January 28, 2008

Pucker Up!

The Daring Bakers are at it again. Today the blogosphere will be hit with hundreds of lemon meringue pies made 'round the world. Hang on to your taste buds because this one packs some flavor.

Thanks to our host, Jen from The Canadian Baker, for challenging the Daring Bakers to complete a pastry crust, lemon curd and the pièce de résistance—meringue. I had never made a lemon meringue pie before, but had dabbled a few times with meringue itself. Not usually much of a pie person, I rather enjoyed this dessert. Not too tart, not too sweet and a little bit of whimsy make this a great idea for entertaining.

Lemon Meringue Pie
from Wanda's Pie in the Sky by Wanda Beaver

Makes one 10-inch (25 cm) pie; I made 12 mini pies

For the Crust:
3/4 cup (180 mL) cold butter; cut into ½-inch (1.2 cm) pieces
2 cups (475 mL) all-purpose flour
1/4 cup (60 mL) granulated sugar
1/4 tsp (1.2 mL) salt
1/3 cup (80 mL) ice water

For the Filling:
2 cups (475 mL) water 1 cup (240 mL) granulated sugar
1/2 cup (120 mL) cornstarch
5 egg yolks, beaten
1/4 cup (60 mL) butter
3/4 cup (180 mL) fresh lemon juice
1 tbsp (15 mL) lemon zest
1 tsp (5 mL) vanilla extract

For the Meringue:
5 egg whites, room temperature
1/2 tsp (2.5 mL) cream of tartar
1/4 tsp (1.2 mL) salt
1/2 tsp (2.5 mL) vanilla extract
3/4 cup (180 mL) granulated sugar

To Make the Crust:
Make sure all ingredients are as cold as possible. Using a food processor or pastry cutter and a large bowl, combine the butter, flour, sugar and salt. Process or cut in until the mixture resembles coarse meal and begins to clump together. Sprinkle with water, let rest 30 seconds and then either process very briefly or cut in with about 15 strokes of the pastry cutter, just until the dough begins to stick together and come away from the sides of the bowl. Turn onto a lightly floured work surface and press together to form a disk. Wrap in plastic and chill for at least 20 minutes.

Allow the dough to warm slightly to room temperature if it is too hard to roll. On a lightly floured board (or countertop) roll the disk to a thickness of 1/8 inch (.3 cm). Cut a circle about 2 inches (5 cm) larger than the pie plate and transfer the pastry into the plate by folding it in half or by rolling it onto the rolling pin. Turn the pastry under, leaving an edge that hangs over the plate about 1/2 inch (1.2 cm). Flute decoratively. Chill for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350ºF (180ºC). Line the crust with foil and fill with metal pie weights or dried beans. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes. Carefully remove the foil and continue baking for 10 to 15 minutes, until golden. Cool completely before filling.

To Make the Filling:
Bring the water to a boil in a large, heavy saucepan. Remove from the heat and let rest 5 minutes. Whisk the sugar and cornstarch together. Add the mixture gradually to the hot water, whisking until completely incorporated. Return to the heat and cook over medium heat, whisking constantly until the mixture comes to a boil. The mixture will be very thick. Add about 1 cup (240 mL) of the hot mixture to the beaten egg yolks, whisking until smooth. Whisking vigorously, add the warmed yolks to the pot and continue cooking, stirring constantly, until
mixture comes to a boil. Remove from the heat and stir in butter until incorporated. Add the lemon juice, zest and vanilla, stirring until combined. Pour into the prepared crust. Cover with plastic wrap to prevent a skin from forming on the surface, and cool to room temperature.

To Make the Meringue:
Preheat the oven to 375ºF (190ºC). Using an electric mixer beat the egg whites with the cream of tartar, salt and vanilla extract until soft peaks form. Add the sugar gradually, beating until it forms stiff, glossy peaks. Pile onto the cooled pie, bringing the meringue all the way over to the edge of the crust to seal it completely. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until golden. Cool on a rack. Serve within 6 hours to avoid a soggy crust.

January 20, 2008

Weeknight Dinner with No Drama

Recently, I asked for dinner suggestions from some fellow cyber foodies. BMK suggested a great Martha Stewart recipe for Chicken with Tomatoes and Mushrooms. She said it was one of her new favorites. Glancing at the list of ingredients, which is short, I admit I didn't anticipate this one to knock my socks off. But, I'm pulling the crow out of my mouth as I type this because this dish was actually extremely flavorful. I did add a little bit of Italian seasoning (but I think it would have also been find without that addition) and sprinkled some freshly grated Parmesan (I love me some cheese). It's a solid meal that I definitely could see making again for a quick weeknight dinner. If you need to get a little more mileage out of the meal, I think it would also go well on a bed of pasta.

I encourage you to head on over to BMK's blog, Reservations Not Required, for the recipe.

January 17, 2008

What's for Dinner?

It's an age-old question that we have all asked of someone else at one point in our lives. Sometimes its hard to find inspiration and easier to just take the path of least resistance by serving up one of my go-to dishes.

But, that's boring. And one of the reasons why I blog about cooking is to challenge myself to get creative in the kitchen.

I pour over my many foodie magazines and scour the internet looking for that one recipe that speaks to me. Tonight I decided to not work so hard at it and randomly picked an ingredient as a theme for dinner. Ginger. Once I decided, it actually didn't take me long to choose these two recipes. Prep time was brief and the number of ingredients was very manageable, with most items already in our pantry and fridge. While my pictures turned out a bit yellow (I'm currently using a point-and-shoot number and quickly finding that I need to reconsider my equipment), the food was bright and elegantly understated. No muss, no fuss. Just robust flavor.

Chicken with Ginger
from Martha Stewart

1 three-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and cut into 1/8-inch-thick matchsticks (1/2 cup)
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1 1/2-inch chunks
1 large onion, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons white vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup sliced scallions

  1. Soak ginger in cold water 10 minutes; drain.
  2. Heat oil in a skillet over high heat; brown chicken in two batches, 6 to 8 minutes. Set aside.
  3. In same skillet over medium heat, cook ginger, onion, and garlic, stirring until browned, 8 to 10 minutes. Add soy sauce, vinegar, and sugar; cook over high heat until thick, 3 to 4 minutes. Add chicken; stir to warm. Remove from heat; stir in scallions.

Ginger-Sesame Bok Choy
from Martha Stewart

1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1/4 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
5 thin slices peeled fresh ginger
4 to 5 heads baby bok choy, (1 pound), each halved lengthwise (I ended up using one large head of regular bok choy, since the baby heads in my store looked a little wilty)
  1. In a small bowl, whisk together vinegar, soy sauce, and sesame oil. Set aside.

  2. In a large skillet with a tight-fitting lid, bring 1 cup water and ginger to a boil. Add the bok choy; reduce to a simmer. Cover and cook until leaves are vibrant green and stems are fork-tender, 3 to 5 minutes. Drain well; discard ginger.

  3. Transfer bok choy to a serving platter; drizzle with the vinegar-soy mixture, and serve immediately.

January 2, 2008

Happy New Year

Some say that eating black-eyed peas on New Year's day brings the diner good luck and financial gain for that year. Fact? Folklore? All I know is that I can always use more luck and money. So who am I to question tradition? As I eat another spoonful in hopes of enriching my future, I wish you all the best for a happy, healthy and prosperous 2008.

Smoked Sausage and Black-Eyed Peas

1 pound smoked sausage
1 cup chopped yellow onion (1 medium)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
4 cloves of garlic
5 sprigs of fresh thyme
4 bay leaves
3 teaspoons finely chopped parsley
8 cups chicken stock
1 pound black-eyed peas
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon chopped green onions

In a large pot, over medium heat, render the sausage for 5 minutes. Stir in the onions, salt, cayenne, garlic, bay leaves, thyme and parsley. Saute for 5 minutes, or until the onions are wilted. Stir in the chicken stock, peas and garlic. Bring the liquid up to a simmer and cook for 1 1/2 hours, or until the peas are tender. Spoon the peas and sausage in the center of a shallow bowl. Garnish with green onions.