Thursday, December 6, 2012
One of my very favorite things about the holiday season is the fact that it’s okay to indulge a little bit–eat a few more sweets than you normally would, say yes more often than no, and try new things without worrying about their calorie count. As far as I’m concerned, that last item is the beauty of the traditional holiday treat exchange.
So this year, I’m kicking off the first annual Family Foodie Holiday Recipe Exchange. Here’s the idea: I’ll post a recipe (or a link to a recipe already on this blog) in each of three traditional holiday categories. Today’s category is Cookies–to include bars, brownies, blondies, baklava, and all cookie-related options–and my suggestion for a holiday treat is the luscious Magic Bars you see pictured with this post. The recipe for Magic Bars was featured on this blog several years ago, and they’re still one of my very favorite holiday treats. They’re rich, sweet, gooey–and, if you make them with gluten-free graham cracker crumbs, they’re a safe option for all the gluten-avoidant people in your life. (Magic Bars are not a Foodie original, but the recipe for them appears in so many places that I’m not sure where it originated. I’m happy to give credit where it’s due, if someone knows who created this delicious recipe.)
And now, it’s your turn. Remember that today’s category is Cookies.
You can participate in the treat exchange in one of three ways:
- In the comments section, type in one of your favorite holiday recipes.
- Use your comment to post a link to a recipe you love to make during the holidays, or a close approximation. If you make any personal modifications to the recipe, be sure to include that information.
- Or, if you write your own blog, link to one of your unique creations.
In the days to come, we’ll cover Quick Breads and Candies, so be sure to round up your favorite recipes in those categories as well.
Ready ? Set? Share!
Saturday, November 24, 2012
Remember these guys? They’ve now been harvested, juiced, zested, and transformed into the most amazing dessert. A pie so amazing, it can’t simply be called a pie. It has to be called a superpie.
This is probably the most gorgeous pie I’ve ever made–and I’ve made quite a few. My only regret is that I didn’t take the time to make a rustic home-made crust, since I had an extra frozen crust in the freezer after our Thanksgiving pumpkin pie. Still, since I grew my own lemons, I think using a store-bought crust is defensible.
Though I’d thought about making a simple lemon curd with my Meyer lemons, in the end I decided to make something a little more extravagant–and, after I made the luscious lemon filling, I asked The Girl to give it a taste.
“Is it that gross fake lemon Jello pudding stuff?” she asked.
“No,” I said. “This is pie filling made from the lemons I grew in our back yard, on the lemon tree I watered daily through the scalding hot summer. The lemon tree I nourished with compost it took me a year to create. This is pie filling made from lemon juice that used to be water from our garden hose. These are our lemons.”
The Girl sighed. “Fine,” she said, and took a tentative spoonful. After which she puckered up. “That definitely tastes like lemons,” she said.
The filling I decided on for this pie is very lemony indeed–I used a full cup of lemon juice and a tablespoon of lemon zest–but that’s a plus for The Girl, who likes to suck on fresh lemons with a sprinkle of sugar. (Very bad for the teeth, by the way, so she doesn’t do it often.) It was not such a plus for The Boy, who consented to taste the filling and said “I think it needs more sugar.” I tried to convince him to take another taste after the meringue had been added to the pie, since that adds a significant dose of sweetness, but he declined. “I really enjoyed that pumpkin pie you made for Thanksgiving,” he said, “but I’m just not a fan of things as sour as lemons.”
If you look closely at the photo below, you can see the little flecks of vanilla bean in the meringue–that’s courtesy of the Neilsen-Massey Vanilla Bean Paste I keep on hand but save for those moments when the visual presence of vanilla bean adds a little something special, as it does here. (You can also buy a bottle of this vanilla bean paste at Williams-Sonoma or Pottery Barn, if you happen to have one of those stores in your area.) After you slice the pie, the lovely contrast between the sunny lemon filling and the snowy, speckled meringue makes it all the more appealing.
I sliced and served the pie at room temperature. Refrigerating it for a few hours before serving would give you a firmer filling, but I like the contrast between the silky lemon and the foamy meringue. Always refrigerate leftovers, though, since the pie is heavy on the eggs.
This filling would also work for making Lemon Icebox Cake, and I think the extra lemon flavor would go a long way toward offsetting the sweetness of the vanilla wafers in that recipe. But I’m pretty sure this superpie will remain my go-to recipe when lemons are the star ingredient. Even if those lemons aren’t my very own.
Meyer Lemon Superpie
1 crust for a 9-inch pie, baked and cooled to room temperature
2 cups sugar
1/4 cup corn starch
1 cup Meyer lemon juice
1 T. lemon zest
4 T. butter, cut into chunks
1 tsp. vanilla bean paste (or vanilla extract)
1/4 tsp. cream of tartar
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
In a large bowl, beat together 3 eggs. Separate the remaining 5 eggs and set the whites aside to come to room temperature; add the yolks to the beaten eggs and whisk together.
In a separate bowl, combine 1 1/2 cups of the sugar and the corn starch. Stir to distribute the corn starch throughout, then whisk the sugar mixture into the beaten eggs. Add the lemon juice and zest; whisk again to combine.
Transfer the lemon mixture to a saucepan. Cook over medium heat, whisking constantly so the lemon filling doesn't stick to the bottom of the pan. Continue cooking until the mixture comes to a boil; reduce the heat slightly and continue to cook for another minute, until the filling is thick and glossy. Remove the filling from the heat and add the butter. Stir until the butter has melted, then pour the hot filling into the baked pie crust.
Stir the cream of tartar into the remaining 1/2 cup of sugar. Using a mixer, whip the eggs white until soft peaks begin to form; add the sugar 1 tablespoon at a time and continue beating. Add the vanilla bean paste (or vanilla extract) and continue beating until the meringue holds stiff peaks.
Mound the meringue over the hot lemon filling, making sure to go all the way to the edge of the filling and overlap the pie crust. (This will seal the meringue and prevent it from shrinking while it bakes.) Use the back of your spoon to create swirls or peaks in the meringue. Place the pie on a cookie sheet and bake for 5 minutes, until the meringue starts to brown.
Let the pie cool completely before serving. Refrigerate any leftovers.
Wednesday, November 21, 2012
You may recall that, this time last year, The Boy posed a very important question: why is Thanksgiving always the poor cousin of the fall and winter holidays? Why do stores jump straight from aisles of Halloween decorations to aisles of Christmas decorations, pausing only to devote a small section to Thanksgiving tableware?
These questions prompted me to list 10 Reasons to Love Thanksgiving, and each of the items on that list has come to mind in the last few weeks. This year, though, I’ve also been thinking about the many things I’m thankful for. In no small part, this is due to the fact that many of my Facebook friends have spent the last month devoting a status line to naming something for which they’re grateful.
This is the time of year when my life explodes, so I knew trying to keep up with a daily gratitude post would only lead me to feel bad for not being grateful enough to write a daily post. Instead, I’m taking a few moments on this Thanksgiving eve to list just a few of the many things I take for granted every day–things for which I’m truly grateful.
In no particular order:
1. Healthy kids.
2. A healthy body–healthy enough to produce the right number of white blood cells, now that I’ve mostly taken gluten out of the equation.
3. A life partner who not only loves me, but gets me–and makes me laugh on a regular basis.
4. A neighborhood filled with mature trees, wildflowers, deer, rabbits, squirrels, armadillos, and all manner of wild creatures.
5. Lemons that grow on a tree in my own back yard.
6. A house that’s warm in the winter and cool in the summer.
7. New foods to try (most recently: dark chocolate-covered pomegranate seeds from Trader Joe’s.)
8. Books that change my heart and open my world (most recently: Wild,by Cheryl Strayed.)
9. Good music to feed my soul
12. These last few months at home with The Girl, before she heads off to college and into her grown-up life.
13. The prospect of only-child time with The Boy, after his sister moves away and before he does the same.
14. A wide net of friends and family members who catch me whenever I’m falling, lift me up, and give me the confidence to keep on doing what I need to do (or get busy trying.)
My list could go on and on, of course. I hope the same is true for you.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! Take a deep breath and enjoy a quiet moment before the holiday crush is upon us.
Sunday, November 11, 2012
Late last spring, I found a small army of citrus trees on sale at my local Costco. There were Valencia oranges, Persian limes, Mexican limes–and, best of all, Meyer lemons. As you can probably tell from the image in the header of this blog, I’m a huge fan of lemons. Until I moved to Texas, though, I didn’t live in a climate where growing my own was even a possibility. I remember, when I was a kid, suggesting to my dad that he should grow lemons. In Idaho. He was an expert gardener, so I thought he could grow anything. He explained the impossibility of fulfilling that request, but I was still heartbroken and bitterly disappointed.
I think my dad would be very impressed to know that I’ve now managed to grow my own, in spite of the fact that this wasn’t particularly easy work. Lemons are slightly finicky–they need a lot of water, but their roots don’t enjoy sitting in wet soil, which means good drainage is important. They also need a lot of fertilizer. I’ve been diligent about adding a scoop to the potting soil once a month and watering it in well (but not too well.) Finally, the Meyer lemon tree is prone to being attacked by spider mites. That means whenever I see leaves with holes in them, or spiderwebs between the leaves, or swarms of teeny tiny red bugs on the lemon blossoms, I give the tree a thorough hosing down. Some websites have recommended using an insecticidal soap to control the mites, but so far that hasn’t been necessary. I just spray them off and watch for the mites to come back. If I can harvest lemons without using insecticide, that’s the way I want to go.
The Meyer lemon is, as you can probably see from the photo above, more rounded than the typical lemon. That’s because it’s a cross between a lemon and an orange, which also makes it sweeter and more juicy than the lemons you might know best. The skin is very thin, though, so it doesn’t lend itself to zesting. That’s a sacrifice I’m prepared to make, supplementing the Meyer lemon juice with the frozen zest of lemons I’ve loved in the past. (I have a baggie full of lemon zest in my freezer at all times. Never let it be said that an eligible lemon has gone unzested in the Foodie kitchen.)
The lemon pictured above is the largest of the seven lemons that grew on my tree this year. I was hoping for more, but I’m told that seven is an excellent number for the tree’s first year. The rest are almost ready to pick, as you can see below. (There’s one hiding on the back of the tree, in case you’re wondering whether I know how to count.) I’m giving them one more day in the sun, since they’re just the slightest bit green in some spots, and then I’m collecting them before a predicted light frost on Tuesday morning.
I haven’t yet decided how I plan to use them, but I’m thinking a batch of my favorite lemon curd might be a worthy project. Especially if that lemon curd ends up as the star of a luscious lemon pie or tart.
For the moment, though, I’m just enjoying the sunny presence of those lemons in my back yard, which is slowly making its transition into Texas-style winter dormancy. There are new blossoms on the tree already, and tiny fruits at their center, so it will have to move into our sun room when we’re threatened with freezing temperatures. From what I’ve read, the Meyer lemon is hardier than other varieties–it’s frost-resistant down to 25 degrees Fahrenheit–but I don’t think I’m going to test that information. I’m too attached to risk losing my lemon tree. Instead, I’ll just let it brighten up a corner of my sun room whenever winter threatens our citrusy love affair.
Sunday, November 4, 2012
This time of year, it seems like apple-based desserts get all the love. And, in a way, that just makes sense–it’s apple-picking season, and apple-picking goes along with visits to the pumpkin patch and all those other much-loved fall traditions. You never hear about people going pear-picking in the fall.
But there’s a good reason for that. You may have noticed that the pears at your local grocery store are green, not yellow. Many people believe that’s so the pears, which are very firm when they’re green, will survive the trip to the grocery store undamaged. (If you’ve ever held a ripe yellow pear in your hand, you know that avoiding any damage is a pretty difficult proposition.) But the truth is, pears that are allowed to ripen on the tree turn mealy and start to spoil at the core. That’s why pears are picked green–but not too green, or they won’t continue to ripen–and then allowed to finish their journey to maturity off the tree, at room temperature.
I can imagine that this also makes pear-picking a less appealing prospect than apple-picking. For one thing, you wouldn’t be able to use the pears you’d picked for awhile. You certainly wouldn’t be able to eat a pear straight from the tree. And what’s green enough, but not too green? I wouldn’t know how to tell, and that’s probably the case for most people who buy their pears at the grocery store.
Still, in spite of their complex development process, pears are one of my favorite fall fruits, and pear crisp is one of my favorite fall desserts. I wouldn’t turn down a dish of apple crisp, but pear crisp is something a little more unusual. Add another of my favorite fall flavors–maple syrup–and you have something really unique and delicious.
Although I didn’t put any nuts in the topping (since, as I’ve mentioned many times, the Foodie children are uniformly anti-nut), you could easily add half a cup of chopped pecans or walnuts to the the topping mixture for a little more texture. Top your baked crisp with a scoop of ice cream (vanilla, cinnamon, or even dulce de leche would be terrific) or a dollop of whipped cream and it goes from being simple and homey comfort food to being an indulgence.
But, since it’s basically fruit and oats, Maple Pear Crisp also works as a special treat for brunch–if you serve it in smaller portions,without the topping. The Hubs and I noshed on Maple Pear Crisp just this morning. I can’t think of a tastier way to start a bright fall day.
Maple Pear Crisp
For the filling:
5 cups peeled, chopped pears (about 3 large pears)
2 T. maple syrup
1 T. corn starch
1 tsp. cinnamon
For the topping:
3/4 cup flour
3/4 cup oats
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
4 T. butter, cold, cut into chunks
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray an 8 x 8 inch baking pan with cooking spray and set aside.
In a large bowl, toss the pears with the maple syrup, corn starch, and cinnamon. Stir well to coat the fruit with the other ingredients. Turn this mixture into the prepared baking pan and set it aside.
In a clean bowl, stir together the flour, oats, and brown sugar. Add the cinnamon and nutmeg; stir again to distribute the spices. Add the chunks of butter to the dry mixture and use a fork or a pastry cutter to work the butter in. Stop when you have a mixture that clumps into pea-sized pieces.
Sprinkle the topping evenly over the fruit. Bake for 30-35 minutes, until the topping is crisp and golden brown. Cool slightly before serving, to allow the fruit filling to thicken.