Friday, November 24, 2006



I don't know about you, dear Reader, but these Thanksgiving frivolities have rendered me exhausted. Dog tired, worn out, played out, spent -- and sadly, way too close to an appearance that can best be described as zaftig. Honestly, if your dining experience was anything like mine, the last thing you want to contemplate is how to make another pie. I don't even want to imagine eating pie for a while.

Heresy, I know.

So we'll just take a little rest this week. Then we'll munch on celery sticks and grape nuts and apples. We'll drink lots of water and get some exercise and use positive imagery to envision the svelte new selves that our virtuous lifestyle will afford us. We'll even (briefly, thank God) consider that radical Calorie Restriction Diet that would allow us to live long, albeit unhappy, lives.

And we won't be the least bit tempted by the leftover slices of pumpkin, apple crumb, chocolate pecan, and pomegranate pear pies that are right there on the counter at this very moment .

We won't allow ourselves to consider what a fine breakfast a wedge of pie paired with a cup of coffee makes. Or how a tiny sliver of pie and a glass of ice cold milk is The Perfect Snack. Or even how a bit of fruit-sweetened crust is just hovering there forlornly along the side of the plate and begging to be nibbled at.

No, really, we won't allow any of that.

No, really, we . . .




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Friday, November 17, 2006

Who You Calling Sissy?

Let the record show that I have no beef with your basic pumpkin pie. For as long as I can remember our Thanksgiving standard has been compliments of an old family friend named Libby. That’s what it says on the label and we have indeed liked it, liked it, liked it on our table, table, table. This has not been a tradition to tamper with.

At some point a young prince took over the pumpkin pie mixing bowl and it became one of his specialties. While other kids brought in tadpoles and Pokemon cards for show and tell, the Prince toted glass pie plates and cans of whipped cream. Come next Thursday, he’ll be back in the kitchen, stirring up this year’s batch.

And yes, we’ve tried using “real” pumpkin – that which hails from a field and not a shelf -- with the accompanying laborious scraping and chopping and removing the stringy bits and seeds. While the resulting pies are tasty enough, they’ll never supplant Libby in dependable smoothness or our affections.

Nonetheless, there are moments in which we crave something a bit more glamorous to supplement the holiday dessert table. We might yearn for that spicy pumpkin flavor while also craving a sweet that is both ethereal and airy. We might want to consider a dessert that stands tall and proud, one that practically shimmers with deep orange splendor.

If that’s the case, then I offer you Pumpkin Chiffon Pie, a bit of sizzle that’s sure to satisfy.


Chiffon pies were popular in the 1950’s and 60’s, due in no small part to a key ingredient – powdered gelatin -- that was also atop the era’s food charts. To my mind, gelatin has retained that retro air and has, coincidentally, produced some spectacularly scary foodstuffs. Yet, according to culinary expert Linda Stradley of What’s Cooking America, chiffon pies have actually been around since the 1900’s, when they were known alternately known as Sissy Pies and Fairy Tarts.

Please don’t let that dissuade you.

Rather than speculating on its curious etymology, the Queen prefers to dwell on the many positive properties of this particular pie. For one thing, the zingy gingersnap crust is both simple to make and a crunchy counterpart to the slinky fluff of the filling. In fact, concluding a heavy meal with a chiffon pie seems almost virtuous (if you can somehow manage to ignore the one and a half cups of whipping cream and six eggs that it contains). As befitting an extraordinary chiffon pie, it’s “lightened” by folding both whipped egg whites and stiffly whipped cream into its pumpkin custard base. The addition of gelatin to the custard firms the pie just enough to slice, while giving it the sweetest little jiggle.

And so, as the big day approaches, the Queen hopes you have been taking careful notes. By her account your holiday table should be bursting with a seasonal bounty of pie: apple, pecan, and one or both versions of pumpkin. This is your pie-making Final Exam, dear Readers, a veritable Day of Reckoning for you, the pastry apprentice.

So start your ovens, loosen your belt buckles, and get to work.

(And don't forget to count your blessings.)

Pumpkin Chiffon Pie With Gingersnap Crust

Adapted from The Gourmet Cookbook


For crust:

20 gingersnaps, finely ground
½ stick butter, melted

For filling:

3 ½ t. unflavored gelatin (two ¼ oz. packets)
¼ c. bourbon
6 large eggs, separated
¾ light brown sugar
2 ¼ c. solid-pack pumpkin (from one 29-oz or two 15-oz cans)
1 ½ t. cinnamon
1 t. ginger
¾ t. nutmeg
½ t. salt
½ c. sugar
1 ½ c. very cold heavy cream

For crust: Combine gingersnap crumbs and butter. Press onto bottom of 9-inch springform pan. Bake at 350 8 minutes. Cool.

For filling: Sprinkle gelatin over bourbon in a small bowl and let soften.

Beat together egg yolks and brown sugar in electric mixer at high speed until thick and pale, 3-5 minutes. Reduce speed and add pumpkin, spices, and salt. Transfer mixture to large heavy saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until temperature registers 160 degrees on thermometer, about 5 minutes or so. Remove pan from heat and add gelatin/bourbon mixture, stirring until dissolved. Either transfer to metal bowl set in another larger bowl filled with ice and cold water (or do what I did and place saucepan in sink filled with ice and cold water). Stir occasionally, until cool.

Beat egg whites at high speed until foamy in clean mixing bowl. Add sugar and beat until whites have stiff, glossy peaks.


Gently – but thoroughly – fold into pumpkin mixture. Clean bowl again.

Beat cream until it holds stiff peaks.


Gently – but thoroughly – fold into pumpkin mixture. (This helps to avoid unappetizing white streaks when you slice pie.)


Pour filling into springform pan and smooth top. Refrigerate uncovered for 1 hour and then refrigerate until pie is set, at least 3 hours.

Before serving, run a knife around edge of pie before removing side of pan. For easiest slicing, dip knife into hot water before each slice.

Serves lots.


Friday, November 10, 2006

A Pot Pie of One's Own

In 3 Acts

Act 1:
Swansons. Or maybe Banquet.

My babysitter Margie is a senior in high school. Tonight she makes me dinner and we play Mystery Date. According to the rules of the game, I try to accumulate all the right clothes to make up an outfit that will prepare me for my adventure. The potential escorts include some glamorous possibilities: a ski instructor, a beach bum, the Dreamboat. The excitement comes when one of us completes our ensemble and gets to open up the door in the center of the board. Most of the time I find that when I’m wearing a pink satin evening gown with silver slippers and a fur stole, I’m stuck with a guy in Bermuda shorts who’s toting a bowling ball.

(Actually, I think something like that once happened to me in real life.)

Margie spends hours talking on the phone with her boyfriend Larry. I’ve seen pictures of him and while he isn’t a Dreamboat, he’s not a Dud, either. I nibble at the crust on the rim of the little tin pie pan and dig around in Margie’s book bag. Her shorthand textbook is filled with mysterious scribbles and dots and sweeping curves. Margie hoots at something Larry says. I press my fingers to the pages of the book and stare, wondering where this magical language is spoken.

Act 2:
In the Tea Room

It is the third time this week that the chef has called in sick. Last week he waved a knife in my direction and scowled in a dark way. He likes to fry bacon when he knows I’m scheduled to arrive, understanding somehow that at this stage of my pregnancy, one whiff of pork fat is all it takes to make me heave.

I do not think I am suited to running a restaurant.

The lunch crowd will be arriving soon. I declare the chef fired and Oscar, the 16-year-old dishwasher, promoted. Oscar is sweet and puppy-like; the only thing he has ever waved at me is a dishrag -- a sign of surrender at the end of his shift. Now he lines the pot pie dishes with pastry and counts out the morsels of chicken. Uno, dos, tres, quatro, cinco, seis, siete. The flock of blue-haired ladies who lunch here quickly become indignant if one is awarded more chicken than another.

Act 3:
When I was a stay-at-home mom

Bake a pot pie and take it to the friend who just had a baby.
Bake a pot pie and take it to the preschool for the teachers’ lunch.
Bake a pot pie and take it to the neighbors who are moving away.
Bake a pot pie and take it to the church lady who just had her knee replaced.
Bake a pot pie and take it to the old guy whose wife just died.
Bake a pot pie and take it to the friend who just had two babies.
Bake a pot pie and send it to the elementary school for the teachers’ lunch.
Bake a pot pie and take it to the new neighbors.
Bake a pot pie and leave it on the doorstep of the old guy who is now living with the church lady who just had her knee replaced.


Chicken Pot Pie
Adapted from The Silver Palate Good Times Cookbook

I’ve used variations of this recipe for years. You can assemble it a day ahead and keep it, unbaked, in the refrigerator overnight. Make two and you'll make a friend.


2 pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts
1 c. heavy cream
4 carrots, peeled and cut into ½ in. pieces
2 zucchini, cut into ½ in. pieces
4 T. butter
2 small onions, chopped
4 T. flour
1 c. chicken broth
¼ c. Cognac or white wine
1 t. dried tarragon
1 ½ t. salt
pepper to taste

pastry for a single crust pie

Lay chicken breasts in a single layer in roasting pan. Pour cream over and bake at 350, 20-25 minutes. Let the chicken cool in the cream. When cool, cut chicken into 1 inch pieces. Reserve the cream and cooking juices!

Blanch carrots in boiling water for 5 minutes. Add zucchini and blanch 2 minutes more. Drain.

Melt butter in large skillet over medium heat. Add onions and sauté until translucent. Add flour and cook, stirring constantly, for 3 minutes. Add broth, and whisk until thickened. Stir in reserved cream and cooking juices, along with Cognac or wine. Cook over low heat until thick. Stir in tarragon, salt, and pepper.

Fold in chicken and vegetables. Pour mixture into deep casserole or soufflé dish. Roll out pastry and place on top of dish. Trim pastry and crimp edges. Brush milk over top of crust. Cut steam vents.

Bake at 425 for approximately 30 minutes.


Friday, November 3, 2006

A Pie Crust Primer, Part 2

Now that you’ve had plenty of time to practice the bottom crust, let’s move upwards.

To make a double crust pie:

Step 1:
Line pie plate as previously instructed but do not crimp edges. Trim dough about an inch all around. Refrigerate while you prepare filling.

Step 2:
Make filling and spoon into pie.


Step 3:
Roll out top crust and drape it over rolling pin. Position carefully over filling and unfurl. Now don’t dawdle; it’s important to keep the crust cold while you’re doing all this. Admire your handiwork later.


Trim top crust about the same size as lower crust and then, folding, tuck upper layer of crust under bottom to create a ridge. Using thumb and forefinger, crimp all around the edge.

Step 4:
With a sharp knife, cut several steam vents into top of pie. Strive to be decorative.


Step 5:
Brush milk gently over entire surface of crust, poking pastry brush into crimped indentations. This will ensure you have a lovely golden crust.

Step 6:
Holding a spoonful of sugar several inches overhead, lightly sprinkle entire surface with sugar.

Step 7:
Make sure oven is preheated ahead of time. Position your rack in the middle or lower third of the oven. I try to remember to put the pie on top of a baking sheet in order to avoid bubbling, burning messes, but sometimes I forget. Unless you like a houseful of smoke, I suggest you try to remember.

Now, go forth and bake pies! Thanksgiving – the veritable Pie-Palooza of holidays – is rounding the bend. The Queen expects A Full Report of your successful pie production.

Coral’s Rhubarb Pie
Slightly modified

Deviating from my usual devotion to seasonal produce, this week I am delving deep into the freezer. (Take that, Nora!) Frankly, dear readers, time is short and I cannot manage even the honest labor involved in wielding a peeler or a paring knife. Tucked away in a corner of the Amana, behind a package of lima beans and nestled against a bottle of Limoncello lay a package of cut rhubarb. Its provenance was unknown, but for the purposes of this blog, I dubbed it “Salvation in a Ziploc Bag.”


The first time I ate a rhubarb pie was at my friend David’s house in Barrington, Illinois. We had just finished our spring semester at college and had pushed the Fiat hard to get away from Minnesota. I was exhausted from a night of No-Doz and a battle with my Smith-Corona, as I’d typed my final paper for a literature class called Devious Domesticity.

David’s mother Coral greeted us with hugs. We stretched our legs as we ambled through her fragrant garden, Coral pointing out the different flowers and vegetables. We went inside where Coral showed us the beautiful braided rugs she was making from old clothes and bundles of rags. Finally, we slumped into chairs at the kitchen table and let Coral serve us fat slices of still-warm rhubarb pie. In between bites I looked around: the whole house glowed with late afternoon sun, the luster of polish, and an unmistakable air of welcome.

Domesticity, dear readers, had never seemed less devious.


4 cups rhubarb, in ½ in. chunks
1 c. sugar
1 T. flour
2 eggs, beaten
1 t. grated lemon zest

Pastry for a double crust pie
1 t. sugar

Mix all filling ingredients together and heap into an uncooked pie shell. Cover with top crust, brush with milk, sprinkle with sugar. Bake at 425 for 15 minutes; reduce heat to 350 and bake 40 minutes more, or until bubbly.