Thursday, April 21, 2011

Almost perfect lemon meringue pie

I made a lemon meringue pie for the first time over the weekend. It looks nice, doesn't it? The crust was deliciously crisp and flaky, and the meringue layer was lovely. The only problem was that the lemon custard didn't set. It tasted great, but a runny custard doesn't make for a very pretty slice of pie. The recipe was from The Gourmet Cookbook - in my experience, the recipes in that book are flawless, and I followed the instructions to the letter, so I'm not sure what went wrong here.

I'm looking for some help from you. Do you have any tips for making lemon meringue pie? A foolproof lemon custard recipe? I'm not going to give the full pie recipe that I used here, but I'll summarize how I made the custard. Let me know if the proportions or cooking times don't look right to you. My plan is to try the pie again with the same crust and meringue, but use the custard recipe from The New Best Recipe by Cook's Illustrated. Once I find the perfect recipe, I'll let you know!

The perfect recipe can be found here.

Here's how I made the custard:

4 large egg yolks
1 cup sugar
4 1/2 tbs cornstarch
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup water
1/2 cup whole milk
1 tbs unsalted butter
2 tsp finely grated lemon zest
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice

Whisk together egg yolks. Whisk together sugar, cornstarch, and salt in a saucepan. Add water and milk, whisk until cornstarch dissolves. Bring to a boil, whisk until mixture thickens. Slowly whisk 1 cup milk mixture into yolks, then whisk yolk mixture into milk mixture. Simmer, whisking, for 3 minutes. Remove from heat and whisk in butter, zest, and lemon juice until smooth. Pour filling into warm pie shell, top with meringue, bake until meringue is golden, about 15 minutes.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Garlic-sesame broccoli salad

This is another gem from Melissa Clark's In the Kitchen With a Good Appetite. It's a simple salad of raw broccoli - yes, raw, but I swear it's really good - marinated in olive oil with some red wine vinegar, garlic, cumin, red pepper flakes, and sesame oil. It's really delicious - the vinegar takes the rawness out of the broccoli, leaving it crisp and bright green, and the marinade is very flavorful. Andrew loved it and was surprised to hear that the broccoli wasn't cooked at all. The dish is super quick to put together, and just needs to marinate for at least an hour before eating. I generally don't get too excited when I see broccoli at the market, but this recipe has got me already looking forward to buying some more. I'm interested in trying this "cooking" technique with some other combinations of spices and acids...I bet there are a lot of great directions it can go.

Garlic-sesame broccoli salad
Adapted from In the Kitchen With a Good Appetite
Serves 3-4 as a side dish

1 head of broccoli, weighing about 1 pound, cut into small florets
3/4 tsp red wine vinegar
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/4 cup plus 2 tbs extra-virgin olive oil
2 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp Asian roasted sesame oil
Large pinch red pepper flakes

Mix together the vinegar and salt in a large bowl. Add the broccoli florets and mix well. Heat olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat until hot but not smoking. Add garlic and cumin and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Remove pan from heat and add red pepper flakes and sesame oil. Pour oil mixture over broccoli and toss to coat broccoli evenly with dressing. Let sit for 1-2 hours at room temperature, or if you want to keep it longer than 2 hours, marinate in the fridge (for up to 48 hours). Taste for salt and adjust if necessary before serving.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Swiss chard with tomato sauce and chickpeas

Swiss chard is one of the first vegetables to appear in the markets around here in the spring. Chard is always appealing to me because of its brightly colored stems, and the fact that it is easy to prepare, with big wide leaves that make removing the stems easy. Chard works well in all kinds of dishes, with its relatively mild flavor that has a slight earthiness reminiscent of beets (which are closely related to chard). I bought a bunch of chard at the market last week, and decided that I wanted to make a main dish with it, using both the stems and leaves. I thought about combining it with garlicky bread crumbs and cheese, or raisins, nuts, and olives...but none of those ideas seemed quite right. Then I remembered the tomato sauce in the fridge that needed to be used, and decided to combine the chard with chickpeas for protein. I thought some smoked paprika would be a nice flavor addition, and decided at the last minute to add some fennel. I loved the way the dish came out it had a nice mix of textures and the flavors of the seasonings really came through. It was delicious served on top of some brown rice.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Alice Waters's roast chicken

Do you have a favorite technique for roast chicken? I've tried making it a few different ways, experimenting with stuffing various herbs and seasonings under the skin and in the cavity, trying out different roasting temperatures, trying organic vs. conventional, etc. This time I used Alice Waters's method from The Art of Simple Food, which I have been wanting to try for a while. There were two main differences from the methods I've tried in the past - first, you season the chicken with salt and pepper a day or two before cooking. This is similar in principle to brining - helps keep the meat moist and flavorful. Second, you turn the chicken twice during cooking to help it brown evenly on all sides.  The chicken came out great - the skin was nicely cooked and the meat had great flavor. This will probably be my go-to roast chicken recipe from now on.

Alice Waters's roast chicken
Adapted from The Art of Simple Food

1 chicken, 3 1/2 to 4 pounds*
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

One or two days in advance of cooking, remove giblets from cavity, and trim excess fat pads from chicken. Rub chicken all over, inside and out, with 1 1/2 tsp salt and a scant 1/4 tsp of pepper. Loosely wrap and refrigerate chicken for one or two days.

One hour before cooking, remove chicken from refrigerator. Preheat oven to 400 deg F. After chicken has been out of the refrigerator for an hour, rub the outside with 1 tbs oil and place chicken in a rack on a roasting pan, breast side up. Tuck wing tips under thighs to keep them from burning. Roast for 20 minutes, then turn chicken breast side down. Roast another 20 minutes, then turn chicken breast side up again. Roast until fully cooked, another 10-20 minutes - when done, the skin should be separating from the meat, you should be able to wiggle the leg freely, juices should run clear, and a thermometer inserted into the leg (not too near the bone) should register 165 deg F. Let chicken rest 10-15 minutes before carving.

*Alice Waters strongly recommends using an organic, free-range chicken. I'm not 100% convinced that it needs to be certified organic, but I really do agree with her that free-range, grain-fed chicken (from a local farm, in my case) is tastier than supermarket chicken. Definitely more expensive though.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Roasted parsnips with honey vinaigrette

So, it's been a long time since I've posted a vegetable recipe - I was getting pretty sick of winter produce for a while there. But now, in spite of the little bit of snow that may still be headed our way, spring is slowly coming. Flowers are coming up, and the very beginnings of spring vegetables are starting to appear at the markets. In a few weeks, the spring growing season will really get going, but for now we've got parsnips. A couple days ago, I saw a cooking demonstration with one of the chefs from Clover. He made a roasted parsnip salad with spinach, pickled onions, Aleppo pepper, and an orange vinaigrette. I really liked the combination of vinegar with the sweet parsnips and decided to try making a simplified version of the dish at home. I made a quick vinaigrette with olive oil, white wine vinegar, and a touch of chile powder. I also added some honey to accentuate and add some depth to the sweetness of the roasted vegetables. The parsnips were terrific with the vinaigrette and made a great side dish to our roast chicken last night.

Roasted parsnips with honey vinaigrette
Serves 4

1 lb parsnips, peeled and cut crosswise into 1/3-inch slices. Large pieces can be halved or quartered.
Olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
1.5 tbs white wine vinegar
1 tbs good-tasting extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 tbs honey
1/8 tsp chile powder

Preheat oven to 400 deg F. Toss parsnips with a splash of olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Spread in a single layer on a large pan. Roast until browned and tender, about 20 minutes, flipping halfway through. Meanwhile, whisk together vinegar, extra-virgin olive oil, honey, and chile powder. When parsnips are finished roasting, allow them to cool slightly, then toss with vinaigrette. Serve warm or at room temperature.