It’s not that I don’t have enough work from and in the garden already. Every week now, another fruit or vegetable needs to be harvested and processed. And yet, after visiting The Lavender Farmette, a local lavender farm, I just had to make some treats with lavender: Lavender Meringues, a favorite of ours and a great way to use up leftover egg whites. And, for the first time, Lavender Ice-Cream based on my standard ice-cream recipe. Continue reading
After I moved from New York City to this lovely hilltop in Pennsylvania where my husband lived with his two young children, it took me a few years to get the gardening bug. I was just too busy learning to become a parent, although I felt from the beginning that with all that space around us (the storage room being as big as my bedroom was in the city), not growing your own food would be a shame.
The first summer, I did put in a couple of basil plants. I remember taking large bunches of it to the office, the scent filling the room, and my coworkers marveling about it (thankfully, the days of commuting are long over).
I started the garden in 2004, a year when our family was facing a serious health issue. That first-year garden, as tentative and modest as it may seem to me from today’s perspective, helped me keep my sanity. Gardening, whether for food or for beauty, has been my outlet ever since.
To celebrate my 9th gardening season, as well as our wedding anniversary today, I cannot think of a more befitting food than homegrown strawberries. Do I need to say that the critters seem to leave most of the strawberries alone now? They do!
Mini Strawberry Vacherins
I have made Vacherin quite a few times before but usually as one large cake. Even though it vanishes quickly so appearance really does not matter that much, after cutting the meringue does not look half as pretty. This time, I made four small Vacherins.
The meringue can be made one day ahead and stored in a dry place.
¼ cup ground hazelnuts
¼ cup ground walnuts
6 large egg whites
½ teaspoon cream of tartar
½ cup superfine sugar
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons vanilla sugar, or 2 tablespoons sugar + 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1. Lightly toast the hazelnuts and the walnuts in a non-greased pan. Make sure there are no larger pieces in the mix, as they will clog the pastry tip (speaking from experience here). Set aside to cool.
2. Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper. Using a food-grade pencil, draw 12 circles with a 3.5-inch diameter, leaving at least ½ inch between them.
3. Beat the egg whites and the cream of tartar in a large bowl at medium speed until foamy. Increase the speed and gradually add the superfine sugar, then the confectioners’ sugar. Continue beating until the mixture is stiff and glossy. Fold in the nuts.
4. Place a pastry bag with a plain tip in a large tall glass. Fill the bag with the batter in three batches in order not to overfill. Pipe thick circles onto the prepared baking sheets, starting on the outside and working your way inside in a spiral until the circle is filled. Even out the surface with a knife if necessary.
5. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees F. Place the baking sheet on the 2nd and 4th shelf of the oven and bake for 3 hours, or until the meringue is totally dry to the touch and crisp but not colored. Leave the baking sheets in the oven with the doors closed until it has completely cooled down.
6. Take the baking sheets out of the oven. Gently remove the meringue circles from the parchment. Place on a cake rack.
7. Whip the heavy cream with the vanilla sugar. Spread half of it on four meringue circles and arrange sliced strawberries on top. Place a second meringue circle on each and repeat with the remaining cream and strawberries. Place the last meringue circles on top. Serve right away, or refrigerate for a few hours but serve the same day.
Makes 4 to 6 servings
My late German grandmother would nod in approval if she saw me making this. Although she never said it openly, wasting food was taboo with a capital T for her. Having lived through World War II, her definition of “wasting” was certainly more extreme than my mother’s; and I am yet another generation removed from her parsimony. Still, not using the many egg whites that I have left over from making custards, puddings, crème caramel and the like would never occur to me.
Since I cannot foresee when I will use them, I always freeze the egg whites in small containers. Mostly I use them for meringue cookies with chocolate or coffee flavor, a recipe adapted from The Joy of Cooking.
In July, when I was in charge of bringing ice-cream topping to a meeting of my Master Gardener group, I turned my usual meringue cookies into a crushed version. I have had several requests for the recipe so here it is:
Crushed Meringue for Ice-cream Topping
3 egg whites
1 cup (200 g) sugar
2 to 3 tablespoons instant espresso or unsweetened cocoa, to taste
Canola oil or another neutral-tasting oil for spraying
Pinch of salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1. If using frozen egg whites, thaw them in the refrigerator.
2. Mix the sugar with the instant espresso.
3. Preheat the oven to 250 degrees F. Line a jelly roll pan with aluminum foil sprayed with oil.
4. Beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt until they are very stiff, gradually adding the sugar and the vanilla.
5. Spread the batter evenly onto the aluminum foil and bake for 60 minutes, until dry to the touch. Remove the pan from the oven but leave the oven on.
6. Transfer the meringue onto a large cutting board and peel off the aluminum foil. It’s OK if it breaks into many pieces, as it will be crushed anyway.
7. Coarsely chop the meringue with a large knife and spread it out on the aluminum foil. Bake for another 30 minutes, until the meringue has barely any moist spots left. Turn off the oven but leave the meringue in with the door closed, which will dry it further.
8. After the meringue is cooled completely, store in tin cans. It keeps for several weeks.
When I started gardening I always made lists of what I wanted to accomplish that day, or that week. However those lists quickly became a source of frustration. Once outside, I always got sidetracked by the many additional things that need to be done.
As a result, today, on a gorgeous early fall day, I am happily working in the garden without a list. I only came into the house to write down the last two quince recipes, and, of course, to have a slice of the Quince Meringue Pie I made this morning.
8 cups water
1¼ cups sugar, more to taste
2 pounds peeled and cored quinces
¼ cup applejack
You also need:
An ice-cream maker
2. Puree the quinces very finely with all of the cooking liquid. As long as you peeled and cored the quinces neatly, there is no need to strain the mix. Refrigerate overnight.
3. Add the applejack to the chilled mixture and stir well. Process in an ice-cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions. Since this recipe makes a large amount, I processed it in two batches and put the freezer bowl back in the freezer after the first batch until it was solidly frozen again.
4. Fill sorbet in airtight freezer containers and freeze for 12 hours, or until solidly frozen. Take sorbet out of the freezer 15 to 20 minutes before serving to soften, but not much longer because it melts quickly.
Makes 1.5 quarts
Quince Meringue Pie
This pie tastes best the same day, as the meringue tends to get soggy after a while.
1 cup flour
¼ teaspoon salt
1/3 cup (about 2½ ounces) shortening, at room temperature
4-6 tablespoons quince poaching liquid, chilled
Filling and topping:
2 ounces unpeeled almonds, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons golden raisins
1 teaspoon golden rum
16 ounces poached quinces, drained
3 egg whites
2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
You also need:
A pastry blender
A 9-inch pie pan with removable rim
2. For the pie crust, mix flour, salt and shortening with a pastry blender until crumbly. Add poaching liquid by tablespoons until the dough holds together in a ball. Blend briefly to get rid of any lumps.
3. Roll out the dough to an 11-inch circle between two sheets of wax paper. Remove the top layer of the wax paper and flip the wax paper over to fit the circle into a 9-inch fluted pie pan with removable rim. Carefully remove the wax paper. Let the dough come up to the height of the rim. Trim the dough along the rim with a sharp knife.
4. Loosely line the crust with lightly greased aluminum foil (shiny side down) and fill with pie weights. Bake in the preheated oven for 10 minutes. Reduce the temperature to 350 degrees Fahrenheit, remove the pie weights and the aluminum foil and bake for 10 to 13 more minutes, or until the crust has a golden brown color. Let cool on a wire rack. Do not turn the oven off.
5. While the pie crust is baking, toast the almonds in an ungreased pan until lightly browned and fragrant. Set aside to cool.
6. Wash the raisins under warm water and pat dry with a paper towel. Mix with the rum in a small bowl.
7. Whip the egg whites until very stiff, gradually adding the confectioners’ sugar.
8. Carefully toss the poached quince slices with the almonds and raisins with rum. Arrange them on the cooled crust. Top with the meringue and bake in a 350 degrees F preheated oven for 12 to 15 minutes, until the peaks are lightly browned. Remove the pie rim and let cool on a wire rack.