Disclaimer: this isn’t a recipe. It is, however, a very retro dinner.
Mike and I are both really drawn to retro and vintage styles and items. We love the aesthetics from the 1950s & 1960s – Mike loves cocktails and mod and anything atomic in particular, and I can usually be found in full-skirted dresses with a pocketbook and bright lipstick. (Mike hasn’t seen Mad Men yet, but I’m looking forward to watching it with him just so I can see him get all swoony over the clothes and furniture.) Additionally, we’re both defined in a lot of ways by the pop culture of our respective childhoods, adolescences, and young adulthoods. We’re both very nostalgic people, by and large, and really prone to reminiscing and “Do you remember…”. We’re your basic Gen-X cliché, is what I’m saying.
I have an abiding fondness for vintage cookbooks, even if they are loaded with pictures of dead animal parts. I assumed I’d turn to one from my collection to find a recipe to veganize, but then I had a flash of inspiration.
TV dinners! Mike and I both grew up eating these staples of midcentury Americana, and while we don’t miss them as such, we both have fond memories of them. I liked the Salisbury steak and loved the terrible fish & chips (as well as the fish with mac & cheese), but my absolute favorites were the Mexican-style dinners – questionable enchiladas with totally inauthentic rice and beans… even though they didn’t come with dessert. Mike also loved the Salisbury steak, as well as the turkey and the chicken parmesan (I don’t remember that one!).
So Salisbury steak it was! I don’t know what it was about that weirdly-textured meat and iffy gravy, but we both loved it as kids. (I think it helped that sometimes it came with a brownie.)
I thought about creating a vegan Salisbury steak from scratch (and I might still try that someday), but TV dinners were/are about convenience and speed, not craft or quality. Cedar Lake makes these great canned seitan “chops” that I bought on a whim several years ago and really loved; we like to keep a can in the pantry for last-minute dinners. We knew the texture of these would be pretty spot-on for Salisbury steak.
I put the chops in a casserole dish and smothered them in Julie Hasson’s Rich Brown Gravy from Vegan Diner (just as delicious and addictive as she claims, by the way), and then baked them at 300F for about 30 minutes.
I know that the potatoes should have been peeled and whipped to a fluffy, unpotatolike consistency, or at least potato buds from a box, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do either of those things. So I made my usual mashed potatoes, skins and all – authenticity be damned! The corn came from the freezer, though. And though we usually do not butter our potatoes or other vegetables, TV dinner always have those little pats of butter.
(It was very weird serving a dinner that had no green or red vegetables, only corn and potatoes. That pretty much never happens here.)
I’ve been a sugar lover from, I don’t know, birth? Naturally, my favorite part of TV dinners was always dessert. Even though it was almost always some terrible brownie that was somehow simultaneously burned (at the edges) and undercooked (in the middle). As a kid, I felt totally cheated when my TV dinner had those stewed apple slices instead of proper dessert, so of course I had to make a dessert for our TV dinner recreation. I tried this recipe for mug brownies, and they were perfect, even if they came out of the mug in a messy heap!
And Mike spotted a 4-pack of this “vintage” throwback Dr. Pepper and grabbed it, thinking it’d be perfect for this meal – and he was right. We generally don’t drink much soda, much less soda with dinner (unless it has whiskey in it…), but it was too perfect to resist.