american pie

When I lived in France, people would often ask me what Americans eat.  Simple enough.  And yet, I never could seem to answer the question.  “You know, food,” I would reply unsatisfactorily.  Or else I would launch into the “melting pot” explanation and explain that American cuisine is really a hodge-podge of dishes that we stole from other cultures.  I would then would say something lame about Chinese take-out, and by then the questioning party would have lost interest and drifted away to munch on a baguette (perhaps w/ some Camembert) and thank Dieu that he or she had been born French.

I am pleased to say, however, that I have discovered a dish so quintisentially American that no one else would even think to claim it, yet they’ll long to taste it.  Two words: cheeseburger pie.  Pie is the American dessert.  A cheeseburger is the hearty (and, as foreigners sneeringly point out, fatty) American meal.  On a scale of 1 to George Washington, this ranks up there w/ baseball, quilts, jazz, rugged individualism, Starbucks, Mormons, SUV’s, guns, and an overblown sense of entitlement.  I first had this when I was visiting Heather’s grandparents on their farm in an obscure little town next to the better-known Hermann, in an area famous for its vineyards.  The farm is vast and endlessly interesting, though not w/o its dangers.  Drunken guests have been known to lose their heads while wading in the Missouri River.  Less fatally, mosquitoes and chiggers abound, and it is also worth noting that the local bovine population is not always welcoming to outsiders.  It is frighteningly bad for you, I’m sure.  The version I’m going to give here is my own innovation (another American trait) and is not nearly as bad as it could be.  This takes somewhat away from its trashy allure, but I would still encourage accompanying it w/ a bottle of not-too-expensive beer, perhaps over some reruns of Roseanne or Married…with Children.

Ingredients: 1-1.25 lbs. frozen meat or meat substitute (I used Morningstar), 1 c. beef broth, pat of butter, 1 onion, 1 large, mild green chile, 1/4 chopped parsley, 1 bag shredded organic chedder or monterey jack cheese, 2-3 eggs, 1/2 c. Bisquick, scant 1 to 3/4 c. milk, salt and pepper for seasoning.

It’s marvelously simple: If you are using real meat, you need to simmer it in the beef broth until it is cooked through.  This will take about 15 min.  If you’re using a substitute, it won’t take nearly as long to thaw it.  Either way, be sure to drain the meat REALLY WELL.  Meanwhile, melt the butter in a small skillet.  Slice the onion roughly and toss it in, allowing it to saute for 3-4 min.  Add the onion to the drained meat, stir, then add the chile and the parsley.  Season.  Allow to cook while you prepare the rest.  Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Combine the milk and Bisquick in a bowl; whisk together, adding eggs one at a time (only use 3 eggs if they are small).  If using real meat, you will want to use slightly more milk; the meat substitute is much more moist, and will add more of its own fluid while cooking.

When the meat is ready, heap it into a pie dish.  Cover it with a generous layer of the cheese.  Pour the egg mixture slowly over it, starting in the center and working outwards in a spiral pattern, to ensure maximum coverage.  Allow the “pie” to bake for about 25 min.  It can be served immediately.

If you don’t use real meat, my advice is to not tell anyone (unless they’re vegetarians).  It just raises unecessary questions.  Also, it’s sort of fun to see if people can tell the difference.  And who knows, you might help them overcome their prejudices by trying something new (also, I think, endearingly in the spirit of the U.S.A.).  I made this for my family, who enjoyed it, though the crust was a bit soggier than I would have liked (which is why I’m reducing the quantity of milk).

Anyway, there’s a tempest outside complete w/ fancy lightning and thunder effects.  Everything is washing off like watercolors, leaving surfaces slick and shiny.  I had better go batten down the hatches, and maybe find some candles before we lose power….

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