January 9, 2012

Chicken Pot Pie with Buttermilk Biscuits

It's a dreary, rainy day here in the North Carolina Piedmont. The Christmas decorations are down and things are finally back to normal. It's back to the grind of paper edits, meetings, countless drives between Chapel Hill and Durham, rehearsal schedules, and lesson planning. I usually take a strange sort of comfort in the return to a normal schedule and balanced lifestyle. Still, I try to plan healthier versions of the warm, hearty meals that we enjoyed over the holidays. The winter here has been temperamental, with hints and peeks of warm spring days interspersed with cold ones like this. So I find that the best way to counter the ups and downs of holidays and normalcy, unseasonable warmth and winter cold, is with hearty, healthy food. Obviously.

To be completely honest, I never really liked chicken pot pie. I hope nothing is wrong with me. I'm sure that my childlike tastes were averse to something in it - maybe the starchy beans or creamy chicken, maybe the flaky pie top. Each individual ingredient - chicken, vegetables, cream, crust - is stunningly delicious. I never figured out why I didn't wholeheartedly enjoy them all together. Enter flaky buttermilk biscuits. Greek yogurt instead of cream. Cauliflower florets and zucchini chunks instead of starchy beans. Balanced.

If you have had a cold, rainy day; if a January Monday calls for just a bit of comfort; if you are watching football and need something hearty; if you are mere paragraphs away from finishing a dissertation, then this creamy, vegetabley, biscuity, warm dish is for you.

Chicken Pot Pie with Buttermilk Biscuits

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
5 tablespoons shortening, chilled
scant cup reduced-fat buttermilk (I left out a little more than 1/8 cup)

Preheat oven to 500 F. Sift together dry ingredients through wire-mesh sieve. Add shortening by tablespoon and combine with flour. You can use a pastry cutter for this, but I find it easier to use my bare hands. Don't squeeze the dough; rather, rake your fingers through, lightly incorporating fat into flour. There should be no stray flour grains, and no stray fat.

Add buttermilk all at once and stir briskly with a wooden spoon, until just incorporated. Your dough should be "shaggy" so do not be alarmed if it looks a bit dry. The worst thing to do at this stage is overmix - trust me!

Using your hands, transfer dough onto lightly floured surface and gently form into a ball. Roll out until dough forms a round, about 1 inch thick. Cut with a 2-inch biscuit cutter and transfer biscuits onto baking sheet. Bake for 8 minutes. Set aside to cool.

Chicken Mixture
2 cups boneless, skinless chicken, chopped
1 cup zucchini, chopped
1 cup carrots, diced
1 cup cauliflower florets
1/2 onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon (or more) Herbs de Provence
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup fat-free chicken stock
Juice of 1/2 lemon
2 tablespoons flour
1/3 cup fat-free plain Greek yogurt
1/4 cup reduced-fat buttermilk
1/4 cup skim milk
2 ounces cream cheese (this is where the fat gets put back in)
2 tablespoons fresh chives, chopped

Lower oven temperature to 400. Spray a Dutch oven with cooking spray and add about a teaspoon of olive oil. Heat until oil is fluid and shimmering. Add onions and garlic; cook until fragrant, about 4 minutes. Add vegetables, spices, and chicken and cook about 3 minutes longer. Add chicken stock and lemon juice and simmer, covered, about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare the yogurt sauce. Combine flour, yogurt, buttermilk, and milk and whisk well. When chicken and vegetables are cooked (your kitchen will smell amazing), add yogurt sauce, cream cheese, and chives. Cook until combined and cream cheese is melted.

Transfer to casserole dish (I used a small one for just two people, so just half of the chicken mixture) and place cooled biscuits on top. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until biscuit tops are crunchy and brown, and chicken mixture is bubbling and delicious.

Now, you do not have to go as reduced-fat and fat-free as I did. I used twice as much veggies as chicken, and the only "creamy" element I added was cream cheese. Greek yogurt is the big winner in this equation, having as many calories and way more protein than skim milk. I find that Greek yogurt is absolutely magical in healthy cooking. I use it for salad dressings, sauces, thickeners, anything creamy that needs a calorie reduction.

However, I am here to tell you that this pot pie tastes just as rich as the full-fat kind. Yogurt and cream cheese combine to give it a fullness that does not miss butter and heavy cream. Fresh vegetables in place of extra chicken add volume and vitamins. One serving equals a spoonful of pie with one biscuit on top; and with that, I feel full, satisfied, and supremely healthy. Try this this week!

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