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.