Savoury beet tartlets

Nothing like plunking a few dice of freshly cooked beets and a crumble of goat cheese into a pastry tart to watch the colour slide and ebb through an egg custard creating these beautiful little appetizers that are almost too pretty to eat.

But you will gobble them up for they pop on the palate even louder than their good looks show off on the platter. 

This is super easy to prepare if you use frozen pie tartlets.

It’s also easy to make your own dough in a food processor.  I like to keep a chunk or two of dough on standby in the freezer, ready to defrost and be at the ready.

David is our in-house pastry chef.  He has the light touch and uber patience needed to create a flaky pretty crust. He also gets the mechanics of lattice work for our Thanksgiving apple pies and stencils actual maple leaves on top.

Wrong season.  We are celebrating summer now and these tartlets require different pastry skills.  David rolled out the dough to 1/8thinch thinness, then cut circles using a small bowl. Each circle is dropped gently into the muffin cup then folded into a rustic round. No crimping. No braids. It helps if each tart has a little ledge, climbing up and over the muffin cup’s edge to hold in all the contents.  

Once you have the pastry ready to fill the tartlets, this project’s flavour is all about the beets and fresh herbs.  Beets are best if you can yank them out of your garden, clean under the garden hose then submerge in hot boiling, salted water. Unlike a stored beet, garden fresh will cook up in half the time. 

Please remember, basil is a beet’s best friend. I like to tuck a chiffonade into every beet salad I compose and was pleased with how complimentary it is as both an ingredient and garnish for these tartlets. 

Beet, Basil and Goat Cheese Tartlets

If making pastry is not your “jam”, use frozen pastry tart shells instead. These pretty little things are perfect for summer appetizers al fresco or weekend brunch.  

 

All Purpose Food Processor Pastry

2 cups        all purpose flour

¼ tspsalt

¾ cup         unsalted butter, cold, cut into pieces

½ cup         ice water, approx.

 

Filling

3 small beets, boiled until tender, cubed

150 g goat cheese, crumbled

3 eggs

1 cup homogenized milk

2 TBS chopped fresh chives

2 TBS chopped fresh basil 

Salt and pepper

 

Combine flour with salt in food processor and pulse to mix. Add butter and whirl on high for 15 seconds or until butter is the size of peas. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add water. Whirl on high until dough clumps. Transfer to a large piece of waxed paper. Form the crumbly dough into a firm mound, about 8 in diameter. Wrap and refrigerate at least 4 hrs before use. 

 

Preheat oven 425 F

 

Whisk together eggs, milk, chives, basil, salt and pepper in a 4 cup liquid measure. 

 

Divide the chilled dough in half and return remaining half to fridge, wrapped well. 

 

On a lightly floured counter roll out the dough. Use an empty bowl with a 4 ½ inch diameter to cut rounds. Gently nestle each round into a muffin cup. Divide beets and goat cheese equally among the tarts. Pour in egg mixture. 

 

Bake in middle of the oven for 20-25 min or until interiors have puffed and pastry is lightly golden. 

 

Serve warm, garnished with fresh basil and edible flowers like nasturtium, chive or borage.

A tale of two quiche

You’d think at my senior age, I’d know not to burn down my kitchen in the name of quiche.

It was a dilemma only I could manufacture. Six people were about to descend on my home for dinner. As per usual, I was running on octane, wrapping up meal prep at 60 miles an hour whilst two, deep-dish quiche peacefully baked in my oven. I remember sighing with relief as I settled the eggy creatures in my oven, calculating the expansive hour ahead. There was lots of time to get to the finish line.IMG_2765

My list was short (for me). Set the table and shake up a fresh salad dressing. Deal with a sink full of dirty dishes, wipe all the counters and set out appetizers. Whirling through the kitchen and across the dining room and back again is a dervish act I habitually spin in the nth hour.

But this time there was a catch: I smelt something.

When I peered into the oven to check on my half-baked quiche, a torrent of smoke billowed out. Oddly, butter was dripping off the crust and pooling on the oven floor, right beneath the red, hot, oven burners. I slammed shut the oven and rushed to open the sliding glass kitchen door to air out the smoke.  Mid-pull on the kitchen door, my ears were assaulted by the high-pitch scream of the smoke alarm. Instead of turning off the oven, I hit and slammed the alarm’s reset button three or four times. But it continued to wail.  I ripped the alarm right off the ceiling.

Pure manic panic flowed like a drug. I raced to my front door and commenced fanning the door back and forth like an Egyptian slave with a fig leaf – Cleopatra-style. Surely this would staunch the smoke, I prayed. Nearly hallucinating, I opened the oven again, my face assaulted by a newer, denser wall of smoke. I dipped my oven-gloved-hand into the grey mass to gently jiggle the quiche. Was it done?

IMG_2764Now who was I kidding?  Both me and my saner-self had seen the timer.  It was just 30 minutes into the one-hour bake. One jiggle of the pie sent yellow, eggy waves a coursing. Dinner for eight was doomed. If the quiche didn’t stay in the oven, despite the smoke and my concurrent mania, I’d have nothing to show for.

I was a professional, for God’s sake!

A slew of obscenities suddenly spewed from my mouth. I should have listened to my gut yesterday when I read that outlandish instruction: “Mix the pie dough by hand, pinching the fat to the size of hazelnuts with your fingertips.”

Every baker knows that hazelnuts are way too big. No wonder my rolled-out dough had huge yellow, (buttery) polka dots marring its surface like birth marks.

Like a novice, I had done what Bo Friberg deemed right on page 62 of “The Professional Pastry Chef”. I followed his Flaky Pie Dough and believed in him when he wrote “Unless you are making a large amount, always mix dough by hand.”

Wasn’t this a large amount? Aren’t these recipes for professionals, I kept wondering as I filled a huge bowl with a pound and a half of flour then laboriously broke and pinched over a pound of butter into it for half an hour to create four (count them, four) crusts.

Why had I forsaken cookbook author Bonnie Stern – with her pea-sized morsels and quick, food processor method – that had guided my pie-making career for decades?  Now a sparkling pool of fat was at the bottom of my oven, glistening ominously.

IMG_2771Despite better judgement, I continued to bake and smoke and bake, making a frenzied relay from front door to back, swinging doors madly until I saw The Flames.

At that instant, I bolted upstairs making my tenth worst decision of the day: I grabbed my plant mister. I was sliding down the stairs, arms flailing, calling out to the walls “Fire, Fire!”  when my stepdaughter Emma walked in the front door.

“The oven’s on fire!” I screamed, then yanked open the oven door, stupidly squirted water on an oil-based fire and closed the door. The flames still roared.

Resigned, I looked at Emma and said softly  “Call 911” in the calmest, most intelligent voice I’d procured in the past hour.

But no sooner did Emma reach into her purse and collect her phone did the bright orange flickering subside! Completely. We both stood staring in disbelief, waiting a whole, long minute until I opened the door, coughed through the haze and gingerly removed our dinner.

Emma opened windows. I flapped the front door.  And we laughed a smoky laugh.

IMG_2769The guests arrived 10 minutes later.  The table wasn’t set.  The salad and its dressing had to be made. The kitchen was a disaster zone: dishes, food, crumbs everywhere, not to mention the air drenched in smoke. I needed a valium but found a glass of wine instead.

“Tonight, we are dining on rare, smoked quiche,” I announced during the toast.

We dug into creamy, cheesy contents bordered by an ultra-buttery, uber-crisp crust. Not one person detected any je ne sais quoi. Several hummed about the leeks, noting their subtle sweetness.

I admit, maybe Smoky the Bear or Sparky the Fire Dog wouldn’t recommend my actions, but satiated and full, my dinner party was unanimous: those two stellar quiches were a lot better than no dinner (or house, or kitchen) at all.

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Quiche with leeks and goat cheese

  • Servings: 12, or two whole quiche
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Quiche is quick to prep (especially for visiting vegetarians) if you have a frozen crust tucked in your freezer.

2 tbsp butter

2 small leeks*, sliced

½ cup crumbled plain goat cheese OR 1 cup grated old cheddar or gruyere

4 large or extra-large eggs, beaten

¼ cup cream or whole milk

¼ tsp sea salt

Big pinch freshly grated nutmeg

Freshly ground black pepper

1 frozen, deep dish pie shell

Preheat oven 400F

In a large frying pan, heat butter at medium and sauté leeks until soft and fragrant. Remove from heat and allow to cool before sprinkling over the bottom of your frozen pie crust. Distribute cheese evenly on top. In a large bowl, whisk eggs, cream, salt, nutmeg and black pepper until frothy. Pour into pie shell, leaving at least half an inch between this liquid and the top of the crust (as the egg custard will expand and balloon over the edges if there is no headroom). Just in case, place the uncooked quiche on a baking sheet (to catch any spills)  before baking.

Bake 20-25 min or until golden brown and set. (If you see the quiche balloon or dome up during the last minutes of baking, remove from the oven immediately to prevent a split in the cooled custard.) Let it cool on a rack for 15 min before serving.

* No leeks? Substitute with ½ cup sliced shallots or onion.