Sassy Southern Cooking with a French Twist


Recipes, articles and thoughts on tarts and possibly Tart Love

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Stress-Free and Decadent Thanksgiving Dessert

Thanksgiving is all about tradition, but let’s face it, not everyone loves apple, pumpkin or pecan pie, and not everyone loves to bake or get involved with making or rolling out pie pastry.

That’s where this decadent tart comes into your Thanksgving day stress-free dessert plan. Except for a quick bake to set the butter and chocolate Graham cracker crust, it’s completely oven-free. The filling, a blend of peanut butter and marshmallow fluff is blended together and chilled, something that can be done a few days ahead. Just before serving, top it off with a thick layer of freshly whipped cream and a drizzle of chocolate chips. It’s a Reese’s lovers dream, with whipped cream on top that’s sure to please.

Peanut Butter Fluff and Chocolate Tart. Photo by Helene Dujardin.

Peanut Butter Fluff and Chocolate Tart. Photo by Helene Dujardin.

Adapted from Tart Love – Sassy, Savory and Sweet by Holly Herrick (Gibbs Smith, October 1, 2011).

Peanut Butter Fluff & Chocolate Tart

Equipment Needed: One 9″ X 1″ round tart pan with removable bottom

For the chocolate crust:

1 stick soft, unsalted butter

3 cups crumbled chocolate Graham Cracker Crust (about 1 1/2 of the individually wrapped plastic packets)

For the filling:

1 cup creamy peanut butter

4 ounces (1/2 cup) cream cheese

3/4 cup marshmallow cream (suggest Kraft’s Jet-Puffed brand)

1/4 cup light brown sugar

For the topping:

1/2 cup whipping cream

3 tablespoons granulated sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chunks or chips

Preheat oven to 375F. Prepare the crust. To crumble the Graham Crackers, crush the packets with a rolling pin and continue smashing them (this part is fun!) until they resemble the size of tiny peas. Combine the cracker crumbs in a small bowl. Using your hands, combine the butter and the crumbs until they’re evenly mixed. Press the crust into the bottom of the tart pan forming an even thickness and pressing the crumbs into the edges of the tart pan. It’s o.k. if it looks a little rough and rustic. Line with parchment paper and fill with pie weights or dried beans and bake for 25 minutes. Remove the parchment and pie weights and continue baking until the crust starts to dry out and crisp, another 20  minutes or so. Remove from the oven and set aside for 20 minutes to cool. Chill to refrigerate. (Note: The crust can chill, covered with plastic wrap overnight or for several hours).

Meanwhile, prepare the filling. Combine the peanut butter, cream cheese, marshmallow cream and light brown sugar in a medium sized bowl. Whisk to combine, or blend with a hand held mixer utnil very fluffy and smooth.

When the crust is completely chilled, add the filling.  Smooth with a spatula to meet the edges of the tart. Refrigerate at this point for several hours or overnight, if desired. Within one or two hours of serving, prepare the whipped cream. Combine the cold cream, sugar and vanilla in a medium sized, cold bowl and beat with a whisk or blender until firm peaks have formed. All at once, place the whipped cream on top of the filled tart. Spread with a spatula to level it out, leaving a 1/2″ visible border of the peanut butter filling. Drizzle the chocolate chunks over the whipped cream. Chill for at least one hour and up to three hours before serving.

Bon appetit and Happy Thanksgiving!


St. Patrick’s Day Surprise – Shapely Shepherd’s Pie

Even though I’m about 50% Irish, my maiden name is McCauley, and my grandfather on my father’s side was born in the old country,  I  really struggle with St. Patrick’s Day. I’m extremely proud of my heritage, and to see it reduced to green beer, frequently sodden behavior, and frequently bad food leaves me grumpier than an extremely unlucky leprechaun. That is, until someone makes me a really top-notch Shepherd’s Pie, like the one in the recipe that follows.

Adapted from my cookbook,  Tart Love – Sassy, Savory, and Sweet (Gibbs Smith, October, 2011),  the traditional free-form potato-topped casserole is encased with a pie pastry. Truly delicious and nutritious, it can be made ahead of time, and the only (real – not dyed!!)  green thing about it comes from the peas and the parsley. Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Lovely photo by Helene Dujardin

Shapely Shepherd’s Pie

(Serves Eight)

Fluffy mashed potatoes topped with fragrant grass-fed beef (or substitute lamb) and a layer of spring peas wrapped with a casing of buttery pastry makes this dish a winner any time of year, but it’s particularly well-suited to early spring, and, of course, St. Patrick’s Day.

Equipment needed: One 9-inch deep-dish (2 – 3 inches deep) pie pan

1 Recipe Master Savory Pastry

2 1/2 cups White Lily all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons sea salt or kosher salt

2 sticks (1 cup) AA grade unsalted butter, cold and cut into 1/4-inch cubes

3 tablespoons ice- cold water, or just enough to hold the pastry together.

Mashed Potatoes

2 russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 2-inch cubes (about 4 cups)

2 teaspoons kosher salt, divided

Water to cover

1/4 – 1/2 cup whole cream (depending on desired texture)

2 – 3 tablespoons sweet butter

1/2 teaspoon prepared horseradish

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste


2 cups shelled fresh peas, blanched and refreshed, or 2 cups frozen peas

1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons salt

Meat Filling

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 pound ground grass-fed beef (or substitute lamb or traditional ground beef)

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1 small onion, peeled and finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed

1 1/2 cups minced fresh carrots

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley

2 scallions, trimmed and coarsely chopped

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard


1 egg wash (yolk mixed with a sprinkle of water, dash of salt)

1 cup sour cream

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1 tablespoon prepared horseradish

Freshly ground black pepper

Prepare the pastry. In the bowl of a food processor fitted with a plastic blade, pulse together the salt and the flour to combine. Add the butter all at once, and pulse 40 – 50 times or until the butter is roughly the size of small peas. Through the mouth of the food processor, very slowly stream in the water while pulsing, until the pastry just holds together in a messy, loose clump. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface, form into a 1″-inch high disk, wrap with plastic wrap, and refrigerate at least 30 minutes or over night. Roll out on a lightly floured surface and line the pie pan with the pastry, forming a pretty, slightly elevated border. Refrigerate until ready to use.

For the mashed potatoes, place the peeled, chopped potatoes in a medium pan with salt and enough water to just cover. Bring to a boil then reduce to a gentle simmer and cook until potatoes are tender, about 15 to 20 minutes. Drain potatoes in a colander; return to the same pan and let them steam over low heat for 1 to 2 minutes to remove any excess water. Add the cream, butter, horseradish, and seasoning. Mash with a potato masher, stirring to incorporate all of the ingredients. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed. Let cool, then refrigerate to cool completely.

For the peas, bring a medium pot of generously salted water to a boil. Add peas and blanch for about 1 minutes. Drain in a colander and “shock” by running very cold water over the peas. (If using frozen peas, skip this step.)

To make the meat filling, heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add beef, season generously with salt and pepper, and brown for 4 to 5 minutes, stirring to break up and cook evenly. Drain off any excess fat, leaving 1 – 2 tablespoons in the pan. Reduce heat to medium. Add onion, garlic, and carrots; stir to coat. Let vegetables cook into the meat until just wilted, about 3 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in parsley, scallions, Worcestershire, and mustard. Taste and adjust seasonings as necessary. Refrigerate to chill the meat mixture completely.

Putting it together: Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.  Gently brush the bottom, sides and edges of the chilled pastry shell with the egg wash using a pastry brush. Spoon about 1 cup of the potatoes into the bottom of the prepared pie pastry, smoothing to distribute evenly along the bottom and about 2 ” of the sides. Add all of the cooled beef mixture, and spread evenly. Top this with the cooled blanched peas or 2 cups of frozen peas. Top with the remaining mashed potatoes, smoothing gently with a spatula and leaving at least 1/2-inch (including the crust) free of filling, since the potatoes “puff” while they cook. Cook for 45 to 60 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown.

Meanwhile, whisk together the sour cream, mustard, horseradish and pepper. Bring to room temperature before serving. Place a generous dollop on or near each slice of the pie.


Feisty Fried Shrimp and Grit Pockets

As Super Bowl mania mounts,  my thoughts (and likely yours) turn to feeding the hungry, fervent, largely male masses on game day. There are so many more delicious options than blah pigs in a blanket, team! Get out of the pocket with these tasty little morsels, one of my favorite recipes from Tart Love – Sassy, Savory, and Sweet. They’re really perfect for entertaining any day of the year.

(Adapted from Tart Love – Sassy, Savory, and Sweet, Gibbs Smith, October 2011)

These surprise hot pockets, with their perfect crunch and ooze factor, make idyllic party food or can be a central player for a Sunday brunch buffet. The best game plan is to prep the fillings and the pastry the day before, fill them on cooking day, keep cold for several hours, and fry or bake just before serving.

Feisty Fried Shrimp and Grits Pockets. Photo by Helene Dujardin.


Feisty Fried Shrimp and Grits Pockets

(Makes 24  pockets)

Equipment needed: 4-inch round pastry cutter, large pot for deep-frying

2 batches Master Savory Pastry

2 1/2 cups White Lily all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons sea salt or kosher salt

2 sticks (1 cup) AA grade unsalted butter, very cold and cut into 1/4-inch cubes

About 3 tablespoons ice -cold water, or just enough to hold the pastry together

Grits Filling

3/4 cup yellow stone ground grits

1 1/2 cups half-and-half

1 cup water

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt or sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

3/4 cup grated Gouda cheese

Shrimp Filling

3 strips bacon

1 tablespoon butter

2 cloves garlic, smashed

1 stalk celery, trimmed and finely chopped

1/4 dry white wine

1 1/2 cups boxed seafood stock

Generous dash hot sauce

2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce

3 Roma tomatoes, finely chopped

4 scallions, finely chopped

1 tablespoon ketchup

1 tablespoon cream

1 tablespoon herbes de Provence or dried thyme

3 thin slices prosciutto, cut into thin strips

1 teaspoon honey

1 pound fresh white or brown shrimp, peeled, deveined, coarsely chopped

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

4 cups vegetable, canola or peanut oil

Sliced scallion, for garnish, optional

Chopped parsley, for garnish, optional.

Begin by making the pastry, ideally a full day ahead. In the bowl of a food processor fitted with a plastic blade, pulse together the flour and salt until blended. Add the butter. Quickly, pulse the butter 40 – 50 times until it’s the size of large grains or very small peas. Drizzle the ice cold water through the mouth of the processor, pulsing as you go. Stop pulsing when the pastry comes together in a clumsy, bumpy, loose ball. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and shape into the form of a disk. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least three hours or overnight. Prepare a second batch using the same master savory pastry recipe and repeat the directions outlined above.

The day before service, prepare the grits filling. Bring the grits, half-and-half, water, salt and pepper to a boil in a medium pot over medium-high heat, whisking constantly. Reduce to a low simmer and continue whisking regularly. Add more water as needed and adjust seasonings carefully along the way. Count on about 30 minutes for the grits to cook. The grits are done when they’re tooth-tender but still have a tiny “bite.” Remove from the heat, whisk in the cheese until melted, and set aside to cool. Refrigerate overnight in an airtight container.

To prepare the shrimp filling, cook bacon in a large, deep skillet over medium-high heat until crisp and golden, turning once or twice. Remove from the pan and drain on paper towels. Discard all but two tablespoons of the bacon fat and continue. Heat over medium-low heat and add the butter, garlic and celery. Cook about 5 minutes, until just softened. Add wine and seafood stock and cook over medium heat until reduced by two-thirds. Add hot sauce, Worcestershire, tomatoes, scallions, ketchup, cream, herbes de Provence or thyme, prosciutto, and honey. Cook through for a few minutes. At the last minute, season to taste with salt and pepper. Crumble the reserved bacon and stir in along with the raw shrimp. Stir through just to coat. (Note: You don’t really want to cook the shrimp at this point, as they will cook when frying. Be careful to barely heat the shrimp through, or they will be tough. Remove shrimp from the heat and refrigerate overnight in an airtight container.)

On the day of service, several hours before serving, roll out the pastry, one batch at a time, into about 1/4-inch thick, even thickness. Cut the pastry into 4-inch rounds, lightly dusted with flour, and arrange neatly on a baking pan. Chill the rounds for 20 minutes to 1 hour. To fill the pockets, place 1 tablespoon of the cold grits on the right side of the circle, flattening gently with the back of a spoon. Top with a heaping tablespoon of the cooled shrimp mixture, leaving 1/4-inch naked pastry border. Seal gently with your fingertips, then press the border gently with the tines of a fork to seal. The pockets should look like fat, crimped pastry crescent moons. Continue until all the pastry and filling has been used. Chill pockets for 30 minutes and up to several hours, covered lightly with plastic wrap.

About 40 minutes before serving, preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Heat oil of choice in a large pot over medium-high heat, until 360-375 degrees F., or until the oil begins to squirm and zigzag around the bottom of the pan and sizzles aggressively when the pastry enters the pan. Fry in batches of 2 or 3 pockets, gently placing each into the hot oil (do not plop or you might get burned)! Cook for 7 minutes, or until the pockets float on top and are deep, golden brown. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels.  Keep warm in the preheated oven while frying the remainder. Serve immediately, garnished with fresh scallions or parsley if desired.

(Note: If you want to save calories and avoid frying, ditch the oil/frying step and simply preheat your oven to 375 degrees F. Arrange the prepped pockets, spaced and in a single layer on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper for about 25 minutes, or until golden. Be sure to give the pockets a gentle egg wash glaze before popping them into the oven).

Game on! May the best team (and pocket!) win.

For more sample recipes from Tart Love, or to buy the book, please visit the link below.


The Perfect Holiday Tart – Beautiful, Delicious and Easy!

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to you! I’m posting this recipe from Tart Love – Sassy Savory and Sweet (Gibbs Smith, October, 2011) today because there is still plenty of time to make it and it is utterly delicious and beautiful and just dripping with the colors and flavors of the season. It’s one of my favorites from the book and I hope you’ll consider it a gift from my kitchen for your holiday table.

Super-Sexy Scuppernong and Pomegranate Tartlets

(Makes 12 individual servings)

Petite, ruby-red pomegranate seeds and clunky-looking scuppernongs may seem like strange tart-fellows. Though the former is a berry and the latter is a variety of the muscadine grape, they have much in common. Both are harvested during cool weather, both are tart-sweet, and both have a very long history. The scuppernong is the state fruit of North Carolina, where it has been harvested (as well as throughout the Southeast) for centuries. It is named after a river that runs through that lush state. The pomegranate dates back to ancient times in the Middle East, where it was grown in Asia and India, though now it is grown throughout the world.

The crunchy, pop-in-your mouth pomegranate seeds form the first layer of the filling, which is topped with a lemony, cotton-white mousse. Prepared puff pastry shells form the tart casings, while the coulis swirls around the plate in unrestrained regal splendor. All can be prepped ahead and plated at the last second, making these perfect for any occasion where elegance is on the menu. If scuppernongs are not available where you are, substitute Concord grapes or another full-flavored grape.

Super Sexy Scuppernong and Pomegranate Tartlets. Beautiful photo by Helene Dujardin.


Equipment Needed: Parchment paper, baking sheet

2 packages Pepperidge Farm Puff Pastry Shells (or 2 Pepperidge Farm Puff Pastry Sheets cut into rounds with 2-inch round pastry cutters)

1 egg-wash (yolk, splash water, pinch salt blended together)


3 cups whole fresh scuppernongs, rinsed

1 cup pomegranate juice

1/2 cup water

1 cinnamon stick

2 tablespoons sugar


1 packet Knox unflavored gelatin

1 tablespoon warm water

1 cup 2% plain Greek yogurt

Zest from one lemon

1/2 cup local honey

1 cup cold whipping cream

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Seeds from one pomegranate, for garnish

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Line the baking sheet with parchment paper and arrange the pastry shells on it, about 1 inch apart. Brush the tops (not sides!) of each lightly with egg wash. Bake about 25 minutes, until fluffy and golden. Set aside to cool when done.

To prepare the coulis, combine the scuppernongs,  pomegranate juice, water, cinnamon stick and sugar in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, about 20 minutes, until the scuppernongs have popped and the liquid has reduced by half. Set aside to cool.

To prepare the mousse, combine the gelatin and water in a small glass or cup. Stir to dissolve. Once fully dissolved, whisk the gelatin in a medium bowl with the yogurt, zest and honey. In a separate cold bowl,  using a hand mixer or a whisk, mount the whipping cream with the vanilla. Whip until fluffy and firm. To finish the mousse, whisk one-third of the cream into the yogurt mixture. Fold the remaining cream, in two batches, into the yogurt mixture. Chill, covered, in the refrigerator. (Note: This can be made several hours in advance).

To finish the coulis, remove and discard the cinnamon stick and smash the cooled mixture with a masher or a fork to release as much flesh as possible from the scuppernongs.  Drain the mixture through a fine sieve into a small bowl, pressing with the back of a ladle to release the juices. Driscard the grape skin/seed solids. The remaining liquid is your wonderful coulis! Chill.

Now, separate the seeds from the pomegranate. To do this, cut the pomegranate into quarters. Peel the seeds away from their pulp (also called aril). Do this with patience, it takes a little time. Your goal is to separate the bitter pulp from the seeds and discard the pulp.

To assemble the tartlets, gently peel the “tops” off the baked pastry shells, along with some of the inside pastry to form a “home” for the tart filling. Place one tablespoon of pomegranate seeds in the bottom of each. Top with 2 heaping tablespoons of mousse. Serve on individual plates with a generous swirl of the coulis and a sprinkling of the pomegranate seeds. Keep cold for up to 1 hour until serving. Better yet, serve immediately.


Crazy Simple Canape Cups for Hassle-Free Holiday Fun

It’s getting to be that most wonderful time of the year again. As we approach the early stages of holiday planning, the best way to embrace blazing fires, cold nights, time with family and friends, and fabulous feasts, the best plan is to keep it simple, plan ahead, and have fun. Otherwise, the most wonderful time of the year can feel like the worst time of your life.

One way to have a good time without investing half your bank account and countless hours (even days) in the kitchen, is to share canapes and cocktails with a small group of family and/or friends. The little cups, cradled (in both these recipes) with prepared mini-fillo pastry cups, are beautiful, crisp and delicious, and can be prepared within minutes – 15 or less if you move along briskly. Both pair beautifully with a cold glass of Champagne or crisp white wine. It’s also a lovely way to begin a holiday dinner and whet the appetites of all those about to sit down for the more substantial feast that awaits.

Crunchy Crab Cup Canapes

(Makes 30 individual canapes)

This recipe is an even easier adaptation of a slightly more demanding version from Tart Love, Sassy Savory and Sweet. In the book, I recommend making your own pastry – which is just fine and something I believe in, big time. However, the other day when I was coming up with a new recipe for Slather Brand Foods, I encountered Athens Brand Mini-Fillo Shells, and decided that these prepared shells would provide a harried-free alternative for frustrated Thanksgiving and holiday chefs everywhere. Indeed, they’re delicious and just need a few minutes to brown, crisp and heat through in the oven. The cool, sprite, crab-rich salad is the perfect texture counter to fill the canapes and looks and tastes merrily festive.

Photo by Helene Dujardin


Here’s the recipe:

30 Athens Brand Mini-Fillo Shells (2 packages or substitute another brand)

For the filling:

1 1/2 cups pasteurized lump crab meat

2 tablespoons capers

1/2 cup finely chopped red onion

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh chives

Zest of 1 lime

1 teaspoon Old Bay Seasoning

3 tablespoons mayonnaise

1 tablespoon Dijon or sweet/hot mustard

2 teaspoons fresh lime juice

Generous dash hot sauce

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Arrange the cups on a baking sheet, leaving space between them. Bake for 8 minutes, or until browned and warmed through. Remove and set aside at room temperature.

Meanwhile, prepare the filling. Very gently place the crab, capers, onion, chives, and zest in a medium bowl. In a small bowl, whisk together the remaining ingredients. Whisk vigorously to combine. Top the crab mixture with the blended mixture and fold gently with a wooden spoon to combine, being careful not to break up the crab. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed. Fill the canape cups (they can be room temperature or barely warm) within an hour of serving. Garnish with a few short spears of fresh chives, if desired.

Slathered Brie & Pecan Cups

(Makes 30 individual canapes)

Easy and elegant, these ooey, gooey cups of warm, rich cheese are topped with zesty Original Slather Sauce and a crisp layer of crunchy pecans. Prepared with the same prepared fillo cups used in the previous recipe, they look so impressive and taste so delicious, your holiday guests will think you’ve spent hours in the kitchen, when in fact they come together in just minutes. The final of twelve recipes I developed for Slather Brand Foods this past year, it’s one of my favorites. The sauce is chunky, sweet, tart, and round all at once – an incredibly versatile addition to your condiment larder. To find it, go to, for a complete listing of retail outlets and online purchasing options. You’ll be glad you did!

30 Athens Brand Mini-Fillo Shells (two packages – or substitute another brand)

1/2 pound best-quality Brie cheese, cut into 1/2″-thick cubes

1/2 cup Original Slather Sauce

1/2 cup coarsely chopped pecans

3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

Freshly ground black pepper to finish

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Arrange the cups on a baking sheet. Place a cube of the prepared cheese into the bottom of each cup. Top each with 1/2 teaspoon of Original Slather Sauce. Top each with 1/2 teaspoon of the chopped pecans. Bake on the middle rack until golden and bubbly, about 8 to 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool for about five minutes.

To serve, arrange on a pretty platter and drizzle the cups with the fresh parsley and a dash of freshly ground black pepper. The pepper is not mandatory, but works very nicely with the mellow flavor of the cheese and the sweetness of the sauce. These are best served warm.

Wishing you all a wonderful, delicious, and stress-free holiday season!


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