Friday, July 24, 2009

A Tarter Torta

In keeping with my passion for anything custard, here’s a dessert that goes beyond that simple criteria. As a matter of fact, the custard gets lost in translation as the lemony custard-like layer and crust meld into a lovely Lemon Torta.

This is another one of those excellent desserts that I tend to forget altogether - until I am looking for a lemon “something”. It has a few other built-in advantages, such as it can be made as much as two days ahead. If you are entertaining, this is certainly a handy bonus, since the last thing you want to worry about is the dessert! I affectionately refer to the Lemon Torta as one of my “soldiers” because it is nearly indestructible and it is best served at room temperature. Clearly, we have the perfect candidate for potlucks, picnics, and sundry other recreational dining opportunities.

This torta has the additional advantage of being light and reminiscent of cheesecake (if you consider cheesecake light). It’s a refreshing finish to a seafood meal or even a heavy Italian feast. To paraphrase the words of Shakespeare, “The sauce is the thing,” and as is the case with cheesecake, the sauce matters. In order for your Lemon Torta to really sing, consider even the smallest dab of a lovely sauce to play an integral part.

For my particular dinner (and my breakfast the following day) I opted for a very fresh Raspberry Sauce (essentially Glazed Raspberries). I made the sauce with part of my raspberries and simmered them briefly with a bit of water and sugar, when they released their juices and became syrupy I removed the pan from the heat and added a squeeze of lemon juice - or splash of a complementary liqueur, if you wish. I strained this, returned the liquid to the pan, added the rest of berries, gently heated it briefly to combine the flavors, and then allowed it to cool.

Lemon Torta
From Entertaining for a Veggie Plane by Didi Emmons

1 cup flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons butter, chilled, cut into 8 pieces
1 large egg, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 large eggs
1 cup sugar, plus 2 tablespoons
2 lemons, rind grated and juice of
2 1/2 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
pinch salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter 9" springform pan or 8" square pan.

Crust: In food processor combine the flour, sugar and salt. Add butter and pulse until crumbly, about 10 seconds. Add the egg, vanilla and 2 teaspoons water, pulse until the dough just comes together.

Transfer dough to prepared pan, pressing down lightly to make even layer. Bake for 15 minutes, or until crust begins to brown around the edges. Transfer pan to cooling rack.

For filling: In mixing bowl combine eggs and sugar and beat about 5 minutes, until very pale. Add rind and juice and incorporate; Sift dry ingredients over egg mixture and fold them in. Pour filling over the crust and bake until golden brown and knife comes out clean, about 25-30 minutes. Cool on rack completely. Unmold and cut into wedges. Serve with a fresh sauce, fresh raspberries or other fruit, or whipped cream.

This is best made a day ahead, can be held up to 4 days ahead, covered well. Bring to room temperature before serving.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Banana-Buck Fever

This afternoon I needed no further excuse to pull out the old blender and build myself a tall cool smoothie than to read the deck thermometer registering 90 degrees in the shade. On days such as this, there’s nothing more refreshing than an ice-cold smoothie to perk up sagging spirits.

Into the blender went the ice, a ripe banana for sweetness and body, a bit of orange juice, a little milk, a dash of vanilla to finish it off and I let ‘er rip. Done!

Banana smoothie in hand, I headed outside to catch the late afternoon breeze as it washed over the hillside behind us and cooled the backyard deck. I eased onto a lounge chair, took a long draw on my thick smoothie, and inhaled the summer pine-scented air. It was enchanting, truly enchanting. My entire body levitated as I floated into sublime smoothie bliss. I sipped away, lost in euphoric contemplation - but in the recesses of my mind, a vague snap-crackle tiptoed into my consciousness; then came the hazy slow motion of a branch swaying - likely stirred by the wind. More twigs break. There was simply too much perimeter interference to ignore any longer. In disdain, I turned my attention to the disturbance; 20 feet away a muscular buck with fuzzy fir on his forked horns was frozen in his tracks - staring right back at me.

There was a time when we had plenty of animals roaming down from the hillside behind us, but in recent years the gun shots echoing off the neighboring canyons have surely been a deterrent. This is indeed a rare sight.

Nonchalantly, I picked up my handy camera perched next to me, aimed it in his general direction, and fired one frame; just enough for Buck to hightail it through the trees.

You may wonder, “What is an out-of-focus deer doing in a food blog? Who cares?” Today, I was a witness that Buck existed and my one photo here is evidence. This is a record that Buck strutted tall and gracefully through my backyard, as his forefathers did before him; and today, with the help of a banana smoothie, this beautiful, wild creature made at least one person very happy. Who knows Buck’s fate, as hunting season looms?

Banana-Buck Smoothie
This is a basic recipe; other fruit, juices, and dairy products can be substituted

1 cup ice
1 ripe banana, sliced
1/2 cup orange juice
1 cup milk, yogurt, or buttermilk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
garni: mint, strawberry, or orange slice

Into blender container place all ingredients; pulse to combine and then blend until smooth. Pour into tall glasses, garnish with mint, and a piece of fruit. Serve with a straw or a long spoon for stirring. Serves 2 ~~

Note: Other suggestions: peaches and apricot nectar; blueberries and cranberry juice; pears and apple juice, mangoes and guava juice, etc.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Seasonally In Sync

I received a link to Fete Accompli, Austin, Texas caterers currently garnering raves for their handmade specialty appetizers based on local and organic products. It’s a fine example of the commitment and flexibility necessary to consistently provide high caliber cuisine. Produce doesn’t always materialize as planned due to unanticipated variables such as weather, economic influences, supply/demand, and distribution. Unforeseen circumstances happen, and customers should understand in advance that substitutions are inevitable, but in all likelihood, they will not be dissapointed and the outcome will be just as good - perhaps even better than anticipated.

This style of commercial cooking is all about being in sync with the season and with local farmers and purveyors, and in creatively designing specialties that will showcase the very best available at their peak.

The home cook can do the same; here it’s about living in harmony with nature, the season, and our farmers – who can be as convenient as our local Farmers Market. We can also participate on our own level, by growing a pot of tomatoes on our deck, or in a hanging basket. We can claim a square of soil and transform it into a patch of lettuce or any other specialty that works. There’s a real sense of wonder and fullfillment experienced when we pluck and savor our first ripe tomato, pepper, or strawberry that we have planted, nurtured and watered.

These days, I am completely enamored by the idea of self-sufficiency: to bake my own bread, to make my own chutney, to brine and smoke my own chicken, and perhaps, to grow my own lettuce. That was the scenario that played out this past weekend when I had the magical good fortune of discovering all of these riches in my fridge at the same time. The results: a simple-yet-elegant smoked chicken sandwich on cornmeal loaf bread, with apple-cranberry chutney and butter crunch lettuce. Superlatively uncomparable!

Simple Smoked Chicken
4 pound chicken
1/4 cup sea salt
2 teaspoons pepper
2 cloves garlic, slivers
1 tablespoon olive oil

Tools and props: apple or other wood chips, vertical chicken roaster, grill with smoker hood

Rinse the chicken and allow it to drain. In a 2 cup measurer, place salt, pepper and 1/2 cup very hot water, allow salt to dissolve. Add the garlic and cool the hot water with approximately 1 cup cold water. Pour the water into a large zip lock bag, add the chicken, and pour in enough additional water to cover the chicken. Swish around and seal the chicken well, removing as much air as possible. Place the bagged chicken into a deep bowl large enough to hold the chicken snug for storage purposes. Chill for 4 hours or longer, turning once or twice if not fully covered.

Prepare grill with smoker hood. Cover the wood chips with water, and soak in a small bowl for at least 20 minutes.

Drain and pat dry the chicken, rub it with olive oil and place on a vertical chicken roaster. Fill the bottom pan of the chicken roaster with water, beer, wine or any preferred liquid.

When the grill is very hot, sprinkle the white coals with 2/3 of the woods chips, replace grill rack and place the vertical roaster and chicken carefully onto the hot grill. Cover and roast the chicken for about 1/2 hour. Carefully remove lid, add additional coals if necessary, add remaining wood chips, add water to roaster pan if necessary, replace smoker hood, and roast for at least 30 - 45 minutes longer. The chicken should be deep mahogany and internal temperature should register 160-170 degrees.

Remove chicken from grill and let stand 5-10 minutes before removing it from vertical roaster. Allow to cool 10 - 15 minutes longer before carving.

Note: for bread, chutney or further recipe references, please refer to index.


Related Posts with Thumbnails