October 2010

Lemon Meringue Pie Obsession

A few days ago, I indulged in once again, my bizarre obsession with baking pies — in this case, a lemon meringue pie.

To begin, I introduce you to a lemon tree that grows in the backyard of my childhood house. Lemons simply explode out of this tree during the warm sunny months:

Aren’t they nice? I used the juice from these lemons for my pie, which by the way, I took to a potluck this past weekend (HOLLA!). While it tasted fine, I have a few words to say about meringue. I’ve made four lemon meringue pies by now and I’d say only one out of those four were truly successful. Here’s a photo of the winner here:

Isn’t it a beauty? Most recently however, I baked this little guy:

Not sure if ugly florescent kitchen lighting is what’s making this pie look less appealing but I could definitely tell it’s not as chipper as Pie Number 1. The meringue seems off, it isn’t as airy as I’d hoped, nor is there enough of it — ideally, the meringue should be piled luxuriously sky-high. It really could have used that extra egg white that I skipped out on. Meringues rarely turn out the same as the last one…at least in my experience.

Also, this photo doesn’t show it but later on, the meringue underwent a serious case of “weepage,” in which the topping began to seep little dots of sugary syrup. It’s really very ugly but my friends who sampled the pie didn’t really seem to think so, or at least I hope not! I’ve researched cookbooks on how to avoid a weeping meringue but everyone seemed as baffled about it as I am. It may have something to do with how much cream of tartar you use while beating the egg whites. Or something or other.

Wow! I sure do have a lot to say about this subject! But I ain’t gonna lie, baking a lemon meringue pie out of scratch isn’t easy. I’m not going to even sugar-coat it for you — it’s arduous. Not only do you have to roll out a nice sturdy crust to avoid filling-leakage, you have to then whisk together the hot filling and soon after, beat egg whites for the meringue — all in a wild, multitasking frenzy. The whole affair is quite stressful, I assure you. This is why there are so few photos of the process. The rolled-out dough and the finished product. I was not going to stop my work flow and take photos of the 10-plus steps in-between.

In fact, the more I think about it, using whipped cream as a substitute for the meringue sounds like a fantastic idea. I’m not a huge fan of meringue anyway!

Despite it all, I do take joy out of laboring over a pie. I get an immense feeling of accomplishment upon taking the pie out of the oven…observing its level of success…SLICING it with a knife…taking a deep breath during this moment of truth…inspecting the insides…and finally, tasting (and approving) the pie. I’d say it’s worth it.

An Evening of Chicken Thighs

Tonight has been an evening of chicken and might I say, it was wonderful.

Earlier today, I bought a six-pound package of chicken thighs at Vons for 97 cents per pound. That is a freaking deal, folks. Still, when I got to the market, I didn’t expect to have to buy over five pounds of it to get the deal. Such is usually the case. I decided it will have to be an investment. As I lugged back this enormous package of chicken, I decided to cook two things with it: A simple perfect-for-a-rainy-day chicken soup and another dish that I don’t have a name for, except that it’s cooked in Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom.

But first…I had to confront the chicken.

This was not the first time I’ve cringed while preparing raw chicken. As I peeled open the plastic cover, I had to take a deep breath and gather some courage. Some of you may already know about my deep aversion to birds. Handling their flesh kinda gets me going. I’m not going to lie, I let out a little scream a few times as I washed the thighs and trimmed away the fat. The worst part was trying to slice off a grisly piece of skin that had little prickles from what I’m guessing were traces of its feathers. FEATHERS! UGH!

Anyhow, I got through the ordeal okay. So. Half of the thighs went into a ziplock baggie and right into the freezer, while the other half got dried and ready for the pot and pan.

The first dish I made is something I learned from my dad. It may not sound very appetizing, it being simmered in a can of condensed soup, but it really is very delicious. Here’s the recipe:

Chicken cooked in Cream of Mushroom

3-5 chicken thighs, breasts or drumsticks
One can of Cream of Mushroom soup
2 carrots
1 onion
4 stalks of celery
Olive oil
Chopped garlic
Black pepper
White wine (optional)

Sear the thighs skin-side-down (or skinless, if you prefer) on hot olive oil on both sides. Once browned, remove from pan. Drain off any excess fat. Add chopped vegetables in hot grease and saute until they become soft. If you have any white wine, de-glaze the brown bits with it. Add pepper and garlic.

Pour the canned soup into the vegetables. The salt from the soup will release water from the vegetables. Add a little bit of water if you want the sauce to be thinner.

Add the chicken pieces back into the vegetables and sauce, and simmer until done — about 20 minutes.

That was the chicken dish but what I truly yearned for was chicken soup.

A recent visit to Whole Foods introduced me to their chicken rice soup, which, might I add, was one of the best chicken soups I have eaten in a long while. It was so simple and fresh, with pieces of yellow squash and peas and other wonderful things. I like soups like that — the easy, straightforward kind. This recipe mimics it.

Here’s what I did. I previously thought you’d have to boil a whole chicken to get the right result but tonight’s outcome proves otherwise. I just boiled three skinless thighs in water for about two hours or so. Add salt and pepper corns (or just pepper), one clove of smashed garlic, two stalks of celery and a sprig of parsley. I also added a slice of ginger for extra zing. Taste the broth after a couple hours and season to taste. Later, add chopped carrots, celery, onion, peas, squash, or any of your favorite vegetables. Cook longer. Once it’s cooled a bit, I like to put it in the fridge and skim the fat the next day. Remove the chicken and cut into pieces as big or small as you like. Add back to the soup.

So, it isn’t exactly the prettiest dish to be found, but soups aren’t supposed to be pretty right? At least not the ones I like: hearty and rustic!