Easy Tomato, Goat Cheese and Prosciutto Tarts

There is something about the word ‘tart’ that evokes thoughts of elaborate, complicated food. Innately elegant dining fare, whether savory or sweet, tarts always carry with them a little bit of wow factor. The good news for you and I is that most of the tarts that I make end up being some of the easiest dishes to prepare, making them perfect for entertaining: packing maximum impact with as little work as possible.  We all know by now that individually sized food just sets my heart aflutter, so when I first saw Ina Garten’s recipe for her Tomato and Goat Cheese Tarts, you know that I was on board. I mean, buttery puff pastry topped with caramelized onions, goat cheese, tomatoes, basil, thyme, and Parmesan?  As Ina would say, “How bad can that be?”

I followed her recipe carefully, substituting plain goat cheese and tossing in a half a teaspoon of red pepper flakes in with the caramelized onions, for just a little bit of heat. As I was assembling the tarts I remembered that I had some prosciutto di Parma leftover from an event, and I decided what better way to use it than to place a  deliciously buttery, salty slice on each of them (atop the caramelized onions, and underneath the goat cheese and tomato); because, after all,  what isn’t improved by the addition of cured pork?

I love the rustic, earthy look of these tarts. They are equally delicious right out of the oven or at room temperature, and can be assembled before your guests arrive and baked off right before serving. The flaky pastry, sweet onions,  salty prosciutto, grassy thyme, tangy goat cheese, nutty Parmesan, and juicy tomato are all harmonize together beautifully; and  no one has to know that making them requires little more than caramelizing some onions.  Serve it with a simple green salad and you have the makings of a perfect lunch or light dinner.  Simple enough for everyday, yet special enough for company. Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

This post made the Foodbuzz.com Top 9!!!

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Jacob’s Kitchen 2010: A Retrospective

With the new year well underway, I thought it might be fun to take this opportunity to look back at how far we’ve come together this last year. When I started this blog in May I honestly had no idea that anyone would ever be reading it. Yet here you are.Writing and cooking for all of you over the last eight months has been a tremendous privilege, and has served as a source of a great deal of personal joy. Thank you for tuning in from time to time to take a peek inside my kitchen. I hope that you have found some inspiration, learned a new skill, or perfected a troublesome recipe. I have personally learned a great deal this last year (about life, blogging, photography, food, etc.), and hope to only get bigger and better from here. But before we move forward, let’s take a look back at a few highlights from this last year together.

Cranberry Orange Scones

S’more Brownies

Crème Brûlée

Grilled Shrimp with Mango Salsa

Zucchini Pancakes with Horseradish Cream

Goat Cheese Stuffed Cherry Tomatoes

Blueberry Ice Cream (dressed as a milkshake)

Chocolate Bread Pudding Old Fashioned Berry Shortcakes

Honey Vanilla Lavender Crème Brûlée

I hope that 2011 is filled with many new adventures (both in and out of the kitchen). My foodie resolutions this year include consistently blogging at least three times a week (imagine that?!), devoting time to the development of vegan and gluten free recipes (since I am constantly asked for them, yet continue to drag my feet), to attend the foodbuzz festival this fall and finally be able to put a face to all of you fabulous foodies out there, and last but not least to not use a single plastic grocery bag this year (wish me luck, fingers crossed!).

What are your foodie resolutions for the new year?

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Playing Catch-up Part 2: From the Beginning to the End

The beginning of December brought about preparations for my (gasp!) thirtieth birthday (yes, I am officially that old).  After much thought and deliberation about what we would do to mark the occasion, we decided that we would host a small gathering at our house, in lieu of trying to all go out somewhere.  Just me and twenty or so of my closest friends, which sounded perfect.

Since it was my birthday, I wanted to do as little work on the food as possible, while still having a bit of wow factor. For the menu I settled on a cheese board (with blue cheese, brie, a creamy goat cheese, grapes and crackers), roasted red pepper hummus (which is my classic hummus recipe with the addition of a drained jar of roasted red peppers and several tablespoons of pimentón) with crudités and pita, roasted shrimp with a spicy chimichurri dipping sauce (for the sauce, in the blender I combine a big bunch of both cilantro and Italian flat leaf parsley, two scallions, four or five garlic cloves, a generous third of a cup or so of extra virgin olive oil, a teaspoon of freshly grated lime zest, the juice of five or six limes, several teaspoons of ground cumin, a dash of salt, freshly ground black pepper, and as many chipotle peppers as I dare. Blend until smooth, adding a little additional olive oil or a splash of water if it is too thick to blend.),  some toasted cashews, pistachios, marinated olives, and for something sweet, freshly baked chocolate chip cookies and pecan bars. Along with the food, we had an assortment of beer, mulled wine, and my “pumpkin pie martinis” (which are embarrassingly simple but always a crowd favorite: equal parts of pumpkin spice liqueur and your favorite eggnog, served with a dash of pumpkin pie spice in glasses rimmed in cinnamon sugar and graham cracker crumbs.)

Instead of a cake this year, I decided to go with some childlike fun and have a decorate your own cookie bar instead. I had homemade shortbread cookies (cut out in the shape of Christmas trees and ornaments), and an assortment of  colorful candies, sprinkles and dragées, along with six different store bought icing colors (hey, there is no shame in that!), all served on this adorable lazy Susan with inset white dishes. It was almost too charming.

I have to confess to being semi horribly devastated that none of the food table photos survived for you all to see them now (after my new SD card debacle). It was really, really beautiful (if I do say so myself). The centerpiece was comprised of antiqued, blood red roses and evergreen bows, votive holders filled with fresh cranberries and unscented candles, and about a thousand little (intricately hand placed) rhinestones atop one of my favorite “special occasion”  (read: dry clean only!) table clothes, which added sparkle. It was just the right amount of over the top for my taste. That along with the big white platters of food, each more lovingly garnished than the last… sigh… I can’t go on…(*wipes imaginary tear from cheek*)… it was some of my best work. But for now, we can all pretend that a description of it all is just as satisfying.

The evening started off with a big surprise as one of my dearest friends (who lives in California – you may know her from her comments here on Jacob’s Kitchen under the name Woman&Warrior… an apt description of a fantastic human being) showed up on our doorstep just as guests were arriving. It was really great seeing her, and being able to spend a leisurely weekend together, and also to finally introduce her to all of my friends here in Oregon who have heard far too many wonderful things about her that I’m sure they all thought that I was making her up. Spending my birthday with all of my friends was exactly what I needed, and her presence made the evening extra special.

The other big news, of course, was the purchase of my new Canon EOS Rebel T2i DSLR camera! Hooray!  (Cue confetti!) I hope to soon actually learn how to use all of its many functions and take my food photography to the next level. I still stand behind all of my point and shoot pictures, and am a firm believer that one does not require a DSLR to create beautiful food images.  Having a DSLR, however, as I am coming to realize, does much more easily capture beautiful food images.  So for all of my fellow point and shoot foodies out there, keep up the great work! It’s not easy, but it can still be fabulous.

Unfortunately, my birthday weekend turned somber when my grandfather (whom you may recall suffered from Alzheimer’s and lived with us here in Oregon for quite some time after I spent a year caring for him and his wife in New Mexico, until we finally had him placed into an assisted living facility less than a mile away from our house) fell and broke his arm. At first the doctors seemed to underplay his injury as though it were not a very big deal.  Less than 48 hours later, however, we were forced to make the difficult decision to begin hospice. For five days my sister and I camped out at his bedside. Though he was unconscious nearly the entire time, we played his favorite music, held his hand, read him the stories and poems that he had read to us as children, and did everything in our power to ensure that he was comfortable. He died very early in the morning, just one week after my party. I was holding his hand and stroking his brow the whole time, and my sister was right beside him talking into his ear. While he certainly suffered through  a lot of pain throughout the week, in the end it was very peaceful.

I cannot even begin to express to you how amazing the entire staff at Brookstone (his care facility) was with him. The loving care, kindness and support that they showed to him, to me, and to my entire family over the last year has been nothing short of heroic.  As someone who has seen a lot of care facilities in my day, I can say with absolute certainty that better care simply does not exist.  Period. They have twenty nine locations across the United States. If you have a loved one suffering with Alzheimer’s or dementia and are near one such location, I encourage you to seek out their services.  You don’t have to do it alone. They are there as much for you, as for your loved one. Seriously. You won’t regret it.

My grandfather, Earl Rolla Bates, (who we called “Grumpa,” because he always had a sour expression on his face) would have been 89 in March. Long after he could no longer remember my name, what he always remembered was that I bake. “How’s the baking coming?” he’d ask when we would visit “Well, keep it up. You’ve got a real knack for it!”

He was the perfect taste tester, since he loved everything, but some of his particular favorites included Ina Garten’s croissant bread pudding (with a simple brandy butter sauce), New Mexico style green chili stew, a perfectly grilled steak (which he always liked to marinate in a little bit of teriyaki sauce, salt, black pepper, and garlic, and top with a fire roasted green chili and melted pepper jack cheese), my buttermilk biscuits, apricot jam, my signature salad, potatoes in any form, and his grandmother’s rolls. (Leave it to a foodie like me to sum up someone’s life by the foods that they enjoyed!)

He was a ship’s cook in the navy, and ran a small restaurant with my grandmother for several years in his early twenties. He appreciated good food, but even more he appreciated the effort that you invested into making good food. It never went unnoticed. He was always very grateful for everything that he was given, and openly expressed that gratitude to those around him. That is perhaps the greatest lesson that he has left behind: to live a life of endless gratitude.

As an example, while in New Mexico, after dinner while I would be doing the dishes, he would often pull me aside and say something like “You know, that meal was perhaps the finest I have ever had. That salad…that salad was just so delicate, and those biscuits were just fabulous. You have become quite a young man. And I want you to know that I am really proud to have you as a member of my family.” Then, with a simple pat on my shoulder, he would turn, pick up his poodle, and retire to bed. And that would be for just any rushed, nothing special, weeknight meal. He was a hard working, funny, sarcastic, generous, ornery, little sprite of a man, and he will be missed.

Fwew! That should just about catch us up! Later this week we shall finally return to business as usual here at Jacob’s Kitchen. Between the holiday baking, my birthday, and his passing, you can imagine that this has been a particularly busy, very contemplative time for me.  But with the new year comes new hope for an even more fabulous tomorrow.

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Filed under Beverages, Jams/Spreads/Sauces, Other, Snacks

Playing Catch-up Part 1: Thanksgiving (Better late than never?!)

Disclaimer: After recently loosing literally thousands of my most recent food and holiday photos off of my new SD card due to a “card error,” I was discouraged to say the least.  But we  must march on nonetheless, so we will all just have to use our foodie imaginations as I describe these foods to you, since all visual record of them has been lost in time (at least for now).

This year we had a small thanksgiving gathering at home. Ten guests, delicious food, and Mother Nature even provided a little bit of snow, just for charm. Our menu was as it typically always is: various seasonal appetizers served with Pilgrim’s Punch (a cocktail that we invented several years ago which is comprised of sweetened, mulled cranberry juice, a splash of freshly squeezed orange juice, vodka, and triple sec), and a litany of holiday favorites including herb roasted turkey breasts, dressing (I adore a mixture of sourdough and cornbread, with celery, onions, mushrooms, dried cranberries, slivered almonds, fresh herbs, and homemade turkey stock), mashed potatoes and gravy (I use Ina Garten’s trick of making the gravy two days in advance using drippings that I have frozen from a previously roasted turkey), candied sweet potatoes (which I always flavor with amaretto and orange zest), parmesan roasted asparagus, a big green salad (so we can justifiably pretend that we are eating healthfully), fruit salad (which is a classic in our family that has been at every holiday gathering in my entire life… which is funny because no one really eats it at the meal itself, save for a tiny requisite spoonful. But it is classic morning-after-thanksgiving leftover fair, and tradition dictates that it must be there) and last but not least, no family meal would ever be complete without my great great grandmother Browning’s dinner rolls.

For the table I decided to go with matching chocolate brown table clothes and napkins, copper chargers, my everyday white dishes and flatware, and my absolute favorite “old lady” napkin rings (of the twenty or so sets that we own). To add a little sparkle and whimsy I scattered some colorful autumn leaves and decorative acorns, and lined the center of the table with small arrangements of flowers and glass votive holders filled with fresh cranberries and unscented candles: easy, festive, and elegant.

The one dish that is always a stand out at my holiday feasts is the turkey itself. My guests often comment that it is the moistest turkey they have ever had (no, seriously!). For Thanksgiving, I don’t mind taking a little extra time and care to make sure that the turkey comes out deliciously moist and flavorful. This process is multi-stepped, but each step is really easy. And, for the record, I make no apologies for the preposterous amount of butter used. I mean hey, give me a break, it’s Thanksgiving! I always make two large whole turkey breasts rather than one large turkey, since the demand for white meat in our house far surpasses that of the dark, but this process would work equally well with a whole bird (though I would still, personally, stick to turkeys weighing  twelve pounds or less.)

I start by brining my two breasts (approximately seven pounds each) in vegetable stock (you will want to be sure to buy breasts that do not say that they have been “enhanced with a solution of…” which means  they have essentially already been brined. Brining one such bird will result in mealy/rubbery meat, which is not what we are after on Thanksgiving, or anytime of year for that matter.).To a gallon of stock, I add a couple of sprigs of fresh rosemary, thyme, and sage, a tablespoon or so each of whole black peppercorns and allspice berries, eight or nine bay leaves, one cup of kosher salt (or one half cup of table salt), one half cup of dark brown sugar (salt toughens the meat, while sugar softens it, so it is important to have a balance of both in a good brine, not only for flavor but also for texture), one head of garlic cut in half, one large yellow onion quartered, two stalks of celery, and one large carrot. Bring that mixture to a boil, then turn off the heat and allow it to come to room temperature. Divide the mixture between your two largest pots, add one turkey breast to each, and fill with ice water to cover the birds. Brine in the refrigerator for 24-48 hours.

Remove from the brine and thoroughly rinse the breasts under cold water, and pat them dry with paper towels. Using a kitchen syringe, inject each breast with a healthy dose of garlic and herb infused melted butter (which bastes the breast meat from the inside out). Next, make a garlic and herb butter paste by combining three sticks of softened butter in a food processor along with a small handful of garlic cloves, a sprig or two each of fresh rosemary, sage, and thyme, about a tablespoon of ground mustard, a dash of chipotle powder, salt and freshly ground black pepper). Divide this mixture between the two breasts, spreading it under and over the skin. Stuff the cavities with fresh rosemary, thyme, and quartered onions, and place in the refrigerator uncovered for at least 24 hours (but up to 48). Before baking I add an entire bottle of dry white wine to the roasting pan (along with a few bay leaves and any extra celery, carrots, onions, and garlic cloves that I might have on hand) and bake the breasts at 325 degrees for one and a half to two and a half hours, basting periodically, until the internal temperature registers 160-165 degrees at the thickest part.  Tent the breasts with aluminum foil and allow them to rest for twenty minutes.

When I remove the entire breast from the bone for carving, if I happen to see that the meat is still slightly pink near the bone, I return the cut breast meat to the pan juices and poach in the oven for an addition ten minutes (especially on Thanksgiving, I would personally always much rather risk under-cooking the turkey and then correcting it, rather than overcooking it and being forced to serve a dry bird!).

And there you have it, my perfectly moist, flavorful, fool proof, herb roasted turkey breasts, guaranteed to be a hit at your next holiday gathering (or any day of the year!). Enjoy!

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Filed under Beverages, Meat

My Interview with Femina Magazine

I apologize for being away from the blog for so long. The Thanksgiving holiday had me very busy in my kitchen, and all of that is finally starting to wind down enough for me to catch my breath again. I want to regale you with stories of Thanksgiving triumphs and a few blunders, but for now I wanted to share this link with you to my recent interview with India’s Femina Magazine. The talented and inspiring Rajani Mani of Eat Write Think conducted the interview, and I am very flattered that she selected Jacob’s Kitchen to be featured.  She asked for me to share a short recipe with them, and I couldn’t think of anything easier or more delicious than my Salted Vanilla Caramel Sauce, which is the perfect thing to have on hand to make any last minute dessert feel really special. Enjoy!

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And the winner is. . .

So the time has come to crown the winner of my $45 CSN gift card giveaway!  Thanks to all of you who entered and thanks for all of your wonderful comments. I’m already neck deep into Thanksgiving cooking and baking, and you have all given me some delicious new ideas.

The winner was selected using a random number generator, and that lucky reader is…

(…can we have a drum roll please…)

Mark from Ohio!!!

(Congratulations Mark! I will be contacting you shortly via email with your gift card information. I hope this gift card helps you build your own kitchen arsenal.)

Thanks again to all who participated. Stay tuned for more great giveaways here on Jacob’s Kitchen!!!

Happy Thanksgiving! I hope you have a wonderful holiday surrounded by all of the people that you care about most. Thanks for stopping by. I’ll be back again later in the week to give you my Thanksgiving recap.

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Project Food Blog: In Memorium

Well kids, I had a good run. Unfortunately, while I would have loved to make it all the way to the end, I have not advanced to the next round of Project Food Blog. But just look at how far we’ve come together.

This competition forced me to examine and define exactly what this blog is all about, and taught me so much about photography, and step by step photos, process shots, and great blogging. It definitely raised the bar around here. So instead of feeling sad, I am choosing to feel very proud that my humble little blog was able to make the top 48 out 2000 of the best bloggers in the world. That’s not too shabby, if I do say so myself.

I cannot even begin to thank you all for your amazing support, encouragement, and kind words. They have meant the world to me. Thank you for your votes, your comments, and for taking time out of your busy lives to stop by now and then to see what kind of mischief I’m stirring up in my kitchen.

I will be back up again and blogging more consistently right after Thanksgiving. But in the meantime, here is a look back at some of the great times we had together throughout the competition. . .

(…cue sad but triumphant music…)

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