mixture to a boil and then reduce to a simmer (low heat). If you don’t have carrot juice you can use stock, but I highly recommend you make an extra trip to the store for carrot juice. Braising carrots in carrot juice is a trick my friend Andy, who used to be a chef at Gramercy Tavern, taught me. It really enhances the flavor as the juice cooks down, thickening easily and becoming very rich. In fact, if you let it cook down enough, you may even decide to not add cream to this pot pie. If I were to make this again, I think I might do this and save the calories!
After the carrot juice cooks down and the vegetables soften (another 12-15 minutes), remove the vegetables from the liquid with a slotted spoon and place in another bowl temporarily. Find the thyme sticks and remove them from the liquid. Make a judgment call about thickening the carrot juice further. If you want the full winter hibernation effect, pour half of the cream into a mixing bowl. Slowly, in 1 tbsp. increments, add the flour and whisk like there’s no tomorrow so that you combine the cream and flour and leave as few lumps as possible. Continue until all of the cream and flour is combined. It should look somewhere between super thick whipped cream and very liquidy dough (see the photo above).
One tbsp. at a time, add the thickened cream back to the liquid in the Dutch oven until it reaches a thickness you approve of. I added all of it back and it looked like the above photo. There were still a few small lumps, which bugged me, but hey, no one was going to see it with a delicious puff pastry on top;) Now, add the vegetables back to the thickened sauce, cook for another 2-3 minutes and you’re done!
Pre-heat the oven to 425 F.
Spoon 1-2 cups of the vegetable mixture into individual sized ovenproof bowls and cover with a piece of cold (but not frozen) puff pastry. Ina Garten always says that some things you just don’t need to slave over in the kitchen, and puff pastry is one of those things, especially when you’re just making a quick dinner. We can save the homemade puff pastry for another day–a future Sunday brunch with croissants perhaps?
If your puff pastry is at room temperature, I suggest popping it back into the freezer or the fridge briefly. This is important, because once you lay it on top of the hot soup, it will quickly get very very (read: too) soft. Make sure your puff pastry piece is big enough to cover the bowl leaving 1 to 1 1/2 inches over hanging.
Seal the puff pastry by gripping lightly the edge of the bowl with both hands using your thumbs and forefingers making small ridges (see above). Trim the overhanging crust with a sharp knife so that there is no more than a 3/4” over-hang and make small surface cuts in the surface of the puff pastry (don’t cut all the way through. These are not vents!). If you do cut all the way through, your puff pastry won’t puff properly, so you might want to consider removing it and trying again with a different piece. :/
Beat 1 egg in a cup and brush the pie crust with a pastry brush. Pop the bowl into the oven at 425 F and cook for 15 minutes. Reduce the heat to 400 F and cook for another 15 minutes or until the crust is nice and brown like my final photo. Remove from the oven and serve!
- 6 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tbsp kosher salt
- 1 tbsp freshly ground pepper
- 2 thyme sprigs
- 2 tbsp smoked paprika
- ½ tsp cinnamon
- 2 sweet potatoes
- 2 turnips
- 2 yellow beets
- 2 parsnips
- 5 carrots
- 3 cups of pure carrot juice
- 1½ cups heavy whipping cream
- 2 Dufour frozen puff pastry packages
- ¾ cup all purpose flour
- See above. 🙂