Friday, May 30, 2014

Lemon Meringue Pie

The tree is doing well enough to pick a couple of lemons for this.  I found out the reason there aren't as many lemons as I thought there were is because squirrels have been stealing them.  Really?  They like lemons?

I've never made lemon meringue pie, and I've only had it a few times.  It does a wonderful job of using up cornstarch, and is much easier than it looks.  I researched a few fancy recipes, but the Bible's seems more standard in the way it uses the eggs.  There are an even number of yolks and whites, a much more efficient way to work with them.  The recipe also gives amounts for both standard 8" pies and 9" deep-dish.  I'm using the latter because that's the size crust I bought.  The only modification I made to the recipe was reducing the sugar because the lemons on my tree are mild and because that sounded like an awful lot of sugar to put in the meringue.  Feel free to raise the amounts to 1 cup for the custard and 1/2 cup for the meringue if you prefer.

I decided to go all pastry bag on this one, but that isn't necessarily the best way to top a meringue pie.  The very act of placing the meringue in the bag deflates some of it, and more bubbles are popped as you squeeze it onto the pie's surface.  I just thought it looked cool, and Roommate Smurf was highly impressed by the effect.  Spooning it on and spreading the meringue with the spoon or a spatula is the traditional method.  Whichever way you do it, make sure the crust edge is sealed so the filling doesn't bubble out.
1 9" pie crust, baked and cooled
1/3 C cornstarch
1-1/2 C lukewarm water
1/2 C lemon juice (about 2 lemons)
grated peel of 1 lemon
4 eggs, separated
1 Tb butter

1.  In a 2-quart saucepan, stir together cornstarch, 2/3 C sugar, and 1/8 tsp salt.  Stir in lemon peel, lemon juice, and water and allow to dissolve while you're separating the eggs.  If the cornstarch isn't dissolved before you turn on the heat, you may end up with lumps.

2.  Bring mixture in saucepan to a boil over medium heat, stirring almost constantly.  Again, you want to make sure the cornstarch doesn't lump or stick to the bottom of the pan and burn.  As it comes to a boil, it will develop a thickened, gel consistency and turn somewhat translucent.  Remove from heat.

3.  In a small bowl, beat egg yolks slightly.  Add about 1/2 C of hot lemon mixture to eggs and beat together to temper the eggs so they don't curdle.  Return to pot and stir in yolks thoroughly.  Return saucepan to heat and cook only until thickened further.  Do not boil again, or eggs will curdle.  Turn off heat and stir in butter until melted and incorporated.  Pour hot filling into pie crust.

4.  Preheat oven to 375º.  Beat egg whites with 1/4 tsp salt until soft peaks form.  Gradually add 6 Tb of sugar and whip into firm peaks.  Don't over-beat, or the meringue might break.  Spread meringue over filling, touching pie crust all around.  It's a lot of meringue.  Feel free to heap it up tall in the middle if you want.  Decorating the pie is up to you.  You can go for the smooth look, or swirl it up in places to make points.  Warning, the points will cook faster than the flat places.  If you decide to do the pastry bag, use a big tip, fill the bag gently, and try not to squeeze any harder than you absolutely have to.

5.  Bake pie until the meringue is the color you want, at least 10 minutes.  Check every 2 minutes after that.  Mine came out a touch darker than I expected.  The color comes from the sugar.  If you want to cook the meringue longer to make it more stable, use less sugar.

6.  Cool to room temperature before refrigerating, or the meringue might fall or get stale.  Serve chilled. Meringues don't last long.  They start to deflate within 24 hours.  They are still safe to eat, but they get a watery look from the uncooked egg whites at the bottom returning to their natural state.  Boo-hoo, you have to eat the pie fast.

Makes 1 9" pie, about 6 to 8 servings

Difficulty rating :)

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Fried Nopales

I was looking for something new to do with cactus and ended up with this.  Actually, the photo isn't going to match your final product because I changed the recipe after and didn't take a picture.  It'll look pretty close, with more coating.

I was hoping these sticks would be more crunchy, like the veggie version of mozzarella sticks.  They aren't completely limp, and I read that they do get stiffer if you cook them at least 15 minutes.  I got nervous they were getting overcooked and pulled them after about 10.  Besides, I get nervous when frying anything for a long time because of the fat it may be absorbing.  These do not absorb much oil.  I just felt like they did.

Unlike boiled or steamed nopales, fried ones don't get that sticky goo all over them.  I'm not sure if it is fried off or the sap simply never runs out of them.  Either way, it's good news for those who don't want to eat sticky vegetables.

2 medium size nopales paddles
1 egg
*1/2 C masa flour
1/2 tsp salt
*1/2 tsp chili powder
vegetable oil for frying
lemon or lime juice for serving

1.  Hold the base of a paddle with a kitchen towel.  Using a vegetable peeler, remove remaining needles, working away from you.  Don't forget to get the edges and tips.  Once both sides of paddle are clean, do the other one.  Slice crosswise into 1/2" strips.

2.  In a shallow dish (I use a pie pan), beat egg with a bit of water to make an egg wash.  In another shallow pan, stir together masa flour, salt, and chili powder.  Pour 1/8" oil into a medium skillet, turn on fan, and heat over medium-high until water dances on it.

3.  Dip nopales slices in egg wash to coat, then coat in masa flour mixture.  Gently place in skillet and fry until coating is crisp, at least 5 minutes.  Turn slices and cook until that side is crisp.  You will probably need to do two batches to fry all of them.  Remove cooked strips to a paper towel-lined plate until cool enough to handle.

4.  To serve, either drizzle with lemon or lime juice or provide a side of salsa or something else to use as dip.

Difficulty rating  :)

Saturday, May 24, 2014


Ambrosia is what happens when the South gets a hold of the concept of a fool, which is puréed fruit folded into whipped cream.  While this "salad" is less elegant, it is certainly more appreciated by the average diner.  It uses several kinds of popular fruit, instead of the one common berry that grew wild in Europe (gooseberries).  I was thinking of making this for Memorial Day, then decided that I want it now instead.  I had most of the ingredients on hand for a half batch and just needed the fruit.

There are all sorts of recipes out there for ambrosia.  Most use fresh fruit.  Many use nuts.  Alton Brown's has you make your own marshmallows, grate coconut by hand, and peel a lot of oranges.  It takes half an hour by his estimates, about two by mine.  I hate peeling oranges.  My mom's version was always a) drain can of mixed fruit, b) stir it and rest of ingredients together, c) chill and serve.  Simple, fast, and a great way to finish an outdoor party.

If this recipe sounds too rich or sweet for you, you can replace some of the whipped topping with fat-free plain yogurt or lite sour cream.  Just taste to make sure you don't need to compensate with a touch of sugar.

2 15-oz cans mixed fruit with cherries
1 15-oz can mandarin oranges
*1 8oz tub frozen whipped topping, thawed
*2 C shredded, sweetened coconut flakes (more for garnish)
*2 C mini marshmallows

And that's as hard as it gets
1.  Drain canned fruit very well and place in medium mixing bowl.

2.  Add coconut and whipped topping.  Stir to combine.  Fold in marshmallows.

3.  Chill for at least one hour.  Stir again in case any juice came out of the fruit, then place in serving bowl.  Garnish with reserved or extra coconut.  That way you don't get whipped cream up the sides of the bowl and everyone can tell you were making a mess while stirring.  If you're taking it somewhere, feel free to freeze it partially.  Not rock solid, just enough that it is barely defrosted at serving time.

Serves 8 to 10

Difficulty rating  π

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Blackened Steak Salad

Spicy, seared beef isn't my first thought when I decide what to put in my salad.  Years ago, I had something similar to this in Los Olivos.  It may have been a Caesar salad with blackened beef, but I have bleu cheese dressing at home and that sounded really good as a topping for peppered anything.

This blackening mixture is adapted from the Steak Enthusiast.  Who else would you trust for a steak recipe?  I'm leaving out the cayenne on purpose, and the onion powder because I don't have any.  The proportions are different by personal choice.  Every blackening recipe is a little different.  This one is designed to highlight the beef without overpowering it.

1 lb boneless steak
1 Tb butter
*1/2 tsp salt
*1/2 tsp black pepper
*1/2 tsp white pepper
*1/2 tsp paprika
*1/2 tsp garlic powder
*1/2 tsp dried thyme
*1/2 tsp dried oregano
1 head romaine or greenleaf lettuce
2 Roma tomatoes
1 bunch radishes
4 oz artichoke hearts (optional)
salad dressing of choice

1.  Preheat oven to 300º.  Place an oven-proof skillet just slightly larger than the steaks over medium-high heat to preheat.  Turn on fan and/or open a window.

2.  Mix together spices.  Melt butter and brush over surface of steaks, coating both sides.  Sprinkle all sides with the spice mixture.  You'll probably have some left over.  Toss in the pan and step back a bit.  Sear for 2 minutes, until the butter is pretty much gone.  Flip steaks and sear again.  Turn off stove and place skillet in oven until steaks are medium-rare, about 10 minutes or as long as it takes you to make the rest of the salad.

3.  Wash and chop lettuce, discarding the stem end.  Place in serving bowl or start separate plates.  Dice tomatoes and sprinkle on top.  Either quarter or slice radishes, your choice, and add to bowl.  If using, make sure artichokes are drained and in bite-sized pieces, then add to bowl.  If doing this as a tossed salad, add dressing and toss now.

4.  Remove steaks from oven and allow to cool slightly.  Slice thinly across the grain and place on top of salad.  Serve while the salad is cold and the steak is hot.

Makes 4 main-dish salads

Difficulty rating π

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Garden Tragedy

So, ever since I drilled holes in the liner of the fountain, it has been taking on water.  I thought it was just the new cap on the sprinkler, since that's when it got worse, and bought a new one.

Turns out, the liner had been masking a problem.  When I drilled the holes, it allowed water in from underneath, rather than draining it out.  At least I had not drilled through the sprinkler line.  That would have sucked.  There was a broken sprinkler under some bushes I hated which was causing the flood.  The gardener found the problem and capped it (while disposing of said ugly bushes), but everything except for Gus and some stray onions that had regrown from last year was waterlogged.  I haven't ripped out Tommy and Brad yet, just in case they miraculously spring back to life, but I'm prepared for the worst.

The next step is going to have to be emptying the fountain and taking out the liner.  That's the only way I can re-landscape the area so it never floods again.  I'll try to salvage plants in pots during the process, but I'm probably going to have to start again from scratch.  No tomatoes this year.

Not all is lost.  The pumpkins did well during my vacation.  A few of the vines have disease issues, but most of them are healthy and working on escaping the planters.  I'm going to have to train them up a trellis or something.  A few are even preparing to bloom.  This is happening too fast!  They're going to be fruited and gone by September at this rate.

Artie is almost done for the year.  I used up the grandbabies and great-grandbabies on a salad, which will be the next post.  there are a few mini-buds which may be edible next week, but that will be it.  I lost count, but I think there were 10 decent-sized buds this year, including Heidi.  I'm happy with that.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Green Soup with Barley

I'm not exactly on a cleanse diet, but I ate very unhealthy food on my trip.  And a lot of cheese, including about half a pizza and a bowl of rarebit.  Only put on a little weight, but I feel the need for some serious veggies and lighter fare.  My first breakfast after I got back was oatmeal, and lunch was half a wheat roll with marinated olives and feta accompanied by a sliced apple.  I was just as full as if I had gone out for something much larger.

I remember seeing this recipe in the Times a long time ago for Mixed Greens Soup.  It was similar to my Spice Soup, so I didn't cut it out.  I'm very surprised they still have it online.  The gist of it is that you simmer any dark, leafy greens you like with some seasonings and put it in the blender.  Despite it being close to 100º this week, that sounded like a good idea that would ease my conscience.  Besides, Kale grew very well while I was gone and needed a trim.

The barley is my addition to add a little body, because I forgot to buy a potato, and because I wanted to make some grapefruit barley water and would have some cooked barley left over.  It also ups the calories enough to make this count as a dinner item when paired with rye bread and bleu cheese.  The second day, I tried it chilled.  You need to add more salt, and it tastes a lot like a kale smoothie, but it isn't horrible.

1/2 C dry pearl barley
*1 qt vegetable broth
1 bunch green onions
*1 clove garlic, minced
1 Tb olive oil
1 lb raw spinach, stems removed
4 C dark greens such as kale, mustard, or collard
1/4 C cream
salt and white pepper to taste

1.  In a medium saucepan, cover barley with about 3 C water.  Bring to a boil, lower to a simmer, and cook for 1 hour.  Make rest of soup while it's simmering.

2.  In a soup pot, heat oil.  Chop green onions and sauté in oil until slightly tender.  Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes.

3.  Add broth, spinach, and greens.  Lightly sprinkle with salt.  Cover and simmer until greens are wilted and mostly cooked, about 15 minutes.

4.  In batches, run mixture through blender or food processor until smooth.  If you want a very smooth soup, strain.  Return to pot and bring back up to a simmer.  Add cream.  Taste and add salt and white pepper as necessary.

5.  Drain excess liquid from barley.  Portion soup into bowls, then spoon a mound of barley into each bowl.  Make sure it mounds up over the surface level of the soup, or it's just going to look like lumpy green stuff.

6.  To serve cold, chill soup and barley separately, taste soup and add more salt if needed.  Portion same as above.

Difficulty rating  :)

Monday, May 12, 2014

Yogurt-Marinated Salmon

This was how I used up the container of yogurt I had bought in case I needed it for the beet and carrot salad.  I was trying very hard not to go grocery shopping again before I left for the East coast to visit family and attend Melody Smurf's Bat Mitzvah.  (Barring weather or drama, I should return tonight.  Yes, I pre-schedule posts when I've been cooking a lot.)  There was salmon in the freezer and I found this recipe online.

This is my first time cooking Indian food.  I've only had it a couple of times.  That's because most of it is way too spicy and heavily seasoned for my tastes.  I like the flavors, just not that much.

If you link to the Allrecipes version of Dahi Machhali Masaledar (don't ask me how to pronounce it), you'll see that it calls for 1/2 tablespoon of cayenne pepper.  That's 1-1/2 teaspoons.  The cayenne and I had a discussion and reached a compromise.  I wouldn't take it out completely, and it wouldn't send me to the emergency room with an asthma attack.  That's where the 1/4 tsp comes from.  Even still, I felt the heat more than I tasted the cumin, which was a surprise.  Feel free to make this as hot as you want.

I only had two servings of salmon in the freezer, so I'm scaling up the recipe for four.  I actually made the marinade for 3/4 recipe because that was how much yogurt I had.  Don't panic when it looks like mustard the next day; that's the turmeric.  I didn't have any fresh cilantro (my herb pot died again) and skipped it.  I did have coriander seed, which I realized I could grind in the coffee grinder that I never use.  Ran out of fresh ginger and used the ground.  I don't think any of these substitutions changed the final product because you can't taste much over the cayenne anyway.

Oh, and Blogger keeps track of my posts.  This is #500!  Get out the confetti, streamers, and rainbow jello!

*1 C nonfat plain yogurt (Greek is ok)
*1/4 tsp cayenne pepper, or to taste
*8 cloves garlic, minced
*1 tsp ground ginger or a 2" piece fresh, grated
*2 tsp ground coriander seed
*1 tsp ground cumin
*1/4 tsp turmeric
*4 6-oz salmon fillets, skinless and boneless

1.  Place yogurt and seasonings in a one-gallon resealable plastic bag and squish around until everything is well-mixed.  Add the salmon, squish around some more to coat the pieces, and seal the bag.  Place in fridge to marinate several hours or overnight.

2.  Preheat oven broiler and lightly oil a baking sheet to prevent sticking.  Arrange salmon pieces on sheet and broil for 5 minutes.  Carefully flip pieces and cook about 2 minutes more, or until pieces are flaky.

3.  Serve hot, over basmati rice if you have it.

Difficulty rating  π

Friday, May 9, 2014

Moroccan Carrot and Beet Salad

I have never prepared raw beets before.  They've always come out of a can.  I love the texture and flavor of canned beets, but it's time to break out of that bubble.

I also love Moroccan food, including their salads.  I vaguely recalled having a salad with carrots and beets in it, and picked up some at the market before doing research.  I got some plain yogurt too, just in case.  Turns out I didn't need it for this, but I'm sure I'll use it on something.  I did not have the raisins listed in the Simply Recipes I'm using for a guide, but I did have some dates I could chop up.  Now that I think about it, dates are probably more authentic than golden raisins.

So I got out the food processor (nothing against the box grater, but beets can get really messy) and whipped up her recipe mostly as written, including leaving the skin on the beets.  Hey, whatever makes the process easier.  When I had the first serving (pictured above), I wasn't all that impressed.  It was nice and crunchy, but the taste was a bit flat despite all those seasonings.

The next day, I microwaved a serving with a bit of water for three minutes to steam the veggies, then put it back in the fridge until dinnertime.  Bingo.  It brought out the sweetness and flavors of the veggies and distributed the seasonings more evenly, while still retaining enough crunch to be considered a salad instead of a vegetable dish.  My version of the recipe will reflect this change.

2 medium carrots, peeled
1 bunch (about 3) fresh beets
*1/2 C chopped dates or golden raisins
*1/2 tsp sweet paprika
*1/4 tsp cumin
*1/4 tsp cinnamon
*pinch cayenne
pinch salt
2 Tb lemon juice
*2 Tb honey
*2 Tb chopped fresh mint (optional)

1.  Put on an apron...not kidding, and use a plastic cutting board because you're never getting the beet juice out of a wooden one.  Remove greens, tops, and root ends from beets.  Peel if desired.  Grate carrots and beets either with a box grater or in a food processor.  Place in a large strainer and rinse under cold water to remove some of the excess beet juice.  Toss in dates.

2.  Place veggies in a large saucepan or soup pot.  Add 1/2 C water.  Bring to a low boil, cover, and reduce heat to simmer.  Cook for about 5 minutes, until veggies begin to wilt but are not soft.  Dump back in the strainer and rinse again with cold water to stop the cooking.  Allow to drain while you whip up the dressing.

3.  In a small bowl, whisk together remaining ingredients except for mint.  Toss together with veggies in a bowl.  Refrigerate for at least 1 hour to let flavors meld.

4.  Right before serving, chop up mint and toss into salad.  Fresh mint turns a sickly black if it sits too long after cutting.  Garnish with a sprig of mint and enjoy!

Makes 6 generous servings

Difficulty rating :)

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Unified Hamburger Theory

It's time to dust off the barbecue grill and have fun!  I still had ash in it from last year that I had forgotten to clean.  Good thing I keep it sheltered, or it would have become concrete.

What's the secret to a perfect burger?  Everyone has their own ideas.  I'm bringing together the best tips I've found from numerous sources into a single post.

1.  Use 80/20 ground beef.  We all want to eat less fat and calories, but this really is the best meat for hamburgers.  Leaner cuts will be tough, and the really fatty ones will drip everywhere and soak the bun.

2.  Form the patties correctly.  I don't care if it's 1/4 lb or a full pound per burger.  Shape your patty based on the size of the bun.  It should be slightly larger than the bun because it's going to contract as the proteins coagulate and fat burns off.  Those lovely hamburger molds make the job quick if that's the size you want.  Then, once it is shaped, make a dent in the middle.  As the burger seizes, the center will bulge out on its own.  If you start with a slightly rounded patty, you're going to end up with a softball.

3.  Season lightly.  Unless you're making some kind of a statement or a stuffed burger, it doesn't take much to give the patty a little kick.  I dusted two pounds of ground beef with about half a teaspoon of Lawry's seasoning salt.  Really, you're only doing it for the one person who doesn't put ketchup, mayo, or another dressing on top.

4.  Watch the burgers for doneness.  You can still close the lid for even cooking, but check every couple of minutes.  I love mine charred within an inch of their lives, but most prefer to have theirs pulled before the thermometer hits 165º.  And do keep a food thermometer by the grill for those who prefer rare or medium-rare.  If you're cooking chicken on the grill, it's a must, but let's stick with ground meat for now.

5.  Flip only once.  From what I understand, this allows the liquid fat on top of the half-cooked patty to permeate the meat before being burned off.  It won't pool up on the already cooked side, so you're going to get a dry burger if you flip it several times.

I hope this helps with your next barbecue.  If anyone knows additional tips, please add to the list!

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Rainbow Jello

My friend, who was a roomie many years ago, has an extensive family, which I appear to be a part of.  The best part of her family gatherings, aside from homemade Chinese food, is the rainbow jello.  Jews in the 1970s made that awful Jello mold, politely called "salad".  This dessert looks like more fun than anything, and who cares how it tastes!

It does take a long time to make, as each layer has to set for several hours before you can begin the next.  I only made three layers, and it took 24 hours.  Well, eight of it was sleep and another eight work, but each layer does take about 2 hours.

For an alternate presentation, check out Glorious Treats.  I love the idea of parfait glasses, but I did it in the dish this time because I didn't know how many servings it would make.  For a kid's party, do it in clear plastic cups.  For the three layers, I used an 8x8 pan, and the Jello pretty much filled it up.  For 5 or 6, use the 9x13 that she recommends.

1 4-serving box of flavored gelatin for each color you wish to make
1 8 oz tub of frozen whipped topping (up to 6 layers), defrosted
water and ice as needed

1.  Lightly pan-spray a 9 x 13 casserole or get out enough glasses (# of boxes times 6 or 8)

2.  Prepare first layer according to "quick-set" instructions".  This color will either be at the bottom of the glass or the top when you flip the casserole over.  I forgot that and made them in the reverse order I had planned.

3.  When gelatin starts to set up in the bowl, remove ice cubes and reserve 1/2 C.  Pour remainder into casserole/divide into glasses and place in fridge to chill for 15 minutes.
4.  When layer is mostly set, stir the 1/2 cup you have set aside.  If it is too set, put it in the microwave for 10 seconds to loosen it up.  Stir in about 1/3 C whipped topping, a heaping soup spoon, and stir until smooth.

5.  Remove casserole from fridge and gently pour cream mix on top of the first layer.  It will be thin, and you'll probably have to tilt the dish for full coverage.  Return to fridge until fully set, about 2 hours.

6.  Repeat steps 2 through 5 until you've done all the boxes.  Chill finished casserole at least 4 hours before trying to turn out.  Glasses can be served as soon as the last layer is set.

7.  Disclaimer- only turn out onto a serving platter if it is going to be eaten quickly, like within 15 minutes.  The layers will start to melt and slide all over the place.  You can also cut it in the pan and sacrifice a corner piece to get it started. To turn out, set pan in warm water for about a minute to melt outermost parts of the jello.  Place serving platter on top, then flip over the whole thing together.  You still may have to shake the casserole a bit to get it to plop out.
8.  To slice a turned-out mold, this is a neat trick.  Sure, you could use a knife and wipe it clean after every cut.  Or, get out a piece of dental floss.  Make it several inches longer than the casserole.  Simply press down evenly on both sides and slide it out.  The slices will be absolutely straight and the layers will not smush against each other.

Check packages for serving size, then multiply by number of layers.  Mine was 12, but I cut it into 16 squares.

Difficulty rating π (but time-consuming)