Dinner in a pinch, made to impress! Puff pastry with ham & Gruyère

Ham and Gruyere Puff Pastry 6

This time of year is so, so hectic (though we probably always feel like our lives are crazy busy, right?). When I think of an easy fall dinner, I often base its viability on a simple pre-trick-or-treating test. Basically, is it something that could be easily made and quickly served to a family (friends included!) before heading out for a wonderfully chilly evening of trick-or-treating and other Halloween fun? To pass this test, the dish must be: 1. Easy. 2. Reasonably quick and require little prep work. 3. Have some sort of protein/substance to it to combat the gallons of candy that will inevitably follow. Look no further, friends! This puff pastry with ham and Gruyère is the stuff that Halloween nights were made of.

Ham and Gruyere Puff Pastry 2

Yes, puff pastry is something you could theoretically make yourself, but even Ina Garten says she buys it at the store, so until some super ambitious day in the future, I’m following suit. Trader Joe’s has a version out now for the holidays with zero soy (huzzah!), so we’re stocking up. Because, guys, the real truth of the matter is you never know when you’ll need to wrap something in pastry dough.

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The recipe for this is hardly much of a recipe at all. Roll out some puff pastry, slather on some mustard, arrange some ham and cheese on top, and then top it off with the other piece of pastry dough. Add an eggs wash, and you’re done. Even without much effort, puff pastry has an amazing way of elevating something super basic to something that feels a little fancier. Truth be told, I think this dish especially fits my vision of a Halloween dinner because it feels like a more grown-up version of the crescent roll-wrapped mummy dogs that frequent Halloween spreads. You remember those, right? They’re a festive spin on pigs in a blanket, no doubt. But something about ham and Gruyère in a puff pastry seems a bit more elegant than a hot dog in pop-and-bake dough, even though they are most definitely related. Cousins, at least. (And not to knock the mummy dogs. Add a mustard face, and those things are delish.) I’d happily serve this to company, even on a non-Halloween night.
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Ham and Gruyere Puff Pastry

Puff Pastry with Ham and Gruyère
From Ina Garten

• 1 package (2 sheets) frozen puff pastry, defrosted
• 2 tablespoons mustard (Dijon, horseradish, whatever you fancy)
• ¼ pound black forest ham, sliced
• ½ pound Gruyère cheese, sliced
• 1 egg, beaten with 1 tablespoon water, for egg wash

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F, and place a piece of parchment paper on a sheet pan.

Lay 1 sheet of puff pastry on a floured board or countertop, and carefully roll it out to about 10 by 12 inches. Place it on a sheet pan and brush it with the mustard, leaving a 1-inch border around the edge. Layer the ham on top of that, leaving the same border, followed by the cheese. Brush the border with the egg wash.

Roll the second sheet of puff pastry out on the floured board or countertop to the same 10 by 12 inches. Place the second sheet on top of the filled pastry, and line up the edges as best you can. Cut the edges straight with a small knife if you need to, and then press together lightly. You can use the tines of a fork to help seal the edges in place. Brush the top with egg wash, and cut a few slits in the top so steam can escape.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until pastry is puffed and golden brown. Allow it to cool for a few minutes. Serve hot or warm.

[Note: I actually halved this recipe, and it worked out really well. Instead of using two sheets of puff pastry, I just used one, rolled out to 10 by 12 inches and then cut in half (making one sheet the top layer and one sheet the bottom). Use half the amount of filling, and bake for about 20 minutes. Results should be the same!]

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I think there are some pretty great spins you could probably take with this. Green apples and Brie maybe? Or leftover Thanksgiving turkey, Gruyère and cranberry sauce? What do you think?

XO,
Katrina

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Salad for lunch, cookies for dinner: Peanut butter chocolate chip biscuits

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Biscuits3

Well, we’ve made it through the season of sweets, and now my blog reader and Pinterest feed are filled with fancy salads, whole grains and about seven gazillion paleo recipes. I suppose January is the time for all of that. It’s out with the, “Eat what you want because it’s Christmastime, y’all!” and in with the “No really, honey, I think you’ll like quinoa.”

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Biscuits4

We’re doing our own version of the get-back-on-track bandwagon, but then again, I’ve always been an advocate of making healthy choices for meals if it means I can reward myself with a healthy dose of dessert. I say a salad for lunch is a pretty fair tradeoff for a stack of cookies come evening.

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Biscuits2

So today, it’s a cookie recipe for you: peanut butter and chocolate chip biscuits. Consider it your reward for two good weeks of healthy eats. You can always have oatmeal tomorrow morning.

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Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Biscuits

Peanut Butter and Chocolate Chip Biscuits
Adapted just slightly from Winter on the Farm (Matthew Evans, p. 209) 

• ¾ cup light brown sugar
• 7 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
• 1 egg
• 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
• 300 grams creamy peanut butter
• ½ teaspoon salt
• ½ teaspoon baking soda
• 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
• 1 ¼ cups semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Using an electric mixer, cream together the sugar and butter until light and fluffy. Then add the egg and vanilla, and beat until well combined. Beat in the peanut butter, salt and baking soda until well combined.

Slowly add the flour to the mixture, and mix until just combined. Fold in the chocolate chips.

Roll the dough into tablespoon-sized balls, and place about 1 inch apart on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Press the balls down with the tines of a fork until they’re about ½ inch thick, then bake for 10-14 minutes, until the cookies are tan but not dark.

Makes about 40 cookies

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XO,
Katrina

It’s popsicle time! Blueberry lemon pops

Yogurt Pops 4

Every spring, I convince myself that this will be the summer I accomplish everything on my ever-growing to-do list. This will be the summer I finish organizing the closet. This will be the summer I complete a bucket list of must-do warm-weather activities. This will be the summer I finish knitting the blanket that never quits.

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But then the summer actually begins, and before I know it, it’s mid-July, and I’ve spent six weeks spinning in circles because the summer months move so much faster than the other ones. Am I the only person who keeps saying, “How is it July already?” “Where did the summer go?” “Will someone come knit this blanket for me?!?!”

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Probably not. Everyone’s busy. And I fear my poor kitchen has been feeling neglected from our weeks of spinning chaos. So what to do when the world is moving so fast your feet are wobbling beneath you? Make popsicles of course!

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Popsicles are super easy, super fast and make it abundantly clear that it is indeed summertime. No matter the the hustle and bustle, we all deserve a few moments of bliss to enjoy a taste of the season. Blink, and it will be fall.

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Yogurt Pops

Blueberry Lemon Yogurt Popsicles
Adapted from le zoe musings

• 1 cup nonfat vanilla yogurt, plus a few extra dollops for each popsicle (Greek or regular, whichever you prefer)
• 3/4 cup fresh blueberries, plus a few extra for each popsicle
• 1 tablespoon honey
• zest of 1 lemon

To make the blueberry yogurt layer, add 1 cup of yogurt, 3/4 cup blueberries, the honey and lemon zest into a blender or food processor, and blend until smooth. To layer the popsicles, put one or two whole blueberries in the bottom of each popsicle mold, followed by a few dollops of the plain vanilla yogurt. Next add another few whole blueberries, and fill the rest of the way with the blueberry yogurt mixture. Press a popsicle stick into the center of each mold, then put popsicles in the freezer until frozen.

Makes 4 full-sized popsicles

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Popsicles are wonderfully adaptable, so feel free to add whatever fruits, yogurts or add-ins you like. Truth be told, my sister and I loved the blueberry layer but could take or leave the plain vanilla section. Beany, on the other hand, happily ate every last bite.

Has your kitchen hit a lull this season? How are you enjoying the summer months? I’d love to hear about it!

XO,
Katrina

Delicious endings: Easy chocolate sugar cookies

Chocolate Sugar Cookies 2

I’m pretty sure that cookies are one of life’s great triumphs — at least in the world of dessert. Where else are you going to find a sweet that’s so universally loved? A treat that can be baked quickly, travel easily and please grandparents and toddlers alike? They’re like the stuff of fairy tales, really. There are humble beginnings (we’re talking dough balls, y’all), followed by courageous middles (baking is not for the lighthearted) and, finally, the beautiful, delicious endings. Yes, cookies are pure magic. No two are the same, and yet they all have tales worth telling.

Chocolate Sugar Cookies 7

This cookie’s story is none too fancy, though sprinkles and nuts and chocolate chips do not a hero make. Sometimes it’s simplicity and earnestness that win out in the end.

Chocolate Sugar Cookies 5

Chocolate sugar cookies are exactly as they sound. They are simple sweets that pack a lovely chocolate punch by way of Dutch-process cocoa powder, with enough butter to remind you they’re a sometimes food.

Chocolate Sugar Cookies 4

They need very little else, besides a source for dunking. Coffee is always a good friend to chocolate, but I dare say these taste best when paired with an ice cold glass of milk.

Chocolate Sugar Cookies 3

And this recipe makes a mountain, so be sure to share with friends. Or with strangers, who will quickly become your friends.

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Chocolate Sugar Cookies

Chocolate Sugar Cookies
Adapted slightly from Martha Stewart’s Cookies

• 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
• ½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder (Dutch process)
• 1 teaspoon baking powder
• ½ teaspoon salt
• 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, ½ cup at room temperature and ½ cup melted
• 1 ½ cups sugar
• 1 egg
• 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix together the ½ cup room-temperature butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the (cooled) melted butter, and mix until well blended. Add the egg and vanilla, and mix until creamy. With the mixer on low, gradually add the dry ingredients, and mix until just combined.

Use a 1-inch cookie scoop to drop dough in rounded tablespoons on a parchment- or Silpat-lined cookie sheet. Bake for 10-14 minutes, until edges are firm. Let the cookies cool on the sheet for minute, then move them to a wire rack to cool completely.

Makes about 4 dozen

Chocolate Sugar Cookies 6

Chocolate Sugar Cookies 8

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XO,
Katrina

Three-ingredient strawberry sorbet

Strawberry Sorbet3

Although our oven joins us in a collective groan as the summer heat draws near, there’s one little appliance tucked in the back corner of the kitchen that lets out a happy squeal at the first sign of 90-degree days.

“Yippee da doo, eep eep eep!” Or something like that.

Strawberry Sorbet2

Yes, after nearly nine months of hibernation, the trusty ice-cream maker is ready to run again. Oh, happy day! If anything can make me look forward to a sweltering summer, it’s the promise of ice cream, popsicles, anything frozen. And sorbet! Especially easy-to-make, tastes-like-summer-in-a-bowl sorbet.

Strawberry Sorbet4

Isn’t it amazing how so few ingredients can make something so delicious? Strawberries, lemons and sugar. That’s it. Sweet doesn’t have to be complicated.

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Strawberry Sorbet

Strawberry Sorbet
Recipe by Genius Recipes, Food52

• 2 lemons (1 seeded and chopped, 1 juiced)
• 2 cups granulated sugar
• 2 pounds fresh strawberries, hulled

Place the chopped lemon and sugar in the bowl of a food processor, and pulse until combined. Transfer to another bowl.

Puree the strawberries in the food processor. Add the lemon mixture and the lemon juice, and pulse to combine.

Pour the mixture into an ice-cream maker, and churn until frozen (it took about 30 minutes in my machine). Transfer the sorbet to an airtight container, and keep it in the freezer until you’re ready to serve.

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Are you looking forward to the warm weather and sunshine? What’s your favorite summer dessert?

XO,
Katrina

A reason for messes: 10-minute strawberry jam

Strawberry Jam4

I could talk on and on about the value of simplicity — simple ingredients, simple work, simple living — but sometimes, I can honestly say you just have to make a royal mess of things to appreciate a job well done. Last night, while I scrubbed a few dishes and Jared helped tend to a bubbling pot of fruit and sugar, I thought to myself how lovely and simple the evening felt compared to the past few weeks. The thought barely escaped my mind when, quite suddenly, that bubbling pot turned into a red hot spring of craziness, spewing very boiling and very staining liquid from one end of the kitchen to the other.

Strawberry Jam6

Now I don’t know if it’s because I was watching 19 Kids and Counting at the time (the Duggars have a strangely calming effect on me) or because I slept a full eight hours the night before, but rather then send me into the typical stress-filled cleaning frenzy, this volcano of sticky preserves only fueled my satisfaction in the entire jam-making process. What is jam without the mess anyway? A sugary fruit mash at best. The real secret is in the chaos.

Strawberry Jam

Oh, and good croissants. The other secret is good croissants. Few things are more delicious than homemade jam on bakery-made pastry, and we’re fortunate to have an awesome German bakery nearby. Next time you’re cruising around Durham, be sure to check out Guglhupf. And order a few extra cherry Danish to take home because, well, you need no excuse.

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So back to the jam. This super simple recipe, which I happened upon while browsing one of my sister’s Pinterest boards (hey, gurl!), is a mere three ingredients long and takes little more than a bit of active stirring to get the job done. Yes, it might leave an impressive mess in its wake, but as noted earlier, that’s part of the process. It’s all worth it. Of course, it’s entirely possible that I was cooking with some exceptionally fervent strawberries, and perhaps the tamer varieties are less likely to bubble so enthusiastically. But I’m no scientist. Just a girl who’s a few splatters short of a clean kitchen.

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Strawberry Jam3

Simple Strawberry Jam
From Martha Stewart

• 1 ½ pounds hulled strawberries
• ½ cup sugar
• 2 tablespoons fresh-squeezed lemon juice

Place the strawberries in a food processor, and pulse until they’re coarsely chopped. Transfer the strawberries, sugar and lemon juice to a large skillet, and stir until combined.

Cook the strawberries over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until the jam is thickened and bubbles cover the surface, about 10 minutes.

Transfer the jam to a jar (or two small jars), and allow it to cool to room temperature. Jam may be kept sealed in the refrigerator for up to 10 days.

Strawberry Jam2

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In case it helps put the flavor or texture into perspective, my mom says this strawberry goodness sounds a lot like the freezer jam my grandma used to make all the time. It’s sweet but not overly sweet like the store-bought stuff, and there’s plenty of zing from the generous bit of lemon juice. And we’re just jumping into strawberry season, so now’s the time to jam away! Just don’t forget those croissants!

XO,
Katrina

The missing zing: Balsamic-glazed penne with roasted asparagus

Balsamic Penne

I love balsamic vinegar. Like, really love it. I add it to pasta, salad, rice, almost any savory dish that seems a little lacking in flavor. And I add it in quantities that would probably make most people shudder. Jared certainly likes it well enough, too, but any time I’m cooking and he sees me reaching for the balsamic vinegar bottle, I can tell he’s getting nervous. A little goes a long way, he likes to remind me.

Balsamic Penne5

So yes, I have a reputation for excessive balsamic vinegar usage, which is probably why Jared reacted the way he did as he watched me measure out a full two-thirds cup of it into a saucepan while putting together this recipe. Whether you use a lot or a little, balsamic vinegar likes to show you that it’s there. The second it hits the heat, it lets out a wonderful sizzle and a swoosh of steam that fills your nose if you’re standing too close. I lean in a smidge. Jared jumps back.

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In most cases, two-thirds of a cup is definitely a lot of vinegar, and you might feel as if you’re basting yourself in it when you first begin this recipe. But by the end, once it’s simmered down into a beautiful, syrupy sauce, and it’s tossed in with the pasta, butter and roasted asparagus, that pungent zing is replaced by a smooth, rich glaze that coats the penne perfectly and makes you happy with every bite.

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Jared was skeptical, but now he’s a believer. Balsamic vinegar knows no limits.

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Balsamic Penne6

Balsamic-Glazed Penne with Roasted Asparagus
Adapted slightly from Food and Wine

• 1 pound fresh asparagus, trimmed and then cut into 1-inch pieces
• 1 tablespoon olive oil
• 1 teaspoon coarse sea salt or kosher salt
• ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
• 2/3 cup balsamic vinegar
• ½ teaspoon brown sugar
• 1 pound whole-wheat penne
• 6 tablespoons salted butter, cut into ¼-inch cubes
• ½ cup Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving

Heat the oven to 400 degrees F. Place the cut asparagus on a large, rimmed baking sheet (lined with foil for easy cleanup). Drizzle the olive oil over top, and sprinkle on ½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon black pepper. Toss until the asparagus is evenly coated, then spread it back out in an even layer. Roast until the asparagus is tender and its ends begin to get slightly brown and crisp, 15 to 20 minutes, tossing partway through.

In the meantime, put the balsamic vinegar in a small saucepan and simmer until 3 tablespoons remain (you’ll know it’s reduced enough when the vinegar coats the back of a spoon). Stir in the brown sugar and remaining ¼ teaspoon black pepper. Remove from the heat.

While the vinegar is reducing, cook the penne according to package instructions. Drain the pasta, and toss it with the butter and vinegar until it’s well coated. Add the asparagus, Parmesan and the remaining ½ teaspoon salt, and toss gently to combine. Serve with the extra Parmesan.

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Funnily enough, this was actually the very first recipe I pinned on Pinterest at least two years ago, and I finally got around to making it last week. We all love it, and I can’t believe it was just sitting on that board for so long, waiting to be tried. Now, it’s officially added to the rotation. Woot!

Have you tried any great new recipes lately? Are there any fellow balsamic vinegar lovers out there with delicious dishes to share? What are your favorite flavors that you could eat by the cupful (even if you know you shouldn’t)? Do tell!

XO,
Katrina

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