Thursday, September 20, 2007

Back From Paradise...

Marc and I are back from our amazing trip in Varadaro, Cuba!!! We stayed at the Paradisus Princesa del Mar (formerly Sandals) which we booked through I had found the resort for our honeymoon in St-Lucia last year through Tripadvisor so I did my research again on Tripadvisor too - I LOVE that website! We are 2 for 2! It was the BEST trip!

The grounds of the resort were lush - lots of exotic flowers, plants, and trees everywhere you looked! The pool was HUGE and well maintained. I am allergic to chlorine but I guess with the salt water they only had to use the minimum amount because I didn't have any reaction. In the pool, there was also a swim-up-bar that was GREAT - I didn't even have to get out of the pool to order a Mojito! The beach was the BEST! The sand was white and the water was the most beautiful color of turquoise AND the perfect temperature - not too warm and not too cool - just refreshing! The resort is pretty much at the end of the Varadero peninsula so we didn't see too many people from other resorts wandering over to our beach so it felt very private! The resort itself is also "couples-only" so there was no drunken scenes or people getting out of hand even if it was all-inclusive, not that we saw anyways, so we had alot of peace and quiet even if the resort was 1/3 full. The rooms themselves were pretty big and the bathrooms were quiet spacious. We had a room that was labeled "garden view" but we still had a view of the ocean from the balcony of our room. As for the food, we didn't have high expectations because of the reviews I had read about Cuba, as well as, the comments we had gotten from friends but we were pleasantly surprised! Our resort had 7 restaurants - 1 was a buffet, 1 was a restaurant reserved for concierge guests only, and the remaining 5 were "a la carte". We thought the Italian and French restaurants were just okay and we really didn't like the buffet. Breakfast and Lunch were served in the buffet restaurant but we found out that the Snack Bar also had breakfast and lunch and we went there every day for the rest of our trip - it was really good! Our favourite restaurants were the Japanese and the Cuban - both we soooo good that we ended up going back to both! Wednesday nights the resort hosts a Cuban Gala in the courtyard and we reserved for that - the food the excellent - we had lobster and chicken! As for excursions, we only ended up going on the Seafari (we wanted to do the Jeep Tour but we both had forgotten to pack any running shoes) but it was worth every extra penny we spent! The tour company picks you up at the hotel and drives you to the marina where a catamaran was waiting (complete with an open bar and Cuban music!). Our first stop was to swim with the dolphins, then snorkeling, and then a stop at a small island called Cayo Blanco where we were served Lobster for lunch. We spent the rest of the afternoon here on the beach and then the catamaran brought us back to the marina.

We loved our trip sooo much that we have already decided we're going back next year! I can't wait!

Monday, September 03, 2007

Lemon Cream Meringue Pie

For our weekly get-together I received a special dessert request from our friends Ida and Max - Lemon Meringue Pie! I LOVE lemon meringue pie but I've always found that the ones sold in grocery stores, bakeries or restaurants are always overly sweet! The only place I've ever enjoyed lemon meringue pie, without an instant sugar rush or tooth ache, is at my gramma's house - her pies are never too sweet with just the right amount of tartness and none of that artificial lemon flavor or chalkiness. I didn't have time to call her so I did a quick search on the Cooking Light message boards and I took a chance on this recipe. Compared to other recipes I found it had a lot less sugar and I was also intrigued by the addition of the milk since most of the others I found used water instead. It got great reviews so I figured it would be a good recipe to start with!

I was absolutely right! The filling is absolutely amazing! Very very similar to my gramma's version - perfect balance of sweetness and tartness! Now, I can't say the same for the crust and the meringue but that was my own fault! The crust was soggy (I am pretty sure I under baked it!), the meringue wept (recipe's fault as I later found out!) and the meringue shrank (my fault!).

While the pie was cooling I noticed the meringue was shrinking and starting to weep so I did a search on the net and I learned that sealing the meringue to the edge of the pie crust is very important to avoid "shrinkage" - I obviously did not know that! I also learned that the reason that meringues weep (A syrup that forms between the filling layer and the meringue) is that they are undercooked on the bottom, and some of the moisture that is held in suspension in the egg foam seeps out all over the pie filling. The solution is to never let your filling cool before smoothing on the meringue - the filling should be piping hot to help set the bottom of the meringue. Also, egg whites should also be room temperature before beating them - this was the only thing I did right apparently! I will need to keep all this in mind for the next time!... pie ended up being a very messy disaster but it was still amazingly tasty! A work in progress!

Picture Courtesy of Cooking Light

Lemon Cream Meringue Pie

1 pie crust recipe (I used a Pillsbury Deep Dish Frozen Crust)

2 cups milk
2/3 cup sugar
3 to 4 lemons
1/4 cup cornstarch
4 egg yolks
2 TB unsalted butter, softened

4 egg whites
2/3 cups sugar
pinch of salt
1 tsp vanilla (my addition)

1. Prepare your pie crust.

2. To make the filling, combine the milk & sugar in a nonreactive saucepan. Strip the zest from the lemons with a sharp peeler, making sure you remove the yellow zest but non of the white pith beneath. (it is bitter). Add the zest to the milk & sugar and bring it to a simmer over low heat. Remove from the heat and allow to steep for 5 minutes; remove the strips of zest with a slotted spoon and discard them.

3. Squeeze lemons to make 1/2 cup strained juice. Place the juice in a mixing bowl and whisk in the cornstarch, then yolks.

4. Return the milk & sugar mixture to a boil over low heat and whisk in about a third of the boiling milk into the lemon juice mixture. Return the remaining milk and sugar mixture to a boil once more and whisk the lemon juice & yolk mixture back into it, whisking constantly till filling comes to a boil and THICKENS. Allow to boil, whisking constantly, for about 30 seconds. Remove from heat, whisk in the butter & pour into a glass bowl. Press saran wrap against the surface of the filling to prevent a skin from forming. Cool till it drops to 75 degrees. ( that's about room temp.) I let it sit out on the counter to cool. COVERED!

5. Set a rack in middle of oven and preheat to 350.

6. Bake your pie crust "Blind baking style. (Empty filled with weight or beans 20 minutes, then remove weights and bake about 10 minute more. Cool completely.

7. Spread cooled filling in baked and cooled pie shell.

8. To make meringue: Bring a small pan of water to a boil. Lower the heat to simmer. Comine ingredients in bow of mixer. Place the bowl over the pan of simmering water and whisk the egg white mixture gently for 2 minutes, till whites are hot (140 degrees) and sugar is dissolved. Whip the meringue on medium speed till it has cooled and is able to hold a shape, but not too dry. Distribute spoonfuls of meringue all over top of pie, then using back of spoon to spread it evenly. It should cover the top completely and TOUCH THE EDGES of the crust all around. (This prevents to much shrinkage) Here and there, bring up the surface of the meringue so that it is swirled. Place the pie on a cookie sheet and bake 5 to 10 minutes, till meringue is colored evenly.

9. Cool Completely.

From Nick Malgieri's Book "HOW TO BAKE" Page 169