Friday, July 25, 2014

Chocolate Honey Almond Tartlets

Last Year's Post: Spinach, Blueberry & Goat Cheese Salad
Two Years Ago:   Smoky Peanut Mole with Pork Tenderloin

Finger foods are great for parties, which is why I made these little tartlets for a recent get-together with friends.  I knew that anything chocolate would be a hit, and liked the idea that they're easy to eat and would accommodate people that want "just a bite".

So, my expectation going in was that the tartlets would taste like chocolate on a graham cracker crust, right?  What surprised me was that you can also taste the almonds and honey, adding to the complexity of flavor even in these tiny little one-bite treats.  One of the guests, admittedly a chocolate fiend, snatched one the moment the tray was brought out and immediately named them "chocolate angel wings".  (She did regular fly-bys for the rest of the night.)

That might be a bit of hyperbole but they are really, really good.  The graham cracker crust is crisp with that light touch of almond, which the chocolate is somewhat soft and has a rich hint of honey.  You just peel off the paper and pop the tartlet your mouth whole.  Very fun!

You'll need a mini-cupcake pan and liners to make the tartlets.  The original recipe stated it makes 16 tartlets but I found it makes quite a few more - depending on how much crust and filling you put in each liner, it should make at least 20 tartlets.  After zapping the crust ingredients in a food processor, you fill each liner and tamp them down with your fingers or a shot glass.  (The Lawyer as a hand model once again.)

After baking the crusts and making the chocolate filling, you fill each liner.  I found drizzling in the chocolate with a small spoon worked best.

Note that after filling the tartlets they need to be refrigerated at least 2 hours to harden, so plan ahead.  Although the adults went crazy for them, they'd be perfect for kids too.

printable recipe
Chocolate Honey Almond Tartlets
Makes 20-22 tartlets

5 graham crackers (2 ¾ ounces)
1 tablespoon slivered almonds
2 tablespoons (1 ounce) unsalted butter, cut into ½ -inch pieces, room temperature
1/3 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons honey
1 cup (5 ounces) semi-sweet chocolate chips, such as Ghirardelli

Special equipment:  mini-muffin tin and liners

Preheat the oven to 350 d.  Line a mini-muffin tin with mini-cupcake liners. 

Place the graham crackers and almonds in a food processor and process to fine crumbs, 15 to 20 seconds.  Add the butter and pulse until incorporated.  Add one heaping teaspoon of the crumb mixture to each muffin cup, pressing it into the bottom with your fingers or a shot glass.  Bake for 8 minutes, or until the crusts are firm, rotating the tin halfway through.

In a small saucepan over low heat, whisk the cream and honey together until the honey has dissolved.  Raise the heat to medium and bring the mixture to just below a boil.  Place the chocolate chips in a medium bowl and pour the hot cream over the chocolate, whisking until smooth.  Pour chocolate into each prepared muffin cup until just below the rim of the liner.  Refrigerate for at least 2 hours before serving.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Fresh Cherry Hand Pies

Last Year's Post: Chicken Curry
Two Years Ago:  Grilled Cheese with Pesto, Spinach and Avocado

It's still fresh cherry season so I wanted to post one more way to use them besides chicken with fresh cherry salsa, or wild rice salad.  I've always been a fan of hand pies because although normal people probably view them as individual desserts, I view them as breakfast pastries.  Since I do eat breakfast and typically don't eat dessert, that line of reasoning puts them squarely in my wheelhouse.  (That line of reasoning also could be called the height of rationalization, but we won't mention that part.)

Although stemming and pitting fresh cherries takes a few minutes, I actually find it sort of soothing.  While I was pitting the cherries I thought about the giant community garden The Lawyer and I used to rent on a yearly basis and how much work it was, but how much it taught me to respect fresh and beautiful fruits and vegetables in all their forms.  (Growing up as a city kid I took it for granted that produce just magically appeared in the grocery store without any thought regarding the process up to that point.) I thought about the fact that some grower in Washington state went to all the work not only to grow these gorgeous cherries for me (well, along with a few other people I'm sure) but took the time and effort to become organically certified.  Taking the time and effort to use these fresh cherries is one way of honoring the grower and the fruit.  (Gag, did I really say that?  Too much pitting time, obviously.)

Anyway, the process thereafter is simplified by using premade pie crusts.  (If you have strong feelings about homemade pie crusts, by all means have at it.)  There are a few refrigerator chilling interludes, however, so you might want to think about when to start the hand pies if you want them for breakfast.  I would suggest assembling them the day prior, then covering and refrigerating them overnight.  Then all you have to do is bake them the next morning.

First you make the cherry filling.

Then you roll each pie crust out to make it slightly larger, cut the crusts into four wedges each, and assemble the hand pies (there's a 30 minute refrigerator stop in there also).

After assembling, they sit in the refrigerator 10 more minutes before brushing with egg, sprinkling with sugar, and baking.  After assembly you could either refrigerator or freeze the hand pies to bake later.

They're not too sweet and the whole cherries in the filling make them special.

printable recipe
Cherry Hand Pies
Makes 8

4 cups pitted fresh cherries (from 1 ¼ lb whole cherries)
½ cup sugar
Kosher salt
1 tablespoon cornstarch
Juice of ½ lemon
2 refrigerated pie crusts, thawed according to directions
1 large egg yolk
Parchment paper
Coarse (sparkling) sugar for garnish, optional

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine cherries, sugar and a pinch of salt.  Cook, stirring often, until sugar dissolved and liquid begins to simmer, about 8 minutes.  Remove a few spoonfuls of liquid and place in a small bowl, then whisk in cornstarch and lemon juice.  Pour cornstarch mixture back in saucepan and continue cooking and stirring until thickened, about 8 minutes more.  Pour into a heat-proof bowl and let stand until cool, about 1 hour. (Note: the filling may be made a day in advance and refrigerated covered until ready to use.)

On a lightly floured surface, unroll pie dough and roll out to a 14” round; repeat with remaining dough.  Quarter each round to make 8 equal wedges total.  Stack wedges between sheets of parchment paper and refrigerate at least 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375d.

Arrange 1 wedge of dough on a work surface next to a small bowl of water.  Spoon ¼ cup of cherry filling (drained of most juices) into the center of the wedge, leaving a 1 ½ inch border all around.  Run a damp finger around the border, then carefully fold dough in half, lining up edges and pressing gently to seal.  Crimp edges with a fork, then transfer to a parchment paper-lined rimmed baking sheet.  Repeat with remaining wedges and filling.  Transfer baking sheet to refrigerator; chill about 10 minutes.

Beat egg yolk with 1 tablespoon water.  Brush pies with the egg mixture, then make two ¾” slits in each.  Sprinkle pies with coarse sugar and bake until golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes.  Let stand at least 10 minutes before serving.

Note: after brushing with egg mixture and sprinkling with sugar, the assembled pies may be refrigerated or frozen prior to baking.  Baking time may need to be increased slightly. If frozen, thawing before baking tends to produce more even browning.  

Friday, July 11, 2014

33 Recipes for Hot Summer Days

Slow Cooker Indonesian Brown Sugar Chicken
Last Year's Post: Shrimp Fried Rice
Two Years Ago:   Farm Stand Salad

I had an inspiration a few months ago when I was browsing food websites and came across a compilation of slow cooker recipes for summer. The author explained that the slow cooker is great for summertime meals because it doesn't heat up your house and you don't have to go outside to grill when it's really too hot even for diehards like The Lawyer.  That made sense to me, but the key seemed to be selecting slow cooker meals that were lighter than, say, your favorite tailgating chili recipe or a big old meatloaf.  Summer slow cooker recipes should (in my humble opinion) be reasonably light and able to be eaten not only as-they-are, straight out of the cooker, but also as an ingredients in the foods of summer like tacos, sandwiches or salads.  Having given myself those criteria as my marching orders, I spent the next few months trying recipes to come up with a list, albeit short, of slow cooker recipes for summer.

And while I was at it, I wanted to add a list of other salads, entrees and sandwiches that I've posted previously that are particularly appropriate for the hottest days where you can do what little cooking that might be needed:
a)in advance (earlier in the day or week before it gets bad)
b) in a small appliance that doesn't heat the house (like a panini press), or
c)not at all.

I hope you find something you want to try, and stay cool!

NCR = no cooking required
IA  = cook in advance
SA   = cook in small appliance

Slow Cooker
Char Siu Chicken
Turkey and Gruyere French Dip
Slow Cooker Indonesian Brown Sugar Chicken  (Pictured above)
Salads and Other Entrees
Summer Salad with Nuts, Fruit and Cheese  NCR
Chicken Pasta Salad with Fresh Herbs and Corn  IA
Wild Rice Salad  IA
Broccoli, Cabbage and Brussels Spout Salad with Dijon Vinaigrette NCR
Very Lemon Chicken and Fruited Couscous IA
Spinach Salad with Spicy Orange Dressing NCR
Tabbouleh and Greek Chicken IA
Chicken Salad with Fruits and Peppadews IA
Pesto Pasta with Spinach, Edamame and Almonds IA
Farm Stand Salad IA
Summer Pasta Salad with Fresh Tuna IA
Gazpacho IA
Seafood Cobb Salad IA 
Shrimp, Grapefruit and Avocado Salad IA
French Chicken Salad IA
Orzo and Radicchio Salad IA
Grilled Shrimp with Cucumber Horseradish Dipping Sauce IA
Farro, Kale & Smoked Mozzarella Salad IA
Spinach, Blueberry & Goat Cheese Salad NCR
Watermelon Gazpacho NCR
Lentil Salad with Bacon and Walnuts IA
Grilled Lobster Cobb Salad IA
Spinach Strawberry Salad with Raspberry Vinaigrette  IA

Smoked Turkey Apple Panini  SA
Pan Bagnat IA
Grilled Cheese with Pesto, Spinach and Avocado SA
Banh Mi IA
Smoked Turkey, Kale and Blue Cheese Sandwiches IA
Italian Tuna Sandwich (No Mayo) NCR

Friday, July 4, 2014

Tomato, Watermelon and Basil Skewers

Last Year's Post: Grilled Salmon with Lemon Salsa
Two Years Ago:  Tomatoes!

We were recently invited to a party and volunteered to bring a couple of appetizers, this being one of them.  It was one of the hits of the party, and why not - cool, juicy, sweet and herbal all at the same time.  I hadn't ever really considered the combination of tomatoes and watermelon together, but they worked really well and the coarse salt and balsamic syrup tied it all together.

If you're having a picnic this summer or any other type of get-together, this would be a great addition.  It takes a few minutes to cut up the watermelon and assemble the skewers but it's much more fun served that way than as a salad.  If you assemble the skewers earlier in the day, be sure to refrigerate them so the basil doesn't wilt.

Note that the balsamic syrup needs to be made at least a half hour in advance to give it time to cool.

The original recipe called for drizzling the balsamic syrup on the skewers right before serving, but I noticed that everyone took a skewer and drizzled more syrup directly on it anyway so why not serve the syrup on the side?  That way everyone can have it however they want.

printable recipe
Tomato, Watermelon and Basil Skewers
Makes 16 appetizer skewers

¼ cup balsamic vinegar
¼ cup sugar
1 (4-5 lb) watermelon, cut into 32 1” cubes
48 small basil leaves (or torn larger leaves)
16 cherry tomatoes, halved
Coarse kosher salt

Special equipment:  16 small (5-6”) skewers

Combine the balsamic vinegar and sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat.  Bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally, until the sugar is dissolved.  Turn off the heat and set aside to cool.

Push one watermelon piece onto a skewer, followed by a basil leaf, a tomato half (cut side up), another basil leaf, a second watermelon piece, another basil leaf, and a second tomato half.  Continue with the remaining skewers – each should have two watermelon pieces, two tomato halves, and three basil leaves.  Place on a platter and sprinkle with coarse salt.

Put the balsamic syrup in a small bowl with a spoon on the platter to allow guests to drizzle their own skewers as desired.