Tuesday, November 8, 2011

From Marie Callender to homemade, there was always Chicken Pot Pie.

My love for cooking waxes and wanes.

In the beginning, when I first moved to Wisconsin and shared living space with three bachelors (one of whom I had dibs on), any time spent in the kitchen was more cumbersome than fun. None of us really wanted to cook, but we all wanted to eat. So, our meals came frozen from Marie Callender or vacuum-sealed by Ramen or boxed up and tossed into a paper bag marked with the name of the restaurant on the corner. We cycled through the pizza oven, microwave, and one saucepan but rarely paid attention to the dishes in the sink, which would explain why the kitchen was low on the list of places to hang out.

Later, my husband and I married and moved into a one bedroom apartment, and I marveled at the sight and size of the oven: fit for a kid but with a real working gas range and oven space just big enough to tease you into thinking you were really cooking. I tried my hand at formal dinners, removing all but one oven rack to squeeze in a turkey for our first Thanksgiving, and later sweating over the miniature range to cook chicken and carrots. It took a long time to learn the art of getting every dish onto the table at the same time, warm and well...done.

After a few years, a bit of confidence, and a subscription to Martha Stewart Magazine and Cooking Light, I delighted in a little cooking glory. I baked brownies to die for, cooked a Mexican Casserole made with green chiles and chicken that had to be doubled when family ate over, pureed Creamy Asparagus Soup that looked just like the photo and was worthy of a repeat. I discovered an easy Chicken Potpie recipe that could be prepared the night before and thrown in the oven for dinner the next day, giving the appearance that I spent hours on the meal. My Pecan Pie didn’t rival my grandmother’s but elicited oohs and ahhs just the same.

Life in the kitchen was full.

Then, tiny hands graced our breakfast island, and finicky taste buds resulted in too many leftovers. Wanting my kids to "just eat something," I fell victim to the boxed food aisle at the grocery store again. We cycled through fish sticks and tacos and breakfast for dinner (I write that in past tense, though often our weekly menu still rotates through these dishes). We survived on quick, easy, and bland. Making dinner, and eating it, was a chore.

But as my kids grow older and become a little more willing to try new things, I feel the pull towards bigger, brighter, and more exciting menu choices. Maybe not Creamy Asparagus Soup (yet), but I might bring back some old standards like Chicken Potpie -- dishes that say "easy" and "gourmet" at the same time.

I mean, who can resist the pie?

(ripped from the pages of an old Cooking Light issue over ten years ago) 

Crust (in a pinch, which is often, I use a store-bought crust, and that works just as well).
1 cup all-purpose flour, divided
3 tablespoons ice water
1 teaspoon cider vinegar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup vegetable shortening

3 cups Chicken Stock, divided
2 1/3 cups cubed red potato (about 1 pound)
1 cup (1/4 inch thick) sliced carrot
2 teaspoons butter
1/2 cup chopped shallots or onions
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups diced cooked chicken
1 cup frozen petite green peas
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
Dash of black pepper
Cooking spray

  1. To prepare crust, lightly spoon 1 cup flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine 1/4 cup flour, ice water, and vinegar in a small bowl. Combine 3/4 cup flour and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a large bowl; cut in shortening with a pastry blender until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add vinegar mixture; stir, just until moist. Press mixture gently into a 5-inch circle on heavy-duty plastic wrap; cover with additional plastic wrap. Chill for 15 minutes. Roll dough, still covered, into a 13x10-inch oval. Place dough in freezer 5 minutes or until plastic wrap can be easily removed.
  2. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  3. To prepare filling, bring 2 1/2 cups Chicken Stock to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add potato and carrot, cook 2 minutes. Drain mixture in a colander over a bowl, reserving cooking liquid.
  4. Melt butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add shallots; cook 3 minutes. Lightly spoon 1/2 cup flour into a dry measuring cup; level with a knife. Combine 1/2 cup flour and 1/2 cup Chicken Stock; stir with a whisk. Add to skillet. Stir in potato mixture, reserved cooking liquid, chicken, peas, 3/4 teaspoon salt, thyme, and pepper. Cook 10 minutes. Remove from heat; cool slightly. spoon chicken mixture into a 1 1/2-quart casserole dish coated with cooking spray. Removed 1 sheet of plastic wrap from dough. Place dough on top of chicken mixture pressing to edge of dish. Remove top of plastic wrap. Cut 5 slits in top of crust to allow steam to escape. Gently brush crust with milk. Bake at 400 degrees for 45 minutes or until golden. Let stand 10 minutes.
What’s your favorite throw-together, toss-in-the-oven, feel-fancy and gobble-it-up kind of dish?

(Below, the Hillbilly Gypsies perform "Crow Black Chicken")

“Easiest work that ever I done was eatin' chicken pie.”


  1. mmm... pot pie! haven't had one in years! still working on perfecting a gluten-free pie crust, but one from the store would work just fine for now, or from Molly's GF Bakery.

    sometimes convenience food happens. life happens. but it evens out.

  2. Cooking Light rules, got a whole binder full of those recipes! Chicken Potpie is one of those dishes that just feel like a big old hug. With flaky pastry dough, which is really what a hug should be made of.