Friday, September 29, 2006

I've Seen Better Days. . .

Things fall apart. Shit happens. Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen.

Most days, we do what we can. We try our best to clean up the mess, patch the cracks, console the bereft. Sometimes we just write a check.

But some days there’s nothing you can do but check out. The best decision – for everyone involved – is to take care of yourself first. Put on your oxygen mask. Adjust the straps. Breathe deeply. There, there. You can get back to fixing the rest of the world later.

Now, lest you be concerned with all this abstract doom and gloom, I should assure you that everything’s fine in the royal realm. Perfectly peachy, in fact. But you don’t spend 30-odd years (ahem) on this earth without suffering through your share of rotten days, right?

So let’s talk about comfort.


When one of those days happens, the Queen has a strategy. First, she dresses the part in a uniform that likely consists of a pair of men’s flannel pajama bottoms and a tattered cotton turtleneck. She sports Chinese velvet slippers -- the kind that make a consoling flop-flop as she wanders from room to room -- and her favorite gray “writer’s sweater,” a once-lovely piece of clothing that now hangs baggy and forlorn at her waist. Then, on particularly bad days – when even a stray lock floating about her face is unbearably annoying – she twists her hair into a bun.

It’s a glamorous look, I assure you.

What else? A blazing fire is nice. A good book never hurts. A baseball game that doesn’t involve the Reds losing can be splendid succor.

And then, of course, there’s food.

We’re all familiar with the tired notion of Comfort Food. According to those in the know, it usually involves some combination of pasta, cheese, bread and hot soup. And chocolate, natch.

But the Queen’s not buying that. A gooey grilled cheese and a Snickers might ease a wrinkled brow, but so can a plate of spicy chilaquiles. Homemade pad thai with a squirt of lime can make you feel chipper on the double. Cincinnati-style chili on a nest of noodles can be the poor man’s Paxil.

There’s no single recipe for comfort. A hot bubble bath may calm your cares, but the resulting shriveled digits and smothering steam provide no solace for me. You, Dear Reader, need to figure out your own formula.

For a downtrodden queen, though, dessert is easy. Let me whisper these three words: Egg Custard Pie.


It’s cool. It’s settling. It works wonders on anything from troubled tummies to shattered psyches. Fragrant with nutmeg, utterly smooth and transcendently soothing, it’s the Make It a Double of pies.

Egg Custard Pie

Adapted from the American Pie Council


3 eggs, beaten
¾ c. sugar
pinch of salt
1 t. pure vanilla extract
2 ½ cups milk, scalded

1 unbaked pie crust
1 egg white

Preheat oven to 400. Line a pie plate with the unbaked crust. Brush sides and bottom with beaten egg white.


Mix eggs, sugar, salt, and vanilla until well blended. Stir in the scalded milk. Pour mixture into pie shell and sprinkle heavily with nutmeg. Bake 35-40 minutes, or until knife inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool on rack.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Tart Tarts


There’s a theory that the world can be divided into two kinds of people: those who love chocolate and those who favor citrus. (Shush, all of you that are now protesting that you love both equally. We’re not talking about your children, for heaven’s sake!) Come clean: you’re at Starbucks, treating yourself to a pick-me-up. Which cupcake – the lemony Lazy Daisy or the Death by Chocolate – is going to end up next to your Americano?

Make up your mind: Chocolate or Citrus, Ginger or Mary Ann, The Yankees or Whichever Team is Playing Them, Shaken or Stirred, George Bush or Hugo Chavez. Obviously, it’s this diversity of opinion that makes life so very interesting. Right?

The Queen, you will not be surprised to learn, has a clear preference. While she likes chocolate just fine – preferably dark, bitter, and unadulterated, in small flat squares that
melt nicely on the tongue – she’s positively passionate about citrus: limes, lemons, grapefruit, along with oranges and all their close kin.

In fact, nothing can make the Queen’s heart flutter faster (aside, perhaps from the King or a new pair of leopard-print pumps) than a dessert that features the sublime lime.


So pucker up, citrus fans. This one goes out to you. . .

Mini Lime Curd Tartlets
Adapted from Diana's Desserts

And now for my confession: the tartlet part wasn’t as easy as…well, pie. See, I’ve been dying to use these little tins, a gift from my favorite 12-year-old.


But they’re a bit tricky to work with: the crust shrinks in them during baking and afterwards, is prone to crumbling. I tried again – this time pressing the dough into mini-muffin cups. The results were more uniform, if still slightly dowdy. Luckily, though, they tasted divine: the crisp, buttery shortbread a perfect foil for the cool tang of the lime curd. Still, the next time I’ll probably use a 9-inch tart pan with removable bottom. Or better yet. . . I just happened to notice that mini filo-dough tart shells are found in the freezer case at many groceries stores. Just pop them into the oven.

Yes, a labor saving tip from your Queen! (And you’d begun to think I churned my own butter. . .)

There is one good thing about the miniature quality of this dessert: It’s quite easy to deceive yourself into having one (or six) more. They’re just itty-bitty things, after all.


For lime curd:

4 large eggs
2/3 c. fresh lime juice (about 4 limes)
¾ c. sugar
6 T. butter
2 t. grated lime zest (plus more for garnish)

Mix together eggs, lime juice, sugar, and butter in saucepan. Stir constantly over medium low heat until mixture is thickened (about 10 minutes). Stir in grated zest. Pour through strainer over medium bowl. Cover and refrigerate several hours.

For tartlet shells:

3 c. flour
2 T. sugar
pinch of salt
3 sticks butter, cut into slices
3 T. ice water (approximately)

Mix flour, sugar, and salt in bowl of food processor. Add butter and process, pulsing, until mixture is crumbly. Add enough ice water until dough sticks together when pressed lightly. Form into a disk, wrap in plastic, and chill 30 minutes or more.


whipped cream
grated lime zest

To assemble: Preheat oven to 350. Press tablespoons of dough into mini-muffin tins or tartlet molds. Prick shells with fork and bake 15-20 minutes, or until lightly browned. Cool before filling with lime curd. Garnish with a spot of whipped cream and a bit of zest.

Makes at least 2 dozen tartlets.


Friday, September 15, 2006

The Request Line is Now Open

Someone recently asked me if I wasn’t afraid that I was going to “run out” of pies to write about. Run out? Are you kidding? Have a little imagination, Reader. We haven’t even broached the subjects of banana cream or butterscotch or Black Forest chiffon. There’s plenty to say about pumpkin and my God, what about the magnificent potential of the esteemed American apple?

Tartlets. Turnovers. Tatins. Plus I bet you can’t wait to hear the Queen extol the virtues of pot, right? (Pie, that is. Potpie. What were you thinking, anyway?)

So many possibilities! And maybe a few limitations. Just yesterday, a friend and I were engaged in a lunchtime discussion that included a digression to the topic of skinning animals for food. I made what I considered to be a perfectly natural conversational bridge: Hey, how about a Squirrel Pie? To which my friend cast a glance that clearly accused me of knitting with only one needle, or suggested at the very least, that I was completely hare-brained.

(Now there’s an idea: Peter Cottontail Pie?)

Well, perhaps we’re not quite ready to explore all the possibilities ...

But let it be acknowledged that the Queen believes she has an obligation to her loyal subjects to respond to what most interests them. Here, as our first example, is Samosa Pie.


A dear and longtime (well, 3 month) reader once expressed interest in something of the sort. The result is a bountiful display of potatoes, peas, and curry spices -- all tucked into a blanket of flaky crust. Forget the ice cream; serve this with a hefty dollop of mango chutney. I’m not sure if this is what the reader had in mind, but the people who tried it found it to be pretty damn good.

And if the rest of you have ideas/requests/complaints, bring ‘em on. The Queen is officially Open To Suggestion. And yes, I’ll even consider addressing your arch-nemesis The Pie Crust in a lengthy how-to, although frankly, I think you’d be better off just doing it a few times yourself. Piecrust-making is similar to that of many other worthwhile endeavors – conversing in a foreign language, developing an appreciation for wine, sex -- where practice is helpful, but expertise is certainly not a pre-requisite for enjoyment.

Isn’t it a wonderful world?

Samosa Pie

Adapted from a Recipe Zaar recipe

As written, this recipe makes a hearty vegetarian entrée that is luscious when served with a cucumber raita and chutney on the side. You could also add chopped chicken or pork and boost the protein. The Royal Family is especially fond of curry powder (Penzey’s Maharajeh Style works well, as do most Madras curry powders). If you like a milder flavor, adjust the spice mixture accordingly.



2 ½ c. unbleached flour
2 sticks butter
½ t. salt
½ c. ice water

Egg wash:

1 egg
1 T. water


10 c. cooked, cubed potatoes (1/2 inch size)
4 T. olive oil
2 c. chopped onions
2 T. chopped fresh ginger
4 large garlic cloves, minced
1 ½ T cumin
1 T. ground coriander
2 T. Madras curry powder
1 t. turmeric
salt to taste (be generous)
1 t. red pepper flakes
¼ c. chopped cilantro
½ c. fresh lemon juice
1 c. frozen peas


Make crust: Put flour, butter, and salt in food processor and mix well. Add ice water until mixture begins to form a ball. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate at least an hour.

Make egg wash: Whisk egg and water together.

Make filling: Heat olive oil and add onions, ginger, and garlic. Saute until golden. Add potatoes and cook a few minutes more. Add cumin, coriander, curry powder, turmeric, salt, and red pepper flakes. Mix well. Add cilantro, lemon juice, and peas. Remove from heat.


To assemble, preheat oven to 375. Roll out 2/3 dough into very large circle and place inside a 10-inch springform pan, lining the bottom and sides. Brush with the egg wash. Spoon filling inside and press slightly to compact. Roll out the remaining 1/3 dough and place atop filling, crimping edges. Brush with remaining egg wash and cut steam vents into crust. Bake 1 hour, until golden brown.


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.



Friday, September 1, 2006

How ‘bout a Little Java With Your Joe?

The best news I’ve read in a long time came from a brief report in a recent New York Times health section. Coffee, it seems, can now be considered a health drink. According to the report, the medicinal properties of this exemplary beverage include lowering the risk of a plethora of ailments, including heart disease, cirrhosis of the liver, and diabetes. And contrary to all those who prudently advocate on behalf of moderation, in the prevention of certain diseases, a lot of coffee (more than 4 cups a day) can be even more beneficial than a little.

So sip on that, tea drinkers.


The Queen will admit that her previous admiration for the brew had more to do with its flavor and energizing properties than its antioxidant benefits. Specifically, when the busy-ness of our daily existence forces us to cram ever more into each moment, when all the best and worst of life is coming at you with a vengeance, when you discover that the reason your jaw hurts is because it is spending far too much time in a clenched position and you find that your shoulders have become permanently inched closer to your neck in such a way that you swear passersby are muttering “hunchback” – all this while you’re trying desperately to adhere to the bumper sticker wisdom that advocates that “Attitude is the only difference between Ordeal and Adventure” . . . Well, let’s just say that caffeine helps to make it feel like more of an adventure.

In celebration of this vindicating good news (What? The Queen vindictive? Surely you have me confused with someone else), I offer you coffee pie. Actually, it’s more of a mocha tart (kick up your heels, neglected chocoholics). But the velvety filling does contain a satisfying jolt of espresso and as a bonus, is simple to make. It is, in fact, the perfect quick dessert, especially when you’re feeling as if you are mere footsteps ahead of the posse.

So,bottoms up. What do you say we pull an all-nighter?


Warm Mocha Tart

Adapted from Bittersweet Artisan

This is a straightforward, albeit scrumptious dessert; I like my coffee black and my mocha tart unadorned. But if you need cream with yours, hon, then that’s okay. Add a dollop of the freshly whipped version alongside the tart, and spoon a little into your cup, too.



1 stick butter, melted
¼ c. sugar
1/8 t. salt
¾ t. vanilla extract
1 c. flour


3 T. butter, sliced
½ c. sugar
¼ c. cocoa powder (I like Green & Black’s Organic)
1 c. whipping cream
1 ¼ t. instant espresso powder or 1 ½ t. instant coffee crystals
½ t. vanilla extract
1 egg, lightly beaten

Preheat oven to 350. For the crust, mix together butter, sugar, salt, and vanilla. Add flour and mix until blended. (Mixture will be soft.) Press dough into bottom and up the sides of 9-inch tart pan with removable bottom. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until golden brown. Don’t turn off the oven!

For the filling, stir together butter, sugar, cocoa powder, and cream in saucepan. Cook over medium heating, whisking, until mixture is smooth and begins to bubble around the edges. Remove from heat and stir in espresso powder and vanilla. Just before the crust is done, whisk the beaten egg into the hot chocolate mixture.

Pour the filling into the hot crust and now, turn off the oven. Leave the tart in the oven until it trembles slightly in the center when the pan is nudged, about 10-12 minutes. Remove from oven and cool on a rack.

May be served warm or at room temperature.


Contrary to what you may have heard, studies show that coffee does not stunt one’s growth and will do no harm to children. The Queen is, in fact, a testament to that: a person who swilled the dregs from the percolator at a very young age and who now stands at an Amazonian 5 ft. 8 inches tall. (In the interests of your health, however, I’d suggest you don’t ask about the Queen’s other measurements.)