Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Small Bites for a Patio Picnic

Hooray!!! It's beginning to feel and look like Spring!
Or at least it was. (There's snow today. Ugh.)

But, warmer weather is coming, which means it's time to open a couple bottles of lovely, chilled Vin Gris and have a "small bites" dinner. Instead of a heavy meat and potatoes meal tonight, why not grab a light sweater (or a scarf, gloves and winter coat, in my case) and head out to your porch or patio and have a lazy supper in the sun? Set out some pretty napkins, and fill your plate with nutty cheeses, dried fruits, and crisp flatbreads, and snack on bowls of briny olives and pickled veggies. Graze on creamy hummus and crunchy crudités. And, if you have some, maybe shrimp cocktail or some cured meats? Weeknight meals don't have to be boring -- you can always find a reason to celebrate.

For instance, I'm toasting myself for making these beautifully simple tarts, which are a tasty addition to any patio picnic. Made with a quick dough and filled with a savory combo of goat cheese, chicken, kale, and sun-dried tomatoes, they're just divine. Cheers!

Savory Chicken, Kale and Sun-dried Tomato Tarts
(Makes two dozen tarts)

2 cups self-rising flour
2 TBS olive oil
1/4 tsp kosher salt
6 TBS water

4 oz plain goat cheese
1/2 cup cream cheese
1 cup cooked, shredded chicken breast
1/4 cup minced kale
2 TBS finely chopped sun-dried tomatoes
1/4 tsp garlic powder
Smoked sea salt or Kosher salt
1 tsp Italian seasoning mix

Minimal MESS/ingredients/clean-up: Category 1

To Do:

For the dough--
  • Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. 
  • Mix together the flour, oil, salt, and water until well combined. 
  • Form the dough into a ball, divide it in half, and let rest (loosely cover with plastic wrap) for 10-15 mins. 
  • On a lightly floured surface, roll out one of the dough balls into a square-type shape, then using a cookie cutter or pastry ring, cut into a dozen 2-inch circles. Repeat with second ball of dough.
  • Grease two mini muffin pans then line each muffin well with a cut dough circle. Use pie weights (or lightly score the bottom of each dough shell with a fork) to help keep their shape while baking.
  • Bake about 10 minutes, or until firm, then remove from the oven and let cool.
For the filling--
  • Lower oven temperature to 350 degrees.
  • In a large bowl, mix together the goat cheese and cream cheese until light and fluffy.
  • Stir in the chicken, kale, sun-dried tomato, garlic powder, salt and seasoning mix until well combined.
  • Fill each tart shell with a bit of the mixture, then bake about 10-15 minutes until lightly browned.
  • Remove from oven and serve warm. (But, they're great right out of the fridge, too.)
So, pour that glass of wine, munch on a few of these tarts, and let dinner last a little longer than usual tonight. And maybe, just maybe the sun will stick around too....
Happy Spring!

P.S. Get more small bite recipes here and here.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Meatless Monday: "Meat" Lasagna!

Lasagna = yum. Growing up, it was a family dinner favorite. We'd have often, and it was usually requested annually by my sister for her birthday meal. I've always been partial to pasta so for me, lasagna is a win-win. It's versatile (try this delicious version with chicken, wild mushrooms and Fontina cheese), easy to prepare, and it makes for a pretty plate. I mean, who doesn't love layers of meat, cheese, pasta, sauce -- and more cheese? It's easy and it's tasty. Done and done.

However, we've been eating less meat/poultry at Chez Gourmess lately, so I decided to make a veggie lasagna. I figured it would make for a nice supper and leftovers (gasp!) would travel well for lunch. I was already chopping up a plump eggplant, zucchini, peppers, and tomatoes for the vegetable layer, when Chris mentioned that he finds vegetable lasagna "boring." So, I of course had to up my game. I decided to make a "mock" meat lasagna and add meatless (soy) crumbles to my tomato sauce in place of ground meat. And, for my ricotta layer, I incorporated silken tofu and Greek yogurt, as well as spinach and kale. But, also lots of cheese. Because, while I can stop eating meat, I just can't quit cheese. The lasagna turned out beautifully, and there were no complaints.
I'm not going to overwhelm you with a long list of ingredients and "to dos" -- you know how to make lasagna, and I'm sure your current version is stellar.  But, if you want to try something new, you can incorporate some/all/none of my meatless version below. I've broken down the layers for you, from the bottom up:
  • Bottom layer: Cover your baking dish with a thin layer of sauce, then layer on lasagna noodles, prepared as directed on the box. (I made two boxes worth of noodles. Any extra noodles/filling can be used for roll-ups.)
  • Vegetable layer: I cooked down a mixture of chopped eggplant, zucchini, bell peppers, tomatoes and a drizzle of olive oil until soft then puréed the veggies with a bit of salt, garlic powder, and a can of diced tomatoes until the consistency was only slightly chunky. Then, I used half of the mixture for this layer.
  • Pasta layer: Lasagna noodles.
  • Cheese layer: I blended together 1 cup of smoked ricotta cheese (best find ever!), 1 cup of silken tofu, 1/2 cup of full fat Greek yogurt, 1 each of cup of chopped spinach and kale, three cloves of roasted garlic, a pinch of red pepper flakes, salt and pepper to taste and a drizzle of olive oil until smooth, then stirred in 1 cup of shredded mozzarella cheese. Then, I used half of the mixture for this layer.
  • Pasta layer: Lasagna noodles.
  • "Meat" layer: I heated some olive oil, minced garlic, and Italian seasoning herb mix in a pan until fragrant, then stirred in my package of "meatless ground round" and heated it through. Then, I stirred in a whole jar of tomato sauce. (I used a tomato, basil and garlic blend.) I spooned on half of the "meat" mixture for this layer.
  • Pasta layer: Lasagna noodles.
  • Cheese layer: I used the other half of the cheese mixture for this layer.
  • Pasta layer: Lasagna noodles.
  • "Meat" layer: I used remaining half of the "meat" mixture for this layer.
  • Pasta layer: Lasagna noodles.
  • Vegetable layer: I used the rest of the vegetable mixture for this layer.
  • Pasta layer: Lasagna noodles.
  • Top layer: Tomato sauce, shredded mozzarella, and Italian seasoning. 
  • Bake: Cover lightly with foil that you've sprayed with cooking spray (so the cheese won't stick) and bake in a pre-heated 375 degree oven for about 25 minutes. Uncover and bake for an additional 5-10 minutes more. Let rest 5-10 minutes before serving.
  • Enjoy! Yum and yum.
Happy Meatless Monday!

Monday, March 31, 2014

Hooray for Bread!

 Love doesn't just sit there, like a stone; 
it has to be made, like bread, remade all the time, made new.  
 --Ursula K. Le Guin

Mmmm. Fresh-baked bread.

While I love to bring home paper-wrapped artisanal loaves from our local bakery, there's just something about making bread with your own hands.

I have a lovely weekend routine of bread baking here at Chez Gourmess. My go-to recipe for the past several years has been Jim Lahey's "No-Knead Bread" -- it's so easy to make and comes out the oven golden brown and perfect. Every time. You can add chopped nuts, olives, raisins, herbs, flax seed, etc., to the dough -- there doesn't seem to be a way to mess it up. I usually make the dough before I go to bed and let it rise overnight. A couple more hours of rising the next morning, and it's ready to go. The bread is usually in the oven by the time Chris is done reading the Sunday paper. Voilà! 
And now, I've found another bread recipe to add to my culinary repertoire, thanks to It's one of my new favorite food communities, and one of the prettiest food sites around. There are tons of great recipes, and I recently discovered a post there with Dan Leader's 4-Hour Baguette recipe. Ooh la la, baguettes! When we were in Paris this past fall, I loved seeing everyone walking around with their morning bread -- how great would it be to have fresh baguettes every day? Now it looks like I can do just that. (At least on the weekends.)

The recipe is relatively easy, with minimal effort, and the bread is simply délicieux. (I actually made it one-handed due to an injured wrist, and the three loaves turned out beautifully despite my clumsy, GourMESS efforts.) Of course, like any baguette, these taste best when they are still warm from the oven, but if you do have one or two left, don't worry. At the two-day mark, they still seem to be just fine for sandwiches and toast.


Yum. I will definitely be making these baguettes again this weekend. Why don't you get the recipe here and join me?

After all, le pain est l'amour.