28 March 2008

Simple Artichokes with Curry Dip

Last weekend I got a phone message from a friend. She wanted to tell me that she had just seen the most beautiful artichokes at the market and that I needed to stop by as soon as possible and bring some home to photograph. Of course I went as soon as I got her message. I just love lovely produce!

The artichokes at the market were really pretty. They were huge and had long stems and leaves attached. I picked up three to photograph and began to look forward to dinner. Artichokes make a great focal point for a family dinner and, since it had been a while since I'd cooked them, their novelty appealed to my sense of casual culinary drama.

While I have been cooking them for years now, artichokes still strike me as fresh and different. I was nearly thirty before I ever even tasted a fresh artichoke and I guess the newness hasn't worn off. Growing up in the southeast I don't ever remember even seeing one.

It's probably just as well. If we had eaten an artichoke back then I think we would have cooked it to death and, once it was mushy, put it in a cream sauce. Most green vegetables ended up that way at our family table. As a result I spent my early adulthood becoming newly acquainted with the beauty and vibrancy of broccoli and asparagus, steamed until just crisp tender, and fresh greens, gently wilted. So artichokes came into my life at a good time, just when I was ready to accept and enjoy their unique and defining attributes.

Once my sister-in-law moved to California I suppose the introduction became inevitable. It was only a matter of time until artichokes were on the menu during one of our visits. I went to the market with my sister-in-law and when she chose several fresh artichokes and put them in her basket I was intrigued. When we got them home I watched carefully and helped her prepare them. I was amazed at how simple it could be and how fun they were to eat. Won over by that introduction I have cooked them the same way ever since.

By the way, those artichokes from the market, were delicious! Here's how I prepared them:



Simple Artichokes with Curry Dip

Curry Dip
½ cup nonfat plain yogurt
1 teaspoon curry powder

Stir the curry powder into the nonfat plain yogurt and refrigerate until ready to use.


Artichokes
Trim the stem end of the artichoke cutting straight across just above the lower row or two of leaves. (Many people trim the top ends of the leaves to remove the small thorn. It may look better but I have never found this to be necessary since the spike softens when it is cooked. I seldom trim the leaves.)

Wash artichokes under running water then place them, cut side down, in a microwave safe dish. (I use a large 4-quart oval Corning Ware casserole with a lid. It held 3 large artichokes with the cover closing well on the top. You can cook as many as fit in the casserole with the bottoms of the artichokes resting on the bottom of the pan. Generally you will want one artichoke per person but, in the right company, two people could share one artichoke if they are quite large, as mine were.)

Fill the dish with 1/2 inch of water. Add 1/2 teaspoon olive oil and 1/2 teaspoon wine vinegar to the water in the dish.

Cover and microwave on high approximately 15 minutes. Check sooner for small artichokes. Very large artichokes may take a little longer. Check if they are done by pulling a leaf, several rows from the outside, from the artichoke and scraping the flesh between your teeth to see if it is tender. If not, microwave another minute and check again.

When the artichokes are tender, remove from the microwave and let sit for two or three minutes. Drain the artichokes and serve them with Curry Dip or melted butter.


To eat an artichoke - Pull the outer leaves from the artichoke, dip them in the sauce and pull the lower end, cupped side down, between your teeth to scrape the flesh away from the outer leaf. Discard the remains. Continue until you reach the inner leaves with little flesh remaining. Then remove the remaining leaves and discard them.


Beneath the small inner leaves you will see a ring of hair-like fibers. This is the choke. Use a spoon or a table knife to scrape these off of the soft fleshy layer beneath. Discard the choke.


What remains in the artichoke heart. Depending on the size of the artichoke it may be relatively thin or rather substantial. (The heart from the artichoke pictured weighed 1¾ ounce.) Cut or break this into bite sized pieced. Dip pieces in the curry sauce and enjoy!

25 March 2008

Asparagus with Toasted Bread Crumbs and Olives


Isn't asparagus wonderful? I just love those elegant bright green spears. They are so pretty on a plate with something sprinkled or drizzled across them, or even on their own. What's more, asparagus is generally quick and easy to prepare.

And so, as I selected vegetables for the week, I ended up with not just one, but two, bundles of beautiful fresh asparagus. Not wanting to bore my family, or myself, by preparing the asparagus the same old way I usually do, sauteing it in a pan until crisp tender and then sprinkling it with a few drops of sesame oil, I thought I would look through a cookbook for some new ideas.

As is often the case, "Real-Life Entertaining" by Donata Maggipinto, had just what I was looking for. I found a Spanish influenced recipe which included luscious black olives (a personal favorite), buttered crumbs and a sherry vinegar based dressing.

Sound delicious? It did to me, so I gave it a try.

I wasn't disappointed!

Asparagus with Toasted Bread Crumbs and Olives

1 1/4 pounds asparagus, trimmed

Vinaigrette
3 Tablespoons sherry vinegar
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
6 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Crumb Topping
2 - 3 Tablespoons butter
1 1/2 cups fresh bread crumbs
1/2 cup sliced black olives


Prepare a vinaigrette by whisking together the sherry vinegar, lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper. Set aside.

Prepare the crumb topping. Melt the butter in a skillet. Add the bread crumbs. Cook and stir over medium heat until the crumbs are toasty, 2 to 3 minutes. Drain on a paper towel. When cool, add to the olives and toss. Set aside.

Heat 1/2 inch of water to boiling in a large saucepan. Add a pinch of salt and the trimmed asparagus. Reduce heat, cover and steam for approximately 5 minutes, adjusting the time according to the thickness of the asparagus spears, until asparagus is crisp tender.

Drain asparagus and arrange on a small platter. Sprinkle crumbs and olives across asparagus and drizzle with the vinaigrette.

Serve and enjoy!


Notes: You can make fresh bread crumbs by putting several slices of firm bread in the bowl of a food processor and pulsing until crumbs form. I didn't have firm bread on hand so I used unseasoned croutons that had been smashed a bit.

There will likely be plenty of crumbs and olives as well as vinaigrette left over to dress some baby greens for a salad the following day. Or you could cut the recipe for vinaigrette and topping in half and have fewer leftovers.

20 March 2008

Peanut Butter Fudge Easter Eggs


Earlier this month a friend invited me to join her in taking a Ukrainian Egg decorating class. The class was offered at Pomeroy Living History Farm. I was intrigued. I always enjoy visiting Pomeroy Farm and Ukrainian Pysanka Eggs are beautiful. What’s more the art of Pysanka has a certain exotic appeal. The process involves imprinting a pattern rich with tradition and symbolism onto a delicate eggshell by layering dyes and soft fragrant beeswax heated over the flame of a candle. Even the description offers a certain romantic mystique!

Yet despite the mystique, the beauty and the sense of adventure, I know that I don't need another obsession. Life is short and my focus is already divided between a myriad of responsibilities and interests. Lately I would rather try to wrap my mind around the practice of simplicity than learn a new hobby. I want to focus on what is truly most important to me, to learn more about my passions and to find fewer objects to carry with me on life's journey. While Ukrainian Eggs are fragile they are generally created with the hope that they will be preserved and treasured for generations to come and the idea of creating beautiful eggs to keep and treasure seemed like a step in the wrong direction.

In the end, I did decide to go. It seems my curiosity and the mystique won out over my yearning for simplicity. I enjoyed the experience and I decorated a Ukrainian Egg.



I learned a lot during my introduction to the art of Pysanky. I also enjoyed spending the afternoon with my friend and the other talented women in the class. I enjoyed the opportunity to see the eggs our instructor had made and collected. I was also fascinated by some interesting bits of information she shared. Did you know that you don't have to blow the contents out of the eggshell to preserve it? In time the egg inside will dry out and the egg will become noticeably lighter. This happens gradually, and occasionally the process goes wrong, the eggshell leaks and smells, it can even explode, but for the most part the center simply dries out and the beautifully decorated shell lasts indefinitely.

Yet what I really gleaned from the Ukrainian Egg class was the inspiration to use my own skills to create beautiful but edible treats to share this Easter. Aside from photography, dough and icing are my creative medium of choice. I have been creating with these media since I was a little girl and I value the traditions and memories associated with making and decorating cookies and candy.

So, while I enjoyed learning about Ukrainian eggs, by the time we were finishing my mind had already wandered to other pursuits like taking photos of the occasion and thinking of how to decorate Peanut Butter Fudge Eggs for my family's Easter baskets.



Peanut Butter Fudge Eggs

What you will need:

1 recipe of Peanut Butter Fudge
1 recipe of Fast-Cook Chocolate Fondant (recipe below)
1/2 recipe Royal Icing (recipe in February 2008 archive under Sugar Cookies)

Directions:
Prepare Peanut Butter Fudge as directed in my December post.


When the fudge is smooth and creamy, instead of pouring it into a pan, scoop the fudge into egg shaped molds, if you are using them.


If you don't have egg shaped molds, or would rather not use them, simply shape the fudge into eggs by hand using 1/2 cup to 1 1/2 cups of fudge for each egg, depending on what size egg you desire. Place the shaped fudge on wax paper to set. When the fudge has set carefully shake and pry the eggs from the molds, if necessary.

While fudge sets, prepare Fast-Cook Chocolate Fondant.

Fast-Cook Chocolate Fondant
from "Homemade Candy" by the editors of Farm Journal

1 pound confectioners' sugar
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/3 cup butter
1 teaspoon vanilla

Sift together confectioners' sugar and cocoa powder.

Combine half of the sifted mixture with the butter and corn syrup in a medium saucepan. Cook this mixture over low heat until it boils evenly. Stir in the remaining confectioners' sugar and cocoa powder mixture along with the vanilla. Remove from heat, stirring just until mixture holds together.

Pour immediately into a greased 8-inch pan. Allow mixture to cool just until it can be comfortably handled. Knead several times until smooth. Roll out the fondant with a rolling pin to a 1/4 inch thickness.


Note: white spots in the fondant pictured were caused by not sifting the confectioners' sugar. Be sure to sift the confectioners' sugar and cocoa powder if you want smooth fondant.

Place cooled peanut butter fudge egg on the fondant, top side down. Cut a piece from the fondant that is large enough to cover the fudge egg. Roll the fondant around the egg, smoothing it from the top toward the bottom and trimming away excess fondant. Fit together and smooth the seams with your thumbs and fingertips until the fondant is smoothly fitted around the egg and the seams are sealed at the bottom and sides.

Repeat with remaining eggs, kneading and re-rolling the fondant scraps as needed.

Store leftover fondant in plastic wrap.

To decorate, prepare one half recipe of Royal Icing. (The recipe can be found near the bottom of my February post for Sugar Cookies.)

Add 1/4 teaspoon of lemon extract along with other ingredients in mixer bowl if desired. (This was recommended after I posted the recipe and does improve the flavor of the icing.)

When the icing is fluffy, divide it into several small containers and tint icing green, pink, blue and yellow. Keep the icing covered with plastic wrap or a damp paper towel as Royal Icing dries out quickly. Put each color of icing into a pastry bag and pipe flowers or other decorations on the chocolate fondant covering the eggs as desired.


Allow the icing to dry completely. Present as Easter gifts to family and friends.

Happy Easter!

17 March 2008

Stout and Black Pepper Truffles


March Truffles

In February I made truffles. I explored a lot of ideas and settled on a recipe for Vanilla Chile Truffles. They were delicious - smooth, luscious, rich and spicy. Still, I was left with many more ideas and flavor combinations I wanted to try.

This month, with St. Patrick's Day in mind, and me planning a trip to England that's got me thinking about beer and pubs, I decided to try another unusual flavor pairing - stout and black pepper. Stout is a traditionally Irish conception of beer, and while it is often thought of as bitter, it can actually be rather sweet as well as smooth and elegantly creamy. Reduced and combined with the chocolate and cream it imparts a dark and complex flavor to the ganache that is hard to put your finger on. Add to that the bite of freshly ground black peppercorns, lending a finish that is spicy but not hot, and you have a challenging taste combination that appeals to a sense of adventure.

This time I dipped. With a little more time to work out the recipe for these truffles, and to get them ready for the camera, I dipped the cocoa dusted chocolate ganache in melted chocolate and added a touch of colored sugar sprinkles as a garnish. The result was pretty, appealed to my senses and was fun to photograph.


Now that we have truffles to help us celebrate St. Patrick's Day, how about some Irish music to add to the atmosphere. For traditional Irish music it might be fun to listen to The Chieftains. Or, for a more contemporary take on Irish tunes how about U2 or The Cranberries.

Or maybe you'd rather watch a movie. Some of my favorite movies are set in Ireland. One of my all time favorite movies is Waking Ned Devine. I also enjoyed The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill But Came Down a Mountain, and The Secret of Roan Inish is a wonderfully magical tale.

And whatever you do share a bit of Irish wit or charm, even better, an Irish blessing with a friend. There are many blessings, toasts and quotations here. One favorite that is listed:

May the road rise to meet you,
May the wind be always at your back,
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
The rains fall soft upon your fields and,
Until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His hand.



Slainte!



Stout and Black Pepper Truffles

¾ cup stout (I used Rogue's Chocolate Stout)

6 oz. semi-sweet chocolate (I use Ghiradelli 60% cacao bittersweet chocolate chips)
½ cup cream
¾ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons cocoa powder

6 oz melted chocolate for dipping

Pour 3/4 cup stout into a small saucepan and simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally, until reduced to 3 tablespoons. ( I actually decided to use Rogue's Chocolate Stout, a stout that is brewed in the Pacific Northwest in this batch of truffles but an Irish Stout, like Guinness, would work equally well.)

Melt 6 ounces of chocolate in the top of a double boiler or in a metal bowl over hot, not boiling, water. Set aside.

Pour cream into a small saucepan. Cook over low heat until it begins to boil and is heated through. Remove from heat.

Stir the 3 tablespoons of reduced stout into the cream. Add the black pepper to the cream. Stir together until mixed. Add the cream mixture to the chocolate and stir or whisk until well combined.

Set the mixture aside until cool and thick, but not hard, approximately two or three hours.

(For photos from the next few steps in the process see my post for Vanilla Chile Truffles.)

When it is thick, place the chocolate mixture in a Ziploc freezer bag. Seal the bag and snip a ½ inch piece from a lower corner of the bag.

Pipe the chocolate mixture onto waxed paper or parchment in teaspoon sized dollops. Place in the refrigerator or freezer until very firm, approximately 2 hours.

Place the 2 tablespoons of cocoa powder in a shallow bowl. Remove the chocolate from the refrigerator or freezer. Place each dollop in the cocoa powder and then roll it in your hands to form a ball. (This will be messy!)

Place the chocolate ball on a new piece of waxed paper or parchment. When all pieces have been formed into balls, place the chocolate back in the refrigerator until set.

At this point the truffles can be rolled in cocoa powder again just before serving, or they can be dipped in chocolate.

To dip the truffles in chocolate, skip the second cocoa powder dusting and when the balls of chocolate ganache are set, melt 6 ounces of chocolate in the top of a double boiler or in a small metal bowl over hot, not boiling, water.

Dip the balls of chocolate ganache into the melted chocolate, shaking gently to help the excess chocolate drip back into the pan before placing the finished ball on waxed paper. Add several grains of green sugar to the top before the chocolate sets. Allow chocolate to cool until the chocolate coating is firm.

For more tips on chocolate dipping check out the instructions on About.com.

Truffles can be stored in the refrigerator for several weeks, however, without tempering, the chocolate coating may bloom (get whitish spots or streaks) which does not effect the quality of the truffle but is generally considered unattractive. To avoid this the chocolate can be tempered before dipping...or, better yet, the truffles can be eaten quickly, within a day or so!



Truffles are best served at room temperature.

Place finished truffles in small paper candy cups or on waxed or parchment paper in a box or tin. Enjoy!

14 March 2008

It's All About Attitude - Mushroom and Brie Quiche



Pi Day is here, 3.14, and I am still chasing this week's challenge from Kitchen Parade to make a homemade pie crust. I did make an Upside Down Lemon Meringue Pie earlier this week, with a meringue pie crust. It was homemade, and it tasted good, but it wasn't pastry. That could be seen as a good thing. It saves on calories and grams of fat but, I have to admit, I would like to know how to make a good pie pastry.

I have wonderful memories of helping my aunt make pie pastry when I was a girl. I can remember standing at her small kitchen table, watching her roll out what I remember to be perfect circles of dough and cutting frilly strips of lattice topping. I helped out here and there - getting a tool, turning on the oven, rolling out a small piece of my own dough, eating the scrap pieces baked just for me. I loved the smell and the flaky texture warm from the oven.

But somehow, in the intervening years, we lost the magic. When I got married and hosted a family Thanksgiving at my apartment, I asked my aunt to remind me how to make pie crust and she suggested I buy it ready made from the grocery store instead. She confessed that was what she would usually do. On her advice, I’ve done it that way ever since.

Still, I do have those fond memories of making pie crust and I wanted to give this challenge a try. I began to look for a good recipe. I collected several and then, last Friday, I collected the necessary ingredients and equipment and got busy.

Pie crust disaster 1.1



First, I decided to try the basic pie crust recipe from "Betty Crocker's Cookbook." I have had that cookbook for over twenty-five years and I'm sure I must have tried this recipe before. You wouldn't know it. Not that making it went all that badly but as I was baking the pastry shell it shrank, and then I forgot about it and it burned. I realized this just as I realized I was also running late for an appointment. I took the burned crust from the pie plate and put the pie plate in the sink. When it touched water it shattered. Not an auspicious beginning.



Pie crust disaster 1.2

Next I tried the Foolproof Pie Dough recipe from Cooks' Illustrated that a friend had recommended. This recipe calls for vodka and I was intrigued. I tried mixing it by hand. This seemed to work well enough. My mistake was that I tried to bake it as a pie shell for a Lemon Meringue Pie. I did not use pie weights and it did not bake evenly. While the baked crust tasted okay I realized I needed more instructions for how to prepare a baked pie shell. I also realized I needed to give up for the day.



Pie crust disaster 1.3

Meanwhile I was making a meringue crust as a back up for the Lemon Meringue Pie. The recipe I was using did not specify how to prepare the pan and so I didn't. When the meringue was baked it was absolutely impossible to remove it from the pan without destroying it.

Needless to say, Friday was not my day for making pies. Still I was determined. Saturday I got up and tried again.

Pie crust disaster 2.1

The Foolproof Pie Dough recipe had been the most successful on Friday so I began with it on Saturday morning. This time I decided to follow the instructions exactly. Unfortunately, while my food processor holds all of the ingredients it seems it is not big enough to mix them properly. The pie dough became overworked and I gave up without baking it. I was discouraged.

I decided to let the issue rest and simply made another meringue crust for my Lemon Meringue Pie. This time I greased the pie plate and tweaked the recipe a little and it turned out great. I wrote about it and posted it...but those pie pastry disasters kept nagging at me. Surely, as much as I bake, I could manage to make a respectable enough pie crust....Couldn't I?

Pie crust 3.1

Then I read Cupcake Project's "Pumpkin Cup-Pie" Post. Stef added 18 Tablespoons of water to her pie crust and it was still delicious! That gave me hope. Maybe I was being too hard on myself. Maybe if I just kept going the pie crusts I made might not have been perfect but might have turned out just fine. Maybe pie pastry isn't just about attention to detail but is about attitude too.

It was worth at least one more shot.

As dinner time approached I turned on my Pi Day playlist. I measured the flour and salt and whisked the ingredients together. I cut in the butter and cold shortening until the mixture looked like coarse meal with small pea sized pebbles in it. I sprinkled in the vodka and water, tossed it with a fork, pressed it with my palm and was amazed to see it stick together. I put it in the refrigerator for a while. Then kneaded it two or three times and rolled it out on my Silpat. It was lovely.

At this point I put the Silpat with the rolled crust back in the refrigerator for maybe 10 minutes while I worked on the filling. Then I positioned the Silpat over the pie plate and peeled it away from the crust.



I gently fit the crust into the pie plate and fluted the edge. So far so good! It is amazing what a little confidence and encouragement from the food blog world can do! After my parade of disasters I was actually making a decent pie crust.

All I needed now was a special filling. How about a layer of pungent onions and earthy mushrooms sauteed together to release their soft texture and laced with ribbons of luscious, mellow brie cheese.



Over that I poured a velvety smooth egg and cream filling sprinkled with sea salt, freshly ground black pepper and, of course, some leaves of fresh thyme. Soon I had a beautiful "It's All About Attitude" Mushroom and Brie Quiche.

That vodka pie crust was great. Very flaky. Thanks, Robert, for the recommendation. Thanks Kitchen Parade and Smitten Kitchen for great tips and how-tos that got me thinking in the right direction and walked me through it. And thanks Cupcake Project for inspiration.



"It's All About Attitude" Mushroom and Brie Quiche

(Nearly) Foolproof Pie Dough
adapted from Cook's Illustrated

(enough for one single crust pie)
1 1/4 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch slices
1/4 cup cold vegetable shortening, cut into 4 pieces
1-2 tablespoons cold vodka
1-2 tablespoons cold water

Mix together flour and salt with a wire whisk. Cut in 6 tablespoons of cold butter with a pastry blender until butter pieces are the size of M&Ms. Add cold shortening pieces. Continue cutting with the pastry blender until the mixture resembles coarse meal and the largest pieces are the size of small peas.

Mix vodka and water. Sprinkle approximately two tablespoons over mixture and toss with fork. Press a portion of the mixture against the side of the bowl with your palm. If the dough is not holding together add more liquid, a teaspoon or two at a time, testing after each addition.

Cover dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate until cold. Place dough on a Silpat mat and roll out in a circle large enough to line the pie plate. Transfer pastry circle to pie plate. Trim and form edges as desired.

Mushroom and Brie Quiche Filling
adapted from "Betty Crocker's Cookbook"

8 ounces brie cheese (rind removed)
8 ounces fresh mushrooms
2 Tablespoons finely chopped onions
1 teaspoon olive oil
4 eggs
2 cups half-and-half
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves

Line a 9-inch pie dish with (Nearly) Foolproof Pie Dough. Cut brie into 1/4 inch slices and arrange over the bottom of the unbaked pie shell.

Heat the olive oil in a skillet or saucepan, over medium heat. Saute mushrooms and onion in the oil until they begin to soften. Layer these over the brie.

Beat eggs slightly. Add half-and-half, salt, pepper and thyme, stirring until thoroughly combined. Pour the egg mixture into the shell over the onions, mushrooms and cheese.

Bake in a preheated oven at 425 degrees for 15 minutes. Turn heat down to 300 degrees and continue baking for another 30 minutes or until lightly browned on the top, or a knife inserted halfway between the center and edge of the pie comes out clean. Remove from oven. Let cool 10 minutes before serving.

Note: This can be partially prepared up to 24 hours in advance. After layering mushrooms and cheese in an unbaked pie shell, cover and refrigerate. Combine the remaining ingredients. Cover and refrigerate separately. When ready, stir the egg mixture before pouring it into the pie shell. Bake as directed, increasing the baking time at 300 degrees to 45 minutes.

11 March 2008

Upside Down Lemon Meringue Pie


The Pi Day Challenge

Pi Day. 3.14. Okay, I get it! Let's make pie to celebrate that day of the year that most closely resembles Pi, numerically speaking. My friend,
Alanna at Kitchen Parade, is sponsoring just such a Pi Day Event. Fun! It is all about understanding the chemistry of pie crust, the secret of the circle, part baking magic and part scientific equation. The challenge is to make pie crust and post about it.

Sounds interesting. I think the idea of Pi Day is a bit like my life. Quirky, a little bit funny, of two minds. Like my family, it is about math and baking being joined in blissful accord. It is about the collaboration of numbers and words, of equations and creativity.

My marriage is like that, the conjunction of engineer and writer. My husband’s mind is full of numbers and their relationship to one another. He builds thoughts, constructs ideas and makes plans with numbers. My mind, on the other hand, is full of words, the nuance of their relationships and the way they interact.

I am like that too. I love the science of cooking, the precision, the formula, yet I am also drawn to the creative aspects of the kitchen, to new taste combinations and artisitic presentation.

So Pi Day made me smile and also captured my imagination. Not only did I like the word play, but it was a worthy challenge. I don’t make pie crust. I’m not even sure I want to make pie crust. Yet I appreciate a good pie crust and I am curious to discover what it is all about, what creates the magic.


The Plan

After a few preliminary efforts at understanding the mystery of pie pastry (read: burned, botched and/or shrunken pastry shells) I decided it was best to start the week slowly and work my way into the Pi groove. First I made a playlist with some favorite Pi or pie related songs to set just the right mood for creating kitchen chemistry.

Then, to build confidence, I set out to make a pie crust that I was pretty sure would turn out as expected. I have worked with meringue before and felt good about trying this variation of a pie shell.  With Pi tunes playing on my iHome, the sun shining outside my window and friends coming over after lunch, conditions were right to experiment with a new dessert idea. 

The Pie

This recipe makes a relatively simple crust, that is delicate and easy to break but is also light and goes good with pudding, mousse, fresh berry or ice cream fillings. I chose a lemon filling with the idea of making an upside down version of Lemon Meringue Pie. The meringue crust has a pleasing crunch and the nuts and crumbs add interest to the smooth lemon filling.



Upside Down Lemon Meringue Pie

Meringue Crust:
(adapted from
“Aunt Bee’s Delightful Desserts” by Ken Beck and Jim Clark)

3 egg whites
¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
¼ teaspoon salt
¾ cup sugar
½ teaspoon lemon juice or vanilla
½ cup chopped toasted nuts
10 saltine crackers, loosely crumbled

Beat eggs whites with salt and cream of tartar until soft peaks form. Gradually add sugar and continue beating until peaks are stiff. Fold in saltines and chopped nuts.

Spread meringue mixture in a well greased 9-inch pie plate, shaping it as a pie shell with the sides mounded higher than the middle.

Bake at 300 degrees for 35 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool on a wire rack.


Lemon Filling:
(from “Better Homes and Gardens Complete Step-By-Step Cookbook”)

1½ cups sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
3 tablespoons flour
dash of salt
1½ cups water
3 egg yolks
2 tablespoons butter
½ teaspoon finely shredded lemon peel
1/3 cup lemon juice

Mix sugar, cornstarch, flour and salt in a medium saucepan, stirring well so that ingredients are thoroughly combined. Add water gradually stirring until all ingredients are well mixed.

Cook mixture over medium high heat until thick and bubbling across the entire surface, stirring constantly, then cook and stir for another 2 minutes.

Remove from heat. In a medium bowl, beat egg yolks. Gradually pour 1 cup of the cooked mixture into the egg yolks, stirring constantly. Immediately pour the yolk mixture back into the cooked mixture remaining in the saucepan and cook for two more minutes, stirring constantly.

Gradually stir in lemon juice until well combined.

Turn filling into prepared pie shell.

Cool and refrigerate.

Serve topped with whipped cream.

Garnish with crushed lemon candies or grated lemon peel if desired. Enjoy!

Note: I found this lemon filling to be very sweet. Next time I will try reducing the amount of sugar and or increasing the amount of lemon juice, to make it more tart, and see how that turns out.

06 March 2008

Kusherie (Egyptian Rice and Lentils)


Several years ago my family made a commitment to eat weekly rice dinners during Lent. Instead of a normal weeknight dinner, on Wednesday evenings we ate plain rice. Water, salt, rice. Nothing else. Rice is inexpensive and simple to prepare. It is a staple. In some places in the world it is the only food available. As we ate we discussed the significance of the meal. We also cut down on time spent planning, preparing and cleaning up from this simple meal. Then we took the money we had saved on that dinner and put it aside to share with the needy.

At that time all of my children lived at home and we ate dinner together on Wednesday evenings. They were enthusiastic about our rice dinners at first but soon the blandness of the meal began to dull their good humor. After a few weeks we discussed ways that we might make the dinner more palatable. They liked the rice better when it was cooked in a savory stock than when it was just cooked in water, but of course, that gave us less money to set aside for the needy. Other times we cooked some vegetables with the rice but that added to clean up as well as cost.

All in all I thought the rice dinners were a good lesson. I had hoped to make them a weekly part of Lent again this year but circumstances got in the way. This year it was hard to find a weeknight when my family was home to eat together. With our current schedules it just didn't work out as a mindful family practice. Reluctantly, I let it go.

Then, last week, I had the opportunity to hear Marva Dawn speak on Generosity as a Lenten Discipline. This talk encompassed the same ideas as our rice dinners but took the idea a few steps farther. Marva Dawn pointed to something every child seems to know without question - that to divide or share really means to break something in half and give one of those halves away. With that in mind she challenged us to share with those in need by cutting our grocery budget in half and giving the other half to the hungry. Wow! That’s some challenge. It struck a chord in my thinking and seemed to not only build upon the ideas I had in mind for Lent but to make them more personal.

In thinking about my grocery budget this week, I have to say I’m not at all sure that I could do it but the challenge has inspired me to ask some important questions. What do I need? What can I do without? What can I change to make such giving possible? Can I eat more simply? Would eating simpler less expensive food make me feel deprived? Would preparing my food more simply leave more time and resources for other things of value?

In the face of world hunger it is easy to wonder whether or not our small contribution, in the form of a few dollars a week saved by eating a simple rice dinner, or even half of our grocery budget generously shared, will really make a difference in the world. In a great cookbook I have had for many years, "More-with-Less Cookbook: suggestions by Mennonites on how to eat better and consume less of the world's limited food resources" by Doris Janzen Longacre, in the chapter titled “Change-an Act of Faith,” the author reminds us that “we are not called to be successful, but to be faithful.” It challenges us, not so much to do without, but to live more creatively with what we need… and in the process find more that we can share with others. It challenges us to a practice of abundant generosity.

This cookbook also reminds us of the story of the loaves and fishes in Matthew 14. In this story five thousand men, plus women and children, are hungry and need to be fed. Jesus tells his disciples to feed the people. Not understanding how they will do this, they search the crowd for food. What they find is one child, a boy with five loaves of bread and two fish. These he offered. Then Jesus blessed what was offered, and broke it. When it was distributed all who were in need had enough with more left over. Doris Janzen Longacre points out that “Their act of faith was to share and let God take responsibility for the rest."

So, as this Lent draws to a close, why not strive to cultivate a childlike view? When you have something that nourishes you, in body, mind or spirit, consider breaking it in half and passing it around. You just might find that even more comes back to you.

Perhaps my favorite recipe in the "More-with-Less Cookbook" is Kusherie (or Kushari, or Egyptian Rice and Lentils). It is a variation on the idea of a rice dinner and, despite the long list of ingredients, it is a fairly basic recipe using many common pantry items. It is also fairly easy to prepare.



Kusheri

Lentils and Rice:
2 teaspoons oil
1 1/4 cups lentils
3 cups boiling vegetable stock
1 1/2 cups rice
1 cup boiling vegetable stock

Heat the oil in a 3 - 4 quart saucepan or covered skillet. Add the lentils and cook over medium heat, stirring often, until browned. (Approximately 5 minutes.)

Remove from heat and let the pan cool slightly. (This will avoid a massive reaction when the stock is added.)

Return to heat. Add 3 cups of boiling stock (or water if desired, along with 1/2 teaspoon salt and a dash of pepper). Cook uncovered, over medium heat, for 10 minutes.

Stir in the rice and additional cup of stock (or water). Return to a boil, then cover and simmer over low heat for 25 minutes.

Sauce:
1 (6 oz) can tomato paste
3 cups pureed tomatoes or tomato sauce
1 green pepper, chopped
1/2 cup chopped celery leaves
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or crushed chilis to taste

Combine all ingredients in a saucepan over medium heat. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 20 -30 minutes.

Browned Onions:
1 tablespoon oil
3 onions, sliced
4 cloves garlic, minced or crushed

Heat the oil in a skillet. Add onions and garlic and saute over medium heat until browned.

To serve Kusherie, put the rice and lentils on a plate or in a bowl. Spoon the tomato sauce over the rice and lentils and top with browned onions.

Note: The tomato sauce is very good and makes the recipe vegan. If your diet is not vegan, another option is to replace the tomato sauce with plain yogurt. Simply spoon the plain yogurt over the rice and lentils and top with browned onions, as pictured at the top of this post. Enjoy!

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The Nourishing Gourmet is sponsoring a Nourishing Frugal Food Carnival. I admire the idea and think this recipe for Kusherie is a good example of a simple and nourishing main dish that is both frugal and appealing. Check out the Frugal Food Carnival for some more great ideas for nutritious recipes that aren't hard on your food budget.