Wednesday, June 9, 2010

A lemony meal

Lemons are the best! And not just for lemonade. I use lemons all the time.

If I'm low on vinegar, I wash raw chicken in lemon juice. It cleans it quite nicely.

I always squeeze lemon on fish -- whether broiled or fried. And of course, how could you eat a plate of fried calamari without a good squeeze of it?

Lemons are great for making quick, tasty salad dressing. Drizzle olive oil over your salad. Add a generous squeeze of lemon juice, a sprinkle of garlic powder and another sprinkle of salt, pepper and thyme. Mix it up and you have a darned good dressing. Many restaurants don't do much more than that! I have to give credit where credit is due -- Mary Ann Thompson turned me on to this simple recipe.

Fresh squeezed lemon does wonders in bringing out natural flavors. I could not imagine eating a bowl of soup made with chicken stock without squeezing lemon juice on it. It softens the saltiness and strengthens the chickeny taste. Think of the wonderful Greek soup, avgolemono. When I was a post-doctoral fellow at Boston University, there was a Greek place near my office. People would go in and order heroes and pizza. My eyes immediately honed in on the avgolemono. It was delicious - a perfect blend of salt and tang, chicken and lemon. The guy who owned the place told me that not many people asked for it. "Why?? It's so delicious." "They don't know any better," was his response. What a pity.

Here's a nice recipe for avgolemono. Add cubed chicken to make it heartier. Halve it to serve 5 people.



2 cups milk
2 tablespoons cornstarch
6 egg yolks, beaten
2 quarts chicken stock
1/2 cup long grain rice
1/4 cup butter
chopped parsley
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice (or more to taste)
1 lemon, rind of, grated
salt and pepper


Stir the milk and cornstarch together and beat in the egg yolks. Set aside.
Bring the stock to boil in a 4 quart soup pot and add the rice. Cook, covered, until the rice is puffy and tender, about 25 min.
Remove the soup from heat, add milk and egg mixture, stirring carefully.
Continue to cook for a moment until all thickens.
Remove from the heat again and add the butter, chopped parsley, lemon juice,
and finely grated lemon peel. Note: the amount of lemon juice in this recipe
has been halved from its original 1 cup amount.


I know, I know - what about dessert? There's nothing like a good lemon merengue pie. People often get nervous about the merengue. There are 2 keys to a successful merengue. First, beat the egg whites in a copper or metal bowl that is perfectly clean and completely dry. Contact between the egg whites and the metal helps increase the volume of the egg whites. Merengues are all about air! Any residue of oil or water will keep the egg whites from fluffing. Second, make sure that you beat the egg whites properly -- until still peaks form. If you turn the bowl upside down, the egg whites should stay in the bowl. If you don't beat them property, then you're in trouble. The merengue won't hold up. Some recipes are more helpful than others. The helpful ones tell you to add a pinch or so of cream of tartar. The unhelpful ones leave this important tip out. Third, make sure the oven is preheated before you put the pie in. Otherwise, the merengue will not set properly.

This is a recipe for lemon merengue pie from Bon Appetit magazine. (In a future blog, I'll talk about the challenges and joys of homemade pie crust.)

Lemon Merengue Pie
For crust

1 cup all purpose flour
2/3 cup finely chopped pecans
1/3 cup cake flour
3 tablespoons (packed) golden brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
3 tablespoons chilled vegetable shortening, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
3 tablespoons (about) ice water

For filling and topping

1 3/4 cups plus 1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup cornstarch
1 1/2 cups water
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
5 large eggs, separated
2 tablespoons grated lemon peel

1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar


Make crust:
Mix first 5 ingredients in large bowl; add butter and shortening. Using electric mixer, beat at low speed until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add 2 tablespoons ice water. Beat until dough holds together, adding more water by 1/2 tablespoonfuls if dry. Gather dough into ball; flatten into disk. Wrap disk in waxed paper and chill until firm enough to roll, at least 1 hour and up to 1 day.

Roll out dough between sheets of waxed paper to 12-inch round. Peel off top sheet of paper. Invert dough into 9-inch-diameter glass pie dish; peel off paper. Press dough gently into dish. Trim overhang to 3/4 inch; turn under and crimp edge decoratively. Freeze crust until firm, about 30 minutes.

Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 375°F. Line crust with foil; fill with dried beans or pie weights. Bake crust until golden at edge, about 15 minutes. Remove foil and beans; continue to bake until crust is pale golden, piercing with fork if crust bubbles, about 12 minutes. Cool completely on rack.

Reduce oven temperature to 325°F.

Make filling and topping:
Whisk 1 3/4 cups sugar and 1/3 cup cornstarch in heavy medium saucepan to blend. Gradually add 1 1/2 cups water and lemon juice, whisking until cornstarch dissolves and mixture is smooth. Add yolks and peel; whisk to blend. Cook over medium-high heat until filling thickens and boils, whisking constantly, about 8 minutes. Pour into prepared crust.

Using electric mixer, beat whites and cream of tartar in large bowl until soft peaks form. Gradually add remaining 1/3 cup sugar, beating until stiff and shiny. Mound meringue atop warm lemon filling, spreading to seal to crust at edges.

Bake pie until meringue is golden, about 20 minutes. Cool pie 1 hour. Refrigerate up to 6 hours; serve cold.

Ok, you have a large, fresh salad with a lemon-based salad dressing for the starter. A huge bowl of hearty avgolemono (garnished with fresh sprigs of parsley) is your main course, served with a side of crusty garlic bread. And a delicious lemon merengue pie is your dessert. Enjoy!

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