Friday, July 28, 2006

The Early Bird Gets The . . .


You knew I was going to say that, didn’t you?

And how lucky those early birds are!

July 28a

For the record, the Queen did not set out to make a breakfast pie. It was only as I was removing this week’s entry from the oven – and spilling bubbling pie lava on the floor -- that it even occurred to me that there would be leftovers. As a reasonable person, one who is concerned about muffin top waistlines and ugly displays of gluttony, the Queen is adamant about sharing. But this week the stars aligned in an unusual way: a farmer’s market crowded with succulent berries, an absence of dinner guests, a member of the royal family on work assignment in the Gulf Coast. The resulting constellation? Only three for dinner. And one fat pie.

July 28g

Good Morning, Good Morning!

Now, before you give me that look, let me remind you that there are many people who breakfast on indigenous foodstuffs that are much weirder than pie. For starters, I’m personally acquainted with a teenager who went through a several-month-long phase in which his morning nutrition consisted exclusively of cold pizzas. (Pepperoni. Tombstone. Frozen. Please promise me you’re not dialing the Department of Child Welfare.)

Filipinos are known to indulge in fried fish heads for their wake-up meals, whereas the Chinese might breakfast on congee rice soup with sliced pig’s liver. The Brits have their black pudding (don’t even ask) and I hear the Japanese like fermented soybeans.

And you thought Belgian waffles were exotic. . .

A slice of jumbleberry pie on your breakfast table will help you face the morning without flinging up your hands in dismay at the state of the world and its attendant slew of tragedies.

July 28f

Bursting with a combination of blackberries, blueberries, and raspberries, it is the perfect antidote for a person who has spent most of the night dealing with a 110-pound Labrador with an upset tummy. (You didn’t realize that the Queen resided in an animal kingdom?) Blanketed with its crisp, buttery crust, this pie is positively restorative.

So what are you waiting for? Put down that Pop Tart and get to work!

July 28b

Jumbleberry Pie
Adapted from The Gourmet Cookbook

Although mid-summer is the right time to procure these kinds of berries, they don’t come cheap. In fact, just one of these pies contained over $15 worth of berries.

July 28c

Ouch. So, unless you have access to blackberry bushes – your own or those owned by somebody who won’t notice that you’re stealing from them – the Queen suggests you don’t offer to bring this pie to your family reunion. Although your 30-odd kinfolk would be delighted, you’d have to auction one of your children to pay the mortgage. There is a reason, after all, that God created the sheet cake.

1 c. sugar
3 T. cornstarch
2 T. tapioca
¼ t. salt
4 c. blackberries
1 ½ c. black or red raspberries
1 ½ c. blueberries

Pie crust for double-crust pie (use your own recipe or see Cherry Pie)
Milk for brushing crust
1 t. sugar

Heat oven to 450. Place a baking sheet on middle of oven rack. Whisk together dry ingredients in large bowl; toss with berries. Roll out half of dough and fit into pie plate. Trim edge. Refrigerate while rolling out top crust. Roll out remaining dough for top crust. (You may exercise your artistic expression by making polka dots in the dough; I used the lid of a Cointreau bottle for my masterpiece. Or leave plain.) Spoon filling into pie plate. Cover with top crust and crimp edges. Brush top of pie with milk and sprinkle with sugar. Cut several small slits in crust to vent steam. Bake on hot baking sheet for 15 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 375 and continue to bake about 45 minutes more. Cool pie on a rack for at least 2 hours.

July 28d

July 28e

Friday, July 21, 2006

Vive la France!

A while back, I spent a year living in France. Ostensibly I was there to absorb a bit of culture and to study the French language. Naturally, I ended up never once visiting the Louvre and to this day I remain unclear on the distinctions between the passé compose and l’imparfait. (Don’t even mention the passé simple.) My sojourn, however, did not go by without an education of sorts.

I learned, for example, that there are few things better than riding on the back of a motorcycle along the Cote d’Azur with a handsome young Frenchman named Yann. I learned that when careening down those hills you can smell the fragrant fields of lavender before you catch sight of them and that the Mediterranean sea shimmers like a mirror sprinkled with blue. I learned that a year is not nearly enough time to spend in France when you’re 20 years old and poised for Life. I learned, finally, that it’s much easier to say Bonjour than Adieu.


Ah, well, c’est la vie. My contact with Yann ended as soon as my plane lifted off from Charles de Gaulle. I’ve never returned to that part of France, in part because I fear that the lavender fields have been overrun by Americans seeking their own Year in Provence.

Fortunately, though, I still have pissaladiere.


For those of you non-Francophiles, here’s a pronunciation guide. Although this will sound a bit like potty-talk, you must understand that the proper way to say this is Pee-sa-lah-dee-yair, not Piss-sa-lah-dee-yair. Pee not piss. Got it? The name comes from pissalat, an anchovy and herb paste that’s commonly found around those climes. Alternately, you could call it a Nicoise onion tart. Nicoise, as in from Nice.

Now that we’ve cleared that up, let’s talk about why you should care about this dish. Most often served as an appetizer or snack food, pissaladiere is merely a tangle of silky onions heaped on an anchovy-scented pizza crust and adorned with oil-cured black olives. Cut into wide strips, it’s simple and delicious and yet impressive enough to serve to party guests. (Especially if you’ve got that pronunciation down.)


In France, fat squares of pissaladiere are sold in bakeries scattered throughout Mediterranean villages. I’d often stop on my way home and pick up a piece to munch on as I walked up the hill from town. Sometimes, I’d run into one of my good friends – Yann and his brother Patrick, or Karen, Magali, or Dominique – and then we’d gather at a café and gossip and drink a pastis together, too. Then, I’d resume the walk up the hill, although by this time I was probably hungry again and would need to stop at a patisserie for a pain au chocolat or a petite strawberry tart. . .

All of which helps to explain how I eventually returned to the U.S. with lots of good memories -- and a suitcase full of clothes that no longer fit.

Adapted from Saveur Cooks Authentic French
Originally this recipe called for the dough to be rolled out, transferred to a pizza peel, and then baked atop a hot pizza stone. I’ve discovered that it’s much simpler to simply press – or roll – the dough onto a baking sheet or pizza pan and then bake. However, the Queen gives you the choice. . .

For the dough:

1 package active dry yeast
¼ c. olive oil
3 c. flour
1 T. salt

For the topping:

¼ c. olive oil
3 pounds yellow onions, peeled and thinly sliced
salt and pepper
1 bay leaf
½ t. dried thyme
2 cloves garlic, minced
anchovy paste
1/3 c. oil-cured olives

Make the dough by dissolving yeast in 1 c. warm water. Let stand 5 minutes, then add oil. Mix together flour and salt in a medium-sized bowl; add yeast mixture and stir well. Turn out dough on floured surface and knead until dough is smooth and elastic (about 5 minutes.) Form dough into ball and place in a bowl that has been lightly coated with oil. Cover with a damp cloth, leave in a warm place, and allow to rise for 1 hour.

Meanwhile, make the topping.


Heat oil in large pan over medium-low heat. Add onions, bay leaf, and generous amounts of salt and pepper. Cover pan and let simmer 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. Uncover and continue cooking until moisture is nearly evaporated. Stir in thyme and garlic. Continue cooking until moisture is completely evaporated and onions have cooked down to a thick mass. Remove bay leaf.

Roll dough onto a floured surface and transfer to a baking sheet or pizza pan that has been lightly dusted with cornmeal. Cover dough with a damp cloth for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 450. Remove cloth from dough and spread a thin layer of anchovy paste across the top of the dough. Spoon onions atop and arrange olives decoratively. Bake until crust is brown, approximately 20 minutes. Pissaladiere may be served warm or at room temperature.


Friday, July 14, 2006

Va Va Va Voom!


I guess they call it food porn for a reason. . .


Actually though, no adjectives can do justice to this week’s pie – a coconut cream confection that will have you, too, struggling for words. (But a simple moan of pleasure might get your point across.) In fact, the only way you could possibly be disappointed is if you come to the table expecting the coconut cream pie standard: a glop of thick, rubbery filling topped off with a ledge of Styrofoam meringue.

Or if you don’t like coconut.

And what’s up with that, anyway? Has there ever been a mainstream foodstuff more polarizing? I’ve heard the arguments – the gritty texture, the suntan lotion smell, the complex packaging – and I still don’t get it. I mean, there are plenty of foods in high demand that aren’t exactly user-friendly, i.e., artichokes, lobster, Gorgonzola cheese.

So why not coconut?

But I’m a mere advocate of pie, not an evangelist, so I won’t bother trying to persuade you. Here’s a warning, though: Don’t come to my house with your coconut prejudices unless you really mean it. Because you won’t be allowed to have a Thai curry or a pina colada, either.

The King (the one who shares the palace with the Queen of Tarts, not the one who lived -- lives? -- in Memphis) requested this pie for his birthday.


He seemed rather pleased with the result, even though the crust had shrunken a bit after baking. Thankfully, as kings go, he’s pretty good-natured (unlike, say Henry VIII), and my head remains attached to my shoulders.

Nasty-Good* Coconut Cream Pie
Adapted from Bullocks-Wilshire Tearoom and the Los Angeles Times

If you’ve made it this far, you must be a coconut aficionado. Now, pay attention: this pie filling needs to simmer for two hours. Otherwise, you’ll wind up with something that resembles coconut soup and the Queen’s ears will be ringing with your curses. So be patient.

*as described by a 12-year-old Prince

For the filling:

3 c. half and half
½ c. sugar
6 egg yolks
1 T. butter, softened
1 ½ T. cornstarch
1 T. canned sweetened cream of coconut
¼ t. vanilla
¼ t. coconut extract
1/8 t. almond extract

Pastry for a 9-inch one-crust pie (Use your own recipe or make crust for Cherry Pie and freeze half for future use.)

For the topping:

2 c. whipping cream
½ c. sugar
1 t. vanilla

1/3 c. flake coconut

Combine half and half and sugar in top of double boiler. Cook over simmering water 2 hours, stirring often. In separate bowl, beat together egg yolks, butter, and cornstarch. Add cream of coconut, and vanilla, coconut, and almond extracts. Let half and half mixture come almost to boil Stir ¼ c. into egg yolk mixture. Slowly add egg yolk mixture into half and half mixture, stirring rapidly. Cook and stir 5 to 10 minutes longer, until thickened. Cool in refrigerator at least an hour.

Meanwhile, roll out pastry and fit into 8 inch pie plate. Prick bottom of crust. Line plate with foil and fill with pie weights. Bake at 350 for 15 minutes. Remove foil and weights and bake 5 minutes longer. Cool before adding filling.

For topping, whip cream, sugar, and vanilla together until soft peaks form.

To assemble: Turn filling into pie crust and cover with whipped cream topping.


Sprinkle with coconut.


Now you can eat.


Friday, July 7, 2006

Luncheon is Served

This week, in response to the torrent of reader requests for a savory specialty, I present you with a fresh tomato tart. This delectable summer tart would make the perfect entrée, accompanied by a splash of piquant spring greens, at the next luncheon that you find yourself hosting.


(In the interests of disclosure, the Queen must admit that she has likely never hosted a luncheon. Perhaps if she hadn’t successfully managed to elude the Junior League recruiting contingent for so many years, she’d have more familiarity with that particular mealtime concept. She might also have ended up with monogrammed towels in the powder room and handbags that matched her pumps.)

This tomato tart is simply an elegant riff on an old southern favorite, the tomato pie. If you’ve ever spent time south of the Mason-Dixon line (or wangled invitations from hospitable southern pals), you’ve probably had a taste of something like it. These pies often involve layers of ripe tomato slices, shredded cheese, and a drizzle of mayonnaise. In this version, the love apple is still the star attraction, but puff pastry and roasted garlic-infused goat cheese serve in supporting roles.

It’s perfectly appropriate (and probably de rigueur at luncheons) to use knife and fork to cut through the crisp and flaky crust of this tart before taking a delicate nibble. You’ll note from the photo, however, that it’s also considered acceptable to treat this tart like a slice of pizza. In that case, feel free to gobble with gusto.


Sliced and displayed on a fancy platter, the tart will also serve as a stylish appetizer for your next cocktail party. Whatever your pleasure, you’ll only want to make this with good tomatoes, preferably home-grown ones that actually taste like -- gasp!--tomatoes.

So, enjoy. Have a good time at your luncheon. And don’t worry about the Queen of Tarts. Never one to miss a meal, she remains quite familiar with another mealtime concept – lunch – and does, in fact, eat it every single day.

Tomato Tart with Garlic Goat Cheese
Adapted from Delia Smith

6-7 ripe tomatoes, (round, and on the small side)
5 oz. soft goat cheese
1 head garlic
3 tsp. chopped fresh thyme, plus several extra sprigs
½ package frozen puff pastry (1 sheet)
3 T. olive oil
1 egg, beaten with 1 tsp. water

Roast garlic: Slice the tips from a head of whole, unpeeled garlic. Spoon 1 T. olive oil on top, sprinkle with salt and pepper. Wrap in foil and bake at 350 for 45 minutes. Allow to cool slightly.

For tomatoes: Thinly slice tomatoes and sprinkle with salt.


Drain in colander for several minutes. When ready to use, blot tomatoes to remove excess moisture.

For tart: Follow directions on box for thawing puff pastry. Roll dough into large rectangle (it should fit atop a baking sheet.) Using a sharp knife, lightly score a line all around the inside edge of the pastry (about ½ in. from edge), creating a frame. Do not cut all the way through the pastry. Prick the bottom of the dough all over with a fork.


Put goat cheese into small bowl. Squeeze softened cloves of garlic onto cheese and add thyme, and salt and pepper. Mix well. Spread over pastry crust, staying inside the frame you have created. Arrange tomatoes in rows on top of cheese. Drizzle remaining olive oil over all and place thyme sprigs randomly. Brush outer edges of tart with egg and water wash.

Bake at 375 for 45 minutes, or until tomatoes are roasted and pastry is brown. Let sit at least 10 minutes before cutting into squares.