A Veggie Melt That’s So Tasty You Won’t Even Care That It Kind Of Falls Apart When You Eat It

 

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No substitutions are allowed for this sandwich. Switch out the Colby Jack for cheddar? You wouldn’t dare. Use a pita instead of pumpernickel bread so the filling stays intact? Blasphemy. Leave out the sprouts? We can’t be friends anymore.

Seriously, I’ve tried doing all of those swaps and it’s just not the same. The worst experiment was making over-stuffed closed-faced sandwiches instead of smaller open-faced ones. Going Dagwood-style is a guarantee that you will end up with a large glob of avocado/veggie goo plopping onto your lap. Even with the open-face, no matter how you stack the veggies or even layer in some extra sprouts for grip between the tomatoes and cucumbers, eating this sandwich is kind of like playing Jenga with your food. You’re never quite sure if the next bite is going to make it fall apart or not. I need J. Kenji López-Alt to fix my veggie melt problems.

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I dunno, maybe I just have some serious cognitive dissonance going on here and I’m only convincing myself that this sandwich is top-notch because, well, I wouldn’t keep making it and going through the hassle of tucking runaway mushroom slices and pepper strips back under the cheese if it weren’t exceptionally good, right?

But really, when you have tangy, toasty pumpernickel bread… Some tomato-on-mayo action… Summer-ripe peppers and cucumbers… Sautéed mushrooms for extra umami… Let’s not forget the avocado…. A healthy handful of sprouts for crunch… And a delicious cap of melty cheese to top it all off… How could it not be worth the messiness? The only way you could go wrong would be by wearing white while you eat it.

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Note: If you’re only planning on making 1 or 2 sandwiches at a time, still cook all of the mushrooms and peppers in advance. Everything else can be freshly prepped as needed.


A Veggie Melt That’s So Tasty You Won’t Even Care That It Kind Of Falls Apart When You Eat It

makes 8 open-faced sandwiches, serving 4

  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil (maybe more)
  • 1 container (8-10 oz.) cremini mushrooms, stems removed, caps sliced
  • 1 large garlic clove, minced
  • 1 red bell pepper, sliced lengthwise into thin strips
  • 8 slices pumpernickel bread
  • 2 medium to large tomatoes
  • kosher salt
  • 1 medium cucumber
  • 1 avocado, mashed with a generous pinch of salt
  • a couple of thin slices of red onion
  • alfala sprouts
  • 8 slices (about 1 oz. each) Colby Jack Cheese, each cut diagonally in half
  1. In a medium skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the mushrooms and sauté until they’ve released their juices and the juices have mostly evaporated. Add the garlic and stir until just fragrant, about a minute. Spoon the mushrooms into a bowl and return the skillet to the burner.
  2. If the pan is dry, add a little more oil. Add the red pepper strips and sauté until tender and bendy.
  3. Turn the over to 350º and toast your bread while you prep the other veggies.
  4. Cut the tomatoes so you have 8 slices that are about 1/4″ thick. Cut each slice in half diagonally. Sprinkle with salt and let them hang out on a paper towel while you finish prepping.
  5. Slice the cucumber crosswise into 3″ logs, and then lengthwise into 1/8″ slices. Then, cut the slices in half again lengthwise to make strips. Sprinkle these with a little salt too.
  6. Crank the oven up to broil. Take the toasted bread and spread each slice with a little mayonnaise. Top each with 2 halves of sliced tomato, and then alternate the cucumber and pepper strips on top of the tomato. Carefully spread the mashed avocado on top of the cucumber and pepper, and then layer on the mushrooms, pressing lightly so that they stick to the avocado. Finish each sandwich with a little bit of sliced onion, a generous mound of sprouts, and 2 halves of Colby Jack. Use a sharp chef’s knife to cut each sandwich in half diagonally. This is important. If you leave the cheese slice in 1 piece and try to cut the sandwiches after they are toasted, putting a knife through the melted cheese will take down the sprouts and make a landslide of your carefully layered veggies.
  7. Place the sandwiches on a baking sheet and broil until the cheese melts. Serve immediately.
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Tomato Toast

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Move over, avocado toast. (But don’t leave me forever! I still love you.) The Brandywines and Cherokee Purples have arrived, and they’re taking over breakfast duty for a while.

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Unlike my hot peppers and cucumbers—which I don’t think I could kill if I tried—the tomatoes have struggled this summer. They’ve suffered through miserably hot heat waves that make them wilt like tired toddlers in the middle of the day. They’ve survived weekends of neglect while I’ve been off enjoying summer travels. And the birds! If I don’t pick a tomato as soon as it thinks about maybe turning a little pink, I lose it to the vicious robins that peck it to death and leave it to bleed out on the vine. Current score: me, 9 tomatoes; birds, 6.

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Beautiful bread from Heidelberg Bakery.

So, what do you do with the opposite of a bumper crop? With my pitiful harvest, I want to make sure to fully enjoy every tomato that I’ve kept it watered in the heat, rescued from the birds, and slowly ripened on the windowsill. A few weeks ago, about to leave town for a while and not wanting to sacrifice a flawless Cherokee Purple to the compost, I sliced it up and put it on some toast with a bit of whipped cream cheese, a sprinkle of fresh herbs from the garden, and a drizzle of olive oil. It is tomato breakfast heaven, and I’ve been reluctant to use my homegrown tomatoes for anything else since. Avocado toast, we’ll always be friends, but I might not see you again until tomato season is over.

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Note: Choose the most perfectly ripe tomato you can find.


Tomato Toast

for 1 serving; can easily be doubled, tripled, etc

  • 1 medium tomato
  • 1 nice slice of good-quality whole-wheat or whole-grain bread
  • 2-3 Tbsp. whipped cream cheese (this is important; the regular kind is too stiff to spread unless you wait an hour for it to come to room temperature.)
  • 1 tsp. olive oil
  • pinch of kosher salt
  • a couple of leaves of fresh basil, thinly sliced
  • a 2-inch sprig of fresh oregano, leaves stripped and finely chopped
  1. Cut two 1/3″ slices from the tomato and let them sit on a paper towel to soak up excess liquid while you prep everything else.
  2. Toast the bread. Spread evenly with the cream cheese and top with the tomato slices. Drizzle the olive oil over the tomatoes, then sprinkle with the salt and fresh herbs.
  3. If you are vehemently opposed to refrigerating the leftover tomato—or if you just want to eat more of it because it’s delicious—I highly recommend chopping it up with a small pinch of salt and enjoying it with cottage cheese.

 

 

What To Do With Your Extra Cabbage From St. Patty’s Day: Crunchy Baked Falafel Salad (or Sandwiches)

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When I discovered that certain grocery stores sell celery by the stalk, it was a revelation. No longer would I have to purchase an entire bunch of celery just to make a recipe that called for one measly stalk. Someone was kind enough to apply the same idea to extra-large items like pumpkins and watermelons, which you can often find in plastic-wrapped halves or quarters, just in case, you know, you weren’t planning a blow-out party any time soon and were doubting your abilities to polish off 20 pounds of fruit before it went bad. Unfortunately, I’ve never seen cabbage treated the same way (maybe because it turns brown after you cut it, but still…). The only option is to get a whole head, and you’re left wondering what sort of crazy fertilizer everyone must be using because you swear the smallest head you can find is about the size and weight of a bowling ball.

So, when St. Patrick’s Day rolls around, after you’ve enjoyed a dinner of corned beef, cabbage, Guinness, soda bread, and pudding, what do you do with the rest of this forlorn cruciferous that’s taking up space in the produce bin like an unfinished beer left abandoned on the counter? Embrace spring and turn it into an essential part of your baked falafel salad, that’s what!

Whenever I go out to Lebanese or Middle Eastern restaurants, I can’t resist ordering some falafel, but I hardly ever make it at home because deep-frying isn’t something that makes the regular rotation in my house. I have tried some baked falafel recipes in the past, but they just weren’t as savory or crunchy as I wanted.

Chickpea flour and asafoetida.

So, I added a couple of inauthentic ingredients to mine: first, a spoonful of nutritional yeast, or “nooch”—even though it’s often used as a vegan cheese substitute and falafel never calls for cheese, I like the flavor it adds. I got mine from the bulk bins at Whole Foods; you can also find it online. Second: a pinch of asafoetida—also called Devil’s Dung, apparently, for how stinky it is. I had bought some from an Indian grocer a while ago, and it was indeed so smelly that I had to double-wrap the container in sealed bags to keep my husband from complaining about it every time we opened the pantry. It’s one of those odors that is 60% bad and 40% good—I honestly can’t do justice describing it. It’s like the smell of a sweaty workout after a meal that contained large quantities of garlic. I know, I know, that sounds so gross!  who would want to eat that? but just a pinch of it is delicious in falafel. Trust me.

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Mmmm, a big bowl of beaten bean water!

To make the baked falafel nice and crunchy, I generously oiled the pan and pre-heated it in the oven. I also borrowed a technique from the crunchiest crab cakes I’ve ever made and double-coated the falafel with flour (chickpea flour, natch) and then a layer of fine breadcrumbs. Instead of egg whites in between the flour and breadcrumb layers, I used the drained liquid from the can of chickpeas, beaten until it was foamy. Yeah, did you know you can whip chickpea liquid like egg whites?? I recently discovered this, and it’s pretty amazing. Some sources I’ve read call it aquafaba, which is the fanciest name for ‘bean water’ that I’ve ever heard. Anyway, let’s not let nomenclature get in the way—asafoetida or Devil’s Dung, drained chickpea liquid or aquafaba, I’ll take it if it makes my food taste better.

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To serve the baked falafel, I (try to) stuff it into a pita with loads of thinly sliced cabbage, matchsticked radishes, fresh cilantro, and tahini sauce, but I usually I go overboard on the filling and the thing falls apart. However, I recently discovered by a happy accident that it comes together great in salad form—in fact, the salad might even be better than the sandwich because you can mix everything together more evenly. Whatever you choose, don’t skimp on the toppings.



Note(s): Many falafel recipes call for using cilantro, but I prefer putting parsley in the cooked patties and adding a little handful of fresh cilantro to the salad (or sandwich). You can find chickpea flour and asafoetida at Indian grocers or online. The patties can be made ahead of time and they freeze well; they just won’t be as crunchy when you reheat them. The falafel recipe is adapted from Mark Bittman, and the crunchy coating technique was borrowed from a crab cake recipe from Epicurious.


Crunchy Baked Falafel Salad (or Sandwich)

serves 4

For the falafel

  • 1. Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 1 15.5-oz. can chickpeas, drained, liquid reserved in a medium bowl
  • 1/4 c. chickpea flour, divided
  • 1 Tbsp. nutritional yeast
  • 2 garlic cloves, microplaned or finely minced
  • 1/2 c. finely chopped parsley
  • 1/3 c. finely chopped yellow or white onion
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp. ground coriander
  • 1/2 tsp. (generous) kosher salt
  • 1/4 tsp. asafoetida
  • 1/4 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/4 c.plain dry breadcrumbs
  1. Spread the olive oil and vegetable oil evenly into a baking sheet. Preheat the oven to 375º.
  2. Pulse the drained chickpeas in a food processor until finely ground.
  3. Put the ground chickpeas in a medium bowl. Add 1 tbsp. of the chickpea flour and then all of the other ingredients except the plain dry breadcrumbs (so, nutritional yeast through baking soda). Mix well.
  4. Put your oiled pan in the oven to get nice and hot while you shape the falafel.
  5. Place the remaining 3 Tbsp. chickpea flour on a small plate or shallow dish. Divide the falafel mixture into 16 evenly-sized patties, and coat each patty in the chickpea flour, gently brushing off the excess. Set the patties aside on a cutting board as you coat them.
  6. Place the plain dry breadcrumbs on a small plate or shallow dish. Beat the reserved chickpea liquid until thick and foamy, like egg whites. Use a pastry brush to brush each patty all over with a little bit of whipped chickpea liquid, and then coat both sides lightly in the dry breadcrumbs. Set the patties aside on a cutting board as you coat them.
  7. Once all of the patties are coated in flour and crumbs, use a oven mitt! to take your hot pan out of the preheated oven. Place the patties in the pan (the oil will sizzle) and bake for about 10 minutes on each side, flipping once.

Putting it all together—do not skip or skimp on these toppings!!

  • 1/4 c. well-stirred tahini
  • 1/4 c. water
  • 1 medium garlic clove, microplaned or finely minced
  • 6 c. finely shredded green cabbage (slice it as thinly as you can) (use closer to 4 c. if you’re making a sandwich instead of a salad)
  • 8 or so good-sized radishes, trimmed and cut into matchsticks
  • 1/2 c. coarsely  chopped fresh cilantro
  • 4 pitas
  1. Make the tahini sauce by stirring together the tahini, water, and garlic. Season to taste with salt.
  2. If you’re going the salad route, first toast the pita. Then toss the fresh veggies together, place the warm falafel on top, drizzle with the dressing, and finish with pieces of your toasted pita. Make sure to get a little bit of everything in each bite.
  3. If you’re going to make sandwiches, I like to layer them: two falafels-veggies-sauce-two falafels-veggies-sauce. That way, you’re not stuck with all the cabbage at the top and all the falafel at the bottom.

 

 

Smoky Tomato Spread

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I was very tempted to proudly call this “Super Simple 4-Ingredient Smoky Tomato Spread,” but first of all, that’s a little wordy, and second of all, that would probably make me guilty of false advertising for one of the ingredients: roasted cherry tomatoes. Since I have a slight (*cough*) case of OCD about wasting fresh food, I roasted a bunch of end-of-summer garden tomatoes, and I’m still making my way through the quart-size bag of them that I stashed in the freezer back in September. But I realize that they’re not exactly a pantry staple for everyone. If you’re not a produce hoarder like me, get a pint of cherry tomatoes, cut them in half, brush with olive oil and sprinkle with kosher salt, and roast at 300° for about an hour. If you are lucky enough to already have some roasted tomatoes in your freezer, too, then winner, winner, chicken dinner! There is hardly any prep work.

This spread was inspired by two things. First, after spending about a week out of town visiting family over the holidays, my husband and I were planning on spending a quiet New Year’s Eve at home, just the two of us—until about 7:00pm on December 30th, when we decided, What the heck, let’s invite friends over! And trust me, most of the less-than-24-hours we had to prepare needed to be spent cleaning the house, so the only appetizers I was considering making were ones that were maybe one step more complicated than taking the lid off of a veggie tray. Second, in high school I worked in a sandwich / cheese shop (which went out of business long ago), and we sold something called a “smoked tomato spread” that I thought was delicious. We didn’t make it in-house, and it wasn’t exactly what you’d call “artisan”: it came pre-packaged in a little plastic tub. I have no idea what was in it, but it’s one of those things that’s been in the back of my mind for years (years) about wanting to try to recreate. It had the texture of a cream cheese spread, so that’s what I used as the base.

IMG_6044I have seen recipes that call for smoking tomatoes or other vegetables with wood chips and the whole nine yards, and—while I’m sure it turns out delicious—I am a liquid smoke fan, especially since I found out that liquid smoke is not, in fact, a vial of synthetic chemicals; it’s made by condensing real smoke. Score! It’s inexpensive, takes a fraction of the time, and actually has good flavor. I bought a bottle of it for a crock-pot pork barbecue recipe, and I have been sold ever since. It helped give the spread the flavor that I was aiming for. I served the spread with crackers and bread, and leftovers have been great on sandwiches. And now I’m doing some wishful thinking about how dynamite it would be for breakfast on an everything bagel from Bodo’s…

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Smoky Tomato Spread

makes a little over a cup

  • 3/4 oz. sun-dried tomatoes (the dry-packed kind, not the oil-packed; shockingly, Whole Foods sells them for a good price)
  • 1 oz. roasted cherry tomatoes
  • 8 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 1/2 tsp. liquid smoke
  1. Boil a cup of water and pour it over the sun-dried tomatoes. Let them soak for 15 minutes, and then remove them from the soaking liquid and use a paper towel to pat them as dry as you can. Discard the soaking liquid or use it for something else.
  2. Finely mince the sun-dried tomatoes and the roasted cherry tomatoes.
  3. Put everything in a food processor and blend until smooth. Add salt to taste, if desired. I found that it didn’t need extra salt because both tomatoes already had some added.
  4. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes to let the flavors blend.

 

Potato Cakes (and Garlic-Mashed Potatoes)

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Question: If you’re cooking dinner for just you and your significant other, do you really need to make two full pounds of mashed potatoes? Answer: Definitely. Because then you are guaranteed not to eat them all, which means you get to have potato cakes for breakfast on the weekend. Maybe even for two days in a row.

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I rarely cook something with the intention of making a specific dish with the leftovers. Sure, I’ll do a big batch of soup and plan on eating some now and freezing the rest, or I’ll throw together a sandwich with whatever we need to use up, but these potatoes cakes… The teacher in me freely admits that there was some backward design involved. My desired goal was potato cakes. My method of getting there was volunteering to cook dinner and then purposely making way too many mashed potatoes.

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I have been craving potato cakes since Thanksgiving weekend, when I made them for my family on Friday morning and they turned out disappointingly mediocre. They stuck to my parents’ stainless steel pan, and they were kind of goopy. Was the problem the pan? The potatoes? I’m not Alton Brown, so I couldn’t tell you for sure, but my hunch is Yes and Yes. What I can tell you for sure is that the combination of a well-greased griddle pan plus my garlic-mashed potatoes works great for potato cakes.

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The garlic-mashed potatoes I make contain no milk or cream; instead, I use sour cream and cream cheese, plus a little bit of Dijon mustard and a lot of roasted garlic. They are tangy and creamy and on the stiffer/drier side. As in, they would be able to hold their shape if they were served with an ice-cream scoop in a school cafeteria. In my book, that simply means that they’re just right on the night that you make them (want to sculpt a mashed potato mountain with a gravy lake? go for it), and they’re the perfect texture for making potato cakes a few days later.

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Once you’ve made the mashed potatoes, the only thing left to do is add some sautéed onion (I think a little texture is nice) and snipped chives (it’s pretty) to your leftovers, shape your cakes, and avoid turning up the heat to cook them faster because you’re so excited about eating them. They go great with fried or poached eggs and a cup of coffee.

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Note: The pictures are from the first batch of potato cakes that I made, which were thicker than my second batch. The recipe below will give you thinner cakes, which have a better crunchy-outside-to-creamy-inside ratio.


 

Potato Cakes:

makes 4, serving 2

  • 2 1/2 tsp. butter, divided
  • 1/4 small yellow onion, finely chopped (about 1/3 c.)
  • pinch of kosher salt
  • 1 c. leftover garlic-mashed potatoes (see recipe below)
  • 1 Tbsp. finely chopped chives
  • 1 1/2 tsp. olive oil
  1. Heat 1 teaspoon of the butter in a small non-stick pan over medium heat. Sauté the onion with the pinch of salt until the onion is soft and translucent but not brown, about 5 minutes. Turn down the heat if the onion starts to cook too quickly.
  2. Thoroughly mix the cooked onion and chopped chives with the leftover mashed potatoes.
  3. Heat the remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons of butter with the olive oil in a medium griddle pan or non-stick pan over medium heat. Meanwhile, shape the potato mixture into 4 patties, each about 3″ in diameter.
  4. When the griddle is hot, cook the patties until golden brown, flipping once, about 3-5 minutes per side. They can be a hard to flip, so lift them up a little to make sure the bottoms are brown enough, and when they’re ready, really shove your spatula under there. Serve immediately.

 

Garlic-Mashed Potatoes:

makes enough to serve 2 generously and then have leftovers for 2 batches of potato cakes on Saturday and Sunday

  • 1 whole head garlic
  • olive oil
  • 2 lb. Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 1″ chunks
  • 3 T. cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 2 T. sour cream, at room temperature
  • 2 T. unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 tsp. smooth Dijon mustard
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • salt and pepper to taste
  1. Preheat the oven to 4ooº. Slice the top 1/2″ or so off of the head of garlic. Place it on a piece of aluminum foil, drizzle with a little olive oil, and seal the foil tightly. Roast for about 45 minutes, or until the garlic is soft. (Now is a good time to take the cream cheese, sour cream, and butter out of the fridge.) Cool slightly.
  2. Bring the potato chunks to a boil in a pot of salted water (salt it like you would pasta water), then turn the heat down to maintain a low boil and cook until fork-tender, about 10 minutes. Drain well. I usually shake them around in the warm pot again after I drain them, just to make sure they’re nice and dry.
  3. Mash the cooked potato chunks with next 5 ingredients (cream cheese through kosher salt) and the cooled roasted garlic—just squeeze the head of garlic, and the soft roasted cloves will come out of their skins where you chopped the top off; no need to peel individual cloves. Add more salt if desired and freshly ground pepper to taste.

 

When Life Gives You Jalapeños, Make Jalapeño Kettle Corn

Here’s what not to do with a glut of particularly-spicy garden-grown jalapeños: Stuff them like bell peppers (but with taco-seasoned beef, cheddar cheese, and onions—sounds ok, right?!) and try to serve them as a main dish. No amount of sour cream will tame the fire.

So what do you do with an aggressively healthy jalapeño plant? After the failure of the stuffed-pepper experiment, I had two main ideas: 1) Make a bunch of pickled jalapeños. (But what would the advantage of that be, besides simply being able to put off figuring out how to use them? I’d still be stuck with all of the jalapeños, only in a less-versatile pickled form.) 2) Give them away to friends and coworkers. (But come on, that’s such a joke; it’s like when your parents bring you old crap that they don’t want anymore because they don’t want to throw it out and they’re hoping that you’ll have a use for it. I’m not going to make other people responsible for getting rid of my jalapeños. They might be happy to have heirloom tomatoes and fresh herbs from the garden, but no one is going to get excited about a homegrown jalapeño. You save all of 20 cents and it tastes exactly like the supermarket kind.)

And then I discovered a solution after spending a weekend in Canaan Valley with some friends. While we were there, we went to the Brew Skies Festival, where the beer was good, but the jalapeño kettle corn from Almost Heaven Kettle Corn was downright addictive. As in, they ran out of it and we begged them to make more because the two bags that we’d already polished off were not enough. Like all kettle corn, it was salty and sweet, but it was also a little spicy, and every couple of handfuls had a few slices of crunchy, cooked jalapeño. I came home on a mission to recreate it with the peppers from the garden.

One of my friends asked the vendor if they wouldn’t mind sharing the recipe, and they said that they use both pickled and fresh jalapeños, and that they cook the popcorn in the oil leftover from frying the jalapeños. I tried cooking pickled jalapeños and didn’t enjoy the texture, so I just stuck with all fresh ones. I also found that slicing the jalapeños fairly thinly helps them say crunchier for longer after you cook them. Not that it takes that long to eat a batch, but just in case you’re trying to prep it ahead of time for a cookout or something, you know.



Note: Jalapeños can vary in their heat level, so try one of yours before you begin. Also, you could reduce or increase the sugar by up to a tablespoon to suite your tastes. Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that my husband is a stovetop popcorn fiend and swears by Orville Redenbacher kernels.


Jalapeño Kettle Corn

makes about 5 cups, or 2-4 servings

  • 1 cup 1/8″-thick slices of fresh jalapeño (about 3-4 jalapeños); no need to remove the seeds
  • 1/4 c. vegetable oil
  • 1/4 c. popcorn kernels
  • 3 Tbsp. sugar
  • scant 1/2 tsp. table salt
  1. Turn on your oven vent if you have one. If not, be prepared to start coughing when you cook the jalapeños.
  2. Line a plate with a double layer of paper towels.
  3. In a medium skillet over medium-high heat, heat the oil until hot but not smoking. Add the jalapeños and stir constantly until nicely browned, about 6 minutes. Keep an eye on them and turn the heat to medium if they are coloring too quickly; once they get going, they cook fast. Think of it like cooking bacon: you want the slices dark but not burned, so that they get crispy after they cool down. As soon as the jalapeños are browned, remove them with a slotted spoon and place on the paper-towel lined plate to drain. Take the pan off the heat, but do not throw out the oil that’s left in the pan.
  4. Once the oil that’s left in the pan has cooled a little bit, strain any seeds out of it, and then measure out 2 Tbsp.
  5. In a cold medium saucepan with a well-fitting lid, stir together the 2 Tbsp. of jalapeño cooking oil that you reserved, the kernels, the sugar, and the salt. Put the lid on the pot and turn the heat to medium-high. When you hear the kernels start to pop, start shaking the pot occasionally (hold the lid on while you do this) in order to evenly distribute the sugar and prevent the popcorn from burning. In between shaking, set the pot back down on the burner. When the popping slows down, pour the popcorn out into a large bowl and let it cool for a few minutes. It will get crispier as it cools.
  6. Taste a cooked jalapeño slice to see how spicy it is, and then add as many of them as you want back into the kettle corn. (I used all of them.)
  7. The kettle corn is best when it’s freshest and should be eaten within an hour or so of being made; the jalapeño slices may lose their crispness after much longer than that.

French-Style Tomato Tart (with an option for Homemade Puff Pastry)

Given: Nostalgia can make food more delicious. When you reminisce about that amazing dish you had in New Orleans (and let’s not be mistaken, it was one of the best restaurant meals you’ve ever had), the memory of its taste, plus all of the positive associations of being on vacation, plus the consciousness of the fact that you probably won’t go back there again any time soon, if ever—all of it just comes together to have this crazy synergistic effect on your recollection of how good it was.

That’s Dijon, not butter.

This memory-enhanced taste perception isn’t unique to dining out on special occasions. It also happens at home when you make things that are inextricably connected to other experiences: the warm fuzzies turn a great recipe into an exceptional one. Homemade biscuits (irresistible!) are my dad insisting that they needed to be cut 1/2″ thick while cooking on one of our rare but cherished “breakfast for dinner” nights. Amelia mud pie (a chocolate ice cream and Kahlua combination in an Oreo cookie crust; not the same as Mississippi mud pie) is summer family birthday get-togethers when my mom was in charge of dessert. Bourbon and ginger ale is decorating the Christmas tree while listening to John Denver’s Rocky Mountain Christmas album. And so on.

This tomato tart is having dinner in the backyard of a friend of a friend in France, being shocked that something so simple could taste so good, and wishing that I had a cute little garden with outdoor lights. (12 years later, mission accomplished on the garden.)

Store-bought puff pastry works perfectly well in this recipe, and the only things that top it are Dijon mustard, sliced tomatoes, salt and pepper, and (if you live in France) a certain type of cream poured straight out of the container—something in between whipping cream and sour cream. Pourable, but not thin. I scrounge together my own version with half-and-half, sour cream, and whipped cream cheese. With the addition of cream cheese, I hesitate to even call this tart “French-style,” but I like its flavor, and it gets the mixture to the right consistency.

This was my first attempt at made-from-scratch puff pastry. I got the recipe from a French website and didn’t change much except converting the metric measurements to US standard and clarifying the rolling/rotating process. Out of curiosity, I weighed my completed pastry and compared it to Pepperidge Farm puff pastry. The French website says that it serves 8, but according to the Pepperidge Farm box—which claims that one serving is 41 grams—I had nearly 14 servings on my hands. Ha!

For the puff pastry, you essentially make a simple dough of flour, salt, and water, and then fold it around a rectangle of pounded butter. This little package of dough-wrapped butter gets rolled out and tri-folded a grand total of 6 times, et voilà. There is a lot of resting in the fridge (3 1/2 hours total), so it takes a while from start to finish, but it’s not overly complicated.

If you’ve got a few hours to spare and some other things to do at home while it’s resting, it doesn’t feel so time-consuming. If, like me, you’re trying to figure out how to avoid wasting all of the garden tomatoes that seem to be ripening at the same time and are eager to use more than the 3 or 4 piddly ones called for in this tart, while your puff pastry dough rests it’s a great time to roast some cherry tomatoes or blanch, peel, and freeze the beefsteaks for later.



Note: I’ve found that this recipe works best with plum/Roma tomatoes since they’re less juicy, but it works okay with other tomatoes as well, as long as you seed them first.

The puff pastry recipe is adopted, barely, from this recipe for pâté feuilletée from Le Journal des Femmes.


French-Style Tomato Tart

I wanted this to serve 4, but let’s not kid ourselves; 2 people can take it down easily

  • 2/3 sheet of Pepperidge Farm puff pastry, defrosted OR 1/4 batch of homemade puff pastry (see below)
  • 1/2 lb. tomatoes, preferably plum/Roma (about 3-4 medium) (see note)
  • 1/2 Tbsp. sour cream
  • 1 Tbsp. half-and-half
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp. whipped cream cheese (the whipped kind can be blended straight out of the fridge; sub the regular kind at your own risk)
  • 1 Tbsp. smooth Dijon mustard
  • kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  1. Preheat the oven to 400º.
  2. Slice the tomatoes 1/4″ to 1/3″ thick, sprinkle lightly with kosher salt, and place on a double layer of paper towels to drain while you prep everything else.
  3. In a small liquid measuring cup, whisk together the sour cream, half-and-half, and whipped cream cheese until relatively smooth. It’s ok if it’s a little lumpy.
  4. Flour your work surface and roll the puff pastry into a square that’s about 9″ x 9″. Place directly onto a baking sheet.
  5. Brush the pastry with the Dijon mustard, leaving a 1/2″ border. Arrange the tomato slices evenly on top and then pour the half-and-half mixture evenly over the tomatoes. It’s not going to completely cover the whole thing; I usually just make a spiral starting in the center. Sprinkle lightly with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper.
  6. Bake for 12-15 minutes, or until the crust is deep golden.
  7. Cut with a pizza cutter and serve immediately.

Homemade Puff Pastry

serves 8 (according to the French site) or almost 14 (if you go by Pillsbury’s serving sizes)

  • 13 Tbsp. (1 stick + 5 Tbsp.) unsalted butter
  • 2 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 c. water, plus a little more
  1. Cut the full stick of butter in half crosswise, wrap all 3 pieces of butter in plastic wrap, and flatten gently with your palm or a rolling pin until it’s more or less in the shape of a rectangle. Refrigerate until ready to use.
  2. Whisk together the flour and salt in a large bowl. Make a well in the center and add the 1/2 cup of water. With your fingertips, incorporate the flour bit by bit until you have a ball. If necessary, add a little more water so that the dough comes together. It will be very shaggy; that’s ok. Cut an X in the top, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 30 minutes to an hour.
  3. Flour your work surface. You can be generous with the flour. Take the chilled ball of dough, unwrap it, and flatten it out with your palm, then use a rolling pin to roll it out into the shape of a cross. Leave the center part a little thicker than the rest.
  4. Take your chilled butter out of the fridge, unwrap it, and place it in the center of the cross. Fold over the arms—left, right, top, then bottom—to completely enclose the butter.
  5. Add more flour to your work surface as necessary. Roll out the dough away from you, trying not to let any butter escape and making a rectangle 3 times as long as it is wide. Rotate the whole thing a quarter turn (90º) clockwise. Fold into thirds, starting with the left and then the right. Try to line up the sides nicely and keep an even shape. Add more flour if you need, then roll it out away from you again into a rectangle 3 times as long as it is wide, rotate it a quarter turn clockwise, and fold into thirds, starting with the left side and then the right. The first two turns are now complete. Mark the upper right-hand corner by putting a dent in it with your finger, wrap the whole thing in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes but ideally an hour.
  6. Repeat step 5 two more times, including refrigerating after the last time you fold it. When you take the dough out of the fridge, be sure to start with the mark you made in the upper right-hand corner of the rectangle.
  7. The dough is now ready to be used. After folding the pastry for the last time, I cut the whole batch into 4 squares. They kept in the fridge (well-wrapped in plastic wrap) for a few days, and also worked great after being frozen and then defrosted.