Could there be a more comforting food for winter evenings than a potpie simmering with vegetables and chicken? For some, it may bring back memories of dinner at Grandma's. My grandmother didn't cook much, at least in my childhood, so my potpie memories are of the little Swanson frozen kind that, for some reason or another, tasted good at the time. However, at this time in my life, I cannot figure out how or why.

Nonetheless, I still love potpies — good, homemade ones, that is. There's something about the creamy filling paired with a crispy crust that gets my mouth to watering.

Plain flour crusts are the simplest foundation for potpies. But you can really wow the crowd and dress them up with crusts made of pecans or embedded with fresh herbs.

As for fillings, potpies are quite forgiving. Use leftover veggies, or add crisp bacon along with the chicken and envelop the filling ingredients in a creamy cheese sauce.

There are so many ways to stir the pot. Use your imagination — you'll never go to the freezer section again. But there are a few tips you can follow from to ensure the perfect potpie.

* Potpies are forgiving, with one exception: Some cooks mix together whatever ingredients they have on hand and add too many herbs in the process, overpowering the taste of the veggies. There must be balance.

* Get inventive and try making a taco or cheeseburger potpie.

* Rather than a traditional crust, you can use everything from phyllo dough to cornbread.

* Got some leftover stew or curry? Chicken tikka masala makes an excellent filling.

I found this recipe for chicken potpie years ago, and it's been my go-to ever since. White wine adds luxurious flavor to the creamy chicken and veggies. Boil your own chicken in water seasoned with salt, pepper, onions and celery. Defat the stock, and use it in this recipe. I always boil the whole chicken so I'll have leftovers for chicken salad and other dishes.

This recipe is easily made in advance, so it's the perfect solution for dinner when you're busy with other duties. Remove the uncooked pie from the refrigerator an hour or two before cooking, and don't brush with the egg white until just before cooking.


Savory Chicken Potpie

1 garlic clove

2 stalks celery

2 carrots

1/2 sweet onion

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons butter

2 chicken breasts, cooked and shredded

1/2 cup butter

1/2 cup flour

16 ounces chicken stock, preferably homemade

1/4 to 1/2 cup white wine (or to taste)

1/2 cup heavy cream

1 pinch nutmeg

1 pinch sage

1 pinch thyme

Freshly ground pepper, to taste

1/4 to 1/2 cup frozen peas (or peas and carrots)

1 pastry for double-crust pie

1 egg white

Finely chop garlic. Slice celery, carrots and onion into like-size pieces. Heat garlic with olive oil and 2 tablespoons butter over medium-high, adding celery, carrots and onion when pan is heated. Saute about 12 minutes, or until carrots are fairly tender, but garlic and onions are not burned.

While vegetables are cooking, chop cooked chicken breasts, and set aside.

Remove vegetables from pan, and set aside. In same pan, melt 1/2 cup butter and stir in flour. Brown mixture slightly, being careful not to let it burn. Add chicken stock a few ounces at a time, stirring to incorporate after each addition. Add wine, to taste, then cream. Add spices to taste. Check for salt and add, if needed. Stir in cooked vegetables. Turn off heat, and set aside.

Stir chicken and peas into vegetable mixture, and pour all into pie. Place top crust on top, and trim outside edge of dish. Fold top crust under bottom crust, and pinch around the edge around pie to seal. Make small cuts in the top to let steam escape, or if you want to get creative, use a paring knife to cut a small design, like a leaf or flower.

Heat oven to 425 degrees. Brush top with egg white, cover edge with foil and bake for 5 minutes, then turn heat down to 350 degrees and remove foil. Continue baking for 35 to 45 minutes or until crust appears done. Let sit at least 10 minutes before slicing to allow pie filling to set. Serve with a side salad, and dinner's done.

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Anne Braly