Sunday, January 3, 2010

lemon delights and icy nights

Our sudden snowflake-graced evenings in Fort Worth have been my excuse to:
snuggle at home with a glass of red,
simmer stews, chili and compotes,
or even better- enjoy an extended happy hour at Button's for delightfully-dirty martinis and comfort food at it's finest.
A group of us met at the increasingly-popular soul food mecca for some flash-fried shrimp with sliced serranos, fried green tomatoes and fried oysters. To wash down the crispy goodness, our spread was full with dirty martinis, vodka sodas, cosmos, whiskey and Shiner's. Dinner was a smorgasbord of tender, beef short ribs, creamed corn and fried leeks- the short ribs were tender, robust and stick-to-your-ribs tasty. After my caloric rendezvous, I arrived home happy, full and extremely sleepy.

A few nights later, on a "home alone" Saturday evening whim, I decided to host an impromptu dinner for six. Amongst (numerous) bottles of red wine, champagne and sangria, we snacked on a baguette-topped treat with goat cheese, arugula, grapefruit supremes and black pepper. For dinner, I made a quick risotto and toasted croutons while everyone chatted. This is an easy "one pot dinner" using bowls and spoons only.

Leek Risotto with Mascarpone and Marjoram

Serves 6.

2 leeks, thinly sliced (use white and light green portions and soak in water to remove grit before using)
2 c arborio rice
8 c (approximately) vegetable stock
3 T fresh marjoram, minced
1 c dry white wine
6 T butter plus an additional tablespoon for initial saute
rind of one lemon (peel zest with a peeler then slice to thin strips)
salt and fresh-cracked pepper to taste

On a medium-high heat, saute leeks, salt and pepper in a Dutch oven until leeks are coated in fat and translucent. Add arborio rice and saute to also coat in fat and begin releasing starches- do not brown. Deglaze pot with white wine and begin stirring mixture with a wooden spoon until liquid is just absorbed. At this point, add a ladle-full of stock at a time, stirring constantly as each ladle of liquid is almost absorbed.

The risotto will be finished at the point of al dente and will have a creamy appearance (approximately 20 minutes). When an al dente texture has been reached, add a final ladle of stock, remaining butter, herbs, mascarpone, lemon rind and a final seasoning of salt and pepper. Garnish with chopped herbs and gruyere croutons.

Oversized Gruyere Croutons

1 small baguette, sliced on the bias
1 T fresh marjoram, chopped
gruyere slices to top baguette
Toast bread in a 375 degree oven on both sides until browned and crispy. Top toasts with sliced gruyere and a sprinkle of fresh marjoram. Return to oven and continue toasting until cheese is melted and bubbly.
In another attempt to keep warm, I decided to dust off my mini-bundt pan and fill my apartment with an intoxicating lemon-herb aroma on a chilly afternoon. This recipe was based on a Martha Stewart pound cake recipe- I used Meyer lemons instead of regular to add sweetness and created a simple syrup to add moisture and mimic flavors in the mini cakes.

Meyer Lemon Mini Bundt Cakes With Lemon Thyme

2 sticks plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1.5 c AP flour
4 T lemon thyme leaves
.5 t salt
zest of 2 Meyer lemons
1.25 c sugar
1 t vanilla bean paste
6 eggs, room temperature

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a mini bundt pan and sprinkle bottom of each tin with a sprinkle of lemon thyme leaves. Set aside. Whisk together flour, lemon zest, salt and thyme leaves in a bowl. Set aside.

Cream cool butter with sugar at a medium speed in stand mixer for approximately 8 minutes until creamy and fluffy. Add vanilla bean paste and eggs, one at a time, scraping down bowl with each addition. In three portions, slowly add flour mixture and mix just until incorporated- do not overmix.

Fill each individual mold with batter and smooth the tops. Firmly tap pan on counter to remove any air bubbles. Bake for approximately 20 minutes until an inserted toothpick comes out clean. Cool on a rack for 10 minutes. Run a knife around cakes to loosen from molds and invert on a platter. Spoon warm lemon thyme simple syrup atop cakes and garnish with additional thyme leaves.

Servings: 12 individual cakes

Lemon Thyme Simple Syrup

zest and juice of 2 meyer lemons
1 c sugar
1 c water
3 sprigs thyme
dash salt

Combine all ingredients. Simmer at medium heat until liquid reduces by half. Remove thyme leaves and set aside to slightly cool before spooning atop cakes. Reserve extra syrup for cocktails, spritzers, etc.