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Pleasing Pot Pies

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  • Jamie Rahm
    Pleasing pot pies Pastry, filling take effort, but the taste is worth it By SARAH FRITSCHNER, Louisville Courier-Journal Food Editor Sept. 22, 1999 Browned
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 1, 2001
      Pleasing pot pies
      Pastry, filling take effort, but the taste is worth it

      By SARAH FRITSCHNER, Louisville Courier-Journal Food Editor
      Sept. 22, 1999

      Browned beef and vegetables find a savory home in a cream-cheese
      pastry. Photo by Pam Spaulding; styling by Alice Colombo

      Only two things discourage us from making pot pies for dinner: crust
      and filling. Unfortunately, those are the same two things that make
      potpies so wonderful to eat.

      For many of us, making crust seems like an engineering feat.
      Cookbooks warn us to "handle the dough lightly," to "measure
      carefully" because too much flour makes a tough dough and too much
      liquid makes a soggy one. We also are told to "bake a crust blind" so
      it doesn't come out sodden.

      That's certainly no invitation to bake potpies for dinner.

      The fillings, often variations on stews, are easy to make but can
      take a long time to cook.

      And that's too bad, because long-simmered fillings of toothsome
      browned beef bolstered by vegetables and tucked inside a savory
      cream-cheese pastry is some of the best eating you can imagine. Pies
      reputed to serve eight often serve fewer than that as everyone takes
      a second hit because it has been so long since they had the "real"
      taste of homemade, slow-cooked food.

      Pleasing your company isn't difficult if you take advantage of
      pauses. Make pie pastry ahead -- it can be frozen for weeks and
      refrigerated two days. Beef and chicken stews can be made ahead and
      refrigerated. Or you can brown the meat one day, cook the vegetables
      another day, simmer the stew a third.

      Is pastry crust difficult?

      Pie pastry gets easier with practice. All the admonitions given in
      recipe directions translate to: "The more you do this, the less
      intimidating it is."

      Choose beef chuck or shank meat for beef potpies and stews. These
      cuts have connective tissue that "melts" during slow, moist heating,
      enriching the gravy and making the meat unbelievably tender. In the
      same way, dark-meat chicken holds up best in these conditions.

      Kathleen Castro's cream-cheese pastry

      Kathleen Castro of Louisville is at home now with three children, but
      she bakes often, recalling her pastry-chef days of yore. This is her
      recipe for cream-cheese pastry, which is great with beef pot pie and
      other pies.

      1 cup butter
      6 ounces cream cheese
      2 cups all-purpose flour
      1/2 teaspoon salt

      Soften butter and cream cheese. Beat the butter, then add cream
      cheese and beat until blended. Then on low speed add flour and salt
      until evenly blended.

      Press the dough into 2 balls and chill 30 minutes. On a lightly
      floured countertop, roll 1 ball into a 12-inch circle, or to fit a
      10-inch deep-dish pie pan. Roll the other circle for the top (it will
      be a little thicker).

      Makes pastry for 1 2-crust pie.

      Beef pot pie

      1/4 cup flour
      1/2 teaspoon salt
      1/2 teaspoon (freshly ground) black pepper
      2 pounds (or so) pounds beef chuck, cut in 1-inch (or so) cubes
      2 tablespoons vegetable oil
      1/2 pound sliced mushrooms
      1 large onion, diced
      2 carrots
      1 rib celery
      1 1/2 to 2 cups beef broth
      1 teaspoon dried thyme
      1 bay leaf
      Pastry for 2-crust pie
      1/4 cup minced fresh parsley

      Combine flour, salt and pepper in a wide bowl. Dry the beef with
      paper or cloth towels, and add the cubes to the flour mixture. Toss
      the beef cubes to coat them.

      Heat a Dutch oven or wide, deep pot over medium-high heat for about 1
      minute. Add vegetable oil and about 1/2 of the beef cubes. Cook,
      stirring occasionally, until they are well-browned on all sides, 5 to
      7 minutes. Remove from the pan and repeat with the remaining beef. If
      the bottom of the pan is somewhat dry, add a little bit more
      vegetable oil. Turn the heat to medium so the solids sticking to the
      bottom of the pan don't burn. They will flavor the sauce later.

      Add sliced mushrooms and diced onion to the pan. Cook, stirring
      occasionally, over medium heat for 5 minutes, until vegetables have

      Meanwhile, peel and chop carrots small. Chop celery. Add to pot along
      with beef, broth, thyme and bay leaf. Stir to loosen everything
      sticking to the bottom of the pot. Bring to a boil, cover and reduce
      heat to low. Simmer 1 hour. (Cool and chill overnight at this point,
      if desired.) Remove bay leaf.

      Heat oven to 450 degrees fahrenheit. Put rack on the lowest shelf.

      Roll half the pastry to fit the bottom of a 9- or 10-inch deep-dish
      pie plate. (This is a generous amount of pastry, but somewhat
      thicker-than-normal crust is OK.) Add beef mixture, sprinkle with
      parsley, then quickly roll and apply top crust. Cut slits in the
      crust to allow steam to escape. Put the pie on the bottom shelf of
      the oven and bake 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 375 and cook 40 minutes
      more, or until pastry has begun to brown and is cooked through.

      Serves 6.

      Quick chicken pot pie


      1 1/4 cups flour
      1/2 teaspoon salt
      4 tablespoons chilled butter
      3 tablespoons chilled vegetable shortening
      4 to 5 tablespoons ice-cold water


      1 14- to 16-ounce can chicken broth
      1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken (thighs and/or breasts)
      1 medium onion
      2 carrots
      2 tablespoons vegetable oil
      4 tablespoons butter
      1/2 cup flour
      1 cup green peas
      Salt and pepper
      1/2 teaspoon thyme

      For pastry, combine flour and salt in a medium bowl and stir to
      combine. Add butter and vegetable shortening and use 2 knives or a
      pastry blender to cut the fat into the flour until the mixture
      resembles coarse meal. Sprinkle with 4 tablespoons of water. Stir the
      mixture together with a fork until the mixture will hold together
      when you press some in your hand. Shape the dough into a ball, and
      then flatten into a disc about 1-inch thick. Wrap in plastic and
      refrigerate 30 minutes.

      Meanwhile, bring chicken broth to boil in a large pot. Add chicken,
      reduce heat to simmer and cook chicken 10 minutes. Remove from heat
      and set aside.

      Peel and dice onion and carrots. Heat vegetable oil in a deep 10-inch
      skillet set over medium heat. Add onion and carrots and cook,
      stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes, until the vegetables have

      Chop chicken into small pieces and place in a bowl with the onion and
      carrots. Melt butter in the skillet over low heat. Add flour and stir
      to combine completely. Add chicken broth slowly, whisking or stirring
      to prevent lumping.

      Increase heat to medium and add chicken, cooked vegetables, peas,
      salt, pepper and thyme and bring to a boil. Remove from heat.

      Heat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

      Roll dough about 11 inches in diameter. Trim into a neat circle that
      leaves about 1/2 inch of space between the edge of the crust and the
      rim of the pan. Place the dough on top of chicken mixture and bake
      for 30 minutes, or until the crust is browned and the filling is

      Serves 6 to 8.
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