Friday, December 29, 2006

A Report From The Road

1) Unlike many who travel to NYC for pleasure, your Queen's priorities are aligned differently than those making forays to Prada, or per se, or even the Park. Her destination this day was The Little Pie Company, reputed to be the city's finest purveyor of . . . well, you can figure it out, right?


2) With its yellow walls and red naugahyde booths, it's a bright, retro spot. You can imagine it as filled with a cheeful bustle, if you happen to like that kind of thing. We perched on stools and awaited the delivery of our late afternoon snack, paying little attention to the radio music playing on the soundsystem. Wait! What's that song? American Pie! Coincidence? The Queen doesn't think so . . .


3) The next song: MacArthur Park. Even though the LPC's menu includes cake, we didn't order any. (It's not The Little Cake Company, after all.) Although, honestly, after the whipped cream melted all over the key lime pie, it did look like it had been left out in the rain. I don't think that I can take it. . .


4) From our spots, we had a fine view of the kitchen where we observed cans of Crisco stacked on the shelves. Beware, LPC, the day of trans-fat reckoning is near.


5) We tried four different five-inch pies. Montmorency Cherry, Florida Key Lime, Southern Pecan, and Sour Cream Apple Walnut. I think the apple was the best, which is fitting, since LPC calls it their "signature pie." Five inch doesn't sound that big, but trust me, that's plenty of pie. In fact, the Queen -- an individual not particularly known for her dainty appetites -- toted half of hers home in a doggy bag. That turned out to a very fortuitous move, since we just happened to stop in for a box of Beard Papa cream puffs on our walk back.


6) There was a stack of pies at the front door, waiting to be Fed-Exed. They were all in Dean & DeLuca boxes (is this investigative reporting, or what?) and we couldn't help but notice that the top pie was to be sent to Dan Rather. Bon appetit, Dan.


Friday, December 22, 2006

No Mas Sugarplums

Is it possible to be all holiday-ed out even before The Holiday arrives?

Sadly, the Queen admits to already being a bit weary of Seasonal Cheer. Treats laden with any combination of chocolate, butter, sugar, cinnamon, or nuts have begun to make her groan. Tiny appetizers involving soft cheese or creamy dips are left untouched. And thank you, but no, I don’t care for any eggnog.

In addition to appetite fatigue, I’ll confess that my reservoir of scintillating small talk is running dangerously low. Unless you want to hear about my undecorated tree or the high jinks of The Rodent you’d be better off chatting with the person wearing the reindeer pin.

I’m blaming a lot of my Scrooge-like behavior on stress. Most of us have pretty full plates, right? (Admittedly, when it comes to pie, that can be a good thing.) But around this time of year things begin to get messy. Those plates start overflowing with added responsibilities: shopping, decorating, gift-wrapping, baking. Being merry? Maybe. Finding peace? Not even a remote possibility.

According to a recent study, a majority of people in industrialized nations experience stress on a daily basis, and those stressful feelings are intensified during the holidays.

No kidding.

The interesting news, however, is that Mexicans have somehow escaped this devilish pressure. According to the poll, more than half of them “rarely or never experience stress in their daily lives.”

I suspect it has something to do with tamales.


You may know, of course, that these cornhusk-clad delicacies are a traditional Christmas treat in Latin America. You may know that tamales are old news, really, dating back to the pre-Columbian Americas. You may know that tamales are delicious and fortifying -- and not at all easy to make. But I hope that you'll someday find out that constructing tamales can be a collaborative social event that brings a bit of fiesta to the task of food preparation. And to that, the Queen says Ole.

So dear Reader, while I freely admit that I can’t do a lot about the big things that bring so much stress to The Season, I can try to make a little difference. And my small rebellion starts here -- with this Tamale Pie.


A fragrant and spicy chili that’s laden with tender chunks of beef, corn, and beans, the pie is topped with a lid of crumbly cornbread. Nary a spoonful of butter and nothing cloying about it. Better yet, I can even offer a time-saving shortcut for those so inclined (and who isn’t at this time of year?)

Tamale pie pairs nicely with something light and refreshing – a tangy cucumber salad, perhaps – and makes a fine antidote to the platters of chubby food that’s put in front of us all month long. Uncap a Corona with it and you’ll feel your blood pressure drop with every bite.


Wishing you and yours a Feliz Navidad!

Tamale Pie

Adapted from Sara Moulton, Sara’s Secrets

For Chili:
4 T. oil
2 pounds boneless beef chuck or rump, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 large onion, chopped
2 large fresh jalapeno chiles, seeded and finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 t. salt
3 T. chili powder
2 t. cumin
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes in puree
1 (10-ounce) box frozen corn
1 1/2 cups water
1 (15 to 16-ounce) can pinto or black beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup chopped pimiento-stuffed green olives

For Topping:
1 c. flour
1 c. yellow cornmeal
¾ c. grated sharp cheddar cheese
1 ½ T. sugar
2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
1 medium fresh jalapeno chile, seeded and finely chopped
3/4 cup milk
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 large egg, lightly beaten

Alternate Topping:
1 box high-quality Cornbread Mix (Trader Joe’s makes a good one)
¾ c. grated sharp cheddar cheese

Make chili: Heat 3 tablespoons oil in a 5 to 6-quart heavy pot over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking, then brown beef in 4 batches, stirring occasionally, about 4 minutes per batch, transferring with a slotted spoon to a bowl. Add remaining tablespoon oil to pot and cook onion and jalapenos over moderately high heat, stirring, until onion is softened, about 4 minutes. Reduce heat to moderate, then add garlic, salt, chili powder, and cumin and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Return beef to pot with any juices that have accumulated in bowl and stir in tomatoes, corn, and water. Simmer chili, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until meat is very tender, 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours. Remove from heat and stir in beans, olives, and salt, to taste.


Transfer chili to a shallow 3 quart baking dish.

Make topping: Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Whisk together flour, cornmeal, cheese, sugar, baking powder, salt, cumin, and jalapeno in a large bowl. Whisk together milk, butter, and egg in a small bowl, then stir into flour mixture until just combined. (Or prepare cornbread mix according to package directions and stir in cheese.) Drop batter by large spoonfuls over chili, and bake in middle of oven 10 minutes. Reduce temperature to 350 degrees F and bake pie until topping is cooked through, about 30 minutes more.

Friday, December 15, 2006

For the Constantly Inconstant

Yes, I’m still here. Unfortunately, so is The Rodent.

Or so I hear. His calling card is the scritchy-scratch and patter-patter-patter that I hear every day just behind the walls of the bookcase. The only thing that seems to keep him at bay is my singing, which I resort to whenever I’m at my desk. However, singing while writing (or thinking, for that matter) is damned challenging for this non-multi-tasker. My output is suffering. Plus, I’m getting hoarse. And did I mention that my footwear is now limited to boots? (Fetching, I assure you, especially when paired with flannel pajamas.)

Maybe he just wants a piece of pie. I could offer the remnants of last week’s – the pie that didn’t ever make it to the blog.


It was blueberry cherry, an inspired combination although frankly, Dear Reader, it sounds better than it actually tasted. You didn’t miss much.

Besides, this week’s entry will make you much happier: Butterscotch and Banana Cream. If The Rodent doesn’t vamoose, though, his Christmas treat will consist of sugarplums laced with rodenticide.

But Butterscotch and Banana Cream, you ask? Well, the Queen likes variety. In fact, she admits to becoming bored quite easily. This tidbit of information will perhaps lend insight into her professional endeavors: toe-dips (if not outright plunges) into the realms of public relations, freelance writing, academia, culinaria, and non-profit administration. The luster of newness wears off quickly, and by the time routine is established, the Queen is beginning to yawn.

Not that I’m proud of this. Luckily, I’ve realized there are certain things that one should stick with: A good husband. Old friends. Children. (most of the time) Antique jewelry. One’s teeth.

So these days my penchant for variety seems to express itself most frequently via food. New recipes -- tried once, often to acclaim, and then never revisited -- are the most obvious manifestation of this syndrome. But my fickleness is exposed at restaurants as well. Woe to the poor dining companion who is coerced into going “halfsies” with me at every eatery. But how dull to eat just one entrée, I cajole. How exciting to try two different items. How much more interesting to swap plates at the midway point of a meal. No? Really? You’re sure? No? Well, ummm, can I at least have a bite?

Thus the appeal of butterscotch and banana cream, a combination of two luscious flavors that will satisfy even the most capricious dessert eater.


Slices of banana, coated with a velvety butterscotch-flavored pudding, nestled inside a flaky crust. Butterscotch. Banana. Butterscotch. Banana. Two flavors, one pie, the spice of life and all that jazz.

Oh, and the problem with last week’s pie?


I fear that it’s because I used frozen blueberries. Old frozen blueberries, tough and chewy, suffering from exposure. They’d been in the freezer a while, the remnants of one of those passionate, brief flings – berry smoothies, perhaps, or muffins – that seemed to disappear as quickly as it came.

Butterscotch Banana Cream Pie
Adapted from Moosewood Restaurant Book of Desserts

One small warning: no matter what you do to prevent it, the bananas inside the pie will become brown and slimy by the next day. My advice? Make sure to have guests when you serve this. Eat it all up, be happy, and then say goodbye to the pie. Like any one-night stand, you won't want to see it hanging out in your kitchen the next morning.

9 or 10 inch prebaked pie shell

1/4 c. cornstarch
3/4 c. brown sugar
2 c. whole milk
3 egg yolks, beaten
3 T. butter
1/2 t. vanilla extract
1 t. Scotch whiskey
3-4 bananas, sliced

whipped cream

Combine cornstarch and brown sugar in large saucepan. Slowly add milk, stirring to make a paste. Add the rest of the milk and the egg yolks and whisk until smooth. cook over medium heat, stirring constantly (or almost) until mixture becomes thick, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat and add butter, stirring until it melts. Add vanilla, Scotch, and bananas. Pour into prebaked pie shell and refrigerate until cold, about 2 hours. Garnish with whipped cream.


Thursday, December 7, 2006

An Univited Guest

I’ll be brief.

There’s a creature scurrying around on the third floor of this house (where it just so happens I work) and said creature has just scared the bejesus out of me. I don’t know what it is -- (Chipmunk? Large mouse? Rat? Squirrel? Skunk?) but as I sat at my desk, contemplating this week’s pie dispatch, it skittered across the floor in front of the bookcase.

Eeeeek! said the Queen (not the small rodent) as our eyes locked.

With a flurry of scritchy-scratches, it skittered back from whence it came. One fine, dutiful son dashed upstairs to ensure that his mother hadn’t suffered a fit. The other slammed the door to his bedroom and then wedged a towel beneath it.

I sat paralyzed in my desk chair, although I did manage to tuck my legs up beneath me.

Donning boots, the dutiful son (and the new heir-apparent) began to investigate. He climbed upon a chair and surveyed the room. Nothing visible. He cocked an ear and listened intently. Nothing audible. He waited.

After several minutes of Lamaze breathing I began to relax. Dutiful Son shrugged and hopped down from the chair, landing on the hardwood floor with a bang. And at that instant I caught sight of the rodent, insouciantly perched on a row of books! (Stuart Little, perhaps? Of Mice and Men? Flowers for Algernon?)

I’m sitting downstairs now. The King, alas, is out of town. In these circumstances, a good hot toddy is the next best companion.

Therefore, this week’s pie entry is post-poned. I hope you’ll understand.

Friday, December 1, 2006

The Quiche Chronicles

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1) This quiche, which I made for dinner last night, is adapted from Julia Child’s classic cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

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It’s a Quiche Lorraine, meaning that its origins are in Lorraine, in the northeastern part of France. This particular version, however, is somewhat bastardized (at least according to Julia), since it includes cheese. Not that Julia was ever one to stand on form, mind you. My adaptation ignores Julia’s recommendation to blanche the bacon before sautéing it in order to get rid of the smoky, salty, taste. Umm…excuse me, but isn’t the smoky, salty taste the whole point of bacon?

2) I met Julia Child once. She’d just published a book, The Way To Cook, and was doing tours and demos around the country. I was living in southern California at the time, a brand new mother, and so I courageously bundled up Baby and cookbooks and headed to the mall. I found Julia to be gracious and charming and tall. With good humor, she uncapped her pen and signed all my cookbooks, praising the well-worn aspect of the tomes. Then she patted Baby’s head and we made small talk and discovered that Julia and Baby shared the same birthday. She added in a stage whisper that Napoleon Bonaparte was also a member of that exclusive birthday club and then gave her signature chortle. I like to think that Baby smiled in return.

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3) The Larousse Gastronomique says, “Some writers claim that this kind of savoury custard tart belongs to German cookery, since in Germany the quiche is known under the name kuchen, from which the word kiche could have come.” I get the feeling that the Laroussians aren’t buying it.

4) This may not be a certifiable version of Quiche Lorraine, but to that I say tant pis. At least I’m not filling it with nasty things that have no place in a quiche, like this abomination from Bon Appetit containing succotash and goat cheese. Succotash! No wonder Real Men stopped eating quiche. Real Women wouldn’t want to touch that, either, and the French would probably turn pale and murmur Quelle Horreur if one of those so-called quiches landed on their Limoges.

5) And besides, the Queen decrees that this notion of gender-specific food is ridiculous. The three Real Men in this household gobbled up their slices of quiche and came back clamoring (yes, clamoring!) for more. And as far as I’ve been able to tell, there’s still plenty of testosterone coursing through their bodies. The Queen primly suggests that lumberjack breakfasts, kick-ass chili, porterhouse steaks and a restorative Scotch on the rocks be shifted from the dominion of “guy food” into the realm of “food.” Period. And by the way, fellas, help yourselves to all the petits fours and pink lemonade you want.

6) The B-52’s have a song named Quiche Lorraine (which you can hear a clip from here). It’s a sad little ditty about a poodle gone wrong. I’d rather eat the tart than listen to the song, but I’ll leave that up to you.

Quiche Lorraine
Adapted from Mastering the Art of French Cooking

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Piecrust for a single crust pie

6 slices medium thick bacon
3 eggs
1 ½ c. half-and-half or whipping cream
¾ c. grated Swiss cheese
½ t. salt
pinch of nutmeg

Preheat oven to 400. Line tart pan or pie plate with piecrust and then line piecrust with parchment paper and pie weights or dried beans. Bake 8-9 minutes; remove parchment and weights. Prick bottom and sides of crust and continue to bake for another 3 minutes. Remove from oven and place pan on baking sheet.

Lower heat to 375. Cut bacon into small pieces. Brown in skillet; drain fat. Scatter pieces on bottom of tart shell.

Beat eggs, cream, and seasonings together until blended. Stir in cheese. Pour into pastry shell. Bake for 30-35 minutes or until quiche has become puffed and lightly browned.