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Friday, October 22, 2010

Why I Love Ina

Many cooks tell stories of how they learned to cook watching their mothers or their grandmothers.  As I have mentioned, my mother was no slave to the kitchen and my grandmother, well, lets just say that my mother came by her limited culinary skills honestly. So, it's a source of endless amusement to both my sister and me that we can each boil a pot of water, let alone cook a whole meal.

My road to edible food was a rocky one.  My husband, Ted, still tells the story of the "Key Lime Slime Pie."  I wanted to make a key lime pie but didn't actually read the directions completely enough to know that I had to cook the filling on the stove first.  I did, however, pop the whole assembly into the oven for a couple of minutes to brown the meringue.  The meringue was stunning. The lime curd was uncooked and slimy.  No matter how many successful key lime pies I have since turned out, the Key Lime Slime Pie will always be the one talked about.

So, you ask, why do I love Ina?  It's easy.  Ina Garten taught me to cook.  Not one on one, mind you, but every afternoon at 1:30 on her Food Network show Barefoot Contessa.  I watched her demonstrate how to make things like lobster pot pie and shortbread, and she made it look so easy.  Ina gave me the confidence to give it all a try.   Her relaxed approach to cooking made me feel like we were friends hanging out in her kitchen. There's no one who likes hanging out in the kitchen more than me.  And on the subject of Ina's friends, I want to be one.  She seems always to be sending them home with big pots of stew or making beautiful gift baskets with homemade granola bars for them.  She even invites their kids over to make homemade pizzas.  No one in their right mind would have invited my kids over to make homemade anything when they were little.

I still watch Ina almost every day.  By now, I think I've made every recipe in each of her five cookbooks.  Ina has been such an inspiration to me over the years that I have taken to giving her cookbooks to newly engaged brides.  I figure that I should pay it forward and help them out.  Just like Ina helped me.

Ina Garten's Lime Curd Tart
(Barefoot Contessa Cookbook, 1999)

Tart Shell:

3/4 cup unsalted butter at room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
Pinch of salt


4 limes at room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 lb. unsalted butter at room temperature
4 extra-large eggs at room temperature
1/8 tsp. salt

Preheat the oven to 350.

In the bowl of an electric mixed filled with a paddle attachment, mix the butter and sugar together until they are just combined. Add the vanilla.  In a medium bowl, sift together the flour and salt, then add them to the butter and sugar mixture.  Mix on low speed until the dough starts to come together.  Dump onto a surface dusted with flour and shape into a flat disk.  Press the dough into a 10-inch-round or a 9-inch-square false bottom tart pan, making sure the finished edge is flat.  Chill until firm.

Butter 1 side of a square of aluminum foil to fit inside the tart and place it, buttered side down, on the pastry.  Fill with rice or beans. Bake for 20 minutes.  Remove the foil and beans, prick the tart all over with the tines of a fork, and bake again for 20-25 minutes more, or until lightly browned.  Allow to cool at room temperature.

Remove the zest of 4 limes with a vegetable peeler or zester, being careful to avoid the white pith.  Squeeze the limes to make 1/2 cup of juice and set the juice aside.  Put the zest in a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Add the sugar and process for 2 to 3 minutes, until the zest is very finely minced.  In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter with the sugar and lime zest.  Add the eggs, 1 at a time, and then add the lime juice and the salt.  Mix until combined.

Pour the mixture into a 2-quart saucepan and cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until thickened, about 10 minutes.  The lime curd will thicken at about 175 degrees F, or just below a simmer. Remove from heat and set aside.

Fill the tart with warm lime curd and all to set at room temperature.  Once set, serve immediately or refrigerate until ready to serve.

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