Friday, February 28, 2014

Hash Browns, Hatch Chiles & Eggs

Hash Browns for One, with eggs
I have had a desire to create a "Hatch Chile Sauce" for a long while. This began many years ago, down in Tucson, where one of my sisters resides. Near her house is a park and Tea Garden called Tohono Chul. The park is lovely in the Southwest xeriscape way, showcasing the plants and critters local to the area. The "Tea Garden" or, as I see in the website is now called "Garden Bistro", showcases absolutely fantastic meals, but breakfast is the meal I have enjoyed most often. For years, as I would visit my sister, we would go there and I would order the same meal, every time. It was scrambled eggs, wrapped in corn tortillas, served with a pool of Hatch Chile Sauce and black beans, sour cream and some olives. A Southwest breakfast fit for a king. Everything in that meal caused me raptures. And then, they took it off the menu.

I realize that menus must change periodically. The locals would want something new I assume. But me - I just wished that breakfast was still on the menu. And this is what brings me to this blog. I have been dreaming of that Hatch Chile Sauce ever since. It had a little bit of bite, but was mild, overall. The southwest flavor was the thing that just enchanted me. The last time I was in Tucson, my husband and I drove back from there, via the Grand Canyon, the giant meteor crater (remember "Star Man"?), Hatch, New Mexico, Denver, Aberdeen, SD, and on and on, till we got back to Florida, where we lived at the time. When passing through Hatch, we stopped and I bought a large string of Hatch chilies. I had not really used them; mainly I had them hanging as a decoration. My understanding is that "Hatch Chilies" are just chilies that grow in Hatch, NM, and not any particular variety. They could be hot chilies or mild. The string I have are relatively hot.

A few days ago I wanted some hash browns. My husband will absolutely not eat hash browns if the skins are on the potatoes. Skins are his big, fat no-no. Me - I love the skins, so if I make hash browns for myself, I leave the skins on. I made one little potato-worth of hash browns in a tiny skillet, just for me. I made 2 eggs in the same skillet to set on top of the potatoes and it was my supper. Here is the recipe:

Hash Browns for One

Potato Mixture - In the pan

1 small potato, scrubbed
1 tablespoon olive oil 
3 scallions, chopped
3/4 teaspoon salt
a few grinds of pepper, optional
1 teaspoon cornstarch

One side cooked - Hash Browns served
Chop the scallions and set aside. Lay out a 2-layer thickness of paper toweling at least a foot long or more. Heat a small skillet over medium heat. With a large-holed grater, grate the little potato onto the paper toweling. Spread the shreds out relatively evenly, roll the paper toweling with the potato inside, then squeeze all along the roll to wring as much moisture from the potato shreds as possible. Unroll the paper toweling, dropping the potato shreds with the scallion. Add the salt, pepper if using, and the cornstarch. With fingers, toss the mixture to combine. Add the olive oil to the hot skillet and drop in the potatoes. Press them gently into an even circle. Cover with a lid, reduce heat to medium low and cook for about 4 minutes. Remove lid and set a spatula under one side of the potato cake. Using the pan's momentum, lift the pan and flip the potato cake with the spatula. Back on the heat, cover and cook for another 2 minutes. At this point the potatoes should be cooked through.
Delightful as my hash browns and eggs were, it got me thinking about that Hatch Chile Sauce again, and I started gazing fondly at my string of Hatch chiles and dreaming of how I could make a chile sauce that would be similar to the one at Tohono Chul. I have a large bag of dried Ancho peppers in my freezer. They are in 2 zip-top bags, as I do not use them often, and just want them as fresh as possible when I do want them. I wondered how many chilies it would require to get the sauce to be similar to the one at TC. Theirs was a relatively smooth sauce, a nice dusky orange in color. I figured there was no way to find out but by trying. This is what I did:

Hatch Ancho Chile Sauce

Makes 1 pint

Hatch Ancho Chile Sauce
My Hatch Ancho Chile Sauce

2 hot, dried chilies
1 large dried Ancho chili
Boiling water, for soaking 
1 large onion, or 2 small onions, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt 
2 cloves garlic, coarse chopped
3 tablespoons double concentrated tomato paste (from a tube)
2 - 3 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves, rough-chopped
1 cup water, divided
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cider vinegar
pinch of dried epazote, optional
pinch of annatto powder, optional
1 tablespoon butter

In a small saucepan, heat some water to boiling. Reduce to lowest heat and add the 3 chilies. Allow them to steep in the water while starting the onions. Heat a medium skillet and add the olive oil. Add in the onions and teaspoon of salt; saute until translucent, stirring periodically. Add the garlic, thyme and tomato paste and stir to combine, cooking until the garlic is fragrant, about one minute. Add in half the water and stir.

Remove the chilies from the hot water. If you want the sauce to be very hot, leave in the seeds and membranes; otherwise, remove stems, seeds and membranes, coarsely chop and add to the skillet. Stir just to combine and pour into a blender or food processor. Process until the sauce is as smooth as you like and return the sauce to the skillet. Stir in the rest of the water, with the half teaspoon salt, vinegar and epazote and annatto, if using. These last may make no appreciable difference. The annato will give more depth of color. The epazote is a very southwest flavor and I have it in my cabinet! Add in the butter and stir until it melts and is well combined. Once cooled, store in the refrigerator for up to a week.
Corn Tortillas, Hash Browns for One, Eggs, Hatch Ancho Chile Sauce with a side of black beans, olives and sour cream

The sauce tasted really good, though it has been quite a few years since I last had it at Tohono Chul. This morning I made my Hash Browns for One, set them onto a couple of tortillas, topped that with two eggs, served myself some black beans and topped the eggs with the newly created Hatch Ancho Chile Sauce. It was a meal fit for a Southwest King - or Queen, as the case may be!

My passion is teaching people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and passing along my love and joy of food, both simple or exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me also at A Harmony of Flavors on Facebook, and Pinterest

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Versatile Squash in a Cake

I have stopped using canned pumpkin for my pumpkin pies since some years ago. One of the first times I was so happy with the substitution of actual squash for the canned stuff was when I found a Jarradale squash here locally. It was the prettiest squash, all slate green-blue colored, but when I baked it and cut it open, it was also the brightest yellow-orange color inside that I had ever seen to date. The following year, I found a Jamboree squash; this one looked the same on the outside, but unfortunately it was all moldy on the inside. A complete waste of the hour of baking. Oh well, I guess that can happen.

Jarradale Squash
The other thing about the Jarradale squash that I loved so much was the density of the meat. It was a small squash, by comparison to most pumpkins. The meat was so dense though, that it doubled the weight of a pumpkin that was twice its size. When I baked and scooped the meat out, I put it into the food processor in batches and got the smoothest, most beautiful puree I could ever have wished. It also made the most delicious "pumpkin pies" that Thanksgiving. When I could not duplicate that with the Jamboree squash the next year, it really was too bad, and since it was rather last minute, I had to go back to cans for that year's pies. 

This past year, I couldn't find a Jarradale or Jamboree squash at all, so I did some online research on squash and which ones were best for making pie puree. I found a very interesting comparison one woman did, trying out 9 different squash, and making 9 separate pumpkin pies. Her results? Good old butternut squash was, for her, the tastiest, with best pie color. Okay, I can always find butternut squash. I bought one large squash, baked, pureed and came up with enough for 4 pies. I was amazed. Butternut, also, is very dense and smooth. I knew this empirically, but had never paid much attention with an eye to a pie.

I guess by now, you may be wondering what all this reflection on squash varieties is all about. I was getting something out of the freezer the other day and noticed a couple of zip-top baggies of pureed squash tucked in back. This made me think I should make something with it, which led to thinking about what pumpkin recipes I might have. I decided to try Mom Rawstern's recipe for Pumpkin Bars.

Pumpkin Cake
For starters, I changed all her spices, though I kept the basic recipe amounts. I substituted ¾ cup of the sugar with coconut sugar, and ⅓ of the butter called for with coconut oil. I have no idea where her recipe came from, or if she made it up. It was scribbled on a little sheet of paper and stapled into her one cookbook, with absolutely no instructions. This was not uncommon. Most of her recipes assumed one knew how to make a thing, because most of the time there were no instructions, or only a minimalistic "bake at 350." Imagine my surprise then, when I baked this "bar" recipe in a 9 x 13-inch pan and it baked up high as a regular cake! It also took terribly long to bake, far longer than most cakes in that size pan, at 50 minutes. It seemed it would never test done, as I timed it another 5 minutes, then another 5 minutes, and so on. There is nothing at all wrong with the flavor. I am very pleased with my spice additions. It just came out as a cake, rather than bars. This is the recipe:
Pumpkin Cake
Pumpkin Cake

Pumpkin Cake

One 13 x 9-inch cake

1 stick unsalted butter
¼ cup coconut oil (or use all butter)
2 cups sugar (or substitute part coconut sugar)
4 eggs
2 cups squash/pumpkin puree
2 tablespoons Bourbon, or 2 teaspoons vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons dried orange zest
1 teaspoon ginger
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon cloves
¼ teaspoon allspice

Preheat oven to 350 degrees (325 on Convection). Grease a 9 x 13-inch pan and set aside. In a stand mixer, cream together the butter & coconut oil with the sugar(s), until light. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating until combined before adding the next. Beat in the squash puree. Sift or whisk together the dry ingredients, and then add in three batches to the creamed mixture, beating gently just until combined. Pour batter into the prepared pan and bake for 45 - 55 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

While the cake was baking, I wanted to try out something new for a frosting. First, I wanted to incorporate sour cream into the mix, but had never done this before. I wanted a little tang in the flavor. Another thing I wanted to try was making glazed nuts (walnuts or pecans) and then placing them in a food processor to pulverize, then add these to the frosting. I started with the nuts.

Burnt Sugar Glazed Nuts

Burnt Sugar Glazed Pecans
Burnt Sugar Glazed Pecans

⅓ cup granulated sugar
1 cup walnuts or pecans 
(I used walnuts this time; photo shows pecans from last week's wine tasting)

Cut a large sheet of waxed paper and place onto a counter top. Place the sugar and nuts into a medium sized, preferable non-stick skillet over medium heat. Cook, stirring constantly with a silicone spatula or wooden spoon, until the sugar melts and caramelizes to deep amber and completely coats the nuts. Once the nuts reach that point, stir for a few seconds more, then remove from the hot burner and continue stirring for 1 minute. Turn the nuts out onto the waxed paper and with 2 forks, separate the nuts. Allow them to cool completely.

***These glazed nuts are wonderful to eat on their own. They are great in salads. You could sprinkle them with cinnamon or other spices, as desired. Do not attempt to add any liquid to the hot nuts or it could be explosive. The sugar has reached extreme temperatures to melt. For my purposes, once cooled, I poured all the caramelized nuts into the food processor with 1 cup of confectioners' sugar and processed until very fine. This way, they would also be wonderful sprinkled over ice cream.

Caramel Walnut Frosting

Caramel Walnut Frosting
Caramel Walnut Frosting
½ stick (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
4 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
½ cup sour cream
4 cups confectioners' sugar
The whole recipe for pulverized glazed nuts
1 teaspoon bourbon, or vanilla
½ teaspoon salt (preferably medium ground sea salt)

In a heavy duty stand mixer, beat the room temperature butter and cream cheese for 6 - 8 minutes, until very pale and fluffy. NOTE: This will not work properly unless the ingredients are room temperature. Add the sour cream and beat to combine. Add the 4 cups confectioners' sugar and starting on lowest speed for one minute, combining the dry into the creamed mixture. Increase speed to medium high and beat for another 6 to 8 minutes. Pour in the nut mixture, salt and flavoring and beat to just combine. Spread this over the cake once the cake has completely cooled.

The cake and the frosting were delicious. Neither turned out exactly as I had anticipated, but the flavors are excellent in both, and the icing goes excellently with the cake. I would like to try this again, using pecans in the frosting (I had none yesterday when I started this). I might also try using less sugar in the cake. It seemed a little too much, though the flavor is wonderful.

My passion is teaching people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and passing along my love and joy of food, both simple or exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me also at A Harmony of Flavors on Facebook, and Pinterest

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Warming Vegetable Soup on Another Cold Night

We had a brief spate of warmer weather, getting into the low 40s for about 3 days, but that is gone again, and we are back to sub-zero temperatures. It was at -12 when I went to bed last night, and tonight may reach -21. Again. Sigh. So, a nice warming soup is always appreciated on nights such as these, and yesterday I made my vegetable soup; a one-pot meal at its best!

Beef Vegetable Soup with Beans & Barley
My vegetable soup varies depending on what I have available. It could be beef vegetable or chicken vegetable. It might have more, or just other vegetables, depending on what is in the fridge when I decide. I like lots of flavors, all lending their goodness to the finished product. My husband likes a soup you can just about stand a spoon in, so adding everything but the kitchen sink is not a problem. He is a picky eater and likes
few vegetables, most of which are the starchy ones like potatoes, peas and corn. When I add veggies all cut small, I can add things he would not normally eat, and he still enjoys it immensely. I find this a terrific opportunity to add vegetables to his diet. He also loves things like barley, beans and/or lentils added in the soup, as do I.

Some of the veggies I might add or substitute if they had been on hand are butternut squash, parsnips, green beans, zucchini, Napa cabbage and/or sweet potato. Things he won't tolerate, even when all mixed up like this are broccoli or cauliflower, but those could be added also, if they are favorites of yours. When I was in Guatemala, a favorite soup that was made often was called "Cocido", meaning "Cooked". Not that exciting a name, yet the resultant soup was similar to mine in flavors, but with all the vegetables left mostly whole. They would cook a chunk of beef with whole onion, carrots, a quarter or half of a cabbage, potatoes, some kind of squash, corn on the cob (maybe cut into 2 or 3 chunks), and many other things. I loved that soup. Another inspiration was my paternal Grandmother's soup. She added far less vegetables, but the broth was stupendous! Saffron was one of her
Figures 1 & 2: Browning meat & onion; adding vegetables
magic ingredients, and I love saffron with a passion, ever since that early introduction.

So, over the years I have made a vegetable soup, with ever-changing ingredients as the contents of my fridge or the seasonal availability changed. This is the soup I made last evening. During winter, I make this soup with a can of corn, where in the summer I might cut the kernels off fresh cobs. In summer I might add fresh tomatoes, chopped, where in winter I use a can of petite diced tomatoes. Dried beans can be added instead of a can, if desired - the soup will cook long enough that the beans will cook through. Be flexible. Be warned though: this makes a huge pot. By the time all the vegetables are added, you have a very large pot full and could feed at least 8 or 10 hungry people.

Beef Vegetable Soup with Beans & Barley

Makes a large pot of soup, to feed 8 to 10
Figures 3 & 4: garlic, ginger, cilantro, parsley

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 or 2 pounds beef stew meat, more or less as desired
1 large onion, roughly chopped
3 - 4 stalks celery, sliced
2 - 3 carrots, diced 
1 large bell pepper (or more than one, using different colors)
¼ of a cabbage, cubed 
1 - 2 potatoes, depending on size, peeled, diced8 cups water (2 quarts)
1 can (14.5 ounces) petite diced tomatoes with liquid
1 can (15.5 ounces) whole kernel corn, drained
3 -4 cloves garlic, finely minced
fresh ginger, equal to the volume of garlic, minced
1 large handful each cilantro and parsley, minced
2 bay leaves
a few sprigs of fresh thyme (leave whole and fish out later, or strip leaves and add)
3 - 4 teaspoons salt
a few grinds of black pepper
¼ - ½ teaspoon saffron, crushed
Figure 5: Bring to a boil
½ cup pearl barley (I prefer the long-cooking kind) 
1 can (15.5 ounces) white beans, drained and rinsed 
1½ cups frozen peas

In a large soup pot, heat the olive oil on medium high. Add the meat cubes and cook quickly, browning thoroughly. Add the onion and toss quickly, browning lightly. You want to see a fair amount of brown in the bottom of the pan. This gives both flavor and color to the soup. Add in half the water, to start, stirring up the brown in the pan. Begin adding in vegetables: celery, bell pepper, carrots, cabbage, potatoes (Figures 1 & 2). Add in the cans of tomatoes and corn.

Add caption
Chop together the garlic, ginger, cilantro and parsley until fine and add to the pot (Figures 3 & 4). Add the bay leaves, thyme, salt, pepper and saffron. Add the pearl barley if using the long cooking kind. If not, wait for at least an hour before adding the barley. Cover the pot and bring to a simmer (Figure 5). Keep the soup simmering for at least 2 to 3 hours on very low heat. Wait to add the drained and rinsed beans and the peas until about 10 minutes prior to serving, just to heat through.

My passion is teaching people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and passing along my love and joy of food, both simple or exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me also at A Harmony of Flavors on Facebook, and Pinterest

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Another Wine & Food Pairing

My Garrigue Seasoning Mixture
Yesterday I wrote about the mini tarts I made to pair with a Pacific Rim Chenin Blanc. Today I am going to describe my thinking on the food pairing I made for the 2003 Domaine du Vieux Telegraphe Chateauneuf du Pape.

As I mentioned in my post on February 18th, I learned a new term when researching the flavors to pair with this Rhone / Southern France wine. While the term "garrigue" has been around for a while, I have not been reading the different wine publications as avidly as I once did, and missed ever hearing about this new descriptor. It is used to describe all the bouquet of aromas from the wild herbs that grow in that region of France. Any time a grape grows in a very specific soil and environment, this affects the grapes' flavor, and therefore the wine made from them. It is said that many Rhone wines retain some of this garrigue aroma. It was a bouquet of scents I was unfamiliar with, as a whole, and so I had never been able to detect this bouquet in a wine.
Showing long, lengthwise grain of the meat

I had drunk this particular Chateauneuf before; we had various bottles in our cellar. This time would be a brand new tasting, with this new idea in mind. I had created a sort of spice seasoning mixture I creatively called "Garrigue Seasoning." I know - not so creative, but what else could I possibly call this kind of mixture? I intended to use this dry spice mix to flavor a flank steak, with the idea to also marinate the steak in a mixture of currants, balsamic and olive oil. I dry-rubbed the meat with the spices first, then poured over the wet mixture and marinated it a full day. Once I broiled and sliced the meat, it didn't have nearly the flavor I hoped for, though it was very good, and paired well with the wine.  I believe if I were to make this again, I would dry rub the meat, possibly with even more of the rub than I used, and a little olive oil to marinate. 

Cheddar Rectangles
Other foods I chose to pair with a wine that is a blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre (GSM) were sharp cheddar and arugula, with its peppery flavors. I broiled the meat and sliced it very thinly across the grain, at an angle in order to make each slice more than double the width it would be if slicing straight down. If you have never used a flank steak, it is a very thin piece of meat. It can be a little tough because it is very lean, but cutting across the grain of the meat makes all the fibers of the meat very short, and therefore edible.

I looked for the sharpest cheddar I could find, and sliced it into ¼-inch slices. Then I cut those slices to make them ¼-inch widths by about 1¾ to 2-inches long, approximately the width of one of the slices of the steak. I got a box of baby arugula and selected  enough leaves to use 2 per steak roll. 

Garrigue Rubbed Flank Steak Rolls with Cheddar & Arugula

This makes 50 or so rolls
Garrigue Rubbed Flank Steak Rolls with Cheddar & Arugula

1 flank steak, about 2 pounds
4 - 6 tablespoons Garrigue Seasoning (post of February 18)
3 tablespoons olive oil
8 ounces sharp cheddar cheese
baby arugula leaves

Rub the flank steak well with the Garrigue Seasoning on both sides. Sprinkle the olive oil over and rub into the seasonings and meat. Wrap well and set in the refrigerator overnight. Prepare the cheddar by making little rectangles 1/4 x 1/4 x 2-inches. These can be cut and stored in the refrigerator until needed. Select nice, small arugula leaves.

When ready to prepare the meat, heat the broiler and set the rack on the second level down. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil, for easy cleanup later. Set a small rack onto the foil and place the meat on the rack. Place under the broiler and broil for 6 to 7 minutes per side, depending on the thickness of the meat. When done, tent with foil for 15 minutes before slicing.

When ready to cut the meat, set the steak with the length of the grain crosswise in front of you (as shown in picture). Hold a sharp chef's knife or carving knife at a 45 degree angle. Slice at this angle, creating thin slices, much wider than if slicing straight down. These lengths of meat will need to be cut into 2 or even 3 pieces each. The length needs to be just wide enough to roll around the cheddar and arugula leaves, crossing enough to insert a toothpick to hold them in shape.
When serving these with a good wine, always try to serve slices of bread along with, as the bread helps to absorb the alcohol. It becomes very difficult to taste and rate a wine when a few sips make you tipsy. I served these flank rolls with little slices of bread, brushed with oil and broiled lightly. The meat went well with the Chateauneuf du Pape. We also smelled the garrigue seasoning and them smelled the wine, and found that these smells were definitely apparent in the wine's bouquet. Hurray!

My passion is teaching people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and passing along my love and joy of food, both simple or exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me also at A Harmony of Flavors on Facebook, and Pinterest

Monday, February 24, 2014

A Small Sampling of Wines with Foods

The "Winefest Renaissance" benefiting the Boys and Girls Club of Aberdeen, will be held on April 12th this year. My husband has been busily recruiting people who will promote my part in the event, which, similarly to last year will be a selection of 6 different wines, and foods prepared specifically to pair with each wine. This is a wonderful way to show the differences in what a wine tastes like on its own, as opposed to tasting with a food, and most pertinently, if the food is made with only food items that pair well with that varietal or style. We also provide rating sheets to help people examine what exactly they like or dislike about any given wine, and why. These rating sheets are ones I have created, and are each person's to keep. Last year too many people seemed to be under the impression that we were "grading" them on how they rated. This was not the intent at all, but for each person to discover more about what they like or dislike in a wine, and why. There is no right or wrong to this process; only knowledge gained.

Chicken, Pear & Onion Tarts with Chevre Cream
Green Pea, Feta & Mint Spread
In preparation, some of the people my husband has recruited are unfamiliar with rating wines. They will need to know what this is all about in order to drive people to my tables. Thus, as we did last year, we held a little mini wine tasting last Friday evening for a couple of young women, to teach them what is involved in rating a wine and learning what one can discover through this process. Then, I wanted to demonstrate the differences between tasting a wine on its own merits, and then tasting a wine paired appropriately with a food. I chose one white wine and one red, and made a couple of foods to taste with each. I chose a 2012 Pacific Rim Chenin Blanc with floral, pear and citrus flavors, and paired this wine with my Green Pea, Feta & Mint Spread on artisanal bread, and Chicken Pear and Onion Tartlets with Chevre Cream, a new creation of mine. The red wine was a 2003 Domaine du Vieux Telegraphe Chateauneuf du Pape. The Chateauneuf was served with Glazed Pecans with Garrigue Seasoning and Garrigue Seasoned Flank Steak with Cheddar and Arugula. I will touch on the red wine and its food pairings in my next blog. Today I will focus on the Chicken, Pear and Onion Tartlets recipe.

Steps 1 & 2; cream cheese, butter, salt, 1/2 the flour and nuts
Steps 3 & 4: second half of flour processed in
To date, I am able to pair wines with appropriate foods quite easily. With my Wine and Food Pairing Sheets, which I talked about in my blog of February 17th, I just run down the column under the particular wine style and select a few of the listed foods to create a recipe. I did this with the Chenin Blanc column, selecting chicken, pear, red bell pepper, macadamia nuts, cream cheese and Chevre cheese. First I wanted to make the tart shells with cream cheese and butter, and added ground macadamia nuts. As a matter of fact, though this was my plan, when I actually made the pastry I completely forgot about the nuts! I had already ground them and set them aside, but when it came time to add them to the food processor, I just forgot. No worries though; when I rolled out the pastry dough, I put the ground nuts onto the mostly rolled pastry, pressed them in, then finished rolling the pastry to the desired thickness. Voila! When I rolled the pastry, I used a 3-inch biscuit cutter and made little pastry rounds to fit into the mini tart pans. I wanted a bit of a lip to the pastry, so it would not slide down into the pans while blind baking, and I used a second, identical but empty tart pan to set on top. This kept the tart shells in place. If you do not have that many tart pans, you may have to work a bit harder to make the little shells stay put while baking, but it can be done.

Macadamia Cream Cheese Tart Pastry 

Makes about 35 mini tart shells or 1 9-inch tart crust

Steps 5 & 6: adding liquids & forming dough

1 stick unsalted butter, cold in small cubes
1½ cups all-purpose flour, divided in 2 parts
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup macadamia nuts, pre-ground
½ of an 8-ounce package cream cheese
2 tablespoons cold water
2 tablespoons vodka
1 teaspoon vinegar

Into the bowl of a food processor, place half of the flour, the macadamia nuts, salt, butter and cream cheese. Pulse repeatedly until the mixture makes wet, large crumbs (Steps 1 & 2). Add in the rest of the flour and pulse to finer crumbs (Steps 3 & 4). In a small measure, combine the water, vodka and vinegar. Add to the food processor and pulse until the mixture forms a ball. Remove the dough from the processor, bring together to form a ball, flatten and wrap in plastic wrap or place in a zip-top bag (Steps5 & 6). Chill the dough thoroughly, at least 3 hours before using. The dough may be kept in the refrigerator for up to 3 days, or frozen for up to 2 months.

Steps 7 & 8: rolling, cutting, fitting in tart pans

Preheat oven to 375 degrees (350 on Convection). If making mini tarts, have tart pans handy. If the dough has been frozen, allow it to thaw in the refrigerator overnight, or set on the counter to thaw until workable. Flour the surface and Roll out the dough to ⅛-inch thickness, or less. Cut into 3-inch diameter rounds and fit the dough rounds into the mini tart tins, allowing a bit of a lip to overhang. Prick all over with a fork (Steps 7 & 8).

If you have extra identical size/shape tart tins, before baking carefully set one empty tart tin on top of the first. This will help in keeping the dough from slithering down into the well while baking. Bake the shells for 12 minutes. Remove the top tin and bake for another 3 – 5 minutes longer, or until golden. These can be kept in a tightly sealed container for 2 days ahead.

The filling was a combination of the other ingredients I chose, with some seasonings:

Chicken, Pear & Onion Filling

Steps 9 & 10: baked shells and chicken filling

Makes about 35 mini tarts

1 recipe Macadamia Cream Cheese Tart Shells, baked
1 pre-cooked skinless, boneless chicken breast, chopped finely, (or rotisserie roasted chicken breast)
⅓ cup orange juice
1 – 2 tablespoons olive oil
2 large onions, quartered lengthwise and sliced ⅝-inch across
½ teaspoon salt
1 firm pear, cored and cut into tiny pieces
½ red bell pepper, chopped finely
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves, stripped from stems
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
A few grinds of white pepper
½ teaspoon anchovy paste

1 (6-ounce) Chevre cheese, softened
Pinch salt
Zest of 1 lime
4 – 6 tablespoons heavy cream

Finished Tarts

Heat a large skillet over medium heat and add in the olive oil, swirl the pan, then add in the onions. Sprinkle on the ½ teaspoon salt. Cook the onions very slowly over low to medium-low heat for at least 45 to 55 minutes, stirring very often until caramelized and browned, not burnt. Add in the pear, red bell pepper, chicken, thyme, lemon zest and juice, pepper and anchovy paste. Continue cooking for another 15 minutes (Steps 9 & 10). This mixture can be made 1 to 2 days ahead and kept refrigerated until needed.

The anchovy paste makes the flavors more complex, but is not enough to taste. If not using anchovy paste, more salt may be needed. Taste the mixture and adjust accordingly.

Open Star Tip 1M or 2110
In a small bowl, combine the Chevre, lime zest and 3 tablespoons of the cream. Mix with a hand mixer until smooth. This should be firm enough to stay in place, but loose enough to go through a piping bag. Add more cream as needed. Refrigerate until needed.
When ready to serve, pack the chicken & pear mixture tightly into the prepared tart shells. Top with the Chevre Cream, either using a piping bag with an open star tip (I used 1M), or using 2 spoons to place a dollop of the cream on top of each tart.

My passion is teaching people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and passing along my love and joy of food, both simple or exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me also at A Harmony of Flavors on Facebook, and Pinterest