Kathy Maister's Start Cooking

Pie Crust – Ready Made

posted in Pantry, Sweets by Kathy Maister

For some people, making your own pie crust is almost as scary as speaking in front of a large crowd! Fortunately there is a way around this. You can make both sweet and savory pies by buying a ready made pie crust at the grocery store. Here are a few basics that will help when using pre-made store-bought pie crusts.

You can buy a pie crust all ready to use in the frozen food section of the grocery store.

These come in a disposable tin pie dish. You definitely need to set this type of crust on a baking sheet with sides when you put it in the oven.

Pillsbury makes a great pie crust. You can buy this one in the dairy section of the grocery store.

The box contains two rolls of pasty, in case you want to make a “two-crust” pie like an apple pie. One roll would be for the bottom and the other would be for the top.

A one-crust pie, like for a quiche , pumpkin pie (shown below) or a pecan pie, has only a bottom crust.


Freeze the leftover roll. Be sure to use it within about 2 months: after that, it really starts to dry out in the freezer.

When working with this pastry, the trick is to make sure it is almost at room temperature when you unroll it.

If it is too cold, you might tear it. If it is too warm you may stretch it. Unroll it right over your pie dish.

Gently press it into the shape of the pie dish.

If the dough is hanging over the side of the dish, turn the edges under.

You could then press the edges down with the tines of a fork all the way around the edge of the dish.

Or you could crimp the edges with your forefinger of one hand pushed between the forefinger and thumb of your other hand.

You many actually find it easier to use your knuckle instead of your forefinger.

You end up with a lovely decorative edge all the way around the pie.

If your recipe calls for a pre-baked “shell”, this is when you would prick the sides and bottom of the dough with a fork and put it in the oven and bake it according to the directions on the package. Ice cream pies and pudding pies (like chocolate cream pie) usually need a pre-baked crust.

Recipes will often say to put tin foil around the edges of your pie so that the crust does not burn. You could just tear off some strips of tin foil but making them stay in place is often a bit tricky.

Rose Levy Beranbaum, who wrote the The Pie and Pastry Bible, suggests making a foil ring. (By the way this is probably one of the best and most comprehensive books on making pies. There are very few photos and the book is as big as a door stop, but it is excellent!)

Making a foil ring:

Tear off a piece of heavy-duty foil a few inches larger then the diameter to the pie. Cut a circle bigger than your pie dish. (As a guide, use a really large pot lid or a pizza pan). To mark a cutout in the center, use a bowl or a smaller pot lid.

Leave at least a 3-inch border. The hole in the center of the circle will expose the pie’s surface but not the edge of the pie. Use a pair of scissors, to cut out the circle. Shape it so that it will curve over the rim of the pie crust. (Don’t press it down on the pie crust. I should just be sitting on to of the crust.

Cover the edges of the crust after the first 15 minutes of baking. They will continue to brown, though more slowly beneath the foil.

There are some bakers that put the foil on the pie before sticking it in the oven. There are advantages to doing it this way in that you are not trying to fit this tinfoil ring on a very hot pie. Your best bet is to fit the ring on the pie before you put the pie in the oven.

After 15 minutes you can then just slip the tinfoil in place and you should end up with a perfect pie!

You can also buy pre-made cracker crusts…


…or make your own Graham Cracker Pie Crust!


Chocolate Fudge Pie with Graham Cracker Crust


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Tuscan Bean Soup

print recipe card posted in Soups, Salads, Sides and Sauces by Kathy Maister

If you are just learning to cook, making a nice hearty pot of soup is a great way to develop confidence in the kitchen and end up with a fantastic dinner as well! Soups are very forgiving. If you don’t have the exact ingredient on hand, you can often make a substitution or two, and it doesn’t matter if your chopping is uneven.

The fresh ingredients you will need for this recipe are onion, baby spinach, garlic, carrot, celery, fresh rosemary, thyme and basil.

I would not advise using dried herbs with this recipe. FRESH thyme, rosemary, and basil make a big difference in the taste of this soup.

Fresh Thyme, Rosemary and Basil

From your food cupboard (or the grocery store) you will need three kinds of beans, vegetable or chicken broth, olive oil, and canned diced tomatoes. Either plain or seasoned diced tomatoes will be fine.

(Broth is the strained liquid left from cooking vegetables, meat, or fish in water. It is often used as a synonym for bullion. Stock is basically the same thing but cooked more slowly and has a more intense flavor than broth. Bullion cubes or granules are compressed stock that needs to be dissolved before using.)

As always, get all your ingredients prepared and measured before you turn on the stove!

Preparing the Ingredients:

Carrots – Dice (or chop into small pieces) two carrots, which will yield about 1 cup. It is easier to dice a carrot if you cut the carrot so that it has a flat surface. The picture below shows the stages (left to right) I use to turn a whole carrot into a diced carrot.

Celery – Dice two stalks of celery. As with the carrot, first cutting the celery into strips will make dicing the celery easier.

Onion – 1 large onion will yield approximately 1 and 1/2 to 2 cups of diced onions. For a quick review on how to dice and onion, click here. To make dicing easier, be sure to leave the root end intact.

Garlic – To make two teaspoons of crushed garlic, you will need approximately 2-3 garlic cloves.

The Herbs

Rosemary, thyme and basil leaves need to be removed form their stems and finely chopped. (The pictures below show, from left to right, the stages of preparing the herbs from the way you get them in the store to the way you use them in the recipe.)

Here’s the rosemary:

Now, the thyme.

From left to right below, you can see the fresh thyme, the stems with the leaves removed, the whole leaves and the chopped leaves. (Throw the stems away!)

Finally, the basil. Jon, from the comment section, points out a quick tip for cutting the basil into ribbons. After you have washed the leaves put a pile one on top of another and then roll them up from tip to toe until you have a fat cigar of basil. It’s then easy to slice across the roll getting you nice slice. This is called a “chiffonade”. Again, just throw the stems away.

After you have rinsed and drained all the beans in a colander, all the ingredients will be prepared.

Cooking the Soup

Using a large pot, heat the oil over medium-high heat until it shimmers (about 1 minute.)

Add the onions, celery, carrots, and garlic and cook these vegetables for about 3-to-4 minutes.

Add the can of diced tomatoes. (The tomatoes I used were in a puree but just a can of plain diced tomatoes works fine as well.)

Add the beans…

…and the broth…

…and the herbs.

Give everything a stir…

…and cover the pot.

Bring everything to a boil, and then turn the heat down to simmer. Cook the soup on “simmer” (a very low temperature) for about 10 minutes or until the vegetables are tender.

Add the baby spinach to the top of the soup. (Even “Pre-washed” spinach should get washed before using. You can wash the baby spinach leaves the same way you wash lettuce.)

It will take about one minute for the baby spinach to wilt (go all limp).

This Tuscan Bean Soup is ready to serve!

The flavors in this soup really develop in time. You can make this the day before serving it and it will taste even better by the next day! If you are going to be making the soup in advance, add the baby spinach just before you serve it so that it retains that nice bright green color.


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Bean Salad Tex-Mex Style

print recipe card posted in Soups, Salads, Sides and Sauces, Vegetarian by Kathy Maister

This cold bean salad tastes as good as it looks!

The ingredient list, may look kind of long at first glance, but chances are you just might have most of the ingredients for the dressing already in your cupboard! (Olive oil, red wine vinegar, lemon juice, sugar, salt, garlic, cumin, and black pepper)

Dressing Ingredients

That just leaves buying the canned beans and corn, bell peppers, and red onion.

Start by rinsing and draining all the beans and the canned corn in a colander.

Then chop the red and green bell peppers, and mince the red onion. (My Vegetable and Dip video will show you how to cut and clean the peppers. Once they are cut into strips, it is just a matter of then lining them up and chopping them up.


Mix together the beans, corn, chopped peppers, and minced onions in a large bowl.

Now for the dressing:

In a medium bowl, whisk together:

Notice how I used one measuring cup to measure both the oil and vinegar together. Saves on clean-up!

Be sure to use fresh lemon juice.

You will only need about 1 teaspoon of fresh crushed garlic.


Garlic – Sliced, Minced, and Crushed

The photo below shows all the dressing ingredients whisked together. Feel free to add a few drops of hot sauce if you like.

Now pour the dressing over the bean mixture.

Mix everything together.

Cilantro is another optional ingredient, often found in Tex-Mex dishes. If you like cilantro, add 1/4 cup – minced to the salad. (You can wash and chop it as you would parsley.) Cilantro has a very distinctive flavor and aroma which people either love or hate! 1/4 cup of chopped cilantro is just enough. A great substitution for cilantro is actually a combination of parsley and mint.

Parsley, Cilantro, and Mint

You may be thinking there is way too much dressing for this salad.

However, the bean salad needs to marinate in the dressing for a couple of hours (in the refrigerator) for all the flavors to meld together. Be sure to cover this salad with plastic wrap and let it chill completely before serving. If there are any leftovers, drain off the excess dressing and store the bean salad in the refrigerator. It will keep for about two days!


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