cold hands; hot pockets
stuffed and braised chicken breasts
The holiday season. Everyone is busy, if not overwhelmed. Despite the holiday preparations, daily life still goes on; the children need to get to school, you have to work, and dinner still needs to be on the table. I can help with the dinner requirement.
I grew up in a ski town and it was cold in the winter. Cold. My brother and I spent hours outside in the snow building igloos, snowmen, and pelting one another with snowballs. One year the snow drifts were so high that they sloped up and met the roof’s edge thanks to the wind. My father had to shovel a path that resembled more of a tunnel just to get to our front door. A nightmare for adults but a winter wonderland for children and my brother and I, being full of mischief and youthful fearlessness, took out sleds and climbed up on the roof and slid off of the roof, down the snow drift, and into the front yard. It was great fun but there was one little problem with this fantastical winter event.
My mother planted fruit trees in the front yard the preceding spring. They were still very young and thin stakes stood on either side, about a foot from the young trunk, to strengthen it and encourage it to grow straight. And so it was on this cold day, my brother took the red metal and wooden sleigh up to the roof and charged head first, belly down, off of the roof on to the drift and continued into the yard so far that his head found its way in between a stake and trunk of one of these little trees, which only stood above the snow about one foot. My brother was not hurt at all; his head fit perfectly in between the stake and the trunk, and, in truth, he was much bigger than that little dormant tree. However, the headlock had taken him by surprise and with his head stuck, laying on his belly, with his head sloped downward and his feet tilted higher behind him, he yelled at me to get him out. I tried to help him (a little) but the truth was I could not stop laughing at the predicament. I ran inside to get my mother. I told her that my brother was not hurt (just to avoid a panic) but I needed her help. She was cooking dinner. When she came outside, a smile spread across her face and a giggle escaped her lips. She got my brother out of his predicament and by the time the episode ended, our snow clothes were wet and we were quite cold. My hands were freezing.
My brother and I were raised vegetarian but because our father was not, occasionally we ate meat. There was one non-vegetarian dish my mother made that my brother and I loved. It was a pounded chicken breast wrapped around cheddar cheese and breaded, fried and then baked with rice. It always reminded my of a hot pocket because the melted, gooey cheese oozed out of the center of a perfectly packaged, cooked piece of chicken. That perfect little hot pocket of comfort food happened to be dinner that night, the day of the fruit tree headlock.
This week’s recipe is my mother’s recipe with my own touches.
Warm and gooey and smells like the holidays, this recipe is made in one pan and takes 30 minutes. It is perfect for these cold months and your time limitations, not to mention the protein-emphasis is a nice counter to the typical holiday indulgences.
The breasts are not pounded; too much work. Instead, they are simply slit and opened to resemble a butterfly or a book and stuffed with tangy gruyère and sautéed portobello mushrooms cooked with sage for that holiday smell. Serve with a seasonal soup or with a starch (such as potatoes or rice). You can make it a sandwich by cutting it in half and wrapping the halves in paper. That’s how it got the name proteinwich.
It was surprisingly cold in LA when I made this recipe for my daughters. At the table, I told them the story about their uncle and his tango with the young fruit tree and the dish my mother made that warmed us from the inside out. Another generation laughed. Another (modified) recipe passed down.
Hot pockets for cold winter hands.
stuffed and braised chicken breasts
2 chicken breasts, skinless and boneless
kosher salt, as needed
freshly ground black pepper, as needed
1-2 portobello mushrooms (depending upon size)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
2 teaspoons minced fresh sage
1/8 cup dry white wine (or Grappa)
2 ounces gruyère, sliced
- Preheat Oven. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Prepare Chicken. Remove the tenderloin (optional) and set aside. Butterfly each chicken breast by making a slice horizontally in each breast (see below). Do not cut all the way through. Lay the breast on a flat surface and it open like a book. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.
- Prepare Mushrooms. Remove stems and gills and discard. Rinse with water and pat dry with paper towels. Slice the mushroom caps, about 1/8” thick. Place an ovenproof pan over a medium flame. Once the pan is hot, add two tablespoons of butter. When butter has melted, add the sage and toss to coat. Add sliced mushrooms and a pinch of salt. Toss in butter (the pan will look a little dry but do not worry because the moisture in the mushrooms will soon be released). Cook the mushrooms until they are brown and begin to stick slightly to the pan. Add wine and toss the mushrooms with a wooden spoon, scraping any mushroom fond on the bottom of the pan. Cook until all of the moisture from the pan has been cooked out. Remove the pan from the stove.
- Stuff Chicken Breasts. Open Add cooked mushrooms to the right interior side of the chicken breast. Add cheese on top of the mushrooms. Fold the left side of the breast over, enclosing the mushrooms and cheese. Secure closed with a small skewer or a toothpick (see below).
- Brown Chicken. Place the pan back on the stove over a medium-high flame. Add 1 tablespoon of butter to pan. Once melted, add both breasts to the pan, (presentation side down first) and brown each side.
- Bake. Place the pan in the oven and cook chicken until done (about 16 minutes). Using a large spoon, baste the chicken breasts with the cooking juices in the pan. REMEMBER that the pan handle will be HOT so use a towel ! When chicken is done, remove the pan CAREFULLY from the oven.
- Serve. Let chicken sit for a few minutes. Remove toothpicks. Cut in half. Serve hot.