27 September 2012

Tomato Tart


The cherry tomatoes just keep on coming! This was my first year planting them and I had no idea how much those few tiny plants were going to produce. Of course, they're wonderful in soups, salads and pasta; but there's nothing quite like a tomato tart. It might look a bit fancy, but to me it's just comfort food. A larger slice makes a lovely first course, tiny slices make great HDs (hors d'oeuvre) or afternoon tea savories.

I've made the tart with filo and pie dough as well, both delicious; but using frozen puff pastry makes it really easy (It's been ages since I've made homemade puff pastry--I'm not so averse to time-saving measures as I once was!). I usually make the tart with sliced medium-sized tomatoes, but this year I grew cherry tomatoes instead.

My tomato tart makes even bland store-bought tomatoes taste the way they should, so don't feel you needn't bother if you're not a gardener. This time I made the tart with raw tomatoes, but if you have the time, giving them a bit of a roast beforehand takes out some of the moisture and intensifies the flavor. 

Just preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Rub some olive oil on a foil-lined rimmed baking sheet and place the tomato halves cut side up; cut side down, they will go from roasting nicely to stuck to the foil in the blink of an eye. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast about 30 minutes, remove from the oven and cool slightly.

What do you do with a bumper crop of tomatoes? 

Tomato Tart

(Makes one 10x10-inch tart)

1 sheet (1/2 package) frozen puff pastry
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
1 tablespoon finely minced shallot
2-3 tablespoons finely grated Parmesan
12 ounces cherry tomatoes, halved
3 scallions (white & light green part only), thinly sliced
1/4 cup basil leaves, thinly sliced (chiffonade)

1/4 cup flat-leaf parsley, chopped
1/8 teaspoon salt, divided
1/4 teaspoon pepper, divided


1 Thaw pastry at room temperature for 45 minutes. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. In small pan, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil and saute shallot; cool. Measure Parmesan. Prep tomatoes, scallions, parsley and basil.

2 Gently unfold pastry on lightly floured 12-inch square of parchment paper, roll out pastry to 11-inch square. Trim edges to make 10-inch square. Transfer pastry on parchment to an ungreased 17x11x1-inch baking sheet. Score edge at 1/2 inch; prick pastry thoroughly with a fork inside the scored edge.

3 Spread shallot and oil over pastry. Sprinkle Parmesan over pastry. Combine scallions, basil, parsley, 1 tablespoon olive oil, pinch of salt and 1/8 teaspoon pepper; scatter evenly over tart inside the scored edge. Place cherry tomato halves, cut side up, on tart; sprinkle with a pinch of salt and 1/8 teaspoon pepper. 

4 Bake at 425 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes, or until crust is golden. Transfer to wire rack to cool for 10 minutes before *cutting and serving. Cut into 4 pieces for a lunch serving, 8 for a first course serving, or into small squares for an hors d'oeuvre or afternoon tea savory. Serve warm or at room temperature.

* I've used the OXO Good Grips Pizza Wheel for Non-Stick Pans for years on this as well as pizza, and it cuts like a dream!

20 September 2012

Gougeres - French Cheese Puffs


Cocktail party foods, as I said last week, aren't really my thing. But this one is my favorite. Gougeres (pronounced goo-ZHAIR) are these gorgeous little savory French puffs that never fail to impress. Everyone thinks they're difficult, but they're not. So you can come off like some sort of culinary genius with comparatively little effort or skill! 

Actually, it is gougères, but I usually leave the diacritical marks out of my posts for simplicity sake. The recipe is just a variation on the pâte à choux (cream puff dough) I've always used for cream puffs, eclairs and profiteroles. So, naturally, while stirring these up my craving for all of those was stirred up! It's a safe bet you'll be seeing them here very soon!

Gougeres, like their sweet cousins, are crisp on the outside and soft on the inside. Delicious with a glass of Champagne or other wine, it's a perfect addition to your HD (hors d'oeuvre) tray. Gruyere is the classic cheese, but a good Cheddar works equally well. For a touch of green, stir in a teaspoon of finely minced flat-leaf parsley. 

What's your favorite libation and accompanying nibbles?

Gougeres

(Makes about 15)

1/2 cup water
4 tablespoons (2 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon dry mustard
Pinch cayenne
1/2 packed cup (2.5 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
2 large eggs
1/2 packed cup (2 ounces) finely shredded Gruyère or Cheddar
2 tablespoons finely shredded Parmesan
1 teaspoon finely minced flat-leaf parsley, optional

1 Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line large baking sheet (I use a heavy-duty half-sheet pan) with parchment paper. Measure out all ingredients. In 2-quart saucepan, combine water, butter, salt and spices; bring to a boil.

2 Remove from the heat. Add the flour all at once, and stir with a wooden spoon until it comes together into a smooth dough. Return to medium heat, and stir until it dries out a bit and pulls away from the pan, leaving a film on the bottom of the pan, at least 2 minutes. Remove from heat, and let cool for 3 minutes.

3 Very vigorously beat the eggs into the dough one at a time, beating thoroughly after each until fully incorporated. Beat in the cheeses and the optional parsley or other green stuff, if using.

4 Pipe, scoop* or spoon small mounds of dough onto the parchment-lined baking sheet, spacing them 2 inches apart. Bake at 425 degrees for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 375 degrees; continue baking for 20 minutes, perhaps 25. The puffs should be well browned and very crisp.

* Using a scoop is the easiest, neatest method of forming the puffs. No messy pastry bag to clean up afterward. If you don't have a #60 scoop, get one now! Not just for gougeres, but for profiteroles, small cookies and who knows what all. The other scoop size I use a lot is the larger #40 scoop.

Note: If you missed last week's post, go there now for more Cocktail Party Foods.

13 September 2012

Cocktail Party Foods


It's been years since I've given a Smart Little Drinks Party. I'm more the cozy little dinner party type. But once in a while, one steps out of one's comfort zone, puts an extra coat of wax on the wooden surfaces and hopes for the best. I draw the line at setting out ashtrays. Of course, no one I know smokes, but if they did ... well, not in my house. Oh, and schedule the carpet cleaning for after the party, not before.

You know I'm all about the food, so you're on your own figuring out the drinks. As far as I'm concerned, just give me a pretty stemmed glass of Pellegrino with a wedge of lime. I don't have much of a repertoire of HDs (hors d'oeuvres), so I'm turning to friends in the blogosphere for an assortment of small bites you can choose from for your next party. The only recipes I've blogged that fit remotely into this category are: Baba Ghanoush, Hummus, Pimento Cheese and Salsa. And I'll post my recipe for Gougeres (pictured above) next Friday.

We're all busy, right? So I've rounded up mostly make-ahead, fuss-free HDs that won't leave you too wiped out to enjoy your guests. Let's get the party started! (Just don't get too crazy - this is real life, not Mad Men, you know!)

Blue Cheese Biscuits - David Lebovitz
Cheese, butter, cream - what's not to love - and they can be made ahead!

Ina's Stilton and Walnut Crackers - Leite's Culinaria
Make ahead, freeze, defrost, slice and bake - you can't not make these!

"Instant" Deli Olives - Five Euro Food
Charles says "It's hard not to just stand next to the bowl and hog them all!

Tuna Avocado Tartare - That Skinny Chick Can Bake
I'm a sucker for anything that can be served on a cute little spoon!

Filo Cups with Italian Sausage - Sippity Sup
It won't be a party if you don't serve up a little something in filo cups!

White Onion and Pecorino Tarts - The British Larder
If you put it in a tiny tart, I'll even eat stuff I don't like - but who doesn't like onions and cheese!

Italian Eggrolls with Sauce - Barefeet in the Kitchen
Every cocktail menu must have something in spring roll wrappers!

Tapas-Style Spice-Roasted Almonds - One Perfect Bite
You have to serve some nuts, and you can't just pop open a can! (If you do, at least hide the can.)

Doron's Turkey Meatballs - Orangette
A spin on the classic cocktail party meatballs!

06 September 2012

Orange Ice Cream


The bright, tart-sweet flavor of an orange can certainly stand alone, but mellow it out with a silky custard made with heavy cream and it's magic. For a lighter frozen dessert, I might have made orange sherbet or frozen yogurt. For pure pow, orange sorbet. I was out of milk and yogurt but had plenty of organic heavy cream on hand, so ice cream it was.

Orange ice cream isn't the usual thing, so I didn't even look for a recipe. I've made so much ice cream since I got my machine last year that I really don't need a recipe; I just make it up as I go along! 

Sometimes I make uncooked ice cream, but more often I make it with a cooked custard base. With all that juice, an uncooked ice cream could turn out icy. So I went with a cooked custard base to lessen the chance of iciness. Good call! This ice cream is soooo smooth and creamy. And scoopable.

The flavor is reminiscent of my childhood favorite ice cream bar, Creamsicle® (also known as the 50/50 bar). Only this is super-premium organic ice cream. What a perfect way to celebrate the end of summer!    

Orange Ice Cream

(Makes about 1 quart)

1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/8 teaspoon salt
3 large egg yolks
1 1/2 cups freshly squeezed and strained orange juice
2 tablespoons orange liqueur, optional
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 In heavy-bottomed 2-quart saucepan, heat cream just to a simmer.

2 While cream is heating, in 1.5-quart bowl whisk together sugar, cornstarch and salt. Whisk in the egg yolks until mixture is smooth.

3 Whisk hot cream into egg mixture, then pour mixture into the saucepan. Over low heat, stir constantly until mixture thickens and registers 170 degrees on instant-read thermometer, about 5 minutes; do not boil.

4 Stir in orange juice. Strain custard into a medium bowl (I use a 2-quart glass measure to make pouring into the machine easier); whisk in orange liqueur, vanilla and orange juice. Cover and refrigerate until well chilled, at least 8 hours or overnight.

5 Assemble the Cuisinart ICE-21 Frozen Yogurt-Ice Cream-Sorbert Maker; turn it on. While it is running, pour the chilled mixture through the spout. Let mix until thickened, about 20 minutes. Or follow the directions for whichever brand ice cream maker you have. If you have a KitchenAid, you can use their KitchenAid Ice Cream Maker Attachment.

6 Transfer the soft ice cream to a freezer-safe airtight container, and place in freezer for at least 4 hours. Even after days in the freezer, this ice cream was very scoopable and did not need to be left out for 15 minutes before serving.

Note: Here is my review of the Cuisinart ICE-21. For more ice cream, sherbet and frozen yogurt recipes, go to the Recipes/Reviews index page.
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