Thursday, January 26, 2012

What Resolution?

So, remember how one of my New Year's resolutions was to blog more? Well, it just goes to show that I shouldn't go around making resolutions! I apologize. I'm currently suffering from a very un-busy month (which, while it doesn't provide much fodder for the blog, is welcome after so many months of non-stop action!), and a lack of creativity.
Real posts to resume soon. I hope.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Lemon Meringue Learning Curve

I believe I've mentioned before that when it comes to my kitchen skills, I rarely stop to consider the fact that I may be about to embark upon a task that I'm not quite qualified for. Generally, this results in disaster. This time, it resulted in two yummy disasters and two perfect products. So, I guess that makes it a win, right?

My mother-in-law brought me a bag of Meyer lemons from her sister's (my aunt-in-law?) tree. I like lemons, but these are much bigger than your average lemon, and I couldn't think what to do with all of them. Lemon meringue pie is one of my husband's favorite desserts (the other is red velvet cake), so I decided to give it a try.

I'd never made lemon meringue pie before. I'd never made anything like lemon meringue pie before. But, in a reiteration of words all too often uttered in my kitchen (and all too often, I find myself eating those words), how hard could it be? To be honest, it was pretty easy, and it turned out that what I did wrong was to follow the recipe exactly as it was written. (Except for the part where the recipe said to bake the pie crust first... somehow I missed that part.) Which leads me to an important lesson I feel I must share: Always read the comments below any recipe you find on the internet. It could end up saving you a lot of trouble (and wasted ingredients).

Now, without further ado, I present my Lemon Meringue Learning Curve (recipe courtesy of and Alton Brown):

Bear in mind, I'm still learning when it comes to food photography!
First, gather all of your ingredients. You'll need:
4 egg yolks
1/3 cup cornstarch
1 1/2 cups water
1 1/3 cups sugar
1/4 tsp salt
3 tbsp butter
1/2 cup lemon juice
(it only took one of my Meyer lemons)
1 tbsp finely grated lemon zest
1 9" PRE-BAKED pie shell 
(somehow I missed that part for my first two pies)
For the meringe, you'll need:
4 egg whites
1 pinch cream of tartar
2 tbsp sugar
(My modifications-- I didn't use any lemon zest because the Meyer lemons have an un-zest-able rind. [No, I'm sure that's not actually the technical term.] I also didn't add cream of tartar to my meringue because I didn't have any and didn't want to make a trip to the grocery store just for that. Cream of tartar adds stability to your meringue, but mine seemed to be just fine without it.)

I'm not sure why the whites look so yellow. I'll blame it on my camera.
First, separate the eggs. Whisk the yolks, and set the whites aside.
In a medium sauce pan, combine cornstarch, water, sugar, and salt. Whisk to combine. Turn heat on medium and, stirring frequently, bring mixture to a boil. Boil for one minute.

Believe it or not, this was the best picture I got of this step.
Remove from heat and gradually, one whisk-full at a time, add hot mixture to egg yolks and stir until you have added at least half of the mixture. (I used a tablespoon to add the hot mixture to the yolks, because my whisk wasn't really picking anything up. Either way you do it, make sure you're only drizzling in a little at a time so you don't end up with scrambled egg yolks.)


So far, so good...
Return egg mixture to saucepan, turn heat down to low and cook, stirring constantly, "for one more minute." This is where things went wrong. Cooking it only one minute more is not enough. Unless you're going for Meringue-Topped Lemon Soup in a Pie Shell. In which case, go for it! But, if you're like me, you're going for nice, gooey, thick lemon filling. In which case, keep cooking! Let it come up to a boil, and stir it constantly so that it doesn't scald or curdle. You want to let it cook until it looks like lemon pie filling.

What's wrong with this picture? If you guessed "it's lemon soup in an unbaked pie shell," you win!
Pour mixture into pie shell and top with meringue while filling is still warm.

The original recipe says to use a stand mixer, but my stand mixer is missing a beater (and goodness knows where it is, I'm afraid it must have gotten lost in the move somehow), so I used my hand mixer. And really, what's the difference? Either way we're incorporating air into egg whites, right?
To make the meringue, place the egg whites and cream of tartar in a bowl, and use a hand mixer to beat the egg whites until soft peaks form. Then, add the sugar, and continue beating until stiff peaks form. Use to top the lemon filling.

Notice how the food photography gets worse as I lose my natural light source. I'll have to file that away under "things to remember."
Bake for 10-12 minutes in a pre-heated 375 degree oven, until the meringue is golden.

Looks pretty, doesn't it? Well, looks can be deceiving.
So, my first attempt at lemon meringue pie was fairly disappointing. All that work... all that precise measuring... all that exact recipe following... and all I got was lemon soup. On the bright side, did you know that when you freeze soupy lemon pie filling it makes a nice lemon sherbet-y kind of thing? So, aside from the wasted pie crust and meringue, at least it wasn't a total failure!

So, taking what I learned from my first pie experience, I decided to make a second. This time I cooked the filling longer so that it was the correct consistency.

Yet, for some reason, I still managed to gloss over the word "pre-baked" when it came to the pie shell.

We scooped the meringue and filling out and ate it like a pudding.
And then, finally, it all came together! Lemon Meringue perfection!

Behold! Cooked crust! Gooey lemon filling! Sweet, fluffy meringue!
I even made a fourth pie after that, because the one above was supposed to be for someone else, but Olette decided to stick her fingers in and help herself while it was in the fridge cooling.

I still have a bunch of lemons left, so I think my next project will be lemon bars. Stay tuned!

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Tuesday, January 3, 2012

A Food Post!

I keep wanting to do regular food posts, but I'm awful at remembering to take my camera with me into the kitchen, and even worse at remembering to take pictures as I go along. But in the past couple of weeks, I've managed not to drop the ball-- twice! So I get to show you cube steaks with gravy (my Hubby's favorite meal), and How Not to Make a Lemon Meringue Pie. (The pie post will come later, though, as I'm hoping today to turn that into a how-to, rather than a how-not-to. It was my first try. And it ended up being lemon meringue soup. Tasty, pretty, but not pie. Today will be a re-do. Hopefully a successful re-do, but either way, I'll share my results!)

Anyway, cube steaks with gravy is my Hubby's favorite meal. I learned how to make it by watching my mother-in-law, and while I have yet to get mine exactly like hers, it still comes out incredible almost every time. The Hubby prefers his served over rice. I, on the other hand didn't really grow up putting gravy on rice (and didn't even know it was something people did until I moved to Alabama); I prefer mine over mashed potatoes.

I'm not a great follower of recipes (except when baking, where precision matters), so any measurements I give are rough estimates. You may need more or less of something. Also, I was already about halfway through making this when I remembered to grab my camera, so I've only got pictures of the actual cooking process. Go me! Fair warning-- one of my New Year's Resolutions is to work on my food photography. So far, my skills are fairly underwhelming.

To begin with, you're going to need a package of cube steaks (how many depends on how many people you're serving. One per person should do it.), some flour, salt & pepper, and a can each of beef broth and beef consomme. (For a package with four cube steaks. The more you have, the more gravy you're making, and the more consomme and broth you'll need.) I also like to add an 8oz package of mushrooms (baby portobellos are my favorite), and half an onion.

First, cut each steak in half. In a shallow dish, mix together about 1/2 a cup of flour with a dash of salt and pepper. Dredge each steak in the flour, and set aside. Heat a large skillet over med-high, and add about 1/4 cup of oil (olive, vegetable, canola, whatever). Once the oil is heated, add the steaks, and cook until the crust is just browned. Remove the steaks from the skillet and set aside. While the steaks are browning, chop your mushrooms and onions.

This is the point at which I remembered to grab my camera.

Add the chopped mushrooms and onions to your skillet, turn the heat down to medium, and cook until the mushrooms are soft and the onions are translucent:

Remove the mushrooms and onions from the pan. (You don't have to, but I think it makes it a little easier to make the gravy.) Add about 1/4 cup of oil to the pan, and about the same amount of flour (I use the flour I dredged the meat in. Why not? It's already there, preseasoned, and this way I'm not wasting anything). Whisk the flour and oil together...

...until it turns a nice, golden brown color. (For some reason, all the pictures I took of the roux-making process look the same... must have been the lighting?) Then, pour in your consomme and broth, whisking all the while to prevent lumps. I also like to add in a splash or two of worcestershire.

You'll also want to test the seasoning at this point. Add a little salt and pepper if you think it needs it.
Return the steaks and mushrooms to the pan, cover with a lid, and then either let it simmer for about an hour, or let it cook in a 350 degree oven for an hour. (I use the oven method if I need to free up stove top space.) 

The cube steaks just get all tender and fall-apart-y and fantastic as they cook. It's like food magic.

While the steaks finish cooking in the gravy, make your rice or mashed potatoes according to your favorite recipe. Serve the cube steaks and gravy over the rice or potatoes.

Mmm... (I served mine with sauteed squash and zucchini, also.)

(I'll be linking to this post over at My Chef-ish Friends and Me, where my friends and I all swap recipes. There's a lot of great stuff over there-- check it out!)

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Happy New Year!

One of my New Year's Resolutions is to blog more. We'll see how that goes. I have two photo/food posts waiting to be written up, hopefully they're going up sometime this week.