My Motto

May the muffin rise to greet you, may your friends be always at your door, and until we meet again, warm a single-malt in the palm of your hand and make something homemade for someone you love.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Spring Onion Tart with Puff Pastry Crust

"We would load up the yellow Cutlass Supreme station wagon and pick blackberries during blackberry season, or spring onions during spring onion season.  For us, food was part of the fabric of our day."
~Mario Batali

Sharing recipes that cause excitement around here is the reason I started this blog. You might be thinking, "spring onion tart - ho hum." Not so fast.  This is something I've thought about and been meaning to try for years.  When I served it to The Mister last night, after taking a bite, he exclaimed (with his mouth half-full, btw) "I am the luckiest man alive!"  (He is so much fun to cook for.) High praise for the humble onion tart.  It's just one of those things.  Sometimes simple is best.  

The smell of the onions slowly cooking with fresh thyme....oh really primes the appetite.  Even if you're not a fan of raw onion, you might like this.  The slow cooking takes the bite out and leaves you a creamy, savory filling.   It's good warm or at room temperature, and although we had it as part of a light dinner served with soup and salad, you could shape it as a rectangle on a cookie sheet, cut the tart into small squares and it would make a nice appetizer that would be elegant dressed up with a pinch of microgreens on each square.  I'm considering this for Easter.

I've seen enough onion tarts over the years to know the basic fillings and variations.  For mine, I started with 1/4 of  my favorite Fanny Farmer base quiche binder, and then added the spring onion filling. The puff pastry was a no-brainer for it's ease of preparation and the crispy, buttery results.  
Cooks notes: Pre-baking of the crust is important, so that it's crispy.  That really makes it. If you skip that step the bottom will be soggy and it may become misshapen as it bakes.  Take care to cook the onions very slowly on low.  You're goal is not to brown them, but to soften and very slightly caramelize them.  Adding the garlic at the very end is important because you just want to warm it up and bring out the fragrance.  If it browns it will be bitter.  Fresh thyme is best, but if you have to use dried, use very little, just a pinch, because the dried is much stronger and you don't want it to overpower.

Spring Onion Tart with Puff Pastry Crust
Serves 4

1 sheet puff pastry, thawed (I prefer Pepperidge Farm)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
2 medium onions, peeled and thinly sliced (Vidalia are best, but white is fine)
2 bunches spring onions (scallions) about 12-14
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 egg
1 cup shredded Swiss cheese (good stuff, not pre-shredded, bagged)
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Butter tart pan.  Roll thawed sheet of  puff pastry to stretch it a bit to fit your tart pan, if necessary.  Pinch pastry up the sides of pan.  Cut away any pasty that overhangs.  Poke bottom of crust with a fork.  Cut a piece of foil or parchment paper that is bigger than your pan.   Lay this over the puff pastry crust, allowing plenty of overhang.   Fill with baking weights, dried beans or rice to weigh it down.  Bake for 25-30 mins.  Remove weights and cool.

Cut root end of scallions off, then slice from the white end, about 2/3 a way up the green part.  Discard the last 1/3 of the green part.  Set aside half of the greenest part of the sliced scallions.  The rest, place with your sliced onions.

In a large preferably nonstick saucepan, melt butter together with the olive oil on low-medium heat.  Add the sliced onions and scallions (except for the green ones you set aside).  Add salt, pepper and thyme.  Allow them to come to a very low simmer, stirring occasionally, and cook for about 15-20 minutes until they are very soft, and even slightly caramelized, but not browned.  Add garlic and cook for about 3 minutes more, stirring.  Set aside until mostly cooled off.  

In a medium bowl, whisk egg, stir in cream and shredded Swiss cheese.  Stir in the cooled cooked onion mixture and pour into the cooled crust, spreading evenly.  Sprinkle the reserved green part of the scallions evenly over the filling and press them down lightly.  Sprinkle the Parmesan cheese over the filling.

Bake for 20-25 minutes or until filling is set and golden.  Cool for 5 minutes.  Serve hot, warm or at room temperature.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Spinach Fettucine with Avocado Pesto

"As long as there's pasta and Chinese food in the world, I'm ok."
~Michael Chang
Soooo, I had a lonely old avocado a few weeks ago. Seriously hating to waste anything,  my thoughts began turning of something to do with it OTHER than make guacamole (as much as I love guac).  Then I recalled seeing an avocado pasta sauce on the blog "One Perfect Bite."  This was my inspiration.  Mary's avocado sauce is different, so head over there and check it out.  I decided to make the base of my favorite basil-almond pesto, loosen it with hot pasta water and whir in the avocado and Parmesan at the last minute before tossing with the hot pasta.  

 The dish leaves you feeling like you just had something rich and sinful, when in actuality it is a darn good and healthy meal.  Did you know that avocados provide nearly 20 essential nutrients, including potassium, B-vitamins, vitamin E, folic acid, and fiber?  Avocado  only has 100 calories per 1/4 cup, compared to 408 of the same amount of butter, but it gives the dish that same rich creamy texture that butter would, giving the sauce a really luxurious, silky feel to the palate.  I kept the sauce pretty sturdy and used it liberally, so it clings thickly to the pasta.   For success, you need to use a nice ripe avocado that, when cut, looks like the one above.  Choose one with dark flesh that gives a little when you press with your fingers.

Cooks notes:  Be sure to measure and set aside the hot pasta water before you drain the pasta.  I like to take it about 2 minutes before the pasta is done so the sauce can be hot and finished and ready to toss with the pasta immediately after it is strained.  Adding the Parmesan with avocado at the last moment is important so the cheese does not melt and clump.  I used a food processor to make this, but it can be done in a blender, if necessary.

Spinach Fettuccine with Avocado Pesto
Serves 4

1 1/2 cups fresh basil leaves
1/2 cup slivered or sliced almonds, lightly browned
2 cloves garlic
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 ripe avocado
1 cup boiling hot pasta cooking water
1 pound spinach fettuccine
salt and pepper to taste

In a large pot, start water for pasta.  In the meantime, make the pesto.  Pulse the first three ingredients in a food processor until combined.  With processor on, slowly add olive oil.  About two minutes before you need to drain the pasta, remove one cup of the boiling water.  Turn processor on and slowly add 1/2 of the reserved pasta water.  Add Parmesan and avocado and process until smooth.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Add as much of the remaining pasta water as you need to loosen up the sauce enough.   It should be thick enough to loosely mound.
Drain pasta.  Do not rinse, and toss it immediately with the sauce.
Serve immediately with additional Parmesan for sprinkling.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Smoked Mozzarella Fonduta

"A corpse is meat gone bad.  Well and what's cheese?  Corpse of milk."
~James Joyce
Hi Friends!  Did you think I died?  Yes, I've been away for a few weeks.  Had a nice visiting trip to Florida with the Mister; was then exhausted from said trip and had trouble getting back into the groove (I know, I know - BOO HOO).  Thanks for not abandoning me!  I have a great recipe for you, and I mean GREAT! It was a hit with everyone that tasted it.  No surprise though, who doesn't like ooey-gooey cheese?  It's super-easy, is done in 15 minutes, and you are going to LOVE IT!
This gem was discovered at last May.  Posted there by Stefanie Wilson from Trenton GA, it is a knock-off of the popular Olive Garden appetizer.  I changed a couple of things.  The recipe says to serve it with 1/4 slices of Italian bread that have been crisped in the oven.  You can do this if you like, but I made garlic bread by slicing ciabatta rolls in half, spreading them lightly with homemade garlic butter, and grilling them lightly in a medium-hot skillet (YUM).  I also added fresh basil to the recipe and substituted it for the parsley garnish as well, and we all really loved it. Using fresh herbs is key as they come through brightly without overpowering the subtle smokiness of the cheese.
My girl :-)
Instead of serving it as an appetizer, I cut the recipe in half, spread it in four small ramekins and served it as part of a light meal with a chicken and broccoli slaw salad.  Unorthodox, I know, but decidedly fantastic and surprisingly light.  We'll be doing this again SOON.  Like next week.
Added to Justapinch by Stefanie Wilson
Serves 8

1 pkg Italian bread, sliced into 1/4 slices
1 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon [fresh thyme], chopped
[1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped]
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
3 cups shredded smoked mozzarella or smoked provolone
3 cups shredded mozzarella (NOT smoked and not low-fat)
3 tablespoons grated Parmesan
3 tablespoons grated Romano (I used twice as much Parm, since I didn't have Romano)
1 small tomato, diced
[extra fresh basil, chopped]
NOTE: this recipe calls for one of the two main cheeses to be smoked and one to be regular.

1.Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.  Arrange sliced Italian bread flat on a baking sheet and cover with foil.  Set aside.

2. Combine sour cream, thyme, basil, red pepper, cayenne pepper and cheeses in a large , bowl and blend thoroughly.  If serving family style, spray an 8x10 inch casserole dish with Pam, then use a spatula to transfer the mixture.  For individual servings, spray eight individual heat-resistant serving bowls, such as ramekins or custard cups with Pam and fill each with 1/2 cup of mixture.  Spread cheese mixture to create an even surface.

3.  Place individual bowls on a baking sheet.  Place in oven at center position.  After five minutes, place baking sheet, still covered, on top rack in oven.  Bake for an additional 7 minutes.  Remove bread and fonduta from oven, and garnish with diced tomatoes and basil.  Arrange bread slices around bowl and serve immediately.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Levain Bakery Inspired Chocolate-Chocolate Mint Cookies

"Don't wreck a sublime chocolate experience by feeling guilty."
~Lora Brody
For years I could not remember the name of the bakery these cookies came from.  We referred to them as those "big, fat cookies."  Anyone who's had them knows what I'm talking about; the absurdly large, mounded cookies from Levain Bakery in NYC.  If you want to blow someone's doors off, then have some shipped for a special occasion.  They are pricey, but worth it....remember, they are BIG cookies, so 6-8 cookies go WAY further than you would imagine.
The Mister's cousin used to reside in the Big Apple and would bring a box of these to the annual get-together at his maternal grandmother's lakeside cottage.  These are no ordinary cookies.  They're slightly cakey, indulgent and amazing.  Must be, if I'm still thinking about them and it's probably been at least 5 years since I've had one!  When that bakery box was opened at the picnic, we swarmed at it like bees on honey.  Most of us could not finish a whole cookie.  Instead, we broke them up and shared pieces and flavors in-between moans.
I found basically the same recipe at the blogs Annie's Eats and Love From the Oven.  When I mentioned to my daughter that I was going to make these, she emphatically suggested that I chop up and use Ande's Candies instead of chocolate chips. 
Thank you Audrey!  That really put them over the top.  The Mister declared them "the best chocolate cookies, EVER!"   Audrey gave me the "OMG these are too good" look (she and I don't always need to speak to communicate, haha.)  Reactions like that make cooking for them really fun!
If you're not into mint, feel free to use semi-sweet chocolate chips instead, like the originals.  While I was making these I had already left the butter out to soften, out of habit.  The recipe calls for cold butter, but I started with creamed softened butter and they came out great.  I used a 1/3 cup measure as a scoop and preferred them "free form" rather than molded like a patty.  Have a great couple weeks and enjoy St. Patrick's Day, folks.  Doubtful I'll get another post up before then as we're heading to Florida to do a little visiting and a lot of eating and lollygagging around (my two favorite sports.)  Cheers!
Levain Bakery Inspired Chocolate-Chocolate Mint Cookies
Makes 12 big fat cookies :)

1 cup (2 sticks) cold, unsalted butter, cubed
1 1/4 cups sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 cup cocoa powder
2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 1/2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips (or chopped Ande's Candies)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Line baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.  In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the butter and sugar.  Beat together on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, 2-3 minutes.  Blend in the eggs one at a time, scraping down bowl as needed.  Blend in the cocoa powder.  Measure flour into a medium sized bowl.  Add the salt and baking powder and stir until combined.  Add to other ingredients in electric mixing bowl and beat until thoroughly combined.  Be sure to get to the very bottom of the bowl.  Beat in chocolate chips (or Ande's Candies.)  Batter will be very stiff.

Using a 1/3 cup measure scoop rounded blobs of dough onto cookie sheets, spacing 2 inches apart.  I got exactly 12 cookie and baked 6 on each cookie sheet.  Bake about 14-15 minutes.  Less if you make them smaller.  They should look slightly underdone when removed from the oven.