Sweet Bell Pepper Tart With Eggs

Years ago, I was a chef at a health spa, where the focus was on reducing calories and fats, and increasing vegetables and whole grains. It was a sensible plan back then, and remains so today. Thirty years later, I continue to center my meals around vegetables, use locally-sourced meats, and steer away from processed foods. But, unlike the strict diet that I cooked at the spa, I do indulge. I’m not the sort to buy a bag of powdered mini-donuts; I bring home puff pastry and mascarpone cheese. I adore mascarpone cheese, which is a creamy, soured, soft product. It’s similar to creme fraiche, which is a rich sour cream-like product. Either work here. This recipe is topped with eggs from my hens. This is an indulgence worth eating!

Sweet Bell Pepper Tarts with Eggs

1 sheet (8 ounces) puff pastry, defrosted
1 or 2 sweet bell peppers, thinly sliced
1 shallot, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon olive oil
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup mascarpone cheese (or creme fraiche)
2 eggs
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese plus extra for dusting
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley

1. Sauté the bell peppers and shallots in the olive oil until soft, golden and fragrant. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.

2. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

3. Use the best quality puff pastry that you can find. Trader Joe’s carries it, but only during the winter holidays.

puff pastry

Look for these ingredients – it shouldn’t have any fat other than butter!


Puff pastry looks fancy and intimidating, but it’s the easiest product to work with! Depending on the brand, you might have to roll it out a bit, but it starts out in the right shape, it just requires flattening a bit. Place the pastry on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Using a knife, score a margin 1-inch in, and halfway through the pastry.

4. In small bowl, combine the mascarpone


mascarpone cheese

and Parmesan. Heat this over boiling water until is softens (or do in the microwave, but take care that the cheese doesn’t cook.)

5. Spread half of the cheese mixture onto the puff pastry, keeping it inside of the scored lines. Arrange the sautéed peppers over the cheese.

with peppers

6. Spoon the remaining cheese over the pastry. Crack two eggs, nestling them opposite each other. Dust with about a tablespoon of Parmesan.

ready to bake

7. Bake for about 18 to 20 minutes until puffed, brown and the egg yolks are just cooked through.


8. Garnish with parsley and serve.


Cut into 8 pieces for an appetizer, or it satisfies two people for dinner.


Candling Eggs

Hold an egg up to a light and you can see what is going on inside. You can check infertile eggs for blood spots, and the shell for fine cracks. Fertile eggs can be inspected for signs of life and embryo development. Years ago, eggs were held up to a flame, today it’s more likely to be a flashlight or lightbulb, but this method is still called candling.

This print appeared in The Lady’s Friend, published in 1865.

proving eggs

Book Giveaway!

This contest is closed. Congratulations to Ruth and your 4-H club!

Gail Damerow has a new book out, and I have one copy to giveaway! Damerow has been dispensing sane, solid advice through her books for many years. I still turn to her first when I have something going on in my flock that I haven’t experienced before (after almost 20 years of hen keeping that still happens!) Her new book, Hatching & Brooding Your Own Chicks, is classic Damerow – well-organized, sensible and practical. In it, you’ll learn the basics of chick raising and care. But, I have to say that my favorite section is at the end and titled Screwpot Notions. Among other pseudo-facts, she dubunks sexing myths and herbal cures for coccidia. What with the proliferation of just plain wrong advice on the internet (not my site!), these few pages are essential reads for the confused and gullible.

My copy arrived just in time, as I’ll be at the Chelmsford, MA Agway on Saturday, Feb 16 (tomorrow! rescheduled from last week due to the snowstorm) to give a lecture on chick care. I’ll be talking about chick orders, breed selection, and what to do when you get the chicks home from the feed store. I haven’t raised other poultry, such as turkeys, but the Agway will have them in this spring. Damerow’s book covers poult (baby turkey) care as well as waterfowl, so I’ll have the book with me.

To win a copy of Hatching & Brooding Your Own Chicks, simply leave a comment below and let me know if you’ll be getting little peeps this spring. If you’re not, that’s okay, enter anyway! (You can let me know what you would get if you were to get chicks.) If you share on FaceBook or Twitter, let me know by leaving a second entry. The winner will be selected by a random number generator on Tuesday, February 19 at 10 pm EST. The book will be shipped directly from the publisher. Good luck!


Love, Chickens and the Ikea Effect

Last week I heard a piece on the radio about the Ikea Effect. Basically, the Ikea Effect says that labor done by the purchaser adds to a higher valuation of the product. Food manufacturers could easily make cake mixes that require only the stirring in of water, but instead, they formulate the product to require eggs: cracking an egg and mixing it into the batter makes the consumer feel that she has baked a better cake. When we work to build a bookshelf (however crooked it turns out) we value it more than a similar shelf that we haven’t made. This concept expands beyond consumer satisfaction. We get attached to things that we work hard at, whether it is an idea, or a model airplane.

I take this further. I believe that work increases love. Do I take such good care of my chickens because I love them? Truthfully, that’s only part of it. The flip side is that I love the work of taking care of chickens. Today is a beautiful, mild winter day. I am out in the barns, wearing just a sweater, my eyes squinted against the brilliant white light bouncing off of the snow. I clean and fill waterers, add sand to the dust bath, cut the goats a pine branch to snack on, toss alfalfa to the Gems, and fill the oyster shell dispenser. I sweep the barn floor, and scoop dog poo off of the shoveled path. My animals appreciate my efforts. We interact and talk to each other. This work feels satisfying. I feel useful. It gives my day value. The love for my animals increases because of the work that I do caring for them. We don’t love in a vacuum. We love within the context of our interactions and effort expended. The love that I get from my animals doesn’t satisfy me half as much as the work that I do for them in the name of love.

Sometimes, the Ikea Effect doesn’t help the animals. Do people change their schedules and lives to accommodate the neediness of their rescue dogs out of love for those dogs OR do they love those dogs even more because they require such effort  – and therefore make excuses for their pets and don’t, in the end, alleviate the issues? When a chicken is separated from the flock for an illness, and we spend days nursing her back to health, does she then become a favorite – and sometimes isn’t put back into the coop because we feel good about the intense caring that we are doing?

Lately, I have been dreaming about owning a horse again (thanks to a ride on a most wonderful Ranch Tennessee Walker.) I imagine outings on horseback in the woods (always in perfect weather and without deer flies bothering us), but mostly I daydream about the work. The grooming, the mucking, the saddle cleaning. I think about the smell of the barn and the quiet time caring for a horse. Maybe this is why I’m not one of those people who spend hours on the internet looking at cute pictures of kittens (or chickens.) Separated from the work of love, it’s fleetingly interesting, but ultimately not satisfying. Put a manure fork in my hand. That’s love.


Buffy, a hen who has required much work.

(If you liked this essay, please consider sharing it by using the icons on this page.)