We were watching Jacques Pepin on PBS the other night and I marvelled at how he just keeps going – creating fantastic meals with a minimum of effort. I also liked that he has embraced technology while still being true to classic flavors.
I especially like him using the food processor for things like puff pastry dough or pâte à choux. I remember a million years ago when I worked at The Riviera Dinner House making several hundred little cream puffs every Sunday morning for Brunch. I worked 2pm until 10 pm as a cook on Saturday night, and then 10pm to 2am as bartender – and then back in at 7am to start Sunday brunch. At 2pm, Gracie – the owner – and I would go out drinking at the local bars and restaurants at West Portal – The Philosopher’s Club and Batmal’s, sometimes The Portal’s. By 7pm I was pouring myself to bed. It was 1974. Sweet youth, indeed.
All of that pâte à choux was made by hand – and then filled with sweets and savories. I made cream puff swans, crab-stuffed mini’s… Usually, I just used up leftovers and reworked them and made them look all nice and fancy. It’s serious waste-not-want-not when you’re working for a mom and pop establishment. It taught me a lot.
It was along those lines that I came up with the stuffing for the chicken breasts. I had a small piece of ham left from dinner the night before, a small piece of toscano cheese with black pepper, a half an onion, and some mushrooms. The onion, ham, and mushrooms went into the food processor and were chopped pretty fine. I put it all into a skillet and sauteed it in a bit of butter and olive oil until everything was fragrant. I let it cool a bit and then stirred in the cheese that had been shredded.
I cut pockets in the chicken, stuffed them, and then into the oven they went for about 20 minutes.
Really simple. Really good.
Using up those odds and ends is important – and it really is amazing how good the one-off meals can be. It’s my favorite way to make macaroni and cheese or a pot of soup in winter – or salads in summer. I didn’t tell Nonna she was eating mushrooms and she cleaned her plate.
Jacques made a great pastry ring with chocolate and cream… I’m thinking I’m going to have to get crazy and make something like it…
There are just not enough meals in a day…