The central coast of California produces some exemplary items. For example, some 75%+ of the strawberries consumed by the United States are grown right here.
Santa Maria, the city in which I live, also had the honor of having the state’s worst drivers; in the last few years, there were more hit-and-run accidents per capita than anywhere else in the state. Almost every day, I see people stopped directly underneath “No Stopping Anytime” signs. Ironically, we moved away from Orange County to escape traffic, but here some drivers will stop in the middle of a busy thoroughfare, blocking traffic, to say ” ‘s up” to a friend meandering along the street, thus creating a voluntary gridlock along Broadway at which most people (not me) just shrug.
If you’ve never had Santa Maria tri-tip, put it on your bucket list. Moreover, our wine has its fair share of acclaim, especially after the movie Sideways was filmed here. Unlike another area in California that rhymes with “Mapa,” there are still many wine tasting rooms that haven’t been discovered by metropolitan-based weekend wine-pricks who pontificate on any given wine either to supplement their Viagra or to rationalize their alcoholism.
Empty beaches still exist here, and people still drive El Caminos here with a vengeance.
My wife is the office manager of a large greenhouse facility in Nipomo, California; chances are that, if you have bought a poinsettia at a California Costco during Xmas, my wife was responsible for getting it there. Working in the agriculture business has its benefits. She often comes home with bags full of freshly picked produce that one of her colleagues brought in. At my school site, boxes of lemons, oranges, broccoli, or lettuce regularly adorn the break room tables with a sign saying to take as much as you want. A five minute drive yields farm fresh eggs costing next to nothing, and the strawberries that we get to buy at local stands are the best available in the world.
Today, a sack o’ fresh broccoli greeted me from my kitchen island. Also greeting me were vapid boneless, skinless chicken breasts. What to do, what to do…? Pie! Any time’s a good time for pie, so I got to thinking that a cheesy-broccoli-chicken-y thing would work. Recipes for this exist all over the web, and I must have read about 6 to 9 of them. But when it came down to it, like Luke Skywalker turning off his targeting computer to blow up the Death Star, I just went with the force and winged it.
The result, my very own Brocco-Chicken Pie, is pretty spectacular in terms of taste and ’tis pretty easy to make. I made the pie crust from scratch (and I nailed it, I might add, which is a first for me), but if I had the pre-made ones from the supermarket fridge, I would have used them instead. The taste reminds me of the 50’s, gingham aprons, and home-cookin’. You could easily make the filling beforehand and assemble the pie when you’re ready.
2 tbsp. butter
1/2 onion, chopped
2 tbsp. flour
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/2 cup chicken broth
1/2 cup milk (low fat or whatever)
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese (Swiss, Havarti, jack, or whatever would work here)
1 lb. fresh broccoli florets, steamed to the point where they’re not quite done, trimmed of most of the stems, and roughly chopped
2 cups cooked chicken, chopped (you could use canned chicken, but you’d be really ghetto, and I’d love you for it)
Salt and pepper
1 double pie crust for a 9″ pie
Preheat the oven to 400°.
In a medium saucepan or skillet, melt the butter over medium heat and saute the onions until they’re tender, about 4 minutes. Add the flour, mix it well, and cook it for a minute, stirring constantly. Using a wire whisk, add in the black pepper and broth. Whisk it all together until it’s creamy. Add in 1/4 cup of the milk and whisk it again until it gets bubbly, and then add in the rest of the milk and whisk it until it’s bubbly again.
Add it the cheese, chicken, and broccoli. Cook it until the cheese is melted and it’s a steamy, happy pie filling. Taste it for salt and pepper and adjust, if needed.
Line a 9″ pie dish with one of the crusts and pour in the filling, spreading it evenly. Top it with the other crust and, pulling the bottom crust lip over, pinch it together with the top crust lip again the top inside rim of the dish until it’s all sealed and looks like mom made it. Cut a few decorative slits in the top to let steam escape.
Bake this at 400° for 40 minutes, or until the crust is done. If it starts getting too brown, put foil on it. The juices will start to bubble up on the crust when it’s done. Let it cool on a rack for at least 10 minutes. Slice into 8 pieces and serve.
While my pie might be ugly to the master pie-maker’s eye, it sings home-cookin’ to me. This is easy to make and is great lunch for the next day.
Until later, eat, drink, and peace out.
©Jon Marino 2013