Behold the sides of March


This month my blog is going to be all about side dishes. To kick off the theme, I’ll introduce the most beautiful side dish I’ve ever made. I came across this recipe for beet and goat cheese napoleons on Pinterest a couple months ago. I’ve been eating beets lately and wanted to try something other than roasting them.

While I always like to make things that taste good, sometimes I’ll take the time to make something pretty, too.

A mandolin makes slicing the beets evenly a lot easier, but it’s not a necessity. You can cut the beets with a knife as long as you keep the thickness as uniform as possible. I don’t have a biscuit cutter, so I used the mouth of a glass to make the beet slices the same shape. I saved the beet scraps and made a beet salad for lunch the next day.

I don’t have presentation rings because they’re not something I see myself using on a regular basis, so my presentation of this dish is wanting. Luckily that doesn’t affect the flavor. I expected the overall taste to have a bit of a fresh, tangy flavor to it because of the goat cheese, but the honey in the mixture made it sweeter than I had imagined, and that was a pleasant surprise.

beets2Because I was making this for myself, I made two beet towers instead of the four or so the original recipe serves. I’ve pared down the ingredients so the recipe below produces two servings. I saved the second beet tower in a bowl, covered by plastic wrap, in the fridge for two days, and it kept, though the top beet layer was slightly dry and the beet juice had stained the goat cheese a pinkish purple color. I wouldn’t keep these refrigerated for longer than that. I served mine with pork, but it could stand alone for a vegetarian meal.

Two beets, golden and/or red
5-6 ounces goat cheese, softened (at room temperature)
2 sage leaves, minced
1 tbsp chopped parsley
salt and cracked pepper
1/3 teaspoon honey
chopped pistachios, for garnish

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Wrap the beets individually in aluminum foil. Bake for 1 hour, until a knife is easily inserted into the beet. Let them cool, and peel the skin off. Use a mandolin to slice the beets about 1/4-inch thick. Use a biscuit cutter to cut out beet slice circles.

Mix the sage and parsley with the goat cheese. Add the honey and season with freshly cracked pepper and salt to taste. Put dollops of goat cheese in between layers of sliced beet, until you get five slices of beet per napoleon. Serve with the chopped pistachios on top and watercress on the plate.

Taking a tomato tart up a notch

I’ve been working a lot lately, which means I’ve been eating a lot of pasta and quick meals. After a few days of reaching for whatever was in the fridge, I was craving something healthy, something homemade, something that would leave leftovers.

After a long day at work on Wednesday, I turned on the Food Network and saw the Barefoot Contessa was making a tomato and goat cheese tart, but hers used puff pastry and I was too tired to go to the store. So I Googled it to see what other recipes were out there. That’s how I found this recipe on The New York Times.

Compared to the tomato and goat cheese tarts I’ve made before, all of which were either unremarkable or overwhelmed by goat cheese, this one made an impression. I loved the crust for it — it’s somewhere in between bread and a pie crust; crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. Next time, I might even bake herbs into it. The dijon mustard spread on the crust added an unexpected level of flavor. If you don’t like dijon mustard, try substituting regular mustard, some kind of salad dressing or just eliminating it. Or, if you only want a bit of the flavor, use half the amount called for by the recipe. This version of a tomato and goat cheese tart is more tomato than goat cheese, and I prefer it that way, Choose ripe heirloom tomatoes for really fresh flavor. They make it beautiful, too.

1 teaspoon active dry yeast
1/4 cup lukewarm water
1/8 teaspoon sugar
1 large egg, at room temperature, beaten
1/8 cup olive oil
1/2 cup bread flour
1/2 cup unbleached flour
3/4 teaspoon salt

Dissolve the yeast in the water, add the sugar, and allow to sit until the mixture is creamy, about five minutes. Beat in the egg and the olive oil. Combine the flours and salt, and stir into the yeast mixture. You can use a bowl and wooden spoon for this, or a mixer — combine the ingredients using the paddle. Work the dough until it comes together in a coherent mass, adding flour as necessary. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface, and knead gently for a few minutes, adding flour as necessary, just until the dough is smooth — do not overwork it. Shape into a ball. Place in a lightly oiled bowl, cover the dough tightly with plastic wrap, and allow to rise in a draft-free spot until doubled in size, about one hour. If it’s too cold to rise, put the oven on warm until it heats up, then turn it off and put the dough inside. It’s a gem of a trick one of my former coworkers taught me. It has saved many a bread dough from being thrown out due to frustration.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface, gently knead a couple of times, and cut into two equal pieces (or as directed in each of this week’s recipes). Shape each piece into a ball without kneading it. Cover the dough loosely with plastic wrap, and let rest for five minutes. Then roll out into thin rounds, as directed in each recipe, and line pans. If not using right away, freeze the dough to prevent it from rising and becoming too fluffy. The dough can be transferred directly from the freezer to the oven.

3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 ripe heirloom tomatoes
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
2 to 3 teaspoons fresh thyme, chopped rosemary or dried herbs
2 eggs
4 ounces goat cheese, crumbled
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Oil a 10-inch tart pan and line it with the pastry. Keep in the refrigerator while you prepare the filling.

Brush the mustard over the bottom of the dough. Slice the tomatoes and arrange over the mustard in concentric circles, overlapping them slightly. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and the herbs.

Beat together the eggs and goat cheese. Season with salt and pepper and pour over the tomatoes. Drizzle on the olive oil. Place in the oven and bake 30 to 40 minutes, until the top is nicely browned. Remove from the heat and allow to cool for 10 minutes before serving. Serve hot, warm or at room temperature.

A versatile dish for any time of day

The best thing about quiche is that you can eat it at any time of day, at any temperature and with anything in it, as long as you have a good base recipe.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with quiche, it’s a simple egg dish baked in a crust. It usually contains cheese, vegetables and meat, but is also simple enough to improvise and include only what you want. The base recipe I use is from Joy. I know I’ve posted a few recipes from the book so far, but there’s a reason it’s an American classic. I use Joy’s Pat-in-the-Pan Butter Dough for the crust and the Cheese Quiche recipe for the filling.

Gouda is my favorite cheese to use and I like to add red bell peppers, crispy prosciutto and chives to the filling. I’ve found that sauteing the vegetables and herbs ahead of time helps them cook better. If you choose to use spinach, make sure you cook it before throwing it in the filling. The general rule of thumb is not to leave the pieces of chopped vegetables too thick and not to overload the quiche — don’t use more than about 1 1/2 cups total of additions. If you use more, there may not be enough egg mixture to hold it together.

Once the quiche is done, you’ve got a meal that you can eat hot or cold at any time. It’s a good standby to have in the fridge, whether you’re expecting company or just know you won’t have time to cook during the next couple days.

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, cut into eight pieces
2 to 3 tablespoons heavy cream
1 beaten egg yolk

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Stir flour and salt together. With your hands or the back of a fork, mash butter in until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Drizzle heavy cream over the top of the crust and mix in until the crumbs look damp and hold together. Pat dough into a pie dish or tart pan. Prick crust with a fork so it won’t bubble up while cooking. Bake crust for 18-22 minutes or until golden brown. While the crust is baking, prepare the filling.

After the crust comes out of the oven, turn the heat down to 375 degrees and brush the warm crust with the egg yolk.

1 1/2 cups shredded cheese (Gouda, cheddar, Monterey Jack and Swiss work well — you can use more than one kind if you’d like)
1 cup heavy cream
3 eggs
1/2 small onion, grated
1/8 teaspoon grated or ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon white or black pepper
(1 1/2 cups total of any chopped vegetables, meat or other additions)

Sprinkle the cheese onto the crust. Whisk the rest of the ingredients together in a medium bowl until no streaks of egg white remain. Pour the mixture evenly over the cheese in the pastry shell. Bake until the filling is puffed around the sides and a knife inserted in the center comes out clean, 30 to 40 minutes. Let stand 10 minutes before slicing.