The 'Queen Of Tarts' On What's For Dinner This Season

Weekend Edition Sunday guest host Linda Wertheimer speaks with English chef Tamasin Day Lewis — also known as the "Queen of Tarts" — about her own choices for a seasonal table, including a wide array of tarts.

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

Tamasin Day-Lewis is one of Britain's most famous celebrity chefs, so she might disagree with the title.

TAMASIN DAY-LEWIS: I'm not a chef. I'm a writer who happens to cook and who is passionate about cooking food.

WERTHEIMER: Her cookbooks have found an audience on this side of the Atlantic, as well, where her book "Art of the Tart" was published just over 10 years ago. 'Tis the season for tempting desserts like hers, especially with New Year's Eve so close. Tamasin Day-Lewis says she makes big plans for a big feast to usher in the New Year.

DAY-LEWIS: I normally cook for two dozen people on New Year's Eve. And I make sure there's a piano player in the house, so as much as the champagne. So everybody arrives and lots of people stay, and most people refuse to leave...

(LAUGHTER)

DAY-LEWIS: ...till at least the next day. So I have to think about food for New Year's Day, as well. So I do two tables and then we have party games afterwards, which turn out to be pretty uproarious and naughty. And I sometimes do a food quiz as well and then we all sing and dance around the piano. And get as the Irish would say statious.

WERTHEIMER: Uh-huh.

(LAUGHTER)

WERTHEIMER: Well, let's talk about the menu, and I would like to start with dessert, which I think is always a good plan.

DAY-LEWIS: Yes. Well, dessert - pudding, as we call it over here - is a very, very good plan. I've never understood someone who doesn't like a good pudding. It's about the same to me as people who say they don't like chocolate. I can't really imagine being friendly with anyone like that.

Being the new year, and everybody is Christmased-out - 'cause you've had your celebrations in advance of us, but we're all stuffed like turkey and trussed like the turkey, and we've probably put in half a stone in between the two.

(LAUGHTER)

DAY-LEWIS: But I make sure I make tarts. And I do two or three tarts. Tarts seem to be my thing. There'll be a lemon tart probably on New Year's Eve, which it sort of quakes like a gel because the custard is cooked so long and so slow - with lovely Amalthy(ph) lemons. You can probably use Meyer lemons where you are and lots of Jersey cream, and so many eggs I don't tell you about - nine or 10 or 11 or 12. And homemade vanilla sugar made with refined sugar and vanilla pods.

And the tart quakes because it's cooked at an unbelievably low temperature. You bake the pastry first, bake it blind. And then the lemon custard is cooked over an hour and a half rather than the normal 40 minutes. And it sets like a silk stocking.

WERTHEIMER: Well, so if you are the Queen of Tarts then my question is: since everyone knows that something extraordinary is coming for dessert, for a pudding, how do you sort of prepare them with the other courses? Do you have something like food that is sharp, food that is spicy, food that is very small? I mean, what do you do?

DAY-LEWIS: Curry is a very good thing. It is lighter and you can do lots of vegetables side dishes with it. So I do a lot of side dishes. I do a cauliflower one with, you know, kalonji seeds, which are black onion seeds; probably do a potato one. And I grind up, see, everything. Because if it taste it and you temper the spices and grind them yourself, they're not like the sort of the powder that you get out of little jars which has lost all its flavor- 'cause it's not a very fresh spice.

And then I do some fresh banana, which I cook for about 30 seconds with a few spices, as well. And, you know, the usual yogurt with garlic and cumin and grated cucumber.

WERTHEIMER: Now, your brother, of course, is the actor Daniel Day-Lewis who is enjoying great success in the United States at the moment with his new movie, "Lincoln." Your dad, Cecile Day-Lewis, a poet laureate; I imagine that your childhood holidays were quite lively events.

DAY-LEWIS: Well, my father being Anglo-Irish once it my brother and I to get to know and love Ireland. So we actually spent all our summers in County Mayo in the West of Ireland, where I have a house now. And I spend as much time as I can there in August. And then I have the odd American friends, like Julia Roberts who adores it. She came out with her kids this summer. They were happy to sleep on the floor and muck in and jump into the sea...

(LAUGHTER)

DAY-LEWIS: ...and eat the treacle tart, and drink what we call a little glass of Patience together.

WERTHEIMER: So do you all go out to Ireland together for holidays?

DAY-LEWIS: Well, I've got three children and their all of varying stages. So they come as in when. And we look straight out onto the Atlantic Ocean and we have a mountain behind. And so, we get gales that sort of make the house look like it's going to lift. So we have to eat plenty of carbohydrates and...

(LAUGHTER)

DAY-LEWIS: ...make lots of cakes and entertain everybody in the true Irish style, which means if someone turns up, you don't not offer them a glass of Ishka Baha, the Water of Life, which is whiskey, whatever time of the day or night. And you offer them a slice of tart and the slice of cake. And people just turn up on your doorstep.

WERTHEIMER: And I can see why they would.

DAY-LEWIS: Well, if you cook they do. But they have to sing for their supper. And they have to walk the headland, which is quite challenging for some people, particularly when the tidal river rises and they're told to strip down to their knickers in walk across it, and it's up to their shoulders.

(LAUGHTER)

WERTHEIMER: So, I mean that doesn't sound like your basic traditional sort of a holiday.

DAY-LEWIS: It's traditional for us.

(LAUGHTER)

WERTHEIMER: OK.

(LAUGHTER)

DAY-LEWIS: Empty beaches where nobody can find you and mountains to climb.

WERTHEIMER: So when you want to have a holiday that really feels like a holiday, who do you need to be around you?

DAY-LEWIS: The people I love most.

(LAUGHTER)

DAY-LEWIS: I don't want the stress of strangers. You know, people who you love most, therefore, it doesn't really matter if the dinner is two hours late. Or, you know, you've gone to the beach and forgotten about it and come back and you say, well, is anyone coarse. People who actually make you feel totally comfortable, who go and light the turf fire for you, who don't mind the sleeping arrangements. You know, just people who are relaxed - the people who are nearest and dearest.

WERTHEIMER: Tamasin Day-Lewis, cook, author of the upcoming "Smart Tart," filmmaker, TV star, joining us from our studios in London. Thank you very much for this.

DAY-LEWIS: Pleasure, Happy New Year.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

DAY-LEWIS: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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