Posted on October 17, 2014
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.
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.
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.
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!]
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?
Posted on September 16, 2014
I think most people, buried in the to-do lists of their day-to-day lives, probably have some sort of pipe dream, an “I’ll do this someday when life slows down and the timing is right” sort of thing, that they keep coming back to when day jobs get too busy, overwhelming or stressful, and they just feel like throwing in the towel and running in a totally different direction. For Jared and I, that pipe dream involves moving to some sleepy coastal town and opening a great little coffee shop/bakery/bookstore/art gallery, where we spend our days covered in flour (me), drinking copious amounts of coffee (him) and chatting with customers about Hemingway, Dickens and the latest local artist whose work adorns our walls.
I’ll admit, on a lot of days, that dream sounds pretty awesome. Peaceful. Slower. Quiet. But of course, there are dreams, and there is real life. There are real jobs to do, real bills to pay, real needs to fill. Oh, and there are those pesky student loans, too. Student loans for educations that, though certainly fueled and arguably achieved through mountains of coffee and books, have very little to do with running a small business that caters to such things. So for now, we keep dreaming. And that’s probably a good thing.
So we can’t have the pipe dream now. But you know what? I have a fridge full of fruit that needs to be eaten and enough butter, flour and sugar to guarantee a happy day. So I bake. There’s something about making tarts, especially simple, rustic fruit tarts, that makes me feel a lot closer to that someday dream. I don’t know that I want to roll cookies out all day or wait for yeasty dough to rise, but tarts? Tarts I could spend every morning on. I love the simple dough, I love the flexibility in the filling, and I love that no matter how or what you squish inside that little mold, it comes out looking delicious, beautiful and intentional. I only made four for this recipe, and I would have happily made 50. In fact, maybe I should further specify that highly specific dream of ours: coffee shop/bakery/bookstore/art gallery/destination tart shop. Yep, that sounds perfect.
This recipe is pretty forgiving, so feel free to experiment with the fruit filling. Just add a tablespoon or so more flour if your fruit is especially juicy. And for the crust, you can easily sub out almond extract for the vanilla or switch up the oils (the original recipe recommends ¼ cup canola oil and ¼ cup olive oil). Just top the finished product with a good-sized dollop of whipped cream, and you’ll be in good shape.
Blueberry Nectarine Tarts
Adapted from Amanda Hesser, Food52.com
• 1 ½
cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
• ¾ teaspoons kosher salt
• ¾ cups plus 1 teaspoon sugar
• ½ cup canola oil
• 2 tablespoons whole milk
• 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
• 2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter
• 4 small ripe nectarines
• a handful of fresh blueberries
Heat the oven to 425 degrees F. In a medium bowl, whisk together 1 ½ cups flour, ½ teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon sugar. In a small bowl, whisk together the canola oil, milk and vanilla. Add the wet mixture to the flour mixture, and mix gently with a fork, just enough to dampen (you don’t want to overwork the dough!).
Divide the dough among your small tart pans (I used four 4-inch pans and had a little more dough than I needed; six 3-inch pans would probably be perfect. You could also use one 11-inch tart pan). Use your hands to pat out the dough so it covers the bottom of the pans, pushing it up the sides until it reaches the top. It should be about 1/8-inch thick all around. Trim away the excess dough.
In another bowl, combine ¾ cup sugar, 2 tablespoons flour, ¼ teaspoon salt and the butter. Use your fingers to pinch the butter into the dry ingredients until crumbly.
Starting on the outside, arrange the nectarines overlapping in a concentric circle over the crust, and fill in the extra space however you like to snuggly fit in as many slices as you can. Squeeze the blueberries in next to the nectarines, dividing them evenly among the tarts.
Sprinkle the crumbly butter mixture over top (it will seem like a lot), and bake the tarts for 30 to 35 minutes, until the crust is starting to brown and the fruit is bubbly. (A larger tart will likely take a five to 10 minutes longer). Cool tarts on a rack. Serve them warm or room temperature with lots and lots of whipped cream.
Posted on July 3, 2014
We eat strawberries nearly every day of the year in our house because Beany and I can’t get enough of them, but summer strawberries are by far the best of the bunch. They are amazingly juicy, amazingly sweet and amazingly not $5 a quart right now. So strike while those fields are hot!
In honor of this grand strawberry season, here are five of my favorite strawberry-filled desserts, perfect for your Fourth of July cookout.
Happy Fourth of July, pals!
Posted on May 29, 2014
When we lived in Missouri, Jared and I had a beast of a grill that took up about a third of the deck space at the back of our small apartment. It sat largely unused for a good five months of the year, but once the weather warmed up enough for Jared to remove his snow gear, we put the grill to use at least three or four times a week (though I do recall a few winter grilling sessions that required the use of gloves). When we moved to North Carolina though, our new place had one of those “no grilling within 10 feet of the premises” rules, so there was no sense in moving a behemoth hunk of stainless steel 920 miles across the country just to let it sit. We left it behind, the poor thing. I guess every grill has its day.
Summer is certainly the season for grilling, but we’re now living in our second no-grills-allowed apartment and have had to get a little creative to satisfy summer cravings without becoming wild tong-wielding rule-breakers. We finally bought a cast-iron skillet last weekend to try our hands at cooking steak inside, and I’d say it gave our memories of grilled steaks a run for their money (minus the three fire alarms and frantic fanning of lingering smoke, of course). For this barbecue chicken salad though, we fired up the ol’ panini press as a grilling substitute. And you know what? Not only does it taste pretty great, but it’s also amazingly fast. It’s not quite like the real deal, but it gets the job done with the bonus of adding those dandy grill marks.
The rest of this salad comes together super easily, and it’s one of those great recipes that’s really more of a loose guideline than a hard blueprint. Add what you love, skip what you don’t love, throw it all in a bowl, and you’re done. Aside from grilling (see also: panini-ing) the chicken, it’s low maintenance and cooking free. Now go forth, and chop!
Chopped Barbecue Chicken Salad
• 6 to 8 cups chopped Romaine lettuce
• 12 ounces to 1 pound grilled chicken, cut into small bite-sized pieces
• 1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
• 1 ½ cups corn (cooked, straight from the cob or however you like it)
• 1 pint cherry tomatoes, diced
• ¼ to ½ cup diced red onion
• grated cheese for sprinkling (cheddar always goes well with barbecue)
• ranch dressing (here’s a homemade version we like)
• barbecue sauce
* Other fun additions: hard-boiled eggs, avocados, crumbled bacon, olives, tortilla strips
Put all of the ingredients except the cheese, dressing and barbecue sauce into a large bowl, and give the salad a good toss. Top individual salads with a bit of grated cheese and an even drizzle of ranch and barbecue sauce. Enjoy!
I’m a big fan of making things that we can get two meals out of, and this salad keeps really well for a few days in the refrigerator as long as you leave the dressing and barbecue sauce off until the day you eat it. And when it says it serves four, that’s a healthy dose of salad, like for a whole meal, so it could definitely be stretched further if you serve it alongside some good bread or something else to help fill the tummies. It’s a new favorite for us and definitely in the weekly rotation for these warm-weather days.
What’s your favorite throw-it-together meal? Any other creative non-grill-owning grillers out there? What’s on the menu now that the weather is getting warm?
Posted on April 20, 2014
Happy Easter! This post is popping up a little later than planned, but I suppose that’s life with a newborn and a toddler in the house. And a puppy. Yep, that puppy is wild, too.
In case any of you are still on the lookout for an Easter-ready dessert (or a feels-like-spring dessert for that matter), look no further. This lemon ginger bundt cake comes together in a snap and tastes as happy as it sounds. I love that it uses crystallized ginger instead of ground. Have you cooked or baked much with it? It’s pretty fun, delicious stuff. Zingy and bright and just what spring is supposed to taste like. I’m currently in search of new gingery recipes so I can use up the rest of it.
In other news, Beany went to her very first Easter egg hunt yesterday and had a pretty great time. Fortunately, she didn’t realize all the sugar that came hidden inside those eggs until the very end of the hunt, so we managed to escape without her getting too incredibly sugar filled. Of course, now in her zeal for jellybeans and chocolate, she’s requesting eggs by the dozen.
Hope your Easter is a good one, too!
Lemon Ginger Bundt Cake
Adapted just slightly from Martha Stewart
• 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
• 3 cups all-purpose flour
• 2 tablespoons finely grated lemon zest and 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice (about 2 lemons)
• 1 teaspoon vanilla
• 1/3 cup minced crystallized ginger
• 1 teaspoon baking soda
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 2 ½ cups granulated sugar
• 6 large eggs
• 1 cup sour cream
• powered sugar for dusting
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F, and grease a 12-cup bundt pan. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, lemon zest, ginger, baking soda and salt.
Beat together the butter and granulated sugar on medium-high until light and fluffy, about 4 to 5 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each. Blend in the lemon juice and vanilla.
With mixer on low, alternately add flour mixture and sour cream, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Blend until just incorporated. Spoon batter into prepared pan, and smooth the top with a spatula.
Bake until a toothpick inserted in center of cake comes out clean, 50 to 60 minutes. Let the cake cool in the pan for about 30 minutes, then turn it out onto a rack to cool completely. Dust with powdered sugar before serving.
Posted on February 17, 2014
I think it’s safe to say that we’re officially in the thick of a true Boston winter. There’s snow on the ground. Snow on the rooftops. Snow in piles. Snow on the way. It’s icy and slushy and downright cold. But you know what? It’s pretty glorious. Sure, native Bostonians and more experienced East Coast residents are still meeting our winter enthusiasm with mild shock and a lot of, “Just wait until mid-March, and you won’t love it so much,” but for now our family is definitely enjoying this long-lasting winter wonderland. If it’s going to be cold, it might as well be snowy. And we have plenty of both.
Cold weather does call for comfort food though, the kind that warms you up from the inside out and makes you feel good and cozy on a truly blustery day. You can certainly go the soups and stews route, but for me, nothing says comfort like pasta. So pasta we shall have! And this pasta we have had, in fact — weekly at least — for a solid month. Maybe that’s why we’re still loving all this snow.
Fettuccine with Garlic Cream Sauce and Sautéed Tomatoes
Adapted from The Kitchy Kitchen
• 16 ounces fettuccine
• ¼ cup olive oil
• 4 cloves garlic, minced
• 1 pint cherry tomatoes
• ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper
• kosher salt
• freshly ground black pepper
• ½ cup cream
• 2 teaspoon lemon zest
• 2 teaspoons fresh thyme, finely chopped
Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic, and sauté just until golden, about 30 seconds to a minute. Add the tomatoes, crushed red pepper, salt and black pepper. Lower heat, and sauté, tossing occasionally, until tomatoes are soft, another 7 to 10 minutes, depending on how hot you keep the pan.
In the meantime, cook the fettuccine to al dente, according to package instructions. When the pasta is nearly finished cooking (and the tomatoes are soft), add the cream to the pan with the tomatoes, give everything a good stir and heat the sauce until it’s almost simmering. Add the lemon zest and thyme, and stir to combine.
Pour the hot garlic cream sauce over the pasta, and toss to coat. Serve with freshly grated Parmesan cheese.
How are you staying warm and cozy this winter season? Good food? Good friends? A good vacation void of snow and ice? Do tell!
Posted on January 24, 2014
Anyone who’s a parent will probably tell you that, despite all of the times and all of the ways that they feel they’re falling a bit shy of the mark, there are at least a few parenting-related things that they feel pretty good about. It’s been true for us. Yes, we cave to demands for extra bedtime snuggles, use disposable diapers and Beany watches more Mickey Mouse Clubhouse than a doctor might recommend, but when it comes to her diet and nutrition, we’ve tried to stay pretty up and up with good-for-you eats and made-from-scratch desserts. Not always, but most of the time. And it’s worked out pretty well so far.
After two years of eating this way, not only does Beany seem to have pretty good taste for a toddler, but she’s also developed a rather discerning palate when it comes to baked goods. This has translated into outright refusal of nearly any prepackaged or non-homemade sweet. We’re talking birthday cake at parties, snacks at the grocery store, even Oreos. She’d happily eat ginger spice cookies, banana muffins or brownies as the day is long, but hand her something that you didn’t bake yourself, and somehow her toddler super senses kick in, and she instinctively turns up her nose. This was true for a long, long time. But then, we went to Grammy’s house.
One day after lunch, Grammy pulled out a “special cookie” from deep inside the pantry. It was a Fig Newton. “I doubt she’ll eat it,” I told my mom when she asked if Beany could have one. “But she can try it. We’ll see what she does.”
Beany looked at the cookie skeptically, took a teeny tiny nibble from the top and then proceeded to eat the entire thing. In three bites! Mouthful of cookie and face covered in crumbs, she smiled the smile of a kid who finally understood the joys of processed sweets. If 2-year-olds have vices, Beany had found hers, wrapped in a square of fig and pastry.
It’s hard to deny your child something that you know brings them so much joy, and I dare say that our girl looked nearly euphoric every time she had a Fig Newton during that three-week vacation. Upon returning home, however, before I let myself succumb to the call of the prepackaged grocery store cookies, I vowed to give the homemade version a try, just to see if I could win back Beany’s sensibilities. If you have a Fig Newton-lover in your house, and you’re willing to put in the extra time and effort that the homemade route demands, this recipe is spot on. Steaming the cookies as soon as they’re done baking gives them that unmistakable Fig Newton texture, and the flavor is just like the original but amplified a bit with extra orange zest and vanilla.
Thankfully, after a sideways glance or two, Beany was willing to try them last night, and though her response wasn’t overwhelmingly this-is-so-amazing the first day, by day two she heartily approved. Of course, I haven’t offered her the packaged vs. homemade challenge, with the two options side by side. Honestly, I’m too scared of the results.
Homemade Fig Newtons
Recipe from petitbleu, Food52.com
For the pastry:
• 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
• 1 teaspoon baking powder
• ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
• 10 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
• 2/3 cups brown sugar
• 1 large egg
• 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
• zest of one orange
For the filling:
• 1 pound dried figs, cut into small pieces
• ½ cup water
Whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl, and set aside. Then beat the butter and brown sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment until light and fluffy, about 3 to 5 minutes. Add the egg, vanilla and orange zest, and beat until well combined.
Using a spatula, gently fold the flour mixture into the butter mixture until well blended. (The dough will be super soft.) Spoon the dough out onto a piece of plastic wrap, shape it into a disc, and refrigerate it overnight.
In the meantime, make the fig filling by combining the figs and water in a medium saucepan. Bring the water to a boil, put on the lid, and allow the water to boil until the figs have absorbed it. (If the figs are still not soft, add a bit more water and allow it to simmer a bit longer.)
Transfer the figs to a food processor, and pulse them until the mixture is completely smooth. Allow the filling to cool.
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Place a large piece of parchment on your work surface, and flour it liberally. Divide the chilled dough into four pieces. Place one piece of dough on the parchment, and return the others to the refrigerator until you’re ready to use them.
Shape the piece of dough into a rectangle by squaring it on the work surface, and then roll the dough, into a long rectangle, about 4 inches wide by 12 inches long. Make sure you keep lifting the dough and flouring the parchment. The super soft dough will stick easily if you don’t keep checking it.
Place the fig filling into a pastry bag or a large Ziploc bag with one corner cut off. Pipe the filling in a 1-inch strip down the center of the dough rectangle. (To help flatten out the filling a bit, dip your fingertips in water and gently press down on the filling.) Fold one side of the dough over the filling, then the other. Press down on the seam to close it. Then flip the cookie roll over, seam-side down. Transfer it carefully to a baking sheet, and refrigerate while you repeat this step with the other three pieces of dough. (Per Jared’s super smart suggestion, I used the metal ruler I already had out to measure my dough rectangle as a base to transfer the cookie rolls. It’s 12 inches long, so it worked like a charm.)
Once all four cookie rolls are assembled and on the parchment-lined baking sheet, bake them for 16 to 22 minutes, or until the dough is no longer tacky and begins to brown around the edges.
While the cookie rolls are still warm, cut them into 2-inch cookies. (If necessary, wipe your knife off every so often between cuts; the figgy mixture is pretty sticky.) Immediately place the cookies in a single layer inside a large Ziploc bag or airtight container with the lid on or bag sealed. It sounds weird, but steaming the cookies is what gives them that soft Fig Newton texture. Cool the cookies completely, and then eat and be merry!
Makes about 30 cookies
Have you ever tried homemade versions of your favorite boxed treats? Cookies? Cakes? How about Pop-Tarts? I’d love to hear about it!