Beef and Potato Pie

Last week I had an overwhelming, deep down, serious, emotional need for very simple comfort food. Within minutes the general idea was forming. I wanted a beef and potato casserole of some sort. It had to be easy to make and with very few ingredients. I wanted basic goodness, not a symphonic mass of flavors swirling about. This was not a shocking need. It happens to me often when the things outside my kitchen door are hectic. I did take a moment to wonder at how lucky I was that the real heat of the beginning of summer hadn’t yet set in. But, I don’t think heat would have stopped me. Sometimes a person just needs this type of food.

I didn’t have a plan in place, but I thought immediately of several dishes from my family recipe collection. My grandfather’s sister was named Wilma Bain. She was from Madrid, Iowa, as was most of his family. Aunt Wilma passed along a casserole recipe through the family lines that was nothing but hamburger, tater tots, an onion, and mushroom soup. I wanted a beef and potato pie…something in this neighborhood…something with the same really simple components, but perhaps scaled back on the convenience foods. So, I set about creating exactly what I wanted it to be…my version of Wilma’s casserole.

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Individual Chicken Pot Pies

I’d be fibbing if I didn’t admit that the spiritual predecessor of these pies is Rebecca Rather’s “All Sold Out Chicken Pot Pies from her exceptional The Pastry Queen.” At this point, they don’t really match up, but hers was the first recipe that made me think that I could actually make a superior chicken pot pie. The cookbook, The Pastry Queen, is a favorite of mine and one of the 20 or so cookbooks that I don’t think I could ever be without.

Now my pies are slightly different in almost every regard, but the result is the same great comfort staple. I remember as a kid thinking that the Swanson pot pies were truly the end-all-be-all of lucky dinners. Someday I’ll make this in tiny little foil pie tins just so my kids can experience the joy of the little tongue scorching personal meal. These homemade pies are much better, but I laugh at myself that I consider the TV dinner version a true symbol of comfort. I can hear my brother and me at the grocery store, begging my mother to buy several boxes.

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Tomato and Goat Cheese Tart

I am by no means a vegetarian. The lard in the crust of my tart will give that away fairly readily. But one of my favorite cookbooks is called A Year in a Vegetarian Kitchen by Jack Bishop of the Cook’s Illustrated family. There is no deprivation in this book. It is pure comfort and joy. It celebrates the seasons and presents beautiful preparations for the bounty of each of them. I have integrated many of the recipes and ideas into my cooking. His recipe for a tomato tart obviously does not include the use of lard. And he takes other clever turns with his dough recipe that I have not included. The following is my “go to” dough recipe. The tart is heavily inspired by Bishop’s recipe, though, and he deserves the credit for this simple but flavorful combination. Think about it. It is crust, goat cheese, tomatoes, salt and pepper, olive oil, and fresh basil. That is all. It is good ingredients assembled thoughtfully and executed simply with a lovely result.

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Six Onion Tart

My friend Jon Rowley, who is the person who taught me this pastry dough recipe, albeit for a sweet pie, talks about the incredible advantage gained in an apple pie by using a variety of apples. I decided to use his pastry dough and his diversity theory on an onion tart to see how it would pan out.  And, I think it was a success. The theory driving the pie idea is that, when cooked, the variety will give you several textures and flavors.

I think this pastry is a natural for savory pies because of the leaf lard. I wrote in great detail about leaf lard in my recent chocolate pie post, but suffice to say that it isn’t as bad for you as was once believed. In fact, it is widely thought that unprocessed lard is better for you than an equal portion of butter. This is un-hydrogenated lard. Mind you, I am not talking about just any lard that you will find on a shelf at the grocery store at room temperature.

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