Welcoming Summer – Luscious Lemon Meringue Pie

June 2, 2011 § 4 Comments

This weekend was a hot one in Orlando – the temperatures have been steadily creeping up into the 90’s for several weeks now and I’ve been in denial trying to keep our doors open for fresh air with no luck. With the heat intensifying, I’d thought for two weeks of what to do for the approaching Memorial Day weekend and to properly welcome the start of summer. We could have taken a mini-vaca but hubby had no vacation days. Could have enjoyed a pool at a local hotel but prices were insane. Last idea was to drive to the beach but in the end with the threat of traffic and our sweet dog’s puppy eyes, we decided against it. So, it was a weekend at home, which in the end turned out to be very sweet (pun intended).

My husband recently bought me a nook for my birthday. Each night he’d look at it hopeful that I’ve purchased something to verify I liked the gift. I had yet to purchase anything in a month, so with the three-day weekend as I lay on the couch I figured I might as well indulge my brain in a book rather than endless hours of television. I’ve wanted to read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver ever since it came out. So, I did just that – I downloaded the “nook book” and have had my nose stuck in it every night this week. The book is just plain awesome – enlightening and inspiring with every page turn. I’m only about one third of the way through it but she already has me hooked with her tales of blossoming veggies and tender fruits. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced the tastes she describes and weaves through her stories. It makes me utterly depressed at the thought of having to frequent my local supermarket and roam through its lifeless aisles. She almost makes me want to uproot my life and take up a farm – almost.

But back to reality, it was Memorial Day weekend and armed with the desire to eat local, fresh, ingredients, I found myself with an overflowing basket at the local market I visit. Now, to be sincere, I didn’t end up buying everything local. I was surprised and a little disturbed to learn that my favorite local store isn’t so local. Don’t get me wrong, it’s got some great finds but doesn’t carry quite as much local produce as I’d deluded myself to believe. But, I bought some good stock to make great meals for the weekend – and let me say it’s pretty much been one good thing after another – lentil salad, hummus and veggie sandwiches, sweet grilled corn, scrambled eggs with roasted asparagus and peppers, fresh garlicky mayonnaise, and finally last night a summer squash stir fry with jasmine rice. At the last grab in the store I threw in some fresh limes and lemons to have on hand.

My mom invited us over for a Memorial Day BBQ and I made the – at the time what I thought to be a good idea – offer to bring Lemon Meringue Pie as I’d just purchased several huge lemons. I have a tendency to do this in all aspects of my life and especially in the kitchen – signing up for things that I don’t fully understand their scale and potential. This venture was one of those. But once I’d mentioned Lemon Meringue to my mom, there was no turning back. I had to show up to the BBQ with that pie in my hands. I’ve never made a lemon custard or curd. I’ve never made meringue. I don’t like pie shells so I had already decided I’d use the graham cracker crust in Ina Garten’s Frozen Key Lime Pie recipe I recently made. With one out of three down, how hard could it be?

Well, not hard, but interesting. It was hours before the party and we were standing in line at Hollywood Studios to see American Idol Scotty (I know, corny, and yes I’m a bit of a dork). There I was thinking of the pie I had to serve in mere hours and I hadn’t even picked out a recipe. As I stood in line I scanned different recipes to see which one to go with.  I settled on a recipe from Gourmet as I was pretty sure I had all the ingredients it called for. Once back at home and needing to leave in, yes…1 hour!, I sprang into action.

You start with the crust. I loved the graham cracker crust with this but you could easily do a pie shell, pastry crust, or even no crust and serve in bowls with a side of cookies as I saw here which is a great idea. While the crust cooks you melt the sugar, salt, water, milk, and cornstarch in a saucepan. This at first appears to do nothing and I was thinking, surely I’ve left out a major ingredient. But all of a sudden it will start to solidify and get gooey. At that point, you mix in a small amount of this mixture into the eggs yolks, and then the egg mixture back into this saucepan. As you continue to stir it, the mixture solidifies into a sturdy custard-like consistency.

Then you add in the lemon and lemon zest. This recipe calls for half a cup of lemon juice but my four huge lemons actually only yielded a fourth a cup. I was worried it might not be tart enough so I compensated with a little extra zest and the resulting flavor was spot-on. Finally you fold in a few tablespoons of butter into the filling. The resulting lemon filling is glossy and looks like its bursting with sunshine. Pour this mixture into the pie shell and set aside.

Next comes the meringue. As I said, I’ve never made meringue and it’s really not so easy. You diligently whip the egg whites with salt and cream of tartar until they get firm and then slowly add in the sugar. Again, silly me, I was short on ingredients and only had one third of the sugar it called for. So I did the rest with powdered sugar. The meringue didn’t get as sturdy as I would have liked and it didn’t taste particularly great at first– but it’s all I had. So, I plopped it on top of the pie (the most fun part by the way as it oozes out of the bowl and builds layer upon layer on your pie) and into the oven it went to brown.

By this point we were to be at my parents’ house in 15 minutes so the pie came straight out of the oven and into a lasagna pan for transport – held in place by two oven mitts. I sat in the car looking at my beautiful pie, full of hope, but the meringue wobbled from side to side as the car turned. I snapped a few pics to ensure I had evidence should this by chance turn out to be a success – although at that moment it seemed highly unlikely – or in case I just wanted to prove to myself I’d made it. Once at the house, the pie got to chill out in the fridge for a few hours before we indulged. And indulge we did – it was delicious. The lemon filling had just enough tang and bite accompanied by the sweet graham cracker crust and light fluffy meringue. In fact, the meringue tasted quite perfect despite the rocky start. This pie was a winner all around and everyone agreed – a nice cool accompaniment to the hot summer days to come. I can’t wait to make it again…the only danger is now that I know how easy it really is, I may make it too often!

Lemon Meringue Pie
Adapted from Gourmet

Ingredients

For the crust

  • 1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs (10 crackers)
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, melted

For the filling

  • 5 large egg yolks
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/4 cups water
  • 1/4 cup whole milk
  • 1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
  • 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice (I used ¼ cup and more zest)
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons

For the meringue

  • 5 large egg whites, at room temperature 30 minutes
  • 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 superfine granulated sugar

Directions:

For the crust, pre-heat the oven to 350. Melt the butter. Mix with crushed graham crackers and sugar and press into pie shell. Bake 10-15 minutes until golden. Remove pie shell and increase heat to 375 to bake the finished pie.

For the filling, whisk together egg yolks and set aside. In a saucepan whisk together sugar, cornstarch, and salt. Gradually add water and milk, whisking until smooth. Bring to a boil over medium heat, whisking frequently as mixture begins to thicken. Remove from heat and gradually whisk about 1 cup milk mixture into yolks, then whisk yolk mixture into remaining milk mixture. Add lemon zest and juice and simmer, whisking constantly, 3 minutes. Remove from heat and whisk in butter until incorporated. Pour into pie shell.

For the meringue beat the reserved egg whites with cream of tartar and salt using an electric mixer at medium speed until they hold soft peaks. Increase speed to high and add superfine sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, beating until meringue just holds stiff, glossy peaks. Pour the meringue over the top of the pie and put back in the oven until golden brown, about 15 minutes. Cool several hours before serving.

Update: Serve with Heirloom Tomato Pasta for a great summer lunch or supper. 

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Happy Sundays – Buttermilk Waffles

May 31, 2011 § 1 Comment

There’s something about freshly made waffles and pancakes that transports you right back to childhood. I always loved weekend mornings growing up. My family liked to make a big deal out of breakfast – whipping up fresh pancakes, French toast, or eggs and bacon to start the day off right. We’d all be in the kitchen working together and then sit at the table lingering long after the last piece was eaten. Now off and married, I realize these weekends were very much the result of my mom. She was the one who would get this ritual started most times.

Now I’m off and married and similar to my mom, it’s me carrying on this ritual in my home. I haven’t made waffles often – partly due to effort and partly due to calories. Yes, we grow up and have to pay attention to calories and making waffles suddenly isn’t such a good idea anymore. But once in a while doesn’t hurt. My husband hasn’t ever really developed a taste for sweet breakfasts so when I make them, I’m cooking for one. So I mostly reserve my waffle cooking for special occasions when I can feed many like recently on Mother’s Day. However, some mornings you just wake up and have an itching for something delicious. That was me Sunday morning. As I sat having my morning coffee, I decided I deserved a little indulgence of happiness, even if it was just for me.  Plus I had the last few cups of buttermilk in the fridge and figured I might as well put it to good work. Buttermilk waffles it was!

As I was cooking for one, I cut the recipe in half. To be fair, I would have made even less but dividing the recipe by anything other than 2 was too complicated for a Sunday morning. (I have a handy dandy recipe divider magnet at Crate and Barrel which is one of my favorite tools in the kitchen. It helps do the math for you and is a big help.) Recipes with an odd number of eggs as this one are always tricky. What I find best is just mix the eggs separately as the recipe calls for and divide it after. Trying to “cut” an egg yolk in half is challenging. You could always make the full recipe and put the remaining in the freezer for another day. Just make sure you freeze them or pack separately and don’t put them straight into a bag or they will freeze together.

The star of this recipe is the buttermilk which makes these waffles rich and decadent. Egg whites are beaten and folded in to create a light and fluffy batter which balances out the rich, buttery flavor. These would also be great with any fruit you choose or chocolate chips if you want to really have a treat. Equally a little orange zest would be delicious in the batter and lighten it up for Summer. Today I topped my waffles with fresh strawberries and just a small drizzle of syrup – the syrup was preference. These waffles are equally delicious on their own. If you’re up to it you can whip up some fresh whipped cream with a little sugar and vanilla to top them off with – that’s what I did for Mother’s Day and they were simply divine.

I should warn you – if you don’t want to eat more than 2, quickly put them away after you serve yourself. If you make the mistake I did of leaving them on the counter, one or two more may just disappear at the result of your fingers, no fork needed.

If you like waffles and don’t have a waffle maker, you should definitely look at All-Clad’s waffle maker. It makes the perfect waffle each and every time. This recipe actually comes from All-Clad as well. It calls for you to sift the dry ingredients but honestly, I’ve never done this and never missed it. The egg whites ensure a light batter so unless you’re a perfectionist, save yourself the trouble and just enjoy Sunday morning by throwing it all together in a bowl and call it a day.

Buttermilk Waffles

Recipe from All-Clad
Makes twelve 4-inch waffles

Ingredients:

3 eggs, separated
1 ¾ cups buttermilk
8 tbs. unsalted butter, melted
½ tsp. vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 ½ tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt
1/3 cup sugar
Maple syrup and fresh fruit for serving

Directions:

  1. Preheat waffle maker on medium-high heat. Preheat oven to 200°F. (the oven is to keep the waffles warm and crisp them slightly. If you like them softer and plan to serve right away you can skip this and just keep them warm on a plate with a paper towel and some foil).
  2. In a large bowl whisk together the egg yolks, buttermilk, butter, and vanilla. Mix in flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and sugar until smooth (sift if desired).
  3. In a small bowl beat egg whites until stiff peaks form. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold egg whites into batter.
  4. Pour about 1/3 cup batter into each well of waffle maker. Cook until golden brown and crisp. Transfer to baking sheet and oven if desired to keep warm.
  5. Serve with fruit and syrup.

Update: See the vegan pancakes I’m whipping up on weekends these days. 

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