See ya, Swanson’s

I have to tell you all something, something I’ve decided this year: having pregnant friends is just plain weird. We’re supposed to be late-20/early-30 somethings having the time of our lives – partying late (but not too late, because that can get trashy), hanging together on the weekends (but also spending a little time with the spouses), playing Rock Band during Thanksgiving, and doing one of my personal favorite things – vacationing to quiet islands, wine country, and Europe.

When kids get in the mix, a lot of those things, I’m guessing, fall by the wayside. I’d go into vacation withdrawal, and that probably wouldn’t be pretty. But I realize here, that we are in fact the weird ones.

But I’ve also learned that we’re all different, and while it will never not be weird to see a friend pregnant, or to hold their teeny tiny cute-as-pie baby (yes, Nora – you!), I know one day I’ll get used to it. One day I’ll learn how to buy onesies and baby books and all those little booties that are the most adorable things I’ve ever seen, and one day I won’t laugh at the idea of a friend breastfeeding, and so on and so forth. Until that time (yes – the time when I become a mature adult), I’ll cook for them instead.

My friend, Lindsay, is about to bust at the seams she’s so pregnant. And since she still keeps up with her blog amidst preparing for being a mom and working at a nutso children’s hospital, I’ve been able to keep up with all the happenings over the last 8 months. When I thought about how to contribute, I reverted to food. It wasn’t a bad idea though – wouldn’t you love to have a freezer full of meals after creating life? Seems reasonable to give the new mom & pop somewhat of a break, right?!

Enter ‘chicken pot pie’, THE quintessential freezer meal, though some may retort with an argument for lasagna, which is also valid. I’d actually never made a chicken pot pie before, probably because I grew so tired of those cyan blue Swanson’s boxes that were piled high in our freezer throughout my childhood. The gooey peas, the carrots that squished between your snaggled teeth, and the chewy colorless chunks portraying chicken, I habitually scraped the veggies to the back because the crust and the gravy were somewhat edible, or at least I remember them to be…

Of course, you can try and forget those freezer meals with all your might, but when you see a recipe in one of Thomas Keller’s cookbooks you tend to forget all the ickiness, and you remember the flaky crust, the gravy, and most of all, the comfort – and you want it all over again.

Needless to say, it wasn’t long before I procured the remainder of the ingredients I didn’t have at home and set out to make not one, but two pot pies a la Keller. As it turns out, chicken pot pie is extremely versatile, which makes for plenty of variation. The first version included some shitake mushrooms from our CSA and some cannellini beans I made and froze eons ago, and for Lindsay’s I ‘autumnized’ the dish and threw some squash in. Fortunately, I had just enough leftover filling and crust for some miniatures, so as you can imagine I ate my fair share of pie last week.

Meanwhile, there’s one ready to be baked in my buddy’s freezer, so when the ‘little punk’ introduces herself to the world, at least her parents won’t be stuck eating Swanson’s and Stouffer’s – they can instead focus on all that other stuff (otherwise called parenting), like the onesies, her cute little toes, and the jealous cat. 

Autumn Chicken Pot Pie
Adapted (rather loosely, actually) from Ad Hoc at Home

I’m aware that Thomas Keller can do no wrong, at least in the kitchen. I’m aware that his recipes are probably tested a thousand times, and that if he doesn’t put nutmeg in his bechamel it’s likely with good reason. that said, i still like to tinker around with recipes, and this was no exception. while i almost switched out the bechamel altogether for the more familiar gravy, I refrained, and I’m glad – bechamel filling is where it’s at. you can easily swap in or out meat & veggies – add peas, root veggies, or beans, remove potatoes, use beef instead of chicken – whatever. and if you have leftover filling, i’m sure there are plenty of ways to use it up.

as an FYI, the pie crusts can be refrigerated for a few days (or frozen), so it’s never a bad idea to double the crust recipe. if you’re making this to freeze, do everything except bake it, and wrap it in plastic wrap and tin foil. i’ve heard some say not to include potatoes in a frozen pie, but it should be fine as long as you use the smaller versions that arent as waxy.

printable version

pie crusts
2 1/2 c all purpose flour
1 1/4 t kosher salt
2 sticks butter, cut into 1/2″ pieces and chilled
4 T shortening, cut into 1/2″ pieces and chilled*
~5 T water

1 c red-skinned potatoes, medium dice
1 1/2 c winter squash, medium dice
3 bay leaves
3 thyme sprigs
15 black peppercorns
1 T olive oil
1 c carrots, medium dice
1 small onion, medium dice
1/2 c celery, medium dice
2-3 c shredded cooked chicken (thighs or breasts)**

3 T unsalted butter
3 T all purpose flour
3 c milk
1 t kosher salt
black pepper, to taste
pinch of cayenne pepper
pinch of nutmeg

1 egg, beaten

pie crusts
combine flour and salt in mixer. add butter and shortening, and pulse constantly until butter and shortening pieces are about the size of a pea. drizzle 1 T water at a time into the bowl and pulse until mixture comes together, adding water by the tablespoon. if dough is dry and gritty, add more water. when dough comes together dump out onto a floured surface and knead a few times until mixture is uniform.

divide dough in half (one piece a little larger than the other), shape into a disk and refrigerate at least an hour. [remove from refrigerator about 5-10 minutes prior to rolling out.]

fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil. add bay leaves, thyme, peppercorns and potatoes and simmer over med-hi heat until just tender, 8-10 minutes. spread out on sheet pan to cool. repeat process with squash.

in a skillet, add olive oil and over med-hi heat, saute carrots, onion, and celery until tender. spread all veggies out on sheet pan to cool.

in a large pot (you can use the same one you cooked potatoes/squash in, to save dishwashing!), melt butter, and whisk in the flour for about 2-3 minutes ensuring it does not brown. whisk in the milk and lower the heat to a gentle simmer, whisking often, until the sauce has thickened and reduced to about 2 cups (30-40 minutes). strain the bechamel through a fine strainer into a spouted measuring cup. season with salt, pepper, cayenne and nutmeg.

putting it all together
while simmering the bechamel, preheat to 375 F, make sure one rack is at the bottom of the oven and the other in the middle. prepare pie. remove pie dough and let stand for 5-10 minutes to soften. then, roll out both pie crusts – roll one into 13-14″ round and the other to about 12″. place larger one in the bottom of a 9″ pie plate, and place the other back in the fridge on a sheet of parchment paper. trim away any excess dough that’s hanging over the rim of the pie plate (save it for mini pot pies, if you have leftover filling). refrigerate if bechamel isn’t ready, or if you need to finish it.

[finish the bechamel.] combine chicken and veggies in a large bowl. scatter mixture into the bottom of the pie plate to fill (you may have extra, which is great for the mini pot pies). moisten the rim of the pie with some of the beaten egg. remove top crust from the fridge and place over the filling and press the edges of the dough together to seal, trimming away any excess. using the rest of the beaten egg, brush the top of the pie, and cut a couple of small slits into the top to allow the pie to vent.

bake on the lower oven rack until the crust is golden brown, about 50 minutes. move to center rack during the final 10 minutes if not browning enough. transfer to cooling rack and let rest for 10 minutes. cut into 6 wedges and serve.

*i’m not sure why you’d want to, but you can omit shortening if it freaks you out. keller’s original crust didn’t call for it, but i adhere to the “pie crust has to have shortening” rule. I won’t lie – this crust is un-be-freakin-lievable.

**for cooked chicken, I poached it in water, thyme, bay leaves, and peppercorn, let it cool and then shredded it. i used about a pound and had plenty of leftover chicken, which is great for more pot pies or other cooked chicken dishes ;).

5 thoughts on “See ya, Swanson’s

  1. Caroline Shields says:

    I’ll have to try this recipe! Sounds delish.
    It’s true… there is a new baby boom among the late 20s/30-something crowd. But to quote Mean Girls,”I’m not a regular mom, I’m a cool mom.”

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