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Leek and Prosciutto Tart with Warm Apple Cider for Fall Brunch

Yay! I made it! You wondering what? Well, I have been planning this brunch for the past three weekends and something or other just kept pushing it on to the back burner. This weekend, I finally decided to tell my Google calender whoz boss! I put my foot down, cleaned out all the scribbles in my schedule and got down to the baking....

Now, you wonder, why all this fuss to get this done. After all, brunch is my favorite meal of the weekend especially because it has such a leisurely note to it! Well... the thing is, Meeta of What's for Lunch Honey is hosting a Brunch today and I don't want to be late for it. It isn't polite, is it?; to RSVP yes and then show up after the party! Very very not acceptable in my hostessing and guesting book....

Anyway, I do get like that when I have to host or cook something by a deadline. I frazzle about and worry till the table is all set and ready. Even then, I can think of just a few more garnishes and little stuff that would make it better and more so... The never ending quest for perfection, ain't it?! :)

Anyway, I have made the typical brunches / breakfasts at home; pancakes and bacon, over easy eggs with Mornay Sauce, Eggs on Toast with Fruit Sauce and more. I love brunching at home. It is my favorite meal, as I said, but I do not particularly relish standing in a line for hours to get it (as inevitably happens at any decent brunch place in the city on a weekend.. New Yorkers' discretionary patience just amazes me sometimes :)))..

This time, I wanted to make something different but still brunch-y. I wanted to play with eggs, cheese, ham and fresh fruit, all typical brunch items for me.

So I thought, why not bake? And, ofcourse, quiche immediately popped into my head. That's a bit more lunch-like for me and quite heavy. So I went with a lighter tart and to bring in that bacon/ham angle, I chose the delicate and flavorful prosciutto paired with mild leeks and goat cheese. And the fruit; well, it's Fall and you guessed it.. Apples!! I made fresh warm spiced apple cider with a hint of citrus...

So, that is the lovely brunch I plan to take to Meeta's - Leek & Prosciutto Tart with Arugula Salad and Warm Apple Cider....

Let's toast!

Leek & Prosciutto Tart
(makes 2 six inch individual tarts or 1 9inch tart)

1 butter crust (Recipe here)
4 oz goat cheese, room temperature
2 T sour cream
2 eggs, room temperature
1 small leeks, sliced fine
1/4 lb prosciutto
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp pimento sauce or other hot sauce
salt and pepper to taste

Chop the prosciutto into squares, reserving a slice or two for garnish. Cream goat cheese and sour cream together to get a smooth, creamy mixture (this is why, it is important to bring the cheese to room temperature). Add the eggs one at the time and whisk to incorporate fully. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix well.

If you are making individual tarts, cut the tart crust accordingly. Blind bake for 10-12 minutes at 400 degrees. Cool the tarts a little, so the eggs don't scramble. Fill and bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes until cooked and the center is set.

Rest for a few minutes till cool enough to handle. Serve the tarts, garnished with the reserved prosciutto and a few leek rings..

For the salad, I dressed the arugula simply with balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper and topped with toasted pignolis.

Fresh Spiced Apple Cider

4 Macintosh apples, cored, peeled, diced
1 tsp lemon juice
2 slices of lemon
1 tsp sugar
2 cups water
1 stick cinnamon
5 cloves
1 star anise
2 cloves cardamom

Puree the apples with the lemon juice to as fine a consistency as you can. Add a little water if needed to get the blades working. In a sauce pan, add the apple puree with the rest of the ingredients and bring to a boil. Simmer for 10 minutes with lid on. Cool for a few minutes and let the flavors steep. To serve, strain the cider through a fine sieve. Garnish with a slice of lemon or some mint.

Simply good homemade pizza!

This is Act II of the great artichoke experiment. Read about Act I here.

I love pizza.. I mean who doesn't ?! If I could, I would eat it almost every other day. But, alas, things so good are hardly ever good for you. Now, exactly what about the pizza is bad? Oh, the gallons of grease, and piles of cheese, you say; all good tasting but sadly artery clogging stuff. But, what if you could actually control all that to the normal and acceptable (even by nutritionists!) levels ? If you could with some extra effort ensure that a pizza slice is as good-for-you a meal as any other that you make at home, would you do it? Ofcourse, without compromising on the flavor etc. etc....

If you are willing to go that extra bit, then you are in for a happy, happy surprise! I made pizza at home. Yes, from scratch. What else did you expect from me?! The base, toppings, the whole nine yards. Ok! I cheated on the sauce (got it out of a jar) but still.. there were all in controlled proportions.

The idea for a pizza was born out of a need to best incorporate the sauteed baby artichokes that I had made at home in Act I of the artichoke experiment (read here). I really would not have even considered making the pizza base at home if not for browsing some of my favorite food blogs, in particular Smitten Kitchen. She makes bread-making sound so easy that I decided to give it second chance. You see, the first one didn't go so well...

Many months ago, I had made rosemary focaccia at home. It came out really nice and all that and I made wonderful mediterranean sandwiches with it. But, for some reason, I felt that it was way too much effort. Ever since, I have not attempted to make any yeast-bread at home at all. Until now... This is also the first recipe of SK's I was trying out. So, well, much hung in the balance (for whom?! well, I suppose for me!.. and the artichokes!)..

Once I set about it, I was really surprised to see how easy it was. Yes, it does take time and it isn't a 30-minute meal but let me assure you, it is worth every minute. It made me wonder why I thought all this was a painful process in the first place (note the vague 'for some reason' in the last para). But, well, happily I have been corrected of my faulty notion. And, from this day forward, I swear to give any other yeast bread more than a passing shot in my kitchen!

So, once the dough was all set, I rolled it out into a 10 inch round and topped it up with some really healthy stuff and no grease! As I mentioned, the primary aim of the pizza was to make use of the sauteed artichokes from earlier. So that was the star. To complement the artichokes, I used marinara sauce base, red onion slices and soft goat cheese. I love the combination of artichokes and goat cheese. So, instead of the usual mozzarella, I went mediterranean all the way. Simple, clean flavors.. that's the way I like it...

It was delicious! And, the best part, it was even healthy. So, I can really have it every other day as I would like to.. except for the dough-making ofcourse. But, nevertheless, more often than before and with my own choice of toppings! Yippee! :)

Homemade Pizza
Pizza base recipe from Smitten Kitchen
( 1 small, thin crust pizza, serves two)

For the base:
1 -1/2 cups of flour
1 tsp salt
3/4 tsp active dry yeast
1/2 cup lukewarm water + a bit more, if needed
1 T olive oil

1/2 cup marinara sauce
1/3 cup sauteed artichokes
3 oz goat cheese crumbled
1/2 small onion julienned

To make the pizza base, stir dry ingredients, including yeast, in a large bowl. Add water and olive oil, stirring mixture into as close to a ball as you can. Dump all clumps and floury bits onto a lightly floured surface and knead everything into a homogeneous ball.

(If you find the dough difficult to work with, leave it in a lightly-floured spot, put the empty bowl upside-down on top of it and come back in 2 to 5 minutes. The dough should be a lot more pliable now.)

Knead the dough for a minute or two. Lightly oil the bowl, put the dough back in, turn it over to coat all sides. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave it in a warm place till it doubles in size (one to two hours).

When the dough has risen, put it back on the floured counter and gently press the air out of it with the palm of your hands. Fold the dough into an approximate ball shape, and let it sit under that plastic wrap for 20 more minutes. The dough will be pretty elastic so you can stretch it bit and fit into a ball shape. It will retain shape once formed.

After 20 minutes, dump the dough back onto the floured surface and roll it out into a 10 inch round. It will be a thin (NY style!) base and I love it best that way!

Spread the marinara evenly over the base leaving a half inch border. Sprinkle the toppings (red onion slices and artichokes) generously around the pizza. Top with crumbles of goat cheese. Brush the exposed edge of the base lightly with olive oil and sprinkle some over the pizza to keep it moist.

If you have a pizza stone, then preheat in the over at 500 degrees and ease the pizza onto it. If not, then place a baking sheet upside down in the oven rack and preheat. Ease the prepared pizza onto a piece of parchment paper and place on the back of the baking sheet. Bake at 500 degrees for 10 minutes until edges are golden brown and crisp. Remove to platter.

Let the pizza rest for a minute or two (this step is excruciatingly painful but perseverance pays! :) ). Cut slices and dig in!

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