Friday, March 30, 2012

Asparagus and Cheese Tart

In the April 2012 issue of House & Home magazine, a recipe for roasted asparagus and cheese tart caught my eye. I love asparagus and this tart seemed like the perfect way to welcome spring. It is as delicious as it is pretty. We had my husband's mother over for Sunday dinner and I made this to have with homemade split pea soup. It was my first experience with puff pastry, so I was a little concerned that it might be a disaster. But I was pleasantly surprised to find that puff pastry is actually quite easy to work with. I will note that the recipe doesn't say anything about flouring the work surface and dough, but when my rolling pin started to stick, I ran for the flour. I lightly dusted both sides of the pastry and the parchment paper surface with flour and no more sticking. This tart makes a lovely, light supper with salad or soup. It would be perfect for brunch as well. Enjoy! 
Ingredients to make one tart:
3/4 lb. thin to medium-sized asparagus, tough stalk ends snapped off
1/2 tablespoon olive oil
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
1 sheet frozen puff pastry (thawed 30 to 40 minutes at room temperature)
1/2 package Boursin cheese, garlic and fine herb flavor
1/2 cup grated Gouda cheese
1 egg, beaten with a touch of water to make an egg wash

1) Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. In a bowl, toss asparagus with olive oil, salt and pepper. Set aside.

2) Dust a large piece of parchment paper lightly with flour; unfold the thawed puff pastry onto the parchment, and dust pastry lightly with flour. Using a rolling pin, carefully roll out the pastry into a rectangle, roughly 10" x 15" or 11" x 14" (mine was about 11" x 12" which worked perfectly). Transfer pastry to a baking sheet. Using a paring knife, score a line around the perimeter of the pastry, about 1" in from edge, to create a border (do not cut all the way through). Using a fork, prick the dough all over within the border; this part will remain flat during baking while the border puffs up.

3) Crumble the Boursin cheese within the border, then sprinkle the gouda on top. Arrange asparagus in a single layer evenly over the cheese. Lightly brush tart border with egg wash.

4) Bake tart until asparagus is tender and pastry is golden brown, about 20 minutes. Let cool briefly before slicing. Serve warm or at room temperature.

The next time I make this, I will alternate the asparagus tips so each side of the tart has some tips and some stalks, rather than line them up with the tips all on one side, as shown below. I didn't even notice I had done this until my husband pointed it out.

An egg wash along the border makes a beautiful golden brown crust.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Split Pea Soup

Here's a delicious, easy and healthy recipe for vegetarian split-pea soup adapted from Everyday Food. I cut the amount of water, green bell pepper and onion and added fresh parsley. Below I've noted what the original recipe calls for so you can choose how you'd like to make it. Enjoy!

Split Pea Soup

 3 cups dried split peas, rinsed and picked over
1-1/2 pounds (about 3) russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2" pieces
7 carrot sliced 1/2" thick (3 cups)
1 green bell pepper cut into 1/4" pieces (recipe calls for 2 peppers, 2 cups diced)
1 medium onion cut into 1/2" pieces (recipe calls for 2 onions, 2 cups diced)
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/3 cup fresh, flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped (my addition)
Salt and pepper

1) In a large pot, combine split peas, potatoes, carrots, green bell pepper, onion, garlic, thyme and parsley with 3 to 3-1/2 quarts of water (recipe calls for 4 quarts, but I preferred it with less water).

2) Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat, partially cover, and simmer, stirring occasionally until peas have broken down and liquid has thickened, about 45 minutes. Skim foam from the surface as needed. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add water if needed.

You can freeze this soup in single-serving, microwave-safe containers; defrost at room temperature and pop it in the microwave to heat.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Phoebe's Big Adventure

Last weekend, while I was caught up in a frenzy of spring cleaning, my husband took Phoebe to the lake for a big adventure. They hiked through the woods, paddled around in the canoe, waded in the water and caught some fish. Phoebe got to sniff each fish her daddy caught and watched with great interest as he released them back into the water. Phoebe is great in the canoe. She doesn't fidget too much. She likes to sit and look around, taking in the scenery. She just loves being outdoors.

Phoebe will be 13 in April, but she has as much energy as a dog half her age. After several hours of hiking and boating, she came home all perky as if to ask, "What's next?" She keeps us on our toes, this one!

Friday, March 16, 2012

Irish Coffee Cupcakes

Being half Irish, I like to celebrate St. Patrick's Day in some way each year. When I was growing up, my mother would always cook a traditional Irish corned beef dinner with boiled cabbage, carrots and potatoes. We'd enjoy our supper while listening to our favorite Irish music on the stereo -- The Chieftains. Nothing stirs my soul like the sound of traditional Irish music! When I was young, I vowed to one day visit the beautiful land where my dad's family came from. I haven't made the trip yet, but one day I will.

In place of a traditional Irish supper (since we don't eat beef), I now look for other foods to prepare in recognition of St. Patty's Day. Last year I made Irish soda bread for the first time. It was delicious! This year, I saw a recipe on Martha Stewart's website that caught my eye: Irish Coffee Cupcakes. Not a traditional Irish food, but an interesting take on an Irish beverage. 

Last night I made a batch. The batter uses instant espresso powder to give the cakes a rich coffee flavor. The frosting is whipped cream, lightly sweetened and spiked with whiskey! Here's a tip: don't overwhip the cream, like I did. The frosting should be a softer consistency so it spreads more easily (see the photo on Martha's site). Also, I doubled the amount of whiskey to two tablespoons. One tablespoon didn't seem like enough flavor. You can find the recipe here. Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Find the recipe here and if you make them, let me know what you think. I'd love to hear your opinion.

Friday, March 9, 2012

A Pottery Collection, Part Two

I'd like to thank those of you who left comments on my last post about our pottery collection. I'm glad you found it interesting! To continue with our tour, I'd like to show you a few more pieces around our home.

In the dining room is a vintage secretary in which we store glasses, serving pieces, candles and place mats. On top are three pottery pieces in shades of brown, rust and green. The tall vase on the right was my mother's. The other pieces my husband and I bought. The birdhouse is something we fell in love with at a Habitat for Humanity auction. I just adore its rust-colored wood, metal roof and copper accents. This birdhouse is intended for decorative use only (sorry, birdies).

I love this little handmade creamer and honey pot, above.

Below is a 6.5" tall Ironstone pitcher marked Royal Staffordshire Pottery, Wilkinson Ltd., England. I think this may have belonged to my grandmother. It's been around a while, but I'm not sure of its age.

This next two bowls were gifts from my friend, Rhoda. The green bowl is the perfect size to hold a knitting project. It sits on a mid-Century Danish teak side table (one of three stacking tables that were my parents') so I can pick up my needles and knit whenever the mood strikes.

This lovely porcelain bowl by artist Paddy McNeely in Seattle has a matte, almost-black finish. I love decorating with black accents. The pinecones add that touch of nature I'm so fond of. 

This long, blue dish sits on my dresser in the bedroom. Its elongated shape and vein-like pattern remind me of a leaf, which brings an organic, nature-inspired feeling to the room.

And lastly, this little blue vessel on my desk holds pens, pencils and scissors. Thanks for joining me on part two of this pottery collection tour! If you like vintage pottery by McCoy, Hull and others, check out this post, and if you like Roseville pottery, see this post.

Friday, March 2, 2012

A Pottery Collection

When decorating, I lean toward earth tones and an organic, natural look, which is why I love pottery. I gravitate toward shades of green -- and there's a lot of green in our house. Come take a look at some of my favorite pieces of pottery.

When I found the tall, vintage vase below in a little shop, the pussy willow branches were displayed in it and I think that's what sold me. But I had to talk the owner into including the pussy willow branches with the vase. I love bringing touches of nature into the house, and these branches look so perfect in the vase! The shorter green vase just to the left of the tall one is a favorite piece. I love its shape and rich color. The piece in the foreground adds a touch of blue to the mostly green palette. The picture frame holds a couple of photos of me with my Mom and aunt.

The tall green vase below is an antique piece of Weller pottery that is housed on our mantel. It is a prized piece of American art pottery. The other pieces are new. I recently moved the plate from the dining room (it goes perfectly with our Sherwin-Williams Pennywise walls) to the living room. I like to move pieces around from time to time to give rooms a fresh look. 

Below is a mid-century pottery lamp that had belonged to my parents. I can see how some people might find it ugly, but I adore it! It's been around longer than I have. The original lampshade was a drum shade covered in blue yarn (I know!). It had long since been replaced with a pleated shade that didn't complement the style of the lamp. After searching high and low, I finally found this drum-style lampshade. I think the fabric's color and crosshatch design complement the lamp beautifully.

The two pieces below sit on our tall antique reproduction bookcase. Beside them are a pair of carved wooden figures and a vintage shoe tree. Placing these objects on top of the bookcase draws the eye upwards.

I'll wrap up our little tour in the dining room, where in the spring I like to display this low, green bowl that we purchased at a crafts fair years ago. We have many more pieces of pottery around the house. Would you be interested in seeing more? Let me know!

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