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2017 Recipe Scrapbook

On this frigid New Year’s Eve, I thought it would be fun to document some of the recipes and corresponding occasions that warmed my kitchen (and my belly!) throughout the year 2017.

This year has been challenging, rich, full… then again, I suppose those are some pretty accurate descriptors for LIFE in general and not specific to any calendar year. I’m grateful that cooking has made the year fuller and richer (I think there’s a double entendre in there)!

I hope that this list serves useful to you if you’re looking for some inspiration for the coming year, and please do share your favorite recipes of 2017 in the comments section!

XO,
Ginger

Celebration Meals

mom and me smitten kitchenMy mom and I both gave each other Smitten Kitchen Every Day: Triumphant and Unfussy New Favorites this year for Xmas. (I credit my mom with teaching me how to cook, and she can thank me for introducing her to Deb Perelman 🙂 ) After driving back from Xmas celebrations in Chicago, I was eager to create a festive mood at home (and make the most of my week off from work) by trying the book’s spiced carrot and pepper soup with couscous swirl, paired with a kale caesar [salad] with broken eggs and crushed croutons:

soup and salad smitten kitchen

Go figure that in my anticipation of the cookbook, I borrowed my mom’s cast iron skillet to make Cacio e Pepe Potatoes Anna from Perelman’s site. Potatoes wrapped with a bow, in my opinion:

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Screen Shot 2017-12-31 at 1.36.44 PMIn August, my husband Padraic and I celebrated our fifth wedding anniversary. I made a Jeffrey out of him with Ina Garten’s recipe for Real Meat Balls and and Spaghetti. (I love how Ina is always calling for food to be “real” — “real mayo,” for example. And I love her mixture of snobbery and warmth). You can read elsewhere on this blog about my first attempt with this dish.

When Padraic and I had my parents over for a celebratory dinner, I tried a recipe for sweet and spicy pineapple pork from Rachel Ray’s Book of 10: More Than 300 Recipes to Cook Every Day.

Today, on New Year’s Eve, I’m experimenting with another recipe from the Smitten Kitchen cookbook: artichoke and parmesan galette. I tasted it for you… surprisingly lemon-y 🙂

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Weeknight Suppers

Quick and Easy Chinese: 70 Everyday Recipes is just plain awesome for weeknight, aka, work night, cooking, because the meals are not only quick and easy, but flavorful and special-feeling. For some reason I lean towards chicken when making chinese food. Perhaps I need to get more adventurous. For now, here are two keepers:

Kung Pao Chicken

Kung Pao Chicken

Lemon Chicken

Lemon Chicken

Back in September, I tried slow cooker pesto mozzarella chicken pasta:

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Here’s are two more gems from Smitten Kitchen:

Tomato and Sausage Risotto

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Quick Pasta and Chickpeas

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And… two recipes from Chrissy Teigen’s cookbook Cravings: Recipes for All the Food You Want to Eat  that make for simple, special weeknight suppers:

Lemony Arugula Spaghetti Cacio e Pepe
Thai Beef Salad 

The Pioneer Woman’s Migas is filling AND cheap:

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I happened upon this yummy recipe for cauliflower-cheddar soup while waiting for a prescription to be filled 🙂

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And finally, lentils! The theme of the new chapter in my life in which I’m paying out of pocket for health insurance AND paying grad school tuition. Thank God they’re so delicious!!

Fridge-Clearing Lentil Soup
Brown Lentils and Rice with Caramelized OnionsScreen Shot 2017-12-31 at 2.56.11 PM

 

STUFF I MADE THIS SUMMER

I spent the summer querying a lot of magazines, writing a long-ass article about teaching gifted students that was finally published this month, for which I still haven’t gotten paid :/ getting accepted into an MFA program, hemming and hawing over whether to quit my teaching job and then writing what turned out to be a novella-length short story about a comically inept teacher for my workshop class, digging into my role as Aunt G, and cooking like a good ole southern Grandma for large family get-togethers…

Here is some of the STUFF I MADE:

The Pioneer Woman’s Chicken Spaghetti

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Orange Pound Cake

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Cristina Ferrare’s Strawberry Shortcake

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My Great-Grandmother’s Baked Beans 🙂

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Salty Oatmeal Chocolate Chunk Cookies

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Tomato Feta Pasta Salad

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Shrimp & Sausage Paleo Skillet Meal

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And a few more for good measure:

Mentoring on Sunday Afternoons

This last category is bittersweet… My mentee, a former resident of Epworth Children and Family Services, is currently “on run” and so we are no longer able to meet. For a few months, though, we filled our Sunday afternoons with cooking and scrapbooking about what we had cooked. When she told me that cooking — and documenting it — was how she wanted to spend our time together, I thought, girl after my own heart!

We did a bit of a tour through Ree Drummond’s The Pioneer Woman Cooks:

Recently, when I received a one-line e-mail from her therapist saying that she was gone, I was tempted to view our time together as “a waste,” thinking back on the volunteer coordinator’s lofty words about how it “only takes one person” to make a difference in the life of a child. What difference could I possibly have made?? I lamented.

Today, and in the new year, if there are any resolutions to be made, I believe it is to withhold judgment about any of my pursuits (or relationships) and do my best to be present in them, living one day at a time. I am grateful for my brief time with a young, resilient 14-year-old young woman. It is enough for me that we had a good time together on a few Sunday afternoons in 2017. And yet… I’m glad that we documented our time together, so that some Sunday afternoon in 2018, I can return to this page, and remember her… and the food 🙂

Cheers to the New Year, to cooking, and to treating time with a little bit of reverence.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Winter Brunch Menu

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Last summer I posted quite a bit about my experiment with the Whole30, a nutritional plan that is similar to Paleo: you’re supposed to eat mostly meat, vegetables, and healthy fats, along with some small servings of fruit. The idea is to drastically reduce your intake of sugar, only consuming sugar in its natural form (fruit). I got really enthusiastic about

eating the veggies

and

flank steak suppers

and

chicken with coconut curry

and I could go on… and maybe I will: since resolving to go back to a more Paleo-centered lifestyle a few weeks ago, I’ve dabbled more in tasty ways to make green beans and brussels sprouts, and I’ve fine-tuned my go-to-guac recipe. The results were pretty lip-smacking, so stay tuned for another Eating the Veggies post.

I did, vow, however, that when I entertain, I am allowing myself to create all the sugar and carb-laden concoctions I want. Aside from the joy of eating that stuff, it’s so much fun to cook! So here’s a winter brunch menu that I’ve put together for a few dear colleagues tomorrow on our day off:

  1. Baked Eggs with Tomatoes, Mozzarella & Oregano, from School Night
  2. Baked Parmesan Hash Browns
  3. Roasted Pear and Chocolate Chunk Scones
  4. Winter Fruit Salad with Lemon Poppy Seed Dressing

Pantry Items Needed
(In order of each recipe)

  • Olive oil
  • 28 oz crushed or diced tomatoes
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • All-purpose flour
  • Granulated sugar
  • Baking powder
  • Unsalted butter
  • Baking spray
  • Vegetable Oil
  • Honey
  • Parchment paper

Grocery List
(In order of grocery store layout)

  • Yellow onion
  • Garlic
  • A bundle of scallions
  • Fresh oregano (or another fresh herb of your choice)
  • 3 firm pears
  • Bag of clementines
  • 4 Honeycrisp apples
  • 4 kiwis
  • 4 bananas
  • 3 large lemons
  • Pomegranate
  • Heavy cream
  • 1/4 lb fresh mozzarella
  • 1/2 cup grated Parm
  • A dozen eggs
  • Frozen hash brown potatoes — Simply Potato recommended
  • Chocolate chips
  • Poppy seeds

Mix the Roasted Pear and Chocolate Chunk Scones and the lemon poppy seed dressing a day head.

I make smaller scones using this pan from King Arthur Flour. I find that this pan results in really fresh, moist tasting scones.

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Instructions, Scones

  • Generously spray your scone pan with baking spray. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
  • Cut 6 T. of unsalted butter into small pieces and place in the freezer. Place 1/4 cup heavy cream in the refrigerator. Bring eggs to room temperature.
  • Peal and core pears. If you’re making smaller scones, like me, dice them instead of cutting them into chunks.
  •  Roast the pears for 20 minutes, until they are dry and slightly browned.
  • Slide the roasted pears onto a plate and place in the refrigerator to cool down to lukewarm. Turn the oven off.
  • In an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, whisk 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder, 1/4 cup sugar and 1/2 teaspoon salt together.
  • Add the cooled pear, diced butter, heavy cream and 1 egg to the dry ingredients. Mix on low speed until the dough comes together.
  • Add 1/4 cup chocolate chips and mix for a few more seconds.
  • Press the dough into the well-buttered pan.
  • In a small bowl, whisk one egg with 1 teaspoon water and a pinch of salt. Brush the tops of the scones with the eggwash. Then sprinkle them with 1 1/2 Tablespoons sugar.
  • Tightly cover the pan with foil and place in the freezer.

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Lemon Poppy Seed Dressing

  • Measure 3 T. fresh lemon juice and 3 T. granulated sugar into a bowl. Whisk together until the sugar is dissolved.
  • Slowly pour in 1/4 cup olive oil, 1/4 cup vegetable oil, and 3 T. honey until everything is blended thoroughly.
  • Mix in 2 teaspoons poppy seeds. 
  • Transfer to this convenient salad dressing bottle and put it in the fridge.

Morning of…

  1. Bake the scones straight out of the freezer for 30 minutes at 375 degrees F. This is the time for large scones; I would check at the 15 minute mark to see if the smaller scones need less time to bake.
  2. While the scones are baking, prep the Baked Parmesan Hash Browns
  3. While the hash browns are baking, prep the baked eggs
  4. While the baked eggs are baking, prep the fruit salad

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Instructions, Hash Browns

  • Spray a muffin tin with baking spray.
  • Squeeze the frozen hash browns with paper towels to make sure they’ll get super crispy.
  • In a large bowl, mix the bag of dried hash browns, 4-5 sliced green onions, 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese, 1 teaspoon Kosher salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, and 2 T. olive oil.
  • Spoon the mixture into the muffin cups and bake 45-60 minutes at 400 degrees F. until crispy.

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Instructions, Baked Eggs
(Serves Four)

  • Chop 1/2 the onion and mince 2 cloves of garlic. Open your can(s) of tomatoes.
  • Bring 8 eggs and 1/4 cup heavy cream out to room temperature.
  • Chop the mozzarella into 1/2-inch pieces.
  • Roughly chop the fresh oregano into 1/4 cup.
  • Set a saucepan over medium-high heat and add 2 T. olive oil. Let the olive oil warm up.
  • Add 1/2 small yellow onion and sautĂ© until translucent. This may take about 5 minutes.
  • Add 2 cloves minced garlic and sautĂ© until soft, about 2 minutes.
  • Stir in 28 oz diced or crushed tomatoes, season with salt and pepper, and bring to a boil.
  • Once boiling, reduce the heat to low, and simmer about 15 minutes until the  mixture is thickened.
  • Season to taste and set aside to cool.
  • Place four large ramekins (the cookbook specifies 4 1/2 inch ramekins) on a baking sheet.
  • Spoon 5 T. of the tomato sauce and 1 T. of heavy cream into each ramekin. Top with the mozzarella and the oregano, dividing them evenly.
  • Once the hash browns are done cooking, break two eggs into each ramekin and season with salt and pepper.
  • Bake about 15 minutes in a 350 degree F oven — you want the egg whites to be opaque and the yokes set, but still runny in the middle. The eggs will keep cooking a little after you take them out of the oven.
  • Let cool slightly.

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Instructions, Fruit Salad

  • Peel and segment 8 clementines
  • Chop 4 apples
  • Peel and dice 4 kiwis
  • Peel and dice 4 bananas
  • Cut pomegranate arils out of large pomegranate
  • Combine in a large bowl and top with dressing

Enjoy! Here’s to brunching on your day off.

 

 

Festive Summer Supper

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Check out this recipe from the Williams-Sonoma cookbook called School Night: Dinner Solutions for Every Day of the Week. “Mediterranean Shrimp with Feta, Olives, &  Oregano” has a few things going for it:

  • Healthy.
  • Good for company, good for the fam.
  • Mostly assembly and one dish, plus a sauce pan of couscous.
  • Shrimp! Olives! Feta! Yum!
  • Fresh herbs! But dried oregano works too.
  • I made it for my dad on Father’s Day. Good vibes. Make it for someone you love.

Materials

  • Colander
  • Sheet pan
  • Paper towels or cling wrap
  • Medium saucepan
  • Fork (for fluffing couscous)
  • Deep casserole dish
  • Chef’s knife
  • Cutting board
  • Measuring spoons
  • Liquid measuring cup
  • Serving bowls

Ingredients

  • Box of couscous
  • Butter and kosher salt
  • 6 Roma tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil plus extra
  • 1 1/2 lbs frozen shrimp
  • Pitted kalamata olives, 1/2 cup to 3/4 cup
  • Crumbled feta cheese, 1/2 cup to 3/4 cup
  • 1/4 cup fresh oregano leaves or 2 Tablespoons dried oregano

Instructions

  • Thaw frozen shrimp in the fridge for a few hours in a colander on a sheet pan with cling wrap or paper towels draped over the top. Bring them to room temp and get rid of any ice crystals by running the colander under warm water at intervals and patting the shrimp dry as you make the couscous.
  • Make a box of couscous, following the directions on the package. I went ahead with a pad of butter and several pinches of salt, as called for my box. (The cookbook calls for Israeli couscous rather than the instant kind. I confess I’ve never made Israeli couscous, so you’ll have to comment if I’m missing out. The instant kind was yummy too).
  • Preheat your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Rinse, dry, and chop the tomatoes, placing them in the bottom of your casserole dish. Drizzle with the olive oil and mix well with your hands.
  • Bake for 8 minutes, until the tomatoes release their juices.
  • Check to make sure the shrimp is thawed. (The cookbook calls for raw, deveined shrimp but medium frozen ones cooked at the same temperature for the same time worked just as well).
  • Layer the cooked tomatoes with shrimp, olives, feta, and oregano. (The cookbook recipe calls for a half cup of both olives and feta, but I recommend more of each. Serve the remaining olives as an hors d’oeurve, or nibble while you’re cooking. Point is — jar should be consumed, some way or another.)
  • Bake 12 minutes. Drizzle the cooked casserole dish with olive oil and serve atop the warm couscous.

Serve with this simple, healthy Rachel Ray tomato, cucumber, red onion chopped salad if you want to round out the plate.

And finally, to end your summer meal, a berry pie. I adapted Joy the Baker’s Strawberry Rhubarb Crumb Pie by substituting a pound of blueberries for the rhubarb, since zero out of three of my local grocery stores were selling rhubarb in June. (Wha??)

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I also substituted half the lemon juice for orange juice, and added some orange zest and lemon zest to the filling.

Instead of pecans, I used store bought roasted, salted almonds for the crumb topping. But don’t make my mistake — thoroughly mix the butter with the flour, and this is key — before you add the nuts — otherwise you’ll end up with sections of raw, unbrowned flour on the top of your pie.

As for the crust, cold ingredients are key — dice the butter and then put it in the freezer for a few minutes, and keep the buttermilk refrigerated until you use it. This hand-mixed, buttermilk-congealed pie crust is one of the easiest I’ve ever made. The buttermilk really helps things come together to form a smooth dough.

I made two pies — for Clark, and for Patrick, my father and my father-in-law — and I learned these helpful hints about freezing a pie from The Kitchn. Long story short, if you tightly wrap and freeze an unbaked pie, the juices from the berries won’t make the crust soggy when you eventually bake it. So freeze pies unbaked. Enjoy 🙂

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What’s Cookin’, Good Lookin’

Jake Bellucci Le Creuset CC BY-NC-ND 2.0One of the things I love about winter is that it’s a season conducive to cooking in bulk — think soups, stews, casseroles, gratins, the list goes on. I have gotten into the habit of preparing one to two soups for the week on Sunday afternoons, and boy, has it been scrumptious, not to mention economical and time-saving. I thought I’d compile a list of my recent soup pursuits, with some of my forays into baking, fish, and why not, mashed potatoes thrown in for good measure. One of the pleasures of blogging for me is documenting what I cook throughout the year, so as I give into that, I hope that you find something posted here that you might consider trying. (Also, if you don’t already have one, I hope you’ll consider busying yourself an immersion blender
 the one I recently acquired has been a godsend this winter, as evidenced by the list below. If not, a regular blender works too. Just a thought 🙂 ) Bon appetit!

tracy benjamin tortilla strips CC BY-NC-ND 2.0I first tasted this chicken tortilla soup recipe from Food and Wine at the home of my friend, Allison, on a much-needed getaway trip to Nashville, Tennessee. (The trip ended with the discovery of frozen pipes in our frigid condo, due to my flakiness in leaving the heat off just as Chicago morphed into Chiberia. Even our jar of olive oil was frozen solid, but that’s another story!) This soup makes clever use of the aforementioned immersion blender, thickening up the tomato/onion/garlic/five spice/chicken broth/cilantro base with fried tortilla strips, purĂ©ed. The cubed chicken is added raw and cooked conveniently in the broth, and chunks of avocado are mixed in at the end. It’s hearty, zingy, and deeply satisfying when topped with the usual Southwestern suspects: grated cheddar, homemade fried tortilla strips, sour cream, cilantro, scallions, and lime wedges.

Steven Lilley Broccoli CC BY-SA 2.0Padraic told me he felt like he was dining at Panera after eating Ree Drummond’s broccoli cheddar soup, and I took that as effusive praise! I used 2% milk instead of whole, and things turned out quite creamy nonetheless. The recipe starts with preparations for a roasted broccoli garnish, and proceeds with sautĂ©ing onions in butter, then simmering pieces of raw broccoli in a mixture of milk, half-and-half, flour, and nutmeg. Three cups of cheddar cheese are added, with the option of purĂ©eing the mixture or breaking up the broccoli with a potato masher. I think this might be the most indulgent broccoli dish there is, but January/February is certainly a fitting time for it.

nick mote Lentil Macro CC BY 2.0Surprise, surprise, this recipe does not use a blender — no, instead, Ina Garten’s lentil sausage soup, from her cookbook Barefoot in Paris, is richly textured with softened vegetables, lentils, and chunks of sausage. In my unsuccessful search for the recommended French green lentils, I learned that French lentils are simply smaller in size, so I just bought the most petit ones they had in the store, which worked fine. The process starts by cooking onions, leeks, and garlic flavored with cumin, thyme, salt, and pepper; then celery and carrots are added. This mixture plus pre-soaked lentils, chicken stock, and tomato paste simmers for an hour, then pre-cooked sausage is added and warmed through. You finish it off with a drizzle of red wine vinegar or red wine, take your pick.

cookbookman17 White Beans CC BY 2.0Cristina Ferrare’s minestrone soup from the cookbook, Big Bowl of Love is another hearty, one-meal wonder. It’s basically a compilation of fresh vegetables, beans, and tomatoes, purĂ©ed thick and served with freshly grated Parmesan and a generous drizzle of balsamic vinegar. I couldn’t find an exact reproduction of the cookbook’s recipe on the inter tubes, so I’ve posted the recipe at the bottom of this entry.

PINKÉ Pyrex Casserole CC BY-NC 2.0Then, of course, there comes a time when enough soup has been had and a casserole — what else? — beckons. The notion of chicken tetrazinni was so delightfully retro to me that I felt compelled to whip up a behemoth batch of it. Who else but Ree Drummond, aka The Pioneer Woman, to guide me through layers of spaghetti, mushrooms, melted cream/Monterey Jack/Parmesan cheese, bacon, peas, and toasted bread crumbs? Hers is technically a turkey tetrazinni, which sounds delicious, but the only time I have cooked turkey on hand is the day after Thanksgiving. So I turned to The Kitchn for advice on poaching chicken breasts. Ree suggests adding up to two extra cups of chicken broth to the cheese/veggie/pasta mixture before baking it, even if it’s a little soupy. I second this — I added this amount and the consistency of the finished product was just right — cheesy but not overwhelmingly so, and moist. I skipped the chopped olives, but hey, that’s just me.

essgee51 Dill and Lemon 2 (20/365) CC BY-NC 2.0 Sometimes soup and casseroles don’t carry you through the entire week, which makes room for minimalist dishes like
 salmon, roasted with lemon, butter, and dill. This is my go-to recipe for salmon — it’s as easy as melting butter with lemon juice and seasoning the fish with dill, minced garlic (or garlic powder), salt, and pepper. Comes out moist and flaky every time.

Anne White Yukon Gold Potatoes CC BY-NC 2.0I made a batch of these super easy, quick, and straightforward mashed potatoes to go with the salmon. It’s another find from Cristina Ferrare’s cookbook, Big Bowl of Love. I love this recipe because it turns what you normally think of as a special occasion, holiday side into a week night staple. The most work and time intensive part is peeling, boiling, and mashing the potatoes — after that’s done, you just add butter, milk, and salt, but in proportions that consistently produce a creamy, fluffy, apporiately-salted mash. The addition of lemon zest may sound strange, but I find that it brightens and freshens the dish in a beautiful way. Then again, I’ll add lemon to anything. A handful of chopped scallions add a peppery bite to the creamy potato canvas. I find that making mashed potatoes during the week is really quite practical — the leftovers can bulk up another quick-cooking protein a few days later or be packed in a lunch.

Tom Gill Apples CC BY-NC-ND 2.0Speaking of packing lunches, the discovery of a homemade scone in my lunch bag is worth the effort, I think. Lately I’ve been on a scone kick, as mentioned here. It’s the byproduct of my newly acquired “mini scone pan,” allowing you to just drop the dough into a greased pan, and the fact that scones are so versatile — good for breakfast, lunch, dessert
 These apple and cheddar scones combine roasted chunks of tart fruit with a salty, cheesy bite, and the dough is non-fussily brought together in the bowl of an electric stand mixer — no messy wielding of a pastry cutter or hauling out of a food processor. The pre-roasted apples, grated cheese, dry ingredients (flour/sugar/baking powder/salt), and wet ingredients (butter/cream/egg) are simply combined in a single bowl and mixed together on low.

Screen Shot 2013-02-14 at 9.01.41 PMWith regard to other baked goods, this Valentine’s Day I was in the mood to make something chocolate, but I wanted to bypass some of the more decadent, ultra-sweet chocolate desserts. I still wanted to make something special, something I don’t normally make. I landed on Love and Olive Oil’s Orange and Dark Chocolate Biscotti, featuring my favorite chocolate-fruit flavor combination. The orange notes come through strongly, and the chunks of dark chocolate impart a subtle richness and decadence of flavor. I love the hearty crunch and mild sweetness of biscotti — making it at home transports you to your favorite cafĂ© and gets the coffee pot percolating.

zoyachubby Basil CC BY-ND 2.0A second Valentine’s Day experiment, this time for the main course, was seared scallops with basil olive oil pistou. Somehow seafood is romantic to me, it’s the first thing that comes to mind when I imagine a Valentine’s Day dinner. I’m somewhat shy to say that this was my first time cooking scallops at home, but searing them proved quick and easy. Pistou (pronounced pee-stew) is a French term, and it’s similar to pesto: a mixture of herbs, garlic, and olive oil (in this version the herbs, parsley and basil, are blanched first. I’d never thought to blanche herbs before — aside from the nuisance of repeatedly hand wringing them dry, the blanching did make the sauce more delicate.) The pistou is spooned under each scallop and fresh herbs are sprinkled on top for a simple but slightly elevated presentation. The pistou certainly distinguishes this scallop dish and imparts lots of fresh flavor, but I have to say, it’s oily. I doubled the recipe, and even leaving out about 1/3 cup, the oil still saturated the plate. You might consider scaling back on it by paying closer attention than I did to the food processor.

John Robinson Lemon and lime CC BY 2.0Two final dinner recipes — last night I tried this fish taco recipe in lieu of Lent. It’s refreshing and light all around, a much-needed break from all these hearty, thickly purĂ©ed soups I’ve been making. You can use any white fish, I used cod — flavored with a marinade of lime juice, minced garlic, cumin, chili powder, and vegetable oil. For a healthier meal, the fish is grilled, not fried. The tacos are dressed with a cabbage slaw combining shredded cabbage, sliced red onion, cilantro, and more lime juice and veggie oil. Additional toppings include salsa, sour cream, and sliced avocado. (I opted against bottled salsa for an easy-to-make salsa fresca, containing chopped tomatoes, a squeeze of lime juice, some diced red onion, and a pinch of salt.) Last but not least, what could be easier than this lemon spaghetti recipe, authored by the one and only  Giada Di Laurentiis. You literally whisk together lemon juice, olive oil, and Parmesan cheese, and boil noodles, then make a few tweaks with pasta water, lemon zest, salt, pepper, and fresh basil (or in my case, dried). Couldn’t be simpler, and couldn’t be more delicious.

So there you go
 a kitchen sink’s worth of good food links. Hopefully it stimulates some upcoming cooking adventures in your own kitchen. Thanks for reading, and please let me know if there’s a better recipe out there for salmon, mashed potatoes, soup, fish tacos, etc. etc. Happy hunkering down this winter!

Hearty Vegetable Minestrone Soup
From Big Bowl of Love

Ingredients

  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • 2 celery stalks, diced
  • 2 small zucchini, diced
  • 2 cups broccoli florets, cut small
  • 1/2 small cabbage, shredded
  • 1 cup cauliflower cut into small pieces
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 (28-ounce) can of chopped tomatoes
  • 1 quart chicken stock
  • 2 (15-ounce) cans white navy beans or cannellini
  • 1 1/2 cups uncooked small tube, shell-shaped pasta, or orzo
  • 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • fresh basil
  • red pepper flakes
  • balsamic vinegar, for drizzling

Instructions

  • Heat a large stockpot over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil and heat until hot. Quickly add the onion, and sautĂ© for 5 minutes, until the onion starts to caramelize. Add the garlic and sautĂ© for 30 seconds.
  • Add the tomato paste and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute; then add the water and stir. Simmer for 2 minutes. Add carrots, celery, zucchini, broccoli florets, cabbage, cauliflower, and salt. Cook for 3 to 5 minutes, until the vegetables start to release their juices.
  • Add the canned tomatoes and chicken stock. Bring to a gentle boil. Add the beans and stir. Cover and gently simmer on low heat for 45 minutes.
  • In a blender, (or with an immersion blender), purĂ©e three-quarters of the soup until semi-smooth. Pour back into the stockpot and stir well. This will thicken your soup.
  • Adjust the seasoning (taste for salt; you will probably need to add more — 1/4 teaspoon at a time, so you don’t oversalt). Bring the soup back up to a gentle boil. Add the pasta and stir well so the pasta doesn’t stick. Cook the pasta for about 5 minutes or until al dente. You don’t want to overcook the pasta. Ladle into heated bowls. Garnish with 2 tablespoons freshly grated cheese per serving, fresh basil, and red pepper flakes to taste. Drizzle about a teaspoon of olive oil and balsamic vinegar over the top.

Getting Creative with Salmon

roaming-the-planet CC BY-NC-ND 2.0I don’t know about you, but salmon is a staple of weeknight suppers at my house. It becomes a matter of finding unique ways to prepare it — ways to  diverge from what is in my mind the most ubiquitous and fundamental of salmon flavorings, lemon and dill. This mild, herby pairing allows the moist, slightly sweet taste of the fish to reign supreme, and for this reason, us home cooks flock to it, or should I say swim. But there comes a time when I want my salmon to pack a zingier, zestier punch — metaphorically speaking, that is, but yes, citrus and citrus zest do figure in. Sometimes that’s accomplished with a thick crust of fresh herbs, or a bed of caramel iced onions. Today, though, I’m taking my inspiration from a glazed carrot recipe of Ina Garten’s, melding fresh ginger, orange juice and zest, butter, and maple syrup to form a sweet, peppery, and mildly acidic sauce for the salmon as it bakes in the oven. The result is light and invigorating:

Salmon with Orange and Ginger

Ingredients

1 pound salmon
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons honey
Kosher salt
1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger
1 teaspoon grated orange zest
1/2 cup freshly squeezed orange juice

Tools

Baking dish
Paper towels
Measuring spoons
Measuring cups
Rasp grater
Juicer or fork
Saucepan
Wooden spoon

  • Lightly grease a square baking dish and preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Pat the salmon dry with paper towels and place it in the dish.
  • Combine 1/2 cup water, the butter, honey, 2 teaspoons salt, and fresh ginger in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil and reduce the heat to a simmer.
  • Simmer the mixture for 15-20 minutes. Stir in the orange juice and orange zest.
  • Pour the mixture over the salmon, turning the salmon to make sure all sides are generously coated.
  • Bake in the oven skin side down for 25 minutes, or until flaky when prodded with a fork.

These green beans make a light, crisp compliment to the fish:

Ingredients 

1 pound string beans
Kosher salt
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
1 small clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 small onions
Freshly ground pepper

Tools

Large pot
Colander
Large bowl
Cutting board
Chef’s knife
Sauté pan
Wooden spoon

  • Blanch the green beans for 1 1/2 minutes in a large pot of boiling, salted water.
  • Drain the beans and immediately place them in a bowl of ice water.
  • Zest the lemon and mince the garlic, then mash these ingredients with 2 tablespoons butter.
  • Chop the onions. Then place the olive oil and the butter in a large sautĂ© pan over medium heat and swirl to coat 🙂
  • SautĂ© the onions for 5-10 minutes, until translucent and just starting to brown.
  • Add the green beans with 1/2 teaspoon each of salt and pepper and sautĂ© the beans until they’re warm. VoilĂ .

In Praise of Peasant Food

Alan Levine Three SpoonsThere’s something especially delectable about humble ingredients mixed together in a big container and served up with a spoon. That is what comes to mind when I think of peasant food. Stratas, casseroles, gratins, puddings, soups… it all involves mingling an eclectic collection of ingredients, transforming their texture into something smooth, thick, creamy, and comforting, and digging in.

Recently I made two dishes that fall squarely into the category of peasant food: a cheddar cheese, scallion, and corn strata, and a rich pot of tomato soup. I highly recommend these recipes as you forge your way through the coming winter months. Peasant food translates into easy, effortless cooking and lip-smacking results that reheat well, stretching across the week. Peasant food is comfort food, and comfort food is winter food. Dig in below:

Dricker94 Corn Cropped

Corn, Scallion, and Cheddar Strata
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Ingredients

Butter
4 cobs of corn (approximately 3 cups)
A bundle of scallions (white and green parts)
8 cups bread cubes
2 cups freshly grated cheddar cheese
1 cup freshly grated Asiago cheese
9 large eggs
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 3/4 cups milk
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper

Tools

9X13 inch baking dish
Cutting board
Chef’s knife
Measuring cups
Measuring spoons
Mixing bowls
Box grater
Whisk or fork
Plastic wrap

  • Generously grease your baking dish.
  • Saw the corn off the cobs and measure to see that you have approximately 3 cups. Chop the bundle of scallions and mix in a bowl with the corn.
  • Grate the cheeses and combine in a mixing bowl.
  • In another large mixing bowl, gently beat the eggs with the mayo, milk, salt, and pepper.
  • Cube the bread and measure it out into a large bowl.
  • In the baking dish, layer one-third of the bread cubes, the corn mixture, and the cheese mixture. Repeat this process twice and then pour the egg mixture over the strata. Cover and refrigerate for 8 hours or an entire day.
  • Set the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and bake for 45 to 55 minutes, until puffed and golden brown on top.

Ross Pollack Tomatoes

Tomato Soup
Adapted from Ina Garten

Ingredients

3 tablespoons olive oil
3 cups chopped yellow onion (2 onions)
1 tablespoon minced garlic (3 cloves)
4 cups chicken stock
1 28-oz can crushed tomatoes
Salt and pepper
1/2 cup orzo
1/2 cup heavy cream*

Tools

Large pot
Measuring spoons
Measuring cups
Chef’s knife
Cutting board
Wooden spoon
Small pot

  • Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat.
  • Add the onions and cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until golden brown. Add the garlic and cook for an additional minute.
  • Add the chicken stock, tomatoes, 1 tablespoon of salt, and 1 teaspoon of pepper and bring everything to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for 15 minutes.
  • Fill a separate, smaller pot with water and 2 teaspoons of salt. Bring to a boil.
  • Add the orzo to the boiling water and cook for 7 minutes, then drain the orzo and add it to the soup.
  • Add the cream and simmer for 10 more minutes.

*If you want to give the soup a little extra love, Ina Garten recommends serving it with grilled cheese croutons 🙂

Apple Crisp

Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan ‘press on’ has solved and will always solve the problems of the human race.” — Calvin Coolidge

You might say that my failed apple pie was a lesson in persistence. After making an apple pie with a burnt crust and mushy insides, I decided to switch to something easier: an apple crisp. Sometimes life calls for a little adjustment. Here is the recipe:

Apple Crisp
Adapted from Betty Crocker

Ingredients

4 medium tart apples, cored and sliced
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup oats
1/3 cup butter
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Tools

Apple corer
Chef’s knife
Cutting board
Mixing bowls
Measuring cups
Measuring spoons
Stand Mixer

  • Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease an 8-inch pan.
  • Slice the apples and spread them in the pan. Using an electric mixer with a paddle attachment, combine the remaining ingredients until well mixed.
  • Bake about 30 minutes until the top is golden brown and the apples are fork tender.

Embracing the Selfie Ethos

Cristian Iohan ƞtefănescu #selfie CC BY 2.0We are all the stars of our own movies, the protagonists of our own stories, but it seems, with the “selfi(ie) generation” at the helm, as a society we’ve become more self-consciously so, keen on having an audience. Lately I’ve been wondering if this is such a bad thing — as my Facebook feed is inundated with babies and couple shots and cool views from exotic locales, it seems there’s more to the culture of selfies than narcissism. It has to do with a basic appreciation of life, a move toward sharing and celebrating the little moments.

I wonder if the selfie ethos is shaping us to savor our lives a bit more, to be more ebullient and overflowing and public with our little victories — more connected as a result of social media, not less.

There is an interesting CNN article about “the upside of selfies” that reveals some surprisingly positive statistics: according to Common Sense Media, one in five teens reports to feeling more confident as a result of social media, versus 4% feeling less confident. 29% of 13-17 year-olds report that social media made them feel less shy.

According to Rebecca Levey, the founder of a video platform for tweens, social media is an opportunity for kids with niche interests to find each other. It’s also a place for tweens and teens — and full-grown adults — to make their voices heard about important issues.

The New York Times has a name for such tweens and teens, and some of those full-grown adults — it’s called “digital natives,” folks who never had to adapt to the internet, for whom a virtual reality was always a matter of fact. Apparently, these so-called millenials are “the first in the modern era to have higher levels of student loan debt, poverty and unemployment, and lower levels of wealth and personal income than their two immediate predecessor generations had at the same age.” Who can knock ‘em for cheerleading their way through, for slapping a selfie on a genuinely difficult struggle?

I’m increasingly inclined to view my friends’ status updates, hashtags, and photo uploads as something to celebrate. Hear me? I want in on the minutiae of your life — it’s life-affirming to share it.

In the meantime, allow me to indulge in the selfie culture myself, by showing you what I made: muffins! That’s right — look at me, look at what I made! Orange marmalade muffins. They’re delicious. Or at least, I think so. Me. Myself(ie). And I. Here’s the recipe:

Orange Marmalade Muffins
Adapted from The Pioneer Woman Cooks

Ingredients

2 oranges
2 sticks butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon baking soda

Tools

Microplane zester
Cutting board
Sifter
Mixing bowls
Measuring cups and spoons
Stand Mixer with paddle attachment

  • Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Grate the zest of the two oranges. Measure the flour and sift it into a bowl.
  • Cream the butter and the granulated sugar.
  • Add the eggs and mix until combined.
  • Add the flour and the brown sugar and mix until just combined.
  • Combine the buttermilk and the baking soda. Add it to the mixture and stir until just combined.
  • Stir in the orange zest.
  • Line a muffin tin with paper liners and fill 2/3 full with batter. Bake until light brown and a toothpick inserted in the middle of the muffin comes out clean, about 13-15 minutes.
  • I had enough batter to repeat a second time, making six more muffins. Fill the empty muffin cups with water.

Going Nuts

Jonas Tana Walnuts CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)I don’t understand people who don’t like walnuts. To me they their woodsy, slightly bitter flavor is delicious, unlike any other nut in my nut-stocked pantry (the amount of raw almonds that Padraic manages to swipe on a single Trader Joe’s run astounds me 🙂 ) As much as I love almonds, walnuts seem special somehow — maybe because I’m more likely to cook something special with them, versus eat them raw, or maybe it’s just because they’re expensive.

As it happens, I recently put 1/2 cup of walnuts to use in Tyler Florence’s recipe for banana bread. I’d wager that most avid home cooks have a go-to recipe for banana bread, and recently this has become mine, after years of following my great-grandmother’s handwritten recipe. (Her’s includes a hearty helping of bisquick, which makes me smile.) Tyler Florence’s is a bit more subtle, dividing the 4 bananas into 2 batches — the first is whipped with sugar to form a “banana cream” as the foundation for the rest of the batter, while the remaining 2 bananas are mashed into a chunky purĂ©e to be folded in at the end. The result is an especially sweet, moist, and light cake enhanced, of course, by the addition of warm, toasted WALNUTS.

Speaking of walnuts, let’s pause for a moment to ponder these infinitely adaptable blondies — except that I think I’ve landed upon the best version, and it involves a rich combination of almond extract, toasted walnuts, and chocolate chips. Here’s the breakdown:

Blondies
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Ingredients

8 tablespoons butter, melted
1 cup brown sugar
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
Pinch salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup walnuts
1 cup chocolate chips

Tools

Square baking pan
Large spatula
Mixing bowls
Measuring cups
Measuring spoons

  • Grease a square baking pan and preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Stir together the melted butter and brown sugar.
  • Stir in the large egg, the almond extract, and the salt.
  • Stir in the all-purpose flour until just combined.
  • Chop, measure, and toast the walnuts, folding them into the batter along with the chocolate chips.*
  • Bake for 20-25 minutes. Gooey is good 🙂

*Adding a tablespoon of flour to the walnuts and chocolate chips helps evenly distribute them, preventing them from sinking to the bottom.

I’ll make this my last mention in this little walnut eulogy — and guess what, it’s not a baked good. Far better, it’s a one-bowl pasta dinner with a sauce predicated entirely on the combination of toasted walnuts, butter, olive oil,  heavy cream, and Parmesan cheese. The result is a subtle, buttery taste with a distinctive walnut flair. I wrote out the entire recipe below, only to realize that I’d already posted it on my blog. I guess I just love it that much. Enjoy 🙂

Letting Go of Summer with a Sweet Tart

photo My husband tells me that I am a risk taker. I’ve never thought of myself as one, but being in my late twenties with a few big decisions under my belt, I realize that I have a rather high threshold for taking things on and learning as I go. I think my relatively high threshold for risk-taking is buttressed by a strong amount of dogged persistence, which tends to carry me through. In fours of being a teacher, I’ve taught four different curriculums and consulted on a few more, I’ve worked retail, taught ACT classes, group fitness classes, and a little freelance writing… Hmm… what does this say about me? Sometimes I take pride in being able to juggle different things and sometimes I bemoan my lack of a single focus 🙂

The other day I happened upon Live to Write — Write to Live’s post on The Genius of Curiosity, and I thought, yeah, that’s me. I can’t seem to commit to a singular passion in life, so maybe, just maybe, I possess the genius of curiosity? 🙂 In chapter four of The Ten Things, called “Letting Go,” Kingma reminds us that

“As human beings, we are evolutionary animals. There is a push, a draw in us to move toward and become that which we haven’t become yet — more, better, wiser, more deeply loved, more deeply loving.”

The notion of personal evolution does seem to hint at what’s “genius” about living in a state of unfolding curiosity. It’s certainly hard to feel satisfied with yourself, much less stuck in a state of complacency, when you have multiple interests, or feel pulled to spend your time in different ways. And that’s a good thing, right? Writer Suddenly Jamie, in her post on The Genius of Curosity articulates it this way:

“Curiosity is more valuable than passion. Passion is blinding and consuming. It is biased and stubborn. Passion is exclusionary. Curiosity, on the other hand, is playful and open. Curiosity can learn through discovery. Curiosity expands your world; passion diminishes it, closing in around you like tunnel vision.”

I think our society collectively denies so many things that are interesting and valuable about a life that travels in a zig zag pattern, rather than a straight arrow. For example, we often deny that curious people, people that try different things and fail, who go through “phases,” well into adulthood, can lead some of the most passionate lives, despite how things look, in the sense that their lives are always in a phase of growth and expansion. On the other hand, there’s a palpable feeling of freedom that comes from placing limitations on our expectations of ourselves, picking a role or a goal or a direction and pursuing it narrowly, deeply, with passion. Oy.

photo-2You know what I’m feeling curious about these days? Tarts, sweet and savory. Somehow I have a hunch that in putting my perfectly symmetrical, perfectly fluted metal tart pan to good use, I’ll be refreshed, ready to gain insight about “next steps,” and all the necessary soul-searching involved. Today I find myself celebrating the end of a difficult summer, during which I spent considerable time indoors, by making a tomato tart filled with summer’s quintessential ingredient, a product of the SUN.

It started with being handed a heavy, generous bag of tomatoes by my father-in-law, and wanting to find a tart recipe that didn’t smother the tomatoes in cheese — though this tomato crostata still catches my eye — but showcased their fresh, juicy flavor in the form of pretty, roasted slices. I found what I was looking for in The Martha Stewart Baking Handbook, simply, “Tomato Tart” on page 268. Speaking of curiosity, this book is an endless source — going through its recipes, cover to cover, could easily be my vocation for a while (oh, lookee here) It’s been my baking bible since college, the source of what I consider to be, hands down, the best chocolate chip cookie recipe, and true to Nigella Lawson’s conception of the “domestic goddess” baker “trailing nutmeggy fumes…” which I cited in my most recent post.

Matter of fact, I think I was gifted the book at some point during college, another time rich with curiosity and uncertainty and anxiety about where I was headed next, which proves Nigella Lawson’s other claim about baking, and cooking: It’s “a way of reclaiming our lost Eden… Cooking, as we know, of cutting through things, and to things, which has nothing to do with the kitchen.”  ‘Nuff said — the process begins with the making of pĂąte brisĂ©e, which literally translates into “broken pastry,” used for savory pies and tarts:

Tools

Oven thermometer
Chef’s knife
Cutting board
Tart Pan
Timer
Tupperware
Measuring cups
Measuring spoons
Food processor
Liquid measuring cup
Sheet pan
Aluminum foil
Large mixing bowl (optional)
Pastry cutter (optional)
Plastic wrap
Rolling pin
Small mixing bowl
Spatula

Ingredients

Pùte Brisée
(Makes 2 13-inch rounds)

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 sticks (16 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cold, cut into small pieces
1/4 cup ice water (4 tablespoons), plus more if needed

Filling

Head of garlic
Olive oil, 3 tablespoons
1/2 recipe Pùte Brisée
3/4 cup Fontina cheese
3-4 ripe but Roma tomatoes
Salt and pepper
Fresh thyme

  • Dice the butter into small pieces and place it in a small tupperware container with the butter wrapping over the top. Place the tupperware in the freezer to get the butter really cold (it warms up as you’re dicing it). Put ice water in a liquid measuring cup and place it in the refrigerator.
  • Measure the flour and salt into a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Pulse to combine. Grease the tart pan.
  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and place a whole head of garlic on a small sheet pan covered with a medium sized piece of aluminum foil. Cover the head of garlic in one tablespoon olive oil. Loosely wrap the oily garlic in the foil.
  • Take the diced butter out of the freezer and add all of it to the flour/salt mixture. Pulse to combine, about 10 seconds, or “until mixture resembles coarse crumbs with some larger pieces remaining.” If, like me, you have a small food processor that “mists flour” when it’s full, use a pastry cutter (or two hands) to mix the dough by hand. Add 4 tablespoons of ice cold water in two batches, “just until the dough holds together without being wet or sticky.” If the dough is still too crumby, add water by the tablespoon, until the dough holds when you squeeze it together.
  • Place a large piece of plastic wrap on the counter and turn the dough out onto the plastic wrap, shaping it into a disk with your hands. Place another piece of plastic wrap on top, and wrap the dough in plastic, refrigerating at least 1 hour or overnight. (You can freeze this dough for up to 1 month — before using it, thaw overnight in the refrigerator).
  • Place the garlic in the oven and roast for 45-60 minutes while the dough sits in the refrigerator. Check the garlic after 45 minutes; it’s done when you can easily insert a paring knife into the side. (It took 60 minutes for me). Unwrap the garlic and allow it to cool. Set the oven temperature to 450 degrees F.
  • Lightly flour a clean work surface and rolling pin. Remove the chilled dough from the refrigerator and roll out the dough into a large, 13-inch round, about 1/8 inches thick. Roll from the center out for even thickness.  If like me, the consistency of your dough was less than perfect, cracking as you rolled it and yielding a lopsided circle, you can always cut off the longer parts and press pieces of the dough into the tart pan. If needed, you can grab a pinch of dough from the second pĂąte brisĂ©e, since the recipe makes two. I am still trying to perfect the art of not over mixing dough but getting it pliable and solid enough to roll out evenly… I like to err on the side of under mixed dough that requires some cutting and pressing into the pan (you can’t tell once it’s baked)…
  • After pressing the dough into the tart pan, refrigerate the dough in the pan for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, once the garlic is cool enough to handle, press it with the side of a chef’s knife to loosen the cloves. Slice each clove at the top and squeeze the pasty, roasted garlic into a small mixing bowl. Mash it all into one paste with a fork. Slice a few roma tomatoes into 1/4-inch thick slices. Grate and measure the cheese.
  • Time to assemble the tart. Remove the chilled dough and using a small spatula, spread the roasted garlic paste all over the chilled pastry. Sprinkle 1/4 cup cheese over the garlic paste. Then lay the sliced tomatoes in a circular pattern and sprinkle with the remaining 1/2 cup cheese. Drizzle the tomatoes with 2 tablespoons olive oil and sprinkle with fresh thyme (gently pull thyme leaves off the stem by pinching two fingers and running them down the stem).
  • Lower the oven temperature to 425 degrees F. Bake for 45-55 minutes. Ta da.

photo-4

 

 

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