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I sat daydreaming in front of recipes for several hours today, overwhelmed by the freedom I have gained after completing my exams. What will I cook, I asked myself, unsure of what to do since until recently my cooking was restricted by time and what was in the fridge. I was overwhelmed with the decision of what to cook, yet I yearned to create something.

I came across a few savoury tarts, and made up my mind. Tonight’s meal would be simple, a goat cheese tart with red peppers and a green salad. I could hardly wait to get the ingredients, and get the tart in the oven so that the apartment would be full of delicious aromas when my partner G. came home from class.

Goat Cheese Red Pepper Tart

Ingredients

1 savory shortcrust pastry

2 large shallots, finely sliced

1 Tbsp butter

Pinch salt and pepper

1 small package plain goat cheese

1 egg

1/8 tsp nutmeg

Pinch salt and pepper

2 pieces of prosciutto (optional)

1 red pepper, cored and sliced into thin rounds

1 Tbsp honey

Directions

Prepare the shortcrust pastry and let rest at least 30 minutes in the refrigerator. Meanwhile, slice the shallots finely. Heat butter in a frying pan over medium-low heat, and sauté the shallots until they become caramelized, stirring occasionally, around 15 minutes. The key is to cook the shallots slowly as it allows them to caramelize without burning. Once ready, season lightly with salt and pepper and set aside.

Wash and core the red pepper and slice it into thin rounds. Set aside.

Whisk together egg and goat cheese until smooth. Add the nutmeg and the salt and pepper. Let stand while you roll out the pastry between two sheets of wax paper, and place in a buttered pie shell or tart pan. Crimp the edges with with your fingers or a fork, and prick the base of the shell with a fork.

Spread the goat cheese mixture over the bottom, then sprinkle half of the caramelized onions. Slice the prosciutto (if you want to make this with meat) and drop the pieces evenly over the goat cheese mixture. Top with the red pepper rounds, and then drizzle the honey over top.

Bake at 350 for 35-40 minutes, until the pastry is golden and the red peppers cooked. Remove from oven and allow to cool. Sprinkle the remaining half of the caramelized shallots over before serving. Serve this tart with a large and simple green salad. This tart would be great for a simple weeknight meal (especially if you make pastry in advance and store it in the freezer like I do), or would be a lovely piece to take over to a friend’s potluck dinner party, as it does not require reheating!

Enjoy!

-Sitelle

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 With Christmas lights sparkling on the street, I was recently inspired to make a fancy Christmas desert.  It is a truth universally acknowledged that The Three Tarts Bakery makes some of the most divine tarts in Ottawa, and one of my particular favourites is their white chocolate cranberry pistachio tart.   This tart recipe, which infuses orange zest in the shortbread crust, looked like it could challenge The Three Tarts’ recipe – both for taste and for prettiness.  The added hint of citrus reminded me of oranges in my stocking on Christmas morning, the cranberries of turkey dinner, and the pistachios of eating nuts around a fire.  I could not have hoped for a better Christmas desert.
The tart exceeded all expectations: creamy and smooth, the sweetness of the white chocolate was balanced beautifully by the tartness of the cranberries, the nuttiness of the pistachios, and the zestiness of the shortbread crust.  I’ll have to find another excuse to make this again over the holidays!

 

White Chocolate Cranberry Tart with Toasted Pistachios
(1 10-inch tart: serves 12)

 

Ingredients:
TART PASTRY
1 1/3 cups all purpose flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 egg yolk
2 Tablespoons whipping cream
Finely grated zest of one orange

 

WHITE CHOCOLATE FILLING
4 ounces shelled unsalted pistachios (or a generous 1/2 cup)
1 cup fresh or frozen cranberries
3/4 cup whipping cream
12 oz white chocolate, finely chopped or white chocolate chips
1/4 cup butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 ounce bittersweet chocolate
Splash of milk

 

Directions:
TART PASTRY
Cut the butter into the flour and sugar until the mixture resembles coarse oatmeal.  Whist together the egg yolk, whipping  cream, and orange zest together, and combine with the flour until the dough clings together.  Pat into a disc, wrap, and chill for 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Roll our tart pastry on a floured surface and transfer to 10 inch tart pan.  Trim edges. Cover with parchment paper and weigh down with beans or pastry weights. Bake for 15 minutes, remove the pie weights, and bake for 10 minutes more, or until golden. Remove the tart shell from oven and allow to cool.

 

WHITE CHOCOLATE FILLING
Shell pistachios and toast if necessary.  Blanch cranberries in a large pot of boiling water.  Shock the blanched cranberries in an icebath and allow to dry on paper towel.
In a small saucepan, bring the cream to a boil.  Add the white chocolate, wait a minute, and then stir until incorporated.  Add the butter and stir until smooth; avoid over-stirring since it will result in air bubbles in the tart.
Randomly scatter the pistachios and cranberries in the tart shell, and carefully pour the white chocolate cream filling overtop until the fruit and nuts are completely covered.  You will have a little extra chocolate cream filling left over.
Microwave the bittersweet chocolate in a small splash of milk for 45 seconds.  Stir until smooth and the chocolate is completely melted.  Dribble the dark chocolate over the tart.
Refrigerate for at least four hours or overnight. One hour before serving, remove the tart to allow it to soften and enhance the flavours.  Cut with a hot dry knife.

 

Bon appetit!
– Catherine

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Coconut turnovers

I have gone coconut crazy. I guess that means nostalgia has kicked in. These days I can’t wait to get home and play in the kitchen, recreating what I learned and experienced not long ago throughout Central America. Today, I took a holiday back in Hopkins, Belize, which spontaneously came up after I began what I thought would become a raspberry tart, but ended up as a most delicious coconut turnover. If you’re in Belize looking for these coconut turnovers, you’ll have to ask  for Coconut Crusts instead, as they’re known locally.

These dainty snacks are made by mothers and grandmothers throughout Belize. In Hopkins, Coconut Crusts often came my way by young girls who would fill up a big tub with their mothers’ pastries, place them on their heads, and come through the village purposefully looking for anyone vulnerable to their sweet-tooth. In me, they quickly found a loyal customer, and those girls were great saleswomen. After they sold me my first pastry, they had my name down flawlessly, and greeted me every day thereafter with a joke. It was the best thing I tasted all day, and from that day forth, I looked forward to seeing that large tub walking towards me, on top of a small girl, with a huge grin on her friendly face.

The lore of Coconut turnovers does not stop there. After all, where do they come from, and how are they made? I discovered that these were not found in the village of Hopkins, Belize, but also elsewhere as well. I must say, however, that even though I tried a good number more, I was never able to find any as good as those from Hopkins, which were always warm out of the oven, over-stuffed, and sold with friendly smiles.

To make these, I learned, you need a coconut of certain ripeness. Then you must crack it open, enjoy the water, and begin shredding the flesh carefully, not touching any of the brown bits near the husk. It is of absolute importance that this be done carefully, I was told. So I took notes feverishly, hoping that one day I could attempt this recipe again.

Although my equipment  and ingredient were not at all adequate (my kitchen lacks a proper coconut grater), I managed to make-due. The result: these absolutely delicious coconut turnovers, as well as coconut tarts which I made with the left-overs.  Both of these recipes are inspired by what I learned about cooking in Hopkins, although they are mostly my own renditions. If you are looking for some Caribbean love, or just a unique dessert to take to a dinner party, I highly recommend these.

Coconut Turnovers

Ingredients:

-1/2 quantity of sweet shortcrust or  puff pastry
-1 whole coconut
-1/3 cup mixed brown and white sugar
-2/3 cups cold water
-1 vanilla bean or 1 tsp vanilla extract
-1 egg yolk
-1 tsp milk

Directions:

Make the pastry in advance, and refrigerate as a rolled-out sheet. In the meantime, grab a large and heavy knife and unwrap the coconut. Holding the coconut firmly on its side over a bowl, hit the coconut forcefully on its middle with the back of the knife (not the sharp side). Do this a few times, slowly rotating the coconut, until it cracks. Drain the coconut water and enjoy. After the coconut water break, continue cracking the coconut with the back of the knife until it basically breaks apart along its middle. Using a sharp but strong knife, slice into the flesh and remove it in chunks. Rinse any debris.

Peel the skin off the coconut flesh, and grate the coconut into a bowl (a microplane is best, when a true grater is not available). After this, heat the water, sugar, and vanilla in a frying pan and bring to a boil for 3 minutes. Add the shredded coconut, stir, and then turn the heat off.

Preheat oven to 375F.

Roll the pastry out to 1/8 inch thick. Cut 12 circles about 3 to 4 inches in diameter (or use a round cookie-cutter or large mug), and place on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Place one spoonful of the coconut mixture on one side of each pastry circle. Fold the circle in half, and pinch the edges like a dumpling to hold the filling in.

Separate the egg yolk into a small bowl (I always reserve my eggwhites by keeping a jar of frozen whites in the freezer and then I make meringue). Add the milk to the yolk, and stir. Brush the tops of the Coconut Crusts with this mixture, and then cook for 20 minutes approximately, or until golden on top.

Cool on a rack and serve warm with a glass of milk or a ginger soda.

Coconut tarts

To make the tarts, simply follow the instructions for coconut turnovers up to where you roll the dough out in circles. At this point, place each circle on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, and then use a scrap of dough to make a border around the outside of the small tarts. Then place a spoonfull or two of the coconut mixture on top, and brush the egg-yolk mixture on top of the pastry border. Bake for around 20 minutes.

These tarts are also amazing with puff pastry instead of shortcrust pastry. I have been working on making it at home, but it’s not perfected yet and is definitely easier to just use store-bought puff pastry.

I hope you enjoy this bite of Belize!

-Sitelle

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