“Chicken” Pot Pie

I live!!! Were you wondering? The only difference is where I live. Can you guess where?

Yes, Mark and the cats and I have moved from one coast to the other. So I’ve been busy with THAT. I work remotely now (at the same job I had before), which is really cool. From my home office I have a view of the bay and San Francisco. I’ve started volunteering at not one but two wildlife hospitals, which I absolutely love, and I’ve been exploring a lot of the parks around here, usually in a rather fruitless search for wildlife, though I’m getting better at finding it. You can read – and SEE – more about my nature and wildlife adventures at my photo blog, which I’ve been a LITTLE better at updating than this one.

Now with food! The other day I went shopping at Trader Joe’s and decided to put together an easy pot pie for dinner, using TJ’s chicken-less strips, some frozen veggies, and TJ’s crescent roll dough (which I was pleased to find was vegan since they didn’t have any vegan pie crusts and I wasn’t feeling like making one). Well, Mark scarfed that dinner down and then tried to eat the half of my pie that I didn’t eat, although I said I was saving it for lunch the next day. Then we had friends over for dinner two days later that weekend for Mark’s birthday so I asked Mark what he wanted for his birthday dinner and he said, “MORE OF THOSE POT PIES!!!” So I doubled the recipe, swapped in fresh veggies for frozen, and made it again, and guess what else I did? I TOOK PICTURES SO I COULD DO A BLOG POST! Yeee-haw!!

This is a meal you can make as simple or as complicated as you have the time and patience for. You could make it entirely from convenience foods: store-bought vegan “chicken”, frozen veggies, and pie crust, or entirely from scratch: your own chicken-style seitan, all fresh veggies, and if you are a better person than I, a homemade crust. The pot pies I made for Mark’s birthday dinner were a hybrid. The quantities below make two 2-serving pot pies, although it’s easy to vary the size of the pot pies by choosing whatever baking dishes you have on hand. I made double this for Mark’s birthday dinner, which served four of us and left us with a couple extra pies for lunch the next day.

“Chicken” Pot Pie
adapted from Allrecipes.com

1/2 white or yellow onion, diced
3-4 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
3/4 cup green beans, trimmed and chopped
1/2 cup fresh or frozen peas
1-3 Yukon gold potatoes (depending on size), chopped
12 oz vegan “chicken” strips (or reconstituted Soy Curls, or chicken-style seitan), chopped into bite-sized pieces
1 3/4 cup vegan “chicken” broth
1/3 cup unsweetened, plain soy or almond milk
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp vegan margarine
leaves from a few springs fresh thyme, or about 1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp fresh or dried rosemary
black or white ground pepper, to taste
1 package vegan crescent roll dough (like Trader Joe’s brand)

I did a lot of the prep work for this the day before, chopping everything and storing it in the refrigerator. Here are the “chicken” strips and veggies, chopped:

I also pre-chopped the onions:

I used Trader Joe’s “chicken-less strips”. In fact, I think almost every single ingredient except the herbs (which I am amazingly growing) and the “chicken” broth came from Trader Joe’s. Trader Joe’s is the closest grocery store to our house, which is convenient because we are on an extremely strict budget these days.

Peas from Trader Joe’s!

The next day when I was ready to prepare the pot pies I did the following:

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

Put the celery, carrots, green beans, peas, and potatoes into a large pot and cover well with water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for about 20 minutes. Drain and set aside.

Put the olive oil and margarine in a Dutch oven over medium heat. When the margarine has melted, add the onions and saute for a few minutes, then add the garlic and saute until the onions are soft.

Add the thyme, rosemary, and pepper.

Incorporate the flour to make a thick roux. Cook for a minute or two to take the raw edge off the flour.

Start slowly adding the “chicken” broth, stirring thoroughly after each addition of 1/4 to 1/2 cup.

Stir in the soy or almond milk. Here is the gravy after all the broth and the milk have been added. Remove this pot from the heat.

Brown the “chicken” in a large skillet. This step may be optional for some types of “chicken” and is personal preference, but at least for the TJ’s “chicken-less” strips, I preferred to do this. Note, though, that I skipped it the first time I made these pot pies and I got no complaints from Mark. Or myself.

Stir the drained veggies and the “chicken” into the gravy.

Find some oven-safe dishes that are a good size to bake the pot pies. I like making individual pot pies, although most of the pictured dishes are a tad large for a single serving. Divide the pie contents between your dishes. Remember that for the dishes pictured here, I had doubled this recipe.

Pop open the crescent roll dough package and use the pieces to form a top crust over each dish. Use a knife to create a few vent holes in each crust.

Arrange the pot pies on a large baking sheet and bake for about 45 minutes. When I doubled the recipe and baked all these dishes at once, I found I had to bake them a little longer. You want the crusts to be golden brown – probably even a little darker than they are pictured here.

I served this with homemade bread (I’ve been baking more than I was in Virginia!) and a fresh tossed salad.

This has been the first post I’ve made in months, and the first picture-heavy recipe post I’ve made in FOREVER, so that’s probably all the pictures I’ll bombard you with, but as I mentioned before, I have been sharing a few of my nature and wildlife photos over at blog.renae.org, so if you are interested in following my quest to find wildlife in the Bay Area, check it out over there. And hopefully I will be back here soon with more food. My current kitchen is small and features a stupid glass-top stove I don’t get along with, but working from home has provided me a little more leisure for cooking as I no longer have a commute, and we have to be very frugal to live here, so I’ve been spending a fair amount of time in the kitchen. Mark’s been urging me to start posting here again, so perhaps this will be my comeback!

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Szechuan Soup

Wow…I made a draft of this post on May 12, and the only reason I didn’t publish it that night was I was too lazy to process the photo of the soup. Everything else was written. OK, in fairness to me, I have NOT been lazy; I’ve been very much the opposite of lazy. But I never found the time to deal with that one photo, which is ridiculous since I’ve processed hundreds of photos since then. If anything I’m even busier now than I was then, but I made the time to publish this now while tonight’s soup simmers. :)

So here’s my old post:
I feel like on those random times I actually manage to post a recipe here lately that it’s always soup. There are a few reasons for that:

  • I love soup.
  • I’ve had to eat alone most nights this year and making a huge pot of soup is an excellent way for me to have a lovely dinner and then a week of lunches.
  • I love soup.
  • I eat dinner ridiculously late year-round but as I have this weird thing about not eating dinner when it’s light out, my dinner hour just gets absurd in the spring and summer, so I like eating something lighter like soup.
  • I love soup.
  • Also since it’s spring, I usually go for a hike after work and usually eat something to tide me over for a while before doing so, so when I get home for dinner, I don’t want a large meal.
  • I love soup and shouldn’t have to explain myself.

As I’ve mentioned, we are moving to California in a couple of months, and it’s finally starting to feel real. I’ve started cleaning out the house of things that won’t move with us so I can donate them. I also need to start cleaning out the cupboards so I don’t have to either throw away food or move it across the country. Tonight’s soup used up all kinds of things from the fridge and the cupboard! Cans of baby corn and young jackfruit I don’t remember buying, the remainder of a cabbage that needed to be used up, a random hot pepper I found, a zucchini that was on its last legs, the rest of an open jar of tomato sauce. And bonus: it tastes awesome! And very spicy, just the way I like it!

Szechuan Soup

1 onion, cut into half-moons, then cut into quarter-moons
6-8 cloves of garlic, minced or pressed
1-2″ of garlic, peeled and grated
8 cups vegan “chicken” broth
12 oz tomato sauce
3 Tbsp soy sauce
3 Tbsp Chinese black vinegar
1/2 cup soy curls
1 small can young jackfruit in brine, drained and shredded
1/4 cabbage (green, Napa, or Savoy are all fine), cored and chopped
1 cup baby corn, chopped
1 zucchini, chopped
1 medium orange hot pepper, sliced
Szechuan pepper, to taste

Heat some oil in a large Dutch oven, then add the onions and sauté for a few minutes. Add the garlic and ginger and cook for another minute, then add the broth, tomato sauce, soy sauce, and vinegar. Bring to a boil, then add the soy curls, jackfruit, baby corn, zucchini, and pepper. Reduce heat and simmer for an hour or until everything is cooked. Add the Szechuan pepper to taste.

I am nearly finished the Virginia Master Naturalist training. We had our last field trip this Saturday at Huntley Meadows; we learned about birds on the first leg and herps on the second. We saw a lot of cool stuff, including this green heron:

And LOTS of frogs; this is a green frog:

Also lots of turtles. This is a totally adorable baby snapping turtle, probably born in September of last year. He’s smaller than a silver dollar and SUPER CUTE.

Here’s a different baby snapping turtle with some chapstick as a size reference:

And here’s a sign of spring: red-winged blackbirds mating:

Back to the present: I just got back from California; if you want to see some pictures from there, tune into blog.renae.org; I’ll be adding a couple every day this week.

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Black-eyed Pea and Barley Soup

I’m not going to be all conventional and apologize for not posting. LIFE IS BUSY. Sometimes overwhelmingly so. Anyway, here is a soup I’ve been making all year that I never get tired of. I’ve been making huge pots of it even when Mark is out of town (I’ve seen very little of him this year, sadly) because like most soups, it just gets better and better sitting in the fridge all week, and it’s pretty versatile, it’s hearty enough to be an entire meal, and I’m perfectly happy having it for lunch every day of the week. Which is especially good when Mark’s not around because I don’t always get around to making myself some fancy dinner, which means I don’t always have leftovers, and leftovers are what I have for lunch 95% of the time, so it’s been important to have a backup plan for lunch.

Another great thing about this soup is you can make it as my recipe states and it’s delicious as is, but then you can spice it up at the table, so if you have some diners that don’t like spice, they don’t need to add anything, while heat-lovers can add as much Tabasco and/or fresh-sliced jalapenos – both of which are great additions – as they like. Like almost every food I eat, I prefer it with fresh lemon juice squeezed over it, but again, you can control how much by doing that at the table. It’s also good with tomatoes in it: one thing you can do is make it as is and eat it like that a day or two, then add a can of diced tomatoes to it and serve a more tomatoey version of it the next day to change things up. You can also add greens, or maybe okra to make it gumbo-y – as I said, it’s very simple and therefore versatile.

And ANOTHER great thing about it is you don’t need to pre-soak black-eyed peas, so no need to plan ahead with this soup like you do most dried beans. It’s ready to eat in just over an hour, very little of which is hands-on time. It would also freeze well, although I’ve never done so.

Black-eyed Pea and Barley Soup
1 onion, chopped
2 large carrots, chopped
2-3 stalks celery, chopped
6 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1 1/2 cups dried black-eyed peas
3/4 cup pearled barley
1/3 cup bulgur
10 cups vegan “chicken” broth
2 packets Goya ham flavor concentrate (it’s vegan, but it bothers you, sub some liquid smoke)
2-3 bay leaves
1/2 tsp thyme

Heat some oil in a large Dutch oven over medium heat, then saute the onions, carrots, and celery until the onions begin to brown. Add the garlic and saute another minute or two. If necessary, deglaze the pot using white wine or some of the broth. Add the rest of the ingredients, bring to a boil, then turn the heat back and simmer for an hour or until the beans and barley are soft. Remove the bay leaves.

In other news, sigh. I don’t even know where to start. Life is great, but there is a LOT of it! I’ve been taking pictures, of course, but instead of bombarding you yet again with a ton of photos, how about I direct you to my new portfolio site! Yes, after being hassled for years by Mark to create a portfolio, I finally did it. You can see it at renae.org. (Yes, between ieatfood.net and renae.org, I am very proud of my domain-buying skills :) ). I also set up a photo blog that’s linked to from the portfolio; feel free to follow it if you miss me because I tend to do much shorter posts and therefore am there a little more frequently, though obviously I’ll be posting pictures and not recipes. Not that I seem to post many recipes here lately…

In addition to raccoons …

… and raptors …

… I’m going through the Virginia Master Naturalist program, which is great, but it’s yet another thing taking up my time. AND IT’S FINALLY SPRING!!! Which means I HAVE TO GO OUTSIDE ALL THE TIME. Especially right now because the bluebells are blooming!! I’ve got a few pics of them on the photo blog, but here I am reveling in their beauty Sunday morning:

I’m STILL keeping up with my Photo365 “one year of portraits” project – almost six months in! – hence the photo above. And others like this one in Shenandoah National Park last weekend:

And to hell with it, I’m just going to be ridiculously vain and share this picture I took of myself because I HATE pictures of myself, or rather I used to, so I have a hard time believing I can look so non-terrible in a photo. I must be an awesome photographer – I wish I actually looked like this picture, haha. But my self-indulgent Photo365 project has at least made me far more comfortable in front of the camera than I used to be!

That’s it for today. Farmers’ market season is rapidly approaching so hopefully I will be inspired to make a few more food posts in the upcoming weeks, although: LIFE. Baby raccoons, raptor chicks, naturalist projects and field trips, MOVING, UGH UGH UGH! I do intend to do my “vegan on safari” post here soonish, in tandem with a “gear to take on safari” post on the photo blog, so I’ll hopefully be back in this space soon!

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