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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.

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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…

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…or make your own Graham Cracker Pie Crust!

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Chocolate Fudge Pie with Graham Cracker Crust

Cheers!

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How to: Tomatoes

posted in Vegetables and Beans by Kathy Maister

 

Today’s tomato round-up not only includes How to Peel and Seed a Tomato, but also:

How to Buy and Store Tomatoes

When you pick up a good tomato, it should feel heavy for its size and have a distinct tomato-y smell. It should have a little “give” when you feel it, but not be mushy, and the skin should not be bruised or have blemishes or cracks.

The best place to get tomatoes is in your own backyard vegetable garden or from a local farmer’s market. Tomatoes in the grocery store are often picked before they’re ready, artificially ripened, and not as flavorful as the locally grown fresh varieties. Canned tomatoes can often be better than the tomatoes in the grocery store.

Do not refrigerate tomatoes, because their texture will change; they’ll become mealy. Instead, store them on your counter top in a cool, dry spot, stem side down. Don’t stack them on top of each other, because they’ll tend to make each other mushy. Store them in a single layer.

There are roughly three types of tomatoes generally found at the grocery store.

1. Slicing tomatoes:

One popular kind is the beefsteak tomato.

It is grown for fresh use, and it yields large slices perfect for sandwiches! Look for the sign or the label on the tomato itself.

2. Paste/Canning tomatoes:

These are often smaller and more oblong-shaped than slicing tomatoes. They tend to be meatier and have fewer seeds – perfect for making sauces with creamy texture and lots of flavor, or canning for the long winter! One popular variety is the Roma tomato. These are also known as “plum tomatoes.”

3. Tiny ones:

Cherry tomatoes and grape tomatoes are the most popular. These are great for adding tomato flavor to dishes without any of the moisture associated with the cut fruit — perfect for pasta salads or green salads!

In the summertime, especially at Farmer’s Markets, there are of course, many more varieties of tomatoes available. Here’s a great website with a description and photos of dozens of tomatoes.


How to Peel and Seed a Tomato

Some of you might be thinking – “why do I ever need to peel and seed a tomato?”

It can be a matter of preference but, generally speaking, for recipes with quick cooking times it is best to peel the tomatoes. Recipes that call for a long simmering time usually do not have you peel the tomatoes. In my Guacamole recipe I do not peel the tomato but I do seed it as all those extra seeds (and juice) really throw off the texture and can make it watery.

 

Start by cutting an X in the bottom of the tomato with a very sharp knife. You want to just pierce the skin.

 

If you are peeling just one or two (or three!) tomatoes put them in a heat-proof (Pyrex) bowl big enough so that when you add the water they will be totally covered.

 

Pour BOILING water over the tomato(es.)

 

Within about 10-15 seconds, the skin will have burst. (There are some who say to leave the tomato in the water for 3-to-4 minutes. WRONG! You do not want the tomato to cook and get mushy.)

Remove the tomato from the water with a pair of tongs.

 

You can also do this in a pot of boiling water, using tongs to add and remove the tomato from the pot.

Prepare an ice-bath, which is just a bowl of water with ice cubes in it.

Using tongs, drop the tomato into the ice bath.

This cools off the tomato and stops the cooking process. Remove the tomato from the ice bath and the skin now just slips off…

 

…and the tomato is all peeled.

 

To remove the seeds, cut the tomato in half with the blade of the knife parallel to the stem.

 

You can gently squeeze the tomato to remove the seeds, or just ease them out with your finger.

 

Once tomatoes are peeled and seeded they can get added to salads, dips, sauces, cold soups, etc.

 

The longest part of the entire process of peeling and seeding a tomato is boiling the water!


 

How to Freeze Tomatoes

If your garden is bursting with fresh tomatoes you can actually freeze raw tomatoes.

The University of Nebraska’s Alice Henneman (MS, RD, UNL Extension in Lancaster County) has described how you would go about freezing raw tomatoes:

“Tomatoes may be frozen whole, sliced, chopped, or puréed. Additionally, you can freeze them raw or cooked, as juice or sauce, or prepared in the recipe of your choice. Thawed raw tomatoes may be used in any cooked-tomato recipe. Do not try to substitute them for fresh tomatoes, however, since freezing causes their texture to become mushy. Tomatoes should be seasoned just before serving rather than before freezing; freezing may either strengthen or weaken seasonings such as garlic, onion, and herbs.

Preparation:

Select firm, ripe tomatoes for freezing. Sort the tomatoes, discarding any that are spoiled. Wash them in clean water. Dry them by blotting with a clean cloth or paper towels.

Freezing whole tomatoes with peels:

Prepare tomatoes as described above. Cut away the stem. Place the uncut tomatoes on cookie sheets and freeze. Tomatoes do not need to be blanched before freezing. Once frozen, transfer the tomatoes from the cookie sheets into freezer bags or other containers. Seal tightly.

To use the frozen tomatoes, remove them from the freezer a few at a time or all at once. To peel, just run a frozen tomato under warm water in the kitchen sink. Its skin will slip off easily.

Freezing peeled tomatoes:

If you prefer to freeze peeled tomatoes, you can wash the tomatoes and then dip them in boiling water for about 1 minute or until the skins split. Peel and then freeze as noted above.

For more information on freezing tomatoes: Check this link to the National Center for Home Food Preservation, hosted by the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Service: Freezing Tomatoes

Storage time

To extend the time frozen foods maintain good quality, package foods in material intended for freezing (that means proper freezer bags, not just any bag that’s left over from the produce section of the grocery store). Keep the temperature of the freezer at 0 degrees F or below. It is generally recommended frozen vegetables be eaten within about 8 months for best quality.”

Buying the Best Canned Tomatoes

(From this point onward, I need to extend an apology to my world wide audience. The following reviews are based on canned tomatoes available in the United States. I would love it if any of my overseas readers could add in the comment section what canned tomatoes they could recommend from their country of origin. Thanks!)

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All canned tomatoes are not the same. One should not dismiss canned tomatoes if the first brand you try does not meet your standards. There are many to choose from. Please keep in mind that some brands may have superior canned whole tomatoes but their “roasted” canned tomatoes are rated inferior. This is one purchase where you really need to read the label carefully!

Chris Kimbal, over at America’s Test Kitchens, provides a useful guide. One of the many wonderful things they do at America’s Test Kitchen is test ingredients.

Here is a quick summary of their recommendations on what canned tomatoes, diced tomatoes, and tomato puree they recommend:

WHOLE CANNED TOMATOES- HIGHLY RECOMMENDED:

  1. PROGRESSO Italian-Style Whole Peeled Tomatoes with Basil
  2. REDPACK Whole Peeled Tomatoes in Thick Puree
  3. HUNT’S Whole Tomatoes

DICED TOMATOES- HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

  1. MUIR GLEN Organic Diced Tomatoes
  2. REDPACK Diced Tomatoes (REDGOLD on the West Coast)

TOMATO PUREE RECOMMENDED

  1. HUNT’S: “Nice and thick,” “tomatoey.”
  2. PROGRESSO: “Thick,” “tastes kind of fresh.”
  3. CENTO: “Balanced, good flavor,” “slightly bitter.”
  4. MUIR GLEN: “Thick and strong,” “good flavor.”
  5. PASTENE: “Fresh tasting, “tinny.”
  6. REDPACK: “Velvety smooth texture, “very acidic.”
  7. CONTADINA: “Good balance,” “slightly sour.”
  8. RIENZI: “Vegetable flavor,” “very thin.”

If you would like a more in depth description of America’s Test Kitchen Review, head on over to America’s Test Kitchen and sign in! Thanks ATK!

(Note: America’s Test Kitchen is a fabulous site but not everything is available for free. To have complete access to ATK you will need to pay an annual fee.)

Links to Some Great Tomato Recipes!

Fresh basil is fragrant and delicious! My Marinara Sauce uses canned tomatoes with a nice big bunch of fresh basil. You can wash fresh basil the same way you wash lettuce.

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One of the easiest ways to use tomatoes is in Insalata Caprese, an Italian salad that combines tomatoes, fresh mozzarella cheese, fresh basil and olive oil. It’s that simple!

A basic Tomato Sauce Recipe can be made and frozen for future use.

Home made Tomato Soup is surprising easy to make and it is m-m-m-m good!

When summer is bursting with fresh tomatoes and high temperatures, cold Gazpacho is a filling and refreshing soup.

Pasta Salad is the perfect meal to enjoy all year round. Bow-tie pasta, salami, olives, green onions, feta or goat cheese, and of course tomatoes make this salad a summer favorite!

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This one’s got a long name, but it’s so mouth-wateringly delicious-sounding that I have to tell you the whole thing: Tomato and Fresh Basil Crostini (toast) with Feta and Roasted Garlic Cheese Spread…mmm. A great appetizer similar to bruschetta.

Tomato pie in a flaky pastry crust is a classically southern way to enjoy your garden’s abundance of tomatoes. (Emily’s pie used peeled tomatoes and it looks delicious!)

Tomatoes stuffed with rice are an easy and elegant dish to serve your summer dinner party guests. Try adding vegetables, sausage pieces, or ground beef to your rice mixture.

Fried green tomatoes are another classically southern dish. Green tomatoes have a tangier taste than red ones, and when breaded and fried, they make a crispy and fresh appetizer, addition to sandwiches, or side for crab cakes.

Don’t forget about the classic BLT sandwich!

Taboule (shown below) will keep you cool because there’s no cooking involved! Plus, with fresh flavors like tomato, lemon, and mint, you can’t go wrong.

Cheers!

Kathy

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How to Pit Cherries

posted in Fruits by Kathy Maister

My all-time, number-one, favorite fruit is the cherry! Cherries are in season from about late May until early August. “Bing” cherries are the most popular kind on the market. When you buy them, be sure that they are firm, a deep, dark red in color, and still have the stem attached.

Ranier cherries are yellow/pink-ish in color and are sweet and juicy, but don’t have quite the intense flavor of the Bing Cherries

Don’t wash cherries until you are ready to eat them. They should be stored in the refrigerator in a plastic bag. Cherries will keep for about a week in the refrigerator, but it’s better to buy small amounts and eat them within a day or two of purchase.

The best way to serve cherries is simple: rinse them in cool water, put them on a serving dish and dig in!

If you are adding them to a fruit salad, or putting them on top of cereal or ice cream you are going to want to remove the pit. Using a small paring knife cut around the cherry and split it in half. Pick out the pit with your fingers.

There is another way. I am not someone who likes to buy gadgets that are for doing just one thing. Storage space in just about everyone’s kitchen is very valuable, so why waste it on something that can’t perform multiple tasks? However, my cherry pitter breaks that rule!

The pitter, the strange-looking gadget pictured above next to the knife, supposedly can remove the pit from olives as well, but I have never been able to make it work with olives.

But it can remove the pit of a cherry in seconds!

Wash and remove the stem off the cherry. Place the cherry on the curved bit under the spike.

Squeeze the pitter so that the spike goes through the cherry, forcing out the pit.

Just that easy, just that quick!

There are a few things you need to be careful of, however.

If your cherries are really plump and juicy the spike may go around the pit instead of popping it out. Make double sure the pit actually did pop out!

Really juicy cherries sometimes get a bit messy, with juice squirting back at you. Be careful your shirt doesn’t get covered with cherry stains.

When you are through pitting all your cherries, rinse off the pitter and dry it with a dish towel.

There is a little lever on the base of the cherry pitter which will hold it closed and therefore take up less room in your kitchen drawer.

At the cost of about $12, these cherry pitters are not inexpensive, but if you love cherries, I think it’s a great investment. Cheers!

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