Friday, August 25, 2006

The Queen Apologizes in Advance for the Rant

I once spent a weekend visiting friends and their extended family in a distant city. Not only was the company sublime and the improvised entertainment jolly, the food was pretty damn good too. In fact, we assertively ate our way through Saturday breakfast, lunch, and dinner before staggering outside, dipping our toes into the lake and falling asleep, exhausted from the day’s exertions. After a hearty Sunday brunch, we slumped in Adirondack chairs, drumming our fingers in anticipation of the culminating feast of the weekend. At the appointed hour we crammed into the kitchen, eager to pitch in. (An unknown quantity culinary-wise, the Queen was assigned the complex assignment of shucking the corn.) Barbecued meats and other tasty foodstuffs were readied but the main attraction was left in the capable hands of one of the aunts. Her peach cobbler was so renowned that the adjectives used to describe it might have included the oxymoronic: divine, orgasmic, heavenly, and killer.


Imagine how excited I was to observe the technique of this reputed baker. I stood, breathless, as the aunt spread out her ingredients on the big wooden table: a big bowl of freshly sliced peaches, a canister of sugar, a shaker jar with cinnamon, and . . .a package of Pillsbury refrigerated pie crust.

This was the most shocking discovery I’d had since learning about the income tax.

I didn’t care how good her cobbler would ultimately turn out to be; I felt betrayed. It seemed simply wrong that a reputation should be built upon something less than authentic. To me, it was analogous to accepting praise for the watercolor paintings on your wall without coming clean that they were paint-by-number. Or showing up at the prom with a handsome escort and not telling anyone he was your cousin. Or touting your high score at bowling and forgetting to admit that you were using bumpers.

It goes without saying that I ate the cobbler anyway. And except for the lingering taste of deceit that remained in my mouth, it wasn’t bad at all.

And that is my point. It’s perfectly fine to make time or laborsaving substitutions if necessary, but let’s be upfront about the shortcuts. Let’s strive for the real, the fresh, the genuine whenever possible. Let’s proclaim that homemade (and not the semi-homemade crap that’s made Sandra Lee famous) is still a desirable objective. Because otherwise we learn to settle – indeed, glorify – something lesser. And that becomes a steady march down the path that is “dumbing down” our taste buds – and our very culinary culture.

Class dismissed.

Happily, this week’s pie also involves the luscious peach. It’s that time of year, after all, so gather ye golden fuzzy orbs while ye may. Instead of a top crust, this pie wears a crown of brown sugar and butter crunch, making it both homey and luxurious. And homemade, natch.


To apologize for sounding so high and mighty (though it is a perk of royalty), the Queen admits that homemade does not necessarily equate with perfection. The peach pies I made ended up very juicy, spilling over their sides, the sugary juices catching fire in the bottom of the oven. First there were flames, then squeals from horrified onlookers, and then the kitchen became filled with so much acrid smoke that the dog ran barking from the room.

Gee, maybe I should have stuck to shucking corn.



Juicy Peach Pie with Crumb Topping
Adapted from Emeril Lagasse

An easy (easier) way to peel peaches is to drop them into boiling water for about a minute and then put them into a large bowl of ice water. Often (but not always) the skins will slide right off.


Pie filling:
1 ½ c. water
¾ c. light brown sugar
2 T. cornstarch
½ t. salt
1 t. cinnamon
½ t. nutmeg
2 ½ pounds peaches, peeled and cut into slices (about 3 ½ cups)

1 unbaked piecrust

Crumb topping:
½ c. brown sugar
½ c. flour
½ c. butter

Preheat oven to 350. Combine water, brown sugar, cornstarch, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg in a saucepan and whisk until there are no lumps. Bring mixture to a boil. Lower heat and simmer for 2 minutes. Put peaches into bowl and pour syrup over them. Stir well and let cool for about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, mix together brown sugar, flour, and butter for topping. Use your fingers, two knives, or a pastry blender until mixture looks like coarse meal.

Line a pie plate with the pastry and then spoon the peach mixture into it. Sprinkle crumb topping over all. Place atop a baking sheet (unless you want to witness flames, too) and bake for 1 hour, or until topping is golden brown and filling is bubbly.

Quite good with ice cream, freshly whipped cream, or both.


Friday, August 18, 2006

Pie Are Squared

Well, sort of.

The Queen submits this missive from the royal family’s vacation spot, a small, scrubby island with gorgeous dunes, umpteen miles of unspoiled beaches, and a cute village that’s made for careening around on a bicycle. It also features the most splendid coffee house in the known world, a comfortable spot where you can sink into an Adirondack chair, sip a Red Rover smoothie and gawk at the sunburns of the otherwise-prudent tourists. (And lest you become too complacent in Paradise, the locals will remind you that the flattering term they use for the island’s temporary inhabitants is Dingbatters.)

The island has no cell phone service, spotty internet access, and a single grocery store. It has fewer than 800 permanent residents, one of whom is the ghost of Blackbeard. A favorite entertainment option is attending a discussion at the history museum where a panel of octogenarian residents named Blanche and Bertha and Earl talk about how wonderful the island was before it was corrupted by modern amenities.

It’s a terrific place.

There’s only one flaw: you can’t buy a pizza pan on the entire island.

Normally this would not be a problem. But when it’s the birthday of a young prince and he’s issued a dinner decree – pizza, homemade -- it becomes a matter of some importance.


We rummaged in the cabinets of the house where we’re staying. The result? One slightly-dented cookie sheet. We pedaled over to the grocery store. Since we were not in need of poker chips or Funyuns or any of 20 varieties of mosquito repellent, it was an unsuccessful quest. The two “gourmet” boutiques on the island offered microbrews, mesclun greens, and champagne mustard, but few choices of cookware. The hardware store stocked a full range of wire nuts and spackle but no baking pans.

And so? We improvised. (Yes, readers, when it comes to sheer adventure -- isn’t this blog all you ever hoped for and more?)

The four pizza pies ended up rectangular in shape.


The toppings were somewhat irregular in composition. But the results were uniformly delicious: chunks of tender chicken on a smear of barbecue sauce, a classic pepperoni and mozzarella with red sauce, a Greek-infused kalamata olive and feta concoction, and a garlicky eggplant sprinkled with hot red peppers and parmesan. All on a light-but-toothsome homemade pizza crust.




The prince was satisfied. And not just with the pizza. The crowning glory of his birthday celebration involved I-24, his winning bingo number at the volunteer fire department’s weekly extravaganza.

Sometimes the Dingbatters get lucky.


Pizza Dough
Adapted from The King Arthur Baking Book

3 cups unbleached flour
1 package yeast
1 ½ t. salt
2 T. olive oil
1 1/3 c. water

Mix together all ingredients and knead – by hand or with a mixer – until the dough is smooth. This doesn’t take long. Put dough in oiled bowl, cover, and let rise for 45 minutes. Then, refrigerate the dough for at least 4 hours – or up to 36 hours – to develop the crust’s flavor.

Divide the dough in half. Heat oven to 500 degrees. Press the dough into a pizza pan, cookie sheet, or whatever the hell you need to use. When oven is at correct temperature, place pizza on middle rack for 5 minutes. Remove from oven and cover with your favorite toppings. Return to lowest rack of oven and back for an additional 8 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown and the filling is bubbly.

This recipe makes two pizzas. You can easily double or even triple the quantities.

To make the pizzas in the photos: 1) Spread prepared barbecue sauce to cover dough. Add chunks of cooked chicken and thinly sliced onions. Cover with mozzarella. 2) Spread prepared pasta or pizza sauce to cover dough. Sprinkle with sliced pepperoni and cover thickly with mozzarella. 3) Brush olive oil over surface of dough. Cover with nubbins of feta cheese and pitted Kalamata olives. Add thinly sliced onions and sprinkle with oregano. 4) Before making pizzas, cut eggplant into thick slices and then halves. Lightly brush with olive oil and broil a few minutes on each side. Brush olive oil on crust, cover with eggplant halves. Heat 2 T. olive oil in small pan. Add 2 cloves chopped garlic and ½ t. dried red pepper flakes. Heat 30 seconds and spread mixture over eggplant. Sprinkle pizza with half Parmesan and half mozzarella cheeses.


Thursday, August 10, 2006


And you? It’s August, after all. You’ve finally gotten the hang of this summer thing – indolence, inertia, intermittent bouts of inebriation. It’s not a bad life. And as long as you keep staring into the sultry gaze of Summer you can still eek out a few more weeks of pleasure. But avoid meeting the eyes of that cool interloper, Autumn. He’s bringing a friend along named Industry -- the foresworn enemy of these lazy, hazy, crazy days.

To be safe, head for the hammock.

This week’s entry into our pie diary is definitely chill. It is, in fact, frozen. You don’t need an oven to make this Peanut Butter Ice Cream Pie. Hell, with a slight modification, you don’t even need a stove. Let me assure you, however, that no one’s enthusiasm will be diminished by the relative ease of the final product.


Those of you who are (still?) hesitant about baking should consider this dessert a mere exercise in assembly. Here’s the blueprint: A crunchy peanut butter cookie crust, a layer of creamy hot fudge sauce, rich peanut butter swirl ice cream, more hot fudge, a scattering of peanuts as a crown.


On the scale of putting things together, it ranks far lower in complexity than an IKEA shelving unit or the 3,104-piece Lego Imperial Star Destroyer.

And the aforementioned modification? Well, The Queen makes her own fudge sauce. Something about the idea of the so-called stabilizers in this type of packaged product makes her squeamish. Airplanes, cruise ships, and (occasionally) moods need stabilizers; ice cream sauces do not. So here’s to instability.

The recipe encourages such creative license. Plain vanilla ice cream would be fine but so would a busy Reese Cup mix-in. Nutter Butter cookies work well as a base for the crust, but you could also pull out the package of Do-Si-Do’s that lurk in your freezer (even if they’re so ancient they still bear the name Savannahs.) As for the peanut topping, well, that’s up to you too, Reader: lightly salted, honey roasted, or chocolate-coated?

The Queen understands that choosing the right goober is a very personal decision.

So just chill out, okay?


Peanut Butter Ice Cream Pie

Adapted from Bon Appetit

1 package (about 16 oz.) peanut butter sandwich cookies
7 T. butter, melted
1 recipe hot fudge sauce (or 1 18-oz. jar hot fudge sauce)
3 pints vanilla and peanut butter swirl ice cream, softened
1 ½ c. chopped peanuts

Hot fudge sauce:

3 oz. good quality bittersweet chocolate
4 T. cocoa
2/3 c. water
6 T. butter
2/3 c. sugar
4 T. corn syrup
½ t. salt
1 t. vanilla extract

Make hot fudge sauce by melting chocolate with cocoa and water in a small saucepan. Stir constantly. Add butter, sugar, corn syrup, and salt. Simmer, stirring frequently, until the sugar has completely dissolved. Stop stirring and cook at medium boil for 5-10 minutes or until mixture is thickened. Swirl the mixture in the pan and reduce heat if necessary to avoid scorching. Cool slightly and add vanilla.

To make pie: finely crush cookies in food processor or with a rolling pin. Add butter and blend well. Press mixture over bottom and sides of 9-inch springform pan. If using packaged hot fudge sauce, heat in microwave or saucepan until warm. If using delicious, homemade sauce, there’s no need. Pour half of sauce over bottom of crust. Freeze at least 1 hour. Spoon softened ice cream over sauce, smooth top, and freeze until firm, about 2 hours. Pour remaining sauce over ice cream, spreading to cover completely. Sprinkle nuts on top of pie and freeze until set, about an hour. You can prepare this several days ahead of time and freeze. Keep covered.

When ready to serve, release pan sides and cut pie into wedges.



Friday, August 4, 2006

The Japanese Prime Minister and I Have So Much in Common

Correction: The Japanese Prime Minister and I Have One Thing in Common.

We both adore…



Yes, you read it here first: The Queen ♥ The King.

But it wasn’t always that way. As a mere girl, I was disdainful of Elvis the Pelvis. I didn’t like his movies, his music, or his jumpsuits. (Though I was intrigued by his Cadillac-bestowing generosity and his penchant for peanut butter and bacon sandwiches.)

Then one day, when The Queen was still a young princess in Cincinnati, her mother made an announcement: Big E was coming to town, and by God, The Princess was going to accompany her to the show.

Naturally, I was all shook up.

I can’t exactly remember which strong-arm tactic (bribery or threat) my mother used, but I went to the concert with her. In the car, she promised me that it was crucial to witness Elvis’ splendor now, since he wasn’t going to be around forever.

A very prescient comment, as that concert -- June 25, 1977 -- turned out to be the penultimate of his too-short career.

And by the time he began crooning Can’t Helping Falling in Love, I already had.

Even then, in less-than-peak physical condition, Elvis’s charisma was enough to make a teenager blush. The atmosphere sizzled with women tossing all sorts of things onto the stage – teddy bears, hotel keys, and enough lingerie to fill a Frederick’s of Hollywood store. For one heady moment, I wondered if he might have any interest in pink cotton bikinis with Thursday embroidered on them.

Then I remembered that I was sitting next to my mother.

We all know the sad ending to this tale: Elvis Aron Presley, 1935-1977.

But what about the pie, you ask?

Oh, right. Pie.


Well, let me remind you that the commemorative Elvis Week (August 8-16) begins shortly. (It’s not yet been declared a national holiday, but I’m helping you to stay ahead of the curve here.) Since you’ll want to celebrate appropriately, I’m dishing up Elvis’ favorite pie: Lemon Meringue, according to Kara, a knowledgeable internet resource.


A confession: I don’t even like meringue. If this were my pie, I’d substitute a nice swath of soft-whipped cream atop the tangy lemon layer. But this isn’t my pie, and for once, The Queen defers to The King.

Haven’t you ever made a sacrifice for the one you love?

It’s Now or Never. . .


Lemon Meringue Pie
Adapted from Alton Brown

Lemon filling:

4 egg yolks (reserve whites for meringue)
1/3 c. cornstarch
1 ½ c. water
1 1/3 c. sugar
¼ t. salt
3 T. butter
½ c. lemon juice (from about 3 lemons)
1 T. lemon zest


4 egg whites
¼ t. cream of tartar
¼ t. vanilla
3 T. sugar

1 9-inch pre-baked pie shell

Preheat oven to 375.

Make meringue by placing egg whites, cream of tartar, and vanilla in mixing bowl. Beat egg whites until soft peaks form. Gradually add sugar and continue beating until stiff peaks form – about 2 minutes.

Make filling by whisking egg yolks in medium bowl.. Set aside. In a saucepan, whisk together cornstarch, water, sugar, and salt. Over medium heat, stir frequently until mixture comes to a boil. Boil for 1 minute. Remove from heat and gradually add half of hot mixture to egg yolks, whisking constantly. Return egg mixture to remaining mixture in saucepan. Turn heat to low and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 more minute. Remove from heat and stir in butter, lemon juice, and zest. Pour mixture into pre-baked pie shell.

Spread meringue over lemon filling while filling is still hot. Make sure meringue covers filling all the way to edge of the piecrust. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until meringue is golden brown. Remove from oven and cool completely before refrigerating pie.

(Dipping your knife in hot water before cutting into pie makes it easier to slice.)