Thursday, April 29, 2010

Rustic Lemon Tart

Virtually every time I see my mother-in-law, I come away from our visit with a new recipe.  This time it was her simplified version of lemon tart. I don't know about you, but I'm a little picky when it comes to lemon-flavored desserts.  Often, it's either much too strong (acidic) or the essence of lemon is overpowered by other ingredients such as sugar and butter.

What I love about this tart is that it is extremely easy to make and equally delicious.  Total number of ingredients? Five--not counting water and salt.  If you're looking for a decadent dessert, you'll want to look for something else.  This is a sweet dessert, but no overly so, and some might find it homely.  To me, its flaws are what make it so perfect. It might not look as pretty as other lemon tarts, but it's just as good if not better.

There's no fussing with this recipe.  No pre-cooking the egg mix or juggling a multitude of ingredients.  Nope, this is as simple as you can get and something that you can add to your last-minute dessert repertoire.  And if you want to cheat and use your favorite store-bought pie crust, by all means, go for it.  Alternately, feel free to use your signature pie dough recipe, if you have one.  Pie crust is so basic, but many of us have our own tweaks to turn out our favorite crust, whether it's flavor (shortening vs. butter) or texture (crispy, flaky, soft, etc. etc.), or both.

Rustic Lemon Tart

1c unbleached, all purpose flour
5T cold butter
1t salt
1t canola or vegetable oil, optional
1/2t white vinegar, optional
5-7T cold water, after 5, add more if necessary to bind the mix

2 whole eggs
1.5 whole lemons, juiced
zest from one lemon
1/4c - 1/2c granulated sugar

1.  Combine salt with flour and drop tablespoons of butter on top of the flour mix.  Cut in with pastry blender or your hands.  I personally like the resulting cooked texture that's the result of adding a little oil, and I enjoy the subtle flavor of a tiny bit of vinegar. But if you'd rather just use plain water, that's fine.  Mix in water (add oil and vinegar to the water, if using), starting with 5T and adding more if necessary.  You want a pliable dough that is neither too dry or too wet.

2.  Grease a 9" or 10" tart form and once your dough is rolled out on a floured surface, carefully lift it into the pan.  Set aside.

3.  In a medium bowl, mix lemon juice, zest, and sugar together until well combined.  Add eggs, one at a time, and beat with a whisk until well combined (1.5 - 2 minutes).

4.  Pour into pie shell and bake at 325F/160C for 35-45 minutes.  Check at the 30 minute mark, in case your oven cooks fast.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Danish Agricultural Museum and Gammel Estrup Castle

A few weekends ago we paid our second visit to the Dansk Lanbrugsmuseum.  Last year we visited in June when the trees were in bloom and the gardens were getting into full growing swing.  We went earlier this year because my mother-in-law was visiting from France and we knew she'd enjoy the museum, animals, sprawling grounds, and castle.  Personally, I enjoyed the burgeoning sights of spring, even if it wasn't quite as colorful as our last visit.

The museum's grounds also include a working blacksmith shop, hundreds of acres of manicured gardens, farm animals, and Gammel Estrup, a castle dating back to the 1300s.

The museum was full of fascinating things, but I was especially taken with the textiles (some of which were for sale in the gift shop) and food-related items, such as the old dairy, and retro food packaging.

Gammel Estrup--the castle--is gigantic and filled with a multitude of artifacts.  There's a great display of women's dresses and gowns highlighting fashion from the 1920s, 30s, and more.  But again, my favorite part of the castle was food-related:  the massive kitchen. Because the castle today is used for civil wedding ceremonies and other private functions, it remains a working kitchen.

If you are reading this and you live in Denmark, this museum is a must-do.  Especially if you have children in your life.  Moreover, it's one of the most impressive museums I've ever seen, and I'm not a big agricultural person, either.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Eating Sensibly

Does anybody remember the episode of The Brady Bunch where Peter and his sibs sing "Time to Change?"  Well, I was thinking about the change of seasons, this being spring and all, and what popped into my brain but Peter's pubescent voice singing "Time to Change!"

You see, I will ALWAYS be a food fanatic and addicted to cookbooks and virtually everything else related to food, but I'm taking a break of sorts from going quite so gonzo in the kitchen.  All fall and winter, I cooked and baked, baked and cooked and while I loved every minute of it, well, it wasn't super figure friendly.  No, I'm not on a diet, so please get that out of your head.  I don't believe in them.  On the other hand, summer is coming and we have a beach vacation planned.  I'll look a little funny laying on my towel with pants and a long t-shirt to cover my pooching belly...not to mention sweating to death.

So, for the time being, I will simply resign to do a little less cooking and baking ( let's be honest, baking).  The hard part is that I love the process of it all and being in the kitchen really is home for me, so I will find new ways to achieve this.  I'm already on a smoothie kick, for example.  I know, smoothies don't have quite the same curb appeal as, say, Nanaimo Bars, but they're an extremely delicious treat if you use the best quality fresh or frozen fruit.  What's more, by exercising and eating moderately most days of the week, I'm more than fine with whipping up a lovely dessert once a week.  What's on the menu this week?  A luscious lemon tart (recipe coming soon).

And I simply can't /won't live without my daily dose of chocolate.  No way, no how.  But instead of gobbling it down full speed, I'm trying to be mindful of each bite.  Also, I find eating a square or two along with sips of milky black tea make it feel like a luxurious dessert.

Finally, over the course of the next several months, you might see more posts about the places I'm visiting and things I'm doing, but I promise to relate as much of it as I can to the best four letter word there is:  food. And I can almost guarantee that once the cold weather is back, I will retreat to the kitchen to prepare copious amounts of baked goods. And when I can hide under bulky sweaters again.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Chocolate Meatballs

If you are looking for a kid-friendly snack which doubles as a treat, try Chocolate Meatballs.  Bonus:  the kids can help you make them, too.  At two-and a-half years, I wish my son were more kitchen-ready; and darn if I don't keep trying so-called kid recipes with him. We're not quite there yet. He tends to rush through the whole process--and that's when he's not shoveling food into his mouth.  On the other hand, he's not yet three and being in the kitchen with him, in spite of the challenges, is a heck of a lot of fun.  It's fun to see him get into it, even if he might not take his time and appreciate cooking and creating time with mom in the way I'd like him to. There's the lesson for me!

Here's the lowdown on Chocolate Meatballs.  Take a base of peanut butter, powered milk, and a little sweetener, and have at it.  There's lots of different variations you can try.  I made mine with raisins and unsweetened, shredded coconut.  But you could also add virtually any kind of chopped dried fruit, sesame or other seeds, and mini chocolate chips. For an extra decadent treat, we dipped some of the meatballs in melted chocolate. As you might imagine, this version was a huge hit with my son.

Chocolate Meatballs
1 c. creamy peanut butter
1/2c plus 1T powdered milk
1/4c plus 2T  sweetener (maple syrup, honey, or agave syrup)
1/4c raisins
1/4c coconut
1/4c (or as much as you need) chocolate milk powder, such as Nesquick - spread into a pile on a small plate 

Combine peanut butter, powdered milk, and sweetener in a bowl.  Mix well. If the mixture feels too wet, add a little more powdered milk, a teaspoon at a time.  But be careful because you still want it wet enough that you can stir in the fruit and coconut and roll into balls with your hands.  Yes, so add raisins and coconut and combine well.  Take tablespoon amount of mix into your palm and roll into a ball.  Roll ball in powdered chocolate milk and set aside.

For the dipping chocolate, melt 1/2 c chopped semisweet or bittersweet chocolate and add 1/2 teaspoon of canola or vegetable oil.  Stir until smooth and glossy. Dip finished balls (rolled in chocolate milk powder) into melted chocolate and place in refrigerator to set.

Store in refrigerator.  Makes approximately 18 pieces -- more or less depending on the size of your meatballs.

Note:  sorry about the weird font and spacing.  I tried playing around to fix it, but it looks like I'm stuck with it this time.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Mette's Fødselsdag

My friend Mette hosted a girls' lunch to celebrate her 30th birthday. The only male allowed was her brother Brian who played waiter and dishwasher.  What a guy!  It was a delightful afternoon filled with good company and excellent food.  There were at least 15 guests, and I was the only non-Dane, which meant I listened to simultaneous conversations in Danish and concentrated extremely hard to figure out what people were saying.  Come on, all you non-Danes, let me see you try it.

What was even more challenging was when Mette's neighbors passed out a sheet of paper with Mette's photo and a song they'd composed in her honor.  I tried to sing along, but you can only imagine how I struggled with that.  Thank goodness the women had lovely voices and mine got drowned out.

I breathed a huge sigh of relief each time they lifted their glasses for a toast.  It's easy to say "Skol!"  My fledgling Danish also meant that I snuck away from the table periodically to snoop around Mette's house and take photos of the party food, her art, and other things I fell in love with.  It might sound strange, but I'm still carrying the multi-colored paper napkin around in my purse.  The color combination is inspiring.

At Mette's request I brought Nanaimo bars.  I'd shared them with her several months ago when I made a batch for the Daring Bakers challenge.  The other Danes at the party seemed equally smitten with this Canadian dessert.

You might not have heard of Hancock beer or soda, but Hancock is an historic brewery in Skive, where Mette lives.  I thought it was a fun party touch that she had two crates of soda bottles available for the taking.

In Danish, "Det var en meget hyggelig eftermiddag."  Translation:  It was a very cozy afternoon.  If you don't know much about the Danish culture, they are very into the concept of cozy and creating a warm, relaxing atmosphere.  Who can argue with that?

Tillykke, Mette!