Escape with al Fresco Dinner

outdoor dining at Ian's

Some nights are just meant for cocooning with family. Sometimes it’s your family. Sometimes it is an adopted or blended family. In any case, escaping from the craziness that summer, racism, politics and general idiocy has bestowed upon us this month was just what was needed this week.

Escape meant retreating to city backyard, beautifully planted with selections from Stan’s and Potratz. We sat in wicker rockers and wrought iron purchased from the Erie City Mission. We talked politics, but were respectful of the opinions of those in the conversation. And we dined under the stars without interruptions from Baton Rouge, Dallas or Minnesota. No tweets from Donald Trump or FBI press conferences about Hillary Clinton. And no news alerts about Erie City Council’s lack of foresight or cohesion when it comes to a restaurant wanting to offer outdoor seating during the all-too-short summer season.

No, once the presidential politics were put aside, we talked about grandmothers, and toddlers, and photography, and high school, and fireworks, and birthday parties, and dinner.

Dinner was grilled prime beef tenderloin steaks from Urbaniak Brothers, wrapped in Urbaniak bacon, and topped with herb butter. Accompanying it was a Greek salad, which I learned to make from a Greek family on a Greek island. It had a few of my beginning-to-ripen yellow tomatoes and oregano, parsley and mint from the garden. Mixed with Bulgarian feta and olive oil wheat rusks from Cleveland’s West Side Market, the salad is tossed with lemon juice and olive oil. Fresh corn from Mason Farms, removed from the cob, was topped with just a pat or two of butter and served warm.

For dessert, I made a lemon and almond cake and served it with macerated berries and whipped cream. The employees at Mason Farms said there are only a couple days left for fresh strawberries, so I had to have some of those mixed in raspberries, which are now appearing. I added some sugar and very good balsamic vinegar to balance the sweetness.

Blueberries are appearing in area farm markets, but the blueberries from Conn’s Blueberry Farm North East are coming in a week or two (my favorite place to pick).

I hope you enjoy your weekend. Hug your loved ones. Be kind to one another.

XOXOXO

Marnie

almond and lemon curd tort

Almond Lemon Curd Cake with Berry Topping

Lemon Curd

  • Grated zest and juice of 2 lemons, about 6 tablespoons juice
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 4 extra-large eggs
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed

Make the lemon curd several hours in advance and refrigerate. If you don’t have time, you will need a large ice bath to cool it down. This will take about 30 minutes before you can add it to the cake.

Have a double boiler ready. Or find a pot and a metal bowl that fits into the top. Fill the pot with water to just below where it touches the bowl. If the bowl touches the bottom of the pot, this won’t work. You need at least an inch of water between the bowl and the bottom of the pot to prevent hot spots, which will scorch or lump.

While you are bringing the water to a boil, whisk together juice, zest, sugar and eggs. Place over the boiling water and whisk in the butter one cube at a time. You will continue whisking or using a spatula to keep the mixture moving until it thickens to the point where you can call it curd (think lemon pudding). Remove it from the heat. You can strain it, if you want. Or chill until ready to use.

Cake

  • 9 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup plus 1 to 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 cup flour
  • ½ cup almond flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 extra-large eggs, beaten
  • 2 tablespoons toasted sliced almonds

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a tart pan with removable bottom or springform pan.

Cream butter and 1 cup sugar with electric mixer until light and fluffy. Whisk together flours, baking powder and salt. Gradually beat into the sugar and butter mixture. Add beaten eggs and mix until just combined. Do not overmix.

Pour into the pan. Dollop 8 tablespoons of the lemon curd around the perimeter about 1 inch in from edge of the pan. Dollop another 3 to 4 tablespoons in the middle. Top with the toasted almonds and sprinkle with sugar.

Bake 40 minutes, until the top is brown and a tester inserted into the cake (not the curd) comes out clean. Remove from oven and allow to cool for about 15 minutes before removing rim of the pan.

Serve with the berries and whipped cream.

Berry Topping

Mixed berries, totaling about 12 ounces (cut strawberries in half if large)
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon good balsamic vinegar

Combine at least 1 hour before serving. Let sit at room temperature.

Cake recipe is adapted from the New York Times.

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