Monday, April 25, 2011

Presenting...Ally's First Lemon Tarte

Drum roll, please...

The Perfect Lemon Tarte, by Ally Iseman

My daughter asked if she could bake for Easter, which was music to my ears, and a lemon tarte was her choice. Lori Longbotham's book, Luscious Lemon Desserts, has a recipe that she named "the perfect lemon tarte" because as she says, "it is." So how could we go wrong? Also, if I remember correctly my friend, Jean, who gave me the book made it and it was delicious. 

Ally really wanted to do this all by herself, which isn't easy for me as I am a bit of a control freak in the kitchen. It's my domain and I feel like I have a personal obligation to direct anyone who steps foot in it. So I admit that Ally had to tell me to butt out a few times, and only once did I absolutely insist on showing her a step, but really and truly this is her magnificent creation. She read the recipe carefully, measured out the ingredients, and turned out the perfect lemon tarte. I even suggested she skip the step of combining the lemon zest and sugar in the food processor because who really feels like washing the bowl, top and blade? Plus, what difference would it make if the lemon zest was in thin small pieces in the tart.  She said, "I don't want lumps in the lemon filling." Ally held her ground and insisted on following the directions which was the right decision. Look at that smooth and gorgeous filling. Perfect!

The Perfect Lemon Tarte adapted from Luscious Lemon Desserts by Lori Longbotham
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
2 tablespoons finely grated lemon zest
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
2 pinches salt
6 large eggs
1 cup fresh lemon juice (Note: Ally used 3/4, which was her call and it was a good one in my opinion. It was plenty lemony enough and I think that extra 1/4 cup would have been too much for our taste)
1/2 cup heavy (whipping cream)
Confectioner's sugar for dusting

Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Have ready an 11-inch tarte pan with removable bottom. (I used a ceramic pan w/o a removable bottom and it worked well)

Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat, add 1 tablespoon of the zest, and let stand for 5 minutes. Whisk together the flour, 1/4 cup of granulated sugar, and a pinch of salt in a medium bowl. Pour in the butter mixture in a fine stream, stirring with a fork, and continue stirring until the dough begins to come together when a small bit is pressed between your fingertips. Spread the dough evenly up the side and into the bottom. Bake for 20 minutes, or until the crust is light golden brown. Let it cool on a wire rack while making the filing.

Process the remaining 1 cup of granulated sugar and the remaining 1 tablespoon of zest in a food processor until the zest in finely ground.

Whisk together the eggs, the sugar and zest mixture, the lemon juice, and another pinch of salt in a medium bowl until smooth.

Beat the cream with an electric mixer on medium-high speed in a medium bowl just until it forms soft peaks. Whisk the cream into the egg mixture just until blended.

Place a baking sheet in the oven, place the tarte pan on the baking sheet, and pour the filling into the still warm crust. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the filling is just set in the center. Let the pie cool on a wire wrack.

Just before serving, generously sift confectioners' sugar over the tart. Cut into wedges and serve.
Note: After pre-baking the crust, look for any cracks that the filling could seep through. Make a paste with about 1 teaspoon of flour and 1/2 teaspoon water, and smear it over the cracks with your fingers to seal them. This recipe uses approximately 4 lemons.

So we packed up this beauty and brought it to my sister's for Easter dinner. Everyone was impressed with the presentation, and even more so when they had their first bite. It was a tender crust filled with the perfect lemon filling.  Just the right amount of lemon to give it a pleasant, yet not an overly tart finish. I think Ally made a good call omitting 1/4 cup of the lemon juice, and I love that she questioned the recipe when she intuitively sensed that it might be too much for our taste. That's a great quality to have when learning to cook.

Bravo, Ally! xo

 Ally and her Dad on Easter Sunday

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Maria's Grilled Leg of Lamb for Easter

Maria took care of my daughter when she was a baby, and she taught me a few things about Greek olive oil and lamb. She comes from Kalamata and still has family back in Greece who tend and harvest the family olive trees. When she visits she ships back large tins of this amazing olive oil,  and I've been the lucky recipient of a few of them over the years. Before Maria came into our lives I thought the Italians produced the world's best oil, but after tasting her family stash I handed the crown over to the Greeks. She explained that a lot of olive oil has a slightly harsh aftertaste which leaves a bit of a burn in your throat after you swallow it. Not hers, it was like pure velvet going down and not a trace of bitterness. Definitely the most delicious that I've ever tasted. When Easter came along she showed me how she cut and marinated a leg of lamb in the Greek tradition, and the olive oil was a key ingredient.

Maria's Grilled Easter Lamb
One Leg of Lamb
4-6 Lemons
2 Stalks Fresh Rosemary
6-8 Cloves of Garlic (sliced)
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper

Cut the meat off the bone by slicing into the bone, then carefully cutting if off in big pieces. Trim away any large pieces of fat, but not all of it as it adds flavor.

Then cut each half into smaller pieces by following the natural separation in the meat. Now take those pieces and cut into strips that are about 4-5 inches long by 1 1/2 inches wide.

Place the lamb in a large pan to marinate. Coat with extra virgin olive oil, preferably Greek. I use Ariston which I purchase locally at Pain D'Avignon Bakery in Hyannis. Add the sliced garlic, rosemary (which has been stripped off the stalk), juice from the lemons and salt and pepper. Mix well.  Leave it to sit on the counter (the lemon acts as a preservative, so no need to worry about spoilage) and turn occasionally. Let it marinate for at least 4 hours. Grill over medium heat for about 8-10 minutes for medium rare, or a bit longer if you prefer.

Allow the cooked lamb to rest for a few minutes before serving. Accompanied with  roasted vegetables and a nice green salad, it's a perfect springtime meal. Enjoy!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Haddock Cooked in Cast Iron

Lately I've been cooking fish in my cast iron pan and just loving the result. You can start a dish on the stove then finish it in the oven, or under the broiler. Cast iron has been a tried and true vessel for cooking fish for years. It works beautifully for pan frying, too, which is how a lot of Cape Codders like to prepare it.

For tonight's haddock I sauteed thinly sliced Vidalia onions in olive oil for 5-6 minutes over high heat. Just when they start to brown add 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar, 1 tbsp tamari sauce and 1 tbsp mirin. Allow to cook for another few minutes. Turn off the heat and lay your haddock filets over the onion, then sprinkle with fresh chopped parsley, 8-10 sliced cherry tomatoes and a generous sprinkle of Victoria Taylor's Toasted Sesame Ginger Seasoning. Squeeze the juice of one small lemon over the fish. When you're ready to serve, place the pan under the broiler for 5 minutes.

Roasted Red Bliss Potatoes
Boil one small bag (about 2 lbs) of red potatoes in salted water until they are just tender when you insert a fork. Drain the water, then cover the pan and shake them vigorously for a few minutes. (This is a technique used in Britain when roasting peeled potatoes, but also works with these. It creates a crusty exterior, with a smooth creamy interior) Place a tbsp of olive oil in a cast iron pan, and heat in a 400 degree oven until the oil is hot. Add the potatoes, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and mix so the potatoes are coated with oil. Bake in the oven until browned (about 25 minutes). Turn on the broiler and brown them a little bit more. Remove from the oven and sprinkle with fresh parsley and more salt and pepper, if needed. I used Himalayan salt which is one of my favorites.The parsley will also crisp up a bit from the heat of the pan, which gives it a nice nutty flavor.

Steamed Asparagus
Trim asparagus. Steam in a saute pan, in a 1/2 inch of water, for about 5 minutes. Place the cooked asparagus on a platter. Reserve a few tablespoons of the water, then add a tablespoon each of butter and olive oil. Heat for about 3 minutes. Pour over the asparagus and sprinkle with your favorite grated cheese.

I toasted a few slices of Ciabatta bread from Pain D'Avignon bakery which we used to mop up the wonderful juices from the fish pan. Such a simple and satisfying meal.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Highfield Hall: Cooking in Twos, Part III

Making Your Own Chinese Take-Out, was the title of our last class in the Cooking for Twos series up at Highfield Hall.  Preparing Chinese food, using fresh ingredients, is not as difficult as you might think and it tastes pretty good, too. It's a great menu for getting everyone involved, so grab your knife and let the slicing and dicing begin...

View our previous classes here:

The Menu:
Oven Roasted Oyster Sauce Chicken Wings
Crab Rangoon
Ginger and Sweet Potato Black Rice
Scallion Pancakes with Dipping Sauce
Five Spice Roast Duck
Chicken and Asparagus with Black Bean Sauce
Shrimp with Snap Peas and Tomato Soy Sauce
Beef and Broccoli

Cooking Chinese food, as Gail explained, requires a considerable amount of prep work followed by quick, high temperature cooking. This makes for a lot of activity in the kitchen in a short span of time, so the pre-planning was essential to turning out a successful meal. Gail had it all worked out, even down to who used the stove and when.

I did a quick demonstration of the chicken wings which we had marinated overnight, then baked off in a hot oven for about 20 minutes. The soy and oyster sauce marinade glazed up nicely. An easy preparation and always a hit.

Gail prepared a roast duck in advance, and then showed the class this easy preparation that was cooked over a can. The marinade of soy sauce, ginger, five spice powder, and a little bit of sugar was rubbed on the duck and under the skin. It added great flavor and it turned out a crispy and tender browned bird.

We had our largest group yet of 11 participants who enthusiastically manned the stations to prepare their assigned dish. Our Crab Rangoon team prepared the crab and cheese filling and stuffed the wontons. They baked them with a brush of oil, instead of deep frying, which made for a lighter and more healthy variation of this traditional favorite.

We prepared plain white rice using Gail's never fail recipe along with an interesting dish using Chinese black rice. Sweet potatoes, ginger and scallions were cooked in a wok until tender, then combined with the cooked black rice. Garnished with a drizzle of sesame oil and chopped scallions.

Using a thin sliced sirloin and broccolini, we prepared beef with broccoli in a brown sauce. This was a perfect paring with the black rice. Just these two dishes would make for a wonderful meal.

Our next stir fry was chicken, asparagus, and fermented black beans. The beans add an authentic Chinese flavor. They are also used in popular dishes such as shrimp with lobster sauce. Getting hungry yet?

Now on to the shrimp stir fry. Prepared with a tomato flavored soy sauce, the shrimp and snap peas are cooked for just a few minutes over high heat. This slightly thickened sauce, with a hint of garlic, was a nice complement to the meat dishes.

I did one final demonstration of the scallion pancakes. These are quite simple to make, and served with a soy and lemon dipping sauce they make a great appetizer.

As we gathered together to enjoy our "take-out" it was clear to me that "cooking-in" might just be a better idea. Everything tasted as good as it looked!

The Cooking in Twos series was a great experience, and one we will surely do again. The roster of classes and demonstrations up at Highfield Hall continues to grow, so take a look as I'm sure you'll find something of interest. If you'd like any of the recipes from the series email me at I'll be happy to send them along.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Highfield Hall: Cooking in Twos, Part II

Last week's Cooking in Twos class at Highfield Hall was a resounding success according to participant Robert Kluin, who sent this lovely email to Gail Blakely:

Dear Gail
I would like to thank you and your team for an amazing culinary experience last evening. You have a wonderful way of instructing. It was all such great fun and the results were delicious.
Everything about the evening: Five Stars (Michelin)!!!!!

Gail runs the always interesting, and engaging, culinary classes at the mansion up on the hill. You can read here about our first class in the three part series, and learn more about this cultural treasure that serves our Cape Cod community. For week II we cooked up some Italian favorites. Salute, to all those who shared in the preparation, and thanks to Robert for the very kind words.

Fresh and Flavorful Italian Favorites
Mozzarella en Carrozza
Grape Focaccia
Rosemary Chicken under a Brick
Roasted Asparagus
Stuffed Tomatoes
Papparadelle with Roasted Mushrooms and Truffle Oil
Gnocchi alla Romano
Orange Scented Olive Oil Cake

When nice people come together around a shared goal, a little magic happens. Perhaps all dinner parties should be organized this way. It would certainly lighten the workload for the host or hostess, and it's a great ice breaker. Just remember that all great productions need a talented director, so you may want to consult Gail for a few prep tips. Her organizational skills are superb!

After the introductions and menu overview, I demonstrated the preparation of the Orange Scented Olive Oil Cake. Karen, our lovely volunteer, prepared one earlier in the day so we enjoyed that one after dinner.  Its light and flavorful, and you could easily substitute lemons. We all agreed that fresh fruit would be a nice accompaniment, especially blueberries if you were to make a lemon version.

Our 'Twos' eagerly manned the stations to prepare their individual contribution to the meal. Nancy and Kelly Ann did a wonderful job on the roasted asparagus and baked stuffed tomato platter. It was fun watching them attend to every detail of the recipe as they turned out this lovely presentation.

Linda and Jen tackled the Mozzarella en Carrozza, sandwiches filled with fresh mozzarella, prosciutto and anchovies, that are then breaded and fried in olive oil. This mother and daughter team took it in stride when they had to recalculate their bread cutting strategy to increase the yield. They applied a few mathematic calculations and voila, problem solved. Notice their recipe covered with ingredients; a telltale sign of serious and engaged cooks. The end result was impressive.

Doug and Hazel worked together on the chicken with rosemary cooked under a brick.  Actually we used a cast iron pan and a panini press for weights, which worked just fine. Gail also showed us how to prepare a spatchcock, or butterflied chicken. This involves removing the back and breast bones so you can lay it on the grill, or in a cast iron pan to cook. She slipped lemons and rosemary under the skin, sprinkled it with salt and pepper and placed it skin side down in the hot pan. We applied a few heavy pans as weights and let it cook for about 30 minutes over medium heat. You can flip it, or do as Gail did and finish it in a 400 degree oven for another 25-30 minutes. After the chicken went into the oven, I de-glazed the pan with lemon juice, butter, white wine and fresh rosemary which we poured over the chicken pieces. Both preparations were tender, juicy, and delicious.

Robert and Betty got their hands into the pizza dough to create the Grape Focaccia. They were a little curious about the flavor combination, as were a few others, but we were all pleasantly surprised at tasting time. The hint of rosemary, with a light sprinkle of grated cheese, was a nice contrast to the sweetness of the grapes.

Ted and Priscilla prepared the Gnocchi alla Romano. This recipe comes from Gail's very first cookbook and more resembles a quick and easy version of polenta. It's pretty simple to make, and always a crowd-pleaser. This is their second class with us, and as new residents of Falmouth they thought it would be a nice way to meet people. I noticed they were exchanging contract information with Karen, so it appears to have worked out well. The dish worked out well. too. This crowd was definitely pleased. 

I finished up with a demonstration of the Papparadelle with Roasted Mushrooms and Truffle Oil. Gail roasted the mushrooms (shittake, cremini and white) earlier, and left them to sit at room temperature so their flavor intensified . As the pasta cooked, I prepared the truffle sauce, then added the mushrooms, pasta and a little bit of the pasta water. It was the perfect side dish for both chicken preparations.

As we all sat down to enjoy the fruits of our collective labor, I was again touched by the warm and friendly conversation, the laughter, and the sheer joy that comes from sharing a well cooked meal. It's what motivates me to cook, to want to teach others, and to continue learning. Take a look, maybe there's something you'd like to learn about in one of the classes up on the hill. Buon Appetito!