I love to read. Much of the time, I prefer reading over watching TV. I’m quite happy to spend hours with a book in my lap, a cup of coffee at my side. Sometimes I’ll match what I’m drinking (and perhaps eating) with the book I’m reading. It helps me more deeply immerse myself in the story, imagining I’m living inside it. It’s all part of the activation of the brain, really.
In his excellent book, Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television, Gerald Mander discussed the difference between reading and watching TV. Reading activates your brain because you create so much of the look and feel of the story for yourself. Television is a passive activity that numbs your mind – hence, the term couch potato.
So, anyway, I like to read and, like many avid readers, I have my favorite authors. One of those is Stephen King. I’ve been reading his works since I first came across them in late high school. I guess I’m old enough now, and it’s far enough behind me, that I can finally admit that one place I discovered his short stories was in men’s magazines my friends had stolen from the stashes of older brothers or dads. Obviously, the primary objective was to see the pictures. But sooner or later, you’re going to start reading the thing. And ladies, please don’t be angry that boys learn more about anatomy from the likes of Playboy and Penthouse than they do in school. That’s just one more reason to spend a little more money on our children’s education. WAY off the subject, and I do apologize, on several levels.
OK. Stephen King. Love him – except I’ll agree with his own assessment that sometimes the endings of his novels sort of suck. They’re still extremely entertaining and I’ve read dozens of them numerous times each. The Dark Tower series, which comprises seven volumes, is his magnum opus. Not only is it a grandiose tale, it also connects to many of King’s other novels, including lots of his best, most successful works. The story is set in Mid-World (the center of all the various existences), and the lead character is The Gunslinger, Roland Deschain of Gilead, son of Steven, of the line of Eld. In Mid-World, gunslingers are the peacekeepers, the protectors… the Good Guys. And Roland is the last of them, on a quest to save not only is own world, but all worlds.
For me, one of the interesting things about the Dark Tower series is how Mid-World intersects with our world, both the contrasts and the similarities. For example: sandwiches. (See? I got here. Eventually. And hopefully it’s starting to make sense! On we go.) In our world, the general term for stuff between two slices of bread or some alternative is “sandwich.” In Mid-World, the term is “popkin,” and they’re always sealed, then baked. In truth, popkin is an old Southern term for sandwich – as in peanut butter, banana and bacon pokpin, Elvis’ favorite. And that just makes it cooler in my book.
I really liked the popkin as Roland described them, and I wanted to recreate them without too much fuss. A quick google brought up dozens of pages that all have two or three basic recipes done with Pillsbury® biscuits or crescent rolls. I’m pretty sure you could use any bread product they make, even their pre-made pie crusts. You could make your own biscuits from scratch, but we’ll get to all of that later.
There are a few different names people use for these things – turnovers, pockets, cowboy pockets, and maybe a few others here and there. Since, for me me, this all started with King’s hero/anti-hero and his popkins, I really had to use that name – and hope that Mr. King doesn’t sue me, but takes it as a compliment as it is intended.
There are several ideas for filling, and we’ll get to those later, too. But you know me; I had to come up with a few ways of my own. I’m going to show you my own first creation, and then offer a lot of variations for fillings. And it’s going to be a ton of fun. Are you about ready play in the kitchen? Let’s go!
1 lb. ground beef
1 medium to large onion
1 cup diced carrots
8 oz. mushrooms
Crushed or minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
1 teaspoon dried tarragon
1/3 cup half and half or milk
2 tablespoons Wondra® flour
1 can Pillsbury Grands biscuits
Preheat oven to 375°.
Read the instructions, then get everything together, including all your tools and such, and all your ingredients.
Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper, then spray the paper with cooking spray.
Chop your onion into a medium dice. The size of your onion is a personal thing. I like a lot so I use a larger onion; you might prefer less and use a medium. Same with the mushrooms. I use the whole package. I buy them pre-sliced, by the way.
Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. When it’s hot, add a few tablespoons of olive oil and heat until it shimmers.
Add garlic to skillet and saute for about a minute.
Add onions and cook about four minutes, until they’re soft and translucent but not browned.
Add mushrooms and cook just until the begin to release their juices.
Season with a little salt and a generous portion of pepper. Remove with slotted spoon and set aside.
Add ground beef to skillet and saute until thoroughly browned.
While the meat is browning, open the biscuits and, using a rolling pin or your hands, press the biscuits out to a circle 7 to 7-1/2 inches in diameter. Other recipes call for a 6 inch circle. There’s a reason mine are larger.Lay them out on the lined cookie sheet so they’re ready for your filing.
Once the meat is browned, add a little salt and a decent amount of pepper. Then add mustard and tarragon. thoroughly stir spices into ground beef, then let it all sizzle for a minute or two so the spices all get to know the ground beef really well and get happy.
Return onions and mushrooms to pan. Let them get to know the beef and the spices for a few minutes and they’ll be all happy, too.
In a small jar or other container with a tight lid, add flour to half and half. Seal tightly and shake like nobody’s business. Shake it like Homer shakes Bart. When they’re thoroughly blended – and I do mean thoroughly – add to skillet, stirring constantly. Immediately reduce heat to low while continuing to stir. You can stop stirring like a mad man when it barely bubbles in a nice, happy simmer. From there it should only take a few minutes for the gravy to thicken. But you want it tight, not runny.
Taste test, adjusting salt, pepper and other seasonings to suit your taste. By the way, if you want to add just a touch of heat, add in some paprika – sweet or hot is your choice.
Spoon about a half a cup of filling slightly to one side of the center of each disc of dough. Fold the empty side over the top and line up the edges of the two sides., with the bottom sticking out about 1/2 inch. Fold the bottom lip back over the top, then pinch to seal. Sprinkle some sesame seeds over the top along with a little tarragon.
Congratulations. You now have popkins, ready to pop into the oven. Almost. First, (or last, depending on how you look at it; not important; never mind), cut a pair of tiny slits in the top of each popkin.
Bake at 375° for 10-12 minutes, or until nicely browned. Let stand for about five minutes before serving with the sides and condiments of your choice.
There are many ways to vary this recipe at almost every step. Let’s take a look at each one.
First, the biscuits. Most recipes, including this one, call for the larger Grands size, and they fold them over. However, for heartier appetites, especially at dinner, you could put a cup of filling in the center of one pressed biscuit and put another one on top. if you do, press half of your biscuits out to 7 inch diameter, and the other half to just six inches. You now have an automatic 1 inch lip to fold over all the way around. You’re welcome.
Beyond biscuits, you can use crescent rolls. When you unroll them, keep two together, and wrap as you would the biscuits, except as a square or triangle. Pizza dough can be rolled out and cut into large squares to fold into triangles. You could even go toward a fancier extreme by using puff pastry or phyllo dough.
Another variation – although it’s not longer a popkin – is to put the flattened biscuits into a muffin tin. Just press the enter into the bottom and work your way up the sides. If your biscuits are large enough to have more left at the top, fold it over and make it look good.
Now let’s talk fillings. As I said, the recipe above is the first filling I did. It’s sort of half Shepherd’s Pie, half Stroganoff, but without the sour cream – which, by the way, would be a near-automatic condiment with this. Beyond that, the sky is the limit. Anything you would put in a hot sandwich; anything you would put in a calzone; anything you would put in a savory pie (pot pie, Shepherd’s pie); anything you would put in a taco, including eggs and breakfast meat.
The variations you see most often on the web are 1) Sloppy Joe, with or without shredded cheese; 2) ham and cheese (usually Swiss); 3) pizza style with pepperoni and cheese along with other ingredients that vary a bit from here to there. Beyond that, however, lies an entire galaxy of choices:
Taco Style – Beef, pork or chicken – you choose, along with almost any topping, save lettuce or cabbage. For example, try my Sonoran-style Shredded Beef, or Pork Chile Verde.
Chicken Pot Pie – Saute carrots and onions with a touch of garlic. Add leftover shredded or diced chicken, along with a touch of salt, and a bit of sage. Make your gravy as above.
Leftover Whatever – You could do something similar to pot pie with leftover stew by cutting larger pieces down to size. Any leftover meat is a candidate, along with other leftovers from the previous meal, or with new ingredients added. The one key is that your filling not be too runny.
Breakfast – Scrambled eggs, or fried eggs over easy combined with bacon, sausage or ham. Maybe add some onions and/or mushrooms. Serve with white or sausage gravy, or substitute Hollandaise sauce for gravy.
Meatballs – Need I say more? OK, add some cheese. Now we’re done.
Deconstruction Zone – It’s also possible to deconstruct my original recipe and some of the others. For instance, if you hold off on the gravy, you could make it after the popkins come out of the oven and pour it over the top. You cold even hold the onions and mushrooms aside and do them on top, as well, either first, then gravy, or mix the two together. In either instance, you could use sour cream instead of the flour and half and half, go all the way to Stroganoff territory.
Cheese – Any cheese you like is an excellent choice for filling and/or topping. For softer cheeses, try putting them in the freezer for fifteen to twenty minutes before grating them.
Condiments will depend on filling, but feel free to make sure you have lots of choices on the table. There are a few things you can add to the sides, such as pickle slices, tomatoes, cucumbers, field greens, that will really enhance your popkin. Cast a wide net and see what you catch.
As you can see, this whole popkin thing can be a lot of fun, huh? It’s the kind of thing that can happen almost spontaneously if you…
Play with your food!
I have more Sandwich Recipes here.
Did you like this recipe? What recipes would you like to learn? Leave me a comment and tell me your thoughts! (And don’t forget to LIKE this post!) Share it using the tiles below.
Fabulous recipe, Lane! I also have a King inspired recipe. I made “Lobster Pickin’s” from 11-22-63. 🙂 Beer battered chunks of lobster. Mmmmmmm!!!
Excellent idea!! I’m going to have to try that. Thanks for the tip!