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I never thought I’d ever say this, but just between you and me, I’m all fooded out.  It’s not just the indulgences of Christmas, but of my birthday, friends’ birthdays, my grandmother’s birthday. It seems like half the people I know were born around Christmas, and the last couple of weeks have been a non-stop party in my mouth. It’s been a good time–a fabulous time. But really. Sometimes too much is too much.

And it’s not over yet. With New Year’s around the corner, a break from the kitchen is still a way off. I know what some of you are thinking. What!? A break from the kitchen! You don’t need a break from the kitchen. Ever. You adore cooking and do it every chance you get. You cannot survive without creating something ravishing in the kitchen on a daily basis. Sorry to say, but I am not of your ilk.

Don’t get me wrong. I love cooking–except when I don’t. I’m not sure why this is. Sometimes I think it’s my terminal aloneness that is to blame. It gets too easy to eat Cheerios for dinner when no one is waiting for you at home (remember Jerry Seinfeld’s cereal boxes?). Sometimes a part of me agrees with my friend G., who once proclaimed, “Cooking for yourself is lame.”

The great thing about food blogging, though, is that every meal is a photo op, an idea for a post. Although only a small fraction of what I cook and eat makes it into this space, I’ve learned to be creative when putting together quick meals and in this puff pastry has been my greatest ally.

I haven’t worked my way up to making puff pastry myself yet, but I often have a roll of the store-bought stuff in the freezer. It’s perfect for whipping up little appetizers or free-form tarts like this one. The leeks, fresh cheese, and dash of herbs give it a touch of elegance. Serve it at a party and your guests will never believe how easy it is to make. I often eat this tart with a salad for a weekend lunch, but it could be cut into bite-sized squares for your next soiree.

Happy New Year!

Quick Leek & Fresh Cheese Tarts

Ingredients:

Makes 4 tarts

2 sheets puff pastry

1 egg

3 large leeks, sliced, white parts only

2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons water

herbs de Provence

salt & pepper to taste

1/2 package Boursin cheese *

Directions:

1) Preheat oven to 400F.  Cook leeks in butter and water, covered, until the leeks are soft and have abosrbed the liquid, about 20 minutes.

2) Roll out puff pastry. Cut each piece in half. Make borders for the tarts by cutting thin slices of the pastry from the sides of the squares and placing them on top. Brush with egg.

3) Spread pastry squares with leeks. Crumble cheese over top. Sprinkle with herbs and a bit of salt and pepper if necessary.

4) Bake until pastry is golden brown on the edges and cheese is melted, about 20-25 minutes.

* Boursin is a fresh herb cheese with a soft and crumbly texture that is available at most grocery stores and cheese shops. It may be substituted with goat cheese; a herbed cheese tastes best with this tart.

caulisoup

Yesterday was the first day of autumn and I celebrated by making soup. Now mind you it doesn’t really feel like autumn. It’s short sleeve weather, which is not uncommon in these here parts in late September. My town is know for Indian summers. We’ve had such uncommonly beautiful weather for months and months now that part of me doesn’t want to let go, wants to hang onto the last vestige of summer as it slowly slips away. The other part of me is ready to trumpet fall in with all the hoopla of a marching band because it’s actually my favorite season.

I love the crisp cool days of early autumn when the sun is still shining but you can feel that nip in the air telling you to put on a jacket. I love watching the leaves turn color, the buzz in the air as students head back to school. But most of all–and I’ll bet you guessed this one–I love making the food that I didn’t get to eat all summer long as I stuffed myself silly with salads and fruit and caramel ice cream. That’s all fine and well (especially the ice cream) but nothing beats a boeuf bourguignon simmered on the stove all day, a good pork roast served with new potatoes, or a pumpkin pie finished with a good dollop of fresh whipped cream in order to get a good start on Thanksgiving (in mid-October for us in Canada). And of course, we can’t forget the soup.

To me, soup is supposed to be comfort food, which is why I like it creamy, or at least hearty, like a chicken soup loaded with noodles and vegetables. While I was growing up, my mother made a lot of soup. In Eastern Europe, soup is always part of the main meal, a custom that I have always disliked. It seemed that once I finished the soup, I was almost too full for the good stuff–often the meat and potatoes–which I ultimately preferred and still do. So now I make soup a meal on its own, served with some homemade crackers or a slice of rustic country bread.

This recipe isn’t set in stone, rather a guideline. You can add your own choice of spices or other seasonings. I add a small tomato to give it a boost of flavor. It’s not enough to make the soup tomatoey in any way, but gives it an unmistakable tang that goes beautifully with the leek and cauliflower.

Cream of Roasted Cauliflower & Leek Soup

Serves 6

twobowls

Ingredients:

1 head cauliflower

1 large leek, white part only

3 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons water

olive oil

1 carton vegetable or chicken broth  (946 ml)

1 tomato, blanched in hot water and peeled

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 sachet bouquet garni *

1/4  cup creme fraiche

sea salt

fresh ground pepper

Directions:

1) Preheat oven to 400F. Wash the cauliflower and leek thoroughly. Cut the leek into chunks and cook slowly in butter and water until water evaporates and the leeks are tender, about 20 minutes. Meanwhile, cut the cauliflower into chunks and drizzle with olive oil. Roast in oven until golden and caramelized.

2) Bring the stock to a simmer. Add bouquet garni, garlic, salt and pepper. Add the cooked leeks and tomato. When the cauliflower is roasted, add to the broth and cover. Cook on medium low heat until the cauliflower is soft and tender and the flavors are incorporated.

3) Remove the bouquet garni. Puree the soup with an immersion blender. Season to taste with more salt and pepper. Thoroughly blend in creme fraiche.

* Bouquet garni is a mixture of dried celery, bay leaves, thyme and parsley. I buy Cote D’Azur brand, which is a local company. You can make your own bouquet by choosing a mixture of herbs and tying them into a small piece of cheesecloth. This will immerse the soup with the flavors of the herbs.

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QUOTE

"Noncooks think it's silly to invest two hours' work in two minutes' enjoyment; but if cooking is evanescent, so is the ballet." -Julia Child

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Photos and text copyright 2009 by Darina Kopcok
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