Friday, May 24, 2013

Lemon Meringue Pie


My mom has distinct tastes: she likes her wine red, her ice cream vanilla, she hates pancakes (WHAT) and she's getting into a habit of asking for birthday pie. I know, it sounds weird. Cake is celebratory. Cake is the life of the party. When you walk by a bakery window, it's cakes that dominate the displays, elaborately iced and dressed like five year old pageant contestants on TLC. But, when it's your birthday, you can cry if you want to (depending on how you feel about birthdays) and you have a divine right to fork whatever you want vigorously into your mouth WHILE crying. My mom wanted pie.

Last year, I made her a beautiful coconut cream pie, a show stoppingly good conjure that I repeated this past weekend for company we were having over. It didn't survive a full day in our fridge before disappearing. So maybe, when it's good, pie is magic. For the actual birthday pie this year, I set my sights on a different model.

This lemon meringue pie is a sashay up from the simple diner version, and a whole league away from the neon goo model you get in a grocery store. It has a sweet shortbread crust. The filling is glossy smooth as any beauty queen's best answers in the interview portion, with the tang of real lemons to make it a memorable affair. It's topped off with a towering Swiss Meringue crown. Move over, Honey Boo Boo.

"Mile High" Lemon Meringue Pie

Makes 1 9-inch pie
Adapted from Martha Stewart

Shortbread Crust


1 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup icing sugar
2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 tsp baking powder

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cream together butter and sugar until fluffy. Sift in flour and baking powder, blending together until dough is crumbly.

2. Using your fingers, press the shortbread into the pan, trying to keep the thickness as even as possible. Bake 15-20 minutes until golden brown. Set aside to cool.

Glossy Lemon Filling


1/3 cup cornstarch
1/3 cup cake flour, sifted
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/4 cups sugar
2 cups water
5 large egg yolks, lightly beaten
2 tbsp lemon zest
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
4 tbsp unsalted butter, cut into pieces

1. In a medium saucepan, sift together cornstarch, cake flour, salt and sugar. Slowly whisk in cold water, and put the mixture over medium heat. Whisking constantly, bring mixture to a boil for about 5 minutes until it gets thick.

2. Remove the pan from the heat. Bring the eggs to temperature by quickly whisking a small amount of the hot mixture into them. Then, whisk them back into the pan and cook over low heat for 4 minutes.

3. Take the pan off the heat once again, stir in the lemon zest and juice. Then, stir in the butter until incorporated. Put the mixture in a bowl to cool.

4. When the mixture is cool, spread it into the pie shell, and smooth it all out. Let it set in the fridge for at least one hour.

Swiss Meringue


7 egg whites
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 tsp salt.

1. Put egg whites, sugar and salt in a heatproof bowl over a saucepan filled with water, bringing the water to a simmer.  Whisk until the whites are warm and the sugar is dissolved.

2. Remove the bowl from the heat and whip with an electric beater (or ultra muscle power) until stiff peaks form.

3. Smooth the meringue onto the pie in a giant mound, making sure to get all of the edges. Set under the broiler on high for two minutes. (Watch it. IT WILL BURN!) Serve at room temperature, and enjoy!

I Am Jack's Step By Step Photos 

1. Blend together butter and sugar. Next, sift together flour and baking powder, and add to the butter mix, blending until crumbly. Press with even thickness into a 9 inch pie plate, crimping the edges with a fork. Bake for 15-20 minutes until golden brown. Set aside to cool.

 2. Sift together cake flour, cornstarch, sugar and salt into a medium saucepan. Slowly stream and whisk in two cups of cold water over medium heat. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly for 5 minutes, until mixture thickens.

3. Remove the pan from heat. Add a small amount of the hot mixture to the egg yolks, whisking them quickly and constantly to bring them to temperature without cooking them. Add the yolks back into the mixture-- whisk them in and cook over low heat for 5 minutes.

4.  Remove the pan from heat again. Stir in lemon juice and lemon zest. Then, stir in the butter to incorporate and melt. 

5. Set the mixture aside in a large bowl to cool. 
You can do a lot of things while you're waiting for this to happen. As usual, I went on a run, I think I did some dishes, I maybe practiced my pageant walk, but you can't prove that happened. When it's FINALLY cooled, smooth the filling into the also cooled pie crust. Pop in the fridge for at least an hour. I covered mine with plastic wrap, at the risk of scarring the poor filling for life. (It turned out okay in the end!)

6. When the filling is set and you're getting ready to serve the pie, it's time to make that meringue. Put the sugar, egg whites and salt in a heat proof boil, on a saucepan filled with water. Put it over medium heat. Whisk until the sugar dissolves and the whites are warm and frothy. This is the Swiss Meringue technique.

7. Remove the bowl from heat. Using an electric beater, whip the whites up, up, up until they hold stiff peaks.

 8. Spread and mound that glorious meringue into a mountain on top of the pie filling. ALL OF IT. Try and make it look pretty if you want to, I'm no Martha Stewart, but I can dream. This is the kind of pie that just looks pretty without too much fussing.

9. Stick this baby under your broiler on high for 2 minutes, watching it constantly until has the colour of lightly toasted marshmallow. I found this to be tough! So if you make a mistake and it gets a little burned on the top, just scrape it off and try again.

I admit this step also had me squatting in front of the open oven, rocking the heatproof mittens trying to hold the pie underneath the broiler in all of the places I thought it needed more colour. I don't know if that's dedication or madness. I DO know that it made a pretty pie.
Slice with care and serve at room temperature. Enjoy!

Sunday, May 12, 2013

An Open Letter To My Mother

Dear Mama,

Happy Mother's Day.

Hopefully as you're reading this, I'm making you a delicious breakfast that isn't pancakes. There's a chance that there's an odd bridesmaid or maybe a wayward bride-to-be sleeping somewhere in the house, and I'm hopefully kind enough to make breakfast for them too, taking care of guests, like you always taught me. (Since I'm writing this in advance of not only Mother's Day, but also the bachelorette, which you generously agreed to house, everything at this point is guesswork...)

I thought a blog post written to you here, of all places would be very fitting, because it is safe to say that without you, this site wouldn't exist. I mean obviously, I'm here because of you and our 9 sweet months of bonding time, but there's more to it than that. Without your spirit, your creative influence and your passion for food and entertaining, I don't know that I would have found my way to cooking. You've told me a few times since this blog started that I've inspired you to try some new things. Well, I'm thrilled and humbled by the fact that I can finally return the favour and start to repay you for all of the love and know-how that you instilled in me over the years.

Ever since I can remember, you've been filling my head with creative ideas, my ears with music, and my lunch box with love notes (mostly on bananas). I didn't know it at the time, but these were all gifts you were giving to me, day by day, to take with me on my journey through life. Over the years, you've watched me, and your other two daughters grow, and all the while we've watched you cook. We've watched you work from morning to evening making Thanksgiving dinners for crowds, Christmas dinners for just us, birthday cakes, party appetizers, staff meetings, your famous salads, classic "Gladiator" fare, trying new recipes, summer barbecues and then some. I even remember you cooking in the hard times, bringing muffins to your fellow teachers who were marching in the freezing rain on picket lines. I remember you whipping up a hot meal to take to a grieving neighbor who couldn't think about eating, let alone preparing something to nourish themselves in their time of loss. I hope to be just like you some day in these aspects. You inspire me.

You're always concerned about making sure the less privileged children at your school get breakfast. That the hungriest families in the community have a proper meal over the holidays. You have always understood the relationship between love, comfort, humanity, family, friendship, and food. I'm proud of you.

Mom, your heart is a kitchen, open 24 hours for all meals, a midnight snack, and then some. Any time of day that hits, you have a recipe to cure whatever's ailing. Whether you know it or not, you've taught me just the same things that you believe. I'm inheriting your kitchen wisdom, piece by piece. Dinner is not just a meal, it's a time to experiment with flavours and play with spices, as well as a time to sit and be with the people you love, family time. (Unless it's playoffs or the Olympics!) That the reason no one will ever make Babcia's perogies as well as she does is because she spits in them. To let the dressing sit for at least a day because, otherwise, it won't taste right. That leftovers are often better than the meal the day of. It's alright to have cake for breakfast on your birthday. That true wealth is a dining room full of laughing, happy people, a stocked pantry and a glass of red wine.

I learned all of this, just by watching you cook. It's no small wonder I wanted to take the hobby up for myself and open myself up to a world of kindness, experiments, colours, flavour combinations and love that I see you inhabit day in and day out. So thank you, for inspiring in me what I hope will be one of my life long loves. Thank you for teaching me. Thank you for loving me. Most of all, thank you for being my mother.


Saturday, May 4, 2013

Food Porn: What the Food Truck?

Friends, yesterday was a good day. I do mean 'good' as in, awesome things happened to me, and not 'good' as in I behaved myself and ate like a well balanced human being. I started the day off with an 8AM Skype date with my sister Jill who is overseas living in Australia. We haven't had a chance to talk, screen to screen in a few months, so I was excited to have a little chat with her, even if I had to get up earlier than usual to do it. I soothed my tired 4-hours-of-sleep self with coffee, yogurt and strawberry buttermilk cake. Yes, cake is a breakfast food. If you missed the news bulletin, you're so welcome.

After I finished the two and half  hour gab session, I had to get ready to go downtown to meet my friend Jon for lunch. I've already mentioned Jon here once before, in my post about risotto and our foodie friend shenanigans. We had been eyeballing a little French café in downtown Montreal called "Le Paris" which serves French cuisine for a little while. Finally, with Jon accepted into his university program, and my exams polished off, we had the chance to go check it out, and sample some of their fine French fare.
In true Riley style, I got the wrong directions and ended up being about 20 minutes late, which was totally alright because all the running around really worked up my appetite. It was well worth the panic. In addition to a great red wine Jon picked, we settled down to a fantastic lunch. (If you live in Montreal, I highly recommend checking it out. They have a lunch special: 2 apps, 2 entrees, dessert and coffee or tea for 24$.)

We started off with a creamy turnip soup which came with fresh baguette...

For entrées, Jon and I were also on the same page, ordering boeuf tournedos (filet mignon) mashed potatoes and vegetables on the side. The sauces were amazing, the mash, fluffy without being too heavy. For dessert there was rice pudding made with coconut milk and a pirouline, as well as a good cup of coffee. We even ate like real French people, because it took us over three hours to tuck into the three courses of the meal. (Between my indecision and our conversation, anyway.)

Part II of this adventure involves a little background. Up until recently in Montréal, it was illegal for people to vend food on the streets. Rebekah and I noticed it only because in Toronto there are people selling "street meat" everywhere, but the streets of Montreal are hot dog free. Normally, you think the less hot dogs wandering in gangs in the street, the better, but there are hungry people who disagree with you. So: only about a month ago, the law was repealed.

It just so happened that yesterday, there was a sort of food truck expo taking place at the Olympic Park, a short bus ride from my flat. Jon suggested we go check it out, so we split from Downtown to my place. I changed my shoes, and into something with more stomach room, and we picked up Rebekah, setting out as a party of three to go and stuff our faces, which is exactly what we did.

Rebekah opted for pulled pork from Pas D'Cochon Dans Mon Salon. The bun was soft and chewy. The meat was just saucy enough, with more of a sweet tomato flavour, like a chili rather than smoky with barbecue sauce. It was almost like...a pulled pork sloppy joe.
Dat face requires no further explanation.

Jon went for a buckwheat crepe with smoked salmon from Landry & Filles. It was a healthy, fresh bite loaded with flavour. The crepe was thicker, easy to hold and I could easily see myself noshing on this on a hot summer day in the park.
See Jon. See Jon nom. Nom Jon, nom!

Like an eccentric disco moth to a flame, I opted for the brightly coloured Le Super Truck and got myself some deep fried macaroni and cheese. Yes, yes you are reading that exactly right. The brain meltingly bad but oh-so-good type of food you only see on TV. Deep fried mac sticks, crunchy at first bite, then velvety and smooth on the inside.

Just when you thought this post wasn't going to get more tasty, we all started screaming and hit the Pastaga truck for ice cream sundaes. Rebekah got chocolat, Jon got noix et caramel, and I got fraises et sablés. (Shortbread cookie.) OMG.
It tasted like summer, and I couldn't have been more happy to shove pretty much all of summer into my smiling face.