Winter Fruit Tart and Grilled Steak and Veggie Kebabs

This week, I and a few other San Diego-area food bloggers teamed up with Melissa’s Produce to come up with some fabulous new recipes using locally-grown winter produce.

Our challenge was to make a sweet and a savory dish, using Christmas Crunch seedless grapes, Korean pears, and Jeju mandarins, as well as Melissa’s pre-steamed and pre-prepared (totally ready-to-eat!) baby potatoes, baby beets, and chestnuts.

Korean pear, Christmas crunch grapes and Jeju mandarins

For the sweet dish, using all of those delicious fruits was pretty easy. The Christmas crunch grapes are really sweet, and the Korean pears are less sweet than their western cousins. So, I sliced the pears and cooked them in some clarified butter, brown sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg before I put them in the finished product. As for the Jeju mandarins — they are so juicy and delicious, and almost too delicate for a tart — I juiced them and used the yummy mandarin juice to sweeten up the cream cheese filling!

The finished product really showcases the deliciousness of the fruits, and it’s not too sweet. It’s the perfect light dessert.

winter fruit tart

Winter Fruit Tart

  • 1 large Korean pear, sliced
  • 2 Jeju mandarins, juiced
  • 1 bunch of Christmas crunch seedless grapes
  • 5-6 sheets of phyllo dough, thawed and cut into squares
  • 5 tbsp. cream cheese, softened
  • 1 stick of butter, separated
  • 2 tbsp. brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp. cinnamon
  • 1 tbsp. nutmeg

First, prepare the phyllo dough. Preheat your oven to 300 degrees and make sure your phyllo dough is ready to use (if you bought it frozen, make sure it’s thawed – or you can make your own dough using this really easy recipe). You can stuff the squares of dough into a (well-greased) muffin tin, and form cups, or you can simply lay the slices of dough on a baking sheet. Add a dab of butter to each cup or slice of dough, and bake for about 10 minutes or until golden brown. Then remove from the oven and let cool. Set aside.

*Note: I used phyllo dough because I prefer the dough to be a little crunchy, and I wanted the dough to bake into a hardened cup that I could fill with cream cheese and fruit. However, this recipe would work just as well with a puff pastry or other type of dough.

While the dough is in the oven, melt 2-3 tbsp. of butter in a skillet and add the brown sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg. Cook 2-3 minutes on each side until the slices of pear are caramelized. Set aside.

caramelized pears

Mix the Jeju mandarin juice and softened cream cheese together in a bowl, and whip with a fork or whisk until there are no lumps. Set aside.

winter fruit tart cup

When the dough is cooked and has been cooled, fill each cup (or spread each baked piece of dough) with the cream cheese/ juice mixture. Then slices the grapes lengthwise, and arrange the grapes and slices of cooked pear on each cup or piece of dough.

winter fruit tart

You can prepare this up to a day ahead of time. Serve chilled.

winter fruit tart recipe card

***

For the savory part of my challenge, I had some of the items ready ahead of time, and luckily, the pre-prepared produce from Melissa’s made everything else really easy to cook.

A few weeks ago I scored some awesome eggplants, peppers and cucumbers, so I went a little crazy pickling things, including a lovely recipe for Lebanese pickled eggplant, from Linda Zeidrich’s book, “The Joy of Pickling.” (Here’s another adaptation of the recipe, but I highly recommend her book, if you do any pickling at all.) Traditionally, the Lebanese pickled eggplant is served with hummus, pita bread, and a myriad of side dishes or tapas, so I that’s how the idea was formed to use my pre-cooked produce for some tasty kebabs. Luckily the foods randomly selected for this challenge were perfect for roasting or grilling.

Normally I don’t go for pre-cooked produce, but I really love all of the options Melissa’s has for pre-steamed, pre-peeled and ready-to-eat vegetables. Check out all of the options offered on Melissa’s Produce Pinterest page.

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This was the hard part of the challenge … beets? Chestnuts?

The pre-steamed and pre-peeled potatoes were obviously ready to skewer and grill, but the chestnuts and beets?

I’ll be honest with you: beets are not my favorite thing to eat.

And, before this challenge, I had never eaten a chestnut (that I’m aware of) – in fact, I’d never even heard of them except in a Christmas song, which helpfully suggests roasting them.

Beets are also pretty tasty when roasted, and of course, so is a steak, so I thought a nice kebab would be the best way to showcase all of the flavors together. The final result was a really good combination of flavors. The chestnuts are a little difficult to keep on the skewers, so I used some in a pesto as well.

kebabs recipe card

grilled steak and veggie kabobs

Grilled Steak and Veggie Kebabs with Chestnut Pesto

  • 1 medium thick-cut New York steak, cut into chunks
  • 1 package steamed baby beets, cut into quarters
  • 1 package peeled and steamed chestnuts
  • 1 package peeled and steamed baby potatoes, halved or quartered if necessary
  • 4-5 cloves of garlic, smashed and chopped
  • 3 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil, plus more in a spray/spritz bottle
  • 1 tbsp. dried marjoram
  • 1 tbsp. dried rosemary
  • 1 handful fresh cilantro, chopped
  • 2 tbsp. crumbled feta cheese
  • salt and pepper
  • wooden skewers (pre-soak before using!)

First, prepare the kabobs. Make sure your wooden skewers have soaked for at least several hours, or use metal skewers (you don’t want them to catch fire!). Arrange the pieces of steak, potatoes, beets and chestnuts on skewers, and season with salt and pepper, then spray with olive oil. Place on a pre-heated outdoor grill and cook for about 10 minutes on each side, until you can see grill marks on the food.

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Next, while the skewers are on the grill, prepare the chestnut pesto. Place the garlic cloves, cilantro, remaining chestnuts (there should be about a cup), plus the dried rosemary, marjoram, and salt and pepper into a chopper or food processor. Puree until smooth, and gradually drizzle in the olive oil. Set aside.

chestnut pesto

Finish up the kabobs by crumbling some fresh feta cheese on top and serving the pesto nearby.

steak/beet/potato/chestnut kabobs

I served my kabobs and pesto with all of my favorite munchies: hummus and pita chips, sliced cucumber and carrot sticks, homemade dilly tzatziki sauce, and lots of good cocktails.

kabob spread
I can’t wait to see what my fellow food blogger friends have come up with for this challenge. As usual, it was a mindbender, but eating the results is always fun!

I invite you to check out the other challenge recipes using Melissa’s Produce products here:

Disclaimer: Melissa’s Produce graciously provided most of the produce I used in this post, but no other financial consideration was given for my opinions or ideas.
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Butternut Squash Soup and Chickpea Cassoulet

Autumn produce is all about comfort food, and butternut squash is the key ingredient for the season’s best recipes.

This month, I teamed up with Melissa’s Produce to come up with some recipes using their new fall line of produce. Melissa’s Pinterest page is positively captivating, and it was hard to narrow it down to a few different types of recipes. I decided to make a full dinner — soup and a hearty entrée — but first, I needed to get into that squash.

The best and easiest way to get the most out of your hard-skinned winter squashes — from pumpkins to butternut squash to red kuri — is to cut them into manageable pieces and roast or grill them. Once the pieces are cool, the rinds come off really easily and you can use the squash for anything.

roasted butternut squash

I usually roast one or two at the same time, then keep the chunks in the fridge to use in soups, salads, stir-frys, even desserts. Just check out all of the recipes that other local food bloggers came up with for this challenge, below!

roasted butternut squash

Using the box of produce from Melissa’s, I decided to make a full meal, including a hearty soup and a fast-cooking spin on a classic cassoulet.

Spicy Butternut Squash Soup

  • 1/2 medium butternut squash, roasted and cubed
  • 1 Granny Smith apple, diced
  • 2 tbsp ghee or butter
  • 2 shallots, sliced
  • 2 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 1 quart vegetable stock
  • 2 tbsp. red Thai curry paste (*or 1 small can of tomatillo salsa for milder flavor)
  • handful of fresh pine nuts, toasted
  • 1 cup grated cheddar cheese
  • 2 tbsp sour cream for garnish

After the butternut squash is roasted and peeled, cook the pieces in a pot with butter or ghee as well as the garlic and apple. (Sautee the shallots in a separate pan and set aside when caramelized.) When the garlic/apple/squash mixture is heated thoroughly, add the curry paste and stock, and bring to a boil.

Spicy Butternut Squash and Apple soup
(*Note: Thai curry paste is very spicy. If you’re serving people who are sensitive to too much heat, substitute 1 can of green tomatillo salsa for the red curry paste. You’ll still get the peppery flavor without all the burn.)

Once the soup has been brought to a boil, cover the pot, turn the heat down, and let it simmer for about 20 minutes. Using an immersion blender, puree the soup until smooth, then add in the grated cheese and 1 tablespoon of sour cream. Mix thoroughly.

When serving, add a dollop of sour cream, and garnish with the caramelized shallots and toasted pine nuts.

spicy butternut squash soup recipe card

* * *

For the entrée, we have an awesome quick cassoulet. Traditionally a cassoulet is a French peasant dish made with pheasant, mutton, and frankly, whatever meat and beans were available. Traditionally, it’s also slow cooked for upwards of 4-6 hours, using dried beans and employing fancy French cooking pots. Mine uses a simple cast-iron skillet and is heavy on the hearty, fall vegetables and pre-steamed beans from Melissa’s. So, instead of taking 6 hours, my recipe takes less than two hours total – including all of the chopping. Perfect for a cold weeknight.

Fall Vegetable Cassoulet

  • 1/2 medium butternut squash, roasted and cubed
  • 1 package of pre-steamed chickpeas
  • 4-5 baby yellow Dutch potatoes
  • 1 package of your favorite breakfast sausage (I used one with sage and pork)
  • 1 boneless chicken breast, cubed
  • 1 red onion, diced
  • 3-4 carrots, diced
  • 3-4 shallots, diced
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic, diced
  • 4 slices of bacon, chopped (I used my homemade bacon)
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 1 sprig of fresh rosemary, chopped
  • 2-3 chives, diced
  • 3-4 tbsp olive oil

Slice, dice and chop all of your vegetables. Add olive oil to your deep-dish cast-iron pan and start to caramelize the carrots, shallot, garlic and onion with the chicken breast, bacon and sausage. Sautee for about 5-10 minutes, until the meat is browned and the vegetables are cooked through, then mix in the chickpeas, butternut squash and potatoes.

cassoulet

Fill the pan with stock and bring to a boil, then cover, lower the heat, and let simmer for about 45 minutes. Try to not peek and let out all the steam — which will be hard to do when it starts to smell really good. When it’s ready, the liquid will have mostly cooked out, and what’s left will be a thick sauce. Serve with diced chive for garnish.

cassoulet recipe card

I’ve never really been a fan of pre-prepared produce before, but I am starting to change my mind. After taking a peek at the delicious pre-steamed blackeyed peas, chickpeas and fava beans, I had to take full advantage. The pre-steamed chickpeas turn allowed me to make a slow-cooked classic in less than a couple of hours, and this awesome, super-fast warm potato salad.

Quick Warm Potato Salad

  • 1 package of Melissa’s pre-steamed, peeled baby potatoes
  • 5 slices of bacon (try homemade bacon)
  • 2 shallots, diced
  • salt and pepper
  • 1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
  • 3 tbsp butter
  • 3 tbsp sour cream

Dice the bacon and cook in a cast-iron pan with a pat of butter. Once the bacon is browned (not fully cooked, but close), add the shallots, more butter and the pre-steamed potatoes. Brown the potatoes on all sides for about 2 minutes on each side and season with salt and pepper while cooking.

Remove from heat and put in a bowl with more butter, feta cheese and sour cream. Toss briskly and serve immediately.

Warm Potato Salad with Bacon and Shallot

Disclaimer: Melissa’s Produce graciously provided most of the produce I used in this post, but no other financial consideration was given for my opinions or ideas.