Wednesday, June 20, 2012

recipe: Relish Cooking Studio’s Tomato & Goat Cheese Tart

Back in the fall, I taught a cooking class at the newly-opened “Relish Cooking Studio” on Regina Street.  Co-owners Donna-Marie Pye and Maria Burjoski are dsg customers-turned-friends and they know how much I admire Ina Garten, a.k.a. the “Barefoot Contessa”, the specialty food shop owner turned celebrity chef, tv personality and cookbook author.

They asked me if I would be interested in teaching a class called “barefoot in the kitchen” featuring my favourite recipes from her seven amazing cookbooks.  Her original book “The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook”, published in 2000, is still my favourite.  The spine is broken in several places but I can’t bear to replace it.

Anyway, two nights before my class, I decided to join in on one that Donna-Marie was teaching.  I thought it might be a good idea to witness a class “in action” before teaching one of my own.  The class was called “More Pye Please” and it focused on both sweet & savoury pies, tarts and pastry techniques.  My favourites of the evening were the blueberry hand-held pies and the tomato and goat cheese tart with cornmeal crust.

These tarts are packed with flavor and can be served at room temperature or hot out of the oven.  They can be served with a side salad for lunch (or a light dinner), or can be the wonderful first course at your next sit-down dinner party.

Relish Cooking Studio’s Tomato & Goat Cheese Tart

ingredients:  cornmeal dough

·         ¼ (one-quarter) cup sour cream
·         ¼ (one-quarter) cup ice-cold water
·         1 (one) cup all-purpose flour
·         1/3 (one-third) cup cornmeal
·         ½ (one-half) tsp salt
·         ½ (one-half) cup cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes

ingredients:  topping

·         6 (six) plum tomatoes, roasted (see instructions below)
·         1 (one) large package (10 oz. / 300 g) goat cheese, crumbled
·         1 (one) bunch basil, roughly chopped
·         ½ (one-half) cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
·         1 (one) tsp freshly ground black pepper


1.       In a bowl, combine sour cream and ice water; set aside and keep cool.

2.   In another bowl whisk together flour, cornmeal and salt.  Add the butter cubes and work into flour mixture with a pastry blender or with your fingers, until mixture is crumbly.

3.    Add the sour cream mixture all at once to the dry ingredients with a fork.  The dough will form a loose ball and will probably seem too moist, but just mix together gently and separate it into two even disks.  Use some flour on your fingers to keep it from sticking.  Wrap in plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for at least two hours.

4.    In a bowl combine crumbled goats cheese and basil. 

5.    Line 2 baking pans with parchment paper and sprinkle with cornmeal.  Roll out each disk of dough on a well-floured board to about 11-inches.  Place each piece of dough onto a cornmeal-sprinkled pan.

6.   Scatter the goat’s cheese and basil onto the pastry, leaving about a 1-inch border.  Arrange the roasted tomatoes on top of the cheese.  Sprinkle with Parmesan and freshly ground black pepper.

7.   Fold the edges of the tarts up to form small folds along the edge of the dough.  Gently press down with your fingers.  (Don’t worry about being so perfect with this... it is supposed to be very rustic.)

8.   Bake in a 375 F oven for about 30 minutes until they are crisp and golden brown.  Rotate pans once in oven if necessary.  Slide tarts out onto a cooling rack and let rest 5 minutes before cutting like a pizza.

Makes 2 tarts (each tart serves 4 as an appetizer)

method:  roasted tomatoes

1.  Cut 6 plum tomatoes in half lengthwise and place on a rimmed baking sheet, cut side up. 

2.   Drizzle with about 2 tbsp olive oil and sprinkle with 2 tsp fresh thyme leaves (or ½ tsp dried), salt and freshly ground black pepper. 

3.   Roast in a 325 F oven for 1½ to 2 hours or until tomatoes begin to collapse, brushing occasionally with pan juices. (Tomatoes can be packed into freezer bag and frozen for up to 6 months.)

Thursday, June 7, 2012

How to Taste Extra Virgin Olive Oil like a Pro

1. Olive oils are classified in three levels of intensity, mild, medium, and robust, start with a mild oil.

2. Pour a teaspoon of olive oil into the small white cup – You may use bread to taste extra virgin olive oils, but if you’re truly interested in the flavour of the oil, use just the cup.

3. Warm the oil: nest the cup in the palm of one hand, and cover the top with your other hand. Gently rock and twist the cup in your hand for about 20 seconds to warm the olive oil. The warming and the “swishing” release the fragrant aromatics in the oil – its “nose.”

4. Raise the cup to your nose but only partially lift your hand from the cup; tuck your nose into the cup, then take a deep whiff of the oil. The first, fragrant “top notes” of the oil (its “nose”) are your clues to its flavour.

5. Make a note of the nose—is it “big” (heavily fragrant), or is there little fragrance at all? Can you identify the characteristics? “Fruity?” “Grassy?” Or, is there something more subtle?

6. Taste the oil: draw a long, slurpy sip into while curling your tongue upward, taking a fair amount of air into your mouth along with that first sip in order to aerate the oil. Roll the oil across your tongue and all the way to the back of your mouth, allowing your tongue to identify as many aspects of the flavour as possible.

7. Okay, now you may swallow the oil -- some people spit at this point. By now your tongue and nose have all the information they need to tell you how it tastes. Note the flavour characteristics as well as descriptors and lingering sensations – even viscosity. Is it fruity? Peppery? Pungent? Bitter? What did you like most? These distinctions will point you toward your favorites, and rule out other oils.

8. When you know how to taste and identify the flavours of an extra virgin olive oil, you can start to narrow your choices down the varieties you’ll like. And with the vocabulary to describe them, you can ask for the particular characteristics you enjoy most. You’re on your way to finding a favourite.

(thank you to Nate Bradley from Veronica Foods for this tutorial)

Drop by Dana Shortt Gourmet (55 Erb St East, Waterloo ON to taste over 40 varieties of unflavoured, infused and fused extra virgin olive oils as well as balsamic vinegars and gourmet specialty oils.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

recipe: Dana's secret spiced nuts

Stumped for what to buy Dad for Father’s Day this year?  Why not create something edible for him instead? 

If Dad adores sweets, he’s sure to appreciate some home-baked treats such as brownies, oatmeal cookies or a fruit filled pie.  

If he loves to barbeque, why not create your own spice rub or try making Chef Ted Reader’s amazing “bone dust” spice rub ( for grilled steaks, chicken and pork?

If Dad enjoys watching “the game” with a cold beer and some snacks, try making your own gourmet snack mix or spiced nut mixture.  Accordingly, I’ve decided to share the recipe for my “secret spiced nuts” (as we’ve made a move to balsamic candied nuts at the shop).  

Warning – these spiced nuts are highly addictive – they were on our food shop menu for seven years – all the way back to when we opened the doors 2004!

Secret Spiced Nuts


·        4 (four) cups nuts (we used a mixture of pecans and walnuts)
·        4 (four) tablespoons unsalted butter
·        3 (three) tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
·        3 (three) tablespoons sugar
·        1 (one) tablespoon chili powder
·        1/2 (one-half) teaspoon salt
·        1 (one) teaspoon dried oregano
·        1 (one) teaspoon dried cumin


1.      Preheat oven to 350 F.  In a medium sized saucepan set over medium heat, melt butter.  Add all other ingredients except nuts and whisk well until combined.

2.      Transfer butter-spice mixture to a large mixing bowl and add nuts.  Stir well until all nuts are evenly coated.

3.      Bake on a parchment lined baking sheet until just slightly sticky – make sure to stir nuts well, every 5 minutes or so.  It should take about 25-30 minutes in total.

catering, gourmet food shop, gift baskets