Pear & Gorgonzola Pastries

The fall season seems to orchestrate a return to the kitchen, to lure us who enjoy to cook, back to the stove. With the cooler days and nights, heating up the oven and cooking or baking becomes conceivable once more.

Autumn fruits are everywhere and pears are definitely in season. Pears & Gorgonzola are such a great pairing. The crisp, sweet, sometimes-earthy, sometimes-citrusy flavor of pears is naturally enhanced by the unique rich flavor of this Italian blue cheese.

Gorgonzola is named after a town outside of Milan, Italy where it was originally made. This soft, creamy cheese with blue-green marbling has a slightly pungent, savory flavor. The main difference between the different types of blue cheeses, is the region or country that they are made in or what type of milk is used in them.

Neither Brion or I like the strong flavored blue cheeses, but we sure wouldn’t pass up Gorgonzola used in either a sweet or savory recipe. These little pastries are a great fall/winter dessert. A bit more fidgety than making a larger tart or pie but as always, I love individual desserts …. there just so special!

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Pear & Gorgonzola Pastries
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PASTRIES
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PASTRIES
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Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350 F.
  2. Unfold puff pastry sheet & cut into 3 long rectangles. Cut each rectangle into 3 equal size squares.
  3. Transfer to a parchment lined baking sheet. Placing tarts about an inch apart. Score a crust about 1/2-inch from edge of each tart. Using a pastry brush, paint the egg wash just across the outer crust of each tart.
  4. Divide fig jam between pastries. Spread jam across the center of each pastry, keeping it within the scored lines.
  5. Place 3-4 slices of pear in the center of the pastry, overlapping them. Sprinkle with walnuts.
  6. Divide the Gorgonzola between the pastries, gently pressing it into pears/walnuts.
  7. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until edges are golden brown & pastry is baked through.

German Krautstrudel w/ Bacon

CELEBRATING OKTOBERFEST!

Sauerkraut strudel is a popular savory strudel version in beer gardens and during Oktoberfest which is the German fall folk fest celebrated during and after the harvest season.

A tradition dates back to 1810 in Munich, Germany. Originally a celebration of the marriage of the King of Bavaria and Princess Therese. Everybody had so much fun that it was resolved to repeat the celebration, which has been done, every year since. In 2022 it runs from September 17-October 3.

Oktoberfest is not only about the beer, singing, dancing and fair attractions. Many of the best known and most loved Bavarian specialties are enjoyed during the festival.

German strudels are not limited to the classic fruit fillings for the pastry. Savory examples are very common and this simplified sauerkraut strudel with soft sautéed strands of cabbage, the smoky flavor of bacon, and a savory crunch of caraway seeds; all wrapped in a delicate, flaky crust is a good representative. 

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German Krautstrudel w/ Bacon
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350 F.
  2. Dice the bacon & cook in a pan over medium heat until it renders the fat but is not yet crispy. Drain on paper towel & sauté the diced onion in the rendered bacon fat. Cool down. In a bowl combine the drained sauerkraut, bacon, onion, egg, bread crumbs & seasonings. Mix well together.
  3. Roll out the puff pastry sheets, brush with half the melted butter. Reserve the rest. Spread half of the sauerkraut mixture over each sheet, roll & pinch to tuck in the ends. Place each strudel seam side down onto a parchment paper lined baking sheet & brush with melted butter.
  4. Bake for 35 minutes or until nicely golden brown. Allow to cool slightly before slicing with a serrated knife.
  5. Serve with sour cream, sliced green onions or mustard as a dip.
Recipe Notes
  • To make a STRUDEL DOUGH from scratch:
  • Sift 2 cups of all-purpose flour into a bowl. Mix with 1 tsp of salt. Add a beaten egg, 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil and 2/3 cup lukewarm water. 
  • Mix well together and knead into a dough. Cover with plastic and let rest 30 minutes.
  • Flour work surface and knead dough for a few minutes. Roll it out very thin.
  • Flour one side of a large, kitchen towel, spread it out. Place the rolled out dough on top and using your hands stretch it out, aim for a rectangle shape, roughly 16 by 24 inches.
  • Proceed as above and use the towel to help you roll the dough over the sauerkraut filling. 

Sweet & Sour Cherry Pastries

There are two basic types of cherries grown in North America: sweet and sour. Sour cherries are also known as tart, pie cherries, or red cherries.

Cherries are not native to North America, in fact both the sweet and sour varieties were brought to Canada and the U.S. in the 1600s by French and English settlers. The plants, especially the sour varieties, adapted well to our climate.
Sour cherries are a hardier plant than the sweet variety and are well-suited to growing in slightly cooler climates. Commercial production didn’t begin here until the 1800s

This recipe is made with sour cherries, so it has that sweet and sour ‘thing’ going on that makes it so good! Homemade sour cherry pie filling is perfect for all kinds of baked goods, such as crisp, puff pastries, pies, galettes, as a cake filling or by itself with a scoop of ice cream.

You can use fresh or frozen sour cherries. I love using frozen cherries personally, because I’ve already pitted them, but this recipe is great with fresh cherries too.

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Sweet & Sour Cherry Pastries
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Cuisine American
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Instructions
Sour Cherry Filling
  1. In a saucepan, whisk together sugar, cornstarch & salt. Add juice (water) & stir to thoroughly combine. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring frequently. Simmer until thickened, about 2 minutes; immediately remove from heat. Gradually fold in cherries; cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally.
Assembly & Baking
  1. Preheat oven to 400 F. Line two large baking sheets with baking paper. Roll the thawed puff pastry out on a surface lightly dusted with icing sugar or flour into a large square.
  2. Cut into 2 1/2-inch squares, using a sharp knife or a pizza cutter; cut about 1-inch into each corner. Drop a tablespoon of the sour cherry filling in the center of each puff pastry square.
  3. Brush the pastry with beaten egg then fold one corner into the center, allowing for a slight overlap. Repeat with the other corners to make a windmill shape. Slightly pinch corners together if needed.
  4. Sprinkle with coarse sanding sugar and bake until they are golden and firm (about 12-15 minutes) where they have puffed up on the sides. Allow to cool on the baking sheet for a few minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.
Recipe Notes
  • Cut pastry squares as big or small as you wish.

Berry Custard Tart

Glazed fresh fruit tart looks so elegant and summer-ish. They are the perfect dessert, whether your meal is casual or formal. In some ways, I guess its a version of a fruit pizza.

Apart from the fresh fruit and glaze, pastry cream adds a nice base to the tart. A custard pudding hybrid, pastry cream is used for ‘filling’, in the cold form, not as a pudding. Widely used to fill desserts like napoleons, cakes, cream puffs, tarts, etc.

To define, pastry cream is basically custard thickened with cornstarch and has a higher stability as compared to custard puddings which use just eggs to achieve their creamy texture. Vanilla is the classic flavor because it has to complete other flavors of the dessert. Pure vanilla is always best as the artificial flavorings add bitter taste profiles. In addition, some alcoholic desserts use pastry cream mixed with rum.

This tart has a layer of vanilla pastry cream, topped with raspberries and blueberries then brushed with an apricot glaze.

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Berry Custard Tart
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Cuisine American, French
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Course dessert
Cuisine American, French
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Instructions
Pastry Cream
  1. In a heavy saucepan, stir together the milk & 1/4 cup sugar. Bring to a boil over medium heat.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks & egg. Stir together the remaining sugar & cornstarch; then stir them into the egg until smooth. When the milk comes to a boil, drizzle it into the bowl in a thin stream while mixing so that you don't cook the eggs. Return the mixture to the saucepan; slowly bring to a boil, stirring constantly so the eggs don't curdle or scorch on the bottom.
  3. When the mixture comes to a boil & thickens, remove from the heat. Stir the butter & vanilla, mixing until the butter is completely blended in. Pour into a heat proof container & place a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate until chilled then beat until smooth with an electric mixer before using.
Other Prep Work
  1. Preheat oven to 400°F.
  2. Line an oblong tart pan with thawed puff pastry. The short ends of the pastry should be even with the bottom of the pan but the long sides should come up to the top of pan sides. With a sharp knife, score the long sides where the sides meet the bottom of pan. Do not cut all the way through. Pierce the center of the pastry with a fork. Whisk together the egg and milk. Brush the edges of the pastry shell with the egg wash.
  3. Bake the pastry shell for 15-20 minutes or until puffed and golden brown. Remove to a rack to cool completely. If needed, press the center down lightly to create an indentation. Cool while preparing filling.
  4. Rinse & carefully dry fruit on paper towels. In a small blender, puree apricot preserves with water or liqueur until smooth.
Assembly
  1. Place smooth pastry cream in a piping bag with a large flat tip. Carefully pipe pastry cream in long strips to cover the bottom ONLY of the puff pastry shell.
  2. Arrange a row of raspberries down both sides of the tart; close to the edge & close to each other. Using a long straight edge helps to place the fruit in an even line.
  3. To 1/3 of the apricot glaze add some red food coloring to help accent the natural color of the raspberries. Apply a couple of light coats of the glaze carefully to the raspberries.
  4. Fill the center of the area with blueberries, being careful to distribute evenly in rows. Using the remainder of the un-colored apricot glaze, give several light coats to blueberries. Chill until ready to serve.

Spiced Persimmon Tarte Tatin

Browning, bruised and overlooked, you can’t help but feel bad for the half dozen persimmons nestled on the grocery shelf waiting to be selected. As I mentioned in an earlier post, there is no end to the ways persimmons can be used.

In this recipe, I used some Chinese five-spice to give the persimmons a spicy upgrade. With the unique flavor profile of this interesting spice, it often pulls double duty in savory and sweet dishes.

It seems that the exact origin of five-spice powder is unknown but there is some speculation that the blend was created in traditional Chinese medicine. A very unique spice blend that represents a wide range of flavors from sweet, salty and bitter to pungent and sour. Rumor has it that the Chinese were trying to create a ‘miracle powder’ that was representative of all the five elements: wood, fire, earth, metal and water. Then again, its possible that a cook accidentally stumbled upon this particular combination of spices and realized its power to improve on a bland dish. In any case, it is very versatile and can be used not only in cooking but also adds a unique flavor to baked goods.

Many recipes for five-spice powder exist but there is no one traditional recipe. Often the ingredients and amounts can vary from region to region and are different depending on the household and individual tastes. The original blend contained star anise, Szechuan peppercorns, fennel seed, cinnamon and cloves. A staple in Chinese cuisine but has also found its way into other international cuisines such as Vietnamese and Hawaiian food.

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Spiced Persimmon Tarte Tatin
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Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 400 F. Lay puff pastry on a piece of parchment paper. Cover with plastic wrap; chill until needed.
  2. In a skillet, melt butter & sprinkle sugar evenly over it. Add peeled, sliced persimmons & sauté until liquid is bubbling & lightly golden. Reduce heat & continue cooking until persimmons are tender. If you wish, thicken any juices with the cornstarch. Remove from heat & divide evenly into 6 ramekin dishes. Sprinkle persimmons evenly with five-spice & salt.
  3. Cut 6 rounds from chilled puff pastry larger than the tops of the ramekin dishes. Place a pastry round over each dish of persimmons tucking edges down inside.
  4. Bake until pastry is golden & cooked through, 20-25 minutes. Allow to cool then run a knife around edge of ramekin dish. Carefully but quickly invert onto a serving plate.

Mushroom ‘Holly’ & Olive Straws

CELEBRATING NEW YEAR’S EVE!

A time to look back on the passing year and generally take ‘stock’ as well as looking forward to the new year approaching. New Year’s Eve means different things to different people. Before covid entered our lives, parties & celebrations were the order of the day, a happy way to speed the old year out and the new year in. Many traditions are involved in the New Year’s celebration, one of which is the singing of ‘Auld Lang Syne’.

The words and music of Auld Lang Syne have evolved over the years. Although the song has often been credited to the Scottish poet, Robert Burns, he never claimed to have written the poem or compose the melody but was inspired by someone singing it. The best translation of the Scottish words are ‘for the sake of old times’.

The traditional melody of the song is rarely heard nowadays and is more folkish. The version we’re familiar with dates to 1929. It was Guy Lombardo, the Canadian born bandleader that helped make Auld Lang Syne a New Year’s Eve tradition in North America. His band, the Royal Canadians, played the song at the turn of the new year in a series of popular radio (and later television) broadcasts that began on December 31, 1929 and continued for more than 30 years. This musical tradition is still sung all over the world, evoking a sense of belonging and fellowship, tinged with nostalgia.

Until I researched this songs history, I didn’t actually know the English ‘translation’ of it. This is what I found it to be:

Should old acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind? Should old acquaintance be forgot, and old lang syne?

For auld lang syne, my dear, for auld lang syne, we’ll take a cup of kindness yet, for auld lang syne.

And surely, you’ll buy your pint cup! And surely, I’ll buy mine! And we’ll take a cup o’ kindness yet, for auld lang syne.

We two have run about the slopes and picked the daisies fine; But we’ve wandered many a weary foot, since auld lang syne.

We two have paddled in the stream, from morning sun till dine; But seas between us broad have roared Since auld lang syne.

 And there’s a hand my trusty friend! And give me a hand o’ thine! And we’ll take a right good will draught, For auld lang syne.

So here we are, with a new year just around the corner. As a farmer’s daughter, I still hang on to the mind set of my father and that was, that next year will definitely be better.

I am posting a couple of little hors d’oeuvres you might enjoy if you are bringing in the new year at home with family.

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Mushroom Leaves & Olive Straws
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Instructions
Mushroom Leaves
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Using a holly leaf cookie cutter, cut 18 leaves from thawed puff pastry. Place in a single layer on a parchment-lined baking sheet and refrigerate while mushrooms cook.
  3. In a skillet over medium-low heat, heat olive oil & add the shallot & salt. Sauté until beginning to brown & caramelize. Remove the shallot to a bowl & set aside.
  4. In the same skillet, heat the remaining olive oil & sauté mushrooms until tender & moisture has evaporated. Add garlic, thyme & pepper; sauté for an additional minute. Place in the bowl with the shallot. Stir in the cheese.
  5. In a dish, whisk egg & milk. With your finger tip, moisten edges of the pastry leaves with egg wash. Put a tiny bit of mustard in the center of each leaf.
  6. Divide mushroom/cheese mixture between leaves. Bake until pastry is golden brown and puffed, about 25 minutes, rotating pan halfway through. Serve warm.
Olive Straws
  1. On a lightly floured work surface, unfold 1 (10"x10") sheet of puff pastry. Roll pastry with rolling pin to increase size slightly (about 1/2 -3/4-inch. Cut the sheet in half.
  2. Place about 10 olives, end to end in a straight line across the pastry starting about 3/4 of an inch from the edge. Repeat with 2 more rows, leaving about the same width between each row.
  3. In a small bowl, whisk together egg and milk. Brush egg mixture on all exposed spaces between olives. Cover with the other half of the puff pastry, pressing the whole surface of the dough between the olives & outside edges firmly with your fingertips. Transfer to refrigerator; let chill 20 minutes.
  4. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
  5. Using a very sharp knife, trim edges of dough; cut crosswise into 1/4-inch-wide straws. Lay flat-side down on a baking sheet. Transfer to oven and bake until pastry is golden and crisp, 5 to 6 minutes. Transfer straws to a wire rack to cool slightly. Serve warm. Yield: 24 olive straws

Tarte Tatin w/ Onions, Cheese & Thyme

If you’re familiar with the French dessert called ‘Tarte Tatin’, you know that it is an upside-down caramelized apple tart. Basically, the apples are underneath the pastry. As with many things of brilliance, the creation was actually an accident. Named after the woman who invented it, Caroline Tatin, who had become a little distracted while baking an apple dessert at her hotel restaurant. She mixed butter, sugar and peeled apples, poured the mixture into a baking dish, completely forgetting the pastry. The mixture cooked & caramelized before she realized there was no pastry under it. In attempt to save the dessert, she placed some pastry on top and returned it to the oven. The result was Tarte Tatin with deliciously inversed flavors.

Onions are really a perfect bridge to take a normally sweet dish into the savory world.  They already caramelize beautifully and when you add honey, spices, cheese and puff pastry, there’s really not a lot that could go wrong. The same traditional Tarte Tatin concept in a savory version. 

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Tarte Tatin w/ Onions, Cheese & Thyme
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Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 375 F.
  2. Cut each onion lengthwise into 12 wedges, leaving roots intact.
  3. In a 12-inch cast-iron skillet, melt butter over medium heat. Add onions; cook, turning occasionally, until just beginning to brown, about 5 minutes. Add vinegar & honey (or apple cider vinegar & brown sugar); cook for 5 minutes. Add thyme, salt & pepper; sprinkle with Parmesan. Remove from heat.
  4. On a lightly floured surface, gently roll pastry sheet to remove any crease lines. Using a knife, cut pastry into a 13-inch circle. Place pastry onto onions, carefully tucking edges down into skillet. Cut 2 small slits in top of pastry to release steam.
  5. Bake until pastry is puffed & golden brown, 20-25 minutes. Let stand for 5 minutes. Carefully invert tarte onto a serving platter. Serve immediately. Garnish with thyme if desired.

Mini Lemon Kiwi Strudel

Like many dishes, this one is a fusion of different cultures. Strudel is an Austro-Hungarian pastry made with a thin, layered dough. Originally that dough was the almost transparent sheets of Turkish phyllo. Subsequent cultures employed the much easier to use puff pastry.

The word strudel is a Germanic word for ‘whirlpool’. You can visualize someone back than saying …… ‘can I please have some of that stuff that looks like’, (and they spin their fingers) and say ‘whirlpool’.

Strudel fillings have varied over the years from savory to sweet, depending on who was making them. European immigrants brought their recipes to North America in the early 20th century, and strudel became popular in bakeries and restaurants.

Today, I’m making some individual strudels in a little different style. I guess I’ll just say I’m ‘reinterpreting the strudel’.

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Mini Lemon Kiwi Strudel
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STRUDELS
Ingredients
Lemon Pudding Mixture
Servings
STRUDELS
Ingredients
Lemon Pudding Mixture
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Instructions
  1. Peel & dice kiwi; place in a large bowl. Gently fold in lemon juice (if using) & set aside.
  2. Roll out half of the puff pastry until thin; cut into 3 even, long slices. Lightly brush the slices with cream.
  3. Spread half of the drained kiwi/lemon mixture down the center on all 3 slices.
  4. Roll the dough over the kiwi mixture from bottom to top, until you have even rolls. Pinch the sides of the rolls to seal them. Repeat with second half of puff pastry & kiwi mixture until you have 12 strudels.
  5. Preheat oven to 400 F. Lightly grease a 12 cup muffin tin OR use silicone cups.
  6. Cut rolls in the middle & transfer with the closed side down into a muffin tin.
  7. In a pouring container, whisk together lemon pudding powder with 1 1/2 cups water. Pour about 2 tablespoons into each strudel. Spread egg wash over strudels.
  8. Bake strudel for 25-30 minutes, until golden brown.
  9. Remove from oven & allow to cool for a few minutes. Take strudels out of baking cups. Top with a dollop of lemon pudding (see NOTES below).
Recipe Notes
  • You will have some lemon pudding & egg wash leftover. I added the egg to the pudding mix & cooked it until it thickened. 
  • I placed a dollop on top of each strudel for a nice finishing touch.
  • It was a good way to use the leftovers.

Scallop Shell Pies

Scallop shell pies are a nice touch in the savory pie world, I guess you could say it’s a seafood inspired twist on a classic!

We are only in the month of March, so there’s plenty of time to savor comfort food at its finest. Typically, pot pie does not have an abundance of ingredients so it is imperative to build a good flavor profile.

When making the sauce, I always use stock as opposed to water. Any thickened sauce depends on a roux. Making sure its cooked to a light golden brown helps to avoid the ‘flour’ taste and allows the other ingredients to come to the forefront.

Within the loose definition of a ‘pot pie’, its easy to add (or remove) flavors that interest you. Its all about creative expression!

When choosing the pastry, there are no right answers, just numerous possibilities that depend on the maker. Modern convenience embraces the use of puff pastry as a flakier, more delicate solution. You could call it a weeknight comfort food’s best friend.

This pot pie is made with a puff pastry ‘scallop shell’ lid and no bottom crust. The golden crust acts like a piece of bread and soaks up some of the decadence with every bite. Adding scallops to a creamy vegetable based filling creates an amazing meal.

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Scallop Shell Pies
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Course Main Dish
Cuisine American
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Course Main Dish
Cuisine American
Servings
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Instructions
Pastry
  1. Thaw puff pastry. Leave on parchment & cut out 2 shell shapes to cover your ramekins. Mark with the lines on them to replicate sea shells. Place in fridge until ready to use.
Filling
  1. In a saucepan, fry bacon until crisp; remove & drain on paper towel. Sauté leek, mushrooms & garlic in bacon drippings for a few minutes. Add cooked, diced potatoes, flour & seasoning.
  2. Preheat oven to 425 F.
  3. Sauté for another minute, making sure to coat everything with the flour. Add chicken broth, stirring well to dissolve the flour; bring to a simmer. Reduce heat, add scallops, crumbled bacon, cream & salt & pepper to taste; gently stir to combine.
  4. Remove filling from heat & divide between ramekins. Top with chilled puff pastry & brush with egg wash. Bake for about 20 minutes or until nice & golden.
Recipe Notes
  • When I have some pastry scraps leftover, I make a bit of cinnamon/sugar to sprinkle on it. It makes a few little tasty sweet snacks to nibble on.

Mushroom Meatball Wellington

Meatballs don’t have to be boring. Tender, juicy meatballs, wrapped in puff pastry and served with a zesty sauce makes an easy, inexpensive version of the classic beef wellington.

Economical and versatile, cooking with ground meat opens up plenty of avenues for experimenting. Beyond reliable beef, almost all meats can be ground, but each kind of meat should be treated differently to fully enjoy the benefits.

Consider the fat content of ground meat before you buy. Some fat content is desirable as it adds flavor and helps to keep meat moist during cooking. Choose different types of ground meat for specific dishes. For example …. fatty beef makes juicier burgers but leaner ground turkey or chicken works better served as smaller meatballs or in a sauce. Ground pork makes for a cheaper burger than beef, plus it is unlikely to dry out. Flavor pork with spices like mace, or herbs like sage, thyme and fennel seeds and of course always ensure its cooked through. Ground meat is one of those things that generally ‘you get what you pay for’.

These meatballs make a tasty meal that can be ‘dressed up or down’, depending on what it is served with.

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Meatball Wellington
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Instructions
  1. In a skillet over medium heat, melt butter. Saute mushrooms, onion & garlic until onions & garlic are soft & most of the moisture has been released from the mushrooms, about 3-5 minutes. Set aside to cool.
  2. Preheat oven to 400 F. Line a baking tray with parchment paper.
  3. In a large bowl, combine cooled veg mixture, pork, breadcrumbs & seasonings; mix all ingredients until incorporated. Shape mixture into 1 1/2-inch meatballs.
  4. Cut thawed puff pastry into thin strips. Wrap each meatball with a few strips of the pastry & place on the baking sheet. Brush pastry with egg wash.
  5. Bake 25-30 minutes or until golden & meat is cooked through. Remove from oven & place on serving platter. These are nice to serve with steamed broccoli, mashed potatoes and mushroom gravy.