Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Eat: Sweet Potato Tarts

The first half of September featured a very unwelcome heat wave. How am I supposed to start decorating my house with fall leaves and wrap myself with a chunky cableknit sweater when it is ONE HUNDRED degrees outside?! Fortunately, cooler weather has moved in this week and I had just the right dish in mind to kick-off the autumn season! I received a beautiful mini tart pan for my birthday that was waiting patiently to be broken-in; I also had a handful of sweet potatoes in the pantry. This recipe was a product of both!

Tarts are a great option for bakers who hate to mess with normal full-size pie crusts. The dough for these four-inch pans was easily managed and maneuvered around my countertop. Aside from the ease, individual tarts have such a fancy quality to them! I think they would present quite nicely at the end of a dinner party with friends or family (Thanksgiving will be here before we know it!). One more point in favor of tarts over pies is that you can adjust the recipe to suit your crowd size. I actually made a smaller batch of three tarts by halving the ingredient list below.

I tend to shy away from creating my own recipes but I'm so pleased with how these beauties turned out! They are delicious but not overly sweet; I find sweet potatoes to be perfectly tasty without a single additive, but I did jazz these up with some cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice. It is also a relatively healthy dessert since I kept the sugar and butter to a minimum. The streusel topping is a must for both flavor and texture. I loved the combination of smooth filling and crunchy topping!

Sweet Potato Tarts
Yields 6 four-inch tarts (1-inch deep)

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 sticks butter, cold and cut into small cubes
1/2 cup of cold water (you may not use it all!)

Sweet Potato Filling:
4-6 small sweet potatoes, baked and mashed
6 tablespoons brown sugar
1-2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
Dash of allspice

Pecan Streusal Topping:
1/4 - 1/2 cup brown sugar
4 tablespoons flour
4 tablespoons butter, melted
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1/2 cup oats

Prepare the Dough
Stir together the flour, sugar, and salt. Once well combined, cut in small chunks of cold butter. You want the butter to be COLD, so keep it in the fridge until you are ready to add it. You can cut in / incorporate the butter using an electric mixer, by hand with a pastry cutter (my preferred method), or a fork/knife (way too much work; buy a pastry cutter instead!). You need to integrate the butter and flour blend until the dough is crumbly and the butter chunks are no larger than a pea. Once done, slowly pour a few tablespoons of cold water into the dough. Don't add all of the water at once! Stir and repeat just until the dough mostly sticks together. Transfer dough onto a floured countertop or plastic wrap. Knead the dough a few times to form a ball. Divide in half, reform into two balls (or thick discs) and wrap completely in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least an hour.

Roll out the refrigerated dough (to about 1/4-inch thickness) and cut into 6-inch circles. Place these in greased tart pans.

Tip: measure your kitchen bowls or pot lids to see if any are the right size. I found one of mine to be 6.25 inches and it functioned like a giant cookie cutter. It made my job much easier!

Optional —  Pre-bake the empty tart shells for 3-5 minutes at 425°F. I did this and noticed the crusts did not keep their shape (the edges sort of slid down into the tart pans. Before I added the filling, I simply reformed the shells with a spatula and they turned out just fine.

Combine all of the filling ingredients and spoon into the tart shells. Smooth out the filling along the tops of the tarts.

Combine all of the streusal ingredients and sprinkle evenly over the tarts. Add a couple of pecan-halves to the centers.

Bake for 25-30 minutes at 375°F. After cooling for a few minutes, the tarts should remove easily from their pans with a little help from a fork or knife.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Picnic Ready!

St. Louisans know that we have very small windows in between our cold, slushy winters and our too-hot, too-humid summers. These small windows of spring and fall? Oh my, do I love them! Matthew resides in the same boat as me, so whenever the weather approaches mild we go into "picnic mode".

"Picnic Mode" is not some passing fancy of oh, let's try to have a picnic next weekend. It is a full on attack of every park within walking distance of our home. In doing so, we tend to race against the clock once we get home from work--especially in autumn when the sun starts setting early. Over the years, I've found a few easy ways to maximize our post-work-picnic-potential. The common thread throughout is to keep things easy and to keep things ready.

Food and Beverages:
  • Glass bottles of water in the fridge (when you get home, fill 'em back up and pop 'em back in the fridge)
  • If we know the weather report for the coming week is good, I’ll make a big batch of something that lasts for several days in the fridge. Think salad: pasta salad, chopped salad, chicken salad, chickpea salad, or bean salad/salsa (like this or this). If I am really on the ball, I will divide it into smaller portioned tupperware. Note: in the photo above, I was not on the ball but just grabbed the whole bowl and carried it to the park!
  • Generally speaking, our fridge is always stocked with chopped veggies, hummus, dressings, and cheese (don't forget to grab some crackers from the pantry). Throw any of these into your cooler and blammo! instant picnic fare. I'll pair some combination of these foods with a more substantial dish (see above) and call it done.
Getting Around:
I have a lightweight insulated tote bag that is perfect for quick picnics. You can find these almost everywhere (Target, Walmart, Amazon, BB&B, and the like). I keep it regularly stocked with the following.
  • Disposable forks, knives, and spoons
  • Bottle opener with cork screw (you never know when you might opt for some wine/beer!)
  • Paper plates and napkins
  • Bug Spray
  • Wet wipes/hand sanitizer
  • Little cutting board & knife (for cheese)
So when we get home from work, I grab the grub and toss everything into my bag. If there happens to be some extra room, I might throw in a freezer pack to keep everything chilled. And that's it. We sail out the door to enjoy some lovely scenery and each other's company. It's really one of my favorite things that to do with Matthew; I can't think of a better way to decompress from the workday! So as fall approaches (we are currently having a heatwave in St. Louis) get yourself ready to relish it with just a little bit of organization.