Friday, July 13, 2007

Out of the Kitchen

Hot days make for a paucity of pie-baking, so what we need is a special pie to beat the heat.

Feeling cooler already. . .

Friday, July 6, 2007

Sounds Good To Me

Here’s a boring piece of information: I’m not really a visual sort of person. You know those quizzes that determine the type of learning style you have? I always find myself securely in the auditory category. (Find out your own style here) And that parlor game where you have to decide which of your senses you’d give up if you had a choice? Well, taste, as you might imagine, would probably be the first sense I’d preserve. Sight, however, would fall quickly, right after smell. (And no, I’m not interested in that claptrap of how you need to have smell in order to have taste. This is a game, remember? And besides, I’m the Queen and I set the rules.)

It’s not that I don’t appreciate the visual. I do ... although you might not know if from my…er… home decorating efforts. Or even from my wardrobe, although I’ve learned to avoid mixing animal prints. And while I’m lucky to have a movie-star handsome husband, I’d still let him bake my biscuits even if the movie star he most resembled was Wallace Shawn. As I get older (shudder) it seems that appearances are of less importance to me. I suppose this is all wise and good and perhaps one of the (few) benefits that age brings to the table.

This is a roundabout explanation of why you’ll never see a gaudy flag cake or splashy red, white, and blue tart at my 4th of July festivities.

Fireworks Display

I’d rather have something taste good than look good, and with those elaborately-decorated confections, appearance always seems to trump taste. And besides, some of my very favorite foods are incredibly ugly: the chunky gray blob that is baba ghanoush; a plain dark slab of liver pate; the wart-laden skin of a squash. Or maybe I just harbor affection for the frumpy and the forlorn.

Anyway, here’s the pie I served up at our Independence Day celebration.

AR Pie Finished View

Appearance-wise it’s certainly no dog, but it doesn’t invoke the patriotic fervor of a Yankee Doodle sundae or firecracker Jigglers. The pie does, however, taste really, really good. It’s filled with tart apricots that become meltingly soft and juicy during baking and a splash of raspberries for extra flavor.

Those raspberries served another purpose, too: adding a beautiful, rosy glow to the interior of the pie. So there, you visual types: the raspberries are a little gift from the Queen of Tarts. A little bit of looking good never hurt anything, I guess.

Kenny Eating Pie

Apricot Raspberry Pie
Adapted from The Gourmet Cookbook

Pastry for a double crust pie
1/3 c. cornstarch
½ t. salt
1 ½ c. sugar
1 ¾ pounds apricots (I used about 16 small apricots), pitted and sliced into ½ inch wedges
6 oz. raspberries
1 egg, yolk and white separated
1 T. sugar

Place baking on sheet on oven rack and heat oven to 450.
Roll out half of pastry to fill plate. Whisk egg white and brush over bottom and sides of pastry. Refrigerate. Mix remaining egg white back into yolk and reserve.
Mix together cornstarch, salt, and sugar in bowl. Add apricots and stir well. Gently stir in raspberries. Spoon filling into pie shell. Roll top pastry and cover filling. Crimp edges. Lightly brush top of crust with egg mixture and sprinkle with 1 T. sugar. Cut several slits into crust for venting. Bake pie on hot pie sheet for 15 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 375 and continue to bake 45 minutes more, until crust is brown and filling is bubbling. Cool several hours before serving.

Apricot Raspberry Pie

Friday, June 29, 2007

Pie In Your Eye?

With the offspring away on summer excursions, there’s been a significant lack of hubbub in the royal commissary this week (although I did make myself a kick-ass birthday cake, and no, that isn’t nearly as pathetic as it sounds.)

Nonetheless, I’ve been thinking pie. Specifically, I've been thinking about the word in its infinitive verb form – as in, to pie someone. Not surprisingly, there’s a plethora of information on the subject online, including an entry on Wikipedia that includes a chart of people who have been pied: Phyllis Schlafly, Milton Friedman, and Jeffrey Skilling, among many others.

Gersh Kuntzman gives an historical overview of pie launching and illuminates us on the particular genius of 70’s activist Aron Kay, aka The Pieman. Apparently, Kay was unique in his attempts to match the flavors of his pies with their recipients; for example, he made sure to hurl a fruit pie at notorious homophobe Anita Bryant.

Or perhaps you’d like to read an interview with a leading Belgian pie-throwing activist named Noel Godin? Maybe you’re interested in exploring the anarchic antics of the Biotic Baking Brigade and Al Pieda? It’s all here, dear Readers, and it’s simply shocking stuff.

Finally, Jack Boulware provides an instructional guide on the topic. The author has several useful suggestions for do-it-yourselfers, including fortifying oneself with booze before launching the attack and remembering to hurl gently, since one goal is to humiliate, rather than injure, the recipient. (The other goal involves avoiding an assault charge.)

And while the Queen is not exactly condoning the practice (Oh, what a waste of a perfectly good pie!), she admits to having a few political pie fantasies of her own.

Bon appetit, Ann Coulter!

What about you, dear Readers? How do you feel about this form of artistic expression/civil disobedience/ political theater?

And more importantly, who would you most like to see pied?


Friday, June 22, 2007

Life is Just . . .

...a bowl of cherries.

June 22a

Well, sometimes. Today I answered the doorbell twice – once for the UPS man with a stack of packages and once for a florist with an exotic arrangement of flowers-- only to discover that both times, they’d been delivered to the wrong address. And while the neighbors are no doubt delighted to have someone so Scrupulously Honest living nearby, the Queen will admit to suffering a few pangs of disappointment.

Nonetheless, there’s much to be cheerful about. So let’s count some of our blessings this Friday:

A blue ribbon in the breaststroke event
The return of a missing cat
An aged Provolone from Little Italy
A new book by Haruki Murakami
The Amtrak train --on time
A beginning tennis player learns to serve
Lucy gets a gift (Mellow Mutt, I hope you work soon)
The completion of 60 white boxes
Day lilies blooming after skipping a year

And when we’re done counting, let’s have a piece of pie. . .

Rustic Cherry Tart
Adapted from Martha Stewart Desserts

1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed
5 T. butter, softened
1/3 c. plus 4 t. sugar
1/2 c. ground up blanched almonds
1 egg
1/2 t. almond extract
1 egg yolk
1 T. cream
1 pound cherries, stemmed and pitted

Line your work surface with a large sheet of parchment. Sprinkle with flour and roll puff pastry large enough to cut a 12-inch circle from it. Roll the edges inward to create a 10-inch crust. Transfer parchment and crust to a baking sheet and chill for 30 minutes.

Mix together butter, 1/3 c. sugar, ground almonds, whole egg, and almond extract in a bowl. In another bowl, lightly mix egg yolk and heavy cream. Prick surface of pastry with fork and then brush yolk/cream mixture on the surface and edges of crust. Spread the almond mixture over crust and chill for another 15 minutes. Spread cherries in a single layer over almond mixture. Bake tart for 15 minutes. Sprinkle remaining 4 t. sugar over tart and continue baking for 5-10 minutes until tart is deep golden brown. Transfer tart to a wire rack to cool.

June 22b

Friday, June 15, 2007

Music to My Ears

No pie photos or recipes this week, dear Readers. Instead, treat yourself to this audible feast, compliments of uber-musician Steve Chambers. Long promised and worth the wait, this is likely the only song I'll ever have written about me (or my pies).

Mrs. Linder's Pies

Enjoy! (And a royal thank you to Steve)


(You may need to use Internet Explorer in order for the music player to work properly. Hey, I'm a baker not a programmer. . .)

Friday, June 8, 2007

Everybody Needs a Nonna

Lately I’ve been thinking how nice it would be to have an Italian grandmother hanging around the house. You know the kind I mean – a wizened little old woman in a headscarf who’d cluck over my skinned knee (or bruised ego), tend to a flock of chickens in the back yard, and pour out a fortifying slug of grappa when I needed it. Then, when I’d had just about enough of Nonna, she’d gently nod off in her rocking chair and make soft, Italian-accented snoring sounds. Sounds great, huh?

The other thing Italian Grandma would do of course, is cook. This would be her passion, making good things for me, the little principessa, to eat. Minestrones, panzanellas, roasted meats, and every kind of pasta. Italian Grandma would bend over her wooden counter and roll out raviolis by the dozen. “E niente,” she’d shrug - It's nothing - and I’d smile fondly at Nonna and keep on chewing.

And maybe in certain households in Italy, it really is nothing. My friend Anita visited her relatives in an Italian village and after eating her way through a four-hour, multi-course dinner, she watched, aghast, as they fed the leftovers to the dog. Thing is, those leftovers were handmade tortellini, the kind of thing Anita makes only a couple of times a year – on very special occasions, when she’s got say, an extra five hours or so. Lucky, lucky dog.

And that reminds me of the time that the royal family once stayed at a bed and breakfast in upstate New York. We came downstairs at breakfast to find the house cats chewing their way through a tangle of spaghetti and meatballs, both cats coming at it from opposite ends of the same strand. It was a great place to spend a weekend: We all loved the goat that lived on the property, a sweet little creature named Molly who gave a whinny whenever her name was called. Funny how these things become embedded in family lore. Call out the name “Molly” in that particular singsong voice and any one of our family will still bray in response. (Umm, okay, maybe you had to be there.)


But I digress. Back to Italian Grandma ... Nonna. This week’s recipe is in fact called Torta della Nonna, translated as tart or cake or pie Grandmother-style. It comes from my dear friend Ellen, a former colleague and terrific traveling companion, who tells me she made it for a Grandmother Shower. She claims it was the perfect accompaniment to the prune-tinis they served at the shower, although I hope she was kidding about the beverage selection.

I can vouch that the torta is a wonderful treat and tastes divine with a cup of strong coffee. The buttery pastry is orange scented and the filling is a ricotta custard with just enough pine nuts and Cointreau-soaked raisins to give it a bit of a zing. One bite and you’ll agree: La vita e bella.

Oh, if only Italian Grandma were here to taste it.


Torta della Nonna
Adapted from Good Friend Ellen

Ellen makes her version with almonds; I used pine nuts. Ellen used a 10-inch springform pan for her torta; I used an 11-inch tart pan with removeable bottom. (I ended up with enough extra pastry to put in the freezer and use for another tart.) Nobody's complaining about either version.

For the pastry:
1 1/2 c. butter, softened
2 c. sugar
2 t. vanilla
grated zest of 1 orange
1/2 t. salt
2 eggs + 2 egg yolks
5 c. flour

Cream butter and sugar together in the bowl of a stand mixer until light and fluffy. Stir in vanilla, orange zest, and salt. Mix eggs in one at a time until well incorporated. Dough will be very soft. Refrigerate for several hours or overnight.

For the filling:
1 egg + 2 egg yolks
4/5 c. sugar
1/2 c. + 2 T. flour
2 c. whole milk
12 oz. ricotta cheese

Whisk together eggs and sugar in heavy bottomed saucepan. Sift flour into mixture, whisking to avoid lumps. Add milk in a stream, stirring gently. When mixture is smooth, put over medium low heat, stirring until mixture thickens. When mixture comes to a boil, allow to cook for 2 more minutes. Pour mixture into a bowl to stop it from cooking any more. When mixture has cooled completely, stir in ricotta.

For assembling:
1 egg yolk
3 T. pine nuts or blanced almonds, sliced lengthwise
3 T. golden raisins soaked in 2 T. Cointreau

If the pastry has chilled, let it come to room temperature before rolling out. Preheat oven to 375.

Divide pastry and roll into 2 circles. Fit one half into bottom of pan. Pour ricotta mixture into pastry shell and sprinkle with 2 T. nuts and all the raisins. Cover with remaining pastry and crimp edges. (If you use a tart pan, the pastry will cut itself as you place it atop the ricotta.)
Whisk the egg yolk and brush over pastry. Sprinkle tart with remaining tablespoon of nuts. Bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, depending on size of pan. Tart will be golden brown. When cool, dust with powdered sugar.