Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Sunshine Lemon Tart

Days like yesterday where the weather is too cold for Texas and no sunshine in sight, all I wanted to do was eat and be cozy.  These dreary days can take a toll on my cheeriness and happy all the time attitude, so I look for pick me ups to get me back to a good place!  If there is no sunshine outside, I'll bring it inside my kitchen.  I got a craving for something lemon-y and a desire to make something I have never attempted...a lemon tart.

This lemon tart was the perfect dessert!  A bright, sweet, and tart creamy lemon filling over a shortbread crust warmed with cardamom to give it that "winter" feel.  I use cardamom whenever I can!  I put it in my chai while it boils, in my Pakistani version of coffee, and any dessert that needs a bit of this warm spice. The tart is then topped off with a dollop of fresh whipped vanilla cream and eaten happily in bed watching TV and snuggling.

Sunshine Lemon Tart

Shortbread Crust:

1 cup all-purpose flour, unbleached
1/2 cup sifted powdered sugar
1 tbs ground cardamom
1/8 tsp salt
1/2 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into chunks

Lemon Filling:

6 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup white sugar
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice, about 3 small lemons
2 large eggs
1 tbs grated lemon zest

Vanilla Whipped Cream:

1 cup heavy cream, cold
2 tbs powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla

Shortbread Crust:

Prepare a 8"-9" tart pan, pie pan, or any pan (I used a 9" cake pan) with vegetable oil or spray.

Combine flour, powdered sugar, ground cardamom, and salt.  Add butter and work in the butter until the crust begins to form large chunks and comes together. You can use a food processor for this, however, since ours is on the fritz, I just used my fingers to work the butter into the flour.

Add the crust into your pan and evenly press it into pan so it reaches the edges and up the sides a bit. You can smooth out the crust with the back of a spoon.  Pierce the bottom of the crust with a fork, cover the pan and place in the freezer to set for 15 minutes.  This will prevent puffing of the crust and the crust from shrinking.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees, place the pan on top of a baking sheet and bake 15 minutes until the crust is a golden brown. Remove from oven and place on a wire rack to cool.

Decrease the oven temperature to 350 degrees.

Lemon Filling:

In a blender, process the cream cheese until smooth.  Add the sugar and process until incorporated.  Add the eggs and process until combined.  Add the lemon juice and lemon zest and process until well blended and smooth.

Pour filling into the pre-baked crust and bake 25-30 minutes.  Transfer the tart to a wire rack and let cool. Cover and refrigerate until well set chilled, at least an hour.

Vanilla Whipped Cream:

Place your mixing bowl and whisk in the freezer for about 15 minutes.  Pour in the whipping cream and powdered sugar and whip on high speed until almost stiff.  Add vanilla and whip until stiff peaks are formed. Spread on tart, or add a dollop to individual slices and store the rest in a sealed container in the fridge.

Slice a huge slice for yourself, add a dollop of cream, and garnish with a thin slice of lemon.  ENJOY!

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Baked Fish and Chips

Hope all of you are keeping warm in this polar vortex!  Houston has been warm one day, ice day the next. Story of Houstonian's lives...all we can do is just adapt daily and hope that one of those days will at least give us a good hair day!

A couple times of year I get intense cravings for fish and chips.  The beer battered fried goodness is perfect with a splash of malt vinegar, good tartar sauce, and a generous helping of chips.  My mouth waters even as I wrote that sentence. Although these fried fishies are crazy delicious, they are not so kind to my insides (or outsides).

Which brings me to this meal of BAKED fish and chips.  No deep frying, no smelly oil permeating through your home, and no guilt.  These fish are baked with a crispy panko coating served alongside some baked chips that are simply tossed in olive and sea salt. A side of crispy veggies and tangy sweet tartar sauce, you have a delicious and healthy meal that can't be found in some British pub!

I used cod, since that was what was on sale at the grocers and it was wild caught from the USofA.  The key to good fish and chips is a firm white fish, so use cod, haddock, halibut, flounder, or even tilapia.  Whatever you use, make sure it's fresh and preferably wild caught and not farm raised.

Baked Chips:
Potatoes tossed w/ olive oil, herbs, & sea salt

1 1/2 lbs small red potatoes
1 tbs. olive oil
fresh herbs (whatever strikes your fancy)
sea salt

Slice potatoes very thin and soak in warm water for 5 minutes.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Drain potatoes and dry THOROUGHLY!  This is important for crispy chips. Toss the potatoes with olive oil, herbs, and as much sea salt as you wish.  Spread the potatoes out in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet and place on the top rack in the oven. Bake for 20 minutes.

As the chips are baking, work on your fish.

Seasoned cod fillets
Baked Panko Crusted Fish and Tartar Sauce:

1 1/2 lbs firm, white fish
2 cups panko breadcrumbs
1 1/2 cups flour
1 tbs chili powder
1 tbs ground black pepper
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp sea salt
2 eggs
sea salt
coarse black pepper
1/2 cup mayo with olive oil
2 sweet gherkins, chopped
1 tbs chopped dill
hot sauce
zest of one lemon
juice of 1/2 lemon
sea salt
coarse black pepper

Spread panko crumbs onto another rimmed baking sheet and pop into the oven on the bottom rack.  Toast for 5 minutes until golden brown.

Meanwhile, rinse and dry your fish and cut into appropriate sizes.  Season with salt and pepper on both sides of the fish.

Now let's prepare your assembly line!  Take out your panko crumbs and place into a deep dish.  Prepare the flour mixture by combining the flour with the chili powder, black pepper, garlic powder, and sea salt. Beat the eggs in a separate dish. Prepare a baking sheet with a layer of parchment paper and a spray of oil for your fish.

The order for the fish will be to cover in flour, dip in egg, cover in panko crumbs.  Place on prepared baking sheet.

BACK TO THE CHIPS:  Reduce oven heat to 350, flip the chips and place this baking sheet on the bottom rack.  Keep an eye on the chips and bake until they have browned and crisped up.

Place fish on the top rack and bake until the fish are cooked through, about 20 minutes.

As the fish bake, prepare your tartar sauce.  Combine the mayo with the chopped sweet gherkins, dill, a few splashes of hot sauce, lemon zest, and juice of half a lemon. Add salt and pepper to taste.  Stir until everything is contributed and place in fridge until ready to use.  Soooo much tastier than that bottle of mediocrity you find at the grocery store!

Tartar sauce

Take out the crispy fish and chips and serve with slices of lemon, tartar sauce, and some crisp vegetables.  ENJOY!!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Fried Apple Hand Pies

Happy National Pie Day friends!!! In celebration I bring you a fried hand pie recipe!

I LOVE pie. My favorite pie is apple.  It's comforting, warm, flaky, spiced, and perfect with a scoop of ice cream of course!  These hand pies remind me of the pies we used to ask my mom to buy from the grocery store that were packaged in wax paper and tasted the best when warmed up in the microwave for 30 seconds.  You know what I'm talking about right?  There was apple, cherry, chocolate, pineapple, etc.  I haven't had one of those probably since high school and now that I stay away from processed food as much as possible, I figured I can make my own version!

As mentioned in a previous post, I find making my own pie crust very intimidating and have never attempted, so naturally I thought I would maybe just go buy a pie crust and make these little pies for dessert.  But I left work, the temperature had dropped like 20 degrees and there was that super annoying misty rain and I just wanted to go home.  No stops.  So, finally, I ended up attempting pie crust from scratch, and for a first try, I think it went well!  Please don't let making pie crust be intimidating!  It was actually quite easy and I thought fried up well for this recipe.  If I can do it, you can do it.

Feel free to change up the filling as you wish!  As I said, apple is my personal favorite, but you can do cherry, peach, strawberry, whatever your heart desires!  I'm sure savory fillings would be great and handy for a lunch or breakfast on the go.

I hope that you try this recipe and it brings with it warm feelings of childhood.

Pie Crust:

3 cups all-purpose flour
3 tbs. sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 cup butter, cold
2 eggs, beaten in separate bowls
1 cup buttermilk

Combine flour, sugar, and salt.  Cut butter into small pieces and add to the flour mixture.  Work the butter into the flour with your hands until the flour is coarse and resembles sand. Add 1 beaten egg and stir gently with a fork.  Add buttermilk and gently stir until combined and comes together into a soft dough.  Form into a ball and wrap in plastic wrap. Place in refrigerator for at least a hour.

As the pie crust sits, make the pie filling.

Apple Pie Filling: for two

1 apple, peeled and chopped
3 tbs. brown sugar
pinch of nutmeg
juice of 1/2 lemon
1/2 tsp. vanilla

In a small pot, over medium heat, toss together the apple chunks, brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and lemon juice.  Heat until the mixture boils and thickens.  Take off heat and add vanilla.

Hand Pie Assembly:

Beat the 2nd egg in a small bowl.  Take dough out of the refrigerator and pull off a 1/4 of the dough and place the rest back in the refrigerator, or freeze.  Roll out the dough on a floured surface into a thin rectangle. Take a pizza cutter or sharp knife to cut out a large rectangle and then cut the rectangle in half to make 2 thinner rectangles. Set aside the scraps so you are only left with the 2 rectangles.

Add a generous dollop of filling to the end of each rectangle leaving the edges free.  Brush on the egg around all 4 edges.  Fold over the top of each rectangle over the pie filling and to the opposite edge.  Gently press the edges down to seal the pies.  Dip a fork into some flour and press it along the edges of the pies to extra seal.

Place the pies in the refrigerator for about 15 min to set.

Heat enough oil in a pot to deep fry the pies.  Add a pinch of dough to the oil and if it immediately begins to sizzle and float to the top, the oil is ready.  Or wait until it reaches 350 degrees on a thermometer.  Carefully add one or both hand pies (depending on how much room there is in the pot) and cook until golden brown, 3-4 minutes, turning halfway.

Drain the pies on paper towels and sprinkle with lots of powdered sugar and ENJOY!