Just a self-trained home cook in an 8' x 12' kitchen honing his craft…

Archive for May, 2011

When life hands you lemons…

I just love Meyer lemon curd. You can recognize them by their unusual color- and their price!

Meyer lemons are slightly orange compared to regular ones- and they're sweeter.

why not make a lemon chess pie!

There are few desserts that are more southern than a chess pie. Whenever there was dinner on the grounds or a supper in the fellowship hall as I grew up in the Baptist church, there were 2 items you could almost be certain would be on the dessert table: lemon chess pie and cherry yum-yum. The latter was an easy, no-bake version of cheese cake with a can of cherry pie filling on top. Sometimes I wonder if I had a bite of it today, would it be as tasty as I remember it or was my palate simply not developed? I want to think my palate too advanced now for such banality, but who knows?

Back to the lemons….

Occasionally ralston requests some particular food or dish(or dessert). The beginning of the week he said, “You know what I’d like? An old-fashioned chess pie.” After a brief discussion and going through a few cookbooks as I blurt out names of recipes, we agreed on lemon chess, since it is a basic custard pie, which is what he craved and lemon which is what I nearly always opt for, if given the choice. I do feel that folks who cook tend to crave more unusual flavors than those who don’t. Or maybe it’s because my poor taste buds too desensitized from years of smoking(cigarette-free for 9 years now!) that I love tart and bitter tastes.

I decided on the quintessentially southern recipe from The Gift of Southern Cooking by Edna Lewis and Scott Peacock. The next decision was the crust. Any of you who read my entry of “Strawberry Fields Forever” know that even though the crust looked good, it had been tough as nails- hardly edible. I used the formula from The Gift of Southern Cooking, the same book as the pie recipe, substituting some vanilla vodka for some fo the liquid, but being careful to keep the vodka amount at 1/3- 1/2 the total liquid( I used a total of 2 T vodka, about 4 T water).

The crust chilled and ready for filling.

Here are the ingredients for the filling.

Eggs, lemon zest, vanilla, melted butter, sugar, lemon juice, cornmeal, flour & salt and buttermilk.

Sometimes things just ‘feel’ right when you work with them as you cook(especially with pastry or bread dough) and this crust did just that. I chose my vintage pie plate, since the request was for pie, not tart. It is aluminum and has holes perforated all over the bottom so the crust will be crisp and flaky. If there’s one motto I live by it is NO SOGGY BOTTOMS! I loved the deep, slightly exaggerated scalloped edge I established.

Into the oven for about 45 minutes(I baked directly on the pizza stone), then 5 minutes on the next higher rack for a little more browning to the top. Here’s my reward.

Just out of the oven.

After a chill in the refrigerator, it was time to serve- finally!.

It's so rich a sliver is just enough.

The taste buds got their just reward. The sweet, tart, smooth filling contrasting against the crunchy, flaky non-soggy bottom of the crust was so satisfying and oh-so-southern. If you look closely in this photo, you will see the holes in the bottom of the pan.

After 2 servings. It's quite rich!

So the next time life hands you lemons, save the lemonade for July & August. I recommend you pull out your pie plate and make you and your family a slice of real southern comfort!

Eat your vegetables!

I never know when I peruse my cookbooks(of which there are many) what will strike my fancy next. In the past month, I have been reading Rose’s Heavenly Cakes, studying Rose’s new findings and comments since the last cake book,
The Cake Bible, first published in 1989. My copy is falling apart and chocolate and butter stained from use.

The new book is a work of art. Almost every cake is pictured, in color no less, so you can almost taste them as you turn the pages. One of the new formulas was the white chocolate cream cheese frosting with some minor changes from The Cake Bible. The addition of crème fraîche and the deletion of lemon juice intrigued me. She also recommends Green & Black’s Organic white chocolate which is chock full of vanilla beans- YUM!

We had just seen Kathy Freston on The Tavis Smiley Show show discussing vegan-ism(if I may). One of the amazing statistics she shared was if each person would eat vegan just one day a week, it would be equivalent to taking 8 million cars off the road. Besides the environmental impact, you would lose weight, lower your blood pressure and cholesterol and have more energy. One wonders, ‘What am I waiting for?’ Our family decided we will adopt this modus operandi this week and see where it takes us. If you’d like to try it or read some of Kathy’s findings and suggestions, her book is Veganist: Lose Weight, Get Healthy, Change the World.

That said, Rose’s carrot cake seemed a natural choice, since carrots are a vegetable and nothing compliments white chocolate cream cheese frosting better. The recipe in the new book had slight changes from the last book and she comments in the introductory paragraph that she tweaked it several times to get the right balance of sweet and spice(and a touch of cocoa!). It is marvelous.

Fresh out of the oven. The aroma was heavenly!

Clockwise from top: food processor bowl with cream cheese, butter and crème fraîche, the cake layers and the melted white chocolate.

The bottom layer is frosted.

I won’t go so far to count it as a serving of my daily vegetables, but it’s worth making for a birthday or your next social occasion. Here are a couple of photos of the completed project.

The completed cake on my semi-antique turntable.

The finished cake on the semi-antique turntable.

The finished cake and a slice ready for serving.

ralston likes his cake with a spoon. He says it's easier to get every crumb...

The Wilton cake company turntable was an estate sale find. I have no clue of the age of it, but the former owner’s apartment was literally crammed from one end to the other with baking sheets, cookbooks. recipe cards, molds, cake pans, etc. Their collection of cooking implements and equipment rivaled my own! I felt an immediate kinship to them through their possessions, some of which I still use with great pleasure and respect. The chipped paint lends character!

Toujours, bon appétit!
© Kyle A. Nelson

Strawberry Fields Forever

The title of a classic Beatle’s tune seemed fitting for today’s cooking projects. Strawberries are coming into season. They are bountiful, beautiful and are ‘passing the smell test’. The berries at the market this week were so aromatic you could smell them as you walked anywhere near the display.

Remembering a recent article from Cook’s Illustrated, I procured some pectin(that didn’t need sugar to gel as specified in the recipe) and I was set to go. I chose to formulate the crust of cream cheese and butter but instead of a classic pie would use a tart pan with removable bottom and fluted edges- very French, n’est pas?

Well, as Julia once said in a TV show, “Well, you’re never going to get very far in this cooking business if you can’t handle failure!” How right she was(wasn’t she always?).

While I thought the tart looked beautiful, it was, at best, a moderate success of taste and texture.

Assembled and ready for chilling.

It looked and smelled fantastic.

The tart ready for slicing.

Once cut, however, even with the requisite chilling time given in the recipe, it had not gelled properly and was a bit runny when sliced. While there were no complaints from those served, I was disappointed. I wear my emotions in my every expression, so there was no doubt that I was not happy with the results.

The berry taste was amazing. The recipe began with a purée of pure strawberries and the flavor of that purée permeated the thickening agents(both corn starch and pectin) which coated the whole berries (2 lbs. in all!) and held the whole berries together- or was supposed to.

Secondly, the crust was not the tender, flaky masterpiece I had envisioned. I utilize a technique I first read about (also from Cook’s Illustrated) that replaces 50% of the liquid with vodka. It is tasteless and the alcohol evaporates as the crust cooks. With that evaporation, you are left a tender, flaky crust- in theory. I mistakenly added too much vodka, so the ratio of water and vodka was not correct. Too much liquid evaporated and I was left with a cardboard-like crust that tasted OK, but reminded me of my first pie crust attempt some 39 years ago. It was so rolled, and formed, and rolled and rolled that it was inedibly tough(the lemon chess filling was tasty, though, so all was not lost).

Oh well, lessons learned and filed into the memory bank. These little setbacks won’t keep me from firing up the Cuisinart for another attempt.

Here’s a parting shot for you.

A slice adorned with lightly sweetened whipped cream ready for service.

Remember if it needs dressing up, there’s parsley for savory and whipped cream for dessert!

Toujours, bon appétit!

© Kyle A Nelson

Christmas in May

Recently I have been on a binge of passion curd, lemon curd, lime curd, Meyer lemon curd, etc., etc. If you sit too long around me, I’ll add some egg yolk, butter and sugar to you and turn you into curd. Incidentally, most of them have been very tasty and a slice of toast is a perfect foil to comparison taste.

Well, what does one do(besides freeze them, of course) with the surfeit of egg whites that inevitably results? I recalled several versions of meringue cookies in different books that called for simply egg whites and sugar with added flavorings. The one I settled on was Rose’s Aunt Margaret’s Star-spangled Meringues from Rose’s Christmas Cookies which includes some delicious little shards of chocolate, so what’s not to like?

Digging deeper into the recesses of my mind, I remembered a particularly beautiful piped cookie in Bruce Healy & Paul Bugat’s book, The French Cookie Book . I decided to use Rose’s formula(I use the term ‘recipe’ and ‘formula’ interchangeably, since I see recipes as being scientific formulas with edible results) and Bruce’s techniques to pipe the cookies into the figure 8 formation Paul illustrated.

I was all set, except Bruce calls for you to cook the meringues on water-soaked plywood sheets, which I did not have(I do now!), so a silpat-lined baking sheet would have to suffice. The cookie went together very easily and the piping was not complicated following Bruce’s exacting instructions(he is, after all, a theoretical physicist, so his formulas are exact) and Paul’s line-drawings.

The batter transferred from mixing bowl to zip-top bag fitted with star pastry tip.

Piping in figure 8 pattern onto non-stick lined baking sheets.

Piping in figure 8 pattern on non-stick lined baking sheets.

The piped cookies are...

ready for the oven.

They cook for a while at a very low temperature and you do not want them to brown. When you can easily push them on the baking sheet with no resistance as they slide, they are done. The taste was delicate and satisfying with just enough gentle crisp to complete the epicurean experience.

Cookie, anyone?

A close-up showing the bits of chocolate.

One cookie was never enough for me!

The shape could be diminished or enlarged by changing the size of the pastry tip.
I thought the shape was visually very pleasing.

These have a long storage life. In fact, we thought they got better with age.

If the photos are making your mouth water, and you’re ready to try your hand with creating some of these little gems, the internet has many recipes for meringue cookies. You can use a plain zip-top bag for a pastry bag and simply snip the tip and practice piping some blobs of egg white kisses into bite size morsels.
Try not to make them on a very humid day. High humidity wreaks havoc on beaten egg whites.

Every time I reach for my copy of Rose’s Christmas Cookies (which is literally falling apart from overuse), I can’t help but remember the book signing when it was released. The Jewish doctor in front of me in line, asked Rose, “When’s a nice Jewish girl like you gonna write a Jewish cookie book?” Her reply, which makes me laugh even today some 20+ years later, “When I’m tired of making money!” Classic Rose and so is her book. It has seen me through every holiday season since 1990(and some other times of year like May, too!).

Toujours bon appétit!

© Kyle A. Nelson