Tomato, Spinach And Goat Cheese Puff Pastry Tarts

Crisp and flaky individual tomato, spinach and goat cheese puff pastry tarts can be served as an appetizer or as a pretty side dish at your next social gathering.

tomato, spinach and goat cheese puff pastry tarts

Individual Tomato, Spinach And Goat Cheese Puff Pastry Tarts

Tomato, Spinach And Goat Cheese Puff Pastry Tarts are a delicious appetizer that you are going to love. I took them to a friend’s dinner party recently where the hostess served them during cocktails before sitting down to dinner. I was happy when I saw our friends going back for second helpings of these flaky tarts. I also prepared them on Father’s Day and the men in our family went back for more as well. I believe that I can safely say the savory pastries have been well tested and approved by family and friends.

tomato, spinach and goat cheese puff pastry tarts

A Platter Of Tomato, Spinach And Goat Cheese Puff Pastry Tarts

The individual tarts are made with store-bought frozen puff pasty, frozen spinach, a container of goat cheese and a package of small tomatoes on the vine, all bought at my local market. Being able to do the prep work ahead of time with easy to find ingredients, makes the tomato, spinach and goat cheese puff pastry tarts perfect for entertaining.

Tomato, Spinach And Goat Cheese Puff Pastry Tarts

  • 4 small tomatoes, sliced (12 slices needed)
  • 1 10 oz. box frozen chopped spinach
  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 large clove of garlic, minced
  • 1/8 tsp. more or less, freshly ground black pepper
  • 6 oz. softened goat cheese
  • 2 Tbsp. grated Pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese
  • 1 sheet (9 x 9) frozen puff pastry, thawed
  • 1 egg, whisked (egg wash)

Optional Seasoned Olive Oil Topping:

  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp. grated Pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 tsp. lemon juice
  • pinch of oregano
  • salt and pepper to taste

Slice the tomatoes, place on a rack over a tray and let drain. Blot with paper towel before assembling the tarts.

drained sliced tomatoes

Drained Sliced Tomatoes

Place the frozen spinach in a microwave safe bowl, cover and cook on high for 5 minutes. Drain and squeeze out as much liquid as possible. Sauté the garlic and spinach in 1 Tbsp. oil for a minute or two. Remove from heat and let cool. Combine the spinach, pepper and cheeses and mix well. Form the mixture into 12 round discs about 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Refrigerate until needed.

spinach and goat cheese rounds

Spinach And Goat Cheese Rounds

Thaw the pastry at room temperature for no more than 40 minutes. Unfold and place on a lightly floured surface and roll into a 9 x 12 inch rectangle. Using a pastry wheel, cut into 12 three inch squares. Staying within 1/2 inch of the edge, prick the pastry with a fork four times down the center. Dust off any excess flour from the bottoms of the squares and place on a parchment lined baking sheet. Refrigerate until needed. (To puff up properly, the pastry needs to be very cold.)

preparing tomato spinach and goat cheese tart

Preparing The Tomato, Spinach And Goat Cheese Tarts For The Oven

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. To assemble the tarts, brush the squares all over with the egg wash. Place a spinach round on each pastry square and top with a slice of tomato. Bake for 20 – 25 minutes, rotating the pan if necessary, until golden brown. Remove from the oven and brush the tomatoes lightly with the (optional) seasoned oil, if using. Serve warm garnished with julienned basil, if desired.

individual tomato, spinach and goat cheese puff pastry tart

Individual Tomato, Spinach And Goat Cheese Puff Pastry Tart

Tips:

  • I used Campari tomatoes on the vine. They were a good size to fit on the 3 inch pastry squares as you need to leave at least a half inch border or more of pastry.
  • I did not add salt to this recipe because both cheeses have salt in them. Taste the spinach and cheese mixture and season to your own taste.
  • The spinach and cheese mixture can be prepared up to two days ahead of time, covered and refrigerated.
  • I used a 1 1/2 inch biscuit cutter to form the mixture into 12 round discs. I made them early in the day, covered them with plastic wrap and refrigerated them until needed.
  • I sliced the tomatoes and put them on a rack an hour before assembling the tarts then blotted them dry with paper towels right before the tarts went in the oven.
  • The puff pastry comes in two sheets and I only used one. If you use one sheet in its original 9 by 9 inch size, you will get 9 slightly thicker tarts. I rolled the puff pastry to a 9 by 12 inch rectangle and got 12 tarts.
  • When I took the tarts to a dinner party, I started baking the tarts an hour before we left, let them cool 15 minutes then put them in paper lined, open top containers. They arrived safely and were warm and crisp when they were served with cocktails.
  • I have also made them two hours before serving. Once baked, I turned off the oven and left the door ajar until my guests arrived. They were still crisp when served at room temperature.
  • Keep in mind that the longer the tarts sit, they will start to lose some of their crispness.

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These easy to make puff pasty tarts can also be adapted to your and your guests tastes and dietary preferences. Instead of goat cheese, you could use feta or cream cheese. If you are planning a Mediterranean dinner, you might want to add some black olives to the recipe. If you would like to serve the tarts as a light meal, you could prepare the recipe, cutting the rolled pastry dough into four or six portions or make a single large tart. I do hope you try these savory tomato, spinach and goat cheese puff pastry tarts, all my friends and family thought they were delicious.

 

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Strawberry Infused Vodka

Strawberry Infused Vodka can be used to create a number of refreshing cocktails for warm summer days. Think about a strawberry vodka martini or using the strawberry infused vodka in a mojito or combined with sparking wine, sangria or lemonade to serve at your next summer social gathering.

Strawberry Martini

Strawberry Infused Vodka Martini

Fruit flavored cocktails are popular during the summer. While usually made with pureed fruit or a flavored liquor, the cocktails can also be made with homemade fruit infused vodka. When beautiful sweet, ripe strawberries are available at your farmer’s market or local grocery store, go ahead and buy a couple of pints and make strawberry infused vodka. Be warned though, their fragrance will be so sweet that it will be hard to resist eating some of them before you get home.

Sweet Summer Strawberries

Sweet Summer Strawberries

Fruit or herb vodka infusions couldn’t be simpler to make…it’s as easy as one, two, three. One, wash and cut up fruit. Two, cover with vodka and store until it reaches the desired flavor. Three, strain and create your cocktail. The same process can be used with any very ripe fruit as well as various herbs and spices. You can also use the same process with other spirits such as rum, bourbon, gin or tequila.

Strawberry Infused Vodka

  • 2 pints of ripe strawberries (either organic or unsprayed)
  • 1 750 ml. bottle vodka, your favorite vodka*
  • 2 Tbsp. super fine sugar, optional (only if the strawberries are not particularly sweet)

*The quality of your vodka is very important, you want to use a very smooth one that you would drink in a regular martini.

Rinse the strawberries and let drain. Cut the berries into quarters and place in a large container that has a tight fitting lid. Taste the strawberries, if not super sweet, sprinkle no more than two tablespoons of sugar over the berries then add the entire bottle of vodka.

Seal the container and place in a cool, dark place for at least three days and up to seven days. Each day or two, give the container a swirl. When the strawberries are white and the vodka is bright red, you know the process is complete. Strain the vodka through a strainer and then through a paper coffee filter to remove all the sediment. If not perfectly clear, filter one more time through another coffee filter. The strawberry flavor will fade unless the vodka is stored in the refrigerator or preferably the freezer. (You might be tempted to taste one of the strawberries but take my word, they have given up all their flavor to the vodka and are now totally tasteless.)

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I like to keep the strawberry vodka stored in the freezer in small containers. When making a strawberry martini, take out of the freezer and let sit until the vodka just starts to defrost then scoop out and place in a martini glass. Your cocktail glass will turn frosty and taste like a grown up strawberry Slurpee…very nice on a hot summer evening. Remember to drink with caution as the martini goes down easy.

You can use the strawberry vodka to create lots of different cocktails. Add a little to a glass of sparkling wine or use the vodka to change a classic rum mojito into a strawberry vodka mojito. Add it to a pitcher of sangria or make an adult pink lemonade using the strawberry vodka. Sweet fruit cocktails loaded simple syrups have never enticed me. However, using this homemade strawberry infused vodka with the essence and flavor of sweet strawberries in cocktails suits my taste perfectly and perhaps it will yours as well. Cheers!

 

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What Makes People Travel

What makes people travel? Whether backpacking in Europe after college, cruising to a far off exotic port or heading to a sunny beach to escape the cold, people everywhere love to travel.

Eiffel Tower, Paris France

Eiffel Tower Paris, France

If you have followed my writings for the last eight years, you know my love of travel. Our friends and even you, my readers, more or less presume that in the course of the year I will be planning a trip and it is usually to Europe.

You might wonder, what is it that makes me want to travel? I would say it is wanderlust, a “strong desire to wander or travel and explore the world”. I like to see what is down the next road, across the country or on the other side of the world. The feeling started while in elementary school studying world geography and grew stronger as each year passed. My first flight was from Texas to California after graduating high school. My first international trip was two years later on a two week guided American Express tour through Europe and since then that desire to travel has never stopped.

Monet's Home And Garden

Monet’s Home And Garden

The most visited country in the world is France and I can count myself as one of the millions of tourists who has visited, in fact I’ve probably visited France more than any other European country. Who can resist wanting to see Monet’s garden, the grand chateau of the Loire or the quaint sunny towns of Provence.

Click on any photo in this article to enjoy and see a slide show.

Many people believe Paris is the most beautiful city in the world and I think I would agree. I’ve panicked in a narrow winding staircase inside the Arc de Triomphe and yet still got to its top (convinced by my husband) to be able see across that most beautiful of cities.

Arc de Triomphe

Arc de Triomphe, Paris, France

I believe movies, tv, books and photos from travel magazines have spurred my desire to see world famous monuments like the Eiffel Tower in Paris, the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin and the Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria. How wonderful it is to actually see them in all their glory.

The Brandenburg Gate, Berlin

The Brandenburg Gate, Berlin, Germany

Neuschwanstein Castle

Neuschwanstein Castle Built by Ludwig II

I enjoy traveling to distant lands to discover other peoples cultures and how they celebrate their special holidays. We love visiting Bavaria as it still holds tight to its traditions, costumes and dance and of course, Munich is world famous for its Octoberfest celebrations.

Bavarian Folk Dancing

Folk Dancing In Traditional Bavarian Dress

Perhaps some of us travel to challenge ourselves. I have a fear of heights yet I keep planning trips to the tops of mountains. I still cringe as we encounter narrow hairpin turns on a steep mountain road but don’t be surprised when I plan another visit to the Alps.

The beauty of nature has me wanting to travel to places both far and near.

Some of us travel for adventure, while for others, it is the love of food. I enjoy trying different cuisines…whether street food in Bangkok or at a Michelin starred restaurant that has to be booked months in advance. I had my first croissant and escargot in Paris, ate delicious chocolates in Belgium, learned how to twirl pasta in Italy and decided that I didn’t care for sushi after trying it in Tokyo.

Many people travel for a change of climate. I live in Florida where the “snowbirds” flock to escape the snow and cold, returning to their northern homes when spring flowers start to bloom. We used to travel to Florida each February for some warm sunny weather.

Some of us travel to spend time with our loved ones perhaps to celebrate a special occasion. A trip to Disney or to a nearby summer lake creates family memories that will last a lifetime. We have wonderful memories of our family visiting us in Maine.

Each time I look back at the places my husband and I have traveled to, it is not surprising that I start thinking about another trip. It seems like yesterday that I was visiting the Chateau de Chenonceau gardens designed for Catherine de Medicis and Diane de Poitiers.

Chateau de Chenonceau Gardens

Chateau de Chenonceau Gardens

It has been eight years since I started Back Road Journal and I have loved having so many of you follow along on my adventures, thank you. If you are thinking about planning a trip, I do hope that my travel stories and photos might give you some ideas of where you might want to travel in the future. I hope to have you along on our coming adventures.

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The Best Potato Salad – My Mother’s Recipe

I grew up in Texas where potato salad is a staple at backyard cookouts, graduations, family celebrations and even weddings and I believe the best potato salad is my mother’s recipe.

The Best Texas Potato Salad

The Best Potato Salad Is My Mother’s Recipe

Potato salad is pretty much a blank canvas that you can prepare to your own tastes. So what is it about a recipe that makes it go from a good to great tasting side dish? Are there secret ingredients that can make potato salad special? I believe that my mother had the answer to those questions.

In Texas smoked meats and potato salad are a real crowd pleaser at backyard cookouts, graduations, family celebrations and even weddings. Texans know good potato salad and most every family has their favorite recipe but to my thinking, my mother’s recipe was and still is the best. Like many other home cooks, she used hardboiled eggs, onion, celery, and mayonnaise but what made hers special were dill pickles, some of the pickle juice and mustard. The zesty flavor of mustard and briny pickles brighten the flavor of the potato salad and goes especially well with the smoky goodness of barbecue. She did one other thing that made her recipe special and that is to “cook the potatoes in their jackets” as she used to say. She cooked the potatoes with the skin on then peeled them so they retained their nutrients and flavor, didn’t get watery and didn’t fall apart.

The Best Potato Salad - My Mother's Recipe

My Mother’s Potato Salad Made With Eggs, Dill Pickles And Mustard

My mother never measured when cooking, everything was done to taste. Like her, I usually don’t measure unless I’m sharing a recipe with my readers then I measure all of the ingredients until the flavor is just right. I like to taste as I go and you should as well. The last thing you want is bland potato salad and the potatoes you use will determine how much seasoning your potatoes will need. This recipe creates a flavorful potato salad that has a zippy taste from the pickles and mustard while the red onions and celery add a nice crispness to counter the softer eggs and potatoes.

The Best Potato Salad - My Mother's Recipe

The Best Potato Salad Is My Mother’s Recipe

My Mother’s Potato Salad

  • 3 pounds of Yukon gold potatoes, washed but not peeled
  • 1/2 large red onion diced (about 3/4 cup)
  • 2 stalks of celery, diced
  • 1 or 2 dill pickles, diced, I use Claussen’s refrigerated pickles
  • 1 c. mayonnaise, I used Duke’s
  • 5 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
  • 1 – 2 tsp. salt, to your taste
  • 1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 Tbsp. pickle juice (if needed add an addition Tbsp., one at a time, until the taste is to your liking) I needed a total of 8 Tbsp. for the potatoes I used
  • 6 hardboiled eggs, peeled (5 cubed and 1 sliced for garnish)
  • chopped parsley or dill for garnish

Place the whole potatoes in a large pot, cover with cold water by 2 – 3 inches and salt water generously. Bring to a boil then reduce heat to medium, cook at a gentle boil until tender about 20 to 30 minutes, depending on the size of the potatoes. Add additional water, if necessary, to keep the potatoes covered. Drain the potatoes and let rest on a large tray until cool enough to handle then peel and cut into cubes.

Place the potatoes into a very large mixing bowl then add the onions, celery and pickles. In a small bowl, mix together the mayo, mustard, salt, pepper and 4 Tbsp. of pickle juice. Pour over the potatoes and mix gently until all the potatoes are well coated then taste and adjust seasonings and pickle juice, if necessary. Add the cubed hardboiled eggs and gently mix. Cover and refrigerate several hours but preferably overnight for the flavors to blend. When ready to serve, taste one last time to see if any additional seasoning is required, then garnish with sliced hardboiled eggs and parsley.

Notes:

  • Use good quality waxy potatoes, I used Yukon gold.
  • Use potatoes that are firm, with no dark spots, deep cuts or sprouting eyes.
  • Try to use potatoes that are all the same size. If not, you may need to remove smaller potatoes when cooked while larger potatoes may need to cook a little longer.
  • Make sure the potatoes are cooked through. There is nothing worse than eating undercooked, crunchy potatoes.
  • Potatoes are done when a long metal skewer, fork or thin knife can slide all the way through without resistance.
  • Remember that potatoes need to be well seasoned. You may need to increase or decrease some of the ingredients so I would suggest to taste several times before refrigerating.
  • Don’t over mix or you will end up with mashed potatoes.
  • Add eggs at the end and mix gently so that they don’t completely fall apart.
  • Potato salad tastes better after being refrigerated for several hours or even better made one day in advance.
  • Garnish the potato salad with sliced hardboiled eggs, parsley, dill or paprika, if desired.
  • Depending on your taste, you can add or remove ingredients to your liking. Make the recipe your own by adding chopped bacon, sliced scallions, olives, capers or even sweet pickle relish but then again, it won’t be My Mother’s Recipe.

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Memorial Day weekend is the unofficial start of summer and backyard cookouts so I thought this was the perfect time to share this old-fashioned recipe of my mother’s with my readers. It is one of my favorite summer sides to serve with barbecue, hamburgers, hotdogs or sandwiches, it is great to take to a potluck meal for a group of friends or to serve with southern fried chicken or baked ham at your family dinner table. Tell me, do some of the foods that you love come from recipes that your mother originally made for you. My mother’s fried chicken and potato salad will always be my favorites.

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Jamaican Curry Shrimp

Jamaican Curry Shrimp brings the flavors and tastes from the Caribbean island of Jamaica into your own home. The easy recipe can be on your table in 30 minutes making it perfect for a weeknight meal.

Jamaican Curry Shrimp

Jamaican Curry Shrimp

This delicious Jamaican curry shrimp has a warm and robust flavor without being hot. It is different from Indian or South Asian curries, especially those traditionally served in Britain, because Jamaican curry powder contains allspice and has less heat than curry powders from other countries. While somewhat spicy, this recipe is not hot as it gets its taste solely from the curry powder. You can easily adjust the curry to your own heat preference by either adding some hot pepper sauce or a fresh chopped scotch bonnet or habanero pepper to the recipe if you really want to go for the heat.

While not all Jamaican curries call for coconut milk, it does add a wonderful flavor and richness to this island recipe. I like to serve this Jamaican shrimp curry, which is a little spicy and rich tasting, over rice and then garnished with sliced green onions and a wedge of lime.

Jamaican Curry Shrimp

Recipe serves two, adjust the recipe accordingly.

  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil or butter
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 Tbsp. Jamaican curry powder or to taste * see note
  • 1 can coconut milk
  • 1 tomato, chopped
  • 1 tsp. fresh thyme leaves, chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 lb. jumbo shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 1 green onion (scallion) sliced for garnish
  • sliced limes (optional)

Note: For an authentic flavor, use Jamaican curry powder. If you can’t locate it where you live, you can use Madras curry power and add some allspice but know that the flavor will be different. Instead of a yellow color, it will be darker and spicer because of the red pepper found in Madras.

Heat oil in a sauté pan over medium heat and add the onion and garlic and cook until soft and translucent. Add the curry powder, mix well, and cook about a minute. Pour in the coconut milk, stir well, and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the chopped tomato, thyme, salt and pepper and simmer for another 5 minutes. Add the shrimp and simmer in the sauce until they are firm, pink, and cooked through, about 5 minutes, depending on the size of the shrimp. Make sure to not overcook or the shrimp will be tough. Spoon the shrimp curry on top of cooked rice, if you wish, and garnish with green onions and a slice of lime.

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Jamaica is the first Caribbean island that I’ve visited where the food really impressed me. Huge succulent shrimp, known locally as “janga”, that were almost the size of small lobsters served in an upscale restaurant. Homestyle curried goat served under florescent lights at formica tables in a tiny shop where the locals ate. The most memorable meal, however, was jerk chicken that was being sold at an open air shack at a road’s edge that was recommended by a local. The chicken was smoked in a pit over pimento wood logs under a piece of corrugated roofing metal, chopped then sold by the quarter, half or full pound and eaten with your fingers. The chicken was charred yet moist, smokey and savory from the herbs and spices of the jerk seasonings. Needless to say, there was a scotch bonnet jerk sauce if you wanted to eat it like the locals…really hot. One small spoonful made your eyes water and your nose run. My curry shrimp recipe won’t do that.

When you want a quick and easy weeknight dinner, think about this Jamaican curry shrimp recipe. Served over a bed of rice with a squeeze of lime juice, it will bring the flavors and tastes of the Caribbean to your own kitchen table. Have some reggae music playing in the background, open a bottle of Red Stripe beer and perhaps this delicious curry will inspire you to start planning a tropical vacation to the island of Jamaica.

 

 

 

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Chicken Parmesan Meatballs

Chicken Parmesan Meatballs are a delicious twist on two Italian American classics, chicken parmesan and spaghetti and meatballs. Juicy chicken meatballs coated in crunchy breadcrumbs, baked with marinara sauce and topped with mozzarella cheese.

Crispy Chicken Parmesan Meatballs

Crispy Chicken Parmesan Meatballs On Fettuccine

Top your favorite pasta with these crispy chicken parmesan meatballs or use them in a chicken parmesan meatball sub or sliders. For a tasty appetizer, just make them bite size and serve the mini chicken parmesan meatballs with a side of marinara dipping sauce at your next party. Anyway you try them, you are going to say “that’s a really good meatball”.

Chicken Parmesan Meatballs

Chicken Parmesan Meatballs

For this recipe, ground chicken is seasoned with Italian herbs and parmesan cheese, formed into golf ball size meatballs and rolled in a crisp coating of panko breadcrumbs. They are pan sautéed in olive oil until golden, topped with marinara sauce and mozzarella cheese and then finished in the oven. The result is a new twist on an Italian classic that I believe you will enjoy.

Chicken Parmesan Meatballs

Recipe serves 4, adjust the recipe according.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

  • 1 lb. ground chicken
  • 1 large egg, whisked with 1 Tbsp. water
  • 1/2 c. of homemade or flavored Italian breadcrumbs
  • 1/2 c. grated parmesan cheese plus an additional 2 Tbsp.
  • 1/2 c. finely chopped onion
  • 1 garlic clove, minced or 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp. dried oregano
  • 1 – 2 tsp. chopped fresh basil or 1/2 tsp. dried basil
  • a pinch of crushed red pepper (optional)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 or 2 Tbsp. olive oil (if needed)
  • 1 c. panko breadcrumbs
  • olive oil for sautéing
  • 3 c. homemade marinara sauce or a jar of your favorite bottled sauce
  • 1/2 c. freshly grated mozzarella cheese

In a large bowl combine the ground chicken, egg, breadcrumbs, grated cheese, onion and herbs, season generously with salt and pepper and mix well. Take a small piece of the mixture and cook it then taste for seasonings. If the chicken is bland, add more salt. If dry, add 1 or 2 Tbsp. olive oil to the mixture. Refrigerate the chicken about 10 minutes then form into 12 meatballs. Place the panko breadcrumbs plus 2 Tbsp. of parmesan cheese into a shallow bowl, mix then place the meatballs into the crumbs, one at a time, and roll until completely covered in crumbs.

Coat a large sauté pan with olive oil and heat over medium high heat until shimmering. Add meatballs and brown on all sides. Transfer meatballs to a foil lined baking sheet or a large casserole dish. Top with a spoonful of marinara sauce and bake for about 10 minutes. Remove from oven, sprinkle with mozzarella cheese then return to the oven and bake until cheese melts and chicken has reached an internal temperature of 165 degrees.

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Notes:

  • You can buy either ground breast of chicken or a mixture of breast and thigh meat. The mixture will produce a slightly moister meatball than just breast meat alone.
  • Ground turkey can be substituted for chicken if you wish.
  • If the chicken mixture appears a little dry, you can add 1 – 2 Tbsp. olive oil to produce a juicier meatball.
  • Refrigerating the ground chicken mixture 10 minutes will help you form the meatballs without the mixture sticking to your hands. You can also moisten your hands with water to help keep the chicken from sticking.
  • You can just bake the meatballs in the oven until they reach an internal temperature of 165, about 30 min. but they will not be as crispy as browning them first then baking.
  • I made a quick homemade marinara sauce from one large 28 oz. can of San Marzano whole tomatoes but you can use your favorite bottled sauce if you wish.

If you have leftover meatballs, they can be reheated but they will not be crunchy like the first day. This is when the meatballs make a great chicken parmesan meatball sub. Place a couple of the meatballs in each sub roll, ladle marinara sauce over the top, sprinkle with a little extra mozzarella and bake in a 350 degree oven until they are warm and the cheese has melted. It doesn’t get much better than that…it is real comfort food.

Chicken Parmesan Meatballs

Crispy Chicken Parmesan Meatballs, Hot Out Of The Oven

Whether you have chicken parmesan meatballs with pasta, a chicken parmesan meatball sub in front of the TV for game day munching or make mini versions of the crispy chicken parmesan meatballs to serve as an appetizer next to a side of marinara sauce, I believe you will enjoy this versatile recipe…a twist on two Italian American classics.

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Shrimp and Black Bean Hummus Tostadas

Shrimp And Black Bean Hummus Tostadas, a Mediterranean meets the Southwest recipe. Crispy corn tostadas layered with black bean hummus, topped with spicy marinated shrimp and cooling cilantro yogurt sauce. A dish that’s big on flavors but healthier and lighter than most tostadas.

Black Bean Hummus Tostada With Shrimp

Shrimp And Black Bean Hummus Tostadas, Mediterranean Meets The Southwest

Shrimp And Black Bean Hummus Tostadas are a healthy, light dish that combines both Mediterranean and Southwest flavors. The tostadas start out with baked, not fried, corn tortillas that are layered with black bean hummus and shredded lettuce. Then shrimp, red onion, jalapeño peppers and cilantro are marinated in a light and tasty dressing of olive oil, lime juice, and jalapeño tabasco and piled high on the tortillas. They are then topped off with a cooling cilantro yogurt sauce. You will be happy to know that the shrimp and black bean hummus tostadas are loaded with flavor but don’t have as much fat as your typical tostadas so they are a lighter and healthier option. The tostadas are also a quick and easy recipe to prepare, making them perfect for either lunch or part of a weeknight dinner.

Shrimp And Black Bean Hummus Tostadas

Recipe serves 4, adjust the recipe accordingly.

  • 4 baked corn tortillas, recipe below
  • 8 oz. black bean hummus* see note below
  • 1 c. shredded romaine lettuce
  • 1 lb. marinated shrimp, recipe below
  •  cilantro yogurt sauce, recipe below

Spread 3 – 4 Tbsp. of hummus on each tortilla and top with shredded letter. Mound each with a 1/4 of the shrimp and top with a large dollop of yogurt sauce. Plate and serve with additional yogurt sauce on the side as a dip with tortilla chips or veggies.

Cilantro Yogurt Sauce

  • 1 c. plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 small pickling cucumber or 1/2 of a regular cucumber, peeled and finely diced
  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 tsp. lemon or lime juice
  • 1 – 2 Tbsp. finely chopped fresh cilantro or to your taste
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Lightly salt the cucumber, place in a sieve over a bowl and let drain for 10 minutes. Warm the olive oil and garlic in a small bowl in the microwave for 5 seconds (this mellows the flavor of the garlic but is an optional step) then let cool. Mix all the ingredients together and refrigerate for 30 minutes for the flavors to meld. Taste and adjust seasonings, if necessary

Spicy Cilantro Lime Shrimp*

  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • juice of half a lime or to taste
  • 1/2 tsp. green jalapeño tabasco sauce or to your heat preference
  • 1/2 tsp. cumin
  • 1/8 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt, more or less
  • 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 lb. cooked shrimp, peeled, deveined and cut into bite size pieces
  • 1 jalapeño, seeded and diced
  • 1/4 c. finely diced red onion
  • 1 – 2 Tbsp. finely chopped cilantro

*The shrimp have heat but don’t burn your mouth. You can adjust the spiciness of the shrimp up or down with how much jalapeño tabasco sauce and fresh jalapeños you use as some peppers are hotter than others. If you like a lot of heat, leave in the jalapeño seeds.

In a medium sized bowl, combine all the ingredients through the black pepper and whisk well to combine. Taste and adjust seasonings, if necessary. Stir in the shrimp, jalapeño, red onion and cilantro.

Baked Tortillas

Place 4 corn tortillas on a baking sheet and brush both sides of the tortillas with a small amount of olive oil then season with a little salt. Bake in a 400 degree oven about 5 minutes, turn over and bake for another 5 minutes (watch so they don’t burn) until brown and crispy. If you want really flat tortillas, you can place a wire cooling rack on top of the tortillas while baking.

Note: * I used Boar’s Head Hummus Southwest Style* which contains steamed chickpeas, black beans, water, roasted garlic, lemon juice, sesame tahini, sea salt, cumin, white vinegar, tabasco chili peppers and salt. (I did not receive any products or compensation for mentioning this brand. I find it to be an excellent hummus but use whatever brand you might prefer or you can make your own.)

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The shrimp and black bean hummus tostadas would be perfect on Cinco de Mayo. If you would like other ideas of what to serve, you might want to check out these recipes:

Click on any photo to enlarge and see a slide show.

Whether you are planning a southwestern style dinner for your family or for a group of friends to celebrate the Cinco de Mayo holiday, I believe any of these dishes alone or combined would be perfect. Have fun and enjoy!

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Barcelona’s Famous Mercat de la Boqueria And Kiosk Universal

If you are a lover of food, you must visit Mercat de la Boqueria, Barcelona’s most famous food market. Keep in mind that you won’t be alone, thousands of shoppers as well as tourists visit every day so plan a visit early in the day if you can. 

Mercat de la Boqueria

Entrance At Mercat de la Boqueria

My husband and I are traveling foodies and if you have been one of my readers for a while, you know that we appreciate good food whether we dine at a Michelin starred European restaurant or eat at a small clam shack along the coast of New England. When visiting a new city, one of the things we like to do is walk through local markets to learn about the culinary traditions that we might encounter during our stay.

When planning for our visit to Barcelona last year, we both knew that we had to visit the Mercat de la Boqueria. It is the city’s most famous food market where some of the top restaurants in Barcelona shop for their fresh ingredients for each day’s special offerings.

During my research on Barcelona, I read that the market gets thousands of shoppers and tourists visiting the market each day. From our visit there, I would suggest planning to go to la Boqueria between 10 A.M. and noon, 9 A.M. if you want to have breakfast there.

Click on any photo below to enlarge and see a slide show.

Wander up and down all the food aisles and marvel at the huge selection of carefully stacked fresh produce, tropical fruits, all kinds of seafood, meats including Jamón Ibérico de Bellota, thought to be the finest ham in the world, fresh baked pastries and sweets that are all beautifully displayed.

One of the pleasures of visiting la Boqueria, is being able to sample some of the wonderful food that you have admired like croquetas, empanadas and fresh fruit smoothies.

If you are like lots of the people visiting the market who plan to have lunch there, know that space is extremely limited at the small food counters. I would recommend trying to eat a little earlier than the regular lunch crowd. Check each of the small restaurants blackboards listing their daily specials and decide where you want to eat. If the restaurant’s counter is full, keep an eye out for people who are just finishing their meal and perhaps you can grab their stools as soon as they pay and leave.

On our visit, we decided that we wanted to eat at Kiosk Universal, which is located in the middle of the market. It specializes in grilled seafood such as Galician octopus, scallops, razor clams and baby squid. They also serve meat for those that don’t care for seafood. What also made us decide on the restaurant was the giant platter of seasonal wild mushrooms on display along with platters of fresh vegetables and potatoes that you could order as appetizers or sides.

Kiosk Universal has a very large counter with stools and a half dozen or so tall tables in a seating area just to the side. They will take your name and put you on a wait list if there are no seats available but we were lucky enough to get two stools at the counter when a couple stood up to leave right when we walked up.

Kiosk Universal has a large blackboard above the grill that lists their specials of the day in both Spanish and English which makes ordering easy. There is also a printed menu in both languages. What we thought was fun about sitting at the counter is that you get to watch the cooks preparing each order right in front of you. A lot of the fresh fish and vegetables are displayed along the counters and if you see something you like, you can just point to it.

The mixed grilled vegetables we had as an appetizer were great, the fresh seafood was simply prepared with olive oil, lemon and seasonings and cooked to perfection, the mixed grilled wild mushrooms had amazing flavors and they all went well with chilled glasses of white wine. While you may be able to eat cheaper somewhere else, the atmosphere and freshness of the food couldn’t be better…we think it is a must try if you love seafood.

Local Farm Stands Outside la Boqueria

Additional Local Farm Stands Outside Mercat de la Boqueria

The market can be very crowded at times with local shoppers as well as tourists but we throughly enjoyed our visit and lunch at Kiosk Universal. After all, where can you go nowadays and not find tourists and the Mercat de la Boqueria has become one of Barcelona’s top tourist attractions. The atmospheric market is a must see if you happen to be foodies like we are and want to get familiar with the culinary traditions of the region.

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There are nearly 40 wonderful food markets in Barcelona where locals do their shopping but if you are a first time visitor, you should try not to miss Mercat de la Boqueria which is also called Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boquería by the locals. The market is located just off Las Ramblas, Barcelona’s most famous street which you will surely be visiting before the end of your stay. Note that the market is closed on Sundays and that during the week, some stalls close around 2 P.M. so plan your visit accordingly.

 

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Mini Avocado Toast With Lobster Salad

Mini Avocado Toast with Lobster Salad is the ultimate party appetizer. It is easy to make, easy to eat and it is “the most popular appetizer” I’ve ever served. I guarantee that this elegant one-bite hors d’oeuvre will get rave reviews from your guests at your next cocktail party or special occasion.

Mini Avocado Toast With Lobster Salad

Mini Avocado Toast With Lobster Salad, The Ultimate Party Appetizer

Avocado toast, one of the most popular trends for breakfast, lunch or dinner, can become the ultimate party appetizer when made in a mini version that is then garnished with lobster salad. If lobster isn’t available in your area, make it with crab salad or shrimp salad for an equally delicious appetizer. The toasted brioche is a light but study base for the avocado and lobster salad, adding to both the taste and texture of this elegant one-bite hors d’oeuvre that you should serve at your next cocktail party or special occasion. Just imagine the buttery goodness of brioche, the velvety richness of avocado and succulent lobster all combined in one little mouthful of decadent deliciousness. You must try it.

Mini Avocado Toast With Lobster Salad

Mini Avocado Toast With Lobster Salad

Making the mini avocado toasts couldn’t be any easier. Toast the bread, mash the avocado and make a simple lobster salad…even the least experienced cook should have no trouble preparing this appetizer. The brioche toast and lobster salad can be prepared up to two days in advance. I would suggest preparing the avocado shortly before serving so that the avocado doesn’t turn brown. If you must make it a couple of hours in advance, smooth plastic wrap directly on the avocado mixture and refrigerate. To assemble, spoon about a teaspoon of avocado on the toast, top with a teaspoon of lobster salad and garnish with a little chopped chives, if desired.  I made mine 30 minutes before taking them to a dinner party. During the cocktail hour, they stayed crisp…but keep in mind that the longer the appetizers sit, the avocado may start to soften the crisp brioche toast.

Mini Avocado Toast With Lobster Salad

Mini Avocado Toast With Lobster Salad, “The Most Popular Appetizer I Ever Served”

Mini Avocado Toast With Lobster Salad 

Makes 24 pieces, adjust the recipe accordingly

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Brioche Toast

  • 6 slices of brioche bread sliced 1/2 inch thick

Cut crusts off the brioche slices then cut each slice into 4 pieces and place on a baking sheet. Bake in the oven until lightly brown, about 10 to 12 minutes. Remove and cool.

Lobster Salad

  • 6 oz. pre cooked lobster meat, diced very small (I used 2 small Florida lobster tails)
  • 1 stalk of celery (a tender stalk from the heart), finely diced
  • 1 tsp. lemon juice
  • 2 – 3 Tbsp. mayonnaise
  • 1 tsp. tarragon, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp. chives, finely chopped plus extra for garnish, if desired
  • a pinch of cayenne
  • salt to taste

Place the lobster, lemon juice, celery and mayonnaise into a bowl and mix. Add tarragon, chives, cayenne and salt then mix gently. Taste and adjust the seasoning, if necessary.

Avocado

  • 2 small avocados
  • 1 tsp. lemon juice or to taste
  • 1/4 tsp. white pepper or to taste
  • salt to taste

Slice the avocados in half, remove the pits and scoop flesh into a bowl. Add the lemon juice and mash with a fork until smooth then season with the white pepper and salt.

To assemble the appetizers, spoon about a teaspoon of avocado on the toast, top with a teaspoon of lobster salad and garnish with chives, if desired.

Tips:

  • When you buy your lobster or lobster tails, ask your market to steam them for you. Most fish markets will gladly do it at no charge.
  • When dicing the lobster and celery, you want to cut them very small as you will only be using about a teaspoon of the salad on each little toast.
  • Do not use too much mayonnaise, just enough to hold the lobster together yet not be dry. You may substitute one tablespoon of the mayonnaise with a tablespoon of crème fraîche, if desired.
  • The lobster salad can be made up to two days in advance, covered and refrigerated.
  • The brioche toast can be made up to two days in advance and stored in an airtight container at room temperature.
  • If you must make the avocado mixture a couple of hours in advance, smooth plastic wrap directly on the avocado mixture to keep it from turning brown and refrigerate.
  • Do not assemble the appetizers too far in advance so that the brioche toast stays crisp.

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The mini avocado toasts topped with the lobster salad were the most popular appetizer I’ve ever made and over the years, I can tell you that I’ve made a lot. I expect that when I entertain that one of the women might come up to me and talk about something I have prepared, perhaps even ask about the recipe. But when I brought the avocado toasts to a dinner party recently, everyone commented. One of the men said he could have eaten a whole plate full, another asked when was I planning to make them again. Enough said.

 

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Italian Lamb Lasagna

Italian Lamb Lasagna, a delicious layered pasta dish of flavorful lamb ragù and creamy béchamel sauce, is so good that it will be featured as the main course this Easter Sunday. A savory Italian Easter pie called Pizza Gaina will start the happy celebration.

For centuries Easter has been a feast day and the most popular main course in Italy, where the holiday is known as Pasqua, has traditionally been lamb, most often grilled or roasted with garlic, rosemary and olive oil. While delicious, I wanted to prepare something different this year.

Lamb Lasagna

Lamb Lasagna

A pasta course is also served on Easter but we are eating lighter now. With that in mind, I decided to combine two Italian traditions, pasta and lamb, and just make lamb lasagna. Lighter than lasagna made with lots of mozzarella, ricotta, and a thick Bolognese sauce, the Italian lamb lasagna I’m making will make a delicious Easter lunch.

Lamb Lasagna

Recipe serves 4, adjust accordingly

Lamb Ragù 

  • 1 lb. ground lamb
  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil plus additional 2 Tbsp.
  • 1 Tbsp. butter
  • 1 stalk of celery, chopped
  • 2 carrots, chopped
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 c. red wine
  • 1 c. beef stock
  • 2 28 oz. cans whole peeled tomatoes (I used San Marzano)
  • 1 Tbsp. dried oregano
  • 1 Tbsp. dried basil
  • l large bay leaf
  • a couple sprigs of fresh thyme
  • a pinch of red pepper flakes
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • a pinch of sugar, to adjust the acidity of the tomatoes, if necessary

Heat 1 Tbsp. olive oil in a pot over medium heat. Add the lamb and season with salt. Cook until brown, about 5 min., stirring and breaking the lamb up into small pieces. Remove the lamb to a bowl with a slotted spoon and set aside. In the meantime, put the celery, carrots and onions into a food processor and pulse until finely chopped. Drain the lamb fat from the pot and add the additional 2 Tbsp. of olive oil and the butter. Add the vegetables and a pinch of salt and cook until translucent. Add the garlic and cook 1 minute. Add the red wine and scrape the brown bits off the bottom. Bring to a simmer and cook until reduced by half then add the stock.

Puree 1 can of the tomatoes and add to the pot. Squash the other can of tomatoes with your hands until broken down then add to the pot. Add all the seasonings and let simmer for 10 minutes. Add the lamb back to the pot and let simmer until the sauce is the consistency you desire. Remove the bay leaf and thyme sprigs. Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary.

Béchamel 

  • 2 1/4 c. milk
  • 3 Tbsp. butter
  • 3 Tbsp. flour (I used Wondra)
  • 4 Tbsp. grated Pecorino-Romano or Parmesan cheese
  • a pinch of nutmeg
  • salt and ground white pepper to taste

In a saucepan, melt the butter on medium heat. Slowly whisk in the flour, making sure any lumps dissolve. Pour in the milk a little at a time and continue to whisk until it starts to thicken. Add the nutmeg, salt, pepper and cheese. Whisk until the cheese is melted and the béchamel thickens. If it gets too thick, add a little more milk.

Assemble the lasagna:

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

  • 1 8 oz. box of oven ready lasagna (I used Ronzoni)
  • ragù, recipe above
  • béchamel sauce, recipe above
  • 4 Tbsp. of grated Pecorino-Romano or Parmesan cheese

Start with a layer of ragù in the bottom of a 9 x 13 inch lasagna pan then place 3 pieces of pasta on top. Add a layer of ragù topped with a layer of béchamel. Repeat with pasta, ragù and béchamel two more times. Finish with the remaining 3 pieces of pasta. Spread the remaining béchamel sauce completely over the pasta, then sprinkle with the cheese. Cover with foil and bake for 35 minutes. Uncover and bake until the top is golden about 10 minutes. Let stand for 15 to 20 minutes before cutting so the lasagna firms up.

Italian Lamb Lasagna

Italian Lamb Lasagna For Easter

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While the lasagna is baking, I’ll serve a small portion of an Italian Easter Pie, Pizza Gaina, you can find the recipe here. Similar to a quiche, they go by many names, Tarta Pascualina, Pizza Rustica, Pizza Chena, or Pizza Gaina and are made with ricotta cheese and sautéed greens or a variety of cheeses and cured meats. It is one of my husband’s favorite Italian Easter dishes that his mother always prepared. Served to celebrate the end of lent, it can be a meal all by itself.

Italian Easter Pie Called Pizza Gaina

Savory Italian Easter Pie Called Pizza Gaina

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Notes:

  • Lamb fat can have a strong taste, so I like to drain the fat after browning, and replace it with a mixture of olive oil and butter.
  • I like to use no boil lasagna in place of the traditional boxed noodles that you pre-boil, I find that they are thinner, more tender and I think much like homemade. Of course, you also have the option to use fresh sheets of pasta for the recipe.
  • The lasagna can be created ahead of time and not baked. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. When ready to cook, remove the plastic wrap, cover with foil and bake for  35 minutes, remove foil and bake 10 minutes to brown.
  • If frozen, bake the lasagna for about an hour and a half, remove the foil and bake for an additional 10 minutes.
  • You can also bake the lasagna a day ahead. Reheat covered at 400 degrees for 30 to 45 until hot and bubbly.
  • If you want to serve ragù on the side with the lasagna, add an additional can of tomatoes to the ragù recipe.

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I served the lamb lasagna to friends over the weekend and everyone enjoyed it. My husband said he now prefers the lasagna made with béchamel over one that is made with ricotta and mozzarella, saying it is much lighter. When I prepare the lamb lasagna for our Easter lunch, I’ll be serving a salad made with fresh spring peas and asparagus topped with sliced hard boiled eggs. Garlic bread and a good bottle of red wine and we will be happy. Whether you decide to prepare the lamb lasagna for your Easter meal or serve it for a weekend dinner during the year, I do hope you will enjoy it as much as we did.

 

 

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