Gastronomically speaking, I grew up in a traditional Midwestern American home. My father, who worked long hours, would come home at 6:00 pm and sit down to a supper that my mom, who also worked long hours, had prepared for us. It was almost always some variation on a single theme: a piece of meat, some version of potato, a soupy vegetable (creamed peas, creamed corn, creamed carrots) and a slice of white bread, thickly slathered with butter. My Daddy was all about the butter; don’t even think of trying to pawn off that new-fangled margarine on the man. It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature, but it was even worse to try to put one over on my Dad. He was a butter purist.
On rare occasions, Dad was willing to branch out a bit. A family friend sometimes had us over for tacos. These made Daddy’s bald head sweat, so he’d wrap a paper towel around his crown like a turban. It always got a big laugh.
Our dearth of culinary diversity wasn’t because of lack of imagination or skill on my mother’s part. It was what my father wanted to eat. For a guy who grew up eating mostly oatmeal during the Depression, he was surprisingly particular about his cuisine. He didn’t much care for hotdish (casserole, for you out-of-staters), and he had no time for that wonder of the modern age, frozen food.
Of course, everyone in our family who WASN’T my Dad knew that frozen pizza, TV dinners and sandwiches wrapped in foil were THE GREATEST THING EVER. So, on those rare occasions when our paterfamilias was absent from home at mealtime (up north deer hunting, or men’s night at the golf course), we got to eat delicious, packaged, highly processed food. Hurrah!
In truth, I was never that crazy about TV dinners, those “full course” meals that came in segmented aluminum trays. They were available in varieties like Salisbury steak, turkey with gravy, unidentifiable chicken parts. And they always had that one little triangle in the corner containing a vegetable – usually corn – that was not steeped in cream sauce. Boo.
A better choice were the sandwiches wrapped in colorful foil, which you heated in the oven. There was the chuckwagon – a large, round bun stuffed with salami and cheese that was a precise representation of what the bold and hardy cowboys didn’t eat on the range. Alternatively, you could choose the torpedo sandwich, which was exactly the same as the chuckwagon sandwich, except it came on an elongated bun. Presumably it reflected the kind of rations that bold and hardy sailors didn’t eat on their submarines.
The very, very best pre-packaged delicacy, though, was the frozen pot pie. It came in a trio of flavors: chicken (ambrosia!), turkey (poor man’s chicken) and beef (acceptable, if it was the only kind left). How eagerly I watched my mother remove each little aluminum foil pie tin from its box, stab the frozen top crust with a fork, set it on a cookie sheet and pop it into the oven.
It went into the fire pallid and solid as stone; it came out golden brown – except on the edges, which always burned – and bubbling with delicious gravy goo.
There is a precise method to eating these things. You stab the top crust with a spoon, releasing the steam, then carefully peel back the crust in sections, like a surgeon cracking open a chest for a bypass. Carefully stir the innards, deftly plucking out the inedible bits (the little square carrot pellets and wrinkly peas). Spoon up and savor the gravy and chicken chunks, frowning a little when you accidentally get a mushy chunk of potato, which is harder to identify in the gelatinous mass and therefore may escape the vegetable culling.
Finally … the best part of all. At the bottom of the now-empty aluminum foil pie tin, one finds a treasure: the cardboardy crust with its sheen of gravy that has soaked into it just a little bit. Peel up the crust in chunks and, if you are particularly bold, eat it with your fingers. These were the greatest moments of my childhood.
You can still get frozen pot pies these days, but they are a sad shadow of their former selves: even smaller, only partly filled with goo and worst of all, packaged in cardboard instead of aluminum foil bowls. Convenient for the microwave, perhaps, but you lose half the value of the meal. For in the old days, the little aluminum tin was carefully washed and saved for many useful purposes. I think we still have a stack of 50 of them in the cupboard above the sink.
It occurred to me that I might attempt a version of my childhood favorite using some of my Tastefully Simple products. And so, I present …
Perfectly Individual Parmesan Biscuit Pot Pies (adapted from this recipe)
- Perfectly Potato Cheddar Soup Mix
- 4 cups water
- 1½ lbs. cooked, cubed chicken breast
- 2 (14 oz.) cans mixed vegetables, drained (Hint: Or use only one can – less vegetables to pick out of the finished product!)
- 2 tsp. Seasoned Salt
- 2 Tbsp. white cooking wine (can be omitted; I only used because I’ve had a bottle of the stuff sitting in my cupboard for a few years)
- 1 tsp. onion powder
- Perfect Parmesan Biscuit Mix
- 2/3 cup cold water
- 2/3 cup finely shredded Cheddar Cheese
- 1 Tbsp. butter, melted
- 1 tsp. Italian Garlic Seasoning
Mix together the soup mix and water and simmer for 20 minutes; add the chicken, canned vegetables, seasoned salt, cooking wine and onion powder. Cook until heated through.
Preheat oven to 400° F.
Prepare the biscuit dough as directed on package.
Pour the filling into oven-proof bowls, mugs or ramekins, filling them about ¾ full. Place tablespoon-sized chunks of biscuit dough on top of the mixture, enough to cover the whole top of the individual serving dish. Place filled bowls on a cookie sheet and put in the oven. Bake for 15-17 minutes or so, until the biscuit topping is lightly brown. Remove cookie sheet from the oven.
Melt 1 Tbsp. butter and stir in 1 tsp. Italian Garlic Seasoning. Brush melted butter mixture on the biscuit topping.
I’m not gonna lie. This isn’t quite as good as those frozen pot pies of yore. And to be honest, the biscuit topping was a little doughy on the bottom. But it was still pretty darned delicious.