I love chicken pie

February is the time to celebrate love in all its forms, and this was my Valentines supper last month for the three local magazines who feature my recipes. This is universally loved by everyone in my home, and hopefully will be in yours too.  This recipe for 'I love chicken pie' is taken from my book ‘Food for your brood’ and is one of the most popular meals I have ever cooked.

Chicken Pie is the ultimate comfort food. With a pie on the table, friends feel welcome, children are reassured and grown ups come over all nostalgic for days and recipes long past. Old fashioned pies,  particularly those made from Christmas leftovers, traditionally mix poultry and pig, using remaindered turkey with chopped up boxing day gammon to impart a salty sweetness. My take on this is sausage meatballs, which are tasty and provide a good excuse for kids to help by squeezing meat out of the skins. Use flavoured or super herby sausages if you want extra flavour as they will finish the pie off beautifully.

It's a tradition in our house that all those who are eating the pie get their initials on the top of the pie, which is another good job for the kids. Give them free rein and you'll get a masterpiece on top of your masterpiece. I guarantee every time you serve this up one of your guests will sigh and say 'I love chicken pie' 

Feeds 6-8

2 tbsp olive oil

30g butter

2 cloves garlic, crushed

1 medium red onion finely sliced

1.5kg skinless, boneless chicken thighs, cut into four pieces each (or six if they are huge)

1 tbsp chopped parsley

1/2 tbsp picked fresh thyme leaves chopped

1 leek finely sliced

6 medium carrots peeled and sliced into coins

4 tbsp flour

350ml white wine

100ml chicken stock

4 tbsp single cream

1tbsp wholegrain mustard

6 fat best-quality-you-can-afford sausages

400g ready rolled butter puff pastry sheet, defrosted

1 beaten egg

Heat the oven to 200 degrees

In a big hob- to -oven casserole, heat the oil and butter gently, then add garlic and onion and sauté gently until translucent.

Add the leeks, chicken, parsley, chicken and carrots and cook gently for twenty minutes until the chicken is cooked but not boiled.

Sprinkle over the flour and mix in thoroughly until everything in the pan is coated, then slowly add the white wine, then the chicken stock.

Bring to a simmer and cook for about 15 minutes, stirring frequently, to reduce the sauce a little

Check the chicken pieces are cooked through then turn the heat right down and stir in the cream without allowing it to boil.

Add mustard and season to taste, then pour the mixture into your pie dish and set aside.

Cut your sausages from their string and (if there are kids around at this point, call them over) squeeze out walnut sized balls from each sausage skin so that you have about 30 little sausage meatballs.

Heat a non-stick frying pan and brown the sausage balls, then drop them evenly over the pie mixture. Be scrupulously fair about distribution as it will save arguements later.

Roll out the pastry to the size of your pie dish, saving a little strip for decorations. If you have a pie bird place it in the middle at this point. Drape the pastry over the dish and trim the edges, adding the trimmings to your decorating strip. Use a fork to make indentations all around the edges of the pastry and cut a hole in the centre to let the steam out whilst cooking.

Decorate the pie with pastry letters, hearts, whatever you feel like and then egg wash the pie with the beaten egg.

Put in the centre of the oven for about 50-60 minutes, checking to see if it is golden brown on top before taking out. This goes well with any carbs, but is without doubt, at its absolute best with a pile of buttery, smooth mashed potato and a big bowl of peas on the side.