For the past four years, I've written In Our Kitchen, a column on home cooking for the Times.
It began as entries chronicling what went down in the tiny kitchen I shared with my boyfriend as we shook off the eating habits of our college days and learned to cook for ourselves.
We're now coming up on our second wedding anniversary, and we share a more spacious kitchen in a house we own. The way we cook has evolved, and so has my food writing.
I do most of the cooking at home now (he, thankfully, does most of the dishes), and we're often feeding more than just the two of us. So I'm turning my focus in this new column, Everyday Entertaining, to how I cook and entertain for family and friends at home.
It will delve into the recipes and methods I use to feed a large group -- or a friend who comes over for movie night. Things like the savory cobbler -- with juicy red and yellow cherry tomatoes peeking through biscuits freckled with bits of browned Gruyère -- that anchored a summer brunch spread for friends. Or the pork ribs lacquered with caramel sauce for the night before Christmas Eve and the Lasagna Bolognese with homemade bechamel, tomato sauce and noodles I served the following evening. A few years ago, my husband and I worked up three Christmas lasagnas, including a vegetarian one with a chickpea bolognese, despite a late-night breakdown of our pasta maker.
A gloriously puffy Dutch baby pancake made a last-minute sleepover special when a friend's air conditioning stopped working at her house and she spent the night. Chicken braised briefly in a mustard and white wine sauce with shallots and tarragon makes weeknight dinner parties possible. So do meatballs simmered on the stove.
Most recently, it was a batch of homemade Pop-Tart-like pastries, a s'mores version for a party of 26. They were glazed and garnished with crushed graham crackers, a fun and unexpected crowdpleaser to follow baked ziti. Those were inspired by ones I created to munch on while watching the Gilmore Girls revival with a friend, made with Nutella, sprinkles and frozen puff pastry.
Entertaining doesn't end in the twilight hours of New Year's Eve, it just changes shape over the course of the year. After the year-end holidays, there are many occasions, both big and small, that merit celebrating with good food and good company.
I've always liked celebrating the little things, which is why I keep a bottle of prosecco in the refrigerator and puff pastry in the freezer for everyday entertaining.
Ileana Morales Valentine can be reached at email@example.com.
Puff Pastry Pop-Tarts
These slightly grownup versions of Pop-Tarts are infinitely adaptable and easy to make. Using store-bought puff pastry means these are always available as a fun treat. The tarts can take a sweet or savory route to suit the occasion or mood. The basic instructions are below, followed by ideas for fillings. Skip the recipe's sweet glaze and sprinkles if you use a more savory filling.
2 sheets puff pastry, thawed
½ cup chocolate-hazelnut spread, like Nutella, or other filling (see below)
1 egg, beaten
1 cup powdered sugar
2 tablespoons half-and-half or milk
Sprinkles or crushed cookies, for garnish (optional)
Heat oven to 400 degrees.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Gently roll out puff pastry over the parchment. Use a knife to gently create a grid with 9 even squares. Spread 2 teaspoons filling in the center of each square, leaving about a ¾-inch border all around. (You could use 3 teaspoons of filling, but resist the temptation to add more as over-stuffing will cause Pop-Tarts to split in the oven.)
Lay the second sheet of puff pastry on top of the other one, gently pressing down the edges (make sure to press between the lumps of filling as well). Use a knife to cut into 9 rectangles.
Gently separate the tarts and space them out evenly on the baking sheet. If at any time the dough gets too soft to work with, pop it in the freezer or the fridge for a few minutes and allow it to firm up slightly.
Use the tines of a fork to gently press the edges all around each square. Add 1 teaspoon water to the beaten egg and mix thoroughly to combine in a small bowl. Brush the egg wash lightly onto each tart; this will help them turn golden brown.
Place sheet pan in center of oven and bake until golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes. Transfer tarts to a wire rack and allow to cool completely.
Meanwhile, make a glaze by mixing the powdered sugar and half-and-half. (If too thick, add a bit more half-and-half. If too thin, add a bit more sugar.)
Drizzle glaze over the cooled tarts. Garnish with sprinkles or crushed cookies, if using. Serves 9.
Other filling ideas: Nutella; marshmallow fluff and 1-inch squares of chocolate (don't use chips), with a garnish of crushed graham crackers; tomato jam and goat cheese, garnished with fresh thyme; apricot or raspberry jam and cream cheese; leftover pulled pork and barbecue sauce
Source: Ileana Morales Valentine