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Cooking with Joy

Teachers Pet:
The Frozen Pie Crust


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By Joy Rotondi

Joy Rotondi wants to introduce teachers to their new best friends in the kitchen: Frozen pie crusts. Whether you need dinner or dessert (or both), having pie crusts on hand ensures you can have something in the oven in minutes.

Im embarrassed to admit that I have a favorite. This is the one I call on the most often. The one that gets more praise than the others. The one I count on for the right answer. Yep, its the trusty frozen pie crust.

Ive gotten to the point where I only make homemade crust for the holiday pies. Or that one special peach and ginger pie that I make every summer. But for day in, day out cooking, I rely on the frozen section. And frozen pie crusts have improved over the years -- there are all-vegetable shortening crusts (not that I have anything against lard, but you might). And zero trans fats and no cholesterol and yadda yadda yadda. What most of us care most about, though, is flakiness, and todays frozen pie crusts deliver. My favorite brands are Oronoque Orchards, if you can find it, and 365 Whole Foods.


About the Author

Joy Rotondi

Joy Rotondi recently returned to the classroom and teaches sixth-grade language arts near Boston, Massachusetts. She was raised in an Italian-American family happily obsessed with good food. Her prowess in the kitchen was first noted when she whipped lime Jello to a mousse at age 7. By age 12 she'd advanced to the salmon mousse in aspic featured on the cover of Gourmet.

On Thanksgiving Day 1996, with the help of friend and culinary cohort Cindy Blandino, she launched Foodies.com , a playful site dedicated to serious American cooking.

Foodies.com has been featured on CNN, Better Homes and Gardens , and in The Wall Street Journal, among other places. Her bread and butter for the last 11 years has been designing and maintaining Web sites for the culinary world, including restaurants, culinarians, and food marketers. Rotondi lives on Boston's North Shore with her 12-year-old, a Shetland sheepdog, and four hens.

Visit her Web site Foodies.com.


So why do I favor this particular item? Its versatile (sweet or savory) and speedy. With a little practice, you can get a quiche in the oven inside of ten minutes from walking in the door (if you turn the oven on before taking off your coat). A berry pie takes 25 minutes to put in the oven, but only because you have to let the berries and tapioca sit for a bit. Crust comes in its own pan, which makes everything easier -- clean up, leftover storage, and reheating. And its pie. Pie is a special occasion food. It makes people feel good. It makes people feel cared for!

A few tips for using frozen crusts:

1. Place the filled crust on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper or foil before baking. The cookie sheet serves as a tray and youre less likely to spill the ingredients as you place the pie in the oven. And if you do spill the filling, or if it bubbles over during cooking, no biggie. Easy clean up.

2. Take a few thin strips of foil and loosely cover the edges of the pie crust for the first 15-to-20 minutes of baking. Alternately, take a big sheet of foil, put a fold down the middle of it, and create a little pup tent for the whole pie. This will prevent the crust from cooking too fast and burning before the filling is cooked. Supermarket crust seems particularly prone to this. Not sure why.

3. I bake all pies -- sweet or savory -- roughly the same way: 425 degrees, tented, for 15-to-20 minutes. I pull off the tent, reset the temp to 375 or so, and look in another 15anything is forgivable as long as you dont burn the crust. The oven rack should be mid-oven.

4. Recycle or reuse the pans. Sure, you might put your own homemade crust in them at some point for delivery to a friend, and they are perfect for transporting cookies or for serving dog food, but I find them the handiest things to have around for broiling a steak or lamb chop. I havent had to clean the broiler pan for years.

I have been known to serve quiche for the main course and berry pie for dessert. Favoritism, I know. Hey, Im only human.

Un-recipe for Quiche

  • Four eggs, beaten (you could get away with three if its not deep-dish); milk, cream, half and half, or a combination (liquid dairy, basically).
  • Salt and pepper
  • Dash of cayenne
  • Minced shallots or onions or peppers or whatever, maybe, if you feel like it
  • Shredded cheese (cheddar, gruyere, ementhaler, or other good melting cheese)
  • A choice ingredient or two
  • Grated nutmeg on the top of any quiche containing gruyere

As long as you have a crust, eggs and milk to form the custard, and cheese, youve got a quiche. Its very hard to mess this up. Ive been known to put in flecks of cream cheese, cottage cheese, farmers cheese, goat cheese -- any cheese that needs to be liberated from the bonds of refrigeration before it turns green.

Heres an example of how to go about making a quiche. Preheat the oven to 425. Beat the eggs, milk, salt, pepper, cayenne.

In a small fry pan, saut some chopped sweet onions or shallots or peppers or a combo in butter until golden unless its just too much trouble. A couple of tablespoons is just fine. Spread in the bottom of an empty pie shell.

Go to the fridge. Oh, look, a little bit of yellowing cream cheese! Lets use that up. Cut or pinch off little chunks and put that in, too. Leftover peas from yesterdays supper? Or is it broccoli or asparagus or zucchini? Cooked shrimp? Cooked bacon? Leftover sandwich ham? Whatever. Chop it up. Using your hand as the tool, loosely fill the shell with your ingredients and then the cheese. Slowly pour in the custard mixture. The custard is going to puff when it cooks, so dont overfill the shell. Are you listening?

To review, the order was as follows:

  • Preheat
  • Sauted onions
  • Food bits
  • Cheese
  • Milk and egg mix (custard, by any other name)

Follow my tips above for placing on a cookie sheet and creating the foil tent. Gently load in to the hot oven. Set the timer for 20 minutes, then remove the foil so the crust and top of the filling will brown, 15-to-20 minutes more (you can reduce the heat to 375 here if you wish). A thin knife inserted into the center of the pie that comes out relatively clean means its cooked. Also, the center shouldnt look runny. It should look set. It shouldnt jiggle too much. Let it sit for ten minutes before you eat it.

Quiche is just delicious served with sliced tomatoes, or a salad of sliced oranges, olive oil, and minced black olives.

Un-recipe for Berry Pie

Leave two pie crusts on the counter to thaw. Please do this. There is a darn good reason Im telling you this, so dont ignore me. The instructions are more important than a set list of ingredients. And improvise, improvise, improvise. Have a little confidence, for goodness sakes!

Gather:

  • Some berries, fresh or thawed, maybe three cups worth.
  • 3/4 cup of sugar, more or less depending on the sweetness of the berries and size of the crust.
  • Three tablespoons of minute tapioca, or thereabouts (depends on how jelly-like you like your filling -- Ive used as little as one tablespoon and been perfectly happy).
  • Grated citrus rind (orange is a nice match for raspberries and lemon goes with blueberries, but there is no steadfast rule).
  • A little extra liquid, such as orange or grape juice, if necessary to absorb the tapioca, but unnecessary if youre using previously frozen berries as they create a lot of juice as they thaw
  • Pinch of salt
  • A touch of cinnamon, if that appeals to you, but who am I to say?
  • Pats of butter

Put all the ingredients, except the pie crust and the pats of butter, in a bowl. Toss and let sit for 15 minutes. Pour into one of the pie shells. Dot top of the filling with the pats of butter. As for the other pie shell, break off the crimped edge, then extract it from the pan and insert it on top of the berry mixture sitting in that other pie shell. Do it as if the two crusts were stacked bowls (with filling in between) and it will fit pretty nicely. If you wish, try to seal the two crusts, but its not necessary. (Do this by running a wet finger along the seams first.) If you do seal them, be sure to make a couple of slits in the top crust for steam to escape.

Cook as you would a quiche, cookie sheet and foil trick included.

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