For example, you can cut it into strips and twist it to make elegant and easy cheese straws or dessert sticks, wind it around a poached pear, or push it into mini muffin tins to make petite, blooming appetizers.
But because I am at heart a lazy baker, one of my top tricks is to take a sheet of thawed pastry out of the package, unfold it, and dock it.
Docking means to pierce lightly with a fork, or a docker (looks like a spiked paint roller), to make small holes in dough that will let steam escape during baking. This helps the dough to remain flat and even.
You can dock an entire sheet of dough, cut it into squares or rectangles for stacked napoleons, or use the method to make a pretty tart with a raised edge, which is what I did for this 4-ingredient dinner tart.
Making the raised edge couldn’t be easier: use a small sharp knife to score a 1-inch border all around the edge (I do this free-hand for dinner at home, but when I want to be more precise I grab a ruler), then dock the interior. The un-docked border will rise at least twice as high as the interior, giving the crust a dramatic raised rim. When I want to make the rim look even more special, I brush it with an egg wash (1 egg mixed with 1 tablespoon water—this gives the dough a lacquered finish). If the tart is sweet, I might also add a sprinkle of turbinado sugar, and if savory, a bit of sea salt and freshly cracked pepper.
This particular combination is one of my no-fail dinners; if I have a bit of roast chicken in the refrigerator, I’ll toss it on, too. And if the Roma tomatoes are looking a bit sad (as they often do this time of year), no worries: the roasting brings out their natural sweetness. But for a further boost, give them a sprinkle of sugar and a drizzle of olive oil to enhance their flavor.
So-Easy Goat Cheese, Pesto & Tomato Tart
If you have the time and inclination, it helps to freeze the goat cheese slightly in order to slice it thin. Or you can follow my lazy woman’s alternative and simply crumble it.
1 sheet frozen puff pastry (1/2 of a 17.3-ounce package), thawed according to package instructions
2 tablespoons jarred pesto
1/2 of a 3.5-ounce log goat cheese, cut into thin slices (or just crumbled)
6-8 vine tomatoes , depending on size, thinly sliced
Preheat oven to 425F. Unfold pastry on a lightly floured work surface; roll out to a 12-by-14-inch rectangle. Trim edges to make even.
Place pastry on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Using a small, sharp knife, lightly score dough to form a 1-inch border. Using a fork, prick dough inside the border every 1/2 inch (this is the “docking”). Refrigerate until slightly firm, about 10 minutes (or up to 1 day, covered with plastic wrap).
Bake chilled dough until puffed and golden brown, 12-15 minutes. With a fork, press dough inside border to make level; spread with pesto, arrange cheese slices on top, then arrange tomato slices in rows on top (or just pile tomato slices on top and then spread evenly). Season with salt & pepper.
Bake, loosely tented with foil, until tomatoes have softened, about 10 minutes.
Let cool to room temperature, about 20 minutes. To serve, cut into eight pieces. Makes 8 servings.
Nutrition per Serving (1/8 piece of tart):Calories 108; Fat 5.0g (poly .9g, mono 2.4g, sat 1.4g); Protein 3g; Fiber: 1.9 g; Cholesterol 0mg; Carbohydrate 15g.
Apologies to all for disappearing for several days on end, readers. It's mostly due to a touch of toddler-itis (my adorable 2-year-old handful), a dash of deadline-itis (book editing and photos), and, at least in the past few weeks, a preponderance of puffiness.
The first two items are decidedly dull for a blog, but the puffiness is, thankfully, food related (no bags under the eyes, despite minimal sleep--I must be thankful for small blessings!). One of my many hats is that of brand ambassador for Pepperidge Farm Puff Pastry (Sometimes a woman really does get lucky; it is a wonderful gig). I've been hard at work on some puffy new recipes, and while I cannot share the details, I can share the experiments that did not make the cut--not because they turned grey, burned, or made my family gag (would I do that to you?), but because they just didn't suit my final criteria.
So while I am feeling happy and cheerful doing what I love to do, I hope I can make you happy with a few puffed recipes today, and in the days to come. You'll be happy to see that they still fall well within a healthy diet--and the ease is unmatched.
First up: simplified spanikopita tarts. Spanikopita is a traditional Greek pastry made with phyllo pastry and a filling of spinach, eggs, feta, and a handful of aromatics. I've made mine easier by using puff pastry (no layering!) and have lightened the filling a bit with a few egg whites in place of whole eggs. These freeze very well at two points in the process: (1) freeze the assembled, unbaked tarts or (2) cool the baked tarts and freeze. For both freezing options, thaw at room temperature. The baked, thawed tarts can be rewarmed in a 250F oven for about 10minutes.
I ate these for lunch (two, or sometimes three) on two days, even breakfast on another (I think these are going to make it into my regular breakfast rotation). And for dinner, you could certainly make them bigger--just cut the puff patry sheet into 4 squares instead of sixteen for supper-size spanokopita.
Puffed Spanikopita Tarts
1 small onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 10-ounce package frozen chopped spinach, thawed, drained, and squeezed dry
3 large egg whites
1 large egg
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1 teaspoon dried oregano
2 tablespoons low-fat milk
1/2 cup (2 ounces) crumbled feta cheese
1 sheet (half of a 17.3-ounce box) puff pastry, thawed
Preheat oven to 375°. Line a large cookie sheet with foil (for easier clean-up).
Heat a nonstick skillet over medium heat. Coat pan with cooking spray. Add onion, and cook 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Add garlic; cook 1 minute, stirring constantly. Stir in pepper and salt. Add spinach; cook 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove from heat, and cool slightly. Combine egg whites and egg in a medium bowl, stirring with a whisk. Add spinach mixture, parsley, oregano, and milk, stirring to combine. Stir in feta.
On a lightly floured surface, roll the pastry sheet into a 12-inch square. Cut into 16 3-inch squares. Divide the spinach mixture evenly among squares (placing filling in middle of squares). Fold in corners of square towards the middle. Poke each tart with tines of fork on two folded sides.
Bake 15-17 minutes until puffed and golden. Makes 16 tarts.
Nutrition per Serving (1 tart)
Calories 68; Fat 2.5g (poly 0.2g, mono 0.7g, sat 1.4g); Protein 3.7g; Fiber: 1.2g; Cholesterol 22mg; Carbohydrate 7.3g.
Before continuing with my filming saga (yesterday's post), let's talk food. Tomorrow, after all, is Valentine's Day.
If you need some last-minute suggestions for treats, I have a few lighter (in fat and calorie), but intensely chocolate options from previous posts:
1-2-3 Bittersweet Chocolate Truffles
Vegan Chocolate Truffles
Mini Chocolate Cardamom Brownie Cupcakes
Chocolate Pots de Creme
But one cannot live by chocolate alone (although I would be delighted to lend myself to science to test the hypothesis), so I have two cozy recipes worth staying in for.
The first comes from the Comfort Foods episode of URS: a cream of parsnip soup, the signature dish of my friend and fellow contester Michaela Rosenthal. Here's the link:
Michaela's Cream of Parsnip Soup with Toasted Pumpkin Seeds
This is what I would want for Valentine's Day; Kevin would be less enthused with my spreading the love with parsnips.
But hear me out. It is a phenomenal soup. I've written of my affection for parsnips in other posts, so this was an immediate must-make when I watched the show back in January. It is heaven by the spoonful, and the seasonings are perfectly balanced. The first time I made it, I made no changes, but I prepared it again on Sunday and made three minor alterations:
(1) I substituted an equal amount of canned fat free evaporated milk for the half cup whipping cream
(2) I cut the amount of oil back to a scant 1 tablespoon.
(3) I left off the pumpkin seeds because, blast it, I forgot that I was out (I keep them on hand for snacking and topping off cereal and salads, and now, thanks to Michaela, soup). I wouldn't recommend this alteration of mine, because the textural contrast adds a lot.
It's a very healthy soup as is (parsnips and potatoes are both very high in vitamin C); the only reason I cut back on the fat was because I think I'm still making up for another Ultimate Recipe Showdown recipe I made back in January. I typically make myself a special dessert for my birthday (most often, cheesecake), but I couldn't get the winning dish--Cheese Lover's 5-Cheese Mac & Cheese--from the URS comfort foods show off of my mind, so I made that instead.
Wow. Wow. Wow. I can see why it won. But seriously, I think I gained two or three pounds that week from this dish alone (despite freezing most of it!)--I am not being facetious. Consider the key ingredients: 1/4 pound bacon (you don't drain the fat), 5 tablespoons butter, 2 cups heavy whipping cream, 2 and 1/2 cups whole milk, and the eponymous 5 cheeses. When I voiced a vague curiosity about the fat and calorie content while stirring in the heavy cream, Kevin's response was that such calculations should not be allowed for such a recipe, that it falls under the category of "don't ask, don't tell."
And while the dish was over-the-top birthday delicious, I am much happier with my lighter fare, both in taste and flavor, for how it makes me feel, and the benefit of being able to zip my pants. Case in point, my Smoky Baked Penne. I'm one for comfort food on Valentine's Day, but since we'll be down in Houston most of the day tomorrow, I made it last night. Enjoy!
Smoky Baked Penne
2 strips bacon, diced
1 small onion, chopped
1 small red bell pepper, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes and green chiles,undrained
1 teaspoon chipotle chile powder (more or less to taste)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
12 ounces whole grain penne, cooked according to package and drained (I use Barilla plus)
2 cups (8 ounces) grated smoked Gouda or smoked Cheddar cheese
1 cup fat free cottage cheese
1 cup lowfat milk
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1/4 cup dry breadcrumbs (or crumbled baked tortilla chips, if you happen to have on hand)
Preheat oven to 350°F. Spray a 2-quart baking dish coated with nonstick cooking spray.
Cook the bacon in a large saucepan or Dutch oven over medium-high heat until crisp. Transfer to paper towels to drain, and pour off all but 1 tablespoon bacon fat. Add the onion, bell pepper, and garlic. Cook and stir 4 minutes or until onion is tender, stirring frequently.
Sprinkle the flour over the vegetable mixture, then cook and stir 30 seconds. Reduce heat to medium; add tomatoes. Cook 3 minutes or until thickened. Add the cooked bacon, chile powder, cumin, cooked pasta, Gouda (or Cheddar), cottage cheese, milk, Parmesan, and egg, stirring until well blended. Spoon mixture into prepared pan and sprinkle with breadcrumbs. Bake 25- 30 minutes or until bubbly. Makes 6 servings.
Nutrition per serving (1/6 of casserole):
Calories 334; Fat 8.6g (poly 0.6g, mono 2.8g, sat 4.5g); Protein 35.2g; Cholesterol 97mg; Carbohydrate 41.2g; Sodium 756mg; Fiber 3.9g)
(Note: I did the nutrition analysis using Diet Analysis Plus 7.0.1)
The following may rank as one of the world’s oddest checklists:
*Gorgeous layer cake on pedestal
*Cute country-style Texas outfit
*Two dozen hardboiled eggs
*Husband and toddler
*And…practice whacking (this will be explained below)
But, I kid you not, it is real, and it was mine, sent to me by High Noon Entertainment before one of their crews arrived in Nacogdoches to film me before the Ultimate Recipe Showdown.
Let me take you through that day, then on to the trip to New York City for the show. It’s pretty funny in retrospect.
Let’s start at the very beginning: the golfing gear. The idea was that I’m the “Tiger Woods” of cooking contests, so why not recreate a Tiger Woods golfing commercial, with a URS twist. Apparently, there is a well-known (though not by anyone I know) commercial that shows the talented Tiger bouncing a golf ball at the end of his golf club. The URS twist? Do the same, but with hard boiled eggs. Let that sink in for a moment. What could possibly go wrong?
The scenario presented several stumbling blocks. First, I don’t golf, so I don’t possess a golfing outfit, golfing shoes, or golf clubs. “Just ask a friend, borrow what you need.” Right. The very short list of people I know (in town) who golf are men; they’re not my size. And besides having large, hard-to-fit feet, I’m squeamish about borronwing someone’s shoes. I did manage to get the clubs (courtesy of my friend Lindsey; her husband, David, golfs), but I was too stubborn to buy a golfing ensemble, one which I will certainly never wear again. So while it may look like a golfing-like outfit on the show, it is in fact the skirt bottom of my navy swimsuit, a sort-of matching (the navy was different in the light) sporty polo shirt, and my cross-trainers. I won’t be repeating this look anytime soon.
To the golf course!
I haven’t yet mentioned when this all went down. August. In East Texas. Close your eyes and envision 100 degrees, 100% humidity, and 100 mosquitoes swarming your legs. It’s everything you can imagine, yet so much more.
I almost lucked out of the golf course scenario: August is also the start of hurricane season in this neck of the woods, and Nacogdoches was pelted with torrential rainstorms in the days leading up to filming. It even rained in the early morning, but then, miraculously, cleared just in time. Oh lucky day. So I met the crew (they were great, funny and down-to-earth; a producer and a camera guy from High Noon productions, and then two Houston-based guys who did lighting and sound) on the private golf course just south of town (had never been there: it was quite beautiful from the air-conditioned bliss of my car) and the filming began.
Now I can explain a few more items on the list. The High Noon producer had mentioned in his most recent phone call that I should pack a frying pan for the golf course; he had some additional ideas about what we might do. Not knowing what it would be used for, I packed a cast iron skillet. This was a very bad idea, as you will soon find out. As I began hauling out the golf clubs and hard boiled eggs (boiled that morning at 6 am, so they could chill), the producer said, “Oh no, we won’t be needing those,” (must…not…scream). “just grab the frying pan.” I marched up the hill (a very, very muddy hill), trying to stifle violent thoughts involving a cast iron frying pan. They did have me practice whacking, after all…
About that whacking: “Practice bouncing the egg on the end of the club, then whacking it as far as you can on the last bounce,” I was instructed. Right. Now I don’t know about you, but I don’t keep dozens of hard boiled eggs in the refrigerator for destruction purposes. The thought of the profound stank following the whacking carnage (remember, it was about 100 degrees last August) likewise deterred me, as did my lack of clubs (I waited to ask Lindsey until the day before the shoot). And, perhaps most importantly, the last thing I wanted to do with my spare time, in between chasing a toddler, keeping house, working, and practicing the preparation of the two desserts for the show, was to stand outside whacking hardboiled eggs around the backyard in the sweltering heat.
And what do you know, my lack of practice paid off. The new plan? Bounce a golf ball with the skillet, then whack it off into the horizon.
So as the camera, light, and sound guys set up their equipment, I was told to rehearse my whacks.
Now, I must ask: do you own a cast iron skillet? One of good size, at least 9 or 10 inches across? Can I trouble you to head to the kitchen and pick it up in one hand? Good. Now start lifting it up and down, quickly, as if you’re, I don’t know, bouncing a golf ball. Do this at least 500 times. Now try to look relaxed, confident as you do it, as if you are, say, Tiger Woods. There you go.
Aargh!!! Do you comprehend the error of my cast iron choice? On a general scale of complexity, the one-handed bouncing of a golf ball in a cast iron skillet ranks right up there with herding cats or wrestling snakes. Adding to the difficulty were (1) the fact that I had surgery for multiple fractures in my right wrist the year before (and, you guessed it, I’m right-handed), and (2) in order to keep the shot from being back-lit, the crew had me facing the sun, which, after days of hiding behind rain clouds, was nothing short of blinding.
But if you saw the show, then you saw that somehow, someway, I managed to pull it off. I got so caught up in the final moments of my success at the task that I forgot that all traces of the make-up I had applied an hour before were now on the soggy handkerchief at my feet, I was drenched from head to toe, and (gulp) this was now footage fodder for a nationally televised show.
We wrapped up the golf course action with me riding around in a golf cart (I have no explanation for this at all whatsoever). The flat parts of the course just wouldn’t do, so over bump after muddy bump I steered and bounced, splattering myself head to toe in mud.
And the day had just begun! Tune in tomorrow for part two, as the crew and I head to Millard’s Crossing Historical Village with my triple layer carrot cake and (my lack of) that cute Texas outfit…
So, in case you missed the show on Sunday, here are the remaining times:
Tonight, Feb 11, 200910:00 PM ET/PT
Feb 12, 20091:00 AM ET/PT
Feb 14, 20094:00 PM ET/PT
Check back in later today--I'm going to write a bit about the filming of the show, including the filming in my new hometown, Nacogdoches.
Also: why not take a chance and enter season 3 of the Ultimate Recipe Showdown? The deadline is the end of the month, and there are many categories. You never know what they are looking for (it may very well be your self-designed masterpiece!), and, as you saw from the Desserts show and Lisa's great win, you don't need any previous experience in cooking competitions to take home the $25,000 prize. Go for it! Here's the link:
Ultimate Recipe Showdown Season 3 Entry Form
That's because I'll be on season two of the Ultimate Recipe Showdown, Desserts episode, airing tonight at 8 pm central (9 pm eastern time); the crying clip is a promo for the show. Kevin dubbed it my "network sobbing premiere." I was tempted to hide his last beer.
I could hardly believe that I was chosen again for season 2, after competing in the cookies category in season 1. And what a treat it was; in season 1, the show was filmed in Los Angeles, but season 2 was filmed in the Food Network studios in New York.
It was as incredible as you can imagine: filmed the show in the same studio as they shoot Iron Chef America, got to do some prep work in the Food Network kitchens (just the nicest, most gracious people everywhere you turn), and, best yet, my fellow competitors (Lisa, Jenny & Dennis) were, and are, fun, kind, and talented. (Jenny & I got to hang out and chat in the Food Network library while waiting for pe-interviews; cookbook nirvana!).
(Me, Jenny & Michaela Rosenthal; Michaela was just arriving to film a pre-interview for the Comfort Foods episode as we were leaving--thanks for the photo, Michaela!)
And if you have any doubts about Guy Fieri...I can sum him up in one word: genuine. He reminds me of a (much younger) version of my Uncle Tim.
To mark the occasion, I offer foolish trifle, a yogurt and angel food cake concoction that's halfway between a fool and a trifle. My inspiration (and the title) should all make sense once you've watched the show.
Got to run...laundry (in the form of the dryer buzzer) beckons. Enjoy the show, and try not to laugh too hard at my foibles!
Foolish Trifle (with Apricots, Yogurt, & Coriander)
1 15-ounce can apricot halves in light syrup, drained (remove any stray pits)
1/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
2 tablespoons honey
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
2 cups plain lowfat yogurt
1 teaspoon grated orange zest
2 cups 1/4-inch angel food cake cubes (from a purchased cake)
2 tablespoons orange liqueur or apricot brandy
Place the apricots, orange juice, honey and coriander in a medium saucepan, cover and cook gently for about 10 minutes, until the apricots are very soft. Set aside to cool. Coarsely mash apricots with back of a wooden spoon.
Spoon the yogurt into a bowl and stir in the lemon zest. Fold in 1/2 of the mashed, cooled apricot mixture. Spoon half of yogurt mixture into 4 serving glasses; top with cake cubes, and drizzle with liqueur. Top with remaining yogurt mixture and remaining apricots. swirling slightly with tip of spoon. Chill at least 1 hour before serving. Makes 4 servings.
Good grief, how could I have had such a dismal record of posts for January? Mea culpa, readers. I have but one thing to do: resume cooking, writing, and posting—post haste.
Ironically, I have been cooking and writing a lot this last month, just not for Enlightened Cooking. I have been doing a lot of recipe development for Pepperidge Farm (puff pastry) this past month, and I started teaching a series of local cooking classes at Shelley’s Bakery & Cafe, a beautiful restaurant here in Nacogdoches. I am doing two different chocolate classes this week: one on Wednesday (Chocolate Express—innovative new flavors with simple techniques) and then an Enlightened Chocolate class next Saturday morning. The recipes for the latter class will be from my book of the same name and will feature lighter recipes made with unsweetened cocoa powder and sparing amounts of bittersweet chocolate. I promise to post some action photos from both classes, as well as classes to come; apologies in advance for any crazed expressions on my part. I've a bad habit of forgetting to blink when excited about my teaching material.
So, moving to my home kitchen: yesterday was Super Bowl Sunday. Uh-huh. I am not a football fan. Never have been, never will be. But I married a man who loves college football, and in the interests of drinking beer and hanging out with friends, he is more than willing to watch the professionals do their thing in the Superbowl.
Resisting my Sunday-afternoon anti-social tendencies (a subset of my behaviors honed in graduate school when I spent most Sundays wandering library stacks and/or staring at a computer screen the whole day long—whee!), I baked a double-batch of my chocolate chip cookies and headed off to a friend’s gameday gathering with Nick, Kevin, and cookies in tow.
I must be careful for what I wish for, because I didn’t watch more than 3 minutes of the game while there. Instead, I built block castles, pretended to change the diapers of babydolls (don't I get enough of this already?), and read Golden Books to Nick and our friends’ 5-year-old, with an interlude of “rest” spent watching Dora the Explorer meets the Snow Princess.
In spite of myself, I had a lot of fun.
I didn’t eat much while there (it's the “running-after-2-year-old diet & exercise plan”) so, once home (we left shortly after half-time) I pulled together a quick meal with some edible flotsam and jetsam found in the refrigerator.
I seem to be on an egg roll (apologies for the pun)—I suppose it is one of my comfort foods, my mother having prepared omelets and scrambled eggs for meals throughout my childhood (her last-minute meals--including eggs, pancakes for dinner, and tuna crunch salad--were some of my favorites). And while I’m rarely in the mood for eggs at breakfast (it’s yogurt, fruit and cereal in some combination about 90% of the time), eggs for dinner appeals and satisfies, especially when I’m cooking for one (as I was last night; Kevin got his fill of wings and cold cuts at the party).
So, the starting line-up in the refrigerator: some goat cheese, a few leaves of basil (leftover from my Saturday morning cooking class on whole grain pastas), a bagel that had about 1 day of life left (I buy them and forget about them), and two lone Roma tomatoes. Oh, and the eggs. Hello elevated egg scramble.
I sliced the tomatoes in half lengthwise, drizzled with olive oil and seasoned with salt & pepper. Our microwave has a normal oven function, too. I’ve never read the instruction manual, which makes Kevin crazy, but I use the oven anyway (I think I know what I’m doing; I only burn about 1 in 4 things this way, and I don’t have to turn on the big oven for small bits and pieces). Into the oven went the tomatoes, at 425F, for about 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, I cracked 2 eggs and 1 egg white into a bowl (I freeze the yolks for future batches of citrus curd), added a drizzle of 1/2 & 1/2 and sprinkles of salt and pepper. I slipped the bagel into the toaster (the toaster does wonders for near-gnarly bagels), gave the basil leaves a rough chop, then heated a scant teaspoon of olive oil in a small skillet over medium heat.
In went the eggs, followed by my whisk. (Sidebar: I know what you're thinking--a whisk? In the pan??!!! I’ve been cooking my scrambled eggs with a whisk ever since I saw Jacques Pepin give a tutorial on cooking perfect scrambled eggs on PBS some 15 years ago; as soon as they hit the pan, get them moving with long strokes of a wire whisk. It works far better than a spatula: the eggs emerge as tender perfection.) In about a minute, I was ready to sprinkle on my goat cheese crumbles (about 2 tablespoons-worth). Pop went the toaster, ding went the oven, and (cheers please) dinner was done. Touchdown!