Snack Time! [Homemade Pop Tarts]

You know that friend you had as a kid? The one with cupboard upon cupboard of cookies, chips, packaged foods, desserts and a freezer full of pizza, french fries, and chicken fingers? Yes, we all had that friend. But I was not that friend.

In hindsight, it’s probably best that we didn’t have cupboards overflowing with salty, sweet, incredibly over processed foods, but if you’d asked me when I was younger, I would have told you I was deprived. Missing out on a life of Fruit Roll Ups and Dunkeroos in exchange for cheese and apples. Needless to say, I was not at the top of the “Would like to trade snacks with” list.  

Grocery shopping with my dad was one of my favourite weekend activities. He was, and still is, predictable in a good many of his purchases. Especially when it came to the snack aisle. I remember my sister and I would occasionally try to swing one by him, tucking a box of Pop-Tarts or Dino-sours underneath the ever-present bananas or hot mortadella. But my good ol Dad, knowing exactly what should (and shouldn’t) be in that cart, would pluck it out and place it back on the shelf with a smug grin. He must have known that he was paving the path for our future eating habits. As much as I hate admitting when my parents were right…
I’ll leave it at that. I don’t want you getting a big head or anything, Dad. [OK, you were right. There, I said it.] 

I think more so than actually enjoying the sweet packaged snacks, it was thrilling to be able to eat them. Whether it was at a friends house, or with a few allowance dollars, it felt like getting away with murder. The only problem was how terrible they actually tasted. Take a much sought-after Pop-Tart, for example, with it’s sandy crust reminiscent of cardboard,  ’fruit’-filling containing about as much fruit as a jelly doughnut and topped with an icing that likely contains at least 20 ingredients, with not one them being sugar. Not exactly the type of snack that seems worthy of a child’s lust. But of course, that didn’t stop me from cramming perfectly measured square after square into my gob.

Fast forward 15 years. Though you may find the occasional bag of chips, and maybe some processed cheese slices, a well-known guilty pleasure of mine and my sisters, I have very little in the way of snack food. Likely a result of my well-meaning parents. But when I came across Deb from Smitten Kitchen’s recipe for Homemade Pop Tarts [sound of simultaneous jaw dropping to the floor + head exploding], I knew my house was about to get a little snackier. Hey, it’s homemade so it’s cool. Right?

[I made a little homemade jam for extra delicious tarts. My favourite is David Lebovitz’s Berry-Rhubarb Jam. Recipe here.]

Though, as always, I was a little intimidated by the shortbread-like crust, I pressed on and was amazed at how simple these adorable little filled-pastries were. Fill them with whatever you have on hand. I did three different varieties; Mixed Berry, Peanut Butter & Jam, and Nutella filled. Honestly, my favourite was the simple jam-filled ones. It helps keep them moist, and the tart jam was a nice flavour contrast to the sweet flaky dough. If you’re looking for a nice breakfast treat for guests, or even a sweet lunchbox surprise for your kids, these will win over even the pickiest of snackers.

Homemade Pop Tarts
recipe from Smitten Kitchen

2 cups all-purpose flour (or 1 1/2 All Purpose + 1/2cup whole wheat flour)
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup unsalted butter, cut into cubes
1 large egg
2 tablespoons milk or water

1 large egg (for brushing tops of pastry)

Mix the flour, sugar and salt. Using your fingers or a pastry cutter, work the butter into the dry ingredients until there are no bigger than pea-sized lumps of butter. It should hold together if you squeeze it.

Whisk the egg and milk (or water) together. Stir them into the dough until evenly combined. Knead once or twice on a well floured surface, if needed. Cut dough in half and form into a rectangle. I opted to chill mine for 30 minutes before working with it as my kitchen was warm, but you may roll it out from this point into a large rectangle (about 9x12” in size, 1/8” thick). This is not an exact science, folks. Pop Tarts are supposed to be fun.  Cut the rectangle into 3” x 4” rectangles. You should get about nine of these.

Fillings Options
1 tbsp of jam, Nutella, nut butter, caramel, dark chocolate, or other filling of your choice per tart

Place your filling on one rectangle and top with another. Dip the tines of a fork into flour and press around the edges to seal the tarts. Using the tines or a toothpick, poke a few steam holes in the tops of the tarts. Give your addition egg a quick whisk in a small bowl. Brush the tops of the tarts with the egg wash. This will help make them shiny and golden brown on top.

If you’d like, and I trust you will, you can top them with some coarse turbinado sugar for extra crunch.

Place the tarts on a baking sheet and place in the fridge for 30 minutes while you preheat your oven to 350.

Once chilled, bake tarts for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown on top.

Note: if you’d like to do a savoury tart, omit the sugar and cut the salt in half in the dough. Some filling ideas I received from Twitter followers were: Bacon & Egg, Marinara & Mozzarella, Parmesan &  Basil Pesto, and Cheddar & Apple. Really, the possibilites are endless. What wouldn’t taste good in a shortbread crust?! The answer is nothing, guys. NOTHING.


Sheryl Crow & Comfort Food [Mustard Tarragon Chicken Pot Pie]

It’s 1996. I’m 10 years old. I’m sitting in the family room of the house I grew up in, watching the newly released music video for Sheryl Crow’s If It Makes You Happy. My older sister is sitting beside me while my parents rhyme off rules for the first time they leave us home alone. And we’re eating Swanson’s Frozen Chicken Pot Pies.

I will always associate chicken pot pie with feelings of nervousness (the monsters were still living under the bed at that time), excitement, and Sheryl Crow. Always.

As a result of many frozen chicken pot pies as a little person (I know. So hard done by. Someone call Child Services.) I never had any interest in trying them as an adult, much less taking the time to make them at home. Silly me. What was I thinking? Everything tastes better when it’s homemade. Except maybe beer or wine. I’ll let the pros do that for me.

It’s still cold and snowy (and then rainy. and then snowy…) in Ottawa and feels like it’s going to be this way for a while longer before we see any signs that Mother Nature wants to ease up. It seems to be wearing thin on a lot of the city and everyone is dealing with the winter-will-never-end cold/flu/allergies as a result. Allan and I are included in this sorry bunch, unfortunately. Not sleeping well, constantly congested and sneezy/sniffly, coughy. All those fun things!

I don’t care if you’re Tony Little (you know? Tony Little. The Gazelle guy. Jeez!) or you body is a temple or if you’re trying to lose 10lbs before your 20 year high school reunion… when you’re sick, you need comfort food. End of story. If you deprive yourself of that God given right, I bet you anything you will be sick for longer. It’s a proven fact… (…probably?).

These little pot pies are not necessarily something you want to make on a weeknight, but rather, on a day when you have some time to strap on your apron, turn on some Billie Holiday, and really enjoy the process. Had I not been going away this weekend, I might have followed my own advice. Instead, I rushed to get them done on a Tuesday. I maintain that it’s all for you guys. It makes me feel better.

As I’ve mentioned before, I am not the greatest with dough or dough-related recipes. I have a heavy hand and a tendency to think recipe quantities are merely ‘suggestions’ which is not true when it comes to baking or dough. Being precise in your measurements is extremely vital for doughs to turn out flaky and tender. That being said, I followed this one exactly and it turned out a perfect crust. The best I’ve ever made. (horn = tooted). As for the pie filling, it’s creamy, rich and packed with chicken, vegetables, mustard and tarragon. Don’t miss out on this one, folks. It’s a home run. And will slap the sickness right our of your body. And if you’re not sick, it might just slap you right in the face. Saucy little pies!

Mustard-Tarragon Chicken Pot Pie
Adapted from The Silver Palate Good Times Cookbook

Pâte Brisée:
2 sticks unsalted butter (try to use a goodish butter here)
2 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
3-6 Tbsp ice water

Cut up the butter into very small pieces and place in the refrigerator or freezer while you work with the other ingredients.

Place the flour, salt and sugar in a food processor and pulse to combine. Add the butter pieces and pulse until mixture forms coarse small crumbs, about 10 – 15 seconds. Add 3 Tbsp ice water to the mixture and pulse until dough comes together a bit and holds together when you pinch the dough between your fingers.

Pour the dough out onto a cutting board and shape into a ball without over working the dough. Divide into 2 pieces and shape each into a flat round disc. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for one hour.

Chicken Filling:
2 large (3-4 small) boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 cup heavy cream
4 carrots, peeled and medium diced
1 zucchini, medium diced
5 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 large yellow onion, chopped
5 Tbsp flour
1 cup chicken broth
1/4 cup cognac
2-3 tbsp fresh tarragon, chopped
2-3 tbsp Dijon mustard (I use 3, but I like it mustardy)
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1 egg
1 tsp water

Preheat the oven to 350. Place the chicken in a baking dish in a single layer. Pour the cream over the chicken and bake for 25-40 minutes, depending on the size of the chicken breasts.

Remove the chicken from the cream, reserving the cream for the sauce. Once the chicken has cooled, cut it into 1 inch pieces.

Boil a medium pot of water and add the carrots. Cook until almost fork tender, 7 minutes. They will finish cooking in the oven with the pies.

Melt the butter in a wide sauté pan, add the onions and cook until translucent. Sprinkle in the flour, stir and cook 5 minutes, but do not brown. Slowly add the broth to the onion mixture, whisking until the sauce smooths out and thickens. Add the cream, cognac, tarragon, and mustard. Taste and season appropriately with salt and pepper.

Add the chicken, zuchini, and carrots to this sauce and mix gently. Pour mixture into a 2 quart casserole, soufflé dish, or large ramekins for individual pot pies.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

Roll out the pastry dough so you have a circle of dough large enough to go over the edges of your bowl. (I made them fit IN the ramekins and they shrunk, so bigger is better if you like flaky dough.) Press down the pastry edges, folding them as necessary. Beat together the egg and water and brush over the top of the pastry to give a nice glossy finish to the crust. Cut a few steam vents in the pastry and bake for 25 minutes until golden brown.

If you’re looking for a wine to pair with this, I have just the one for you. Claire, who is the endlessly talented wine blogger over at Foodieprints, suggested I try a Chardonnay (very specifically, anAu Bon Climat chardonnay, though I was unable to find it so settled for a Menage a Trois variety) to cut through the vinegar in the mustard and help bring out the cream and tarragon. I have never really been too saavy when it comes to pairing wines, and don’t often have ‘the perfect match’. But this… this was something. This wine, which I likely would not drink on it’s own, was the wine for the pot pies. It made every bite feel complete, balancing all the flavours and elevating them to a new level. If you haven’t visited FoodiePrints before, I urge you to do so. If not for the well composed, informative and witty posts from Don and Jenn, then for the seemingly infinite wine wisdom of Claire.