stuff, written by me

Monthly Archives: December 2014

Lately, I’ve been cooking as a way to deal with stress. I mean, I’ve been cooking more for the past couple of weeks because I’m in love with my new kitchen, obviously. But it’s also a brilliant way of forcing myself to do something other than a) work, or b) worry about work.

You can’t really multi-task while cooking. You can listen to a podcast or something, but you can’t really pause to send emails or do paperwork, unless you want to smear butter or flour or meat juice all over your laptop and important documents. Pretty much the only other activity that has this effect is going to the movies, where I turn off my phone (because I’m not a monster). But who has time for movies? Apparently not me (although I did see Interstellar and Gone Girl so I guess I’m not at zero for “movies people are on about right now”).

Anyway, this isn’t about how I wish I had time to see Whiplash and Birdman (maybe next week, though). This is about how I’ve been feeling really  overwhelmed with my workload lately, and I haven’t been making time to do the things that usually de-stress me, like going to the gym, or seeing friends, or going to the movies.

But no matter how busy I am, I have to eat, right? And I can’t afford to eat out every day (besides, that would be depressing), right? So! Cooking! You gotta do it anyway, might as well make it fun.

Anyway, I had a craving for mac & cheese the other day so I made up a recipe, which turned out great. For me, 30% of the joy of cooking is in the cooking itself (I like to chop, stir and mash), 30% is in the eating (duh), and 40% is in the creativity of inventing a recipe. I love reading recipes, and deciding that none of them will be as good as the one I can make up myself.

I like to sneak vegetables into everything I cook (even desserts sometimes – see: beet cakes, avocado chocolate mousses) so I decided to try something I’ve seen in other recipes but never tested before: using puréed squash to add creamy texture without adding actual cream. Not that I have anything against cream, mind you.

start with the basics, like onions and bacon

start with the basics, like onions and bacon

I also have a sneaking suspicion that caramelized onions make everything better, so I started with those. And bacon. I caramelized, I fried, and I set them both aside. Then I peeled and chopped the squash and boiled it until it was soft.

Then I made a béchamel sauce, the base without which, I am terribly sorry to tell you, any mac & cheese is subpar. Béchamel is just basic “white sauce” and it’s easy to make, so don’t be intimidated by the fancy French name. Melt some butter, add an equal amount of flour into it to make a roux, and before it gets too dark, slowly add milk. I used about two tablespoons of butter and flour, and two cups of milk. I also added a generous pinch of nutmeg. I’m pretty sure that’s how my mom does it. Anyway, it’s great.

roux - the mortar with which the bricks of your cooking pyramid are bound, y'know?

roux – the mortar with which the bricks of your cooking pyramid are bound, y’know?

Once the béchamel was done, I added the cooked squash and mashed it with a potato masher. Then I added about three cups of shredded cheese. Use whatever blend you like. In my case, it was 50% old cheddar, 25% pecorino romano and 25% smoked gouda (adds A+ smoked flavour). I’ll also note something obvious: this recipe could be made with way, way, way less cheese (a small amount of a particularly sharp-flavoured cheese would be adequate to give it zing and gooeyness), if you want to make an even “healthier” version. My goal was not to make it some kind of diet dish, only to inject a little bit of healthy veg without spoiling or changing the classic flavour.

photo 6

the béchamel and squash mix should resemble a thick soup

I’m bad at measuring pasta so I took the casserole dish I was planning to bake it in, filled about 1/3 of it with dry pasta and boiled that amount, because I figured it would grow in volume to approximately double its size, which, when combined with the sauce, would roughly fill the dish. Makes sense, right? Worked perfectly.

An aside: while I cooked, I listened to some old episodes of Canadaland. I’ve been finding podcasts very soothing lately, because they take my mind off my constantly racing thoughts (my mind is a hamster wheel of ‘to do lists’, basically). Colin’s a comedy podcast listener, but I’m all newsy and factsy, so it’s a loop of This American Life, Canadaland, Planet Money, Freakonomics, Stuff You Should Know and Radiolab (plus Serial, obviously, although I am not ready for it to be over). If you have any other podcasts to recommend along those lines, please send them my way! I am always looking for new ones.

I used whatever this pasta is called, because macaroni is kind of boring

I used whatever this pasta is called, because macaroni is kind of boring

Aaaaanyway, I boiled the pasta to very-al-dente, drained it and added the previously-set-aside bacon and caramelized onions, then combined it with the squash’n’cheese mixture. Then I poured it all into the casserole dish. Final touch: more cheese and some breadcrumbs on top.

photo 8

I baked it for about 20 minutes then broiled it for another 3-4 (I very nearly burned it – beware your broilers, people, it only takes a split second to go from perfectly golden brown to black). The stove we have at the new place is very fancy (I googled the brand, and I’m pretty sure it’s this one) and I’m still getting used to it. Or maybe I’m just getting used to having an oven that works the way it’s supposed to, unlike our old one. I don’t have to kneel next to it and blow on the pilot light to ignite it, how novel!

To recap:

ready for a sprinkling of cheese and breadcrumbs

ready for a sprinkling of cheese and breadcrumbs

topped and ready for the oven

topped and ready for the oven

aaand done!

aaand done!

Ingredients

  • 2 small onions, chopped
  • 1 small butternut squash
  • 4-6 slices of bacon
  • macaroni or other pasta of your choice (I think I used 3-4 cups?)
  • 2 cups of cheddar cheese, grated
  • 1 cup of smoked gouda, grated
  • 1 cup of pecorino romano, grated
  • 2 tablespoons each of butter & flour, pinch of nutmeg & 2 cups of milk (for béchamel sauce)
  • breadcrumbs (to add crunch!)

Instructions

  • Sautée onions and fry bacon, then set aside
  • Peel & chop butternut squash, boil till completely soft, then set aside
  • Grate all the cheese, then set aside
  • Make the béchamel sauce (go here for instructions) and don’t forget to add a pinch of nutmeg
  • Add cooked squash to béchamel sauce and mash/purée
  • Add 3/4 of your grated cheese to squash & sauce mixture
  • Cook pasta until it’s al dente (but not as done as you’d normally like)
  • Add in the bacon and caramelized onions
  • Mix with cheesy squash sauce
  • Pour into casserole dish, cover with the cheese you kept aside & add sprinkling of breadcrumbs
  • Bake in 350 degree oven for 20-30 minutes, until it’s bubbling & browned on top

The finished product: just what the doctor ordered! Served with a simple lettuce / arugula / mushroom salad and a dash of hot sauce. Just as good when reheated the next day, and I’d definitely make it again. Maybe with more smoked cheese and a dash of smoked paprika next time, but either way I’m never going back to mac & cheese that doesn’t have squash in it. You really couldn’t taste the squash because the cheeses overpowered its mild flavour, but it added a level of creaminess to the whole dish so that it was never runny but also never dry (especially at the ‘leftovers’ phase – very important). Plus, eating a plate of cheesy pasta and getting a serving of vegetables feels nice. Life hack! This cream sauce is actually a nutritious gourd!

photo 12

I can’t believe it’s squash!


I love Christmas movies. The heartwarmers, the frighteners, the laff-rioters, I love ’em all, so I made a list. Let me predict in advance what you might say after you finish reading the list. You might say “what?! No It’s A Wonderful Life?!” But honestly, that movie gets enough love. It’s everyone’s Christmas favourite. And I like it too, because I have a heart. I just wanted to give a few other films some attention. Ones that you might not immediately think of when you’re making your “top holiday hits” lists. Same goes for Die Hard. Of course I love Die Hard like every other red blooded human being, and of course I know it’s a Christmas film and deserves to be on every holiday list for the rest of eternity. These films go without saying. I shouldn’t have to list them because DUH!

My list is by no means all obscurities. They’re just ones I’m personally really fond of, not including the obvious all-time-faves like It’s a Wonderful Life, Die Hard, Home Alone, or White Christmas, or even Elf. Although, I did just see Elf for the first time two days ago and it was genuinely funnier than I expected. Or even the greatest A Christmas Carol adaptation ever, Bill Murray’s Scrooged (which I love, and, shameless plug, is playing tomorrow, Friday Dec 19, at 7:00pm at The Royal).

And seriously, I also looooooove White Christmas. 

Just try to watch that clip without crying!

Okay? Here we go. Ten films.

1. BLACK CHRISTMASblack-christmas

A Canadian classic slasher, and probably the #1 recommendation you’ll get from anyone if you’re like “hmm, what should I watch that is scary and Christmas-themed”. But it’s really good. This is the original “the call is coming from inside the house” scarefest (sorry about the spoiler, spoiler queens) and actually holds up great after 40 years. It’s also got a great “doesn’t quite make sense but sure is creepy” tagline: if this film doesn’t make your skin crawl, it’s on too tight. 

Shameless plug #2: it’s playing at The Royal this Saturday, Dec 20, at 7:00pm, and – for the E.N.G. fans out there, actor Art Hindle will be in attendance! If you want to get an advance ticket, it is super easy. Just go HERE.

2. CHRISTMAS EVILChristmas Evil

Everyone loves Silent Night Deadly Night and its glorious sequel (“Garbage day!!”) but my favourite bad santa film is Christmas Evil, in which a man is irrevocably scarred by having witnessed his parents engage in a little bit of seasonal roleplay, and ends up becoming a toymaker who’s mad about the declining quality of the toys his factory manufactures, and creepily keeps literal lists of “naughty” and “nice” kids in his neighbourhood.

Of course, the unstable toymaker snaps, and before you know it, there’s an A+ evil santa rampage going on. No spoilers, but this film’s also got a great ending, I promise.

christmoose story3. A CHRISTMOOSE STORY

We all know that Santa’s sleigh is pulled by reindeer, right? But what does he do for all his pre-Christmas test flights? Glad you asked! He has a talking moose who does those runs with him. Unfortunately, the moose is a bit clumsy, and he crashes Santa’s sleigh into a small Dutch town. The moose ends up in a little boy’s barn, and santa ends up at a garbage dump across town. Will they find each other in time to save Christmas? Will Max (the little boy) finally make friends … with a talking moose?! Will there be lovable hijinx and heartwarming adventure? A thousand times yes, my friends.

This adorable Christmas tale from the Netherlands is a kid-friendly delight and only came out last year. If you have tykes who are old enough for subtitles, I highly recommend it.

Desk Set4. DESK SET 

Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracey are feisty rivals in this charming-as-heck romance from 1957 about the horrors of the rapidly approaching information age. Hepburn is Bunny Watson, the whip-smart librarian who runs the research department at a TV network, where a team of sassy gals hold a world of information at their fingertips. Tracey is the grinch who’s about to bring in a computer into their domain and ruin everything. After all, how could computers possibly replace humans with brains?!

Since it’s Christmas, and since it’s Hepburn and Tracey, you know it’ll end with the two of them falling in love. But the barbs they trade along the way are well worth the ride.

Fubar 25. FUBAR 2

When we caught up with lovable hosers Terry and Dean in 2010, they were barely scraping by in Calgary, and decided to follow their buddy Tron and move to Fort MacMurray to cash in on some of that sweet, sweet oil money everyone’s on about. Unfortunately, life on the pipeline isn’t exactly what the duo expected, and before they know it, their new high rolling lifestyle nearly tears the lifelong buds apart.

But, obviously, since Christmas is fast approaching, you know there’s going to have to be a tearful reunion. Or something far more ridiculous than that, because this is after all, a Fubar film. It might be sacrilige to say this, but I think the sequel might even be funnier than the original Fubar, which gives’er harder than just about any other Canadian comedy.

gremlins6. GREMLINS

Sure, you’ve seen Gremlins and you know it’s a great, not-too-scary-for-older-kids Christmas option. But do you remember just how amazingly bizarre and hilarious Phoebe Cates speech about her dad is? If not, it’s almost worth rewatching just for that. The perfect Christmas movie for (almost) all ages.

It’s Joe Dante at his best, it’s Phoebe Cates at the peak of her perfection, and it gave a pretty good ’90s band its name. I first watched this film in grade 7 or 8 at school, on a day when I’m pretty sure 90% of my classmates were on some kind of skiing field trip that I forgot to get a parental signature for. I stayed at school with a teacher and a small handful of other students and watched movies all day. Gremlins is the only one I remember because it scared the shit out of me.

Jack Frost7. JACK FROST

I have a real weakness for Christmas horror. I could easily recommend many far worse films than this one to anyone who actually wants to go down that rabbit hole, but instead I’ll stick to the “hits”. This one’s not exactly a hit, but it’s probably more entertaining than you think it is? Lots of great “he’s made of snow” gags (melting, steaming, re-solidifying, y’know) and terrific kills that make use of seasonal items like christmas trees.

The premise of this film is stupid (some kind of toxic chemical melts a serial killer and bonds his molecules with the snow that he melted into (?!?) so he “comes back” as a snowman), and the execution is silly. But it’s a really, really fun ride. Avoid the sequel, though. It takes place on a tropical island and has an extended Gremlins-homage-montage.

Lethal Weapon8. LETHAL WEAPON

Everyone knows that Die Hard is the ultimate Christmas action film. But when’s the last time you watched Lethal Weapon? It’s the far darker choice, that’s for sure – watching Mel Gibson’s Riggs trying to screw up the courage to shoot himself in his trailer is a pretty intense way to kickstart our relationship with the charismatic rogue. Luckily, instead of dying, he gets partnered up with veteran cop Danny Glover, and the two grudgingly become awesome together and hunt down some drug smugglers.

This film has heart. For real! It has aged well.

rare exports9. RARE EXPORTS

This Finnish film has the perfect combination of deadpan (très Finnish) humour and (mild) Christmas horror. It’s Christmastime in Northern Finland, and a scientist has just unearthed something strange – a “sacred grave”, the occupant of which might still be alive. Before you know it, children start disappearing, reindeer are mysteriously killed, and shit is getting crazy. Soon it’s up to a plucky little boy to figure out what the hell is going on.

An equal parts terrifying and hilarious imagining of the real Santa Claus myth, this film was the first one I’d seen in a good long while that added something truly new and inventive to the story of Christmas. This ain’t your grandma’s evil Santa. Or something. Anyway, it’s a great film.

shop-around-the-corner-110. THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER

Everyone loves James Stewart in It’s a Wonderful Life, but how about giving him a shot in this delightful romance that’s basically the original You’ve Got Mail? The film takes place in Budapest, where Alfred (Stewart) and Klara (Margaret Sullavan) work at a general store, Matuschek and Co. They butt heads constantly, disagree all the time, and just can’t get along. Meanwhile, they’re both quite smitten with their respective pen pals. I’m sure you can see where this is going.

I wasn’t just drawing a loose parallel when I said it was the original You’ve Got Mail. Meg Ryan’s character in that film owns a store called “The Shop Around The Corner”, so the homage is out in the open. Although, both are apparently based on a 1937 play called Parfumerie. Anyway, give the Ernst Lubitsch joint a try.


Sometimes, a girl has to take a break from bashing her head against the brick wall of producing, and go shopping. As you know, I recently moved to a new apartment, and I’ve spent the past month (more like two or three) looking for a new couch. I have learned many things, the first of which is: couches are f*#!king expensive. I want a large couch for our living room (longer than our current 70-incher). I want it to be comfy, and modern-but-not-too-minimal, and not a sofa bed. I would like it to cost less than a month’s friggin’ rent, and I’d also like it to look nice. Basic requirements, and yet strangely difficult to fulfil.

Here’s a rundown of what I learned on my search. If you’re in the market for a sofa, I hope it helps.

At the top end of the beauty spectrum, you will find Montreal-based Montauk. Their couches are undeniably gorgeous, and can be customized to fit your needs. And, because they are beautiful and perfect and made lovingly just for you, they can easily cost between $5,000 and $15,000. I don’t know about you, but my reaction to that is … yikes!

The “Misfits” section of the Montauk website is worth checking once in a while, because overstock and other odds and ends get posted there at significant discounts (and organized by (Canadian) city). They’re still pricey, but you can sometimes find a great piece for half off.

this Montauk stunner is at least $6,000

this Montauk stunner is at least $6,000

If you’re looking for something more vintagey and don’t mind paying downtown Toronto prices, I recommend checking out Queen West Antique Market, a large vintage/antique spot at Queen and Roncesvalles that sells beautiful pieces at premium prices. They have perfect-condition Eames chairs, and they have $3,500 vintage couches, like the Scandinavian beaut below (and honestly, that’s the low end of the price spectrum). While the quality is impeccable, the prices are very high at QWAM. But hey, if you don’t have the time, the energy, and the car to go poking around at antique markets outside the city, this place will do all the hunting for you, and charge you for the service.

a Queen West Antiques joint

a Queen West Antiques joint

The Bay has some nice sofas, as well as some that look like they belong in grandma’s basement (not my grandmas’ basements, mind you, both my grandmas are style queens). One important note about The Bay is that they do put a significant markup on the non-HBC brands they carry. If you want to get a good sense of what’s out there but have the time to comparison shop, I recommend taking note of the manufacturers or brands you spot at The Bay and then finding their points of origin. You might end up paying a fraction of The Bay’s price.

There’s actually a big sale on at The Bay at the moment, if you’re in the market for a couch like right now. Most pieces are at 50% off. The classy Manhattan, below, is down from $3,599 to $1,799. That’s not bad, but the sale is even better when you find the slightly cheaper models like the Martini Condo Sofa, which has been brought down from $1,199 to an IKEA-level of affordability, at $599.

The Manhattan Sofa at The Bay

The Manhattan Sofa at The Bay

Toronto also boasts a wealth of trendy and modern furniture shops (mostly along Queen West, and some along King and other places) such as C2B, Morba, Design Republic, etc. There are a lot of mid-range options, especially if you like that Mad Men look.

The 65″-long “Avec Apartment Sofa” below is $1,500, and the longer, full-sized version is $100 more at C2B. I love that mid-century modern aesthetic (don’t even get me started about chairs from that era, my obsession is real and severe) but some of these couches were too minimalist and austere for my tastes. I like to get cozy, y’know?

C2B sofa 1

The one below, the Dexter sofa from Design Republic, is $1,400 and a little bit more “classic” looking. The tufted look is so quintessentially couch-y, don’t you think?

design republic

One of the city’s most reliable med-level furniture stores can be found in Liberty Village (and also on King St. East). EQ3 sells expensive stuff (like Herman Miller / Eames chairs), but also some great, hard-to-find-in-Toronto items like Marimekko imports, and reasonably priced house brand sofas. The current winner is the Salema, which is on sale for $999, down from $1,300.

salema

The best deals can, as usual, be found at IKEA. They offer cheaper versions of just about every style of couch, sofabed and sectional, but for my money one of the current gems is the Nockeby sofa in dark grey, a total bargoon at $829. The picture below makes it seem very minimalist, but in person the wooly, woven / knitted-looking texture of the upholstery actually adds a great warmth and coziness to the couch. It’s long, wide and very comfortable to sit on.

nockeby

If you’re looking for a basic sofa, stores like Leons and The Brick can still offer good deals hidden amongst the dated-looking leather recliners and over-stuffed couches. The clean & simple Mackenzie collection at Leon’s is a steal, with the couch (pictured below) at $779 and a matching chair at $659. But be warned, if you go to these stores expecting everything to be cheap, you will be disappointed. A lot of their wares fall in the $2,000+ range. Which is nuts, right?

leons

And of course, if you have the patience for it and don’t mind a used couch, there’s always Craigslist and Kajiji. As a non-driver who is fairly particular about aesthetics and who really wants to be able to sit on a couch several times before committing to buying it, Craigslist really isn’t for me. But if you want to find something truly inexpensive, there are many great deals to be had. I found the cute loveseat below listed for only $45. I recommend you follow the very excellent Take This Sofa FB page for tips on all the best finds in Toronto.

sure, it's sitting out on a porch, but it's only $45!!

sure, it’s sitting out on a porch, but it’s only $45!!

And with that, I retire to my own, private, couch-buying decisions. When I get one, I’ll post a photo.


… in a sea of paperwork.

I would rather be here.

I would rather be in the other kind of sea, drowning or not…

Perhaps you’ve been wondering, over the past few weeks or even months, what I’ve been super busy with. It is equally possible that you have not noticed that I’ve been especially busy, because you have your own lives to worry about. Either way, here it is.

In addition to programming The Royal and continuing to consult with REEL CANADA (especially on the exciting National Canadian Film Day initiative), I’ve also been trying to get some film projects off the ground. You already know this (because you are my fan and dedicated blog reader).

What you might not know is the elaborate shenanigans I’ve been engaged in for the past several months as I try to patch together financing for one of the films I’m working on.

but instead I am here

… but instead I am here.

I’ll keep it anonymous for now because I don’t want to jinx any of the money we are waiting to hear about in the next few days and weeks, but the film is a Canadian production with a fluctuating budget that’s gone up and down over the past year from anywhere as low as $1M CAD up to $1.6M CAD.

I’ve done countless versions of the budget (sometimes with the help of more experienced producers and/or line producers, sometimes muddling through on my own even though I don’t actually know how things like “union tiers” and “tax credits” and “f*@#ing film budgets” really work.

I’ve had to learn a lot of film-specific lingo! Like, when someone says “don’t do X because it will grind your tax credits” what they mean is, it will reduce the amount of tax credits you’re eligible for. New use of word “grind”: learned!

Let me back up. Quick lesson on tax credits:

To encourage film productions to do their business here instead of elsewhere, the province of Ontario offers a refund of up to 35% on the money you spend on labour in Ontario. There are eligible and ineligible costs, and lots of rules, and blah blah, but basically, you get a fat cheque back from the government after you’ve made your film, and that’s pretty great.
Each province has their own (or in some cases, they don’t). Many US states also have similarly competitive tax credit schemes. It’s a popular thing. But you don’t get the money until several months, or even a year, after your film is made.
That means that if you raise a million bucks to make a film, and you make it for that amount, a year later you might get a bonus cheque. Hurray!
But if like most people you can’t raise the full budget amount up front, you end up counting those tax credits in your financing plan even though you won’t get the money until after the film’s been made.
How does that work? Lots of possible ways, but a common one might be to get someone (like a bank) to loan you the money in advance, so that you can use it to make the film. And then when you get the tax credit money a year later, you pay the bank back. With interest. Which you calculate into your budget, of course. It’s complicated. And feels like you’re pulling a fast one. It feels like “FILM HACK: You Can Do This One Incredible Thing to Increase Your Budget By Hundreds of Thousands of Dollars!”
And yet, somehow, it is totally above board and normal and everyone does it.

Anyway. Back to my story.

We’ve received confirmation of funding from one government entity. Hurray! Where do we sign for our money?

Slow down little pony. You don’t get the money. Yet.

harrumph!

harrumph!

First, you prove that if they gave you the money and you didn’t manage to raise even a single penny more, you’d still be able to make the film.

Some government funding bodies say that you have to have 100% of your financing tied up before you approach them. Or 100% minus whatever you’re hoping they’ll pitch in, anyway. Others don’t have that kind of requirement, but at a certain point, they want to know that if they give you the money you’re not going to fuck it all up and end up not shooting the film, which will in turn make them look bad.

Okay, fair enough.

Except, in order to prove to them that we’d be able to go forth and shoot even if we didn’t raise any more money, we’ve had to slash our budget by about a quarter, from $1M to $750K, and we’ve had to adjust all kinds of things in various fairly insane ways (cutting the shooting schedule from four weeks to three, for example, and nixing the idea of a highly paid “star” in favour of an “everybody gets the same piddly fee” approach – hey, it’s piddly but at least it’s fair). All of this has taken a lot of time and effort. More time and effort, perhaps, than should be required to present what we actually consider a worst case scenario Plan B.

But who am I to complain? I just want them to please give us the money. In the meantime, I’ll be over here silently weeping into my fifth cup of coffee.

coffee-til-wine

Now, all of that effort might not have taken the equivalent of two full time jobs’ worth of hours (for weeks if not months on end) if I knew what I was doing when it came to the world of tax credits, deferrals, recoupment schedules, budgets and financing plans. I’m learning a lot (and fast!) but it’s my first time around the track and I have been drowning without help.

I have a very creative, smart Director (who unfortunately also doesn’t know how this stuff works – not on the level required for The Government, anyway) and a very helpful Exec Producer (who does know how it works and provides useful advice when needed, but doesn’t have time to coach me through everything step by step – which is fine, he was upfront about that when we first agreed to work with him).

All of which is to say (I’ve buried the lede, I know) that I may have found the magical unicorn who can actually help me make sense of this nonsense: a line producer. Thank you, oh film gods, for smiling upon me in my hour of need and sending me a line producer who knows what he is doing and is willing to help out even though we won’t be able to start paying him for another few months. I am truly blessed.

just FYI, when you do a google image search for "line producer", this is the second result

Just FYI, when you do a google image search for “line producer”, this is the second result. I feel it, man.


I made a pie. I’m not sure if it’s a chicken pot pie or just a chicken pie (does it have to be made in a pot to be a “pot pie”?) but either way, I made up the recipe and it turned out great, so here it is. I am not a good follower of recipes. I usually read a few and then I cobble together my own based on flavours I like, and what happens to be in the fridge. So, if there’s one thing I’d like to encourage you to do, it is to not take this recipe too seriously. Cooking isn’t science. Either that, or I’m just bad at science.

Let’s start with the basics. I started by putting half a chicken breast and two thighs (all boneless and skinless) into a casserole dish with about half a cup of water (I would have used stock but I didn’t have any) and popped it in the oven to bake/poach.

colourful carrots

colourful carrots

The recipes I consulted all called for the same quartet of vegetables: onions, carrots, peas and celery. I didn’t mess with that formula too much, although I added a few brussels sprouts (why not?) and sautéed it all in about a teaspoon of butter because let’s face it, butter is the best, but you don’t actually need half a cup of it to make something delicious.

all chopped up

all chopped up

Oh yeah, I forgot. I also added corn. Frozen corn & peas, fresh everything else.

Spice-wise, the recipes I consulted mostly called for dried thyme, which I did use, but one clever lady whose blog I consulted suggested a “teeny bit” of turmeric. That’s my kind of measurement. I used approximately five shakes of the spice tin. Next time I’ll probably double that amount.

totally un-measured quantities of spice

totally un-measured quantities of spice

Once the veggies started to soften, it was time to add liquid. Most of the recipes I checked out called for what seemed like huge amounts – three cups of chicken stock, plus another cup or so of milk or cream, that kind of thing.

I didn’t have chicken stock and I thought three cups sounded like way too much, so I used the next best thing: miso. I mixed a heaping tablespoon in a cup of warm water, mixed it until the paste dissolved, and poured it in. Flavour-wise, the miso added a perfect saltiness without overpowering the veggies.

no chicken stock, no problem

no chicken stock, no problem

I also added about a cup of 2% milk, because that’s what we had in the fridge (and because a creamy pie is a wonderful thing). I cooked the veggies until they were soft and added a heaping tablespoon of whole wheat flower to thicken it.  By this point the chicken was done. I tore it apart with a couple of forks, and added it to the pot. I was originally planning to cube the chicken but one of the recipes I found called for shredding and I thought it would give the pie a nicer texture. Definitely true!

The mixture seemed a bit dry at that point so I added a few more splashes of milk, as well as some salt and pepper. Not too much milk though, because who wants a soggy pie?

tender chicken

pulled chicken

I’m no baker and I don’t have the patience for things like “making dough” so I bought some, pre-made. I might attempt my own pie pastry next time but for today, just making a chicken pie for the first time in my life was adventurous enough. I let the filling cool off a bit, then piled it as high as it could go into a 9″ pie pan.

pile it in as high as it'll go

pile it in as high as it’ll go

Then I tossed a second pie crust on top (making sure to cut some holes in it to let the steam out) and pressed it all together. Finishing touch: a generous brushing of egg over the top of the crust.

never underestimate the importance of an egg wash

never underestimate the importance of an egg wash

I popped it onto a baking sheet (in case of spillage – the baking sheet is a lot easier to clean than the bottom of the oven) and slid it into the oven at 350 degrees until it was golden brown. I think it took about 35-40 minutes. I just kept checking it every 10 or so until it seemed done.

the finished product

the finished product

Because I added a lot less liquid than most recipes called for, it was more dense and less soupy than some pot pies I’ve had. It sliced really easily and mostly kept its form.

An interesting and juicier alternative would be to add more liquid to the meat and veggie mixture (more stock, a splash of wine, whatever) and then bake it in a big casserole dish with a pie crust on top, but none on the bottom. I considered doing this but I was really in the mood for pastry.

perfect slice

perfect slice

Et voila! To recap, here’s the recipe:

Ingredients:

  • One large onion, diced
  • 1/2 cup diced carrots
  • 1/2 cup diced celery
  • 1/2 cup diced brussels sprouts
  • 1/2 cup frozen or fresh peas
  • 1/2 cup frozen or fresh corn
  • 1 cup of chicken or miso stock
  • 1 cup of milk (plus more if needed)
  • 1 heaping tablespoon of flour (I used whole wheat, any kind will do)
  • A dollop of butter
  • dried thyme and turmeric to taste

Instructions:

  • Poach, fry or bake the chicken, as is your preference, then tear or cut into small pieces
  • Sautée onions in butter, then add other veggies
  • Once veggies start softening, add stock and milk, simmer till liquid starts to reduce, then add flour to thicken
  • When chicken is done, shred it and add to vegetable mixture. Pour into pie crust and pile high
  • Top with a second pie crust, brush with egg and bake for 35-45 minutes

I served it with a simple tomato, basil and shallot salad (+ olive oil, obvs) and a dash of my favourite hot sauce.

check out that hot sauce action shot!

check out that hot sauce action shot!