Thursday, February 27, 2014

Chicken Pot Pies and Oscar Night

Now that Dancing With the Stars and the Winter Olympics are behind us what do we do with our time? Oscar night, that's what! I recently heard that Wolfgang Puck is the official caterer for the Governor's Ball after the Academy Awards, a position that he has held for 20 years. "Why?" I wondered. He is a great chef. As I dug deeper I learned that the dish that he must serve every year is Chicken Pot Pie. This year it's with black truffles. His recipe is featured on ABC News Good Morning America's website. It really is about tweaking peasant food and making it high-end gourmet, the ultimate comfort food. 
You can almost smell it and taste it
When I was growing up my mother often served us store bought frozen beef, chicken, or turkey pot pies and we loved them. The smell coming from the oven while they were cooking was hypnotic.
I like my chicken baked
It wasn't until later in life that we learned what a real homemade pot pie tasted like. Not only is it easy to make, it's also economical and the perfect solution to a cold winters night. You'll never go back to the cheap store bought pot pie again. 
Cover with foil... We're not looking for crispy here
If you don't have ramekins you can always make your pot pie in a pie pan. To do it right and invest in the affordable ramekins. You now have another decision to make. Do you want a pie crust of puff pastry? The puff pastry looks great, or you can pipe buttery seasoned mashed potatoes over the top like a shepherd's pie. 
Season the chicken with salt, pepper and paprika. You bake bone in, skin on chicken breast, dot with butter, 1/2 cup of water in the bottom of the pan, 20 minutes at 350°F. remove the foil and bake for another 10-20 minutes, or until the internal temperature reaches 180°F.
While the chicken is cooking bring 4 red or Yukon gold potatoes in a pot of water to a boil. Cook the potatoes until still slightly firm but tender. Drain the hot water and rinse in cold water until cool. Peel the potatoes and cut into small cubes.
Remove the skin and bones
Cut up chicken and set to the side
This could be the start of something good
Set the chicken roasting pan to the side and allow to cool. Begin preparing your vegetables. If using frozen pearl onions (I like both) par cook them according to the package directions.
Cook carrots until slightly firm but tender
Saute onions in butter until tender
Drain and add cooked carrots to onions
The liquid from the chicken, onions and the carrots should be reserved for use when making the sauce for the pot pies. Bring the chicken stock to a boil, add the onion liquid and whisk in 1/4 to 1/2 cup of all-purpose flour until you begin to form a roux. 
Butter, onion, carrot, and flour roux
Add more flour or liquid as needed. Cook the roux 1-2 minutes to remove the flour taste. Slowly add some of the carrot broth, or chicken stock if you like.     
Add cream or milk as needed
Add in the reserved chicken, potatoes, pearl onions if using them. Slowly add cream or milk until you reach the desired consistency. Season to your taste. 
Allow your puff pastry to thaw slightly according to package directions. Prepare your ramekins by lightly buttering them with a pastry brush inside and around the top 1/4" outside. Pour the filling into each ramekin until almost full. Lay a piece of puff pastry dough over the top and upper sides of each ramekin. 
Cut vent slits in puff pastry dough. Brush with egg wash
Let rest 5 minutes and serve... It's very hot
I'm sure that Wolfgang Puck's pot pies are amazing and someday I'll make one or get to try it at one of his restaurants. Until then I will have to amuse myself in our kitchen. 
Maybe you prefer something a little more decadent than chicken. How about lobster or king crab instead? 
© TMelle 2014

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Holiday Traditions and Communal Dining

My favorite holidays have to be Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Eve. I hope that you had a wonderful Christmas. Ours was different this year because our niece decided to host the celebration in her new home. Her new home was 45 minutes away from us, or as we say "out in the boondocks". Far enough from Chicago that the sky was almost black on a starry night.  The area is so remote that I was unable to get her address on my GPS. When we arrived we discovered a relatively new subdivision of town homes. I am a traditional guy and I was about to experience a rite of passage, like my brothers and sisters did when hosting Christmas instead of our parents. What was I expecting you might ask? Tradition!
We forgot the stuffed celery
In our family it was rare for us to have a sit down meal for Christmas Eve. It is really about finger food and sandwiches. There were things that we always had like shrimp cocktail, rumaki, deviled eggs, one or all of my mom’s hot appetizer puffs (chicken, crab, or ham), stuffed celery sticks, black and green pimento stuffed olives, some type of meat sandwiches (usually ham or turkey).
Deviled Eggs
Sometimes new traditions were added when one of us got married and introduced our spouses’ favorite foods or traditions to the mix.  Sure there was apprehension but generally speaking change is good. As an example, while living in Boston my sister and her husband were introduced to a cheese fondue that became a new tradition in her family. My wife's aunt made Swedish meatballs so they were introduced along the way too. Change is good but tradition trumps change. There I go drifting again.
In addition to the cheese fondue, my sister brought a box of Fannie May Mint Meltaway's, another family tradition.

My niece had decorated her home so that it was warm and inviting. Her main menu item was Italian beef, Italian bread, sweet peppers, jardiniere, and a whole pot of au jus. 

Another of my niece's made hot chicken appetizer puffs just like her Grandmother did for all of those years before. When trying these I couldn't help but think Mom was guiding her.
Chicken Puffs
My niece that was hosting the party really jumped the curb and went off the road to tradition by introducing a high-tech chocolate fountain and assortment of fruit to coat, marshmallows and graham crackers. This was an entertaining diversion, especially for the children and some of the grown-ups too.

One thing that I really missed this year was rumaki. My mother always made them with chicken livers and water chestnuts. We eliminated the chicken livers from our version and went with just the water chestnuts. They were always delicious but did mess up the broiler.
Water chestnut rumaki
I just kept thinking about that fondue. In a family setting, or with really good friends, communal dining can be fun. In a restaurant setting it can and often is a nightmare. Sitting down over food with total strangers is not my idea of a good time.
For many years my wife loved to go to a local Japanese restaurant for their teppanyaki style cooking. I'll admit that at the beginning and after a few Mai Tai's it was a lot of fun and we did it often. Unless you go with a group of 6-8 people you can expect to be seated with 6-8 total strangers. We were once seated with six high school age boys and girls on a prom date. I'm sure they loved sitting with us as much as we enjoyed sitting with them.
Cheese Fondue
My sister's fondue got me thinking. Anyone who was married in the 1970's probably was given at least one fondue pot as a wedding present. Each pot came with long handled color coded dipping forks. Fondue parties became the rage. What you made in the fondue pot determined what you dipped into it with the forks.  A good paring of wines to compliment your fondue was essential.
Depending on how many fondue pots you had determined how many things you could dip into them. More often than not the host had a cheese fondue made up an assortment of cheeses. You would dip bread cubes, or fruit chunks into the sauce and enjoy the extremely rich molten lava treat. No double dipping allowed.
For meat and fish a fondue filled with peanut oil would literally fry your selection. Dip shrimp or vegetables into a tempura batter and then into the hot oil would take it to a whole new level. Of course you needed a selection dipping sauces to go with it. To cook meat or seafood you needed an electric fondue capable maintaining a proper cooking temperature. Most fondue pots use a candle or Sterno cans to keep them warm.
Let's not forget a Fondue pot filled with some decadent chocolate dip. Not exactly the high-tech chocolate fountain my niece had but a similar result. Arrange a platter of fresh fruit for dipping and you’re on your way to a wonderful ending to your communal meal with family or friends.
The most popular fondue restaurant that I know about is "The Melting Pot." Expensive but good I hear. It is one of the restaurants on my bucket list. To learn more about the Melting Pot visit their website at There are so many recipes on the Internet for fondue and dipping sauces I will not try to cover any of them.
I would be remiss if I didn't tell you about a Raclette. My cousin in Germany spent New Year’s Eve with friends and a Raclette. A Raclette is similar to a fondue and designed to be enjoyed by friends and family. To learn more go to Williams-Sonoma at
Q. Did you know that if your bread falls into the cheese fondue proper etiquette dictates that you buy the table a bottle of wine?

© TMelle 2014