6 Sophisticated Versions of Classic Frozen Dinners

Former U.S. President Ronald Reagan designated today’s date, March 6, National Frozen Food Day, NPR reports. At one point or another in your childhood, it’s likely that you sat down to eat a microwaved meal out of one of these famously compartmentalized trays. Although the meals have seen some improvements over the years, they’re best known for offering soggy, somewhat lackluster versions of comfort food favorites.

Now that you’re grown up and savvy enough to follow a recipe, you can try recreating these dishes at home in a more sophisticated way. These 6 recipes offer tantalizing and classy versions of your old-school frozen favorites.

Source: Thinkstock

1. Classic Meatloaf

If you’re looking to indulge your nostalgic side, nothing harkens back to mom’s cooking like meatloaf. Food52 offers a wonderful adaptation of the dish, loading a ground beef and pork base with a hearty medley of celery, carrots, onions, mushrooms, and more. After taking a peek at Swanson’s vintage Meatloaf TV dinner packaging, as shared by the Miami New Times, we think you’ll agree that Food52 does Classic Meatloaf best.

Ingredients:

  • Olive oil, for coating baking pan and sautéing
  • stalks celery
  • medium carrot
  • ½ small onion
  • ½ cup flat-leaf parsley, with large stems removed
  • small bell or Cubanelle pepper, diced
  • mushrooms, cleaned with tough part of stems removed
  • pound 80% ground beef
  • 1 pound ground pork
  • 1¼ cups fresh bread crumbs
  • large eggs lightly beaten
  • small tomato (about 4 ounces), cored and puréed in blender
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • splash Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tablespoons heavy cream (optional)
  • Ketchup to slather on top of loaf

Directions: Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit and lightly oil a rectangular baking dish or loaf pan. Cut celery, carrot, and onion into large chunks; add them to food processor along with the parsley. Process until the vegetables are ground.

Dice the pepper and mushrooms and sauté them in a small amount of olive oil until the pepper softens.

To a large mixing bowl, add the meat, ground vegetables, sautéed pepper and mushrooms, bread crumbs, egg, puréed tomato, salt and pepper, Worcestershire, and cream (if using). Mix with spoon or hands until combined. To check the seasoning, fry off a small test patty, taste, and adjust accordingly. Plop the meat into the oiled baking pan and shape into a loaf. Cover with ketchup.

Bake for 1 hour, remove from oven, and let sit for 15 minutes before slicing. If there are any leftovers, make sandwiches. Enjoy!

Source: iStock

2. Salisbury Steak

Countless Americans got their first taste of Salisbury steak from the ever-popular TV dinner version of the dish. By Merriam-Webster’s definition of Salisbury steak, this ground beef-based offering is somewhat close in kind to a meatloaf but generally served in a thick, savory gravy. Girl Versus Dough shares her favorite Salisbury Steak recipe on Tablespoon. It takes about 35 minutes to make and yields 4 servings.

Ingredients:

  • ½ white onion, sliced
  • 8 ounces sliced mushrooms

For the steak

  • 1 pound ground beef
  • ⅓ cup Italian breadcrumbs
  • 1½ teaspoons dry ground mustard
  • 1 cube beef bouillon
  • 2 teaspoons ketchup
  • ½ teaspoon balsamic vinegar
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 2 tablespoons butter

For the gravy

  • 2 cups beef broth or stock
  • 2 teaspoons ketchup
  • ½ teaspoon balsamic vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch

DirectionsCombine sliced onion and mushrooms in a medium bowl.

In a large bowl, stir together the ground beef, breadcrumbs, ground mustard, beef bouillon, ketchup, balsamic vinegar, and salt and pepper to taste until well combined. Form mixture into 4 oblong, flattened patties.

Heat a large (preferably cast-iron) skillet over medium-high heat. Add butter to melt. Add patties and cook 10 to 15 minutes, flipping occasionally, until no longer pink in the center. Transfer patties to a plate; drain excess grease from skillet.

Reduce heat to medium. Add onion-mushroom mixture and sauté 5 minutes until mixture is soft and onions are golden brown. Add beef broth, ketchup, and balsamic vinegar; stir.

Whisk in cornstarch to thicken and reduce gravy. When gravy is fully thickened (about 5 minutes), return steaks to pan and spoon gravy over the tops. Cook another 2 to 3 minutes until steaks are warmed through. Serve immediately.

Source: iStock

3. Macaroni and Cheese

Frozen macaroni and cheese is somewhat pitiable when compared to the amazingly cheesy concoctions you can achieve in your own kitchen. This quintessential dish receives one such makeover in the form of Sage Recipes’s tantalizing Stovetop Mac and Cheese. If you really want to recapture the essence of the original, serve with these Balsamic-Glazed Carrots from Drool Worthy.

Ingredients:

  • 8 ounces uncooked elbow macaroni
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • ¼ cup all-purpose flour
  • ¼ teaspoon dry mustard
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 1 cup sharp cheddar cheese
  • ½ cup mozzarella cheese
  • ½ cup Parmesan cheese
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper

DirectionsBring a large pot of salted water to boil. Add in the elbow macaroni and cook for about 7 minutes, or until al dente. Drain the pasta and set aside.

In a large stock pot or Dutch oven, melt the butter over medium-low heat. Whisk in the flour and continue to whisk until the mixture looks lightly golden and has a nutty aroma, about 3 to 5 minutes. Whisk in the dry mustard.

Slowly whisk in the milk and continue to whisk until the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, about 3 minutes.

Whisk in the cheddar, mozzarella, and Parmesan cheese. Stir until the cheese has melted and the mixture is smooth.

Add in the cooked pasta and season with salt and pepper. Stir to combine and cook until the pasta is heated through. Serve immediately.

Source: Thinkstock

4. Fish ‘n’ Chips

Erase soggy, microwaved Fish ‘n’ Chips from your life forever with Mini Pie Kitchen’s delightful from-scratch version of the English classic. Irresistibly crispy beer-battered fish fillet combines with easy-to-make French fries for a dinnertime offering that all your friends and family will adore. Serve with blogger Leah Maroney’s homemade tartar sauce to complete the picture-perfect meal. The recipe takes 45 minutes to make and yields 4 servings.

Ingredients:

For the fish

  • 1 pound of white fish: haddock, pollock, or cod
  • 2 cups of flour
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 10 ounces dark beer
  • 4 to 5 cups vegetable oil

For the chips

  • 3 large Russet Potatoes
  • Salt

Directions: For the chips — Cut potatoes into thick, short strips.

Place the strips in cold water. Stir around and drain off the starchy water. Fill bowl with water again. Let the potatoes sit for at least 30 minutes.

Drain the potatoes and dry completely. Heat the oil to 300 degrees Fahrenheit and blanch the potatoes in batches; they should not be brown at this point. Drain potatoes on paper towel.

Raise the heat of the oil to 400 degrees Fahrenheit and fry the potatoes again, this time for about 3 minutes, until very crispy, and place on a paper towel to dry. Sprinkle with salt. You may keep hot in a 300-degree Fahrenheit oven.

For the fish — Cut the fish into strips. Mix 1 cup of flour with the onion powder and some salt and pepper. Mix the other cup of flour with salt and pepper and the beer. Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven.

Dip the fish into the dry flour first and coat. Then dip into the beer batter and coat completely. Fry the fish in the oil, dipping the fish first and then completely submerging. When golden on one side, flip over. It should take about 2 minutes per side. Drain the fish on a paper towel. Serve with tartar sauce and malt vinegar.

Source: iStock

5. Fried Chicken and Gravy

Sorry, Stouffer’s, but Spicy Southern Kitchen’s Nutty Fried Chicken With Smashed Sweet Potatoes and Milk Gravy blows your take on fried chicken out of the water. Blogger Christina Mahrlig breads chicken breasts with a mixture of crushed nuts and panko breadcrumbs, resulting in a mouthwateringly crispy exterior. Ladle some creamy homemade milk gravy over each cutlet for a taste of true Southern comfort. The recipe requires 2 hours to complete and yields 4 servings.

Ingredients:

  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 1½ cups buttermilk
  • 1½ cups panko crumbs
  • 1½ cups roasted and salted mixed nuts
  • 2 cups canola oil

Smashed sweet potatoes

  • 3 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 2-inch chunks
  • 1 tablespoon firmly packed brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon pure maple syrup
  • 4 tablespoons butter, cut into cubes
  • ⅓ cup heavy cream
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper

Milk gravy

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • ¼ cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper
  • ⅛ teaspoon cayenne pepper

DirectionsMarinate the chicken in the buttermilk for 1 to 2 hours. Skip below to proceed with sweet potatoes and gravy while the chicken marinates.

Use a food processor to grind the Panko crumbs and nuts until finely ground. Heat oil in a cast-iron skillet to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Remove chicken from buttermilk and coat in Panko/nut mixture.

Fry in oil until golden brown, about 4 to 5 minutes per side. Place chicken on paper towels to drain.

Heat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Combine sweet potatoes, brown sugar, maple syrup, and butter in a baking dish. Cover with foil and bake 1 to 1½ hours, until potatoes are tender.

Place potatoes in a large mixing bowl and reserve any liquid that is in baking dish. Using a mixer or fork, beat potatoes until smooth, adding reserved liquid as needed. Mix in cream, salt, and both peppers. Keep warm.

Make gravy – Melt butter over low heat in a heavy saucepan. Add flour and whisk into butter. Increase heat to medium and stir continuously for 2 minute; do not let it brown. Gradually mix in milk and add salt. Continue to cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes. Mixture should be thick enough to coat back of spoon. Season with more salt if desired.

Source: iStock

6. Chicken Pot Pie

Chicken Pot Pie has the final word in comfort food, and this variation from She Wears Many Hats is one of the coziest you’ll find. Chicken, potatoes, onion, carrots, mushrooms, and peas are smothered in a thick, creamily herbed chicken base, while a splash of cognac deepens the intensity of the pie’s flavors. Blogger Amy Johnson notes that the pie filling can be made ahead of time, topped with puff pastry, then baked to re-warm before serving. You can also save time by using rotisserie chicken meat.

Ingredients:

  • 6 tablespoons butter, salted or unsalted
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1½ pounds potatoes, peeled and cut into approximately 1-inch cubes
  • 1 pound (about 6 medium) carrots, cut into approximately 1-inch pieces
  • 10 to 12 ounces mushrooms, sliced
  • ½ cup cognac
  • 6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 1 cup milk
  • 5 cups chicken, cooked
  • 1 cup fresh or frozen green peas
  • 5 teaspoons dried parsley
  • 2½ teaspoons dried thyme
  • ½ teaspoon dried sage
  • 3 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 sheet frozen puff pasty, thawed
  • 1 egg yolk and 1 teaspoon water for egg wash
  • Extra salt and pepper, to taste

Directions: Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.

In a stock pot or Dutch oven, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Add onion, potatoes, carrots, mushrooms, and a few pinches of salt and pepper; cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 10 to 12 minutes.

Add cognac and combine. Stir in flour and cook for about 1 minute until combined well. Add chicken stock and milk. Combine well and bring to a simmer for about 2 minutes, stirring until mixture thickens. Add chicken, peas, parsley, thyme, sage, salt, and pepper, and combine well.

Transfer mixture to preferred serving vessel. If preparing ahead, let cool and refrigerate to re-heat later. When ready to bake, whisk together the egg yolk and 1 teaspoon of water.

Cut thawed puff pasty 1 inch larger in diameter than the chosen serving dish/vessel, and cut out a ½- to 1-inch hole in center for venting.

Center cut puff pastry over dish and crimp down around edge of dish to seal. Brush top of pastry with egg wash.

Bake in 425-degree Fahrenheit oven on baking sheet for 10 minutes, then cover lightly with aluminum foil and continue baking for another 20 to 25 minutes.

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