Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Frozen Assets and Lemon Pie

With taxes done and over with, and the possibility of a really great sailing trip coming up in the next couple of months, we're pretty much on financial lockdown around here at Chez Robertson. What that means for you is a lot more posts about cooking at home, and fewer posts about us going out - at least for a little while. Luckily, this situation coincides with the arrival of some of my very favorite ingredients in the markets - fava beans, english peas and strawberries among them - and the arrival of a bumper crop of lemons on our tree.
Our Lemon Tree

One of the branches broke off the tree this week so I suddenly had a bucketful of lemons that needed to be used. I squeezed them all on Saturday, and stashed the pitcherful of juice in the fridge. (James: "Wow, this lemonade is really tart!") The funny thing about most lemon recipes is that they generally don't call for that much lemon juice. Still - with so many around, making something with them just seemed like the right thing to do.

On Saturday we were invited over our friends Jora and Bryan's house for dinner - and I was supposed to bring dessert. It was over 90 degrees - so nobody was doing any baking. I had forgotten to freeze the ice cream maker, which meant no homemade ice cream, so I started researching icebox pies and frozen desserts. Turns out Lemon Icebox Pie is loaded with sweetened condensed milk, and those chiffon pies are loaded with gelatin - neither of which sounded very good to me. Then I remembered a dessert we had at Lucques last summer, a semifreddo with fruit that tasted like frozen whipped cream with candied orange zest and pistachios. Bingo.

There are a lot of different ways to make semifreddo as it turns out - but the defining characteristic seems to be whipped cream either used as a base, or folded into a base - then frozen, usually in a loaf form - often with amaretti cookies or some type of cookie mixed in. I happened to have a container of gingersnaps on hand, and liked the idea of making a frozen pie. I also liked the sound of the recipes that folded meringue into the mixture along with the whipped cream - I thought it might make the mixture less icy, and I think it did.
coffee ice cream sundae

By Saturday afternoon, I had the recipe worked out - but no time to make it. So instead, I took ice cream. Jora made a pot of phenomenal Spaghetti con Vongole and afterwards, we made sundaes with Double Rainbow coffee ice cream (the best in existence except perhaps Gelato Vero's) - topped with sweetened espresso, whipped cream and crushed meringues - with biscotti on the side. I also brought vanilla with strawberries and limoncello - in case anyone (besides James) didn't like coffee desserts - 'cause some people are weird like that.

On Sunday, I finally had the chance to make the pie. We had it after dinner on Sunday night, with my copycat version of the Hungry Cat's Pug Burgers. Oh my gah. But we'll get to that in a minute.

I started with a lemon ice cream base from this recipe, cutting down the sugar to accommodate the meringue, and upping the lemon a little to compensate for the dilution with the meringue and whipped cream. (To make this into ice cream - you'd just have to stir in another cup of half and half or cream and put it in the ice cream maker.) I then made a nice sticky marshmallowy meringue with three egg whites and 3/4 of a cup of sugar, and whisked that into the custard (it's too sticky to fold in, truly - and it needs to be incorporated fully) - then, I whipped a cup of cream (no sugar, since the meringue is so sweet) and folded that into the mixture. After I baked my pie shell (in a 10 inch Pyrex pie pan) I put it in the freezer to cool - then poured in the lemon mixture - and away into the freezer it went. I also had some of those Trader Joes meringue cookies still on hand from the sundaes the night before - so I crushed some and sprinkled them over the top before freezing.

The pie froze in about four to five hours - it just has to be completely flat, which is kind of tricky. I was really happy with the fact that it didn't set up rock hard, you can cut it straight from the freezer. The sharp lemon flavor comes through despite the richness of the cream. If I do say so myself, this one's a keeper.
Pug Burger at The Hungry Cat

Then there were the burgers - oh man, the burgers. I haven't tried making these at home since our dinner at the Hungry Cat last summer, but now I don't know if I can ever make another kind of burger again. I was inspired by the blocks of Organic Ground Beef they are now selling at Trader Joes. The blocks are one pound each. Can you guess how many burgers a block made? Anybody?

Two. That tells you all you need to know right there. The good news is this burger requires absolutely no accompaniments. Anything with it would be overkill - no fries, no salad - the restaurant serves it with onion rings and even those are superflous. The meat and its garnishes are so over the top it's all one can rightly absorb by itself.

I divided the beef block into two big thick patties - just over one inch thick and about four inches around and griddled them in a saute pan in a mixture of butter and olive oil until they were just this side of bloody - then put them on toasted focaccia buns with blue cheese, Niman Ranch Bacon, sliced avocado, sliced tomato, red onion and green leaf lettuce. There's something about the combo of the blue cheese, bacon and avocado - and with the rich rare beef and the juices running all over the place? Wow. Just, wow.
Lemon Semifreddo Pie

Lemon Semifreddo Pie in a Gingersnap Crust

For the crust:
3 cups of gingersnaps
2 Tablespoons of butter, melted

For the lemon custard:
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh lemon zest, divided
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
3/4 cup sugar
3 large eggs
1 cup half and half

For the meringue:
3 egg whites
3/4 cup sugar

3/4 cup of whipping cream

3-4 storebought meringues, crushed

blackberries, macerated in lemon juice and sugar

For the crust:
Preheat the oven to 275. Put the gingersnaps in a food processor and process into fine crumbs. Add the melted butter and blend together - press into a 10 inch glass pie plate. Bake at 275 for about 15 minutes, until firm.

For the pie:
In a medium non-reactive saucepan, whisk together 1 Tablespoon of the zest, the 1/2 cup of lemon juice, the sugar, and the eggs. Whisk in the half-and-half, and cook the mixture over moderately high heat, whisking constantly, until it coats the back of a wooden spoon and starts to thicken. Strain the custard through a fine sieve into a bowl, pressing hard on the zest. Whisk in the remaining tablespoon of lemon zest and chill the mixture, covered with plastic wrap, until cold (or use an ice bath to chill it down.)

Place the three egg whites in a stand mixer fitted with the whisk, and beat until foamy. Gradually add the 3/4 cup of sugar and beat until the mixture is stiff and glossy. Gently whisk into the cooled custard.

Add the whipping cream to the mixer and beat just past the soft peak stage - it shouldn't be too stiff, but should have plenty of body. Gently fold the whipped cream into the custard mixture.

Pour the custard mixture into the gingersnap crust, and top with crushed meringues. Freeze until firm - about four hours (making sure it's completely level.) Serve with blackberries.