by Victoria Challancin
There are times when I miss my family and my roots so much that I just get over-whelmed by the need of comfort food. I may not have lived in rural South Florida since the 70s, but roots I have there. And while I occasionally feel, in a weak moment, that I claim expedient parentage (i.e. sometimes I glam onto my French-Italian paternal links, and sometimes my mother's down-home Southern "Georgia" genes), when I look for comfort, I look toward the south, the Deep South, that is. The Deep South of the United States. It seems not to matter that I haven't lived there really since the mid-70s when I first left for an overseas posting; I still look to my mother's home cooking for comfort.
And what better old-fashioned comfort than a basic Chicken Pot Pie, I ask? But when I wanted to teach it in my classes for Mexican cooks, guilt took over and I just had to tart it up a bit, make it modern, pretend that it was far more upscale than it really is. When I spied these modern, upscale, tarted up chicken pot pie disguised in 21st-century garb (in the September edition of the Canadian magazine Chatelaine), I knew I had found a perfect marriage: comfort food + a hint of modernity to make it truly acceptable for a cooking class.
Puff Pastry Squares with Onion and Peppers
I have made many Chicken Pot Pies, in my day. Many. Often pretending that they were modern and fresh, I always secretly knew that I was just seeking basic comfort, just like my Mom, and occasionally Swanson's jazzed up frozen ones, offered me in my youth. I have made them whole wheat crusts, Cheddar crusts, latticed crust, with biscuits, with biscuit mix (yes, I know...), with herb-enriched pastry, with frozen pastry, with phyllo...and filled with many things other than the basic chicken and vegetables as well. So when I saw this recipe, I just took the basic idea and then decided to wing it with the filling. I forgot when writing it down that I sometimes add a splash of sherry, which my own mother would never have done. Nor did I here, for that matter. But only because I forgot.
Cook's Notes: What you are looking for here is just a basic mix of vegetables to go with your chicken and sauce(I poached the chicken here). I have added asparagus, carrots, turnips, rutabaga (oh, I would kill for some rutabaga now, but can't yet find it here), potatoes, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, fresh corn...etc. But to me the essentials really are just mushrooms, broccoli, and peas. Yes, frozen peas. I know. I know. I am stretching it here.
Upside-Down Chicken Pot Pies
(Recipe by Victoria Challancin, inspired by the September 2015 edition of Chatelaine Magazine)
2 skinless, cooked boneless chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup flour
3 cups milk or half and half (light cream)
1/4 teaspoon turmeric (optional)
1 1/2 cups rich chicken broth
1 cup broccoli florets
1 cup mushroom slices
1 cup frozen peas
1/2 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 teaspoon lemon juice (optional--you could also add a healthy splash of sherry to the broth)
1 tablespoon chopped parsley, or to taste
Preheat oven to 400F. Unroll pastry and extend it to a square, measuring 10 x 10 inches. Cut into either4 large squares or 16 2 1/2-inch squares (or desired size). Score a border of 1/2-inch around each square and prick the inside with a fork. Set on a lightly oiled baking sheet. Brush lightly with egg wash and top each square with slices of onion and bell pepper. Bake in center of oven until pastry is lightly golden, 18 to 20 minutes.
Melt butter in large pot. When melted, whisk in flour. Cook, whisking constantly for 1 to 2 minutes to make a roux. Slowly whisk in milk or half and half and turmeric until evenly mixed. Bring to a gentle boil, then stir in chicken, broccoli, mushrooms, and salt. Cook until broccoli is tender-crisp, 3 to 5 more min. Stir in frozen peas and cook for about 45 seconds. Remove from heat and stir in lemon juice, if using, and season with salt and black pepper. Spoon about 1 cup chicken mixture over each baked puff-pastry square if using large ones, or over three squares if small. Garnish with a touch of chopped parsley, if desired.
Puff Pastry Squares with Chicken Pot Pie Filling
Proper Chicken Pot Pies (and under no circumstances are you to ask what is going on behind them with one of my student's experiments)
©Victoria Challancin. All Rights Reserved.