Ina's Little Tomato Tarts

No doubt you’ve all seen this recipe in Ina Garten’s latest cookbook. Hope I am not repeating something you have already tried, but in my humble opinion, she is the best of the Food Network chefs and her latest cookbook showcases some lovely new recipe ideas. I just happen to like her style- her food- her ideas. She’s fun to watch, has a nifty sense of humor and often puts a new twist on her old recipes, although I don’t see her repeat things too often. One to drool over example: her sticky buns ( a previous post) - which she used to make the old fashioned way with yeast- Ina now uses puff pastry and I’m here to tell you these are FABULOUS and EASY. And FATTENING. Oh my.

Sticky buns aside, (although just writing about them makes me want to make some) I had some company for lunch recently and thought her little Tomato Tart recipe would be the perfect answer- I could get them all ready to go, stick them in the refrigerator and pop them into the oven when we were ready to eat. Don’t you get tired of salads all the time? With a little fruit on the side, this tart wraps things up in a clever, delicious and fun luncheon package.

Have you noticed that Ina is using a lot of puff pastry dough lately? And I read recently on somebody’s blog NOT to buy Pepperidge Farm puff pastry but to go to Whole Foods and get Dufour Classic Puff Pastry. Never dreamed I would actually find it, but there it was, in the freezer area. I really didn’t think it would make a big difference, but it was fabulous- as good as if you made it from scratch. I think for special occasions I will use it but for everyday and family cooking I will use the Pepperidge Farm puff pastry; nothing really wrong with it.

I am not a huge fan of onions for lunch, even caramelized, so I substituted shallots- which I think are milder and work just as well in this recipe and cook faster too. I bet you’re sick of my talking about Ina’s recipes, but when I find one I use a lot and it receives raves from everyone, I really want to make sure you give it a try.

Tomato Goat Cheese Tarts
(Adapted from Ina Garten)

1 package (17.3 ounces/2 sheets) puff pastry, defrosted
Good olive oil
2-3 cups thinly sliced shallots
3 large garlic cloves, cut into thin slivers
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons dry white wine
2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme leaves
4 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan, plus 2 ounces shaved with a vegetable peeler
4 ounces garlic-and-herb goat cheese (recommended: Montrachet)
1 large tomato, cut into 4 (1/4-inch-thick) slices
3 tablespoons julienned basil leaves

Method:Unfold a sheet of puff pastry on a lightly floured surface and roll it lightly to an 11 by 11-inch square. Using a 6-inch wide saucer or other round object as a guide, cut 2 circles from the sheet of puff pastry, discarding the scraps. Repeat with the second pastry sheet to make 4 circles in all. Place the pastry circles on 2 sheet pans lined with parchment paper and refrigerate until ready to use.
Preheat the oven to 425°.
Heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil and add the shallots and garlic. Saute, stirring frequently, until the shallots are limp and there is almost no moisture remaining in the skillet. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, the wine, and thyme and continue to cook for another 10 minutes, until the shallots are lightly browned. Set aside.
Using a sharp paring knife, score a 1/4-inch-wide border around each pastry circle. Prick the pastry inside the score lines with the tines of a fork and sprinkle a tablespoon of grated Parmesan on each round, staying inside the scored border.
Place 1/4 of the shallot mixture on each circle, again staying within the scored edge. Crumble 1 ounce of goat cheese on top of the shallots. Place a slice of tomato in the center of each tart. Brush the tomato lightly with olive oil and sprinkle with basil, salt, and pepper. Finally, scatter 4 or 5 shards of Parmesan on each tart. (I was overly generous here.)

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the pastry is golden brown. The bottom sheet pan may need an extra few minutes in the oven. Serve hot or warm.


Gingersnaps and Ice Cream

Yummmm. Almost as good as s’mores! Well, maybe not, but ice cream is my downfall so you’ll just have to go along with me. Not quite as easy to make as s’mores, but you can cheat a tad and just buy some butter pecan ice cream rather than make your own. But if you have a super recipe and love making ice cream, these would taste much, much better if you made your own. Who am I to push for more work when there are so many other things to do in the summer? So I’ll fess up: because I wanted something fairly speedy I bought some Häagen-Dazs butter pecan.

Can’t remember where I got this recipe, but I have used it a lot. It may have come from a magazine, but I forget which one. I make a bunch and freeze them- usually doubling the recipe because it doesn’t make nearly enough for the appetites around here. God I hate having these in the freezer. So tempting. Never once has an adult OR a child thought these were anything less than ambrosial. If you like to get your kids involved in the kitchen, they would have fun sandwiching the cookies with the ice cream…although how much ice cream would eventually make it between the cookies is a bit problematic….like all things kids make in the kitchen.

Anyway, I love pulling these out of the freezer for a surprise dessert. Uncomplicated and delicious. Perfect for summer. Can you imagine the cookie and ice cream combinations that would be fun to try? I seem to remember seeing something on Tartelette where she had wrapped an ice cream sandwich up in a darling package- you could make them elegant by doing the same thing.

Gingersnap and Ice Cream Sandwiches


4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons unsulfured molasses
1 large egg yolk, room temperature
3/4 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1 pint butter pecan ice cream
extra sugar


Preheat oven to 350°. Cream butter, sugar and molasses until light and fluffy. Add egg yolk and beat to combine. Whisk flour, soda, salt, ginger and allspice together and then fold into the butter mixture.
Roll dough into 1 1/2 inch balls and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Press with sugared fingers to make a 3 inch disk.
Sprinkle with sugar and bake for 11- 13 minutes.
Transfer to a rack to cool.
Soften ice cream and scoop onto a cookie. Top with another cookie and freeze. Should make about 5 sandwiches. Let stand 10 minutes before eating. (Although I never did!)


Lemon Thyme Cookies

It seems to me I’ve hosted tons of meetings in my home over the years. And always trying to be a gracious hostess, whether the meeting is in the morning or afternoon, I always think it’s nice to serve the coffee or tea with a little something to munch on. Very light, because everyone is always on a diet. (Or say they are.) My favorite is Apricot Nut Cookies ( a previous post) because they are light and not too sweet. The Lemon Thyme Cookies are a recent discovery and could really be called a bar; they are buttery, thin, delicate and unusual. And while I suppose you could have coffee with your Lemon Thyme Cookies- they just seem to go with tea for some reason. Up to you of course...I'm not a good judge as I am not a coffee lover.

Honestly, Giada De Laurentis comes up with some marvelous cookie ideas on her show. Some are ridiculously sweet while others, like the Apricot Nut Cookies previously mentioned, are less sweet and actually have healthy ingredients. In fact, every time she makes a cookie on her show, I sit up and take notice because I have garnered some nifty cookie recipes from her.

What’s different about this recipe is I think it demanded some outside opinions. The flavor is herbal and lemony. So, when I made the cookies, I tasted one, loved it and took the rest to the hair salon where I happened to have an appointment that day. And I got lots of opinions. Four loved them, one did not- women. One loved them, two didn’t- men. (I was surprised men even wanted to try them because they really aren’t a standard looking cookie.)

I think these are to die for- and so good with tea- iced or otherwise. They are not the sort of cookie you sit down with a glass of milk (like chocolate chip cookies) and pig out. This is the kind you savor, wonder at the flavors and nibble away. Tart and refreshing.

Lemon Thyme Cookies
(Adapted from Giada De Laurentis)

1 stick butter ( 4 ounces), at room temperature
1 cup all purpose flour
2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme leaves
½ teaspoon fine sea salt
½ cup powdered sugar
2 tablespoons lemon juice
½ teaspoon vanilla extract

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
½ cup powdered sugar

Put your oven rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 325°. Butter and flour an 8 by 8 glass baking dish.
In a small bowl combine flour, thyme and salt. Set aside. Using a paddle attachment beat together the butter and powdered sugar on high speed until light and fluffy, about 30 seconds. Beat in lemon juice and and vanilla. Mix the flour and thyme leaves. Reduce speed to low and gradually add the flour mixture. Using damp fingers, press the dough into the prepared pan. Bake for 30 minutes until golden. Cool for 30 minutes.

In a medium bowl, whisk the lemon juice and powdered sugar until smooth. Spoon the glaze over the cooled crust. Allow the glaze to harden at room temperature for at least an hour.
Using a metal spatula, remove the crust from the pan and cut into 1 ½ inch squares. Arrange on a platter or store airtight in a plastic container at room temperature.


A Book, Bubble Tea and Sympathy

So. As the title indicates, I am going to share three things with you.

The book: put in simplest terms, it's wonderful. I just finished it. Anyone interested in food or cooking should race right out and buy it. Saying it is merely a book about a cooking class is a gross understatement. It's a book about understanding food and how it's cooked. It's enticing. It's charming. It's sensual. It is NOT a book of recipes. And it's a lovely story about everyday people who share a love of cooking coming together with all their individual problems. You'll adore it. After you read it, pass it on to a foodie friend. Maybe even someone who isn't. Buy it for a Christmas or birthday gift. The name? The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister.

The sympathy? I am going to take a short break from my blogging to have a hip replacement. Not something I am looking forward to, but as everyone informs me- ad nauseum- it's better than a knee. (Which doesn't give me much comfort, but fine.) And remind me never to say this to anyone else who is having a hip replaced. It's annoying. It makes you feel as though you will be the dunce of the class if you are not up and walking without aid in a week and driving in three weeks. Sans pain. Oh well, hopefully I will be back sooner than I expect, cooking, writing and reading about your cooking experiences.

Which brings me to the third item: Bubble Tea. I think the best thing about cooking, cookbooks, cooking blogs and cooking shows is you never stop learning. Every day there is an unfamiliar recipe, a little known ingredient, a remake of an old favorite- you never know what's coming next. And so it is with this unique and delicious recipe called Strawberry Basil Bubble Tea.

Have you ever heard of Bubble Tea? I bet those of you who live on the west coast have. How best to describe it? It's part drink, part dessert snack and all fun! It's non-alcoholic, non-carbonated and sweet, although it has much less sugar than a typical soft drink. The unique ingredient in Bubble Tea is the large tapioca pearl, which has a consistency of gummy candy. Being heavier than the drink, they tend to always stay near the bottom of the glass. These drinks are served in see-through glasses with an extra wide straw to slurp up the tapioca pearls.

The Bubble Tea craze has been huge in Taiwan and other parts of Southeast Asia for 15 years or so. The original Bubble Tea consisted of a hot mixture of Taiwanese black tea, brown large pearl tapioca, condensed milk and honey. Iced versions appeared soon and then along came green Bubble Tea which uses jasmine-infused green tea instead of black tea. Peach or plum flavoring began to appear, then more flavors were added. Flavors may be added in the form of powder, fruit juice, pulp or syrup, then add to the hot black or green tea, shake or blend with ice until chilled. Cooked tapioca pearls are added at the end.

Much to my surprise, the most recent issue of Veranda magazine had a Bubble Tea recipe in its excellent, albeit small, cooking section. It jumped right off the page at me and I couldn't resist trying it.

First, find the straws: specially made fat ones so you can suck up the tapioca pearls. Which does not sound enormously appealing at first, but turned out to be fun.

Then find the large pearl tapioca; I couldn't find anything but small pearl around here so I mail-ordered it.

Now the strawberry purée might have been a problem but I had ordered three purées from The Perfect Purée Company in California and one of them was strawberry. The magazine says you can find this item at speciality stores, but I can't find it here. (I bet you could improvise here with no problem.)

So, with all the ingredients lined up, I made my first Bubble Tea. It was refreshing, delightful, unusual and I can't wait to serve it to company. I was floored when I tasted this recipe- I loved the flavors. And now that I have the big straws- such fun- everyone will want to take some home. Thank God they come in enormous packages.

Strawberry Basil Bubble Tea
(Adapted from Veranda Magazine, July/August 2009)

Make a simple syrup: 1/2 cup water with 1/2 cup sugar. Bring to a boil, remove from heat and cool completely.

For the Bubble Tea:

1 quart fresh strawberries, washed and hulled
1/8 cup fresh basil
1/2 cup fresh mint
3/4 tablespoon sugar
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon brewed, iced tea ( I used pomegranate flavored tea; use any you like but the original recipe called for passion fruit tea.)
1/2 cup simple syrup (see above)
1/4 cup frozen, prepared strawberry purée, thawed (available at specialty stores)
1/2 cup large tapioca pearls, cooked per instructions on the box

Puree fresh strawberries and strain through a fine sieve. Pour 1/2 cup of this purée into a small shallow container and freeze to make granité.

Using a mortar and pestle, combine basil, mint, sugar and 1 tablespoon of iced tea to make a syrupy paste.

In a large mixing bowl whisk together the remaining purée, basil-mint mixture, the remaining iced tea, simple syrup and the thawed, prepared purée. Chill at least 30 minutes. Strain through a fine sieve. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

To serve: fill the bottom of each glass with 1 tablespoon of the cooked large pearl tapioca. Top with the strawberry- basil tea mixture to about 1/2 inch from the rim of the glass. With a spoon scrape the granité and place on top. Add a mint garnish and serve with a wide-gauge straw. (Available at tentea.com or bobateadirect.com.)

Serves 6-8 as a pre-dessert or 4 as a dessert.


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