Tasty Tarts: Your New Go-To Dinner

 

If your Pinterest page is full of great ideas that you just don't have time to make, you'll be relieved to know that cooking doesn't have to be about recipes at all. Instead, all you need are some basic skills, a chef’s knife and a knowledge of what flavors work well together to make a meal that is original and delicious.

For a simple meal that's low on skill and high on adaptability, try making a dinner tart. It's a classic blend of pastry, vegetables and cheese that creates a filling meal with nearly endless possibilities for its flavor profile. And it's super easy to make.

Getting Started With Puff Pastry

You don't have to be a pastry chef to make this: Frozen puff pastry sheets are your friend! Let the pastry dough thaw for 30 to 40 minutes before you're ready to use it so that you can unfold it easily -- it should still be cold when you work with it.

Place the dough on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet to prevent sticking. Repeatedly prick the center section with a fork, leaving an inch or two of crust around the edges untouched. This will create a center section of dough that won't puff up as much as your crust as you bake.

Choosing Your Filling

Creating your filling is the fun part! In general, you're looking to create a 3:1 ratio of vegetables to cheese to layer over the center section of your puff pastry. You don't want to weigh down your tart too heavily, so add about a quarter-inch thickness of filling.

It's possible to make this dinner tart with whatever's lying around your house, but putting a bit of thought into your flavor combinations will guarantee a good result. In general, pair a strong cheese with a strong vegetable and milder cheese with milder veggies:

Strongly Flavored Vegetables

Milder Vegetables

  • Arugula
  • Beets
  • Broccoli
  • Garlic
  • Onions
  • Peppers
  • Swiss chard
  • Tomatoes (heirloom)
  • Baby spinach
  • Bok choy
  • Carrots
  • Celery
  • Eggplant
  • Parsnips
  • Potatoes
  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Tomatoes (greenhouse)
  • Zucchini
  • Strongly Flavored Cheeses

    Milder Cheeses

  • Blue cheese
  • Cheddar (sharp)
  • Goat cheese
  • Gruyere
  • Parmesan
  • Smoked Gouda
  • Brie
  • Edam
  • Colby-Jack
  • Mozzarella
  • Muenster
  • Queso blanco
  • Swiss cheese
  •  

    Adding the Flavor

    You can season your tart with simple salt and pepper to allow your ingredients to shine, or you can come up with delicious new combinations of flavors on your own. How can you tell if two ingredients will taste great together? A good rule of thumb is that if it grows together, it goes together. This means that seasonal items like summer tomatoes taste great with warm-weather herbs like basil, while winter squash goes well with hardy herbs that can survive a frost, like sage and thyme.

    You can also think regionally to figure out which herbs and spices to add to your tarts. A tomato and cheese tart with flavors inspired by Mexican cuisine will taste very different from one dressed up in Italian herbs. Here are some hints to get you started:

    • Asian: Ginger, mirin, soy sauce
    • French: herbs de Provence, parsley, thyme
    • Indian: Cumin, curry powder, turmeric
    • Italian: Basil, olive oil, oregano
    • Mexican: Cilantro, cumin, lime


    Putting It Together

    To build your tart, roast root vegetables and steam greens until soft, and drain well to remove excess water. Slice thinly or chop into a filling you can layer easily over the puff pastry, adding your chosen seasonings to taste. Once you spread your filling onto the pastry, layer thin slices or shavings of cheese on top. Bake for 10 minutes at 425 degrees, or until the crust puffs up and browns. Garnish with fresh herbs or greens, cut into squares with a pizza cutter and serve hot.

    Savory dinner tarts are a great way to experiment with new ingredients and flavors as you build your cooking skills, and it's a lightning-fast dinner to keep in your arsenal.

    Other articles:

    Why Cook with Coconut Oil?

    Coconut oil is all the craze — but its nutritional and culinary benefits are anything but new or trendy.

    This nutrient-dense and delicious oil is also incredibly versatile, making it a winning choice. Whether you're whipping up a batch of dark chocolate coconut cookies or a Thai-inspired stir-fry, every chef and home cook should have this oil on hand.

     

    Benefits of Cooking with Coconut Oil

    Before you invest in a jar of coconut oil, ask yourself — why would I choose this oil and how will it benefit my meals and, in this case, health?

    There has been some controversy over the years, but based on scientific evidence, as well as some incredible case studies of inhabitants of Kitava, it's clear that coconut oil deserves a spot in our homes and kitchens.

    Nutrition

     

    For years, coconut oil got a bad rap based on its saturated fat content. For those aiming to watch their heart health, this high-fat oil was considered a little risky. Over the years, however, a number of studies have shown that this oil actually enhances your health — including neural and cardiovascular functions.

    Within one study, published in the Indian Heart Journal, heart disease patients were assigned to cook with either sunflower oil or coconut oil. At the end of this study, despite the fact that coconut oil is around 90 percent saturated fat, there were no differences in relation to blood lipid levels (the amount of fat found in blood).

     

    In addition, coconut oil:

     

    • acts as an alternate source of energy for the brain
    • prevents heart disease by impacting HDL, or "good" cholesterol, levels
    • reduces inflammation and balances blood sugar
    • boosts immune function

    Versatility

     

     

    If you're looking for vegan or dairy-free options while cooking and baking, coconut oil can act as the perfect alternative. Being both creamy and fragrant, it's an ideal ingredient to use within a wide range of dishes and cuisines.

    The main benefits of cooking with coconut oil include, but are certainly not limited to:

     

    • its relatively high smoke point
    • its level of stability (does not turn rancid easily)
    • its consistency and fat content, allowing it to replace butter, lard or shortening, providing a delicate flavor and enhanced health benefits
    • its ability to complement a wide range of flavors, such as sweet potatoes, roasted vegetables, fish, eggs, chocolate and more.

    What Can I Make with Coconut Oil?

     

     

    From sweet to savory, many recipes complement this distinct flavor. Here are some of our top tips for when you want to experiment with this rich, healthy oil:

    • Looking to jazz up your toast? Instead of butter, spread coconut oil on some dark rye, then top with sliced avocado, a poached egg and salsa. Get in there with your knife and fork!
    • Why not slip a spoonful of quality coconut oil into your morning smoothie? It's a great flavor to complement dark leafy greens, low-glycemic fruit and Greek yogurt — it will even help balance your blood sugar. For those who reach for a cup of coffee in the morning instead, coconut oil complements a cup o' joe beautifully.
    • Air-popped popcorn is the perfect snack — but the standard toppings of butter and salt can get boring. Instead, pop your kernels using coconut oil, then top with a dusting of your choice — cinnamon, cayenne, dark chocolate shavings or whatever else you fancy. Don't be afraid to get creative.
    • Homemade chips sound tricky to make but can't be beat. Using a sharp knife, carefully slice potatoes or any root vegetables, drizzling with coconut oil before baking at 375 degrees F for around 15-20 minutes. Sprinkle with sea salt and rosemary.
    • Whether you're looking for a quick snack or complementary breakfast ingredient, homemade granola can't be beat. Make your own creation, using coconut oil to bind and bake ingredients such as oats, seeds and nuts.
    Happy cooking!
    Sources

    http://linkinghub.elsevier.com/retrieve/pii/S0019483215008299?via=sd&cc=y

    https://sciencebasedmedicine.org/what-can-we-learn-from-the-kitavans

    https://www.finicutlery.com/blogs/news/choosing-the-right-cooking-oil

    Michael's take on Mediterranean Cuisine

    I grew up on Mediterranean cooking myself, but never thought of it in the way my partner, Michael, so eloquently puts it in his new cookbook, "Live to Eat, Cooking the Mediterranean Way." So, I thought I would share verbatim a small portion of what captivated me. Enjoy...

    FOOD DEFINES ME AS A PERSON. IT ALWAYS HAS. AS THE SON OF GREEK immigrants, I grew up in a home where preparing and enjoying meals was among the most important times of the day. I went out to become a chef and run several restaurants, and so I've quite literally relied on food for my livelihood and thus my life. But over the years, I began to use food as a method to cope and surrender, mourn and rejoice, avoid and confront. I unknowingly started to hide behind it, and use it in ways that went beyond nourishing my body and soul. My weight fluctuated like crazy: At any given time, you could tell how stressed or overworked I was just by how heavy I was. But then I would lose those extra pounds when things leveled off. How could something that had brought me so much joy, fame, and success become the very thing that I would struggle with for almost two decades?

         I wrote this book because I needed a plan. I didn't want to be on a diet, because the word diet connotes one thing: deprivation. I don't know anyone who enjoys longing, especially for food. It's no surprise that diets fail. The Mediterranean diet, however, refers to healthier approach to eating, one in which food is prepared using intensely flavorful, inherently healthful ingredients that satisfy. It is almost as simple as that. The thing that separates the Mediterranean diet from others--and will keep you eating well and improving your health--is that it just tastes good.

         For me, it only seemed natural to revisit the eating habits of my forebears, whose meals were based heavily on vegetables and fruits, whole grains, legumes and nuts, and healthy fats like olive oil. The Mediterranean diet emphases herbs and spices to flavor food, and features more fish and poultry than red meat. Pasta, that great American dinner fallback, is always a side dish---the portion size is meant as an accompaniment, not as a centerpiece of the meal. Drinking red wine in moderation is also part of the plan--as is enjoying the preparation and sharing of meals with family and friends. This last part, to my mind, is key.

         I hope you enjoyed this little excerpt.

     

    The Delicate Art of Cooking With Salt

    Cooking with salt is like wielding a magic wand. The secret is in knowing when and how to use it. And for a beautiful presentation, the wise cook also considers the unusual colors and shapes of sea salts.

    Because of some interesting chemical processes, salt causes tasty things to happen to food. Salt draws moisture out of veggies and enhances flavors. It makes spices more effective. Foods like carrots become sweeter -- since salt eliminates bitterness -- which is why some people add a pinch when making coffee.

    Obviously, just tossing some table salt into or onto food isn't going to cut it. Salt has to be added throughout the cooking process for the chemical miracles to take place. And you should keep tasting to avoid over salting. The idea is to bring out the flavors, not the saltiness.

    Using the Right Salt

    For cooking, you should use kosher salt instead of table salt. The bigger crystals make it easier to control how much you're adding. Also, it's usually not iodized, so you get a purer, true salt taste.

    That being said, table salt is perfect for brining meat, since it dissolves quicker than the big kosher crystals and you can add more of it. It's also more effective in things like pasta water, where the food is going to be drained.

    Exotic Salts and When To Use Them

    These salts are the real showstoppers of fine cuisine. They're called "finishing salts" because the large crystals come in unusual shapes, sizes and colors, adding a shimmering touch to the presentation. Shapes can be pyramids, delicate flakes or large crystals, and they really stand out.

    Odd as it sounds, exotic salts, used sparingly, are sensational when sprinkled over desserts like cake, cookies, ice cream, berries and fruit. Chocolate and caramel flavors explode when just a few salt crystals are added on top.

    • Himalayan Pink is the most popular finishing salt. The large crystals are mined from ancient salt deposits in Pakistan. The colors range from white to deep red, but the most popular are shades of pink. It's also cut into slabs to cook fish and meats in the oven, and can be frozen or chilled to serve with ice cream or fruit for a slight thrill of salt. Peruvian Pink is another popular pink salt mined from prehistoric mountain deposits.
    • Persian Blue contains a bit of sweetness. The blue crystals in the white come from naturally compressed rock salt.
    • Hawaiian Salt is red or black, depending on the natural minerals formed in it. Red "Alaea" salt contains red volcanic oxides. The black version gets its color from activated charcoal.
    • Kala Namak, mined in India, is a pinkish-gray that looks black, with a sulphuric scent. It's perfect for Southeast Asian cuisine.
    • Fleur de Sel (Flower of Salt) is the queen of salts, a white or pinkish flake salt harvested by hand from salt evaporation ponds in the Guerande region of France. It can only be produced once a year, and each area of the region produces its own flavor.
    • Smoked Salt is made by coating salt crystals with smoke from various woods such as oak, juniper, and cherry and oak wine barrels, resulting in a strong, smoky flavor. Smoked salts are particularly good over potatoes and vegetables.

    Make Your Own Exotic Salts

    Although you can't change the crystal shape of plain kosher salt, you can flavor it with spices or herbs. First, toast or grind your spices, then mix them with kosher salt and let them sit for a few hours. You can also mix salt with sugar or sweet spices such as ground vanilla beans or cloves.

    Remember: Cooking with salt isn't unhealthy. It's the increased amount of salt added to almost all processed food that causes concern. Don't be afraid to experiment with these exotic salts and enliven your cooking!

    Choosing the Right Cooking Oil

    Any home chef who's experimented with a vinaigrette knows the right oil can enhance or ruin a dish. For salads or garnishes for cold-cut veggies, an oil's weight and distinct taste might prevent the meal's natural flavors from emerging.

    Likewise with cooking, each oil has distinct properties that give cooks many culinary options. Health-conscious eaters should check the types of fat and smoke points of their oils in order to optimize nutrients. Each oil has its own aromas and flavors, which your palate will notice when it's time to take a bite.

    What Should You Look for in a Cooking Oil?

    Cooking oils are often rich in polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats. Oils are healthier than butter or lard, which are high in saturated fats, linked to heart disease and high cholesterol.

    However, an oil pushed past its smoke point loses nutrients and flavor. While you can't change the type of fat in an oil by heating it, you can lose many of the health benefits you may be looking for. Keep in mind that sautés and stir-frys will heat your oil up to between 350 and 450 degrees Fahrenheit, so choose an oil with a smoke point beyond 400 degrees.

    Olive Oil

    There's a big difference between "light, pure" olive oil and extra-virgin olive oil. Extra virgin is the oil from pressed olives, rich in heart-healthy antioxidants called "polyphenols." However, this oil has a low smoke point of 325 degrees, so it's best to just drizzle it on your cooked veggies.

    Light olive oil undergoes chemical treatment after extraction. It doesn't have the same polyphenols, but it has a much higher smoke point of 465 degrees. If you want to cook, you might choose light olive oil. To taste the oil's rich, buttery flavor in your fresh, green salad, choose extra-virgin oil.

    Coconut Oil

    Coconut oil is a relatively new addition to the cooking-oil canon. Although it's very high in saturated fat -- a whopping 90 percent versus 64 percent in butter according to the Harvard Health Letter -- it seems to raise levels of healthy cholesterol. While the jury may be out on whether coconut oil is healthy for regular consumption, it's great for roasting and dairy-free baking. Its smoke point is 350 degrees, giving a mild coconut flavor.

    Corn Oil

    Most commercial kitchens use corn oil because it's quite cheap and doesn't overwhelm any specific flavor. It's common for frying and has a manageable smoke point of 450 degrees. When you buy "vegetable oil" at the grocery store, it's often a combination of corn, sunflower, soybean or canola oils.

    Canola Oil

    Canola oil is a nice compromise option for chefs who want some health benefits of oil and the versatility of a high smoke point. Canola is rich in heart-healthy Omega-3 fatty acids and has a smoke point of 450 degrees. Since most canola oil is refined, it doesn't have olive oil's antioxidants. To maximize the health benefits with a milder taste, combine canola and olive oil at a 1:1 ratio to make salad dressing.

    Grapeseed

    Another oil with a mild flavor, grapeseed is useful for salads and cooking. Its smoke point of 420 degrees makes it appropriate for stovetop cooking and oven roasting. The light taste means any additions to your salad dressing, like herbs, will pack more of a flavorful punch.

    As you experiment in the kitchen, make note of what works for your favorite dishes. Often a slight modification can make your dishes extraordinary, whether it's choosing to dilute olive oil with canola in salads or swapping out corn oil for canola in order to get the Omega-3 fats to support your heart health. Make your own special oil combinations to make your meals extraordinary.

    Source List:

    • http://www.bonappetit.com/test-kitchen/ingredients/article/types-of-cooking-oil
    • http://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/features/healthy-cooking-oils-buyers-guide#1
    • http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/02/02/what-cooking-oil-to-use_n_6574336.html
    • https://recipes.heart.org/Articles/1013/Healthy-Cooking-Oils
    • http://www.eatingwell.com/healthy_cooking/healthy_cooking_101_basics_and_techniques/what_is_the_best_oil_for_cooking
    • http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/health-and-fitness/ask-a-health-expert/does-using-olive-oil-for-frying-create-trans-fats/article15808171/
    • http://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/coconut-oil

    How to Choose the Best Produce Every Time!

    Sure, having an abundance of available produce to choose from is a wonderful thing. But when you find yourself at the grocery store or farmer's market, staring at heaps of tomatoes and pyramids of avocados, you may feel more daunted than grateful. How do you choose the freshest and most flavorful produce for tonight's dinner?

    It's always a safe bet to avoid produce that is bruised, dented, moldy or in contact with other moldy items. Beyond that, different produce has different signs of ripeness and quality. When in doubt, ask a produce clerk or farm-stand worker for advice: they're typically happy to share their knowledge.

    Vegetables

    • Asparagus: Stalks should be firm but pliable and bright green. Choosing between thin and thick stalks is a personal choice; thick ones have more nutrients, but some people prefer the texture of thinner asparagus. Pick asparagus of uniform thickness so stalks cook evenly.
    • Avocados: Technically a fruit, avocados are nonetheless typically found with vegetables. Look for avocados with smooth unblemished skin, but don't depend on color alone, as different varieties have different shades. Hold an avocado in the palm of your hand and gently squeeze. Ripe ones will have some give, similar to the texture of a ripe peach.
    • Broccoli: The best broccoli is bright green and the florets are very compact.
    • Corn: Run your fingers over a cob of corn to feel the kernels. You want to feel full, plump kernels and no empty spots. The silky tassel at the top of the cob should be light brown and wet, not dry or black.
    • Greens: Lettuce, kale, spinach and other leafy greens should have firm leaves and even color. You can wash off a little dirt and sand at home.
    • Peppers: A single pepper may have some variation in color, and that's normal. The most flavorful peppers have deep, rich color, and they should have smooth, firm skin.
    • Squash: While the best squash has a rich color, it's okay if a squash has a lighter patch where it once rested on the ground - however, that patch shouldn't be green. Pick a squash that feels heavy (compare squash of similar sizes to get a sense of their average heft) and has a dry, intact stem.
    • Tomatoes: Ripe, flavorful tomatoes are heavy and have deep color. Give their stems a sniff, and pick tomatoes that have a sweet smell.

    Fruit

    • Apples: Think about what you're going to use apples for when considering your options. Golden Delicious, Honeycrisp and Pink Lady apples are great for baking. Honeycrisps are also good apples to eat raw, as are Cortlands, Fujis and Jonagolds.
    • Bananas: It's easy to get this right. Just pick bananas that are bright yellow to eat right away, or greener bananas if you want to eat them in a few days.
    • Berries: Gently turn a container of berries around in your hands to examine it from all angles. You want berries that are brightly colored and plump. If the container is stained with color, the fruit may be overly ripe.
    • Grapes: Fresh grapes have firm, green stems. Look for a bag free of any brown, shriveled grapes.
    • Melons: In melon varieties that have a netlike texture, such as cantaloupe, the netting should be thick and well defined. These melons should smell sweet at their "belly buttons," the place where the stem was once attached. The color underneath the netting should have an orange or gold tint, not green or white. Smooth melons, like watermelon and honeydew, should also have rich color. The skin of a honeydew and the discolored patch on a watermelon should be a creamy yellow, not green. Thump a watermelon with your hand and listen for a thud, or shake a honeydew and listen for rattling seeds: these are signs of ripeness.
    • Pineapples: A ripe pineapple is yellow-orange, has unwrinkled skin, crisp green leaves and a detectable sweet smell.

    FINI Cutlery Blog: Eggs Five Ways!

    With an impressive amount of protein and a wide variety of uses, the egg has become a staple of many a breakfast dish. In fact, eggs have been a source of food for living creatures as far back as history is recorded. Looking for tips on preparing these timeless classics? Read on for five ways to make a perfect egg.

    1. Hard-Boiling

    It can be tricky to perfect a hard-boiled egg. Luckily, there are many simple tips and tricks for getting it just right.

    1. Use older eggs to ensure they separate easily from the shell once cooked.
    2. You want to use a fast, roiling boil (so hot that bubbles are rising rapidly and you can hear the sound of the water boiling), not just a simmer.
    3. Place the eggs in an ice bath until cooled. This will ensure they don't have that unseemly gray skin around the yolk.

      2. Scrambling

      A good scrambled egg can be a great start to the day. In order to make a perfect scramble, try these techniques:

      1. Heat a generous amount of butter in your pan to add a great flavor.
      2. Crack the eggs directly into the skillet, as opposed to whisking them ahead of time.
      3. Use a rubber spatula to break the yolks, and slowly fold the eggs as they heat.
      4. Try adding a drop of creme fraiche or Greek yogurt to lighten them up and add a slight tang!

      3. Poaching

      Whether on its own or over an English muffin, a poached egg is a delightful and delectable breakfast treat, with a touch of class. Try this poach approach!

      1. Use fresh eggs for a perfectly tight poach -- older eggs tend to separate much more easily.
      2. Add a generous amount of white or rice vinegar to your pot of water to help the egg come together quickly.
      3. Don't bring the water to a full boil, as it will break the fragile egg apart! Instead, aim for a rapid simmer.
      4. Crack your egg ahead of time into a small bowl or ramekin, then gently shift it into the water from there to avoid a long, hard fall into the pot.
      5. Stir the simmering water until it has a moving whirlpool in the middle, then gently ease your egg into the "eye of the storm" to help it form correctly.

      4. Over-Easy

      A good over-easy egg can be the perfect companion to a crunchy piece of toast. Get it just right with these tips:

      1. Like poaching, you don't want to break the eggs directly into your hot pan. Instead, carefully crack them into a small bowl and ease them onto the hot pan to avoid breaking the yolk.
      2. There is no need to flip an over-easy egg. A best practice is to simply cover the pan with a lid so the heat moves over the top of the yolk. More seasoned cooks can try to move the hot butter or oil over the yolk instead.
      3. Speaking of butter or oil -- be generous! Trying to lift a perfectly cooked egg off a pan that hasn't been greased enough is a recipe for disaster.

      5. Omelet

      There's nothing like an omelet to get you going, especially one stuffed full of heart-healthy veggies. Here are some tricks for a perfect breakfast omelet:

      1. An omelet is one egg recipe that calls for whisking the eggs ahead of time. Beat your eggs with a little bit of milk for the perfect amount of fluffiness.
      2. Because the egg needs to cook enough to be folded over, make sure you generously grease your pan (or even use a nonstick pan) to avoid a breakfast catastrophe!
      3. While it can be tempting to include a multitude of fillings, try not to over-stuff the omelet. This can make the omelet difficult to fold over and lift from the pan.

      Whether you like a soft, runny egg or a light, bright scramble for breakfast, cooking the perfect egg doesn't have to be hard! Use these tips for a great start to your day.