The first pot pie I ever ate was a frozen one from the supermarket, probably Swanson's or something like that. Shortly after my father died, my mother began working at a bank in the neighborhood, and although she was nearly always home when we got home from school, she worked until 7 PM on Friday nights. We lived in the same house as my grandparents, so this was no problem. We arrived home to the warm greeting of my grandmother. My sister and I were about 10 and 11 years old, and my mother had taught us how to do a basic, decent cleaning of the house. Our home was on one level, and we had a finished basement as well, so each week, Betsy and I would take turns: one of us would dust and vacuum the upstairs, and the other would dust and vacuum the downstairs. The upstairs was larger, and there was more to do, but the basement, as it was our domain, was inevitably messier and dirtier, so it was really a toss up as to which one would take longer. On the week I cleaned the basement, I could have the TV on, which made the cleaning seem to go by a little faster, but on the week I cleaned the upstairs, there was time to look closely at the beautiful pieces of china and crystal my mother had, all of which she had taken such good care of over the years.
After we had done the cleaning, our 'chores' on Friday, the deal was that we were allowed to cook a TV dinner for ourselves. My grandmother, who was right upstairs, and had cooked dinner for herself and my grandfather, was beside herself on a weekly basis. Why didn't we just eat with them? Why would we want these frozen meals in an aluminum pan when she had made a homemade, delicious meal of which there was plenty? More than one argument arose out of that scenario. Now, of course, the idea of eating a TV dinner is less than appealing, but at the time, it seemed very exciting. We got to choose our own meals when we went to the grocery store with my mother during the week. We could each have something different. I remember my sister being partial to the Salisbury Steak, whereas I liked the Stouffer's mac and cheese, or the turkey dinner, or eventually, I discovered, the pot pie. Chicken (or turkey)? Gravy? Pie crust? Why had we never had this before?
Looking back, I understand that what we really wanted was not the TV dinners so much as the independence and responsibility that came with them. Two almost-teen-age girls allowed to be home by ourselves (okay, Gram and Grandpa were right upstairs), given the charge of cleaning the house and then allowed to 'cook' and eat dinner together on the couch, in front of the TV at the end of the week, and enjoy the feeling of satisfaction that comes from doing a (pretty good) job. Perhaps it is why Friday evening is still my favorite time of the week; the work week is done, and nothing but the prospect of two days of freedom lies ahead.
This recipe takes a few liberties; it is by no means a classic pot pie. I also cut a few time-saving corners, using puff pastry instead of making pie crust, so if you are a purist, by all means, make the crust. I was looking at this as a pot pie you could make after a day at work. Not too difficult, but still a treat for a Friday night, or any night for that matter.
Chicken Pot Pie (makes 6 individual pot pies, or you can make 1 large one in a 9x13 inch pan)
1 box (2 sheets) frozen puff pastry, thawed
The meat from a medium roasted chicken (confession: I used a rotisserie chicken from the grocery store)
3 large carrots, chopped
1 medium onion, diced
3 stalks celery, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp thyme
salt and pepper to taste
4 potatoes, peeled, and chopped into 1/2 inch cubes
1 1/2 packages Green Giant petite peas (or any frozen peas that you like)
2 tbsp butter
4 tbsp olive oil, divided
3 tbsp all purpose flour
32 oz good quality chicken stock
1 tsp chicken demi-glace, optional
1 egg, beaten
Toss the potatoes in 1 tbsp olive oil and some salt, and put them in a cast iron skillet or a baking tray covered in foil. Roast at 375 degrees for about 40 minutes, until golden brown. While they are roasting, put the celery, onions, garlic, and carrots in an oven proof skillet with 1 tablespoon of olive oil and sautee on medium heat until transluscent, 4-5 minutes. Pop the whole skillet into the oven for about 10 minutes, just to get a little color on the vegetables. In the meantime, melt the butter in a large saucepan. Add the remaining olive oil and the flour. Turn the heat to medium, and with a wisk, mix the fat and flour, cooking them until the roux turns a deep golden brown. Add the chicken stock gradually, wisking constantly to avoid any lumps. Add the demi-glace, if using. Bring the mixture up to a boil while wisking. Return to a simmer, and add the onion, celery, carrot mixture. Add the fresh thyme and let simmer for about 20 minutes. Taste, and add salt and pepper if needed. after 20 minutes, add the peas and stir. Bring back to temperature.
Roll out the puff pastry and cut circles as large as the bottom of the pot pie container you are using. I used large soup bowls, so I cut 1 small circle and 1 larger one for each pot pie. Lay the puff pastry circles on a baking sheet, and poke several fork holes in each. Brush the beaten egg on the circles that will serve as the lid of the pot pies. Bake according to the package directions until the pastry is just barely golden.
When all the components are done, beging to assemble the pot pies. First, put the small circles of puff pastry in the bottom of each container. Add some potatoes and some shredded chicken. Then pour the gravy and pea mixture. Topwith one of the larger pastry circles. Repeat until all the ingredients are used up. Place the pot pies on a baking sheet and return to the 350 degree oven for about 20 minutes, or until the insides are bubbly and the top pastry is a deep golden brown. Serve immediately.