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Let’s Cook: A notable fall partner

By Chuck Repnow - | Sep 5, 2020

What kitchen fare champions your interest in autumn? As soon as the first cool air of fall rests on our doorstep, we think of deep-dish pies. Their flaky crusts embracing savory meats and a chorus of fresh garden vegetables brings forth a classically alluring meal.

Almost everything tastes better in a crust — such as beef wellington, fleischkuechle, and chicken pot pie. When I lived in Turners Falls, Massachusetts, a deep-rooted restaurant called the Shady Glen Diner made excellent chicken pot pie. You could always tell when they were serving it because the place was packed with pot pie enthusiasts.

Pie packing crusts also have an international admiration as I discovered two summer ago while traveling in Spain with the Heritage Singers. It was a moment of magic when on the menu I observed broccoli-cauliflower pie made with grated Swiss cheese and freshly grated Asiago cheese. I had the enjoyment of returning to this cafÈ again the next day only to discover the crusted pie was parsnips, carrots and peas served in a wheat germ pastry. What joy to pen these crusted delights into my culinary diary. If either one of them were to be composed as music, their smooth interplay of ingredients would be on par with the elegant glide from “The Swan” from Carnival of the Animals.

We have had in our home numerous discussions on the beauty of a flaky, yet tasty pie crust. Much to the dismay of Jan and Lydia, I continue to wander from my tried and true egg and vinegar recipe. It is only natural that sometimes I stroll down the inviting pie crust lane that is wide with cute pie shaped signs that say, “try me.” I would confess that I have found several recipes that are not worthy of a second chance, and then happiness occurs when I do find one that offers a concept that is deliciously different.

If we are to have an enjoyable pot pie, then we first must concern ourselves with making a respectable pie crust. To this day, I cannot make pie crust as good as my mother did. She did not adhere to the notion of not touching the dough, as she used her hands. She, however, always used a very chilled stainless bowl and her ratio of fat to flour always produced a flakey, delightful crust. I prefer to use a pastry blender, two knives, or a food processor.

Here are several hints that I have for making reputable pastry:

1. All materials should be as cold as possible. Water used in making pastry should be ice cold.

2. Too much flour and over handling of dough makes piecrust tough; remember that is fine if you plan to use it as floor tile.

3. Too much shortening makes pie crust dry and crumbly.

4. Measure all ingredients and follow directions carefully.

5. Mix flour and other dry ingredients and cut in the shortening, butter or lard which has been cut into small pieces with two knives, pastry blender or food processor. Cutting in the shortening very thoroughly gives a tender crust; cutting it in coarsely gives a flakey crust.

6. Sprinkle cold water or other mixtures over the flour shortening mixture slowly.

7. Gather the dough together in a ball and press together gently. If this happens with ease you have just created blue ribbon pie crust. Let dough rest. Wrap it and chill anywhere from 30 minutes to overnight to ensure a tender crust. After its initial rest, dough can be wrapped in an air-tight package and frozen for up to 3 months. To use take it out the night before and place in refrigerator and it will roll with ease.

8. You can add extra flavor to pastry dough by adding herbs, spices, well-ground nuts and even other flours to the dry ingredients. Spices such as dill and rosemary work well in pot pies.

With the melody of vegetables, chicken and sauce you merely need a salad with this main-course pie to complete a sit-down dinner that will be delicious. Dessert can be simple and light, such as thinly sliced oranges sprinkled lightly with powdered sugar and ushered into those cute sherbet glasses you have at the top of the cupboard. For an added flare and we all like them, get out some vintage stemware and serve something which cozies up to oranges nicely — that is Sangria.

Egg Pastry

My favorite tried and true recipe

3 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1/2 teaspoon of baking powder

1 cup of shortening (sometimes I use half butter)

1 egg at room temperature, beaten

1 1/2 teaspoons of vinegar

1/2 cup ice water plus 1 tablespoon

Combine flour, salt and baking powder; cut in shortening with knives or a pastry blender until mixture resembles coarse meal. Combine egg, vinegar, and ice water. Gradually add to dry ingredients; mix until dough holds its shape. Yield: pastry for 3 (9-inch) crusts.

Chicken Pie

3 cups diced, cooked chicken

1 cup sliced, cooked carrots

3/4 cup diced cooked celery including celery tops

12 cooked pearl onions

1 tablespoon chopped parsley

1 cup evaporated milk

1 cup of chicken broth

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon Lawry’s seasoned salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

Arrange chicken, carrots, celery, onions and parsley in layers in a 9 or 10-inch-deep pan pie plate which has been lightly greased. Combine milk and chicken broth. Add flour slowly blending well. Cook until thickened, stirring constantly. Pour over chicken and vegetables. Cover with pie crust. Bake at 350 degrees for about 40 minutes. If desired, you can brush the top of crust with an egg wash for a dark crust. Yield: 6 to 8 serving.

In my pie crust strolling, I picked this one up from my late Aunt Marge, and it is a good one.

Hot Water Pastry

1 cup shortening

1/2 cup boiling water

3 cups of all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon salt.

Mix half the boiling water in shortening. Work until creamy. Then add the flour, salt and the rest of the water until mixture leaves sides of bowl. Divide into four parts and roll. Yield: pastry for 2 (8-inch) double crust.

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