Tomato, Basil, and Ricotta Phyllo Tart with Balsamic Drizzle, or, A Recipe to Practice Now and Perfect with Summer Heirloom Tomatoes

Tomato Ricotta Phyllo Tart with Balsamic Drizzle
Tomato, Basil, and Ricotta Phyllo Tart with Balsamic Drizzle

I recently saw this pin on Pinterest and even though it isn’t yet tomato season I had to try it.  The original recipe is from Girl Versus Dough, but I tweaked mine.  One, I don’t have access to ALL THE GORGEOUS TOMATOES yet.  I will this summer though and will remake this.  In the meantime, though, something about this appealed (ricotta! phyllo!) and I tried it with the best organic tomatoes and fresh basil I could find.  I also added more ricotta and lemon (because with the allotted amount in the recipe we could only cover about half of the dough).  Finally, I topped it with a balsamic drizzle, because I feared the tart would be pasty, and needed more of an acidic punch that what the lemon in the original recipe would provide.

See my adaptation below.  I HIGHLY recommend the balsamic drizzle at the end – it really set this off.

I also think this would make a good meal to serve friends, along with a green salad.  Leftovers reheat only so so, and this made quite a large tart.

Tomato Ricotta Phyllo Tart with Balsamic Reduction
(Adapted from Girl Versus Dough)

1 roll (about 21 sheets) Phyllo dough
¼ cup olive oil or more, depending on how much you use
1 16 ounce container ricotta cheese
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil, plus more for topping
1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives, plus more for topping
Zest of one lemon
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
Salt and pepper, to taste
1½ to 2 lbs tomatoes, sliced to ¼-inch thickness or halved

Assembly and Directions:

Heat oven to 400 degrees F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.

Lay 1 sheet of phyllo dough on parchment paper. Brush lightly with olive oil. Top with another sheet of phyllo dough; brush lightly with oil. Repeat until all phyllo dough sheets are stacked.

In a medium bowl, stir together ricotta cheese, basil, chives, lemon zest and salt and pepper to taste until well combined. Spread evenly on top of phyllo dough, leaving a 1-inch border along edges.

Top with sliced or halved tomatoes. Sprinkle with more salt and pepper. Bake 25-30 minutes until dough is golden brown and flaky.

While the tart is baking, place balsamic vinegar in small saucepan and set on a medium heat.  Stir continually until balsamic begins to slightly thicken.  Remove from heat.

Drizzle balsamic reduction over the top of the tart.

Cool tart slightly; top with more chopped basil and chives and salt and pepper, if desired.

Serve warm or at room temperature.

* A note on serving – I actually used kitchen shears to cut this in to appropriate slices, because I cut it right on the pan, and didn’t want to use my pizza cutter on the pan.  However, it worked really well with such a light and flaky crust, and I would recommend that for serving!

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The Robert Galbraith/Cormoran Strike Series, or, Why I Am Now an Even Bigger Fan of JK Rowling

I enjoyed each of these books more than the last.

Like most people who follow publishing I was surprised and impressed when Robert Galbraith was revealed to actually be JK Rowling.  Like the old stories of the prince consorting with the commoners, I found it fascinating, and immensely admirable, that JK Rowling chose to release her hard work under a pen name.  This ensured that the book would stand on its own.  And it did well on its own.  While I would have been interested to see the reveal happen later, so that the books could have further developed their own following, that was not to be.  Ms. Rowling was unmasked, and the first book leaped to the top of the bestseller lists overnight.

But I will argue that, while wholly unlike Harry Potter in any way, these books are good.  As a writer, I give props to anyone who can pull off a good whodunit.  It is a task that is definitely easier said than done.  And I LOVE a good mystery.  The girl in me who first feel in love with reading because of Nancy Drew and her pesky meddling needs to be sated every once in a while with a good mystery.  And these books provide that.  As a reader, too, it can sometimes be difficult to find a mystery that both holds your attention and doesn’t seem wildly unrealistic.  I read the three Galbraith books that are out now back to back, and can’t wait for the next book.

I would also say that I enjoyed each book more than the last.  It is exciting to see an author of Ms. Rowling’s stature growing as a writer.  It gives the rest of us hope, right, if a writer who’s wildly successful and famous can also still conquer new territory? And these books DO get progressively better.  The hero and heroine of the book are fascinating, with troubled pasts, and their relationship as detective and budding detective is strong.  I like these characters, and want them to succeed.  I want to see what happens next with them.  This isn’t always the case, especially with mysteries.

I recently read The Silent Girls by Erik Rikstad.  While interesting enough, I would not recommend this book.  The main character seemed more of a caricature of a detective than a believable detective.  He makes a decision part way through the book that was so unbelievable, and so out of character, that I was literally rolling my eyes.  You can see the strings too clearly, ya know?  Having jus finished  another similar book, I am actually even contemplating a post on mysteries that DON’T work, and why.  Which is why I felt compelled to recommend the Galbraith series.

Galbraith/Rowling effectively keeps me guessing til the end, and there are constant surprises that I am willing to GO with.  Which, to me, is the mark of an adept, intelligent hand behind the prose.  I highly recommend this series for lovers of mystery, suspense, and crime fiction.

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Strawberries, Cupcakes, Hops, and Caffeine: A Fabulous Spring Birthday Weekend for My Husband

The first birthday surprise I ever gave my husband. Of course, he wasn't my husband then!
The first birthday surprise I ever gave my husband. Of course, he wasn’t my husband then!

My husband’s birthday is today.  Birthdays on Mondays are awful things, though, so we celebrated this past weekend.  I always try to give my husband a birthday that makes him feel special.  We share a childhood history of disappointing birthdays.  We were neither of us very popular children – bookworms both, and birthdays can be a sore spot.  After my years of living in New Orleans though, where every adult I know celebrates their birthday somehow, often with week long series of events that range from fancy dinners to rolling skating to casual drinks and intimate gatherings.  This seems to me to be RIGHT.  We don’t celebrate enough in life, and why should kids get to have all the fun?  Plus – any excuse for CAKE right?

This year, though, I’m pregnant.  Which means my energy isn’t up to par, I can’t share a bottle of anything with him, and I am, basically, a lame going-out-on-the-town partner.  And yet – we had a fabulous weekend.  We kicked it off Friday evening with a beer for him and a ginger beer for me at a new brewery and restaurant in town, Balter BeerWorks.  This place recently opened, and we hadn’t yet checked it out.  They seem to have a great happy hour, and we were eager to sample their menu, but since we were meeting friends for dinner shortly thereafter, we restrained ourselves.  We pledged to come back soon – though soon ended up being later that night!

Inside Knoxville's Balter Beerworks.
Inside Knoxville’s Balter Beerworks.

After Balter we headed to Woodlands Indian restaurant.  My husband and I share a love of Indian food, and Knoxville actually has several great options for Indian.  We shared a dosa with our friends, and then several dishes.  I have been craving Mattar Paneer since pretty much the moment I got pregnant.  Eating it only makes the craving go away for a short time, though, so we’ll definitely be back.  It’s scrumptious!  We finished the evening with an after dinner drink at Balter – our friends hadn’t been there either and wanted to check it out.  I think we’ll all be back again soon, as we would like to sample the food.

Oloibea's grilled cheese with a duck egg and smashed potatoes on the side.
Oloibea’s grilled cheese with a duck egg and smashed potatoes on the side.

Saturday, though, was my favorite day.  We kicked it off with breakfast at Olibea, which is, in my opinion, far and away the best breakfast in Knoxville.  My husband had the grilled cheese with a fried duck egg you see pictured there, which should be enough for any human for a single meal, but it was his birthday, so he got smashed potatoes too.  I love Olibea so much it is soon going to get its own post.  Stay tuned!

I could eat my weight in strawberries!
I could eat my weight in strawberries!

After breakfast, we went strawberry picking!  The season is just beginning here in Tennessee and Saturday was a perfect day for it – cool, sunny, and text book spring.  It was a lovely drive out to Mountain Meadows Farm, where they have pick your own strawberries for $3.75 lb.  While a bit early, we still managed to pick 5 lbs, and plan to go back next weekend for more.  Not only have I craved berries like mad with this baby, but I also want to make some strawberry lime jam.  Because yum.  It was a seriously lovely morning though, and the drive alone was pretty, though the farm is only 30 minutes from our house!

Cupcake toast! Daniel is having their seasonal key lime cupcake, and I am having the Chocolate Raspberry cupcake.
Cupcake toast! Daniel is having their seasonal key lime cupcake, and I am having the Chocolate Raspberry cupcake.

After strawberry picking we came back and left our strawberries, and then got ready for phase three – coffee and cupcakes in the Knoxville Botanical Gardens.  While you may have noticed I like to bake ;), I also like to support local bakeries.  When I was a kid I always wanted a store bought cake for my birthday, with pretty decorations, and I didn’t get one until my sweet sixteen.  So for birthdays, I like to go to local bakery extraordinaire Magpies, and get our goods.  We picked up 18 mini cupcakes (the better to sample more flavors!) and then headed to grab coffee at our favorite local coffee house, Wild Love Bakehouse.  Then we met up with friends at the park, where we lounged for hours enjoying the gentle breeze and bright sunshine.  This I could do EVERY DAY.  But as it happened to also be National Picnic Day, it worked out perfectly.  We may even make a picnic party a Daniel-Birthday-Tradition!

Salted Caramel Porter and Watermelon Limeade at Last Days of Autumn Brewing.
Salted Caramel Porter and Watermelon Limeade at Last Days of Autumn Brewing.

We ended the evening by checking out a new local brewery that is actually conveniently near the Botanical Gardens.  Last Days of Autumn Brewing is a great space.  They had live music, and my husband loved their salted caramel porter.  I loved the fact that they had a nonalcoholic watermelon limeade.  Forks on the Road food truck was there, which was also part of our reason for going last night.  They specialize in sliders, wings, and fries, and do offer a veggie slider.  I was disappointed that though the truck tweeted they’d be there from 6, they didn’t show up until almost 7, and weren’t ready to serve food until more like 7:30.  My pregnant self had not eaten anything but a cupcake and a couple of strawberries since breakfast, and it was 8pm by the time we had food in hand.  This equals bad.  Even when not pregnant I have a tendency to get hangry, and I definitely hit the danger zone last night.  My husband brought me a delicious veggie slider and sweet potato fries, and I DEVOURED them.  There are no pictures of this meal, because HUNGRY.  After, though, we were both tired, and so we called it a night.  We headed home and curled up with blankets and watched a bit of mindless tv and I fell asleep shortly thereafter.

Strawberry Almond Frangipane Croissant. AH-MAZING.
Strawberry Almond Frangipane Croissant. AH-MAZING.

Sunday  morning we headed our for coffee and pastry at the aforementioned Wild Love Bakehouse.  I actually can’t express how much we love this place.  For me, it has changed significantly how I feel about living in Knoxville.  It’s beautiful, elegant, and DELICIOUS.  They make the best croissants I’ve had outside of France.  In fact, I’ve had croissants in France that were not as good.  This is another placer that more than deserves its own post, but it has become our Sunday morning ritual.  After breakfast and coffee shop time, we did a bit of grocery shopping, and then headed home where I did use some of our strawberries to make my husband a special strawberry galette.  Recipe coming!  And for dinner a simple meal of a spicy carrot ginger soup and crusty bread.  Because moderation!

So basically, it was a low key weekend full of sunshine, sugar, hops, and friendship.  What do you like to do for you birthday?

My husband, chilling at the botanical gardens for his birthday.
My husband, chilling at the botanical gardens for his birthday.

Tahini Sauce Two Ways

Easy homemade falafel stuffed pita with the tahini sauce recipe from Epicurious.
Easy homemade falafel stuffed pita with the tahini sauce recipe from Epicurious.

We recently made homemade falafel and used the tahini sauce recipe in the original article on Just a Taste.  It was ok – heavy on the yogurt and super thick (though we did use a good Greek yogurt, which might not have been the best choice), I think it makes for a better sauce for falafel when you are eating them on their own rather than in a pita or sandwich.  So we searched out a more classic falafel sauce, and found this one on Epicurious.  I haven’t really got any tweaks for this, except to say that it is a forgiving sauce, and does taste even better if it has sat overnight. So in other words, if you’ve run out of cilantro and parsley like we did once, it’s still delicious.  I can also add that while the first is good, we’ve made the recipe from Epicurious many times now, and I think that both the falafel and the sauce are on our regular rotation now.

But which do you prefer?  Do you have a different recipe you like better?