Working Lunch Part Two: Lemon Almond Tart

Lunch is one of my three favorite meals of the day. Sadly, I usually eat lunch standing at the kitchen counter wolfing down some leftovers. But still, there are worse things. I was delighted to make this working lunch and even more excited to eat it. There will be some posts forthcoming with recipes from the amazing Sweet Paul Magazine, Spring 2012, which if you’re not reading, you totally should be. The food is great but the magazine itself is a work of art! Today’s recipe is from that magazine and is the dessert from the working lunch, Lemon Almond Tart. And it’s soooooooo good! It would be perfect for your Easter table!

Don’t be intimidated by the lemon curd. This recipe makes it simple, just follow the instructions.

Lemon Almond Tart

Recipe courtesy of Sweet Paul Magazine, Spring 2012

Dough:

  • 1 cup almond meal
  • 1 1⁄2 cups plain flour
  • 1⁄3 cup sugar
  • 1 1⁄4 sticks salted butter, cold and in pieces
  • 1 egg
  • 2 teaspoons grated lemon zest

Filling:

  • 5 large egg yolks
  • 3⁄4 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
  • 1⁄2 cup lemon juice
  • 3⁄4 stick salted butter, cold and in pieces

candied lemon, optional

Place almond meal, flour, and sugar in a bowl and mix. Add the butter and work it into the flour with your fingers. The result should be grainy. Add egg and lemon zest and quickly work the dough together. If it seems dry, just add a few tablespoons of ice water. Wrap the dough in plastic and let it rest in the fridge for at least 1 hour. After an hour, preheat the oven to 375°F.

Take out the dough and roll it out to a thin crust. Place in a greased pie tin or tart dish. Use a fork to prick the bottom. Blind bake for about 15 minutes or until golden. Cool on a wire rack.

Beat egg yolks and sugar until thick and creamy. Place over a hot water bath and add zest, lemon juice, and butter. Beat mixture until it becomes thick and creamy. Pour into the pie crust and cool until serving.

Decorate with candied lemons if desired.

I had never worked with almond meal before, but it’s pretty tasty and gluten free! Once you add the cold butter (note that it’s salted) work it into the dry ingredients by snapping it with your fingers. Use this snapping motion to break down the butter and integrate it into the dry mix. I added about two tablespoons of ice water to get my dough to come together. It’s not the easiest dough to work, but it is forgiving so don’t stress.

Pat it together in a nice disk, wrap it in plastic and stick it in the fridge. After at least an hour, roll the dough out on a floured surface. I made my circle about nine inches because my tart pan is nine inches. This left me some dough which I cut into strips, baked off, and served as an afternoon snack. Very lemony and very yummy!

Many pies and tarts (quiches, too!) call for blind baking the shell. It’s simple. Line the shell with aluminum foil and fill with dried beans or pie weights. You won’t want to used these beans after they’ve been baked, so store them in an airtight container for the next time you need them. Place the tart pan on a baking sheet and bake for 12-15 minutes, until shell is stable and starts to brown. Remove the shell from the oven and take out the beans and foil. If your crust looks a little anemic (read: pale) stick it back in for another 3-4 minutes. The tart will not be baked so the shell needs to be cooked through.

Once the shell is done, set it aside to cool on a rack and begin the curd.

Beat the egg yolks and sugar in a heat-proof bowl. Place the bowl over a pan of simmering (not boiling!) water and add the zest, lemon juice, and butter. Stir, stir, and stir some more. The curd will thicken and darken slightly to a more rich yellow color. Once the curd has thickened, pour it into the tart shell.

Refrigerate for a few hours or overnight. That’s it! Super simple and perfect for spring!

For our working lunch, I set the tart on the side table. I served it like this!

It has a nice tang to it, not super sweet. You could also serve it with a mint sprig or some homemade whipped cream. Either would be lovely!

What do you like to serve for spring? Do you have a favorite Easter dessert?

Working Lunch: Quinoa Salad

A good meeting is one that starts on time and ends at least 30 minutes before you think it will. A great meeting is that plus good food. When I host a meeting, I can’t promise that it will end early, but I can assure you there will be good food. It’s been hot here, I think I may have mentioned that a time or ten. So I wanted a light lunch but I also needed something I could make ahead and serve up without a lot of work.

I also needed to serve up a gluten-free option. Since no one in my house has any dietary sensitivities, I’ll admit I don’t think much about these kinds of things. We eat pretty healthy most of the time, but I had been looking for some new options with quinoa anyway and this was a great opportunity to try something new. I should caution you though, normally I wouldn’t serve a new, untested recipe as such a major part of a meal. Since I was making the salad ahead, I felt like I had enough time to whip out something else if this didn’t work.

My menu:

  • Parmesan Crusted Chicken Cutlets – pounded and reserved for last minute frying
  • Quinoa Salad – made ahead
  • Lemon Almond Tart – made ahead

I had some chicken breasts in the freezer, so I pounded them flat and used a standard recipe for Parmesan Crusted Chicken Cutlets. I started these about 20 minutes before I expected my colleagues. In that time I could fry up three cutlets, tent them with foil, and clean up the pan before anyone arrived. I make chicken cutlets all the time so I won’t bore you with the details. You can check out one of my favorite recipes for Crispy Parmesan Chicken from Cook’s Country.

I had some quinoa in the pantry waiting on me to do something with it. And this gluten-free meal was the perfect opportunity. So I trolled the interwebs for a few minutes before deciding on this Quinoa Salad recipe from the Food Network. It was light, cold, and had lots of things in it that I like to eat. It sounded like, with the chicken, it would be a full meal. Plus, it made a lot! Leftovers were a bonus! I made the salad the day before, but didn’t add the tomatoes (I used grape tomatoes, the only decent thing you can get before June) and the avocados until I was ready to serve.

Quinoa Salad

Recipe adapted from Food Network

  • 12 cups water
  • 1 1/2 cups quinoa, rinsed
  • 1 English cucumber
  • 1 small red onion, cut into 1/4-inch cubes
  • 1 container of grape tomatoes
  • 1 bunch Italian parsley leaves, chopped
  • 2 bunches mint leaves, chopped
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 avocado, peeled, seeded and diced, for garnish

Bring the water to a boil in a large saucepan. Add the quinoa, stir once, and return to a boil. Cook uncovered, over medium heat for 12 minutes. Strain and rinse well with cold water, shaking the sieve well to remove all moisture.

When dry, transfer the quinoa to a large bowl. Add the cucumbers, onion, parsley, mint, olive oil, vinegar, lemon juice, salt, and pepper and toss well. Top with avocado and halved grape tomatoes, and serve. Garnish with parsley or mint.

This isn’t really cooking. It’s assembling. Anyone can do it. And quinoa is cute and hairy, so give it a whirl!

Then stick it in the fridge overnight. It lets the flavors absorb and makes it nice and cold.

Plate it up on a nice platter, spreading the tomato halves and avocado slices over the top. I stuck a bunch of mint on top for garnish. Pretty AND tasty!

It is such a good salad! And my colleagues loved the lunch. Check out the dessert portion of the meal on Wednesday!

Have you tried quinoa? Do you have a favorite recipe? I think I’ll try it for breakfast next!

Fish Tacos

Have you had fish tacos? Holy moly, I tried them on a whim a few months back at Bonefish Grill, and I am officially an addict! I can’t get enough! But I can’t go to Bonefish every night. I mean, I guess I could, but you know what I mean. So I scoured the internet and gave these a try. They are pretty darn awesome! And, it’s still Lent (how ya doin’ with that?) so this would be a perfect fish dish to serve.

I don’t know if your spring weather has been as warm and pleasant as ours has here in Central Virginia, but it’s hard to keep myself from thinking it’s May! Even if you’re only longing for a taste of summer, these are great! If you can eat them out on the patio with a margarita, all the better. If all else fails, keep this recipe in your back pocket, Cinco de Mayo will be here soon!

I know it seems like a lot of ingredients. And I guess it is. But you’re making your own salsa. If you don’t have time to do that, buy some prepared mango salsa and skip that part. Don’t stress. Cooking’s not fun when you stress.

Fish Tacos with Chipotle Lime Sauce

Recipe adapted from Carrie Floyd, from the Culinate Kitchen collection

Fish

  • 1 lb. flaky white fish, I prefer a meaty fish like catfish or cod
  • 4 T fresh lime juice
  • 2 T vegetable oil
  • 2 T soy sauce

Sauce

  • ⅓ cup mayonnaise
  • ⅓ cup lowfat yogurt
  • ⅓ cup light sour cream
  • 2 T fresh lime juice
  • 1 chipotle chile in adobo sauce, finely chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, finely chopped or pressed
  • Salt to taste

Tacos

  • 10 to 12 corn tortillas
  • 3 cups shredded slaw mix (red and green cabbage, carrots)

Mango Salsa 

Make one day ahead if possible.

  •  2 bell peppers (red, yellow, and/or orange), deseeded and chopped into small dice
  • 1 small red onion, finely chopped
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, deseeded and diced
  • 3 just-ripe mangoes, peeled and chopped into small dice (underripe mangoes can be stored in a paper sack for a few days and will ripen)
  • 1 bunch cilantro, washed, dried, destemmed, and chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • Salt to taste

Mix the ingredients for the salsa together in a medium-large bowl and season to taste with salt. Try to avoid stuffing your face in the bowl. The good news (the BEST news!!) is that you should have salsa leftover. It’s great on chips or on a salad the next day, if you don’t scarf it all up on taco night. I LOOOOOOVE mango salsa!

Prepare the fish marinade by combining the fresh lime juice with the vegetable oil and soy sauce in a rectangular glass dish. Add the fish, turn to coat, and leave to marinate while you prepare the rest of the ingredients. While you may be tempted to do this the night before, or even hours ahead, don’t. Fish is a much more delicate meat than beef or even chicken. Too much marinating will leave you with a mushy disaster. Trust me.

Prepare the chipotle-lime sauce by combining the mayonnaise, yogurt, sour cream, lime juice, chipotle chile, and chopped garlic in a bowl. Season to taste with salt. A can of chipotle peppers in adobo should last you an eternity. You only need one for this recipe. Toss the rest in a freezer safe container and use them the next time you make this dish. Trust me, once you’ve had it, you’ll be begging for more.

Remove fish from the marinade and grill or saute until cooked through. Mr. Bundt was kind enough to man the grill while I got everything else ready. If you don’t eat them straight off the grill, don’t worry. They’re great at room temperature or even cold for the next days lunch.

Warm the tortillas in the microwave or on the grill. I cannot stress enough the importance of good tortillas. I know you may be at the mercy of your local supermarket, but if you can go to a Latin grocery or to a local Mexican restaurant and get some, you’ll be money ahead. A gummy corn tortilla, even warmed, is not good. Not good at all.

Set out individual bowls of the sauce, salsa, and shredded cabbage.

For each individual taco, place some of the fish (breaking off chunks of the cooked fillets) on a tortilla, top with slaw mixture and mango salsa, and drizzle with the chipotle-lime sauce.

And presto! Perfect fish taco! There are so many veggies in here I don’t feel like I even need to serve a side item. We have had them with the taquitos you can see in this post. But a light salad or some refried beans would be fine as well. We had them on the deck with margaritas and they were great!

Have you tried any new foods lately? Are you dying to get something on the grill? What’s the first thing you MUST cook when the weather gets warm? Can’t wait to hear your ideas!

Spring Birthday Party

Crocuses

It’s spring here! Guess how I can tell? These crocuses were actually a little late to the party, my daffodils had already bloomed before these guys got started. But they’re pretty sweet!

I can also tell you that spring is coming because we’re in full swing with the birthday season here. My Mom and Grandma have birthdays about two weeks apart, so we gathered to celebrate both. I thought I’d share them with you!

The menu was: Chicken Caesar Sandwiches, Kale and White Bean Soup, Green Salad, and Revelatory Caramel Cake.

I also made some PB&J and turkey sandwiches for little ones who might not care of the regular sandwiches. Do you dig my green St. Pattie’s Day nails?

Several years ago I bought the biggest table that would fit in my dining room. I don’t really believe in a table for the kids that’s separate from the adults. How are the supposed to learn to act like humans if they never eat with them? So I got a big bench where lots of little butts can schooch in together.

And this is how I set up my table. I believe in cloth napkins and centerpieces, though we usually have so much food that a centerpiece is kicked to the side. A centerpiece doesn’t need to be an expensive, fussy deal from a florist. My forsythia were already starting to bloom, so a few days before the party I brought some in so they would have time to acclimate to the warmth of the house and open up.

Several years ago I also invested in some rather inexpensive white plates (with matching bowls and salad/dessert plates) and silverware. Enough for 10-12 place settings. We don’t use them everyday, but when we have a special occasion I like to use them. The white is nice because you can add any color plate, placemat, tablecloth, whatever, and it coordinates. These special meals are my gift to my family and I want them to look as beautiful as a wonderfully wrapped present (which I don’t do).

Chicken Caesar Sandwiches

I served these Chicken Caesar Sandwiches for a luncheon a few days prior and am totally addicted to them. My family loved them too! What a great sandwich!

Chicken Caesar Sandwich

Recipe courtesy Barefoot Contessa

  • 2 split (1 whole) chicken breasts, bone in, skin on (I also use a whole rotisserie chicken in a pinch)
  • Good olive oil
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 ounces thinly sliced pancetta
  • 1 large garlic clove, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons anchovy paste (don’t be tempted to omit this, stop being a chicken and give it a try, it doesn’t taste fishy, I swear!)
  • 1 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup good mayonnaise
  • 1 large ciabatta bread
  • 2 ounces baby arugula, washed and spun dry
  • 12 sun-dried tomatoes, in oil
  • 2 to 3 ounces Parmesan, shaved

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

(Skip this step if using a rotisserie chicken). Place the chicken breasts on a sheet pan skin side up. Rub the chicken with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast for 35 to 40 minutes, until cooked through. Cool slightly, discard the skin and bones, and slice the meat thickly. Set aside.

Meanwhile, place the pancetta on another sheet pan in a single layer. Roast for 10 to 15 minutes, until crisp. Set aside to drain on paper towels.

Place the garlic and parsley in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade and process until minced. Add the anchovy paste, mustard, lemon juice, and mayonnaise and process again to make a smooth dressing. (Refrigerate the Caesar dressing if not using it immediately.)

Slice the ciabatta in half horizontally and separate the top from the bottom. Toast the bread in the oven, cut side up, for 5 to 7 minutes; cool slightly. Spread the cut sides of each piece with the Caesar dressing. Place half the arugula on the bottom piece of bread and then layer in order: the sun-dried tomatoes, shaved Parmesan, crispy pancetta, and sliced chicken. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and finish with another layer of arugula. Place the top slice of ciabatta on top and cut in thirds crosswise. Serve at room temperature.

A simple green salad, just dressed mixed greens and a few shavings of Parmesan cheese is a great accompaniment for a flavorful sandwich like the one above. You don’t want the flavors in the sandwich and the salad to compete. Mark Bittman has a lot of great vinaigrettes you can mix up quickly. WAY better than that fat-laden stuff out of a bottle!

Since I served the soup hot, and don’t like to be pointing the camera at my hungry family while they’re trying to eat, there aren’t any soup photos. But here’s the recipe. It’s a great soup. I make a big batch and use it for lunches or a quick dinner.

Kale and White Bean Soup

Recipe courtesy of Real Simple

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the garlic, celery, onion, 1 ½ teaspoons salt, and ½ teaspoon pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, 4 to 6 minutes.

Add the beans, pasta, kale, rosemary, 8 cups water, and Parmesan rind (if using). Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until the pasta and kale are tender, 4 to 5 minutes.

Remove the Parmesan rind. Stir in the lemon juice and sprinkle with the shaved Parmesan before serving.

Revelatory Caramel Cake
No birthday would be complete without cake! I had a hard time committing to a cake. I wanted one that everyone would like (thereby eliminating coconut) but I also wanted something different than what I normally do (thereby eliminating chocolate). So I decided on a Caramel Cake and it was a great choice. It was soooo good! I had been hanging onto this recipe since it appeared in Food & Wine, September 2010.

Revelatory Caramel Cake

Recipe courtesy of Food & Wine 

from The Southern Foodways Alliance Community Cookbook

Cake

  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 4 large egg whites, at room temperature
  • 2 1/4 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 3 cups sifted cake flour
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons, softened
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream
Icing
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 3 tablespoons light corn syrup
  • 1 1/2 cups whole milk
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream

Preheat the oven to 350°. Butter three 8-inch cake pans; line the bottoms with parchment paper. Butter the parchment and flour the pans, tapping out the excess.

In a bowl, mix 1/4 cup of the milk with the egg whites and vanilla extract. In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle, mix the flour with the sugar, baking powder and salt. Add the butter and the remaining 3/4 cup of milk. Beat at low speed until blended, then beat at medium speed until smooth, 1 minute. Beat in the egg white mixture in 3 batches.

In another bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the cream until soft peaks form. Stir one-third of the whipped cream into the batter, then fold in the rest. Divide the batter between the pans and smooth the tops. Bake for 25 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the centers comes out clean. Let the cakes cool on a rack for 10 minutes. Unmold the cakes and peel off the parchment. Invert the cakes and let cool completely.

In a saucepan, stir 2 1/2 cups of the sugar with the corn syrup and milk. Cook over moderate heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Keep warm.

Sprinkle the remaining 1/2 cup of sugar in a deep, heavy saucepan. Cook the sugar over moderate heat, swirling occasionally, until an amber caramel forms. Carefully pour the warm milk mixture over the caramel. Cook over moderately high heat, stirring, until the caramel dissolves. Stop stirring and cook until the caramel registers 235° on a candy thermometer. Remove from the heat. Stir in the butter, vanilla and 1/4 cup of the heavy cream. Strain the caramel into the bowl of a standing mixer. Let cool for 15 minutes.

Beat the caramel at medium speed, gradually adding the remaining 1/4 cup of cream, until creamy, about 15 minutes. Let icing cool at least another 15 minutes, longer if your work area is warm.

Set 1 cake layer on a plate. Pour enough icing over the layer to cover the top. Top with a second cake layer and cover it with icing. Add the final cake layer and pour the rest of the icing over the top of the cake, letting it run down the sides. Working quickly, use an offset spatula to spread the icing gently around the cake. Let the cake stand for 2 hours to set the icing before serving.

Tip: This cake is even better the day after it’s made.

Once lunch was over the cousins got to play. This is my niece and my daughter.

We checked out a little more nature in our yard.

And acted silly! See the nice shiner my niece gave herself? It’s hard to be little!

How does your family celebrate big days? Is it a small group of a few or a big extended family? If you could have any birthday cake in the world, what would it be?

Corned Beef & Cabbage

There are some questionable holidays on the American calendar. St. Patrick’s Day is one, Cinco de Mayo is another. They’re not usually days off from work, but I find it funny that many of us “celebrate” these days when, in fact, few of us have any real attachment to them. But hey, who am I to argue with any day celebrated with special food? So here’s my FA-VO-RITE! I love me some corned beef. When I get to a real sandwich shop (and no, Subway doesn’t count) I love to have a fat corned beef sandwich with some melty cheese and deli mustard on soft, chewy bread. Which is really why I made this. It’s great the first night with the cabbage, but it’s even better the next day for lunch!

This recipe can hardly be called cooking. It takes a long time in the oven, but all you have to do is assemble the ingredients and turn on the oven. Seriously. Anyone can do it. Put it on, set a timer, take a nap, wash your hair, go to the feed store (that’s what we did), whatever.

Corned Beef & Cabbage

Recipe courtesy of Cook’s Country

  • 1 (4- to 5-pound) corned beef brisket roast, rinsed, fat trimmed to 1/4 inch thick
  • 4 c low-sodium chicken broth
  • 4 c water
  • 12 carrots, peeled (3 chopped, 9 halved crosswise)
  • 2 celery ribs, chopped
  • 1 onion, peeled and quartered
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1 T whole black peppercorns
  • 1 T minced fresh thyme
  • 1 t whole allspice
  • 3 T unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 pounds small red potatoes
  • 1 head green cabbage (2 pounds), cut into 8 (2-inch) wedges
  •  Pepper
Get all your chopping done first.

Add the broth

Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 300 degrees. Combine beef, broth, water, chopped carrots, celery, onion, bay leaves, peppercorns, thyme, and allspice in Dutch oven. Cover and bake until fork slips easily in and out of meat, 4½ to 5 hours.

See? It’s in the oven. I told you that was easy! But I had help.

Lemony Snicket

He’s not proficient with a knife. But he’ll keep you company and watch the oven like a hawk.

Once your 4.5-5 hours is up, transfer meat to 13 by 9-inch baking dish. Strain cooking liquid through fine-mesh strainer into large bowl, discard solids, and skim fat from liquid. Pour 1 cup cooking liquid over meat. Cover dish tightly with aluminum foil and let rest for 30 minutes.

Return remaining cooking liquid to Dutch oven, add butter, and bring to simmer over medium-high heat. Add potatoes and simmer until they begin to soften, about 10 minutes. Add carrot halves and cabbage, cover, and cook until tender, 10 to 15 minutes. Transfer vegetables to serving platter and season with pepper to taste. There will be a lot of cooking liquid left over. If you want to make Creamed Chipped Beef out of it you can find the recipe here.

Transfer beef to carving board and slice against grain into ¼-inch-thick slices. Serve with vegetables.

Sorry, that’s the worst picture of the bunch. We were STARVING by this point. The photo doesn’t do it justice! This corned beef is tender, the vegetables are perfectly cooked, and none of it is dry or mushy. Plus, for the three of us, there were LOTS of leftovers!

Do you have any special foods or traditions for St. Patrick’s Day? Other than green beer, of course!

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Hope you don’t get pinched!