Friday, September 8, 2006

There is No “I” in TEAMWORK

What a lot of hooey.

The Queen, it should be noted, has never been one to share her kitchen. Not that she is inordinately possessive of her personal space or that she has the slightest interest in preserving culinary mystery. No, the sad truth is that the Queen performs poorly on tasks involving Group Work. She detests committees, commissions, and communes. She’s not particularly fond of teams (except those in which fit young men wield wooden bats) and the mere prospect of collaborative endeavors where input is solicited and flip-charts are scrawled upon makes her positively queasy.

Plus she gets distracted easily.

Put someone in the kitchen with me when I’m trying to cook and the spoonful of salt in your soup is apt to be replaced with sugar. Ask about my recent trip to Timbuktu and I’ll respond with animation, even while I gaze helplessly at the pot of tomato sauce that burbles and boils over. And you may as well expect lots of charred food since it’s likely the oven temperature will be set incorrectly and the timer ignored.

In my kitchen, less is indeed more. This perverse form of arithmetic means that instead of the cook accomplishing twice as much with a helper, the meal will likely take twice as long to produce. Suddenly your dinner is in danger of turning into a midnight feast and your guests begin to wonder what happened to the promised first and second courses. (Short answer? I forgot.)

And only sometimes can I blame the wine.

This weekend, however, I benefited from the services of a lovely young apprentice, a maiden-in-waiting who approached the week’s pie-making challenge with enthusiasm --and thankfully -- not a lot of chatter. As instructed, she sliced, diced, rolled, and sprinkled. She didn’t flinch at unglamorous tasks and even, in fact, seemed to appreciate the ….er…cosmetic properties of unbleached flour.


The result? Two rustic fruit tarts –gorgeous enough to serve to houseguests, simple enough to execute in a kitchen that was bursting with a throng of onlookers.


In general, the Queen believes the only good thing about teamwork is having someone else to yell at when it all goes to hell in a hand basket. She will concede, however, that there are times when many hands make light work.


Or perhaps, lighter work. And only on rare occasions . . .

I mean, let’s not get carried away here.

Rustic Fruit Tarts

Adapted from David Lebovitz

I can safely promise you’ll love these tarts. The first, a plum and raspberry confection, is enhanced by a layer of crushed Amaretti di Saronno meringue cookies, resulting in a flavor that is piquant and complex. The fresh peach and strawberry version is equally tasty and as a bonus, the two fruits seem to cast a rosy glow upon one another. But don’t feel limited by these selections – most any combination of fruits will make a fine tart or two.


Pastry Dough (for two tarts)

2 ½ c. flour
2 T. sugar
½ t. salt
1 stick cold butter, cut into 8 pieces
2/3 c. ice water

Mix together flour, sugar, and salt. Add the butter – using a food processor (my preference), a stand mixer, or a pastry blender. Mix until the butter is well incorporated, but still visible as small chunks. Add the ice water all at once and mix until dough comes together. Shape dough into two disks, wrap them in plastic, and refrigerate at least an hour.

When you are ready to assemble the tarts, roll out each piece of dough into a 15 inch round. Transfer it to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

For the Plum & Rasberry Tart:

1/3 c. crushed amaretti or biscotti cookies

5-6 ripe plums, sliced into eighths

3 T. sugar

3 oz. fresh raspberries

2 T. milk

Sprinkle crushed amaretti on top of pastry dough, leaving a 2 inch border around the edge of the crust. Arrange the plums atop the crumbs in a concentric circle, overlapping to fit. When finished, lift the edges of the pastry and fold toward the center, pleating the dough to create a border. Brush the border with milk and sprinkle the entire tart with the sugar. Bake at 400 for 30 minutes. Remove from oven and place the raspberries over the plums. Return to oven and bake another 15 minutes, or until brown.

For the Peach & Strawberry Tart:

3 c. ripe peaches, peeled and sliced

1 ½ T. flour

3 T. sugar

½ t. cinnamon

1 t. vanilla

1 ½ c. strawberries, sliced

Mix together peaches, flour, sugar, cinnamon, and vanilla. Arrange mixture atop pastry, as instructed in Plum & Raspberry Tart. Tuck strawberries into peaches randomly. Complete tart as instructed in Plum & Raspberry Tart.

The recipe claims that each tart can serve 6-8, but the 8 of us took on both tarts (and a pint of ice cream) -- and not a crumb remained.




At 12:11 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your kitchen must be much larger than mine. We have what my father always referred to as a "one butt" kitchen. Any more than that, and the occupants are always tripping over or bumping into each other.

Mrs. Currydude and I have learned to cope -- most of the time. This is also aided by the rather small size of her butt. Still, if there is a major production, like a 20-quart vat of curry, anything that involves rolling out dough, or any meal that has more than two dishes, we are hopeless.

I guess this is the price of living in a house that was built in the middle of the last century when only the wife/mother was ever found in the kitchen (think June Cleaver), so with the exception of kids passing through to spend a few moments gazing into the fridge or the cat inquiring about the availability of a few scraps, kitchens were simply designed for a maximum of one adult butt.

Oh, and don't even try to suggest that food preparation spills over into the dining room. We have not seen the surface of our dining room table for several months now.



At 9:48 AM, Blogger markb said...

Your Majesticness, may I suggest that your aversion to having helpers might be due to choosing the wrong class of helpers?

I highly recommend enlisting the aid of at least several children no older than seven years of age. They love to add ingredients, crack eggs, stir, fight over who gets to do what, blame the other children for spilling the batter, refuse to clean up the batter because "I didn't do it!", and provide a chaotic levity that is both soothing and highly-anxiety provoking.

And while you think having your "helpers" might make clean-up take twice as long, it won't--in fact, it will take four to five times as long as the little brats bicker and complain, and your blood pressure rises exponentially with the increase in the level of noise.

On second thought...

At 2:57 PM, Blogger The Queen of Tarts said...

Currydude, In general, the Queen equates Bigger with Better.(Tiffany boxes and their contents are, perhaps, the exception.) She expects, however, that you and Mrs. Currydude will manage to live happily ever after in your cozy kitchen.

Sir MarkB, Your Queen has Been There and Done That and is eternally grateful that Someone Else gets to do it now.


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