Welcome to my kitchen

A while ago, I realized I was serious enough about bread baking to stop diddling around with the 3-packs of yeast from the grocery store, or even the small jars for a small fortune. So I pulled up my big girl pants, and ordered "A Pound Of Yeast". It's in my freezer, and I use it regularly, and I guess that makes me "A Baker". Even though I always said "I can't bake". So, join me on my journey, and let's see what that pound of yeast makes, and where we go next....

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Continuing The Tomato Love

My poor, beleaguered, straggling, single, solitary remaining tomato plant is valiantly continuing to ripen its glorious red orbs.  Even with the new and evil attack by my latest nemesis….the local mockingbirds !  WHO KNEW mockingbirds like tomatoes !  I’ve tried the danglie strips of aluminum foil.  The original miscreant thought it was a disco glitter ball and invited a friend the next day.  So instead of one mockingbird peck, peck, pecking on my ‘maters, I had TWO !!!!  At this point, I’m really no longer interested in the plant setting new fruit, I just want to protect what’s on there, and let it mature and ripen.  So I’ve taken to tossing a sheet over the plant and the tomato cage support at night, and keeping my fingers crossed.  So far, so good.  I haven’t noticed any new damage.

Of course, I *have* scared the crap out of myself several times whilst wondering WTF the tall, white, seemingly floaty thing is on my patio is when I cruise past a window after dark.  I figure about the time the plant is dead, and I ditch the sheet rig, I may have it firmly implanted in the little brain that it’s my mockingbird defense mechanism.  Or not.

And, and….*AND*….in addition to the bounty from the poor bedraggled plant, I’m also still getting about two pounds of various tomatoes every two weeks from The Growing Experience.

Suffice it to say, the little kitchen in the little house on the little street is rolling in tomatoes.

Not that that’s a bad thing.  Again, come March, I’ll be longing for the days of the huge basket of juicy, tart, sweet, beefy tomatoes on my counter.  Or in my sandwiches.  Or on my dinner plate.  Or fried while green in a cornmeal/buttermilk breading.  Or in my pasta sauces…..

*snap*  Back to reality.  Even though these tomatoes are plenty spiffy eaten just as is, with coarse salt, or on the acclaimed tomato sammie, sometimes you just gotta do *SOMETHING* with ‘em.

So, I give you, the easy-peasy fresh and cheesy Three Cheese Tomato Tart.  It was dinner earlier this week.  It was good.  Real good.  Real easy.  And real good.

Part of the players….the lead character was already engaged in serious action, so we’ll see it in a moment.

Yeah.  Three cheeses.  What on Earth could be wrong with any dish that has three cheeses in it?  Nuthin’ if you ask me.

You also need, no surprise here, tomatoes.  The best you can get.  And this here step is absolutely dead-bang, stop-the-presses, slap-me-silly-and-call-me-a-mugwump critical.

Slice the tomatoes and place them on 3 or 4 layers of paper towels.

That’s where the star ingredient was when the rest of the cast was wasting time getting their picture took.  They were draining.  On top of the sliced tomatoes, layer another 3 or 4 layers of paper towels.

Errrrm, I was out of paper towels at that point, so I used paper napkins on top.  No harm, no foul.  They still drained just fine.  You could totally use cloth towels for this, but again, as I’ve learned from painful experience, do NOT use terry cloth or “waffle” weave towels.  Unless you like towel fuzz in your food, in which case, carry on.

Let the tomatoes dry between the towels for about 30 minutes at room temperature.  While the tomatoes are draining take a sheet of this

out of the freezer and set it on the counter to thaw.

DON’T BE LIKE ME ALERT !!!  (whoooop, whoooooop, whooooop, insert Star Trek warning siren here.)

Follow the package directions on *your particular brand of frozen puff pastry* for thawing.  The TJ’s stuff I used (again, no connection to TJ’s, I just spend a lot of money there and like their stuff) said defrost for 10 minutes.

Me, I said “feh, the recipe says 30, I go with 30 !”  Should’ve gone with 10.  At ten minutes, it was thawed nicely and still easy to manipulate.  At 30, it was stretchy, sort of goopy and sticky, and I was afraid I was seriously screwed.  I managed to pull it together (literally) but only barely.  Follow the directions on the package to defrost.  Surprisingly, the manufacturers know what they’re talking about.  Who’da thunk?

Once the puff pastry is thawed (remember, follow package instructions….), place it on a baking sheet that you’ve thoughtfully and intelligently lined with parchment.

Hellllllloooooooo, Mr. Skanky Pan !  We’ve all missed you.

Take a fork, and puncture the dough all over with it.  This is call “docking” the dough (seriously, that’s a real, cool, technical cooking term.  Docking the dough.  Dazzle your friends and neighbors.).  It will keep it from puffing up too much while it cooks, thus causing your lovely toppings to slough off and leave nasty bald spots.

The TJ’s dough was already pre-docked, but I went ahead and docked it anyway.  Next time, I’d leave the edges undocked.  I think a bit of a rim would’ve been a nice touch.  Kinda hard to see, but if you look really closely, you can see the docking holes in the pastry.  Trust me, they're there.

Yeah, that’s not quite a nice, neat rectangle.  Something about letting the dough thaw too long lead to a sort of, shall we say, “abstract” form on the tart.  Don’t be like me.  Read the package instructions.

Schmear some mayonnaise over the top of the docked dough, then sprinkle with some shredded cheddar and mozzarella cheese (do NOT use fresh mozzarella, too much moisture).

Then, take your drained tomatoes,

(see how much less wet and juicy they look?), and layer them over the cheese.

Top that with some salt and pepper, then the third cheese (Parmesan, baby), and some shredded fresh basil.

Toss the pan into the oven (preheated to 400°F) for a bit, until the crust browns up and the cheese melts.  Ummmmmmm, melty cheese and tomatoes………

Let the tart sit for about 5 minutes to firm up, and then cut into squares and serve.  Great as a lunch entrée, maybe with some fruit, a light dinner with a salad, or as a hors d'oeuvre.  Equally as good at room temperature as it is slightly warm.

The tart is sweet and tangy at the same time, from the magic that is good tomatoes.  And fresh and rich from the interplay of the tomatoes and cheese.  With a little acid from the mayo, and the freshness of the basil.  Next time, I might add some slivered garlic under the tomatoes for a little somethin’ extra.  And maybe some extra, uncooked basil after you pull it from the oven, while its still warm would take it over the moon.

Here’s the actual recipe.

Three Cheese Tomato Tart
The Kitchn (see link at right)
Serves 4 as an entrée, 8 as an appetizer

2 ripe tomatoes, cut into 1/8-inch thick slices
1 sheet frozen puff pastry
3 tablespoons mayonnaise
1/2 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1/2 cup shredded low-moisture mozzarella cheese
Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper, to taste
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese, to taste
2 tablespoons finely chopped basil

Preheat oven to 400°F.  Lay the sliced tomatoes on several layers of paper towels.  Cover with more paper towels and allow to drain for at least 30 minutes (absolutely mandatory to keep the tart from getting watery and yucky).  Remove the sheet of puff pastry from the freezer, and thaw on the counter at room temperature according to package directions.

Place the thawed, but still chilled, pastry onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.  If there are any holes in the pastry, pinch them closed.  Using a fork, dock the dough all over to keep it from puffing during baking (you might want to leave the very edges undocked to make a rim).

Spread a thin layer of mayonnaise all over the pastry.  Sprinkle evenly with the cheddar and then the mozzarella.  Arrange the tomato slices over the cheese.  Season generously with salt and pepper.  Sprinkle a generous amount of Parmesan cheese on top, and then the chopped basil.

Bake for 30 minutes, until the pastry is golden brown and the cheeses have melted.  Remove the pastry from the baking sheet and let cool on a wire rack for 5 minutes.  Cut into 4 squares (for entrée portions) or 8 squares (for an appetizer) and serve immediately.

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