Cooking With Myra: All things pie
By Myra Starkey
March 25, 2014 at midnight
Updated March 24, 2014 at 10:25 p.m.
Once a month, for the last 20 years or so, we have met with our friends for a meal. We call this group our supper club. There are six couples, which makes for an even dozen. Most of us are charter members.
I think once a couple moved out of town, and we had to add another, but it's been pretty much the same people for many of the years. There are no requirements except that one must love food, enjoy cooking and be willing to host the group twice per year.
Since most of us are busy, tired and getting older, we are not always in the mood to entertain. Hosting a dinner party may be a burden because although everyone enjoys the company, the stress of putting it all together can seem overwhelming.
The feelings are soon forgotten once the guests arrive, and we again realize the evening is about enjoying each other. The food is almost secondary. In sharing two decades of life together, we have been through everything from newborns to college graduates, kids' weddings, elderly and dying parents, personal illnesses, job changes and new houses.
There are great changes that occur as people age from their 30s to their 50s. Our conversations don't typically center around the weather or superficial topics but rather what is actually happening in each of our lives - no matter how sad or joyous. Actually, that is not entirely true because the guys spend a lot of time talking about hunting, fishing and football, but they might perceive that as deep conversation.
Through the years, I have hosted many themed dinners for our group such as Breakfast for Dinner, Cajun Feast, Coastal Cuisine and Chinese New Year. Never mind that some of the time I have absolutely no idea how to cook the food.
I rely heavily on cookbooks and recipes. We also try to do some table decorations that reflect the theme. The hostess decides on the menu and sends a recipe to each person along with the invitation for the evening.
I like to pick recipes that stretch our cooking abilities, but sometimes, we revert to the home-style cooking of our childhoods. The men in the group show up to eat but only occasionally lend a hand in the kitchen.
Last week, I hosted Pie, Oh My, which I realize is a goofy name, but it looked really good on the invitation. I had purchased a cookbook, "The Four and Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book" by Emily and Melissa Elsen, two sisters who know about the art of pie making.
I knew I could not get away with a meal of just dessert pies, so I added chicken pot pie for the entree and called it a full meal.
My friend, Charlotte, is the queen of chicken pot pie, and with her permission, I am sharing her recipe. Charlotte came to my rescue for the supper club and prepared the chicken pot pies for me since I had a busy week at work.
On the night of the dinner, I set the table with red-and-white checkered cloths and a vintage table topper from my grandmother. The center was lined with potted geraniums and mason jars with candles.
I bought quarter-sheet aluminum baking pans and used those instead of plates. I placed a blue-and-white checkered parchment paper square in the center, mimicking a 1950s-diner feel.
Each pot pie was made in white ramekins topped with a delicious, brown flaky crust. Homemade sweet tea with lemon was served in mason jar mugs, and in my haste, I forgot the sprig of mint, which would have added just the right touch. I checked out the movie "Waitress," but we were so busy eating and talking that none of us sat down to watch it.
In addition to our entree of chicken pot pie, I also served a tomato-bacon pie with a side of green salad. I cautioned our guests to save room for the dessert pies. Cindy brought a lemon chess pie made with cream, eggs, lemon and orange juice, and it was as smooth as silk.
Laura prepared a lattice-topped wild ginger strawberry pie. She used more than 2 pounds of strawberries, a green apple and minced ginger, giving it a distinctive taste unlike the traditional strawberry pie made with gelatin.
Nancy brought a salted-caramel apple pie - better than any apple pie I have ever prepared. It was made with Granny Smith apples and covered in caramel, then topped with a sugar-crusted lattice crust.
Mel made a green chili chocolate pie, which had heavy cream, fresh ginger, cardamom but not a teaspoon of sugar. The pie also contained a jalapeno pepper, which added a spicy bite to the pie.
Before you judge our indulgence, I should let you know we had a piece or two left over.
The recipes for these pies can be found in the cookbook. The Elsen sisters have a restaurant in Brooklyn by the same name.
They learned pie making at the elbow of their grandma, Liz, and are masters of the craft. Their cookbook has more than 100 mouth-watering pictures and includes multiple pie crust recipes as well. This book is worthy of your cookbook shelf.
Myra Starkey lives in Victoria. Write her in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.