Hazelnut Mocha Tart

a hazelnut mocha tart wiyj a big slice taken out

This recipe was the result of a last-minute decision to co-host a neighborhood progressive dinner.  With only a few hours before the start, I had to come up with something special using ingredients I had on hand. Luckily, my freezer was stocked up with leftover nuts from holiday baking. I started with the concept of a pecan pie-type filling, using hazelnuts, then added a bit of instant coffee and some leftover bittersweet chocolate. The final tart was a hit.


Hazelnut Mocha Tart

  • Servings: One 9-inch Tart
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This decadent tart is loaded with toasted hazelnuts, rich coffee and dark chocolate.


Ingredients

    Crust
  • 1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 stick (4 oz.) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • Filling
  • 1 ½ – 2 cups roasted unsalted nuts, roughly chopped (I use hazelnuts)
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 large yolk
  • ¼ cup light brown sugar
  • ¼ cup light corn syrup
  • 2 teaspoons instant coffee
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 4 Tablespoons (2 oz.) unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 Tablespoon whole milk or heavy cream
  • 2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ¼ cup bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  • Flaky sea salt
  • Lightly-sweetened whipped  heavy cream

Directions

  1. Make crust: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a bowl, stir together flour, salt and melted butter. Press dough along bottom and up sides of a 9” tart pan. Place pan on a piece of aluminum foil to catch any leaking butter. Bake for 20 minutes. Cool slightly, cover crust with nuts and chill until ready to use.
  2. Make Filling: Beat together egg, yolk, sugar, corn syrup, instant coffee, and salt. Whisk in the melted butter, milk, flour and vanilla. Stir in chocolate. Pour over nuts (don’t overfill)and sprinkle with flaky sea salt. Bake for about 40 minutes until the filling is set at the edge but slightly wobbly in the center. Cool pie completely before slicing. Serve with lightly-sweetened whipped cream.

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Mushroom Bourguignon

a bowl of mushroom bourguignon with egg noodles
Sitting at my desk, my grumbling stomach turns from my work to thoughts of lunch and the leftover pork and plantain stew in my fridge. The stew is an easy answer to my hunger – a brief microwave and lunch is served, yet what I crave this minute are vegetables. I quickly realize that all I’ve eaten for the last week is a combination of meat and starch with nary a vegetable in sight. I leave the stew where it is and order a humongous Asian chicken salad from the local café instead, devouring it in about 30 seconds. This woman needs more veggies in her diet.

Some purists would argue this isn’t truly a bourguignon. After I respond with, “Thank you for your feedback” (Event planner speak for “I don’t care what you think.”), I would reply that this is my no-fail, go-to, beef bourguignon recipe, with the beef removed and the mushrooms turned up to eleven. It’s bourguignon in my book. Omit the bacon and switch out the beef broth for vegetable broth if you want to serve this dish to your vegetarian friends.

This is comfort food you can feel good about.


Mushroom Bourguignon


Ingredients

  • 3 strips thick cut bacon, diced
  • 2 lbs. Portobello mushroom caps, sliced ½” thick
  • 1 carrot, finely diced
  • 1 celery rib, finely diced
  • ½ onion, finely diced
  • 2 Tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup pinot noir
  • 1 cup beef stock
  • 2 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 cup frozen pearl onions, thawed.
  • Salt and pepper

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350⁰ F. Sauté bacon in a Dutch oven until crisp. Remove bacon and reserve. Sauté mushrooms in bacon drippings until beginning to soften, but not until they release all of their juice, 2-3 minutes. Remove mushrooms and reserve.
  2. Add a bit of oil to the Dutch oven and sauté carrot, celery & onion until beginning to brown. Add tomato paste and flour and sauté 1-2 minutes until flour turns golden. Add pinot noir and reduce until thickened, scraping up any brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Add stock, thyme sprigs, bay leaf, pearl onions, reserved bacon and reserved mushrooms with any accumulated juice. Bring to a boil, cover and transfer to oven. Braise for 30 minutes or until carrots are tender. If sauce isn’t thick enough, cook uncovered on the stovetop for an additional 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Serve over egg noodles, polenta, or rice.


a bubbling pot of mushroom bourguignon

Farro and Pomegranate Salad

Chewy farro flecked with pomegranate seeds, feta, bacon and almonds makes a colorful and hearty main-course salad. The salty-tart flavor of preserved lemons adds a unique twist.

a bowl of farro pomegranate salad

When it comes to the latest dietary fad or junk-science eating recommendations, I’m an avowed denyer. In my humble opinion, sugar is not evil. Unless you have celiac disease or wheat sensitivity, gluten is not the devil’s work. Dairy is not the enemy and caffeine will not kill you.

When it comes to eating, I trust in the axiom, “everything in moderation, including moderation.” I believe that, holistically, it’s healthier to stop stressing about what goes in our mouth and just eat – a variety of food (I said “food” – not chemicals or genetically modified food-like stuff), mindfully, when we’re hungry, in moderation. I think the worry, the self-denying, the strict adherence to dietary “rules” that seem to change weekly cause more toxicity in our bodies than a well-marbled, 3-oz. grass-fed steak. If you want the cookie, eat the damn cookie. Just don’t eat the whole dozen. …or if you DO eat the whole dozen (guilty!), don’t do it all the time (that’s the “moderation in moderation” part).

I had a conversation recently about the healthfulness of farro. We had overindulged during the holidays and were talking about “cleansing” to help our sluggish-feeling systems reset. I mentioned making a farro salad for lunch. She looked at me as if I had just said I was going to eat nothing but Twinkies for a week. “That’s not cleansing – don’t you know farro contains (the ominous and deadly) g..g..g..gluten!!!” Obviously, our ideas of “cleansing” are different. Gluten is not my enemy.

Farro is a nutritious whole grain. It’s an excellent source of protein, fiber and nutrients, and contains a variety of antioxidants like polyphenols, carotenoids, phytosterols and selenium. Add some fiber and vitamin-C rich pomegranate seeds and hunger-satiating fat with almonds and olive oil. Satisfy the splurge factor with a bit of bacon and feta and…voile, a toothsome grain salad.

Whether you consider this a healthy meal or death on a plate is determined by what camp you sit it. I hope we can all agree, at least, that this Farro and Pomegranate Salad is damn tasty. Mmmm…

p.s. I love the pop of the pomegranate seeds in my mouth when I eat this salad!


Farro and Pomegranate Salad

Chewy farro flecked with pomegranate seeds, feta, bacon and almonds makes a colorful and hearty main-course salad. The salty-tart flavor of preserved lemons adds a unique twist.


Ingredients

  • 2 cups cooked farro, cooled
  • 2 cups pomegranate seeds
  • ¾ cup crumbled feta cheese
  • ½ cup cilantro, roughly chopped
  • ⅓ cup toasted almonds (or pistachios), roughly chopped
  • 3 Tablespoons chopped preserved lemons
  • 3 Tablespoons white wine vinegar
  • ¼ cup good-quality olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • 3 strips crisp bacon, crumbled

Directions

  1. In a bowl, combine farro, pomegranate seeds, feta, cilantro, almonds, and preserved lemon. Drizzle with vinegar and olive oil and mix well. Season to taste with salt and pepper (you may not need salt due to the salty feta and lemon). Add bacon just before serving so it remains crisp.

Fromage Fort

Fromage fort – a fabulously thrifty and tasty French solution for repurposing all those nubs of leftover cheese.

a bowl of fromage fort with chips
Giving credit where it’s due, this was my sister S’s suggestion – not her recipe, but her idea. On Boxing Day, I was grumbling about a refrigerator full of holiday leftovers, including the six different cheeses rapidly aging in the cheese drawer. What was I going to do with six nubs of various cheese before they went bad?

That’s when she mentioned fromage fort. Fromage fort is a French cheese spread, literally meaning “strong cheese,” that’s made by blending together various pieces of leftover cheese, a bit of leftover white wine, garlic, and herbs. There’s a dozen of recipes out there – Pépin, Smitten Kitchen, Alton Brown, David Lebovitz, Sauver – all very similar, all very adaptable, because the idea is to use whatever leftovers you have on hand, making this thrifty French solution for too much cheese more spectacular than the sum of its parts. I recommend steering clear of very strong cheese, like blue cheese, which will overwhelm all other flavors in the final dip.

Oh, and there’s a German version, too – mixed with beer (of course!) – called Obatzda.


Fromage Fort

  • Servings: about 2 cups
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A fabulously thrifty and tasty French solution for repurposing all those nubs of leftover cheese.


Ingredients

  • 8 oz. mixed leftover cheeses (hard cheese grated, soft cheese cubed)
  • 3 Tablespoons full-fat ricotta, or 2 Tablespoons softened butter (if you don’t have ricotta on hand)
  • 1 small garlic clove, minced
  • ¼- ⅓ cup white wine
  • 1 Tablespoon chopped thyme
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Directions

  1. In the bowl of a food processor, blend cheese, ricotta (or butter) and garlic until well-blended.
  2. Slowly pour in wine with motor running until the desired consistency – I prefer a scoopable, yet slightly chunk spread. Add thyme and pepper and pulse until combined. Fromage fort can be used immediately, allowed to ripen for up to 5 days, or spread on bread and toasted in the oven.

Bacon Gruyère Gougères

Bacon, Gruyère cheese, and  crispy, light choux pastry. I fell in love with gougères in culinary school – I’ve gilded the lily with the addition of bacon.  Appetizers as glamorous as they are delicious.

Bacon and Cheese Puffs

“It is better to fail in originality than to succeed in imitation.” – Herman Melville

You may think of book clubs as a bunch of shy, mild-mannered, nerdy types – and that may be true…until someone starts stealing our schtick, then we get all gangster.

If you’ve been following this blog with any regularity, you might remember that I started a book club in January, meeting at a local downtown bar & restaurant. It’s been my pet project, and reasonably successful.

A few months ago, I noticed someone else launched a similarly-named book club that happened to meet just 325 feet from our location (coincidence?). While, at the time, I did feel slightly encroached upon, I also thought, “That’s okay. There’s plenty of readers to go around. Good luck to them.” We were meeting monthly on the second Tuesday; the newbies were meeting weekly on Wednesdays. There was enough dissimilarity between our two groups that new members wanting to join our club wouldn’t (I hoped) be confused.

Today I noticed that, starting next month, this copy-cat usurper club will start meeting monthly on the second Tuesday – at the exact same time as our group. So, not only did they copy our name and steal our location, now they are appropriating our dates and times, too. I’m quite surprised they haven’t pilfered our reading list as well. WTF?!

I’ve heard the idiom, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery,” a million times, but this is downright thievery. I am not flattered. I no longer wish them luck – I wish their ersatz book club a swift and immediate demise. In fact, next month, I’m suggesting a pre-book club brawl to my group. I’m confident we could take them down.

Speaking of imitation and idea-pilfering, the following is not my own, but a riff on a ubiquitous gougères recipe. Guilty as charged.


Bacon Gruyère Gougères (Cheese Puffs)

These are best served piping hot from the oven. If needed, reheat at 350˚ until warm and crisp.


Ingredients

  • ½ cup water
  • ½ cup milk
  • ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour, sifted
  • 4 large eggs
  • ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • pinch nutmeg
  • 1 cup shredded Gruyère cheese, plus more for sprinkling
  • 6 strips crispy bacon, crumbled
  • 3 Tablespoons chives, chopped

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400˚ F. Line two baking sheets with parchment. In a medium saucepan, bring the water, milk butter and salt to a boil. Add the sifted flour all at once and stir with a wooden spoon until dough pulls away from the side of the pan and becomes a smooth ball. Continue stirring about two minutes to dry out dough.
  2. Transfer dough to the bowl of a mixer. Let cool a few minutes. Beat in the eggs one at a time, ensuring each egg is fully incorporated before adding the next. Stir in the pepper, nutmeg, cheese, bacon, and chives.
  3. Transfer the dough into a piping bag and cut the tip to allow piping generous tablespoon-size mounds about 2” apart on the baking sheets (alternately, drop rounded spoonfuls onto sheets). With a wet finger, tap down any pointy “hats” on the dough. Sprinkle with additional cheese and bake 20-22 minutes until puffed, firm to the touch, and a rich golden brown (do not open oven before 20 minutes or they may deflate). Serve hot.