Tomato and Goat Cheese Tartlets

Looking for the perfect dish for your next party?  Well, look no further.  These addictive appetizers, made with tomatoes, goat cheese, and basil, are a guaranteed crowd pleaser!  Whenever I make these, they might last for 15 minutes… maybe… if people take a while to notice them or it’s a small party.  They’re incredibly delectable with their flaky, rich puff pastry crust and their savory, flavorful filling.  Yum!  Just writing about them makes me want to make another batch…

Tartlets

I developed this recipe after watching a dinner party show on Food Network.  It was unusual for me to be watching that show as I generally don’t watch the cooking shows on Food Network but the competition shows (Iron Chef, Chopped, etc.).  But that day, several years ago, I turned Food Network on and left it there while a chef helped a someone prepare for a dinner party at her house.  One of the things they made were these little tomato tarts which looked very tasty, so I took notes.

The next party I went to, I took the opportunity to try out the recipe.  Of course, it wasn’t as easy as the chef made them look, but after several iterations and adaptations I had a scrumptious, easy recipe that I could turn to again and again.  I don’t think the show is still airing, and, honestly, I can’t remember what it was called, but I have to thank them for inspiring this delicious dish.

Tomato and Goat Cheese Tartlets

Prep Time: 20-25 minutes

Cook Time: 25-30 minutes

Serves: ~30 tartlets

Ingredients

2 Puff Pastry Sheets, thawed
1 tbsp. Butter
1 tbsp. Olive Oil
3 canned San Marzano Tomatoes
6-8 Basil Leaves
1 Egg
1/3 c. Cream
1 tsp. Salt
3-4 oz. Goat Cheese

1.  Heat the butter and oil in a skillet over medium heat.  While it’s heating, dice your tomatoes.  Once the butter has melted and the mixture is hot, add the tomatoes to the skillet.

2.  Reduce the heat to medium low and cook the tomatoes for 5 minutes.  While the tomatoes are cooking, julienne your basil and whisk together the egg, cream, and salt.

3.  Once the tomatoes are done, remove them from the heat and stir in the basil.

Tomatoes and Basil

4.  Flour a cutting board or your work surface and lightly roll out your puff pastry sheets.  You’re not really trying to thin the dough but smooth it out after its been folded.  Cut 2.5″ rounds of pastry using a cookie or biscuit cutter.  I generally get 15-16 rounds per pastry sheet.

Note: I like to thaw my pastry by moving it from the freezer to the refrigerator the night before.  It seems more difficult to work with when it’s thawed on the counter.  Also, you want to keep your pastry cold so I keep the second sheet in the fridge while I work with the first.

5.  Place the pastry rounds in a mini-muffin pan.

Tip: If the pastry’s a little stiff, I use my thumb and index finger to bend the edge of the pastry towards the center then rotate it slightly and repeat until I’ve worked all the way around the edge of the circle.  This makes the pastry more flexible and it should be easier to put in the pan.

Mini Muffin Pan

6.  Add the contents of the skillet (they should be cooled so you don’t cook your egg!) to the cream mixture and stir together.

7.  Spoon the filling mixture into the puff pastry cups.  I try to get a couple pieces of tomato and at least a couple strips of basil into each tart.  Then crumble a little goat cheese onto the top of each tartlet.

Top with Goat Cheese

8.  Bake at 375°F for 25-30 minutes until the tops are lightly golden.

Cooked Tartlets

9.  Transfer to a wire rack to cool before serving.  I like to serve them while they’re warm, but the tarts are still delicious at room temperature!

Serve Tartlets

Now, prepare to receive a million compliments from everyone that tastes one of these treats!  Make sure you grab one for yourself when you set them down or you may not get to try your own dish.  I am being 100% serious… these things will disappear!

Make-ahead tip:  You can make these tarts earlier in the day and reheat them in a warm oven before serving.  Or, if you want them a little fresher, you can complete steps 1-6 early, storing the pastry (already in the pans) and the filling in the fridge, then fill the pastries and bake right before serving (Steps 7-8).

Looking for other delicious party appetizers?  Try our Sausage Balls, Smoked Salmon Puffs, or Southwestern Bean Dip**FIX**!

Sausage and Fennel Pizza

When I first moved to Juneau I was very excited to finally have a real kitchen.  In equipping my newly-acquired kitchen, I invested in a pizza stone.  Up to that point was almost exclusively a cheese pizza eater, but I decided I wanted to branch out with my pizza toppings.  Granted I still order cheese pizza when I get Domino’s, and sometimes I make a more adult, more gourmet version of a cheese pizza – my Four Cheese White Pizza.  But most of the time I go for something a little more involved than just cheese for a topping.

I started out adapting internet recipes or being inspired by topping combinations on menus.  That’s where my recipes for Pesto Pizza, Sausage and Ricotta Pizza, Barbeque Chicken Pizza, and Four Cheese White Pizza (mentioned above) originated.  Then I started investing in some cookbooks.  My kitchen is not overflowing with a plethora of cookbooks – rather I have a handful of cookbooks that are well-used.  One of the cookbooks I selected for my kitchen library was My Pizza by Jim Lahey (readily available on Amazon).  Since purchasing this cookbook, my boyfriend and I have been making pizza for each other every Sunday as part of our weekend routine.  There are many delicious recipes in My Pizza (we’ve tried most of them), but our favorite by far has been the Sausage and Fennel Pizza.

Sausage and Fennel Pizza Slices

Fennel seeds are used to season Italian sausage so you can see how this combination of toppings would work well together, but in this recipe you’ll actually be using the bulb.  Thinly sliced fennel is placed atop the pizza and drizzled with a little olive oil so that the fennel roasts as the pizza cooks, bringing out its natural sweetness.  The result is heavenly!

What is fennel bulb you ask?  It can be found in the produce section (often with the organic produce) and is sometimes labeled as “anise.”  Honestly it looks kinda like an alien species – an oddly shaped onion sprouting green stalks covered in feathery fronds you’d expect to be growing on some sort of swamp creature.  Its peak season begins in the fall so now is a good time to find it in stores.

Sausage and Fennel Pizza

Prep Time: 15 minutes (not including dough or sauce)

Cook Time: 5-7 minutes for Brick Oven-Style, 15-20 for normal baking

Serves: 2

Ingredients

No-knead Pizza Dough or 1/2 batch Thick Crust Pizza Dough
Fresh Pizza Sauce
3-4 oz. Fresh Mozzarella
3 oz. Italian Sausage
Fennel Bulb
Olive Oil
2 tbsp. minced Onion
pinch Salt
pinch Chili Flakes
1/2 c. freshly-grated Pamesan (I use Parmigiano-Reggiano)

1.  Heat a skillet over medium heat.  Break the sausage into small clumps and lightly brown it in the skillet.  Keep in mind it will continue to cook in the oven.

2.  Thinly slice your fennel bulb (I like to use a mandoline).  I usually use between 1/4 to 1/2 c. of fennel slices.  You’ll probably have to cut the stalks off to make the bulb easier to handle, but reserve some of the fronds for garnish.

3.  Gather your toppings.

Pizza Toppings

4.  Spread your tomato sauce over the dough.  Pull the mozzarella into clumps and scatter over the pizza then distribute the sausage.

5.  Layer the fennel over the pizza then drizzle it with olive oil.  I’ve found that I enjoy the fennel rings more than the disks from the center of the bulb so you’ll notice I only use those slivers.

Add Fennel

6.  Sprinkle the onion over the pizza. Finally, top it with the parmesan, chili flakes, and salt.

7.  Cook your pizza Brick Oven-Style or at 425° F for 15-20 minutes until golden and bubbling.

Bake Pizza

8.  Scatter a few pieces of fennel frond over the hot pizza for garnish (you’ll  notice the fronds resemble dill, but they don’t taste like it).  To make the crust extra-tasty brush it with a little olive oil as soon as the pizza is out of the oven.

Garnish with Fronds

9.  Allow the pizza to cool for about 5 minutes before slicing (that way you don’t sear the roof of your mouth and the cheese has a little time to set).  Now you’re ready to enjoy this incredible flavor combination!

Sausage and Fennel Pizza

Want to try some of our other brick-oven style pizzas?  Check out our Pizza Margherita or Leek Pizza with Creamy Onion Sauce!

Pumpkin Poppers

In case it isn’t blatantly obvious… I’ve been on a pumpkin kick lately. There are just so many yummy things you can make with it! And as soon as the weather turns cool, I start dreaming of warm fires, mom’s comfort foods, and pumpkins. When I told my sister I was making these, her response was “You’re obsessed!” To which I simply replied “So?”

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These little balls of fall deliciousness lend themselves perfectly to so many occasions – your morning coffee, your next tailgating shindig, a family brunch, etc. They’re best right out of the oven, but if you have any leftover (and that’s a big if) warm them for a bit in the oven or microwave before enjoying.  There are many versions of this recipe online (HWescott blog, Food Network, Martha Stewart, etc.), but I’ve tweaked this one to be, what I think, is the best combination of sweet and spice.

The recipe is very easy and takes about 30 minutes or so to cook both batches and top them. I use a half tablespoon measuring spoon for portion control when filling the mini muffin wells. I almost always end up with 48 little poppers at the end.

To begin, preheat your oven to 350 and grease the wells of a mini muffin tin. Set it aside.

Combine all dry ingredients in a medium bowl and stir to combine. In a larger bowl, combine your wet ingredients. The wet ingredients will look very thin and soupy. No worries… We’re about to fix that. Now dump the dry ingredients into the wet and stir just until combined. You don’t want to overwork the batter.

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Now scoop out batter (I use the 1/2 Tablespoon measuring spoon) into the little wells. Tap the pan on the counter to release any air bubbles, then pop ’em in the oven.

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While your poppers are baking, start preparing your assembly line. Melt 1/2 stick butter in a shallow bowl. In another shallow bowl, combine 1/3 cup sugar and 1 tablespoon cinnamon.

Note: When it comes to Cinnamon Sugar, it is so much cheaper to mix it yourself than to buy premixed at the store. I like to mix up a nice size batch and store it with my spices. Then when I need it for a recipe or topping, it’s ready to go. The perfect ratio of sugar to cinnamon in my opinion is 1/3 cup sugar to 1 tablespoon cinnamon. For this recipe, I start with 1/3 cup of my premixed Cinnamon Sugar and add more to the bowl if needed as I go. You can always add more, but if you start with too much then you waste what’s left. Like my dad always said, “You can always get more, you can’t get less.”

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When your poppers are done baking, let them rest in the pan for a couple minutes.

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Then turn them out onto a cooling rack. I find a mini spoonula is the perfect tool. It tucks down in the well and scoops them up perfectly.

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While your first batch is cooling, fill the tin up again and get your second batch in the oven.

After your poppers are cool enough to touch, brush them with the melted butter…

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then sprinkle them with the Cinnamon Sugar.

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You can just roll them through the butter and topping, but they will absorb A LOT of butter. My 1 1/2 year old was wanting to “hep Mama!” so ours took a bath in the Cinnamon Sugar… and they were super delicious… probably mostly because they were made with Harper love!

When you’re done topping them, I like to let mine rest on paper towels so any excess butter is absorbed by the towels and not by the poppers on the bottom of the pile. Repeat with the second batch, and you’re done! Now it’s time to enjoy some Pumpkin Poppin’ Goodness!

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Pumpkin Poppers

Prep Time: 5 min before baking, 10 afterwards
Bake Time: 10 min per batch

Ingredients

1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp allspice
1/8 tsp ground cloves
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
3/4 cup pumpkin
1/2 cup milk

Topping:
1/2 stick butter
1/3 cup sugar
1 Tbsp cinnamon

Step 1: Preheat oven to 350. Grease the wells of a mini muffin tin and set aside.

Step 2: Combine flour, baking powder, and spices in a small bowl. Whisk to combine.

Step 3: Combine oil, egg, pumpkin, milk, brown sugar, and vanilla in a medium bowl and stir to combine. Add dry mixture to pumpkin mixture and stir just until combined.

Step 4: Scoop batter into greased wells and bake 10-12 min, or until popper springs back when touched in the center.

Step 5: Melt the butter and add to a shallow bowl. In a separate shallow bowl, combine the sugar and cinnamon.

Step 6: When the poppers are cool enough to handle, brush them with butter then sprinkle or roll in the Cinnamon Sugar. Place poppers on a paper towel lined dish while finishing.

Serve warm.

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Blackened Tofu Tacos

Lately I’ve been trying to have a meatless dinner or two every week.  I love Mexican food, and I’d been wondering how tofu would work in tacos when I saw tofu tacos on a menu on our trip to Kaua’i and decided to give it a try.  The taco was pretty good, but the tofu needed some textural and seasoning improvements.   Thus began my search for an appealing Mexican tofu recipe.  Finally I found a recipe for blackened tofu that sounded like it would fit the bill.

Blackened Tofu Tacos

I altered the recipe to suit my preferences and this tasty taco was born!  This recipe is quick to make and requires only a few ingredients.  The blackening spices on the exterior of the tofu give it tons of flavor, and the cooking method ensures the tofu is nice and crisp on the outside and soft on the inside.  You may not even realize you’re not eating meat…

Blackened Tofu Tacos

Prep Time: 10 minutes (not including tofu pressing)

Cook Time:  10 minutes

Serves: 6 tacos (2-3 servings)

Ingredients

10 oz. Extra Firm Tofu, drained and pressed (see  our post How to Make Tofu Edible)
1 tbsp. Homemade Taco Seasoning
1/2 tbsp. dried Mexican Oregano
Vegetable or Canola Oil
6 Flour Tortillas (see our recipe for Homemade)
My Recommended Toppings
Avocado Spread
squeeze Lime Juice
grated Monterey Jack or Farmer’s Cheese
chopped Fresh Cilantro
Hot Sauce (I like Chipotle-flavored)

1.  Once you’ve drained and pressed your tofu (see How to Make Tofu Edible), cube it.  You want the pieces to be about 1 inch cubes so you should get 24-32 pieces for two servings (12-16 pieces per 5 oz. serving of tofu).  You can also leave the tofu in two larger slabs and cut it down after cooking.

Cubed Tofu

2.  Combine the taco seasoning and oregano in a small bowl.

Note: Mexican oregano is not the same as your typical oregano – it’s an entirely different species of plant.  You should try to find the Mexican variety for this recipe, but you can use the more common Mediterranean variety if you are unable to find Mexican.

Seasoning

3.  Press the tofu cubes into the spice mixture making sure each side of the cube is coated.  This much tofu should pretty much use up all of your spice mixture.  You can always double the mixture if you’re worried you’ll run out.  I just hate wasting ingredients so I try use the amount that will not leave excess.

Spiced Tofu

4.  Heat a shallow layer of vegetable or canola oil in a skillet over medium heat.  Add your tofu cubes, turning every minute or two until the cubes have been cooked on all sides.  The spices should be dark (or “blackened” if you will) and the pieces should be crisp on the outside.  You may have to add additional oil as the tofu cooks – I generally do.

5.  Once your tofu is done, put it in the tortillas (homemade are the best!) with your favorite taco fillings.  I put some of our Avocado Spread (or leftover avocado cream sauce from our Green Citrus Chicken Enchiladas) down the middle of the tortillas then top that with the tofu.  Or if I’ve got some of our Roasted Garlic Guacamole leftover I’ll use that and a little Greek yogurt or sour cream.  Then I squeeze a little lime juice over the tacos and add freshly-grated Monterey Jack or Farmer’s cheese.  Finally, I drizzle the tacos with some chipotle hot sauce for a little extra heat (plus you get an added metabolism boost from the capsaicin!) and sprinkle them with cilantro.

Note: These tacos are already somewhat spicy from the blackening spices on the tofu so go easy with the hot sauce until you’ve had a chance to taste your tacos.

Completed Tacos

Voilà!  You’ve got yourself a scrumptious vegetarian/meatless taco dish, and you won’t even miss the meat.  If you just can’t bring yourself to enjoy tofu, you can always use chicken in place of the tofu for meat tacos.  When I have this dish, I generally make myself three tacos and find them quite filling.  If you only want two tacos or don’t think three will fill you up, you can pair these tacos with our Mexican Roasted Corn Salad or Mexican White Rice Pilaf.

Avocado Spread

I’ve been on a bit of an avocado kick this year, working them into many of my dishes.  They’re good for you and have great flavor.  Originally I didn’t like the texture of avocado chunks in my food.  So I started mashing up my avocado and combining it with Greek yogurt, adding creaminess and protein.  While this mixture was an improvement over the avocado pieces, I knew I could make it better.  After experimenting with flavors and spices, this avocado spread was born.  You could think of it like a creamy guacamole with a nice smooth texture.

Avocado Spread

This spread is very quick and easy to make.  There’s almost no prep work.  You just throw everything together in a blender or food processor and give it a whirl.  I always keep a batch of this on-hand in my fridge.  I use it as a mayonnaise substitute on sandwiches and burgers and as a sour cream substitute in Mexican dishes.  It also makes a nice dip in place of guacamole.  This spread is very tasty, and you can feel good about getting some nutritious avocado and protein-packed Greek yogurt into your food!

Avocado Spread

Prep Time: 5 minutes

Serves: ~8

Ingredients

1 ripe Avocado, pitted and peeled (see our Tips for Cooking with Avocado)
1/2 c. Greek Yogurt
2 tsp. Lime Juice
1/4 tsp. Garlic Powder
1-2 tbsp. Fresh Cilantro, chopped
1-2 tsp. Chipotle Hot Sauce (optional)
Salt
Pepper

1.  Combine the avocado, Greek yogurt, lime juice, garlic powder, cilantro, and hot sauce (if desired) in a blender or food processor.

Tip: Cilantro stems pack just as much flavor as their leaves.  While I avoid them in garnishes for texture’s sake, they’re great to include in sauces and marinades.  For this dish, I don’t take the time to pluck the cilantro leaves from the stems.  I just chop them all up together and throw them in the blender!

Ingredients in Blender

Note: The hot sauce is not a mandatory ingredient but adds an extra dimension to the dish.  I use chipotle-flavored because chipotles and avocados complement each other well.  Whether or not I add the hot sauce depends on how I’m using the spread.  If I’m using it as a dip or sandwich spread, I often include it.  If I’m using it in a Mexican dish that already contains chipotles, I skip it.

2.  Puree the ingredients together in your blender or food processor until you have a nice smooth spread.  In my blender I use a low speed setting (2 out of 12) to keep the spread in contact with the blades.  High speeds tend to throw the ingredients up and against the sides of the pitcher preventing them from mixing well.

3.  Season with a little salt and pepper and stir to combine.

Avocado Spread

Tip: This avocado spread doesn’t brown as badly as guacamole, but it will lose some of its color over time.  If you’re serving the spread later and want to help it stay green, brush the top with a little water and press plastic wrap onto its surface.

Now you’ve got a creamy avocado spread that you can use as a dip in place of guacamole, as a spread for sandwiches or burgers, or as a sour cream substitute in tacos or burritos.  I recommend trying it with our Chicken Tinga or Chipotle Stout Braised Beef… enjoy!

Homemade Taco Seasoning

Mexican food makes a great weeknight dinner.  It’s delicious and can be made quickly.  That’s not to say all Mexican dishes are quick – if you’ve tried many of Rick Bayless’ recipes, you know that Mexican meals can be a real labor of love.  But a variety of Mexican meals can be made in a short amount of time without too much effort.  All you have to do is season your protein of choice, cook it up, and serve with your favorite toppings inside tortillas (check out our recipes for homemade corn **FIX**and flour tortillas) or taco shells for an easy taco night… or burrito, fajita, or enchilada night depending on how you like to wrap it all up.

Taco Seasoning

Ready-made seasoning mixes certainly help make taco night a breeze, but many store-bought spice packets have ingredients you may not be able to pronounce.  You can easily avoid these preservatives and other chemicals, plus control your salt intake, by making your own seasoning mix.  It’s super quick and easy.  Once you’ve got it made, keep it on hand for a quick-fix Mexican meal.

To come up with this recipe I combined different aspects of recipes I found online then put my own personal spin on the ingredients.  I love chipotles so I use chipotle chili powder in place of regular chile powder.  Then I add more smokiness by using a mix of smoked and sweet paprika.  Hope you enjoy!

Homemade Taco Seasoning

Prep Time: less than 5 minutes

Ingredients

2 tbsp. Chipotle Chili Powder
2 1/2 tsp. Cumin
1 1/2 tsp. Salt
1 1/2 tsp. Pepper
1 tsp. Ground Coriander
1 tsp. Garlic Powder
1 tsp. Onion Powder
3/4 tsp. Smoked Paprika
1/2 tsp. Mexican Oregano
1/2 tsp. Red Pepper Flakes
1/4 tsp. Sweet Paprika

Ingredients

1.  Combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix well.  Transfer to a spice jar to store.

Note: About 3 tbsp. of this seasoning is the equivalent of one spice packet.

Wasn’t that a snap?!  Now you’ll have your own homemade spice blend waiting in the pantry the next time you get a taco craving.  ¡Provecho!