I should begin this post by telling you all that I don’t actually eat these pot pies. One of the best things about cooking really unhealthy things is that you have much less interest in eating them after you see how much butter is used. But the people that eat them don’t know, so they can enjoy their meal, and you can feel good about making them happy (and salvaging your own arteries at the same time).
My grandparents are both 93 years old (they’ll be 93 and a half in a couple weeks!!), and as it’s getting to be more and more work for my grandma to prepare meals, whenever I’m in town I try to make a couple things for their freezer. Last fall, as I was putting together some soups and casserole-type dishes that I thought would freeze well, I asked my grandpa if there was anything in particular he would like me to make. I’ll never forget his response – it was as though he had literally been waiting a full 93 years for someone to ask him that very question. Without skipping a beat: “I’d like an old-fashioned chicken pot pie, the kind with the lard in the crust like my mother used to make.” (Very emphatic about the lard). It seemed like a reasonable enough request, and I had recently seen an episode of the Barefoot Contessa’s show on the Food Network where she made them, so I had a place to start. I looked up her recipe and saw that the crust did indeed call for Crisco – yum. Three stores later – Pier One for the perfect-sized ramekins, New Seasons for an organic, free range chicken, and Trader Joe’s for everything else – I was back in the kitchen and ready to get to work. The fact that they turned out to be such a big hit is both good news and bad news – good news, obviously, because if you go to that much work you want people to really LOVE what you’ve made; bad news because now I feel like I need to constantly have their freezer stocked with pot pies. If I haven’t been down to see my grandparents in a while, I’ll often get a lovely card from my grandpa, casually mentioning that it’s been a while since they’ve seen me, and boy, they sure do enjoy those pot pies. He’ll usually include a check – not for groceries, just because. No pressure or anything.
This recipe really isn’t hard – it’s a bit time consuming, but I take shortcuts by buying the pre-chopped onions (honestly, what did people do before Trader Joe’s?) and rotisserie chicken. That means the only prep work you really have to do is chopping and blanching the carrots (a mildly annoying but apparently necessary step), cubing the chicken and then chopping up a bit of parsley. I love just opening the bags of frozen peas and pearl onions and dumping them all in the pot. You could use store-bought pie crust for a real time saver, but this crust comes together pretty easily, especially if you have a food processor. Without the food processor, however, a pastry blender (the little handheld one you can get for $10) works just fine.
I recently tried to mix it up a little (and skip the crust altogether) by trying this recipe from Joy the Baker. While it received good reviews, it was made pretty clear that going forward people would prefer the original. I love Joy but I guess it’s pretty hard to beat Ina. I do love the casserole idea though if you needed to feed a large crowd – whether you use Ina’s filling recipe or Joy’s. And don’t the chive biscuits look so pretty? My dad was a fan of the biscuit topping, so when I made the Barefoot Contessa version for the millionth time this past weekend I did half with the crust like usual, and then threw together a quick batch of these biscuits and topped a couple of the pot pies with them instead. The best part is now we have unbaked biscuits in the freezer for the next time we need topping for a pot pie, or strawberry shortcake. (It is worth noting that Ina’s recipe says it makes four pot pies, but depending on the size of your ramekins it will actually make double to triple that amount – this time mine filled five normal sized ramekins and four of what I call the “hungry man” sized, giant ones – but there’s usually only enough pie crust for about 6. So you can double the crust recipe, or do some with biscuit topping). I usually bake and then freeze them, but I’m pretty sure you could freeze them assembled but unbaked – it takes so long to defrost and then reheat them in the oven, you may as well defrost and then bake.
And since this weekend was so rainy and miserable – and going with my theme of comfort (or 70s-era) food – I whipped up some chocolate pudding too. I love Cup of Jo’s blog and her “best of” series – once anyone calls anything the “best _____” I pretty much have to make it (even if, as in the case of chocolate pudding, it isn’t something I would think to make otherwise). This really did only take 8 ingredients (plus toppings), most of which you probably already have in your fridge/pantry. It was so simple and easy, I might now be really into making pudding (which is pretty much the last thing I need to start doing).
If anyone has any freezer-friendly ideas, for grandparents or otherwise (I’m bringing dinner to some “new parents” tomorrow), please feel free to share in the comments. And if you’re all of the sudden craving a pot pie after reading this, I won’t judge you – every once in awhile I think you’re allowed to splurge. And the closer you are to 93, the more often!