OMG A BEYOND BOOK WITH FOOD IN IT.
Sorry, just had to get that out of my system right up front. I’ll explain in a bit.
The Beyond series is a long-running Kit Rocha series and these aren’t standalone books so forgive me if you haven’t read any of them. You’ll just have to go back to the beginning and read at least all the main novels, but that shouldn’t be a hardship as I think these books are terrific and the first one is usually free at most ebook retailers. The series premise is a dystopian near future where a central capital city called Eden rules over the outlying Sectors, leaving scraps and desperation to the remainder of the area’s population. We join the O’Kane gang, which distills and runs whiskey to Eden and the other Sectors, and their leader, Dallas O’Kane, in exploits both political and, frankly, sexual. These books are smoking hot, kinky, extra dirty and full of angst so, well, you’ve been warned.
I’ve had some criticisms of this series in the past. Not major ones, but all the myriad characters having similar kinks had started to feel a little repetitive and unlikely five full-length books and almost as many novellas in. But with the most recent one, Beyond Innocence, two O’Kane outsiders get caught up in the larger political landscape Dallas has been forced by circumstance to take an interest in, bringing Jared, a high class male prostitute, and Lili, the widow of the brutal, late leader of another Sector into each other’s orbits. Both are needing a change and healing and trying to figure out their place in the O’Kane hierarchy. It’s a romance with a lighter touch than previous books and the kink is strictly limited to a surprisingly romantic fivesome, making Beyond Innocence one of the series stand-outs for me thus far.
While Jared has about as much sexual experience as any human being ever, he has been playing the part of the debonair faux-suitor to Eden’s female elite for so long that he doesn’t know who he is any more. When his best fried Ace is injured during a fight, he decides the time for sitting on the sidelines has past and starts using his connections to help Dallas. Lili has been a trophy wife her entire life, spending her time drugged on her late husband’s product. While she has physically escaped Sector Five, the freedom and pleasure to be found in Sector Four is completely outside her experience, to the point where she can’t believe it’s not just all an elaborate charade. The way these two find themselves and find each other via food and music and other very normal human pursuits is a departure, but a welcome one.
It’s totally possible to read these books as dirty, kinky, violent dystopian romance, focusing in on the O’Kane orgies and brutality. But that’s not all they are. Beyond Innocence does a great job of thematically leading us into Book 7, which will be the last one of the series [EDITED TO NOTE: okay, so not the last one, just the last one that’s currently up as “coming soon”]. The thing I have appreciated most about this series is the thorough exploration of femininity and masculinity, gently poking at the assumptions we make about the nature and scope of what we consider powerful. For example, Jared is perfectly capable of violence, but that’s not where his true power lies–he specializes in information. And Lili has no capacity for violence at all, yet winds up solving a problem that the others can’t, using her “trophy wife” knowledge and contacts to save the day. And throughout the book, her value to the O’Kane gang is that of someone who can actually cook, a traditionally under-appreciated “feminine” trait and task.
The role of women in these books has significantly evolved since the first one. And Rocha seems to be leading us full-circle since one of the heroes in the seventh book is a doctor–a healer rather than a killer. I’m sure I’ll have more thoughts about this at the series conclusion, but for now, for fans of the series, Beyond Innocence is a fabulous addition.
So Bree Bridges, one half of the “Kit Rocha” duo and I have joked a bit back and forth about the fact that their characters never eat. There are like two instances of actual food being consumed prior to Beyond Innocence and one of them is a burnt grilled cheese sandwich. So when I found out that Lili likes to cook, I was like this:
In the book, Jared gives Lili a piano, prompting her to make him cookies, then invite him to dinner. So one of the first meals she makes in the book is chicken pot pies, which sounded terrific to me. And for some reason, I woke up at four in the morning shortly after reading the book and the first thing that popped into my head on waking was these bourbon-sage chicken pot pies. Probably because of the while whiskey-running thing the O’Kanes have going on.
These basically worked out great the first time. I kept tasting the filling though and thinking, “Well, maybe just a little more bourbon.” Because what couldn’t use just a little more bourbon? I mean, right?
I’ve written the recipe below as if you’ll be starting with raw chicken. But if you have leftover cooked chicken on hand or want to grab a rotisserie bird to speed up the process, you can totally do that. You could also use refrigerated or frozen pie crusts, but I also have a recipe here (with more bourbon in it, natch) to make them from scratch. So it’s your choice really. But if you go the pre-prepared route, you’ll need two crusts and you’re still going to have to roll the out and cut them to fit your pot pie pans.
Though in case there is any doubt in your mind, these are totally freaking fantastic as written and well worth the (sorry, somewhat considerable) effort. So, so worth it.
- 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 12 tablespoons cold unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks), cut into 1/4-inch cubes
- 1/2 cup chilled solid vegetable shortening, cut into 4 pieces
- 1/4 cup bourbon, cold
- 1/4 cup ice cold water
- 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts
- 2 cups chicken stock
- 1 cup whole milk, room temperature
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1/3 cup flour
- 2 tablespoons bourbon
- salt & pepper to taste (I used 2 teaspoons salt & 1/2 teaspoon pepper, but I use unsalted homemade chicken stock so you may need more salt)
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 carrots, peeled and chopped
- 1 parsnip, peeled and chopped
- 1 small onion, chopped
- 1 small russet potato, peeled and chopped
- 3 sprigs sage, minced fine
- Process 1 1/2 cups flour, salt, and sugar in food processor until combined, about 2 one-second pulses. Add butter and shortening and process until crumbs start to collect into clumps, about 15 seconds (there should be no uncoated flour). Scrape bowl with rubber spatula and redistribute dough evenly around processor blade. Add remaining cup flour and pulse until mixture is evenly distributed around bowl and mass of dough has been broken up, 4 to 6 quick pulses. Empty mixture into medium bowl.
- Sprinkle bourbon and water over mixture. With rubber spatula, use folding motion to mix, pressing down on dough until dough is slightly tacky and sticks together.
- Divide dough into two balls, one slightly bigger than the other and flatten each into 4-inch disk. Wrap each in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 45 minutes or up to 2 days.
- Poach the chicken breasts. Put the chicken breasts in a medium saucepan and cover almost to the top with water. Heat to a boil, then partially cover and turn down the heat until simmering. Cook for 12 minutes or until chicken juices run clear when pricked with a fork. Drain and and set chicken aside until cool enough to handle.
- In the same pan (no need to clean), melt 3 tablespoons unsalted butter over medium heat. Add 1/3 cup flour a bit at a time, whisking constantly. Allow to cook, still whisking, for about 30 seconds. Remove from heat. Whisk in chicken stock, making sure no lumps form. Whisk in milk. Return to heat and allow to cook until bubbles start to form and slightly thickened, about 1 minute. Remove from heat and whisk in bourbon. Chop up chicken and return to pan with sauce.
- In a medium frying pan, melt 2 tablespoons of butter. Add carrots, parsnip, potato and onion. Cook over medium heat for approximately 5 minutes, until onion is softened. Add sage and cook an additional 30 seconds. Add vegetables to chicken mixture.
- Preheat the over to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Remove the crust from the refrigerator and, starting with the slightly larger ball, roll out on a floured surface, about 20" by 20". Turn one of your pot pie pans face down on the dough. Cutting about 3/4" of an inch away from the edge of your pot pie pans (I just eyeballed this). Repeat three more times and set aside with wax paper in between each circle.
- On a refloured surface, roll out the remaining dough and cut exactly around the edge of a pot pie pan, about 16" by 16". Repeat three more times.
- Press larger dough circles into pans, letting excess overhang the edge. Fill each pan with 10-12 ounces of the filling (this will somewhat depend on how large your chicken breasts and vegetables were and how much your sauce reduced while cooking--just try to make it pretty even). Top with smaller dough circles and crimp the edges together, rolling the excess in toward the center of the pan to create a good seal. Prick the top of each pie with a fork to let steam escape and place on a cookie sheet.
- Bake pot pies for 40-45 minutes until crusts are golden brown. (FYI, I took these out of their pans for photos, but I don't recommend that. They kinda...collapsed. Just leave them in the pan for serving.)