Monday, August 9, 2010

Triple Mushroom Lasagna

Lasagna, the pizza of pasta. Delicious sauce, a little filling, a lot of work. As unique as a your fingerprint, lasagna is anything you want it to be. I set out to make it with my favorite pizza toppings, mushrooms and green peppers. There is a reason people don't make lasagna every night, yet few dishes are as satisfying to make, serve and eat. Much like pizza,  I have yet to meet a person who would refuse a hot hunk of lasagna, and this one gets a special luxury of fresh mozzarella and ricotta cheese, 2 locally grown mushrooms and a luxurious tomato cream sauce made with local tomatoes.

Tomato Cream Sauce
Since tomatoes are in season in every one's garden right now- this recipe is basically an elegant way to get rid of a lot at once. This is a great fake out vodka sauce, would be excellent for chicken or eggplant parmesan, and would be great spiced up with some chili flakes. This sauce freezes very well, and it is imperative that this sauce is salted after the liquid has been reduced by half or 2/3rds to ensure proper seasoning. If you have home grown roma, pear or plum (paste) tomatoes, 20-25 of those would be preferable, but since i had them, i used a combination of big beef and celebrity tomatoes. This recipe makes about a half gallon of sauce- because why make a little when you can make a lot and have some for later!?

15-20 medium sized tomatoes.
1 small white onion
2 large shallots
4 medium to large garlic cloves, peeled
1 large green pepper
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 tablespoon dried herbes de provence
2 tablespoons dried italian seasoning
2 teaspoons dulce or sweet smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon pepper
salt to taste (after the sauce is completed)
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3/4 cup heavy cream

Wash the tomatoes, and remove any stems. With a paring knife, score each tomato with an "X" on the bottom to assist in peeling. In a large pot of salted water, boil the tomatoes for 3-4 minutes. Remove the tomatoes, and dunk them in ice water to stop the cooking. Peel each tomato, cut out the core and set aside in a large bowl. Using your hands, squeeze and squish the tomatoes until they are in small to medium sized pieces. Drain the tomatoes through a colander, or sieve and reserve the juices. Set aside 1 cup of tomato juice for the mushroom filling. Set aside remaining tomato juice, and get started on the vegetables for the sauce.

Heat a large pot (like the one you used to boil the tomatoes) on medium, and heat the olive oil until it shimmers in the pan. While the pan is heating, medium dice the onion, shallots and green pepper. Saute the onions and peppers until they are translucent and slightly brown. Add tomato chunks and turn the heat to high and bring to a boil for 3 minutes. Reduce to medium low, and add dried herbs and whole peeled garlic.  If the mixture is too chunky- add some of the reserved tomato juice, (or if you're using roma or paste tomatoes- add water) until it is the consistency of a chunky soup. The mixture will reduce by half or two thirds, so start out by using less liquid so the flavors will concentrate, and take less cooking time. Simmer on medium low for 1-3 hours depending on volume and desired consistency. Stirring occasionally.  I like my sauce to reduce about 2/3 and be nice and thick.  Using an immersion blender, puree the mixture well. Add cream and stir well.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

Rustic Triple Mushroom Filling
Local mushrooms and fresh cheeses can be found at farmers markets, or a specialty food store like Ellwood Thompsons here in Richmond, VA. If you can't find wood ear mushrooms, use more shiitake, or any other mushroom you like. I like the wood ear for the meaty and interesting texture, as well as the smoky and woody flavors that play well with the funkiness of the fontina cheese.

1 package of Dave and Dee's Oyster Mushrooms
1/2 pound of local shiitake's- de stemmed and cleaned
1 package of dried wood ear mushrooms
1 cup tomato juice
8 ounces fresh whole milk ricotta cheese
1 1/2 cups shredded fontina cheese,  1/2 cup reserved for top of lasagna
8 ounces fresh buffalo mozzarella, or 2 large mozzarella balls. reserve 1/2 a mozzarella ball for top of lasagna
1/2 cup shredded asiago cheese (for top of lasagna only)
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, or vegetable oil
salt and pepper

Boil the reserved tomato juice (in a microwave is fine) and add the dried wood ear mushrooms. let the mushrooms steep for about 15 minutes. Heat a large stainless steel frying pan on medium high heat. Clean and de-stem the  shiitake and oyster mushrooms, and rip the caps into about 1 inch pieces. Heat oil in the pan until it smokes slightly, and saute the mushroom pieces until they are golden brown. Add reconstituted wood ear mushrooms and saute lightly. De glaze the pan with any remaining tomato juice.  salt and pepper lightly towards the end of the cooking. In a medium sized bowl, mix together ricotta cheese, shredded fontina and mushrooms.

Lasagna Noodles
1 pound good quality lasagna- preferably the kind with the ruffled edges. I do not recommend no boil lasagna- mainly because i don't have much experience with them.
2 tablespoons olive oil
salted water

In a large pasta pot, boil salted water, and cook lasagna noodles for 10 minutes- or until they are just a bit harder than al dente. drain the noodles and on a wire rack placed on a baking sheet, shingle the lasagna noodles - saving any broken noodles for a lasagna patch if needed. This process can be a tricky one- since the noodles will stick together if you wait too long, or you burn your fingers if you touch them too much. I recommend silicone tipped, spring loaded tongs for ease of handling, or brave fingertips.

Assemble the Lasagna
Preheat the oven to 400
In a large dark coated lasagna or deep rectangular metal pan, butter the sides and bottom. In the bottom of the pan ladle about 8 ounces of sauce into the bottom. Shingle 4 or 5 lasagna noodles at the bottom of the pan. Smear half the cheese and mushroom mixture over the noodles and top with 6-8 ounces more of sauce, and rip up one ball of buffalo mozzarella- or enough to cover the sauce. Repeat this process 2 or more times until your pan is full. Top the lasagna with shredded fontina, asiago and mozzarella cheese, and a couple grinds of fresh black pepper. Bake for 35-45 minutes, or until the sauce is bubbling from the sides of the pan and the cheese is golden brown. Let the lasagna sit at room temperature for about 20-30 minutes so it can set up and be sliceable. No matter how much you want to eat it right away, this last step is crucial. Nothing is worse than trying to eat molten lasagna quickly, and that is a lesson you only need to learn once. If the Lasagna pan is very full, place the pan on a foil lined baking sheet for accident prevention.

Serve with crusty garlic bread and a nice beer, and you've got yourself a date.

Special thanks to my sister Pizzalicious Lauren for helping me peel and squish tomatoes.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Red White and Blue Potato Salad

Made with local baby blue, red new, and dutch yellow potatoes with local baby red onions that are caramelized to heavenly sweetness. Mixed with a lemony aoli style dressing with crunchy and fresh local cucumber. Zesty and colorful, this classic side gets local and patriotic to enliven your next 4th of July picnic.

1/2 pound purple/blue baby (small) potatoes
1/2 pound baby new potatoes
1/2 pound baby dutch yellow or yukon potatoes
3 tablespoons kosher salt

Caramelized Onions
1/2 pound baby red onions
2 teaspoons sea salt
1/2 cup water

1/2 large english (seedless) cucumber
3 tablespoons good quality mayo
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 lemon, zested and juiced
2 teaspoons grey poupon or similar mustard
2 teaspoons finely minced fresh garlic
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper

Special equipment- potato brush scrubber

Peel and slice the onions into half moons. In a large stainless steel saute pan on medium high heat, heat the olive oil until it shimmers and smokes slightly in the pan. Add the onions and salt and saute slowly, adding a little water when needed (when there are sticky brown bits on the pan) to deglaze. Cook onions for approximately 20 minutes, or until they are dark brown, and very soft and sweet.

While the onions are cooking, get started on the potatoes.

Wash and scrub all potatoes under cold running water. Halve or quarter the potatoes so they are bite sized (about 2 inches in diameter) and all roughly the same size. Fill a large pot with cold water, and add the potatoes and 3 tablespoons of salt. It may seem like a lot of salt, so if your pot is on the small side- use a little less. Your pot should be large enough for the potatoes to comfortably bubble around like they are in a big jacuzzi.  Boil the potatoes until they are fork tender and drain.

While the potatoes are boiling, start the dressing.

In a large bowl, whisk the mayo, olive oil, lemon zest, lemon juice, mustard, minced garlic, salt and pepper. Dice the cucumber and mix in.

When the potatoes are done, drain them, and place them back in the hot pot for a second or two to wick off the excess moisture. Pour the hot potatoes into the bowl with the dressing, cucumbers and caramelized onions and mix well. Test for seasoning, and add if needed. Refrigerate for 4 hours, or overnight. The longer this potato salad sits in the fridge, the tastier it gets!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Pan roasted chicken thighs with shiitake mushroom cream sauce and lemon baby broccoli.

As i mentioned in a previous post, I've taken on a summer challenge to get back in the kitchen with my newly acquired CSA. I love the surprise of veggies I get each Thursday, and even though its about 1,000 degrees in my kitchen, I'm determined not to let that stop me from cooking the bounty of the garden this summer.

This is a spin off of one of my favorites- french roasted chicken, featured earlier in this blog. Scaled down to just 2 servings (and using just one pan), this chicken makes a beautiful and thoughtful presentation for a date, or an intimate Sunday supper when pared with my easy lemon baby broccoli. You can substitute chicken breasts, but in my experience, nothing tastes quite like a roast chicken than a juicy thigh with a little crispy skin. Keeping the bone in keeps the thigh moist and flavorful, and makes overcooking almost impossible.

Made with some super star local ingredients; broccoli, chicken thighs, shiitake mushrooms and garlic, this is one pleasing recipe you'll want to make over and over. 

Lemon Baby Broccoli
1/2 pound baby broccoli, washed and trimmed
1 1/2 tablespoons good quality olive oil
the juice of 1/2 of a lemon
1/4 cup water
salt and pepper to taste

Heat a stainless steel pan over medium high heat. While the pan is heating, cut baby broccoli into quarters, or halves if the stems are small. Add the oil to the pan, and heat the oil until it starts to smoke slightly. Add the baby broccoli to the pan, cut side down and sear on each side for approximately 2 minutes. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Add lemon juice and water and increase heat to high. boil off the water, and remove the broccoli when it is just fork tender. I like my broccoli with a little bite to it, so i keep it on the more al dente side of things.

Prepare the pan for the chicken by wiping out any excess oil or water with a paper towel.

Pan Roasted Chicken Thighs
2 bone in chicken thighs, skin on.
2 tablespoons herbes de provence
1 teaspoon kosher/sea salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
 2 tablespoons good quality extra virgin olive oil

Heat a stainless steel pan over medium high heat. While the pan is heating, wash and dry the chicken thighs. Sprinkle each side with salt and pepper and herbes de provence. Rub the herbs into the chicken, being careful not to remove the skin. Place the chicken in the pan, skin side down and sear for approximately 5-7 minutes, or until the skin releases from the pan and is golden brown. (if the skin is still sticking, it isn't ready to turn yet) Turn the chicken over and cook for another 5-7 minutes or until the chicken is done. The chicken is done when the juices run clear near the bone, is springy and firm to the touch, or when an instant read thermometer reads 175 in the fattest section of the meat, making sure to touch the bone when taking the temperature. Set aside the chicken to rest and prepare the pan for the sauce.

Shiitake Mushroom Cream Sauce
1 cup shiitake mushrooms-stems removed and sliced. If mushrooms are dirty, rub them lightly with a damp towel, don't wash.
1/4 cup good quality cream sherry mixed with 3 tablespoons tap water
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 garlic clove, minced finely
salt and pepper to taste

Remove most of the extra fat/oil from the pan previously used for the chicken thighs, leaving about a tablespoon to cook the mushrooms. Heat the oil over medium high heat, until the oil shimmers and starts to smoke a little. Add the mushrooms to the pan and cook until the mushrooms start to brown. When the mushrooms are seared nicely on each side, add the sherry/water mixture and deglaze the pan, scraping up bits of fond as you go. when the liquid has reduced by 2/3, remove from the heat and add heavy cream and minced garlic. Add any juices that have collected on the plate holding the rested chicken thighs, stir well, and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Plate the chicken, and pour over the mushroom sauce. Bon appetite, and try not to lick the plate in front of company.
 Pepper was licking her chops

I got this olive oil at the greek festival, and it is technicolor green, fruity and delicious.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Chocolate Peanut Butter Heaven Cake

To celebrate a friend's time spent in Richmond before she leaves for the almost great white north, I decided to make a cake. Not just any cake, a cake that makes a statement. The evening was planned at a friend's bar,  my sister lauren came up with an awesome dance mix, we planned a surprise burlesque show and a special 2nd surprise guest, involving a lot of zebra spandex that literally knocked her shoes off. I knew this cake had to be a show stopper, or get out shined by the other madness. What better way to make the evening perfect than bringing the world's perfect couple to the party, Peanut Butter and Chocolate.

There are very few things in this world that make people act like total crazies; boy bands, porn and Reese's peanut butter cups. I guarantee you every Halloween party you have ever been to has had Reese's cups, and you know they always go first. You can never make them better home made, and their smell lingers around your head after, like you just made out with them.  The genius that is the marriage of chocolate and peanut butter is transformed into a sexy, glossy and classy cake, hoping to emulate the perfection of the Reese's peanut butter cup.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Heaven Cake

Yellow Wedding Cake
Yellow butter cake recipe adapted from Martha Stewart Baking Handbook and my grandmother's own yellow cake recipe.
You will need 1 10x3 cake pan

3 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for pans
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pan
2 cups cake flour (not self-rising
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 3/4 cups sugar
4 large eggs
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups heavy cream with 1/4 cup milk added to the cream

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and place the rack in the center of the oven. Butter the 10x3 round cake pan; line the bottom with parchment paper. Butter parchment, and dust with flour, tapping out excess; set aside. Into a medium bowl, sift together flours, baking powder, and salt; set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, 10 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Beat in eggs, one at a time, then beat in vanilla. Beat for another 5-10 minutes until the mixture is light, fluffy and smooth. With the mixer on low speed, add the flour mixture in three parts, alternating with the cream and beginning and ending with the flour; mix on low until combined after each addition.

Pour the batter into the prepared pans, and smooth. Tap the pan a couple times on the counter to remove any excess bubbles. Bake, rotating the pan halfway through, until cake is golden brown and a cake tester/bamboo skewer inserted into the center comes out clean, 60-70  minutes. Transfer pan to a wire rack to cool 30 minutes. Invert cakes onto the rack; peel off the parchment. Re invert cakes and let them cool completely in the fridge for at least 4 hours, top side up.

Peanut Butter Frosting
This filling would also be excellent as a filling for a cookie.

6 ounces room temp Philadelphia cream cheese (seriously- don't mess around with other brands)
1 cup smooth/creamy peanut butter- preferably Skippy. Do not use natural peanut butter because it will separate.
1 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons heavy cream

Cream the cream cheese and peanut butter on high for 2-3 minutes or until combined. add in the powdered sugar, vanilla, salt and cream and mix well. use immediately. if the mixture is too soft, add more powdered sugar. if the mixture is too hard, add more cream.

Chocolate Ganache
The corn syrup can be omitted if need be, but it really does add a nice gloss to the final product. 

16 ounces semi sweet peanut butter chips
1/3 cup clear/light corn syrup
2 cups heavy cream
1/4 tsp salt

In a heavy sauce pan, bring the cream to a simmer, being careful not to scorch the cream. add the corn syrup, salt and chocolate and let sit for 5-6 minutes. stir well, and strain if needed. let the mixture sit in your fridge for 2-3 hours, stirring occasionally until the mixture is thickened, but pourable.

Unwrap and freeze 12 Reese's Peanut butter cups (substitutions are not recommended) in a large plastic zip top bag. Once frozen, smash the pb cups with a mallet or the bottom of a large mug until you have tiny chunks. Place back in the freezer until you are ready to use.

Assemble the cake

Using a large serrated knife, cut the top off the cake, making it flat. Cut the cake through the middle, creating 2 even layers. Using the middle of the cake as the bottom, and the bottom (flattest side) of the cake as the top, generously top one layer ("the ugly layer") of the cake with the peanut butter frosting, and place the 2nd layer on top using the bottom of the cake as the top of the cake (the smooth un-cut side). Using that peanut butter frosting you have left, smooth out the sides of the cake, filling holes or gaps that may exist for smooth sides. Once you have smoothed the sides, let the cake rest in the fridge for 2 hours. This may seem like a long time, but it is absolutely necessary. Keep the ganache on the counter so it remains pourable.

Move the refrigerated cake onto a wire baking rack that is placed on top of a jelly roll/cookie pan.

Pour the ganache slowly over the center of the cake, using an off set spatula to guide the ganache to the sides, and patch holes as needed. If the ganache seems too runny, place the ganache and the cake back in the fridge for another hour, and try again, whisking the ganache vigorously after refrigeration to remove any lumps. Working slowly, use all the ganache, place the cake back in the fridge for 20 minutes. Using the palm of your hand, press the Reese's cup peices into the sides of the cake, working quickly and being careful to avoid the top. Refrigerate for another 4 hours, and serve to your drooling guests.

Beet greens pesto

I'm excited to post this because i hope that it will make me post more in the coming weeks.  I just started getting a CSA and I'm excited to have the challenge of cooking all sorts of great things this summer.
When i picked up my first CSA and it had beets in it- i decided to zip something up quick with the really beautiful looking greens they came with.

Pesto is one of those no recipe, recipes. No one makes it the same, and it can be anything you want it to be, from an easy pasta sauce, to a marinade or even just garnish. Trade out the beet greens for arugula, mint or spinach, or just use all basil. Switch out the type of nut you use, the type of hard cheese or even add some crushed red pepper or curry powder for some spice. These were my measurements, but you don't really need a recipe- just make it taste good to you. The more you make it- the more things you'll think of to put it on! (eggs, pizza and grilled cheese being favorites of mine)

Freeze leftover pesto, or it will keep in the fridge for about 5 days. If you keep your pesto in the fridge, make sure the surface of the pesto is covered well with oil, and replace the oil as needed. Hopefully your pesto will be so delicious- it will be gone before you can start the sniff testing. 

Beet greens pesto. 
the tops from 3 large beets- or approximately 2 cups
1/2 cup white vinegar
1/2 cup basil
1/4 cup walnuts- toasted
the juice and the zest of one large lemon
2 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed.
3/4 cup grated asiago cheese
1/2-3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil- good quality
salt and pepper

Wash and drain the beet greens. remove any large veins/stems and set aside.
In a large pot, boil water and salt it liberally. add the white vinegar and boil the beet green tops for 3-4 minutes. Shock the beet greens in an ice water bath, and transfer the greens to a salad spinner/dry cloth. Dry the greens well, and chop them into 2 inch pieces.

While the water is boiling, toast your walnuts in a dry skillet over medium heat (or in a toaster oven set to "light brown" for approx 2-4 minutes). This may seem like a step you'll want to skip, but I've found that toasting the nuts is essential. The oils come out and the flavors develop much deeper with a light toasting.

In a large blender or food processor, add all ingredients except for, salt, pepper and oil. pulse multiple times and once the mixture is the texture of salsa, start drizzling in the oil slowly so it emulsifies. when the mixture is smooth and glossy, test for salt and pepper, add if needed.

enjoy with a friend, because your garlic dragon breath won't matter that much if you both reek.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Easy Easter

For Easter, we decided to do something simle and delicious. My older sister was in town for a short visit with her friends, so I didn't want to suck up too much time by doing something complicated. We decided on Potato Leek soup, a salad made with greens from our garden, biscuits and lemon meringue pie.

For the soup I pumped up the flavor by adding caramelized onions as a garnish, and the time spent on them was worth every golden brown bite. Intense, sweet and savory, caramelized onions are one of those things that it pays to do slowly, correctly and patiently.

For the pie I used 2 types of lemon and lots of zest to pump up the pucker factor. I love the pairing of the fluffy sweet egg white meringue with the punch of the lemon filling on a crispy crust.

I feel like I have been making these 2 recipes my whole life, and the more I make them the more I love them. My Grandmother was famous for her lemon meringue pie, and I’m fortunate to still have her recipe, in her dainty cursive on a yellowed and faded index card from 1989. I love the crinkly, foamy and sea like sound it makes when you cut into it and nothing beats this homemade pie filling.

Caramelized Onions (takes about 45 minutes to do it right)
2 large Vidalia/sweet onions
2 tbl vegetable oil
Tap water

This recipe makes about a cup of caramelized onions. you can start with one onion, but these are so good, i always make extra for use later on.

Cut the onions in half lengthwise, and discard the tops and bottoms, and the paper outer covering. Slice the onions thinly (half moon shapes)

While you're slicing, heat a stainless steel pan over medium heat with 2 tbl vegetable oil. (Do not use a non-stick!)

Add all the sliced onions to the pan once the pan is hot and stir. Don’t worry about overcrowding the pan- the amount of onions will reduce by 4, and you'll end up with less than you think. Stir occasionally until the onions start to stick. if you notice that there is starting to be a brown layer on the pan (called "Fond") add about 3 tablespoons water to the pan and scrape the bits off the bottom with a wooden spoon.

Keep doing this stir/water treatment until the onions turn dark brown all over and are sweet and sticky with caramelization. The water is to prevent sticking/burning. Do not turn up the heat the pan to speed up the process- it won't work. You want these onions to cook low and slow, but don't worry- it they will be worth the wait. Great for pizza toppings, as an addition to pasta, on a crustini for an appetizer, or on almost anything savory you want to eat. These are addictive.

Leek and Potato Soup

3 tablespoons olive oil
(special equipment- immersion blender, or a blender with a large cup)
1 yellow onion, julienned
2-3 large leeks, green parts discarded, white/light green parts chopped into half moons and soaked in cold water to remove any grit/sand.
3 whole, peeled garlic cloves
2 pounds Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and diced
32 ounces vegetable stock (low sodium)
10 ounces heavy cream (omit if you want this recipe to be vegan. it will be almost as good)
salt and white pepper
In a large soup/stock pot, heat oil on medium heat. Drain the leeks- being careful not to pour the sandy water back on them. Add the leeks to your pot and stir. Slice your onion finely, and add to the cooking leeks. Add the whole peeled garlic, and stir. Cook until the onions are translucent, but not brown. If your onions/leeks start to brown- turn down the heat. Once the onions are translucent, add diced potatoes and vegetable stock. The vegetable stock should cover the vegetables and potatoes. If it isn't enough- add water until the potatoes are just covered. Bring the soup to a boil, and reduce to medium low/low and simmer until the potatoes are fork tender.

Using an immersion blender (or transferring soup in batches to a blender) blend the soup until smooth. Taste for salt and pepper, and add if needed. If you are serving immediately add the cream, and blend together until rich and smooth. Test again for salt and pepper, and add if needed. This soup is also excellent cold.

Garnish with caramelized onions.

Lemon Meringue Pie

Prepared pie dough (you can make your own, but i bought a pre made dough from the grocery store. it isn't cheating as long as the filling is awesome) and 1 pound of pie weights, dried beans or rice

5 egg yolks
1 cup sugar
6 tablespoons corn starch
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup water
1/2 cup whole milk
1/2 cup lemon juice and the zest of the 2 lemons
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon lemon extract

Meringue. (we like it piled high!)

6-7 large egg whites- room temperature
1/2 tsp cream of tartar
1/2 cup granulated sugar

separating eggs

Preheat the oven to 400

Roll out the prepared dough in a 9 inch pie plate. Using your fingers, make a decorative edge. Using a fork, prick the dough all over so the crust doesn't bubble. Place a sheet of parchment or wax paper on the dough and put the pie weights or beans/rice on top to weigh the dough down. Bake for 12-14 minutes or until the crust is golden brown. if your crust is not getting brown in the middle- remove the pie weights and bake for an additional 4-6 minutes until the crust is just golden. let cool and prepare the filling.

Lower the oven temp to 350

In a medium sized sauce pan on medium heat, combine sugar, corn starch, salt, water and milk. Stir until corn starch lumps are dissolved, and bring to a low boil until the mixture has thickened greatly. (Should look like pudding) Temper in the eggs slowly, and stir until completely incorporated. Cook for an additional 3-4 minutes on medium low. Remove from heat and add lemon juice, lemon zest, vanilla extract and lemon extract. Stir well. Pour filling through a sieve to remove any possible lumps, cover filling (pressing wrap to the filling to prevent the formation of a skin) and set aside.

In a clean, dry mixing bowl. Add egg whites and cream of tartar to a mixer fitted with a whisk attachment.

Whip the mixture on high until foam is created. SLOWLY add granulated sugar, and continue to whip on high until stiff peaks are formed, and egg whites are glossy and firm but not too dry!

Add the filling to the shell and smooth.

Add the egg whites to the top of the pie making sure to smooth the egg whites out so that the crust is completely sealed (or whites will shrink!). Using the back of a spoon or spatula, make peaks and dips in the egg whites for decoration. Bake for 7-10 minutes, or until the egg whites are golden brown.

Let cool completely, and then refrigerate if you can wait to eat it.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Salted Caramel Corn

For a long time, my sister and i have had a love affair with popcorn.

We grew up in a poor single parent family with 4 kids in a struggling neighborhood in South Richmond. Latch key kids with TV as the babysitter. As an adult i credit my cooking skills to Martin Yan and Julia Child. They were my every day after school babysitter, and while i was too young to appreciate their skill, their knowledge doled out in 30 minute segments seeped into my young and malleable brain, creating the perfect foundation for a budding foodie.

Not a day went by when we were kids that we didn't make a big bowl of popcorn for our after school snack when we were old enough to be trusted in the kitchen alone. I remember dutifully cutting cold butter into small bits to stick in the amber butter melting cup that went on top of the white and black whirling, hot air spewing popper that always sat on the counter. My sister and i would take turns flavoring, and measurements were never taken into consideration. We had a "feel" for popcorn flavoring. My brother, sister and myself would then go and munch on an embarrassment of riches (of popcorn) to our hearts content while watching the tube until mom got home. Cheap and tasty, it is still my favorite snack. While i doubt 10 year old versions of ourselves would have ever created anything this intense- i can guarantee we would have eaten it.

Salted Caramel Popcorn with Peanuts and Dried Cranberries.
Dark, chewy, crunchy, salty and sweet. If you have an air popper- pop the kernels in there and omit the oil.
1/3 rounded cup white popcorn kernels
2 tbs vegetable oil (do not use butter. it will burn)
1 stick unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups packed dark brown sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1 teaspoon kosher (or better) salt, plus more for sprinkling
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup peanuts (preferably lightly salted or unsalted)
1/2 cup dried cranberries

In your largest stock pot (like a pasta cooking pot or soup pot) heat the vegetable oil on medium heat. once the oil starts to shimmer/smoke a little, pour in the popcorn and put a lid on the pot. shake the pot vigerously until all the kernels are popped. (hint- if more than 3 seconds goes by between pops, its done. don't burn the corn!) set the popcorn aside uncovered.

Line the bottom of a large cookie sheet (with a rim) with foil and spray liberally with vegetable oil. set aside.

Using the same pot, melt the butter on medium. once the butter has melted add the brown sugar and corn syrup mixing together with a long handled wooden spoon. Boil the butter and sugar mixture on medium until a thermomiter reaches exactly 300 degrees. Do not stir the mixture. test the temperature frequently( You will need a good quality candy thermomiter- the unbreakable kind, or a digital probe thermomiter for this)

Once the temperature reaches exactly 300 degrees, REMOVE FROM HEAT and add the salt and baking soda and stir well with a wooden spoon. NOTE-- It will look like you messed up here because everything will look bubbly and brown and gross and chunky. hang tight, its about to get awesome, I promise. QUICKLY after adding the baking soda and salt, add the peanuts/cranberries and then the popcorn and stir quickly and thoroughly to mix well.

Pour the molten popcorn mixture onto your prepared cookie sheet, and spread out quickly. while the mixture is still hot and sticky, sprinkle with a little extra salt. let set for 30 minutes to an hour uncovered until it is cool. Break the popcorn apart and store in an air tight container. Doubling this recipe is not reccomended unless you have a ridiculously large pot.