Doing laps in the LA Fishbowl

A Lemon Meringue to Remember

Enough discussion of healthy exercise regimens and calorie counting— today we’re talking cake! Hooray!

Wanted to make a special dinner for a very special friend, so I drew upon all the wisdom gleaned from five seasons of “Top Chef” and went for it. Though some of it did not pull together the way I had planned, I rolled with the punches. Make it work! (Wait, wrong show. Sorry.)

We started out with a grilled watermelon salad drizzled with basil oil and served with arugula, tomato, quick-pickled kohlrabi (Quick pickling, my homage to Kevin from TC) and pepitas.

Doesn’t the watermelon look like salmon?

Kohlrabi is my new favorite vegetable—crunchy and fresh-tasting, zesty without being overpowering. The salad was good and certainly pretty, but I don’t know if grilled watermelon is really my thing. Turned out to be more savory than I thought it would be; should have salted it, I think. Didn’t add the cheese (my friend is allergic to dairy) but maybe a sharp feta would have enlivened it.

Main course: Lamb shanks with lentils. 

I made the rookie (rookie!) mistake of adding too many lentils to the pot, and by the end of braising the night before ended up with a solid mass of lentils, festooned with pieces of lamb. The lentils drank up all the red wine, preserved lemon & olives. I was worried, but another friend (and fellow TV foodie watcher) suggested taking some of the lentils and puréeing them with liquid. I used demi glace, chicken stock and white wine added to sautéed shallots, and poured all that into the puréed lentils, then poured all of that over the lamb shanks and whole lentils. It worked like a charm. Though thick, the sauce was flavorful and velvety. It created more of a stew. The lamb, which I though tough the night before, had relaxed and had the succulence I wanted. I served it with a purée of parsnips and celery root, and Benjamin helped me garnish. Onion biscuits on the side.

The crowning glory, however, was the dessert. Fan favorite of the evening. It was one I had made before, but for some reason it turned out especially balanced. It was a lemon meringue cake, a lemon chiffon cake with layers of lemon curd and caramel.

From such humble beginnings…

The cake rose beautifully, domed over the top of the cake pan— and then the center promptly started to sink as soon as it was pulled from the oven. Lost maybe three inches in the middle. Very depressing (ha ha)—it has done that on all four occasions that I have made this cake. Any ideas, anyone? Is it the recipe? My mixing? I checked the oven temp so I know it wasn’t that… any suggestions would be appreciated. The fallen middle meant I could only get three layers out of it instead of four, no great tragedy but a loss of some height.

The great thing about cakes—no one has to see the cracks
& the plugs in the layers—frosting to the rescue!

It takes one day to make the cake, the curd and the caramel, another day to assemble the cake and let it set, and the third day to add the meringue and torch away!

What a difference a little scorching makes…

This is about as butch as I get, folks…

It cut beautifully and was appreciated by all. Luckily, the birthday girl took away the cake so I didn’t have that temptation staring at me as I resume my P90X program. See the basic dichotomy of my life? Healthy Living/Food Hedonism. It’s a wonder I make any progress at all.

Yes, four and a half of us ate that much cake. Don’t judge.
Now, back to our regularly scheduled pushup and abs program…
July 19th, 2011 - Still Life Las Vegas

7 responses to “A Lemon Meringue to Remember”

  1. suzplunk says:

    Oh, oh, that meringue! My Grama Loretta made the best lemon meringue PIE on the planet, and I've loved them ever since. Funny story that has nothing to do with your story at all: she spent all day one day back in the 80's on 2 beautiful pies for the Mackinac Island church summer bazaar. My uncle, (her son-in-law) was recruited to ride them down to the church in his bike basket. He got about half-way when one somehow got bumped and toppled out onto the street. Tragic.

    But…what if you let the cake cool in the oven completely before disturbing it? Don't peek at it by opening the door, and tell everyone in the house to walk lightly and make no vibrational disturbances.

    What are onion biscuits??

  2. James Sie says:

    Hmmm… interesting theory. I will test it. Onion biscuits are biscuits with sauteed onions folded in. Delish. Got it from my newest fave cookbook, "Around My French Kitchen" by Dorrie Greenspan.

  3. Doug Wood says:

    Okay, now I have to tell you all, that meringue cake was an amazing, amazing thing. Not as sweet as you'd think, but tart and so flavorful.

    And BONUS, he had extra meringue left over and for dessert tonight I took two graham crackers, put Nutella on one and meringue on the other, blow torched the crap out of it and had me some Uptown S'mores. Hell yeah.

    PS When he put aside the meringue in the refrigerator for me, James labeled it Marshmallow, because he thought I wouldn't use it if he called it 'meringue.' He was right.

  4. Denis O. says:

    Yes, the cake looks fantastic, but I have to say…so do you….P90X.

  5. salgal99 says:

    I'm not sure I could have cut into that cake, it was such a thing 'o beauty! And you look positively at home with that blow torch!

  6. The entire meal was phenomenal! But the cake… the cake… One should not have it for breakfast and certainly not for lunch… I did! But, it was my birthday YAY ME! YAY CAKE! YAY, YAY James!

  7. Anonymous says:

    Makes me want to throw out the gluten, sugar, egg, grain free life I am leading.

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