Matt and I both spent the weekend in Pittsburgh for what seems like the first in months and lived it up locally. Multiple strolls around the city. Breakfast crepes on a lazy Saturday. Impromptu dinner dates. Oh, and an evening spent at one of America's oldest amusement parks: Kennywood! (No pictures -- I take only the essentials with me for fear of losing things.) We had a blast riding rides and enjoyed the trip down memory lane. Fact: I've been visiting Kennywood almost every year since I was 6 or 7 years old. However, I did experience one thing for the very first time at the ripe old age of 27:
A corn dog! How on earth I've ever tasted one of these until this past weekend baffles me. Delicious! Salty! Sweet! Crunchy and fluffy. My goodness. Food from the Heavens.
(I promise this post isn't entirely about corn dogs. Keep reading.)
What about this treat was so appealing? Its simplicity! A hot dog dunked in cornmeal batter and fried. That's it. For that, I waited nearly 30 minutes in line and, once I sunk my teeth into that fried wonder, I never regretted a single second. I obviously wasn't the only one who appreciated this glorious treat.
It's fitting, then, that after this weekend full of simple pleasures in life that I'm finally sharing with you one of my all-time favorite appetizer recipes: ham and cheese puff pastry! Ina Garten for the win with this one.
Whoever said that party food must be dirty-every-dish-in-your-kitchen complicated is clearly 1) crazy, and 2) not a frequent host. Guests appreciate good simple food. Familiar flavors with a slight twist. That's what jumped out at me about this recipe -- taking the classic combination of maple glazed ham and salty Swiss cheese and giving it a makeover! I knew it would be totally perfect for the apartment-warming party -- little prep, easy plating, and no fuss or utensils needed.
When I think of ham and cheese, I think of sandwiches made lovingly by my mom in the morning before school. Take that classic taste and lose the sandwich bread and add some buttery golden puff pastry. Schmear a healthy dose of tangy Dijon mustard on one sheet of the pastry dough. Layer and pile high slices of the smoky ham and soon-to-be-gooey cheese.
And top with the remaining pastry and, um, that's it, folks. You've just taken a brown bag lunch staple and made it cocktail party-friendly. How easy is that?
The best part about this was the timing, something you'll get better at with each time you entertain. Forty minutes before the party started, I assembled everything and popped it into the oven. Thirty minutes and counting, I washed dishes and cleaned up the kitchen. Twenty minutes before I plated the rest of the food. Ten minutes before I sat down and just relaaaaaaxed for a bit. Five minutes before the curtain went up, I removed the pastry from the oven and marveled at the golden crust.
Look at those buttery layers just begging to be savored by yours truly! ...and my friends and family, yes, them. They loved the buttery pastry, too. Everyone kept asking, "What... is... in... this?" between bites and chewing. When I'd list the four ingredients in it, I don't think anyone really believed that it could be that simple. But I don't think they really cared, to be honest with you. I think they were in the market for good food and a good time, and they got just that. That's all party guests really want, so why deprive them when it's so easy to oblige them? :)
One Year Ago: Sour cherry pie
Ham and Cheese in Puff Pastry
(adapted from Ina Garten)
A few notes: Experiment with the filling if you like. Proscuitto, pesto and fresh mozzarella would be a nice Italian version of this. Maybe thinly-sliced roasted beef with a sharp white cheddar and a bit of horseradish would be a tasty and spicy twist. Or try a sweet version with Nutella and banana or strawberries... oh gosh, I am so making this again.
1 package (2 sheets) frozen puff pastry, defrosted in refrigerator overnight
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1/4 pound black forest ham, sliced
1/2 pound Swiss cheese, sliced
1 egg, beaten with 1 tablespoon water, for egg wash
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Place a piece of parchment paper on a sheet pan.
Lay 1 sheet of puff pastry on a floured board and carefully roll it out to 10 by 12 inches. Place it on a sheet pan and brush the center with the mustard, leaving a 1-inch border around the edge. Place a layer first of ham and then cheese, also leaving a 1-inch border. Brush the border with the egg wash.
Place the second sheet of puff pastry on the floured board and roll it out to 10 by 12 inches. Place the second sheet on top of the filled pastry, lining up the edges. Cut the edges straight with a small, sharp knife and press together lightly. Brush the top with egg wash and cut a few slits in the top to allow steam to escape.
Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until puffed and golden brown. Allow to cool for a few minutes before cutting into 12 pieces (4 pieces on the long side, 3 on the short) and serve hot or warm.