Monday, March 7, 2016

Teaching a Friend to Cook

It’s not often that I have an opportunity to give a cooking lesson.  Bart would rather eat a bowl of leftover plain rice than learn how to stir-fry some chicken to put over it.  But once a year or so my young friend Alayne drops in for the afternoon so I can show her how to make a few new dishes.  Then we eat the end results.

This time she wanted to know how to cook fish and bake a lemon meringue pie.  The Crunchy Baked Fish recipe she chose was easy. Click here for the recipe. (

Not so the Lemon Meringue Pie.  There are several ways to go wrong if you’re not concentrating.  One time I was so busy talking to a girlfriend while making this pie that I forgot to add the sugar to the beaten egg whites.  Only after I’d spooned them on top of the lemon filling and was putting the pie into the oven did I notice the meringue looked funny.  Luckily I was able to scrape the egg whites back into the bowl, beat in the sugar and return the now fluffy meringue to the top of the pie. 

We started by making a pie crust.  Many people would never consider making their own pie crust, but I wanted to show Alayne that it was possible.  With some tips, wax paper and my grandmother’s rolling pin, she did an excellent job. Click here for the recipe.

Next she made the lemon filling—not from a box but with real ingredients.  Again with a few pointers from me, she had no difficulty—even when she had to separate the eggs (yolks into the filling and whites into a dry bowl).

Once the filling was ready, Alayne made the meringue.  

By then the pie crust was baked, and it was time to assemble the pie.  

As you can see, it turned out very well, so well that her boyfriend requested she make another one for his birthday.

Teaching Alayne reminded me how useful it can be to hang out in the kitchen with someone who knows how to cook.   I found myself imparting all kinds of information that I would never think to write in a recipe—information intrinsic to cooks and missing in non-cooks.

Maybe you can learn it while helping your mother or grandmother.  Maybe you can absorb it while watching TV chefs at work.  Maybe you can teach yourself through trial and error.  If you know enough, you’ll enjoy cooking.  And if you don’t, your restaurant and take-out bills will be enormous. 
Lemon Meringue Pie – serves 8 (adapted from “Help! My Apartment Has a Dining Room”
1 baked pie crust (click here for the recipe) 
3 large eggs 
2 lemons 
1 cup + 6 tablespoons sugar 
3 tablespoons cornstarch 
1/2 cup cold water 
1 cup boiling water 
1 tablespoon butter 
Make the pie crust, bake it and set aside. 
Separate the eggs and let the whites come to room temperature in a large glass or metal bowl (not a plastic bowl). 
Wash and dry the lemons.  Grate the rind against the smallest holes of a grater until the entire yellow surface has been removed. (Click here for Mom Tip.)  Set the lemons aside. 
Combine the grated rind, 1 cup of the sugar, the cornstarch and cold water in a medium pot.  Stir the mixture until the cornstarch is fully dissolved. 
Add the egg yolks to the sugar mixture and mix until smooth.  Add the boiling water, stirring constantly.  Bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat, continuing to stir constantly.  When the mixture begins to thicken, turn down the heat to medium-low and cook for 2 minutes, continuing to stir.  If it’s not stirred, the mixture will burn on the bottom. 
Remove from the heat, add the butter and let melt, without stirring.  This will take about 5 minutes. 
Place an oven rack in the middle position and preheat the oven to 375 degrees. 
While the butter melts, cut the lemons in half and squeeze out the juice.  You will have about 1/2 cup liquid.  When the butter has melted, stir the lemon juice into the filling. 
To make the meringue, use an electric mixer, eggbeater or whisk to beat the egg whites just until they form stiff peaks.  Do not overbeat.  Gentle beat in the remaining 6 tablespoons sugar, 2 tablespoons at a time, until all the sugar has been absorbed and the peaks have slightly softened.  
Transfer the lemon filling to the baked pie shell.  Gently spoon the meringue on top and spread it with the back of a spoon so that it completely covers the filling and touches the edges of the pie crust. Swirl the meringue with the back of the spoon to make little peaks. 
Bake for 5-8 minutes, or until the peaks begin to brown.  Check frequently to make sure you don’t burn the meringue.  It’s done when it’s partly golden brown and partly white.  Cool on a rack.  Refrigerate leftovers, if there are any.

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