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Chicken pot pies are one of the most Googled recipes on the Internet. It’s not surprising, since the word conjures up visions of breaking through a blanket of golden, flaky pastry to dig into a creamy sauce brimming with juicy, tender chicken pieces. What’s not to love about that?

World-renowned Los Angeles chef Wolfgang Puck, who caters the official Oscar parties, is a confessed pot pie aficionado. When he includes tiny chicken pies on his menu, he adds shavings of luxurious black truffles. He always marvels at how happy his guests are to cut through the puff pastry, releasing a wonderfully aromatic steam. But then again, that’s the essence of chicken pot pie—comforting and soul soothing—and that’s what makes it a classic.

Thank goodness there are as many versions of pot pie today as there are pizza toppings. Few include truffles but many are superbly addictive. Announce at a dinner party you’re serving chicken pot pie, and oohs and ahs usually follow.

Even the frozen ones sold today are a far cry from those you used to devour in front of the TV. Then a gluey grayish sauce held uptight chicken pieces, greyish peas and tinny carrot cubes, and the pastry, to the best of my memory, was cardboard-esque. Now supermarkets offer a range of excellent versions, including a butter chicken filling under a crispy crunchy phyllo crust.

Getting that at home doesn’t require culinary skill or a big time commitment. Begin with a jar of butter chicken sauce; add big cubes of chicken from a supermarket rotisserie bird; and throw in frozen peas, carrots and roasted peppers from a jar. Cover it in style with light layers of golden phyllo, each with a melted buttery brushing, and a final layer of scrunchy gossamer-like golden phyllo.

There are no rules to building a perfect pot pie. It totally depends on personal taste and the time you want to spend. My current entertaining favourites are Italian Chicken Pie With Fennel and Lightly-Curried Party Pot Pie. I make the filling ahead, speed tracked with a jar of Alfredo pasta sauce or can of coconut milk. Then, just before the guests arrive, I warm it, blanket with a sheet of pre-rolled frozen puff pastry and bake during the cocktail hour.

On FoodNetwork.com, the most searched ingredient is chicken, and the top pot pies are Ina Garten’s and Sunny Anderson’s. They’re both straightforward, with ingredients like chicken bouillon cubes, chicken broth, frozen peas and frozen pearl onions. The only seasoning for one is salt and pepper—proving you don’t need to be fancy to be popular.

Make Ahead

When you’re in the mood to make ahead, do pies for the freezer. Individual pies are the easiest to reheat. You can thaw all in the refrigerator or bake from frozen. Our Individual Lemony Pot Pies are made in those little foil pans sold in most dollar stores. When entertaining, you can make the filling a few days ahead, then lay on the pastry before guests arrive and bake during the cocktail hour.

Lighten Up

Healthy ways to update this comfort dish: use white chicken meat only, 2% milk for the sauce instead of cream and lots of vegetables, including cooked carrots or sweet potatoes and pepper strips. Top with phyllo brushed with olive oil instead of butter.

Check our healthy choice shepherd’s pie with a mashed celery root and apple topping. Our Chicken, Wild Rice And Mushroom Pot Pie is made with 2% evaporated milk and lots of kale, and the phyllo is brushed with olive oil versus the usual butter. Plus, it’s simple to make: phyllo is layered in the pie plate, then the filling is added and sheets are folded over so it looks gift-wrapped.

Pie Pronto

Begin by heating condensed cream of chicken or mushroom soup, or a jar of Alfredo pasta sauce. Add cubes of chicken from a supermarket rotisserie bird or a package of chicken strips, plus frozen peas or frozen mixed vegetables and red pepper strips. Jazz it up with poultry seasonings and sliced jalapenos. Top with a sheet of frozen pastry. Check out this Chicken Pot Pie.

Priming for a Party

On the entertaining front, I recommend our Italian Chicken Pie, Lightly-curried Party Pot Pie and Chicken, Wild Rice, and Mushroom Pot Pie.

To fast-track a party pie while keeping it in the “upscale category,” begin with a jar of Alfredo pasta sauce. Add sautéed mushrooms (shiitake kick it up a notch), a bag of frozen pearl onions (lot faster than peeling), roasted red peppers strips (they’re sold in jars; just rinse well) and cooked baby carrots. Consider sautéed asparagus tips, sautéed shallots, drained jar of artichoke hearts and sliced olives. If you use puff pastry, do pastry cut-outs and use to decorate the crust. If you use phyllo, scrunch up the top layer. For a casual get-together, consider our Chicken Tamale Pie spiked with salsa and jalapenos. There is no better way to have a chicken in every pot. Learn more

Guest Author: Monda Rosenberg

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It’s a CFC Canada Day tradition!  Every year we sponsor a huge BBQ on Major’s Hill Park where we serve up thousands of tasty chicken sandwiches and chicken Caesar salads to satisfy the appetites of the patriotic crowds.

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It’s hot out, a shorts and a T-shirt kind of day. You’re walking in your neighbourhood and you smell something. It’s not the flowers or the fresh grass.  It’s that savoury smell of the grill that screams – SUMMERTIME! 

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Kelly Atyeo Guest Author

Kelly Atyeo is a Professional Home Economist with a background in nutrition and nutrition communication. She is Vice President and co-owner of Creative Sampling Solutions Inc., a food marketing company that creates and executes retail programs and consumer shows related to Eating for Wellness. Kelly is also a health writer, nutrition communication consultant, and public speaker. Through her activities she strives to educate people on nutrition and health, while giving people the tools to make healthy foods a part of their lifestyle.

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Chicken Farmers of Canada is featuring ten new recipes that are designed to inspire you to create, and enjoy, a variety of simple, colourful meals and snacks that are lower in calories, fat and sodium, moderate in carbohydrates and good sources of high-quality, lean protein. A nutrient analysis is provided to help guide you in choosing your portion size and to review the nutritional attributes of the recipe.

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A stock with guaranteed returns and little upfront costs sounds too good to be true. Well, it is possible and this is the perfect time for investing. The stock? Top-performing, flavour-bursting chicken stock. The upfront costs are minimal: chicken bones you would normally discard, an onion or two, plus a little effort to start the whole scenario simmering. Its performance plays out in any recipe where chicken broth shines through.

I can’t put into words the flavour difference between lovingly-simmered chicken stock and the kind that comes out of a can or box or that is born from a cube. Think about the best chicken soup you’ve had, probably in a top-class restaurant or made by a loving granda (if you’re lucky enough to have one). It was undoubtedly a “made-from-scratch” stock. That sums up the difference in the best way I know. Every drop has layers of flavour and soul.

Wonder Broth

So what’s involved in making a wonder broth? It can be as simple as throwing bones in water and simmering for half a day. I’ve done that a multitude of times when I didn’t want to take time to add the onions, carrots and celery that chefs usually include. Even without these extras, the result is most worthwhile.

The easiest way to get the bones is simply to collect all those left on your plates after a chicken dinner. Stash them in a big plastic bag in the freezer, and add to them as you go. The aftermath of a chicken wing feast is a grand start.

Ok ok, if you don’t want to bother with this, butcher shops and many supermarkets sell chicken backs just for this purpose. Embrace necks, heads, feet and wings as well. Both raw and cooked will work. If you’re into flattened chickens, those backbones you cut out couldn’t be put to a better use.

Butchers in Toronto report a run on bones, no doubt due to the incredible growing popularity of bone soup. (More on that later.) Asian markets sell carcasses for about $2 per pound. Chicken wings, in comparison, run around $5. After simmering bones, you usually don’t use the meat, because it is too hard to harvest from the skin and bone mix. Browning the bones before you put them in the stock jacks up the flavour return.

Choose your vehicle: either the biggest pot you own, a large slow cooker, or a pressure cooker. Since simmering takes a minimum of 2 hours (a day is much better), the slow cooker lets you do this without fear of running out of water. However, small slow cookers can be a drawback.

Begin by tossing in bones; 3 to 4 pounds (1.5 to 2 kg) is a good amount. Onions, carrots, and celery come next. Cut these into big chunks. Hold off adding salt until simmering is finished so you can add to taste. Cover with at least 2 inches (5 cm) water. Bring to a boil, and then adjust heat to keep it simmering. It’s best to skim off foam as it forms on the top, but I don’t always do this. Cover and check periodically to make sure bones are covered with water, topping up if necessary. If you need to interrupt the simmering process, just refrigerate. Skim off fat before resuming.

What else can go in? Bay leaves, peppercorns, a touch of tomato paste, vinegar, fresh garlic, ginger slices, fish sauce, and dried mushrooms are a few that some chefs add. But add only ingredients you like and do so sparingly. Remember, it’s the chicken you want to taste.

How do you know when it’s ready? Taste it. If it’s yummy, you’ve done your work. Put a huge sieve over a big bowl and pour in the broth. Discard bones. This is when you add salt if you think it needs a taste boost.

I always keep a big jar in the fridge to use within the week and freeze the rest. If freezer space is limited, boil down the broth, then simple dilute with water when using. You can freeze in ice cube trays or muffin tins; this is ideal for a single mug of something or to enrich just about any kind of sauce.

Now, I’ve been talking about chicken broth or stock. But what’s been making headlines these days is bone broth—a step beyond this classic.

Energy Drink

It’s been dubbed this year’s “hottest energy drink.” Chef Marcus Samuelson served it up at a dinner he cooked for fellow chefs in Saveur magazine’s test kitchen. When Marco Canora, owner of trendy Hearth restaurant, NY, was diagnosed with high cholesterol and gout, he became obsessed with sipping broth from bones lovingly simmered to extract their maximum minerals, amino acids and collagen. That led him to open the Brodo (Italian for takeout) window in his restaurant through which he sells bone broth in coffee cups.

Recently, Toronto butchers were overwhelmed by the surge in demand for bones of all kinds. Asian stores have always stocked bones for the traditional bone soup important in Korean, Chinese and Vietnamese cuisines. Cartons of the soup elixir are sold in many Asian supermarkets.

Time is what separates stock from bone broth. A good chicken stock needs at least 3 hours of simmering, while a bone broth takes half a day, or more. In a slow cooker, a whole day on low is recommended. Once chilled, a stock is pourable, but bone broth has more consistency and is jelly-like jiggly.

What happens during the prolonged simmering? First, vitaminsas well as minerals including calcium are released from the bones and captured in the broth. A splash of vinegar helps release these nutrients. (Be sure to make it a mild-mannered vinegar such as apple. This is not a place for balsamic.) These vitamins and minerals give the immune system a significant boost and are said to help everything from aching muscles to intestinal problems.

But the main reasons to bother slow-brewing a bone broth is the wholesome feeling that overtakes you as you sip away. And there’s not a speck of kale in sight!

Guest Author: Monda Rosenberg

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