For more than three years my talented culinary assistant, Charles Worthington, has spent hours helping me create and test recipes for this column. He is a gifted cook, so it was not a surprise to me when recently he was offered a major position at a national magazine halfway across the country. I and many of his other friends and colleagues wanted to give him a going-away party where he was the guest, and we did the cooking.
After many phone calls, we settled on a date and a format. The fete would be a cocktail party, and each of us would bring an appetizer to share. Because everyone at this celebration loves food and enjoys being in the kitchen, there was quite a spread.
Skewers of poached jumbo scallops were offered with both an herbed olive oil sauce and a red pepper relish, and there were trays of phyllo triangles filled with a mix-ture of Moroccan seasoned lamb. Caramelized onion tarts, bruschetta topped with tomatoes and mint, and several varieties of perfectly seasoned deviled eggs were other choices.
I made savory little Goat Cheese and Tapenade Flans for the party. Nothing could have been simpler. I whisked together a custard mixture of creamy goat cheese, sour cream, whipping cream and eggs, and poured that into mini-muffin tins. Then I stirred a teaspoon of tapenade (the Provencal condiment made of chopped black olives, capers, anchovies, olive oil and seasonings used throughout southern France) into each flan.
The robust tapenade proved to be a perfect accent to the creamy, rich taste of the custards. For entertaining, I found these savory flans were easy to prepare. They took only a few minutes to assemble and less than half an hour to bake. And, they can be prepared completely in advance. I made them a day ahead and reheated them quickly at the cocktail hour. Best of all, everyone seemed to savor these little nibbles. Within minutes of passing a tray, every single one had disappeared.
Goat Cheese and Tapenade Flans
5 ounces creamy goat cheese
1/2 cup whipping cream
1/4 cup sour cream
1/8 teaspoon salt
generous pinch cayenne pepper
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup tapenade (see note)
1 bunch fresh rosemary, for garnish, optional
1 bunch fresh thyme, for garnish, optional
Spray 2 nonstick mini-muffin tins (with 12 molds each) with nonstick vegetable cooking spray.
Whisk together goat cheese, whipping cream and sour cream in mixing bowl until smooth. Add salt and cayenne pepper. Stir in eggs and whisk to combine. Fill each mold with 2 tablespoons custard mixture, then stir in 1 teaspoon tapenade.
Bake on center rack at 350 degrees until custards are set, 15 to 20 minutes. A small, sharp knife inserted in center should come out clean. Remove to cooling rack for 5 minutes.
To unmold flans, run small knife around edges of each mold, then gently lift out. (Flans can be made 1 day ahead. Cool to room temperature, then transfer to baking sheet. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. Reheat at 350 degrees until heated through, 10 to 15 minutes.)
To serve, arrange flans on serving tray or plate and garnish with several bouquets of fresh rosemary and thyme.
Note: Tapenade is available in specialty food stores and in some markets. If the variety you buy seems to have a lot of oil in it, drain tapenade first, then measure 1/2 cup. Leftover tapenade can be served with crudites or on toasted croutons as an appetizer; it is also good with fish and meat.