Recently I was contacted by a company asking me to promote their lifestyle by writing a post on my philosophy for healthy living in Minnesota during the winter months... and to create a recipe to accompany my musings on wellness. Honestly, I don't know what it was about Passions to Pastry that made me seem like a plausible candidate for this. I dislike being outdoors when it's cold and much of what comes out of my kitchen includes fat, usually in the form of butter.
What I first considered a very odd request, eventually got me thinking about my general health. Do I exercise enough, especially in the winter? Even though I'm in my kitchen cooking and baking for hours every day, do I really eat well? And probably my biggest concern... how is my mental health? Something I believe is connected to exercise, good nutrition, and a positive attitude (which is sometimes lacking in my winter demeanor). While I was thinking about all of this today, my husband had a health assessment at the health club where we belong. He was told that he must be eating really good fats, because numbers and percentages on his tests were excellent. We eat butter. I bake with butter and I cook mostly with olive oil. We eat eggs. LOTS of eggs. I only purchase whole milk and whole milk products, such as yogurt, sour cream and cottage cheese. I do not believe in low-fat or non-fat. Seventeen years ago I eliminated hydrogenated oils from my kitchen and our lives. That changed everything. It's a no brainer as far as I'm concerned. And I must ask... why do doctors' offices and hospitals serving coffee to their patients, always offer a powdered creamer that's full of hydrogenated oils? It makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.
Summers are easy for me. I spend much of my time in my vegetable garden, bike 15 to 20 miles several times a week along the Mississippi river, and entertain often, serving alfresco meals on the patio made with organic produce from my garden. That is when I am the happiest... and healthiest. Admittedly, winter becomes more difficult. I tend to hibernate, filling my time with indoor projects, baking of bread, and thoughts plus plans for the upcoming gardening season... and travel; something I prefer doing during the summer months instead of winter. It's a balance and a trade-off I cherish. I can't imagine living anywhere else.
I often make savory tarts during this time; combining a flaky pastry with healthy fruits and vegetables in addition to rich cheeses, eggs, and cream. (Make this a vegetarian version by removing the bacon and adding chopped walnuts.) Meals like this help get me through a long, northern winter!
• recipe makes six 4-inch tarts or one 10-inch tart
• 1 1/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
• 1/4 cup cornmeal
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 8 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
• 3 to 4 tablespoons ice water
• 4 strips apple-smoked bacon
• 10 ounces brussels sprouts
• 1 small apple, diced (I used Fuji)
• Olive oil
• 3/4 cup blue cheese, diced
• 1/2 cup Half & Half or whole milk
• 2 large eggs
• Salt and freshly-ground pepper
• 2 green onions, white and pale green part, thinly sliced
1. To make the crust... Combine the flour, cornmeal and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse a couple of times. Add the butter and pulse until the size of small peas. Add the ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time, while pulsing until the dough just starts to come together. You will use 3 to 4 tablespoons of water.
2. Transfer the tart dough to a large piece of plastic. Press into a disk, wrap in the plastic; place in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 hours.
3. In the meantime, make the filling... Slice the bacon into 1/4-inch pieces. Place bacon in a skillet over medium-low heat; cook until brown but not crisp. Drain and set bacon aside.
4. Preheat oven to 375˚F. Trim and slice brussels sprouts. Cut the apple into small dice. Combine on a baking sheet with 1-inch sides; drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake in the center of the oven, stirring occasionally, until the brussels sprouts just start to brown, about 20 minutes. Remove pan and increase oven temperature to 400˚F.
5. Remove the tart dough from the refrigerator and transfer to a work surface. Place the disk on a sheet of lightly-floured wax paper or parchment. Dust the top of the disk lightly with flour and cover with a sheet of plastic wrap -- If making individual tarts, divide the dough into 6 equal pieces before rolling. Roll the dough slightly larger than the tart tin(s) and gently press into the pans. Do not stretch the dough. Trim the top edge and place in freezer for 5 minutes. Remove and line pan with a piece of aluminum foil. Fill with dried beans or rice, transfer to the preheated oven, and bake for 15 minutes. Remove the foil and beans and return the tart pan(s) to oven. Continue to bake until crust is golden brown. Remove and reduce oven temperature to 375˚F.
6. Scatter the blue cheese evenly onto the tart crust (or divide equally between the individual tarts). In a medium bowl combine the cream or milk with the eggs and salt and pepper to taste. Whisk by hand just briefly until smooth. Add the sliced green onions.
7. Fill the tart shell(s) with the brussels sprouts-apple mixture. Sprinkle with the reserved bacon and slowly pour the egg mixture over the filling.
8. Bake in the center of the oven for approximately 20 minutes, or until the custard filling is set. Great for a light dinner with a salad or as part of a brunch.
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