Friday, January 29, 2010

Beets, Salad, and a Lemon Tart

This is the time of year when I begin to crave sunshine, fresh air, buds on the trees, and dresses without tights.

Well, that's not going to happen, so I figured I would make a lemon tart that would give me some bright tartness, the freshness of lemons, and some sunny yellow.

As I previously mentioned, I had some leftover Meyer lemons, and I was beginning to worry that they would go to waste. Also, I was on call and therefore couldn't do anything cool like drinking wine, so I figured I'd bake.

This is what my brother Garrett said about being on call: "It's like walking around with a metal briefcase handcuffed to your wrist. Makes you feel important and awesome, until someone saws your arm off to get it." That pretty much sums it up. Before I was actually a nurse, I used to think that being on call seemed rather cool and glamorous. What was I thinking? It sucks.

Anyway, the 10x10 cookbooks have several tasty lemon desserts within their covers, but I had had my eye on this one for a while, because I like the way egg whites are folded in at the end. More on that later, though.

Mario Batali says, "I love the warm glow this gives me, both in the making and the eating." Yeah, I could go for some warm glow right now.

So I made the pastry dough by toasting (without burning!) almonds, grinding them up, and combining them with flour and sugar.

For some reason, my dough was way too dry, so I added some olive oil. Why olive oil, you ask? I was inspired by the Epicurious recipe for a Lemon Curd Tart With Olive Oil, because it's one of the most amazing things I've ever eaten. My uncle almost had a heart attack over it.

So the disks of dough went into the fridge to rest for a while. Okay, so it's supposed to make one disk of dough, but there was just too much. Something's fishy here...

The three lemons were then juiced.

These are not bleach stains. They are what happened to my cheapo Target shirt when it made contact with the lemon juice. That's okay, though, because I only wear this shirt around the house, for this very reason.

After I messed up my shirt, some egg yolks were beaten with some sugar until they reached the ribbon stage. He didn't say that, but that's what he meant.

The lemon zest and juice were added to this mixture, and placed in a double boiler. Making lemon curd requires that you stir this stuff constantly for 15-20 minutes. Should you fail to do this, you might curdle your curd, which I of course have done in the past. It's sometimes fixable, but it can be nasty.

So just to be careful, I pulled a stool up to the stove and planted myself on it so that I wouldn't get distracted, wander away, and curdle the curd.

It's a lot like when I worked in a restaurant that required that the servers make the whipped cream and plate the desserts. It was totally stupid, but that's a different story. Well, I liked to make the whipped cream, and I would put the cream in the industrial stand mixer, get bored just when I should have been paying attention, wander off, and come back to butter. Eventually, I was not allowed to make the whipped cream.

So when Nick saw this setup, he initially made fun of me, but when I explained what I was doing, he said, "Oh. I would do that, too, then."

Before I did the double boiler part, though, I pressed the tart dough into the tart pan. 
Mario tells you to roll out the dough, but I figure that part of the fun of making a tart crust as opposed to a more tasty pie crust is that you don't usually have to do any dough rolling, as the dough is too crumbly, it works just fine to press it into the pan, and rolling vs. pressing will not effect the final presentation.

The tart dough was initially covered with aluminum foil, which was in turn covered with beans in order to prevent the crust from puffing.

After 10 minutes, I was required to remove the bean and foil contraption. Have you ever tried to do this? It's not easy, people. And if those beans fall all over the inside of your hot oven, it really sucks. Luckily, I managed not to make a mess.

Five minutes later, when the tart crust was supposed to come out, I noted that while I would have liked the bottom to be a bit more browned, the edges were burning. I knew 450 was too high, Mario. I was too lazy to make a foil rim at this point, so I'll just hope that the dough isn't undercooked, because that's gross.

So at this point the egg whites that had been separated from their yolks were beat into stiff peaks.

The stand mixer is wonderful for tasks like this, but I unfortunately bent my whisk attachment on some really hard brown sugar while making Christmas cookies this past year. It was just one more thing in a long line of things I broke that week, including my car and the Christmas tree, and it prompted Hunter to text me this: " You should just sit down for a week. Think of what you've done. Those mojo faeries are really shittin' the juju beans of suck." I really was tempted to have myself placed in a medically-induced come until I stopped being a moron, but I persevered.

But that means that when I use the stand mixer now, it makes a horrible, head-hurting noise. I'm extremely sensitive to sound, but even Nick and Hunter will tell you that the stand mixer now makes a very unpleasant noise.

So when the egg whites had reached the required degree of stiffness, I breathed a big sigh of relief.

The egg whites were then folded into the lemon curd and poured into the crust.

As I had mentioned, this is the part of this recipe that had intrigued me.

The rest of this recipe is rather standard, but I had never seen a tart recipe that called for beaten egg whites to be folded into the rest of the filling.

I figured it had the potential to be fluffy and airy, or it could be spongy and chewy. Obviously, I was hoping for light and airy.

The verdict? Definitely light and airy. It's a lot like eating a very tart, lemon-flavored meringue on a crisp cookie crust.

I got what I was going for with the tartness of the lemons, which Nick liked. He and I agreed that it's a refreshing change from the gelatinous consistency of your average lemon tart. Not that there's anything wrong with that consistency; this is just more refreshing.

Speaking of refreshing lemon desserts, I highly recommend the Lemon Pudding Cake, also from Epicurious. It's very inexpensive, very quick and easy, and I'm absolutely mad for it. You make one batter, pour it all in to a souffle dish, and the finished product is like a very smooth, light lemon pudding topped with a light meringue. Get it? One batter, two textures. It's like magic, and the taste is like a distilled lemon meringue pie.

Do you see that huge missing piece? I would really love to tell you that Nick helped me with that, but I have to confess that I ate that whole piece. Like I said, the light filling is very refreshing but addictive in its tartness, and it's also very light, which tricks your brain into thinking that you can eat the whole tart. Anything with contrasting flavors or textures, like chocolate covered pretzels, tends to be highly addictive, and this tart works on much the same principle. That's why it's going to work with me before it does any more damage. It's a good thing I wear scrubs.

Or maybe it's not. My uncle one day came to a brilliant conclusion, which he dubbed the Hermit Crab Theory. The Hermit Crab Theory states that you will expand to fit the clothes that you are wearing. Therefore, if you wear baggy scrubs to work, like the OR scrubs that labor and delivery nurses are required to wear, you will likely begin to expand in order to fill those scrubs. Unfortunately, I have found this to be true.

So let's talk about something that does not contain a stick of butter--I had mentioned beets in the posting title. I love some roasted beets in the wintertime. I find them quite comforting yet refreshing, and I like them as part of a salad, with pasta, or with some crusty bread spread with a tangy cheese.

Most recipes will tell you that it's really easy to roast the beets, and then peel their skins off with a paper towel the way you would peel roasted peppers.

Well, that's a bunch of crap. I prefer to peel them with a vegetable peeler before they're roasted. That way, you don't have to fool with a burning hot ball of slipperiness that is actually not inclined to give up its skin.

Plus, I like the little marbled patterns that the peeler creates on the surface. Beets are so pretty.

I ate one salad that consisted of beets tossed in some commercial creme fraiche

(which is way thicker than mine, probably because I'm doing it wrong) with some lemon juice, salt and pepper, and served over baby arugula simply dressed with olive oil and pepper.

The next night, however, I made the most awesome salad ever.

Well, not really, but it was pretty good, and it was quite nice to sit by the fire and eat it with my fingers (everything is better when eaten with the fingers).

To make the salad, I made a large julienne of some beets, sprinkled them with salt, pepper and lemon juice, and put a dollop of creme fraiche on the side. Next to this was a simply dressed bed of baby arugula topped with finely shaved shallots, lemon juice, and julienned prosciutto.

All of the flavors were just perfect together. The tangy creme fraiche perfectly complimented the earthy sweetness of the beets, and the peppery, bitter arugula played well with the sweet shallots and salty depth of the prosciutto. I have to confess that I don't always love raw (I know that it's cured and therefore not raw, but you know what I mean) prosciutto, despite the Italian in me. In fact, it's probably downright blasphemous to say that. The prosciutto with the arugula, however, was absolutely perfect. That's what I mean about trying things until you find a way to like them. I figure that just about anything can be delicious when it's in the right context.

You may have noticed the piece of cheese in the background. I made the mistake of going to Whole Foods while hungry the other day. But it turns out it wasn't a mistake, because it made me get the best cheese EVER.

Actually, that title will probably always go to Parmesan Reggiano, but this cheese rocks. It's a goat cheese, but very mild for a goat cheese. It's more creamy and less dry than you would usually expect from a goat cheese, and its subtle flavor reminds me of some kind of cheese that I had in Europe forever ago. Not that that's a very helpful descriptor, but I guess you could say that it tastes like a real cheese, as opposed to the overly pasteurized stuff that you frequently get in the States.

The rind is covered in rosemary, but it's not the kind of rosemary that makes you feel like you're trying to eat a pine tree, but it's getting stuck in your teeth. No, this is the kind of romsemary that makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

Interestingly, this cheese is not so good with my usual crackers. You might notice that there's a box of Kashi crackers in the background of almost every picture. I'm madly in love with them, and eat them with most cheeses, but this cheese only really shone with a baguette. It was also yummy when I licked it off my finger, and I don't always enjoy cheese without a starch vehicle. It's just that good.

The cheese, by the way, is called Brin D' Amour a.k.a. Fleur du Maquis. I have no idea how to pronounce that because I really suck with the whole French thing, so I'll just call it Awesome.

Lemon Tart
(From Molto Italiano)
  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup ground toasted almonds
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1 large egg
  • Pinch of salt
  • 3 lemons
  • 4 large eggs, separated
  • 3/4 cup sugar
To make the pastry, toss together the flour, almonds, and sugar in a medium bowl. Cut in the butter until the mixture is the consistency of fine bread crumbs. Add the egg and salt and mix well, kneading gently. (I did all of this in the food processor). Form the pastry into a disk, wrap it in plastic wrap, and refrigerate while you make the filling.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Butter a 9-inch fluted tart pan.

Grate the zest of 2 of the lemons. Squeeze the juice from all 3 lemons.

In a large bowl, beat the egg yolks and sugar with an electric mixer until very thick and pale. Beat in the lemon zest and juice. Transfer to the top of a double boiler, set over barely simmering water, and cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture becomes thick, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool slightly.

Roll out the dough between two sheets of parchment paper into an 11-inch circle. Fit it into the tart pan and trim the excess dough. Prick the bottom of the dough all over with a fork, line with foil, and fill with dried beans, rice, or pie weights to keep the bottom from puffing. Bake for 10 minutes, then remove the foil and beans, and cook for an additional 5 minutes, or until pale golden brown.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, beat the egg whites until they hold very stiff peaks. Fold them into the cooled lemon mixture.

Remove the tart shell from the oven and reduce the temperature to 325 degrees. Spread the lemon filling evenly in the tart shell. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes, until the filling is thoroughly set. Cool completely on a rack.

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