Life has been full and moving apace; and I’ve been a bit remiss here on Good Food Matters. But, exciting things are in the works—including a cookbook! I’ll share more details on that project soon, but in the meantime I thought I’d give you a look at our beautiful spread, an hors d’oeuvres buffet from last weekend. We held a shower honoring my daughter, son-in-law, and (grand!) baby to come.
No funny games or balloons, just a gathering of family and friends in the late afternoon for appetizers and sweets. We had a colorful array of foods, with a meat dish, a fish dish, and a bounty to please vegetarians and omnivores alike.
Plus, The Pie Board! My daughter Madeleine wanted not just pie, but Pies. A table filled with these assorted treats, great and petite, fruit or nut filled, chocolate cream or baked vanilla custard is a fun alternative to, say, a single cake. Easy as pies…..
While our party was a baby shower, it doesn’t matter: our menu would work for any kind of event, like a cocktail supper.
For your inspiration, with tips:
An Hors D’oeuvres Buffet
Marinated Grilled Beef Tenderloin, horseradish cream sauce, sundried tomato rolls
Orange-rubbed Smoked Alaskan Salmon Fillet
Blanched Chilled Asparagus with Greek Yogurt-Dill Dip
Roasted Butternut Squash-Yellow Bell Pepper-Honeycrisp Apple Quinoa
Black Eyed Pea “Cowboy Caviar”
Hot Baby Spoon Spinach-Artichoke Dip both served with blue and white corn chips
An overnight marinade of olive oil, red wine, balsamic vinegar, fresh thyme, and lots of fresh garlic help insure a succulent and flavorful piece of meat. Liberally salt and pepper the beef before grilling.
I rub the salmon fillet with orange zest and good olive oil before placing on my Big Green Egg to gently smoke. The fish stays moist, and is fragrant with citrus.
Simply roast diced butternut squash that you’ve first brushed with olive oil and lightly seasoned with salt and pepper. Do the same with diced yellow bell pepper. Prepare the quinoa according to package directions. Fold in roasted vegetables and diced fresh apple once the quinoa is cooked. The heat of the quinoa lightly cooks the apple, while retaining its crunch. Served warm or cool, this makes a delicious fall-inspired side or salad.
Blanched Chilled Asparagus with Greek Yogurt-Dill Sauce: Easy to make, easy to pick up and eat! It doesn’t take long to plunge the spears into boiling water, let them cook less than 2 minutes, and plunge them into an icy bath. Season plain Greek yogurt with plenty of fresh dill, scallions, fresh lemon juice and sea salt.
Like the quinoa dish, this vegan “Cowboy Caviar” is healthy, full-flavored, and universally enjoyed. I was lucky to find fresh black eyed peas at the market, which I cooked with garlic, sea salt, bay leaf and a pinch of red pepper flakes. Once the peas became tender and cooled, I added diced avocados, tomatoes, jalapenos, onions, cilantro, olive oil, and a squeeze of fresh lime juice.
This is an updated classic, made with fresh baby spoon spinach and artichoke hearts stirred into a green onion studded bechamel sauce. Always a favorite! Top the casserole with shredded pecorino romano cheese and bake until bubbly.
THE PIES: Rustic Honeycrisp Apple Galette, Chess Tarts, Plum Cream Cheese Pie, Maple Pecan Pie, Double Chocolate Cream Pie
Double Chocolate Cream Pie (the first to go!)
2 tablespoons cocoa
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/3 cup brown sugar
2 cups lowfat milk
4 ounces semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 teaspoon creme de cassis (optional)
pinch of salt
Whisk cocoa, cornstarch, and brown sugar together in a bowl. Pour milk into a 2 qt. saucepan set on medium heat and stir in cocoa mixture. Continue stirring until dissolved. Then add chopped chocolate. Flavor with vanilla, creme de cassis, and a pinch of salt. Stir ( a wooden spoon is good for this.) steadily, as the mixture begins to simmer and thicken. It will become smooth and puddinglike. Remove from heat and pour into pre-baked pie shell. Cool before refrigerating.
Whip a cup of heavy cream with 2 (or so, depending on how sweet you want your whipped cream) tablespoons confectioners sugar and a teaspoon vanilla. Top chilled pie, and garnish with shaved chocolate.
Individual Chess Tarts: these were made by good friend Wendy. A true Southern dessert: Eggs-Butter-Sugar-Buttermilk-Vinegar. Deceptively simple, and somewhat addictive, Chess Pie deserves a post all its own. I promise, I will deliver that soon!
Guests really have a great time making up pie sampler dessert plates for themselves!
Blissful Parents to Be
Due Date is December First
Pimiento cheese was an unknown in my world until I moved to Nashville Tennessee. A young picky eater, and native New Yorker: there was no way that I could have ever encountered that uncanny meld of grated cheddar, mayonnaise, and pimientos. A visit to a Nashville grocery in 1965 provided my first glimpse of the product, bilious orange, in a small tub.
To its credit, it was (and still is) locally manufactured under the Mrs. Grissom’s label. Grace Grissom was a smart businesswoman who launched a time-saving product for post-WWII housewives. It was well-loved by many, especially when spread on soft Wonder style bread.
I was not one of them. Mixing cheese and mayo together with those pieces of red peppers seemed wrong. Really wrong.
It wasn’t until I was an adult–a seasoned one, in fact—that I came to appreciate the very goodness of pimiento cheese. Not the Mrs. Grissom’s way. It took my catering staff’s insistence to try our own! Hard-formed thought-patterns are hard to break. But, made by hand with extra sharp cheddar ( at times, a combo of white and yellow sharps ) a dab of good mayo, garlic, red onion, and roasted sweet red peppers, pimiento cheese can be a veritable art form.
Evidently this is catching on beyond the Mason-Dixon line, as regional Southern food is becoming embraced all over the country. We’re hot! Recently, my daughter visited Point Reyes CA based Cowgirl Creamery’s outpost in Washington DC, where she purchased a small tub of their pimiento cheese. She brought it, along with other select farmstead cheeses, to our home. My-oh-my. Spread some of this onto a cracker! Swoon-able stuff, I tell you.
So when I discovered that my garden’s alleged yellow bell pepper plant was instead a pimiento pepper plant, what else could I do? I had to roast those ripe-red beauties, dice them, and fold them into some gourmet for real pimiento cheese.
Compared to red bell peppers that you usually find at the market, pimientos have a thicker, sweeter flesh, and a tetch more piquancy. They also have a rather endearing heart-shape. Dried and ground, this is what makes Paprika. If you can’t locate one, you can use a red bell in its place. Roasting intensifies the sweetness.
If you must, you may use a jar of prepared pimientos. The result will be good, certainly, but won’t have that same soulful tang.
As with most recipes that have very few ingredients, using the best will insure the best outcome. Key is a top-notch sharp cheddar. I’ve made this with Kenny’s Farmhouse Cheddar, a locally made sharp, and I’ve made it with Cabot Vermont Cheddar. Both are excellent. Successful, tamer versions can be made combining sharp cheddar with Monterey Jack cheese–but really, Sharp is what it’s all about.
If I were a true Southerner, I’d insist that you use Duke’s Mayonnaise. But, Duke’s isn’t available everywhere–and Hellman’s, my other mayo of choice, is. Use whichever you can, and carry on.
I like grate the cheese by hand. Once you’ve roasted and peeled the pimiento, it doesn’t take long to whip up a batch. The simplest way to enjoy it is, in down-home Southern fashion, spread onto humble sandwich bread. I prefer pimiento cheese tea sandwiches, (small bites!) or served with crackers, shown here. I set out condiment bowls of honey-tomato jam and red jalapeno jam to shake things up a bit.
You can get creative, like many chefs, and slather pimiento cheese onto a burger, fold it into grits casserole, or make a very decadent grilled cheese. All are fine ways to break up an old thought pattern, and savor this taste of the South.
FOR REAL PIMIENTO CHEESE
1 large pimiento or sweet red bell pepper: (roasted, peeled, and diced to make 1/2 cup)
1/2 teaspoon cider vinegar (optional)
1 lb. sharp white cheddar (like vermont cheddar)
1 quarter of a red onion, minced (to make approx. 1/4 cup)
4 tablespoons Hellman’s or Duke’s mayonnaise
1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
Place pepper halves onto a baking sheet and brush with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Roast in a 450 degree oven until skin is blistered-about 15 minutes. When cool enough to handle, remove peels and chop. Place pieces into a small bowl and add a 1/2 teaspoon of vinegar. Set aside.
Shred the cheddar and place into a large mixing bowl.
Add mayonnaise, minced red onion, granulated garlic, black pepper and prepared peppers.
Fold the mixture until the pimientos are laced throughout the cheese, and the mayonnaise has moistened and helped bind the cheese.
Taste for salt and adjust as needed.
Serve with crackers, on finger sandwiches, or dolloped onto a burger. DEE-LISH.
Cocozelle Zucchinis, Yellow Crooknecks, and now, Buttersticks.
Thanks to our diligent garden, it’s been a squash-filled summer.
Are you familiar with Butterstick Squash?
New to our garden this year, these hybrids have dark green tips and deep gold bodies, with some green streaking. Similar to zucchinis, they grow long and straight. Unlike zucchinis, ( which can hide under vast stalks and leaves until they are baseball bats!) their bright yellow color brashly announces their presence, and readiness for picking.
The flesh is firm, with a delicate, almost nutlike flavor. Seeds are minute. Easily sliced into thin coins, batons, or planks, buttersticks are cooperative. They perform well in all manner of recipes.
This is indeed helpful, because, if you are like me, the quest for different summer squash dishes is a constant from June through September.
Such a tender squash can be eaten raw.
As I was considering a preparation, I recalled a certain post in the delectable blog, My Little Expat Kitchen created by Magda.
A Greek woman living in The Netherlands, she introduces her readers to specialty dishes from her homeland interspersed with other recipes using the fresh seasonal goods found in Holland. Her photography is stunning, and her engaging voice unmistakable in her fine writing. (She also has an abiding love of chocolate, with recipes to match.)
Magda had marinated raw zucchini slices, and layered them several planks high, each in a slather of ricotta-feta cheese mixture with lemon and dill. It was her Tower.
That post was over two years ago—but its simplicity and beauty stood out for me. Whenever you can prepare an exceptional dish without firing up the stove—well, that’s a huge benefit in the heat of August.
With her inspiration, and select ingredients on hand, I decided to make my version, Butterstick Crudo.
It didn’t take long to whip up.
Chevre, churned with olive oil, lemon, green onion, fresh oregano, and just a hint of honey, serves as both slather and marinade for the butterstick slices. I recently bought some local honey that has a light yet distinct floral taste. A scant teaspoon imparts a desired essence of lavender, without being too sweet, or overpowering.
Be sure to season with sea salt and cracked black pepper, to taste.
The mixture will be thin–that’s to be expected. After you lay out a row of thin squash planks, get a spoonful and guide a stripe of the chevre down the center of each one. Place another plank on top and repeat the process.
Mine are not towers–just three stories high.
On to the finishing touches:
Scatter more fresh oregano leaves,
Marigold petals–if you have them—give a distinctive pop
A quick squeeze of lemon, and
A drizzle of good olive oil over the dish…
Place in the refrigerator for an hour, if you would like the chevre to set up. The chilled butterstick stacks slice neatly.
But, it is just as delicious at room temperature. Eat with a piece of crusty bread to swipe up all the creamy dressing.
And, use any leftover seasoned cheese blend stirred into scrambled eggs, or spread on a piece of toast. So good!
BUTTERSTICK ZUCCHINI CRUDO
3-4 small to medium sized young Butterstick Squashes or Zucchinis
4 oz. Chevre
2 t. fresh Lemon Juice
1 t. Honey
2 t. Olive Oil
1 Scallion, cut into small pieces
1 heaping Tablespoon fresh Oregano leaves
Sea Salt and Black Pepper–to taste
Marigold petals–to garnish
Wash, dry, and cut of the ends of the squashes. With a sharp knife, cut lengthwise into thin (1/4″ thick) slices.
In a mixing bowl, place goat cheese, lemon juice, olive oil, honey, scallion pieces, and oregano leaves. Using a hand-held blender, process until smooth. Season with salt and black pepper, and mix a bit more. Mixture will be a little runny.
Lay out squash slices onto a serving platter. Spread each slice with seasoned chevre. Layer each with another slice, then more cheese mixture. Finish each with a final slice. Drizzle olive oil over the vegetables. Sprinkle with salt, black pepper. Garnish with fresh oregano leaves and marigold petals, if you like.
Refrigerate for about an hour to set.
And that’s when I realized that any of my zesty trio–but especially the Apricot Mostarda–could be a key ingredient in the glaze.
I had also been working on a story about Cane Syrup for Relish Magazine.
In Abbeville, Louisiana, the Steen family has been making this deep amber delicacy for over 100 years. Now they are the only producing mill in the country, garnering them recognition in Slow Food’s Ark of Taste, a catalog of over 200 foods in danger of extinction.
If you have the chance to cook with this syrup, I encourage you to do so. The taste is distinctive. Cooking-wise, it is interchangeable with other syrups, such as molasses, sorghum, or honey. Steen’s has a prompt, reliable mail order service, and an easy-to-navigate website.
Lighter than molasses, Steen’s lends a deep bittersweet caramel note to foods.
And, mixed with my fruity mustard, sparked with a bit of allspice, it made a simple, yet spectacular ham glaze, with a slightly sweet nod to the South.
I took that southerly turn just a tetch further, and dusted a top-coat of pecan pieces, which readily adhered to the sticky glaze.
What a wonderful combination!
The pecans toasted onto the ham as it baked, making a nice crunchy layer. Bolstered with piquant mustard, it sealed in the meat’s juices.
I baked this ham for our Third Thursday Community Potluck, and wanted to serve something alongside that fit this Southern-style theme.
Sweet potato biscuits seemed like a perfect accompaniment, and are no more difficult to make than regular biscuits–just a few more ingredients.
You can bake the sweet potatoes well ahead of time–the day before, if need be.
I used self-rising flour (still trying to use up that mispick that worked so well for this other biscuit recipe.)
For their slap-dash, hands-on method—the less you work the dough, the better—biscuits are fun to make. This batch makes three dozen, which isn’t too many, when you have a big group, and a ham to match. The recipe I’ve given can cut in half without any problem.
I love the color. And the smell!
As biscuits bake, your kitchen will fill with the aromas of ginger and clove.
Stuffed with slices of this ham, dabbed with fruity mustard, such a biscuit is a real springtime treat.
PECAN-CRUSTED GLAZED BAKED HAM
1/2 cup Apricot Mustard
1/2 cup Steen’s Cane Syrup
2 t. Allspice
1/2 cup Pecans finely chopped
Sugar Cured Ham—shank or butt portion
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Trim ham–removing tough outer hide pieces, and any excess fat. Do leave a thin layer of fat–important to sealing in the juices of the meat.
Score the ham in crisscross fashion, cutting into that thin layer of fat–but Not all the way through to the meat layer.
In a small mixing ball, whisk the mustard, syrup, and allspice together.
Liberally coat the entire ham–all surfaces—with this glaze.
Place ham in baking dish. Pour 1 cup of water into the bottom.
Coat the upper glazed surface with finely chopped pecans.
Bake, uncovered, allowing 15 minutes per pound. An 8 lb. ham will take 2 hours.
Check periodically, adding a little more liquid so that the sugars don’t burn.
Allow the meat to rest at least 15 minutes before carving. The ham can be baked in advance and kept warm. It is also great served room temperature.
SWEET POTATO BISCUITS
2 cups cooked Sweet Potatoes
4 c. Self-Rising Flour
1/3 c. Turbinado Sugar
1 t. Ginger
1 t. Nutmeg
1/2 t. ground Cloves
1/2 c. Milk, “soured” with 1 T. Lemon Juice
10 T. cold Butter, cut into pieces
1/4 cup ground pecans and turbinado sugar blend (optional)
Ahead of Time: Bake Sweet Potatoes (2 medium sized) in 425 degree oven until done. Allow to cool, and scoop out filling.
In a large work bowl, add dry ingredients: self-rising flour, spices, sugar. Add sweet potatoes, lemon-soured milk (or buttermilk) and butter pieces.
Working with your hands, mix all the ingredients, rubbing the butter pieces into the flour. Work quickly; soon it will all come together in a mass. If it is too sticky, add a bit more flour. Beware of overworking the dough–it will toughen.
Dust the work surface with flour. Roll out dough about 1/2″ thick and cut into rounds. Place on parchment-lined baking sheet, close-set, (sides touching is fine).
Sprinkle the tops with ground pecan-brown sugar mixture.
Bake at 425 degrees for 10-12 minutes.
Makes 3 dozen 2″ round biscuits.
The month of May means Strawberry Time in Middle Tennessee, and this year, it also means the Return of the Cicadas. There seems to be an abundance of both.
Already, our farmers market tables are laden with baskets of just-picked red beauties. My friends at Fresh Harvest Co-op are promising a gracious-plenty yield.
The birds around my house have been in frenzy mode since the curious red-eyed creatures emerged (just yesterday!) from their thirteen year slumber. My backyard is host to this crazy dance in flight. Cicadas buzz into their first light of day. Bold Robins and Grackles swoop through, opalescent insect wings hanging from their beaks. Intruder-wary gold finches flit back and forth from feeder and plum tree.
It’s also been unseasonably hot. Ninety degrees! Loathe to turn on the air conditioning, and also my oven, I was seeking a summertime “no cook” meal for dinner.
We have been gobbling up local strawberries by the quart–in smoothies and salads, over cereal, with yogurt, layered on shortcakes and just plain. You gotta enjoy them while they’re here!
Today, I wanted to use them in something savory.
I’ve made various fruit-based salsas–with peach, mango, or the different melons. But never strawberries. Sweet and red, they accept peppery heat nicely. I had the right ingredients on hand to make a salsa, so why not with strawberries?
I also had a fat, ripe avocado waiting to be used.
Not too long ago, I tasted a memorable guacamole at a restaurant. Served in a little mason jar, it was a chunky, piquant batch laced with goat cheese and pistachios. Something about those two unexpected ingredients made the dip compelling, addictive. And worth recreating.
It didn’t take long to chop, squeeze, splash and stir a bowl of each. I’ve given the recipes for both below, and hasten to add that the nature of salsa and guacamole relies on the unforeseen fire of serranos or jalapenos, and personal taste. Some people love the fresh grassiness of cilantro; others find it soapy and despicable. Some people relish a garlic bite; others prefer more lime.
Start with the strawberries and make it your own. Same with the guacamole—just be sure to put in the goat cheese and pistachios. You’ll like these new takes on old favorites.
You could serve them in separate bowls, with a basket of blue corn chips, and make your friends happy with such tasty snacking. I could also imagine both enlivening some fish tacos.
Or, do what I did on this August-in-May evening, and turn them into a cool, no-cook dinner. I layered them on a fluffy bed of salad greens. Bill and I would dine on this, settle in and watch the backyard ballet.
PISTACHIO-GOAT CHEESE GUACAMOLE
1 large ripe Avocado, cut into large pieces
1 Serrano Pepper, finely chopped
2-3 T. minced Red Onion
2 T. chopped Cilantro
Juice of 1/2 Lime
1/4 cup Toasted Pistachios
1/4 cup crumbled or small dice Goat Cheese Feta
Place all of the ingredients into a mixing bowl and fold so that the avocado breaks down and becomes well seasoned by the other ingredients, while still remaining somewhat chunky.
Taste for salt, citrus, heat, and adjust.
1 pint fresh Strawberries, washed and capped
Cracked Black Pepper
2 Green Onions, chopped
1 T. minced Serrano Pepper (or more)
2 T. chopped Cilantro
1 T. Balsamic Vinegar
1 t. Honey (optional)
Coarsely chop the strawberries and put into a mixing bowl. Season with cracked black pepper. Add onions, serrano, and cilantro. Splash with balsamic vinegar and stir. Allow this to sit—the strawberries’ juices will come out and meld with the other ingredients.
LAYERED SALAD ASSEMBLY
Start with a Bed of fresh lettuces, mixed with cilantro
Place a mound of guacamole (about three-fourths of your batch)in the center, and slightly spread
Top with Strawberry Salsa, (reserving 1/4 of the batch.)
Garnish with chopped pistachios and feta crumbles.
Serve with blue corn chips, or eat with a fork!
April’s first weeks ushered in a Nashville Spring with roller-coaster gusto: sunny days swinging to sweltering 90 degrees, followed by terrific tree-felling storms, a final chilling wintry blast, and moderating now into The Ideal.
Our world has turned new-green. Crumpled masses of peonies are unfurling. Shoots of chives poke up out of barren planters. Dogwoods are in profuse bloom, their white petals glow in the gathering shadows at dusk.
My cousin calls Spring the Optimist’s Season, the one that brings her the most joy.
I have to agree. I relish the promise of the new, and its vibrant energy. And, around our household, it’s been busy-busy with many projects: Preparing garden beds for vegetable and herb planting. Recipe testing for a magazine’s fall issue. Interviewing a chef for another magazine. Writing food-inspired poetry.
In the midst of such busy-ness, it’s been tricky to find time for My Cooking. So, today, in the face of April’s optimism , I want to share something delicious and easy. Something you can make in a blink. Something that holds those simple light flavors of springtime. I promise.
Gougères are savory cream puffs, traditionally made with gruyere, a semi-hard cheese valued for its rich, nutlike flavor. But other cheeses work well into the eggy dough. Soft goat cheese, cracked black pepper, and chives combine to make tangy puffs that have creamy centers under crisp shells.
The recipe comprises a terse list of common kitchen ingredients: flour, butter, eggs, salt and pepper, along with two less common, but readily available: chevre and chives. I found some local Belle Chevre at our market, and chives from a pot on my front porch.
You can add a little lemon zest, if you like, to further scent the paste.
In about 20 minutes, you can have puffs piped onto sheetpans, and into the oven.
The trick to making good gougeres is in the stirring. You will get a good upper arm workout, in the process….
Bring your seasoned water and butter to a boil.
Dump in a cup of flour and stir with vigor. As it cooks, it will form a ball-like mass, coming away from the sides of the saucepan.
Turn off the heat. Make a well in the mass and beat in one egg–quickly. When it is incorporated, beat in the next egg. Continue until 4 eggs are beaten into the dough. It will look a little glossy.
The soft goat cheese crumbles fold and melt into the dough easily.
The dough will be soft, smooth, maleable, not at all runny. It will pipe into pretty ridged rounds on a parchment-lined sheetpan. If you don’t have a pastry bag, you can spoon little mounds instead. If you want, you can brush them with an egg wash for an extra crisp and shiny surface—but this is not essential.
In 25 minutes, they emerge, puffed and golden.
Unlike gruyere-based gougeres, which have a big hollow, the goat cheese ones have light creamy centers. Perfect bites to share with friends, toasting a spring evening, before you put some fish on the grill, some asparagus in the steamer, some fresh greens in the salad bowl…
GOAT CHEESE-CHIVE GOUGERES
1 cup Water
8 T. (one stick) Butter, cut into pieces
1/4 t. Salt
a few grindings of black pepper
1 cup All Purpose Flour
4 Eggs, plus 1 Egg
5 oz. Goat Cheese, crumbled
Fresh Chives, snipped into little pieces
Maldon Salt, for dusting over the gougeres
baking sheet pan lined with parchment
pastry bag (optional)
Preheat oven to 375º.
Place water, butter, salt, and pepper into a saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and dump in flour. Stir vigorously, until it is well incorporated, pulling away from the bottom and sides of the pan, and becomes a mass. Remove from heat. Using a wooden spoon, beat in eggs–One At A Time– into the flour mass. This will be a terrific upper arm workout!! Then beat in goat cheese crumbles and chives.
The pastry dough–a savory pâte à choux—will be glossy. Scoop it into a pastry bag, and pipe little mounds onto your parchment-lined sheet pan. If you don’t have a pastry bag, simply dollop small spoonfuls on to the pan.
Brush each with egg wash–1 egg beaten with some water. This step is optional.
Sprinkle chives and maldon finishing salt over the tops.
Bake for 20-25 minutes, until puffed and golden. Serve warm.
Once cooled, these can be frozen, and used whenever! Just reheat for a few minutes in a 350º oven.
Makes 30-36 tasty bite-sized puffs.
Next month, I will be one of several chefs involved in a fundraising dinner for our food bank. To a group of 80 guests, we’ll be serving a multi-coursed Tasting Menu. Much fun, this allows for a wide swath of creativity on diminutive plates. I had been asked to prepare something salad-like, something to follow a soup course.
What to make?
I knew, of course, that it would be a seasonal dish. And, I wanted it to be meatless. Many of the chefs had picked a protein— beef, pork, tuna, duck, lamb, bison–for their centerpiece, so I wanted a departure from that. I also had a sense, with the wealth of good food ideas that I am connected to through blogging, that my inspiration was close at hand.
When I came upon this Pear and Walnut Crema Tart on Joyti’s splendid site Darjeeling Dreams, I got excited. Walnut crema! Her description of its taste and simplicity of execution sold me. Alone, the crema seemed incredible, but her presentation–layered with pears, thyme, mascarpone in a savory crust, would be nothing short of sublime.
I could envision a delectable sliver on a small plate, served alongside a ruffle of arugula, sheerly dressed. A drizzle of floral honey, perhaps, over the tart, or, better yet–a lemon-honey infused vinaigrette.
It was time to get to work, test out the recipe, and see how it would work for a large dinner party.
Following Joyti’s direction, I made the walnut crema first. I didn’t have shallots on hand, as her recipe lists, only garlic, which I cooked in the pot with the walnuts. While the walnuts were simmering to tenderness, I made my pastry dough. Both crema and dough can be made a day in advance—and actually benefit from an overnight stay in the refrigerator.
The crema took on the look and texture of hummus, and the walnut flavor, surprisingly deepened in the simmer, had nothing sharp or acrid. This is the sort of sauce, or pesto, that would be quite delicious tossed over pasta or served over roasted vegetables, like asparagus.
1 cup Walnuts
2 small cloves Garlic
4 T. Olive Oil
Place ingredients into a 2 qt. saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil, and let simmer for 12-15 minutes. Drain, reserving a little “walnut water.”
Place into a food processor fitted with the swivel blade and pulse until chopped finely. Add olive oil and process until smooth, adding a tablespoon or 2 of the walnut water as well, so that the walnut crema will have the look and texture of hummus. Taste for salt.
Refrigerate tightly wrapped for at least overnight so that flavors will develop well. Keeps about a week, wrapped and refrigerated.
The following day, I gathered my ingredients. I peeled the pears–these were tough-skinned, from the country—but the pears that you use might have a delicate skin that will bake nicely. Use your judgement about that.
I made a few adaptations along the way.
Joyti’s recipe calls for mascarpone or cream cheese. I had a log of mild, tangy goat cheese that I thought could work well. (Use whatcha got!) I had no lemon thyme, but lemon and thyme.
I also compressed her recipe steps, somewhat. She calls for blind-baking the pastry shell, then filling it, and broiling it. For my large dinner group, I decided that it would be better for me to bake the shell and its filling all together.
It didn’t take long to assemble this appealing tart.
Before I placed it in the oven, I brushed some melted butter across the slices, to insure some glazy browning. Happy-Happy with the results.
The tart had a lovely crispened shell–sides and bottom. Walnut bits toasted across the pear-laden top. It cut easily, retaining integrity of layers, even when sliced into delicate pieces.
You’ll notice an inherent sweetness from the pears and bit of lemon, balanced by the tangy chevre, and anchored by the walnut crema.
It’s a simple, beautiful dish in all aspects–you could serve it as appetizer course, a fruit/cheese course in lieu of dessert. And, when paired with winter greens and honey vinaigrette, will be a stunning plate for the special fundraising dinner.
SAVORY PEAR-WALNUT CREMA TART
adapted from Darjeeling Dreams, with thanks to Joyti
1 recipe My Basic Pie Crust (click here )
1 batch of Walnut Crema
4-5 oz Goat Cheese
2-3 ripe Pears (could be Bosc, Anjou, Bartlett–I used a rustic country pear of unknown name from Maggie’s tree!)
Lemon–for zest (1 T.) and Juice (to squeeze over sliced pears)
1 T. melted Butter
a few sprigs fresh Thyme
a few Walnut halves and pieces
10″ pie pan or quiche/tart pan
Roll out pastry dough, place into pan and crimp edges. Spread walnut crema over the bottom, and follow with crumbled goat cheese. Peel and core pears, and slice thinly.
Lay out the slices, one slightly overlapping the other, in concentric circles, pressing the pieces gently into the layer of crema and cheese.
Squeeze a little lemon juice over the slices, and sprinkle the zest. Finish with a sprinkle of thyme leaves and walnut bits.
Bake in preheated 350 degree oven for 25 minutes.
Makes 8 generous servings, or 16 cocktail “tasting plate” servings.
It’s been a busy-busy two weeks since we last gathered at Good Food Matters, what with The 10-10-10 Wedding and all related pre-and-post preparations and festivities. I confess, part of it is a blur, a whirling happy extended dream sequence of flickering lights and flowers, dotted swiss organza, families, friends, more families, beautiful food, brilliant toasts, divine cake, crazy soulful dancing,
from which I’m only now awakening.
To be sure, I couldn’t have dreamt a lovelier occasion.
I figure my thirty years of working with food, catering countless receptions, was all for this moment. Friends and colleagues came together to help create a gorgeous event. So much love. So much gratitude.
In the midst of all the planning for the Big Weekend, I had decided to host a farewell brunch, especially for those who were traveling, on the morning after the wedding party.
I know what you’re thinking–what was she thinking?
But when you are a recovered caterer planning your daughter’s wedding, you feel invincible. You believe you can do anything. And, you know that you can do just one more thing. You think, Hey, it’s no big deal…Just a few people for bagels and schmear, a little fruit salad, maybe a quiche or two…
Towards the end of the wedding evening, as people were leaving, many with the same parting words, “I’ll see you at the brunch tomorrow!” it was clear that a much larger get-together was looming. And, in my rhapsodic mother-of-the-bride blur, it dawned on me: “What was I thinking?”
My, my. It would be a righteous early morning.
With the help of Bill and houseguest Carissa, we put together a pretty nice spread. One of the things I whipped up was this caramelized onion tart. Yep, whipped it up. You can too. It was much loved at the brunch of 35 guests; not a speck left. I didn’t (get to) eat any, but the word was Sublime, I was told.
I’ve recreated it today, so that you and I could enjoy it. And, guess what? Ours is even better! Because I found the delectable Chanterelle mushrooms at a discount (from $24 lb. to $16 at Whole Foods! sounds obscene, but you only need $4 worth) I decided to treat us. We deserve it!
The tart combines all those elements that create Umami, the “fifth taste,” savoriness.
There’s gruyere cheese, with its salt, and milky caramel richness. Onions cooked down to almost candy. Background herbal notes from fresh thyme. Little bites of sharpness from coarse grained mustard. And, finally…the chanterelle. Hmmm. Golden trumpets that need just a hint of heat and butter to become sultry sirens of umami.
If you make your pastry up ahead of time, and keep it refrigerated, it rolls out easily—and thin.
I learned this trick a long time ago–rubbing the mustard into the dough adds another layer of flavor.
Eggs and Half-and-Half comprise the custard. If you find the cheese called Comte, try it! It is as complex and wonderful to use as Gruyere.
CARAMELIZED ONION-CHANTERELLE TART
1 c. All Purpose Flour, sifted
1 t. Salt
6 T. Butter, chilled, cut into pieces
3-4 T. Ice Water
later: 1 T. coarse grain mustard
In a food processor fitted with the pastry swivel, pulse together the flour, salt, and butter. Add water–3 Tablespoons to start–and pulse until the dough gathers into a ball. Add another Tablespoon of water if necessary.
Wrap the dough ball in plastic and refrigerate for at least one hour
—but does well to make in advance, and refrigerate overnight.Roll out dough on a flour-dusted surface until round, thin and pliable. Place into tart dish (I used a 12″ tart pan) and press onto the sides.
Coat surface with 1 Tablespoon Coarse Grain Mustard. Refrigerate until
ready to fill.
1 Tablespoon Butter
4 medium Onions, sliced lengthwise
a few sprigs of fresh Thyme leaves
2 cups Half-and-Half
3 large Eggs
1 c. shredded Gruyere cheese
Cracked Black Pepper
4 oz. Chanterelle Mushrooms, sliced lengthwise
Melt butter in a deep skillet on medium heat and slowly saute onions until soft, slightly browned, and very sweet. This may take fifteen minutes.
Season with salt and black pepper. When cooked, stir in the fresh thyme leaves, and place into a small bowl. In the same skillet, melt another tablespoon of butter and gently stir the sliced chanterelles until they are butter-coated, soft, and golden. Remove from heat.
Beat eggs and half-and-half together until well blended–no trace of egg yolk remaining.
Bring out the tart shell. Sprinkle a layer of shredded gruyere on the bottom.
(about half of what you have) Spoon in all the onions. Pour in the egg mixture. Place pieces of cooked chanterelle all over the top, along with the remaining gruyere.
Place into a 375 degree oven and bake for 40 minutes, or until golden brown, and mixture is set.
Delicious warm, or room temperature. Serves 8-10.
When Gigi planted a fig tree on the border of her urban garden four years ago, she had no idea that it would take to the place with such ardor. But the tree settled right in to its new home, rapidly spreading upward and outward: a sprawl of great leafed branches ultimately producing hundreds of honeyed knobs of fruit. “It seems very happy here,” we both observed. “This could be the year of the fig.”
Throughout July and August, I’d get calls from Gigi, field reports you might say, about the status of the figs.
“If these all ripen, well, this is one rockin’ fig tree,” was one update.
“Thousands of figs! I picked two 5lb. baskets in less than an hour.” was another.
Over weeks, and as the summer heat became more severe, Gigi cultivated a relationship with the beloved tree; to me, it was really a reverence:
“It’s unbearably hot, and I keep telling her how wonderful she is, making all this fruit.” She set up a special watering system, “I told her I’d take care of her. I know she’s thirsty.”
To date, She has produced enough figs to make 100 pints of preserves. One hundred pints from a four-year-old tree! It seems unimaginable—
but true! Despite temperatures stuck in the nineties and rainfall spare, Gigi’s mighty fig tree became so laden with plump fruit you could easily pick a basketful in no time at all.
Which, given the intense heat and the sticky milky mess that you get allover your hands and arms from picking, was a very good thing.
Gigi set up a system of ladders and planks within the inner sanctum of the tree, cloaked under the leafy branches. It was with childlike glee that I clambered up and around the limbs, concealed from the outer world, immersed in the heady enclave of fig leaves and fruit.
And, soon, I had picked a large bowlful of figs, most dark purple, some yellow-green with a flush of rouge, all exquisite, ripe, and beautiful.
It was time to try something new with my fig bounty. Last year, I made luscious preserves with Maggie. Gigi had already been playing with different recipes: cutting back on the sugar, adding ginger to some batches, orange juice in another, and white balsamic vinegar in yet another. All methods were cooked on the stovetop. While each batch was delicious, none had the figgy caramel syrup she was seeking.
Then, one afternoon, I got a text: “Roasting is the way.”
Why, of course! But wait, another text followed–
“No olive oil. Sugar and white balsamic vinegar only. 425 degrees.”
A-ha! (Love the economy of a texted recipe.)
After carefully rinsing my figs, I placed them on a baking sheetpan, along with a few wedges of lemon–my addition. Then, I dusted with sugar, sprinkled white balsamic vinegar over the batch, and put them into that hot oven to roast. It didn’t take long—ten minutes or so—and the figs got puffed and charred, coated in a rich caramel created from melting of the sugar, vinegar, and natural fig juices. It was amazing.
After scraping into jars, I processed some in a hot water bath, as I had with Maggie’s figs, but kept one jar in the fridge–ready for this pizza I’ve been dreaming about since we first made it last year, about this time.
Covered with roasted figs, shaved gorgonzola, leeks, and ripples of prosciutto, this is one dreamy pizza. And, don’t forget–A few sprigs of rosemary, and drizzle of the figgy syrup takes the dream to wonderland.
ROASTED FIG-PROSCIUTTO-GORGONZOLA PIZZA
1 pkg. Dry Active Yeast (2 t.)
1 c. warm Water
1 3/4 c. Unbleached All Purpose Flour
1/2 c. Rye Flour
2 t. Sea Salt
1 T. Olive Oil
Sprinkle yeast into bowl of water, stir well, and let stand for 5 minutes to activate the yeast. Combine yeast water in a mixing bowl with flours, salt, olive oil. Mix until it forms into a ball. It will be moist, but not sticky. Cover and allow to rise for one hour.
Transfer dough to lightly floured work surface. Divide into two and form into balls. Cover and refrigerate, if you are not going to use immediately.
Otherwise, let stand out for 30 minutes, then roll out into whatever pizza shape—round, oblong, rectangle—suits you. Use additional flour, as needed, to prevent sticking.
Cover with toppings, and bake in a very hot oven–450 degrees–until browned and bubbly–10 minutes.
Roasted Figs and their syrup
Shaved (or crumbled) Gorgonzola Cheese
Around this time each August, when tomatoes are at that wondrous peak of perfection—and production—Nashville’s One and Only Tomato Art Fest takes place.
Not only does it give us the chance to express our love of All Things Tomato, we also get to push ourselves creatively, with the beguiling fruit of the Nightshade family as our Muse.
For some, it manifests two-dimensionally: the Art and Invention Gallery displays tomato-inspired works created especially for the Fest.
For others, it is chance to strut your stuff; the fest is a tomato-directed costume party that rivals Halloween.
But for us local food activists, it means getting in the kitchen and baking up sweet and savory tomato goodies for the Everything Tomato Bake Sale. Proceeds from the sale go the Field of Greens Fund, which was founded to benefit farmers in our local foodshed who suffered damage from the Great May Floods.
For last years sale, I made this, and it sold so well that I knew I would make it again.
But I also like the challenge of coming up with something new for the sale. How best to combine my garden zucchinis, my surplus of fat ripe cherry tomatoes….
…and some beautiful fresh Greek Oregano and Summer Savory, grown by Arugula’s Star?
With these at hand, some Greek yogurt and goat cheese in my fridge, a roll of phyllo stashed in the freezer, a sunny-along-the-Aegean-Sea direction began to form.
Roasted Zucchini planks smeared with herb-laced goat cheese stacked with sliced tomatoes encased in phyllo: the result was a cross between a terrine and a napoleon.
It baked up beautifully, with sharp feta nose, bright acid tomato pop, and robust herbal notes that conjured the rocky coast of a Greek Isle. Sliced, it’s delicious for snacking, or served as a first course. I think it would be nice for brunch, too.
But, here’s a hot tip:
At the Everything Tomato Bake Sale, it was the First Thing to sell out.
Phyllo can be a little tricky to work with; thank goodness it is so forgiving.
Thaw your package in the refrigerator overnight before using.
Have all your ingredients organized and ready to assemble, including your brush and bowl of olive oil.
Work quickly, and don’t worry about piecing the Napoleon here and there. Layer over layer of phyllo will create the right shape, bring it all together.
1 roll Phyllo Dough (one of the two pkgs. in a box)
3 medium Zucchinis
1 medium Onion
3 medium Tomatoes, or 1 1/2 pts. Cherry Tomatoes
6 oz. Mild Goat Cheese
4 oz. Feta
6 oz. Greek Yogurt
several sprigs fresh Summer Savory
several sprigs fresh Oregano
Salt and Black Pepper
1 terrine or Loaf pan
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Slice zucchini into long planks, about1/4″ thick. Slice onion into strips. Lay out both vegetables onto a baking sheet pan and brush with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and roast for 7-10 minutes. Remove and allow to cool. Drop oven temperature to 375.
In a food processor fitted with a swivel blade, pulse together the yogurt, goat cheese, feta, egg, salt, pepper. Then add fresh herbs and pulse again until the herbs are chopped—but not too finely—throughout.
Oil the terrine or loaf pan. Unroll phyllo pastry and cover with a damp towel. Lift a couple of leaves of the phyllo and lay into terrine. The leaves, or sheets will fold over the sides of the pan. Brush with olive oil and repeat the process until the terrine base and sides are covered, several sheets deep.
Place a layer of sliced tomatoes at the bottom. Spoon some of the cheese mixture over, then place a layer of the roasted zucchini planks. Continue this layering process until you fill the terrine. Finish with a few sheets of phyllo to cover the top.
Bake in a 375 degree oven for 30 minutes. Phyllo will brown and crispen.
Allow to cool, and invert. Serve in slices for snacking, or as an appetizer.
Makes 10 slices.