Perfect Lemon Chess Pie

What is bright and tart with lemon, silky and unctuous with a hint of pecans? Perfect Lemon Chess Pie! This easy dessert is so delicious that you have to close your eyes with the first bite and simply sigh. And every bite afterwards. It’s just THAT good.

What is lemon chess pie and where does the name originate? “Chess” is really a colloquial or mispronunciation of “cheese.” In this case, the cheese is actually lemon curd – a beautiful curd that develops as the pie bakes. For a chess pie that is an old variation on a pecan pie, check out the recipe for Thomas Jefferson’s Chess Pie. It is also delicious but quite different from this perfect lemon chess pie by Gale Gand. I made a couple of tweaks, including adding some chopped pecans. Don’t get put off by the amount of sugar in this recipe. The finished pie is not overly sweet thanks to the amount of fresh lemon juice and zest. It is really just perfect.

Refrigerated, the pie will last for several days, although it is best to bring it to room temperature to eat – assuming you have the will power to wait!

Recipe

Yield: 8 servings

Ingredients

2 cups sugar

1 Tablespoon flour

1 Tablespoon fine yellow cornmeal

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

4 large or extra large eggs

1/4 cup milk (1% milk worked fine)

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) of unsalted butter, melted

Grated zest of 3 medium lemons (about 2+ Tablespoons)

1/3 cup fresh lemon juice

1/2 cup of coarsely chopped pecans

1 9-inch unbaked pie shell

Directions

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Combine the sugar, flour, cornmeal and salt in a large bowl. Add the eggs and mix well.

Add the milk and mix. Then stir in the melted butter, pecans, lemon zest and lemon juice until everything is well distributed. Pour into the unbaked pie shell. Cover the rim carefully with foil or a pie shield, which I highly recommend getting if you are into baking pies. Bake for 30 minutes and then carefully remove the pie shield. Continue baking until the pie filling is well-browned and barely jiggles. The original recipe said for a total baking time of 45 minutes, but mine took closer to an hour. Ovens vary so watch it. The finished pie forms a very brown, slightly sugary crust.

Allow to cool completely before cutting. Refrigerate left-overs.

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Za’atar Roasted Chicken Over Sumac Potatoes

Sababa, an Arabic word, has come to mean “cool” or “awesome” in Hebrew slang. The Za’atar Roasted Chicken over Sumac Potatoes included in the 2019 cookbook Sababa by Adeena Sussman, is the perfect Shabbat or Sunday dinner. It’s not difficult to make and is a wonderful change from the typical roast chicken. I can attest that it is truly Sababa! The resulting chicken is incredibly moist and juicy and loaded with flavor.

I find it amusing that all of a sudden Middle Eastern food is “in.” Every time I open a newspaper to the food section, another Middle Eastern dish, restaurant or chef is being lauded. It is wonderful that this rich and varied cuisine is receiving its due, but many of us happily been enjoying it for years.

Like this Za’atar Roasted Chicken over Sumac Potatoes, many of the dishes rely on fresh foods livened by a liberal use of herbs and spice mixtures. Za’atar can be found already mixed in many grocery stores these days and is easily available online. You can, of course, make your own if you wish. It is originally a blend of the Biblical hyssop, sesame and salt. Wild thyme is often used in place of the hyssop. Sumac, which was cultivated in Mishnaic times is high in vitamin C and lends a wonderful citrus flavor to foods as well as a lovely almost saffron color.

This dish is simple to create and I paired it with a tomato basil bisque and a lovely salad. For dessert I made tahini cookies, which can be easily whipped up and will last for days in an airtight container – that is, if you can resist eating them all!

Recipe

Yield: Serves 4 to 6

Ingredients

1 roasting chicken, approx. 4 pounds

5 to 6 smallish red potatoes, scrubbed and quartered

4 medium shallots, peeled and quartered

4 Tablespoons EVOO

2 Tablespoons ground sumac

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste (If you are using Kosher chickens, you will probably want less added salt.)

1 small lemon

5 Tablespoons Za’atar Spice blend

1/4 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes

2 to 3 large garlic cloves

6 fresh thyme sprigs

Directions

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

Place the potatoes and shallots in a rectangular baking dish large enough to hold everything (about 9 x 13). Toss the potatoes and shallots with 1 Tablespoon of the EVOO, all of the sumac and about 3/4 teaspoon of salt and some generous cracks of black pepper.

Rinse and pat dry the chicken, being sure that there are no giblets inside. (If there are giblets, remove them and freeze them for soup.) Season the inside and outside of the chicken with salt and pepper.

Zest the lemon into a bowl and then halve the lemon and set the pieces aside. Add the remaining EVOO to the lemon zest along with 4 Tablespoons of the za’atar and the red pepper flakes. Mix gently.

Place the chicken, breast side up, on top of the potatoes and shallots. Stuff the lemon halves (I could only get one half in so saved the other half for another use), garlic and thyme sprigs into the cavity of the chicken. Tie the legs together with some kitchen twine.

Rub the za’atar mixture all over the outside of the chicken and a bit under the breast skin if you like.

Roast the chicken for 15 minutes and then reduce the heat to 350 degrees F. Continue roasting for 1 hour and 20 minutes more or until the juices run clear and the leg jiggles easily when pulled. Remove the chicken from the oven and allow it to rest for 10 minutes before carving. Cut the chicken right over the potatoes so that the juices run over the vegetables.

Lamb Korma at Home

Preparing Indian cuisine does take some time and lots of spices. But the rewards are worth the trouble. This lamb korma at home recipe comes from the same source as the oven-baked chicken tandoori that I posted previously.

What is korma and how does it differ from curry? Korma is a mild curry made with yogurt and nuts and includes lots of coriander. It is rich in flavor and texture with many layers.

As I have mentioned before, while Indian recipes call for lots of spices, the same ones are used often in both Indian and Mediterranean cuisines. I like to buy the whole spice and grind them as needed, which takes only minutes if you use and inexpensive coffee or spice blender. The difference from the pre-ground spices that you buy in stores is huge and will make or break these dishes. Once you get in the habit of grinding your own spices you may never go back to buying them ground again.

As with many cuisines, organizing your ingredients before you actually begin to cook is essential. Things get added quickly and there is no time to suddenly start chopping or blending ingredients once the cooking commences. Preparing these recipes with someone else to help makes short work, but they can be done by one person.

For some ideas of how to put together a complete Indian meal, check out the suggestions I give on my post for tandoori chicken. And always be sure to have some good naan, roti or other bread and basmati rice to soak up the delicious sauces. Even if you only serve the lamb korma at home with a simple rice and a veg, you won’t be disappointed.

Recipe

Yield: About 6 to 8 servings as part of a full Indian meal

Ingredients

2 ounces of garlic cloves (about 8 large)

2 ounces of fresh ginger root, peeled and cut into small pieces

1/2 cup of milk

2 ounces of raw cashews

2 teaspoons poppy seeds

1/2 cup butter or ghee

1/4 cup of Canola or vegetable oil

1 pound (about 1 large) onion, finely chopped

2 pounds of lean lamb, cut into 1/5 inch cubes

2 teaspoons ground coriander

1.5 teaspoons curry powder

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper

1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric

1/4 teaspoon ground green cardamom

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 pound tomatoes, cut into 1/2-inch pieces

1/2 cup plain whole-milk yogurt

Directions

Puree the garlic and ginger in a processor or blender and set aside.

Combine all of your spices and the salt and set aside.

Mix the milk with the cashews and poppy seeds in a blender and process until smooth. (I found that this worked best if I first ground the cashews and poppy seeds in my spice grinder.)

Melt the butter or ghee in a large, heavy skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and saute until lightly browned. Increase the heat to high and add the garlic/ginger puree. Brown lightly.

Reduce the heat to medium and add the lamb pieces. Saute until lightly browned on all sides, turning as needed. This takes about 8 minutes. Scrape the skillet as necessary to prevent sticking. You can add a few drops of water to loosen any brown bits, but I found that the butter and oil was sufficient.

Add the spices and mix well being sure to coat all of the lamb pieces. Reduce the heat to low and cook for 10 minutes until the lamb is nicely glazed.

Add the tomatoes, yogurt and cashew, poppy seed milk mixture and stir through.

Serve garnished with chopped cilantro, if desired.

Oven-Baked Tandoori-Style Chicken at Home

Now anyone can make delicious Oven-Baked Tandoori-Style Chicken at home. If you follow my blog it’s easy to tell that my favorite cuisines are Indian and Mediterranean. Both are incredibly varied, complex and have some huge regional differences. That said, however, these cuisines are lively with spices and use lots of vegetables and pulses. The spices are similar, albeit in different combinations and quantities. The meals are accompanied by salads and pickles and both have wonderful flat breads. And its easy to feed both vegetarians and omnivores since there are so many great non-meat options.

Because spices are at the heart of these cuisines, I have relatively recently started grinding my own as I use them. It is incredibly simple and quick to do with a coffee grinder and the difference is incomparable. Smell freshly ground coriander versus store bought and you won’t even recognize them as the same spice. And while the spice list may appear long in many Indian dishes, if you do this kind of cooking, they are spices that I always have on hand in my pantry. If you purchase the whole spice or seed – only grinding what you need – the fragrance and flavor will last longer too.

But I digress. My husband and I have found that eating out is very expensive and often a less than totally satisfying experience. And, of course, I enjoy cooking and my husband and family are such an appreciative audience that I have chosen to learn how to prepare many of our favorite foods at home. And the aromas! There is nothing like walking into a house where the air is redolent of spices or the smell of fresh bread.

All of this is by way of introducing Oven-Baked Tandoori-Style Chicken at home. This recipe dates back to a May, 1980 Bon Appetit article on the cuisine of northern India. The chef is Paul Bhalla and his recipes do take some preparation, but they are all well worth the effort. I hopefully will be blogging his recipe for Lamb Korma and Alu Gobi in the coming weeks. The only change I have made in the Tandoori Chicken recipe is to reduce the quantity. This can easily be doubled. The other slight change is that my oven unfortunately shuts down if I try to heat it to 500 degrees F. So I have slightly reduced the temperature to 475 degrees F. at the beginning of the cooking time and will zap it under the broiler at the end to get that caramelized look.

For a complete Indian meal, check out some of these ideas:

Indian Sides with Something to Please Everyone

Red Lentils with Ginger

Punjabi Chana Dal

Moong Dal and Lemony Ground Lamb

Eggplant Raita

Eggplant Pate (Bharta)

Karhi (Yogurt Sauce)

Indian Rice Pudding (Kheer)

Carrot Halwa (Gajar ka halwa)

Be sure to have plenty of naan, roti or one of the other many Indian breads on hand for all of the wonderful sauces and dips. If you cannot locate these breads easily and don’t feel like making them, the ubiquitous pita and wheat flour tortillas are acceptable substitutes. And definitely cook up basmati rice.

And if you don’t eat meat, check out Salmon in Bengali Mustard Sauce. These wonderful recipes are just a sampling of delicious Indian foods on my blog.

Recipe for Oven-Baked Tandoori-Style Chicken at Home

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

1 whole chicken, cut-up and skinned

1/2 teaspoon saffron threads

1 Tablespoon boiling water

4 large garlic cloves

4-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and cut into about 8 pieces

1/2 cup plain yogurt (I do not use Greek yogurt here. Find a good plain, whole milk yogurt to use instead like a Bulgarian yogurt.)

1/4 cup beetroot color extract (See note)

A couple of drops of red vegetable food coloring (optional)

Juice of 1/2 lemon

Rounded 1/2 Tablespoon ground coriander

Rounded teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/4 teaspoon whole cumin seed

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted

Garnishes (Optional)

Lemon or lime wedges and lettuce leaves and sliced onions.

Directions

Remove the skin from the chicken. I find it helps to use a paper or cloth towel to gran and pull off the skin in one piece. Cut 4 to 5 slits (almost to the bone) in the thighs and breasts. Place in a glass or stainless bowl.

Soak the saffron in the water for about 5 minutes. I heat the water and saffron in the microwave for about 20 seconds or you can simply boil water and then add the saffron. Brush the mixture generously over the chicken pieces on both sides and into the slits. Cover and allow to stand for 20 minutes at room temperature.

In a blender, puree the garlic, ginger and then add the yogurt, beet extract and spices. Continue pureeing until you have a smooth liquid. Using a pastry brush, generously paint the chicken pieces with the spice mixture, making sure that it gets into the slits. You can also just place everything in a heavy duty plastic freezer bag. Massage the chicken pieces once you have gotten out as much air as possible and the bag is sealed. Refrigerate for at least 12 hours or overnight.

Remove the chicken from the fridge about an hour before cooking. Heat your oven to 500 degrees F if you can or 450 to 475 degrees F if your oven doesn’t go that high.

Use some of the melted butter to coat a shallow roasting pan. Add the chicken pieces and drizzle with remaining butter. Roast for 10 to 12 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees F and continue roasting until the chicken tests done and is a poppy red color – the perfect Oven-Baked Tandoori-Style Chicken. This will take about an additional 25 to 39 minutes. Arrange on a platter with lettuce leaves and the garnishes of your choice. [I did not use the red food coloring and my beets were a bit anemic in color this time, so my chicken was not that lovely poppy red. It does NOT, however have any effect on the taste.

NOTE: To make beet extract, cut in eighths 1 large or quarter 2 to 3 small beets. Combine in a saucepan with 1/2 cup water. Cover and boil until the beet is fork tender, about 15 to 20 minutes. Drain well, reserving the liquid. Use the cooked beets for salad. The reserved liquid is your extract. You can also buy canned beets and use the liquid from the can.