Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Lemon Cream Pie...

 ...that requires no cook time. Perfect for the summer; pucker-up goodness that leaves your mouth saying just a sliver more please. Whipped cream on top, of course.
Freshly squeezed with my bare hands.

This creamy (made with mascarpone and heavy cream) lemon pie was the finale to a wonderful meal of seared pork loin chops, country beets and green pea potato salad. All imagined in my taste buds before shopping or recipe previews. Instead of thinking what traditionally goes with a certain dish, I check in with my savory and sweet guides and let the fun begin. It is a thrill to cook this way. And the consumed results leave deliciousness as a reminder of how letting your taste buds do the talking makes for one hell of a meal. All the better when shared with friends.

Lemon Cream Pie recipe from Plated Cravings


  • 1/4 cup butter 60g
  • 1 1/4 cups crushed graham cracker or digestive biscuits 160g
  • 1 14 oz can sweetened condensed milk 400g (Please note, this is the only source of sugar in the recipe. Of course, there is a lot of sugar in sweetened condensed milk.)
  • 8 oz mascarpone cheese 225g
  • 3/4 cup heavy whipping cream 180ml
  • 1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice 120ml, 2-3 large lemons


  1. Line the bottom and the sides of a 7-inch springform pan with parchment paper or use a 9-inch pie plate. (I used a 9-inch pie plate, sans parchment paper)
  2. For the crust, melt the butter in a small saucepan. Add the crumbs and stir to coat them.
  3. Press the mixture into the bottom and up the sides of the pan.Use a measuring cup to pat down the crumbs. Refrigerate until the filling is ready.
  4. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment beat mascarpone cheese at low-medium speed until smooth, about 1 minute. (I don't have a stand mixer with a paddle, so I used beaters and it seemed to work out just fine.)
  5. Add the sweetened condensed milk slowly and beat into mascarpone until smooth and well mixed.
  6. Add the heavy cream and mix until combined.
  7. Slowly add the lemon juice to the mixture while beating at low-medium speed. The mixture will start to thicken and gets creamy.
  8. Pour into prepared pan and refrigerate for at least 6 hours or overnight until firm.

Recipe Notes

  1. To make this recipe easier, you can use a prepared graham cracker pie crust. This recipe makes about 3 1/2 cups of filling.
  2. In the photos, I pressed the crumbs only into the bottom of the pan, this works but I find it easier and a bit more foolproof to press the crumbs in the bottom AND up the sides if using a springform pan.
  3. I recommend using freshly squeezed lemon juice for this recipe. Make sure to use 1/2 cup lemon juice. The lemon juice thickens the filling.
  4. You can prepare this pie in advance and refrigerate covered overnight. Store leftovers in the fridge. The "Cook time" is the time this pie needs to rest in the refrigerator. There is no actual baking involved in this recipe.
Now for the rest of the meal.
Seared pork loin chops made in a cast iron skillet using butter and olive oil with a little salt.

Green pea potato salad-I took this recipe from Genius Kitchen recipe by Lainiebug

2 lbs Red Potatoes (I used small purple, red, Yukon gold a little over one pound. It added a bit more color.)
  • 1/2 cup frozen peas (I used fresh English peas from Trader Joe's. Cook them per instructions and then let them cool. I used a bit more than 1/2 cup, because I really like these peas.)
  • 3/4 cups low fat mayonnaise (No low fat mayo here; Sir Kensington's Mayonnaise and I only had 1/2 cup which worked out fine since I didn't use the full complement of potatoes.)
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon Mustard (I like Trader Joe's French Dijon, partly because it comes in a glass jar and mostly because it tastes really good. Also, I cut back on the Dijon since I cut back on the back mayo.)
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar (with the mother of course) 
  • 1 teaspoon dried tarragon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 chopped red onion
  • Allow your potatoes and peas to cool. Mix together mayo, vinegar, mustard, tarragon and salt.  Cut up potatoes, add the peas and onions, add the dressing, stir it all up and serve immediately or fix this salad in advance and let it sit in the fridge. 
  • Country Beets (To be honest, I got this recipe from friends so many years ago, so forgive me for not citing the source. I love it, though. The sweet and sourness, the creaminess, the color. The sour cream turns into a beautiful pink when mixed with  the deep red of the beets. Nice contrast. 
  • You can boil and peel beets or go to Trader Joe’s and get their baby beets already boiled and peeled and just slice them up easy as pie.
    Stir together ½ cup sour cream, 2 tablespoons vinegar, 1 tablespoon minced green onions (I used a bit more), 1 tablespoon sugar (I just sprinkled a pinch some brown sugar on it and called it a day) 1 teaspoon salt or less and a smidgen of black pepper 1/8 of a teaspoon or less.

    Pour over beets, heat slowly, stirring occasionally. DO  NOT BOIL.
  • Another note. I added a fresh bouquet to the table from my potted garden of mint leaves, lavender and sweet little blooms. So simple, easy, making a heart happy. 

  • This quote sums up exactly how I feel:
  • "I love spending time with my friends and family. The simplest things in life give me the most pleasure: cooking a good meal, enjoying my friends." Cindi Morgan

Friday, January 19, 2018

Latvian Stew

Reading, cooking, friends, tango music, a winter storm…intersections that happen when life is allowed to meander. Things tumble in my mind and I wonder how I get from point A-to-point B, but I do and even though there doesn’t seem to be a purpose there usually is.

In August, a good friend had his 60th birthday, a man blessed with friends and lots of love, because let’s face it he is as genuine and as loyal as they get. I baked him a cake that didn’t turn out so great, thank goodness he had two other people that baked as well. The frosting was incredible, but it couldn’t save the dry, sad cake inside. It was my first time baking this cake and I decided to experiment with different flours, forgetting that some flours require more moisture than others and really, why not stick to the recipe. Well, he was so gracious about the whole thing of course, but the other gift I gave him was a novel by Amor Towles, “The Gentleman from Moscow.” He loved the book. Several people I know recommended it as well, so I put it on hold at the Houston Public Library. It was a long hold, because it was in high demand, but it finally became available at the end of December.

Rosemary with icicles!

Perfect timing, because right after picking up the book at the library, Houston was hit by a blast of cold air that sent chills to my bones. Hot baths were the only cure and I took several, sometimes with a cup of hot tea and sometimes with a glass of red, usually a cabernet.  Then putting on my flannel jams I hopped into bed with "The Gentleman from Moscow." Snuggled under the covers with me were my two heating pads Izzy and Mouse, Italian Greyhounds who tolerant the cold even less than me. I offered them hot baths, but they declined.  

“The Gentleman from Moscow”  - the Count - kept me entertained, regaling me with stories of the Tsar and the Russian revolution. Filling my head with grand balls, snowy carriage rides and even a dual. His curiosity and intelligence enthralled me. I was smitten. But what he also did was hit me in my weak spot. My love of food, wine and the celebration of it. Sitting at the Piazza Café in the grand Metropol Hotel in Moscow he overhears a young couple on what is their first date ordering the Latvian Stew. The waiter, The Bishop who is a bit of thorn in the Count’s side, is flummoxed  about which wine to serve. The Bishop offers a very expensive one that would bankrupt this pour young man’s savings. So, the Count steps in and recommends a lovely Russian wine that pairs well with the stew at a much reduced cost. The Bishop is not pleased and a smirk replaces his “ecclesiastical grin.” (The Count’s description)

Now to the stew. It is a pork stew with apricots, prunes and caramelized onions. A mild sweetness that pulls in the savory, nicely. Delicate in a way, but it really holds its own for heartiness and comfort.

Lord, I was there in the Piazza with spoon in hand, ready to be served. Dark rye bread slathered with butter and of course the Russian wine with a side of boiled potatoes sprinkled with fresh parsley.  What could be more hearty to fortify one on such a cold winter’s day. As I turned the page, I was brought back to my bed and the wind blowing outside and the sound of sleet hitting the windows. Obviously, I needed to bring the stew to a more three-dimensional view. My kitchen, of course.

The plan was hatched. I studied the recipe along with a couple of others. Finally deciding to borrow from one and add my own bits. It was an experiment and like the cake I was taking a risk, but stews I have a better handle on than I do flours, so I risked it. Friends were invited, the table was set and the weather remained chilly. I could feel the Count looking over my shoulder encouraging me. I decided to leave the Bishop out in the cold. My birthday friend Taavi, his partner Stephen and my dear neighbors Bob and Flora were the guests. They all have a tolerant palette and generous spirits and I wanted to share this meal with people I adore. Also, as a thank you for all the meals they shared in their homes while I was working seven days a week, on a contract gig. When cooking was just too exhausting and going out to eat was tedious.

Here is the original recipe for Latvian Stew as taken from bookclubcookbook.com (http://bookclubcookbook.com/gentleman-moscow-latvian-stew-recipe-author-amor-towles/)
Prep Time: 25 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes
Yield: 6-8 servings
·       3 pounds boneless pork shoulder, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
·       Salt and freshly ground black pepper
·       6 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
·       6 carrots, peeled, trimmed, and sliced crosswise
·       4 tablespoons tomato paste
·       5 cups water
·       1 cup dried apricots
·       1 pound white boiling onions, peeled, each cut into 6 wedges
·       1 cup pitted prunes
1.     Season pork with salt and pepper. Heat 3 tablespoons of the oil in a large heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat. Add pork and cook, stirring occasionally, until meat releases its juices and is no longer pink all over, about 5 minutes. Add carrots and cook until slightly tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in tomato paste and water, then add apricots. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium-low, and gently simmer, uncovered, for 45 minutes.
2.     Meanwhile, heat remaining oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onions and cook, stirring often, until deep golden brown, about 15 minutes.
3.     Add onions and prunes to stew and continue to simmer over medium-low heat until pork is tender and sauce has thickened, about 30 minutes more. Adjust seasonings.

Modifications included, sautéing the pork and onions with olive oil and butter. I used chicken stock and a white wine reduction to replace the water. Garlic, coriander, red pepper and turmeric were added. I did serve with boiled potatoes, skin on with butter and sour cream. Wines generously provided by guests - a Zinfandel and a Cabernet. A salad to start with greens, roasted beets and carrots topped off with a balsamic tarragon vinaigrette with a pumpernickel bread.

Okay, now for the tango music. Last year, I decided to take tango classes. I loved it, even though, it is not an easy dance to get the hang of, I did keep going. The teacher is a gifted dancer and instructor. Alas, I had to stop taking classes due to my inability to get to dances to practice. My work schedule also made it hard. What has come from that is a true love of the music. I play tango music when I cook. It adds energy to the process. I swear it makes me a better cook. I also manage to get a few steps in now and again while tapping my wooden spoon on the side of the pot. Perhaps one day I will continue my tango classes. I hope so. That is perhaps where the cake went wrong, no tango music.

The dinner was a success. The stew, friends, conversation. It was all so lovely.

Quote of the day: "“if a man does not master his circumstances then he is bound to be mastered by them.” 
― Amor TowlesA Gentleman in Moscow