Creamy Garlic-Herb Tomato Tartelettes

It’s no secret I was on the struggle bus this holiday season. By the time I hit New Year’s Day, I was so dang tired of cooking, while also trying to balance menus for various events. When I was planning on what to bring to the family Christmas party, I knew I was sick of the usual dishes and wanted something different. However, when I bring food to large parties, I have to follow the basic rules of etiquette: nothing that requires reheating, an electric outlet, or assembly in the host’s kitchen. They already have their hands full, so commandeering counter space or a stovetop burner is a big no-no.

So, in my abject laziness and apathy, I dove deep into my fridge and came up with a super-simple, yet tasty and beautiful appetizer. These Garlic-Herb Tomato Tartelettes combine ready-made garlic-herb cheese spread with a touch of cream, which is scooped into frozen phyllo tart shells. The mixture is then topped with sliced cherry tomatoes and parmesan and baked until nice and hot. A drizzle of balsamic glaze finishes them off. These can be served warm or at room temperature. If you need a quick, easy appetizer, this fits the bill.

Creamy Garlic-Herb Tomato Tartelettes

Prep Time 15 mins
Cook Time 15 mins
Course Appetizer

Ingredients
  

  • 2 1.9 ounce boxes of frozen phyllo tart shells (approx. 15 shells per box)
  • 1 6.5 ounce container garlic & herb soft spreadable cheese (such as Alouette brand) room temperature
  • 1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 3/4 to 1 pint cherry tomatoes halved
  • 1/2 cup parmesan cheese grated
  • 1/4 cup botted balsamic glaze
  • chopped basic for garnish, if desired

Instructions
 

  • Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Place tart shells on a baking sheet.
  • In a medium bowl, combine cheese spread and whipping cream until smooth. Spoon about a heaping teaspoon of cheese mixture into tart shell and top with two of the tomato halves. Sprinkle tarts with parmesan cheese.
  • Bake tarts for 12-15 minutes, until hot, being careful not to burn the tart shells. Remove tarts from oven and let cool for 2-3 minutes. Lightly drizzle tarts with balsamic glaze and garnish with chopped basil if desired. Enjoy!

Notes

This may make more or less tarts depending on how heavy-handed you are when distributing the filling. 
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!

Stepping Gingerly into the New Year…But At Least There Will Be Cake

Whelp, we made it through the holidays, and though they were full of fun times and togetherness, I confess I was ready for the new year. I am more than happy for things to slow down so I can focus a little more inward. I love the holidays, I really do, but it’s been busy, and there’s always something externally to focus on–planning, cooking, shopping, list-making, and task after task that goes with the season. Honestly, I think we are all a little tired and rough around the edges, and it doesn’t seem like relief is on the horizon anytime soon. As the pandemic drags on, it’s hard not to feel disillusioned and mentally fried.

As I’ve posted before, I don’t necessarily think resolutions are a four-letter word, and this year especially, I’ve been taking a hard look about the common theme when it comes things I need to work on. This year, rather than a specific goal, like a 5k, diet, or other drastic change, I realized that a lot of things I need to work on come down to a simple question:

“Will this make me feel good?”

I know, it sounds counterintuitive toward improvement when vices are aplenty. But really, that’s what it boils down to for me. I’ve been working on an internal dialogue during the day that is helping me self-reflect when I’m making small choices, For example:

  • “Is all that scrolling on social media apps making you feel good? Actually, you usually end up feeling anxious or checked out, and like you’ve wasted so much time. You know what does make you feel good? Reading and knitting. Isn’t that the better choice for this bit of free time?” (I have since deleted several (not all) apps, and you would not believe how much better I feel mentally and emotionally).
  • “Is skipping your workout going to make you feel good? Actually, you always feel better after a workout, even a small one, and like you are letting yourself down when you don’t. Do you really want the self-disappointment voice nagging the back of your mind all day? You know the better choice here.”
  • “Yeah, another cocktail sounds great, but will that make you feel good? Nope, it will zap your energy and wreck your tomorrow. Water will set you up for more energy in the morning.”
  • “The pantry looks like the Ghostbusters just exercised a demon in it. It’s overwhelming to tackle today, but you can set a 30-minute timer and commit for that much. Doing anything will make you feel better than nothing.”

I know it sounds silly, but the simple act of consciously reminding myself that I feel soooooo much better when I am choosing even the smallest of better choices helps build momentum. For example, after tackling the Mount Everest of post-holiday laundry this week, I had a few extra minutes to spare. After looking at the pile of clean napkins, I thought, “Ya know, if I just go ahead and iron these now before I put them away, that’s one less thing to do next time we entertain.” So, I did. Small victories and all that.

It’s hard to imagine what this year will look like but working on small steps feels doable. That’s what I’m telling myself, at least. The bright side? Epiphany is tomorrow…and you know what that means? It’s Mardi Gras kick-off baby, and I foresee king cake and crawfish in my future.

 

Book Review: Finding Freedom by Erin French

I’ve been plowing through my to-be-read pile lately, and just finished this memoir by acclaimed chef Erin French. A few years ago, I heard about a restaurant in a tiny Maine town that not only opened for a few short months a year, but also booked up for the entire season within minutes of the of the phone lines opening (and has since going to a postcard lottery method that has tens of thousands of entries). I totally forgot about it until I checked out the new series, “The Lost Kitchen” on the Magnolia Network (via Discovery+).

The show itself is produced by Joanna and Chip Gains, and follows Erin and her crew as they create a nurturing space and stunning culinary experience, as well as the ingredients and purveyors she uses to do so. The show reminds me of the PBS hit “A Chef’s Life,” and is beautifully shot and produced. If you liked that show, “The Lost Kitchen” is definitely for you.

When this book came across my suggested reading, I jumped right in. Erin’s memoir weaves through the places and relationships that forged the foundation for the person and chef she became. Readers get immersed in her life in the kitchen, her love of food, and her ability to envision both the spaces and sensations she wants to create for others. However, those memories are intertwined with her tumultuous relationship with her father, an abusive and toxic marriage, and a battle with addiction and its consequences. Throughout it all, her descriptions draw readers in so much so that we can perfectly envision the landscape of her memories.

Overall, this is an incredibly well-written book that showcases the breadth of Erin’s creativity, and also serves as a satisfying triumph-over-adversity tale. If you love cooking, food, small towns, or creator origin stories, this book is worth a look. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and definitely recommend.

**Usual Disclaimer: My blog is not sponsored nor monetized. I’m not that cool, y’all. Any reviews you see are things I’ve purchased with my own money and reviews are just my personal opinion.**

Winner Winner, Chicken Dinner

I picked up my four exhibits from the State Fair today, and clearly I’m happy as a clam with the results. However, this year has been bittersweet. Compared to years past, I saw much lower participation in all of the categories, not to mention that the fair itself had a whole lot of open space due missing vendors/rides etc. I know it’s a sign of the current times, but I miss seeing the variety of talents from the exhibitors. Anyway, here’s a recap of the projects:

My Let’s Boogie sweater won first place in the miscellaneous knitted garment category.

My Swing Left socks won first place in knitted socks.

The Baa-ble Hat won first place in knitted beanies.


And my Fantastitch Shawl won both first place in shawls and Grand Champion!

If you’ve never looked into competitive exhibitions at your local fair, it’s definitely worth checking out. From canning and quilting to photography and woodworking, there are so many ways to participate. It’s a great way to learn more about your community, and get some inspiration, especially if you are a maker.

Now, I guess it’s time to start brainstorming for next year.

Current Knits and Future Plans

So, we survived the first nine weeks of school, but getting back into the routine was not without it’s challenges. I did not miss getting up earlier and spending nearly two hours of my day in the carpool line one bit. However, everyone is back to their respective routines and that’s given me some welcome knitting time. So, here’s a round-up of what’s on the needles, in the queue, and what I’m stalking.

First, I fell in love with the Slipstravaganza blanket from Stephen West, and immediately ordered the kit from his shop. I love that it’s knit in the round and the play on textures, and it’s going to be an awesome FO if I actually conquer this beast of a project. I’ve made it to the bubbles section, and I’m hoping to finish it by year’s end.

I still have a Vanilla is the New Black second sock languishing on the needles. Every time I’m determined to finish it, a new pattern or project lures me away. It WILL become mandated car knitting, so I can stop procrastinating.

As for future knitting, I am going to have to declare the coming months a stash-only, queue-clearing affair. As I was cleaning my closet out last night, I have no less than 8 projects with the yarn kitted up and ready to go, including The Shift cowl:

Sunset Highway sweater:

Sweig sweater:

Feel the Bern sweater:

the From Grandma with Love blanket:

and several more.

Some yarn has got to get used, because even after donating a ton during the closet cleanout, I still have sooo….much….yarn. Can’t buy more till I use up some is going to be the mantra.

As for stalking/inspiration, I recently added the Hinterland sweater:

The Spooky Hat:

and the Tegna top to my favorites on Ravelry:

As for holiday knitting, I don’t foresee gifting any knits this year. I already made hats for the neighbors, baby gifts for another neighbor, and a baby blanket for my cousin this year, so my knitting mojo has swung back into selfish territory. Now, if I can just stay out of the yarn shop…

 

Finished Knit Alert!

Just in time for the season, I finished this sweater:

Pattern: Let’s Boogie by Katie Franceschi

Yarn: Berroco Vintage DK in the Pumpkin, Banana, Cast Iron, and Mochi colorways.

Needles: US 4 and US 5

Notes and Mods: This is a cute pattern, but I ended up really disliking the neckline. Despite aggressive blocking, it tends to roll downward. If I were to make it again, I’d probably modify the cast-on and neckline. Otherwise, I really love the sweater.

As for mods, I converted this to short sleeves, considering that it’s still hot as Satan’s back porch here in Louisiana. To do so, I completed the under-bust chart for the sleeves, then knit 10 rows in white, and 5 rows 2×2 rib. I also left of the pink detailing on the ghosts’ cheeks, because I thought it would look weird with this color palette. Overall, thumbs up on this project.

Back to School! Oh Happy Day!

I can’t believe this day is finally here. The day the younger Heathens finally go back to school, like in-person, not-in-my-house school. They haven’t been in a classroom with their peers since March 13th, 2020. That’s a long ass time. A loooooooonnnnnngggg ass time.

As much as I have moaned and groaned about how freaking of a hot mess this year was, I am self-aware enough to know that I will look back and be grateful for this time. We spent more time together as a family in the past year than ever, and were able to take unique opportunities that we never would have been able to had we been tethered to classrooms/offices. I avoided the dreaded carpool lines, enjoyed mostly unstructured days, and didn’t have to roll out of bed until after seven everyday. On the flipside, that’s a whole lot of togetherness. Like, a lot.

So, Bean is headed to 4th grade while Bear is, *gulp*, a SENIOR. How in the hell did that happen? My sweet little freckle-faced baby had his last first day today. It still feels surreal, but then again, the last sixteen months have felt strange and unsettled.

Well, if you will excuse me, I have a few glorious hours to myself. I’ll try to keep the happy dancing to a minimum.

 

Why Do I Do This to Myself?

Ya know, it was inevitable. It really, really was. And like most crap I mess up, it was totally preventable.

You see, Bean goes back to school soon for in-person learning. She hasn’t been on campus since March 13th of 2020 (which coincidently was also a Friday…omen much?). She has not needed to wear a school uniform in a looonnng time, and added to this fact, she’s grown like a weed. Which means, she needs all new shirts, skirts, pants, leggings, sweaters, belts…the whole enchilada.

This is not news. This did not come as a surprise. I have been well-aware that this situation needed resolution.

So what did my ass do? Procrastinate to a level worthy of a lazy Olympics’ gold medal. I put off shopping, ran away to Alaska, and generally was like, “meh, I’ll tackle that tomorrow.” Well, I finally decided that those “tomorrows” needed to end and set myself to surfing the Target and JCPenney websites this morning.

And boy did I learn the hard way why you don’t wait until less than two weeks before school starts to handle your business.  What wasn’t out of stock became out of stock before I could even check out. JCPenney even gave me the panic warning by telling me how many sold in the past hour, as seen above (those bastards). I felt like it was frantic digital race and I was losing. How in the hell is there a school uniform shortage in August?

After a few hours, many websites, and a slew of profanity, I managed to cobble together what she needs. I promised myself that I will not do this again next year, though we all know the likelihood of that.

Luckily, I ordered her school supplies through the school itself, so I am spared the five-store scavenger hunt for the very specific folder colors and many packs of index cards that will probably be returned to us unopened at the end of the year.

So, at least there’s that.

 

Adventures in Alaska

So, reality started to set in a few weeks ago. We are all about to go back to school and work soon. G-Man heads back to college, the remaining Heathens will finally return to in-person school, and the husband goes back to a travel-heavy work schedule. We will no longer have flexible schedules and routines will return with a vengeance. We decided we wanted one last trip before summer ends, but one that was far different from anything we’ve done before. I called my handy-dandy travel agent, and we were soon on our way to an Alaskan cruise.

I have never been on a cruise, or had any desire to do one. But, she convinced me that this really was the best option for a last minute trip to Alaska, and the Royal Caribbean ship  would only operate 40% capacity for safety (and with serious restrictions in the ports). She wasn’t kidding. The staff to guest ratio was 2:1. Y’all, I was skeptical but this ended up being the best vacation we’ve ever experienced. The weather was glorious (a rarity according to local residents), the food was amazing, and the excursions blew our minds.

Our ports included Sitka, Icy Strait Point, Juneau, and Ketchikan. Due to Covid, we could only exit the ship for excursions that were limited strictly to passengers (because Bean is only 9 and can’t be vaccinated yet. Vaccinated passengers could explore freely). This limited our excursion options, but we still had plenty to choose from.

We explored Sitka, went whale watching in Icy Strait Point, took a helicopter to the Mendenhall Glacier, and fished for salmon in Ketchikan. Each adventure felt like a living postcard, and we learned so much from our guides. We certainly accomplished our goals of new experiences and making the most of every moment of our trip. Normally, the husband and I are ready to get home at the end of a vacation, but we were genuinely sad that this trip had to end. We barely scratched surface, and are already planning on what we would like to experience next time.

Important note: who caught the biggest fish? (cough, cough…..ME!)

My neighbor and well-traveled adopted maternal figure, Mama P, told me this was the best vacation she ever took, and I now know why. From breath-taking views to rich culture and history, we soaked up pure enjoyment each and every day. I will say that this particular trip/cruise probably isn’t an ideal choice for younger children, despite the ship amenities (unless you want to put them in the kids’ program). Bean is a seasoned traveler, and is used to fishing, camping, and outdoor activities. She understands that every moment of a trip isn’t going to be Disneyworld/kid-centric, so she knows to go along with the get-along, as Granny would say. During our downtime, we still had plenty to do on the ship, like bingo, trivia, shows, and cards, so everyone remained entertained.

So, overall fantastic trip all around. Unfortunately, the airline cancelled our return flights, and we got stuck in Seattle, but that’s a post for another day.

Community Cookbook Throwback Thursday: “Tamale and Chili Pie”

I’m deep into my summer cooking rut. So, to break out of it, I’m dusting off the Community Cookbook Throwback Thursday inspiration. I wanted something quick and easy, so I turned to my collection of old-school Junior League Louisiana cookbooks.

If you are familiar with community/church/Junior League cookbooks from the 50’s through the 80’s, you know that measurements were questionable, the contributors assumed brand-names would last forever, and that they expected you possess an intuitive knowledge of whatever the hell they were talking about with their minimal instructions. So, with that disclaimer, let’s dive into the experiment of the Tamale and Chili Pie.

This recipe was submitted by Mrs. Alan Thigpen (Catherine Lagrange) in the Pirate’s Pantry Cookbook, which was published by the Junior League of Lake Charles in 1976. This book, along with The Revel and Cotton Country, are staples in our house. Yes, they are dated, but they are also amazing.

Now, here’s how it went. First, ingredients:

Check. Obviously, the brands have changed, but I think I got pretty close. I misread the size of the casserole, so I probably set myself up for failure in terms of the intended tamale-to-chili ratio.  However, I think my alterations and notes may land this one as a win for a fast family meal or for hangry teens. Here’s what I did:

First, I bought the 28oz can of tamales, hoping to stretch the recipe for the five of us. Despite being slightly alarmed by the reality of canned tamales (do you seeee that????), I recovered and realized that, after cutting them up, I really needed two of the 28oz cans to cover the bottom of my 9×13 casserole. My cutting hack was a failure, and I think the original chili to tamale ratio was not optimal al all. So, moral of the story? If you want to make a 9×13 casserole, just get 2 28-oz cans of tamales to line the bottom of it.

I made the “chili” as directed, using canned chili beans, ground beef, and a packet of chili seasoning. My other deviation from the recipe was to sauté the onion with the beef, as these clowns need their onions cooked into submission.

Finally, I spread the chili on the tamales, added a wee bit (your discretion) more Fritos than the recipe called for, and sprinkled cotija cheese on top in addition to the cheddar. Baked as directed.

The verdict? I hacked this recipe a bit for our tastes, but dang if it’s not an easy, cheap, teenage guy friendly dish. It’s a Frito pie on steroids. I think the original had a much heavier chili-to-tamale ratio situation, but by adding more (really inexpensive) canned tamales, you can stretch that fresh ground beef to feed a ton. However, if you like chili, double that part for the 9×13 casserole. I paired this with a southwest chopped salad, but grilled corn would also be awesome with it.

No, this is not gourmet food, nor is it something I would serve to company. But you know what it is? Meaty, cheesy, crunchy, spicy food that was quick, easy, and satisfying for kid/teen tastes. Perfect for a movie night, horrid Tuesday, or a pantry-pull situation. Now, I’m going to go back to dreaming of cooler weather and Halloween season.