Pot Pies: Comfort Food under Coverby Diane Phillips
Now, at the
All of us grew up with pot pies--homemade if we were lucky, otherwise store-bought. Either way, we all remember breaking through that flaky, buttery crust to get at the steaming, creamy chicken or beef or vegetables inside. Pot pies are, in fact, the ultimate comfort food, conjuring up images of Mom in the kitchen and a milk-and-cookies kind of world.
Now, at the turn of the century, Diane Phillips brings pot pies back into our lives. And like us, they've grown up, developed a sophistication and a range of tastes and styles. But at the same time, they remain just as comforting, soothing, and satisfying as the ones we remember with so much affection.
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The Pot Pie Pantry
This pantry isn't very different from the one I recommend to my beginning cooking students. There are a few items you might not have in your pantry, such as phyllo and frozen puff pastry dough, but these can be lifesavers on a night when you really want to have some comfort food. If you have limited space, look at the items called for and decide which ones you will actually use. These will be your basics. Once you get started, you may want to add a few things you may not have tried before. After all, Mom always made you take one bite of everything, didn't she?
Spices are your secret weapon when it comes to making meals interesting and flavorful. Check the spices you have in your pantry, and use the three-month rule: If you haven't touched, shaken, or smelled it in three months, get rid of it. Some people still have the paprika they got with their bridal shower spice rack-enough said. If there are things you have thrown away using the three-month rule, think about whether you will ever use that spice, even if it is on my list. Better to be honest and not waste your money. Store your spices in airtight jars in a cool, dry place. Don't leave them on the counter in the sun, and don't store them under a damp sink.
I recommend buying dehydrated herbs if you can find them in your supermarket; they have the closest flavor to fresh herbs. (See Source Guide.) If you cannot find dehydrated herbs, use whole dried herbs rather than ground or rubbed ones. Once the herb is ground, it loses a lot of the essential oils that make it so potent. Fresh herbs are marvelous additions to any dish, but I don't recommend them for dishes that willsimmer longer than 30 minutes-the herbs break down and lose most of their flavor when cooked for a long time. To store fresh herbs, I recommend washing them in cold water and thoroughly drying them in a salad spinner or with dry towels. Store them in Ziploc bags with a dry paper towel to absorb the moisture, or fill a small jar with water and "plant" the herbs in the water. If you have lots of fresh parsley, chop it in the food processor and store it in Ziploc bags in the freezer-use it right from the bag.
Mustard (Dry Powder)
Old Bay Seasoning
Creole Seasoning is an essential in my pantry. I make it up myself, using this recipe, but you can certainly purchase it at the supermarket. I like to make up a batch, then give small jars of it to friends.
1/4 cup onion powder
1/4 cup dried thyme
1/4 cup freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup garlic powder
1/2 cup salt
1/2 cup paprika
1/4 cup cayenne
2 tablespoons dried oregano
In a glass bowl, combine all the ingredients, whisking to blend. Store in an airtight container for up to 3 months.
Yield is about 2 1/2 cups.
Refrigerator and Freezer
THE following list assumes that you have the essentials in your refrigerator already: milk, butter (or margarine), eggs, juice, and chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream.
Fresh and dry bread crumbs can be stored in the freezer indefinitely, and they can be used to enhance pot pie crusts. When that baguette from the patisserie gets too hard, place it in a self-seal bag and run a rolling pin over it for bread crumbs. Store it in the freezer.
Small in size, big on flavor, this cousin of the green peppercorn can make chicken or veal into a deliciously different dinner.
Everyone has their favorite types of cheese. I love Cabot Farms White Cheddar, Gruyère, Monterey Jack, and Brie. Pick your favorite, and store it in the refrigerator for everything from quesadillas to Cheddar cheese crusts.
I buy fresh boneless, skinless chicken breasts and freeze them in packages of 4. If you have a larger family, you may want to freeze more in each package. Boneless breasts can be used for quick dinners any time.
Peeled and deveined raw shrimp are a quick and easy way to turn any meal into something special.
I always have corn, petite size peas, and chopped spinach in my freezer. These vegetables can be used to make almost any dinner special.
Granny Smith Apples
Tart, and crunchy, these are great for eating, but they also make delicious pies and can go into pork and chicken dishes as well.
Fresh lemon juice and zest add zip to many dishes. Don't buy the little plastic lemon in the supermarket, it's really awful.
Packaged Salad Greens
Always appropriate, a nice simple salad is like wearing pearls-it's never out of style and pairs well with any pot pie! Bags of baby spinach are great for making piecrusts too.
There is nothing more sublime, in my humble opinion, than slivers of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. Keeping a small wedge of Parmigiano-Reggiano in your fridge will help to perk up ordinary ingredients. To store the cheese, dampen a paper towel with some olive oil, wrap the cheese in the paper, and store it in a self-seal bag. I also keep some grated Parmesan in small quantities to toss into pastas and other dishes.
Pesto in a Tube
Prepared pesto can add pizzazz to sauces and crusts for your pies. The tube keeps a long time in the fridge.
Mostly sold in the freezer section, phyllo keeps for up to 6 months, and makes a buttery, flaky topping for any pie.
Puff Pastry Sheets
Frozen, these sheets defrost in 20 minutes on the counter and roll out to become delicious crusts for any pie.
Sour cream makes a rich addition to sauces and a nice accompaniment for pot pies.
Flour or corn, these wrappers can be used as crusts or to layer between ingredients in pies. Refrigerate or freeze them.
This list assumes that you have the essentials in your dry pantry, such as flour, cornmeal, Bisquick, sugar, brown sugar, leavenings (yeast, baking powder, and soda), and chocolate chips.
Canned artichoke hearts are great to use in a pinch. They can be paired with other vegetables and made into wonderful vegetarian pies, or they can become a crust for seafood or chicken.
Keep an assortment of canned beans on hand to enhance your pies and to use as crusts. Beans help to stretch your meat and are an excellent source of fiber and protein.
Canned Chopped Tomatoes
When fresh tomatoes are looking sad in the supermarket, feel free to use canned chopped tomatoes in any of your recipes. These are great to keep in your pantry for a quick pasta sauce, soup, or stew.
Canned stock can help to make a very nice pot pie. Try different brands of stock, and decide which one you like best. Also, there are several soup bases on the market that reconstitute with water and tend to be a bit more economical.
Many gourmet grocers sell their own stock "concentrate" as well, but it tends to be a bit pricey. If you have the time to make your own stock, follow the instructions on the following pages. Store the finished stock in the refrigerator or freezer.
Dijon mustard adds pizzazz to many dishes and can also be used to make a killer ham sandwich.
Dried pastas are great to keep in your pantry for those days when you need a quick-fix for dinner. Try to keep several different shapes on hand.
There is nothing better than the mellow flavor of garlic. Don't substitute granulated garlic for fresh garlic in your recipes; the flavor will not be nearly as good. I don't recommend buying the chopped garlic that is preserved in small jars, it tends to have an "off" taste.
A knob of ginger, peeled, sliced, and put into some sherry, will keep in the refrigerator for months. To store the fresh ginger unpeeled, keep it in a cool, dry spice cabinet.
Non-Stick Cooking Spray
Hate to clean baking dishes and cookie sheets? Keep a can of non-stick cooking spray in your pantry to spray on your baking dishes and keep your pies from sticking. You can also buy one of those new pump-type sprayers, and fill it with your own oil.
If you can afford the space, buy a small bottle of good extra virgin olive oil and another of a lighter variety. For everyday cooking, use the lighter olive oil (I like Bertoli), but for a more robust taste, use the extra virgin. I find the extra virgin can overpower many foods, so use it sparingly.
I keep red onions in my basket all year, for salads and sometimes for cooking. I buy sweet yellow onions, and keep them as well. In the winter, yellow onions tend to be very strong, so spend the extra money and buy sweet Maui, Texas, or Vidalia sweet onions. You will be happy with the results.
Orzo is a rice-shaped pasta that makes a great crust for pot pies, as well as being an interesting side dish on its own.
Found in the Asian section of the supermarket or in Asian markets, it's a great flavoring to have on the shelf. Refrigerate it after opening.
Baking or russet potatoes and new potatoes (I prefer the red variety) can be used for mashing, boiling, or sautZing. Russets make great potato pancakes and mashed potatoes, and red potatoes are wonderful roasted.
Rice can be stored for a long time in airtight containers. If you have the space, try keeping some wild rice and basmati rice on hand, too.
Made from toasted sesame seeds, this oil adds an exotic flavor to many dishes. After opening, make sure to refrigerate it.
A member of the onion family, shallots pack a lot of flavor into a small bulb.
Sherry adds a nutty flavor to any dish. Keep a bottle in the pantry.
Vegetable shortening such as Crisco makes flaky biscuits and can be used in piecrust doughs as well.
An imported soy sauce will add Asian flavor and salt to your dishes.
I like to buy sun-dried tomatoes packed in olive oil. You can use the oil for flavoring and the tomatoes are a colorful addition to any dish.
Everyone needs a little heat in their dishes, and Tabasco is still the most reliable for flavor and heat. If you have a favorite hot sauce, feel free to substitute it. Once opened, you should refrigerate the sauce.
Tomato paste in Tubes
I bless the person who invented tomato paste in a tube. This product replaces tiny cans that are hard to open and always contain more than you need. It stores in the refrigerator after opening, keeps for 12 months, and you can use as much or as little as you need.
Dry vermouth keeps well, and can be used instead of white wine in cooking.
For sauteing, find an oil that you like. I generally use Canola oil, but you can use corn, or a combination of corn and Canola.
A flavoring no kitchen should be without, Worcestershire livens up seafood and chicken as well as beef.
Meet the Author
Diane Phillips, author of six previous books on food and cooking--including It's a Wrap, The Perfect Mix, and The Perfect Basket--has acted as a spokesperson for Pepperidge Farm Puff Pastry, appeared on numerous radio and television programs, and taught cooking classes throughout the country. She lives in San Diego, California.
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