Recipe: Tomato Tart

There can be a lot of fear involved with tarts. There is the fear of too much butter in the crust, too much work involved with rolling it out, too much clean up involved after rolling it out and just a general fear of will it taste good after all of that?

What I have to say to you? “Hey, don’t worry ’bout it. It’s a tart, not a tarantula.”

Here’s my tricks:

1. Buy ripe tomatoes. You don’t have to squeeze them, you just have to smell them. If they are a deep, dark red and smell like a ripe tomato, chances are that’s what you’ll get.

2. Roast or don’t roast the tomato. If the tomatoes are so beautiful it makes you want to sit down and eat them that minute with nothing between you and the tomato but a bowl of salt, then make a delicious tomato salad and serve that on top of the tart.

3. If you roast, halve and seed the tomatoes, toss with salt, olive oil, slivers of shallot, onion, or garlic, and sprigs of thyme. You could even throw in a few crushed coriander seeds.

4. Here is the recipe for the crust: 7 tablespoons of cold unsalted butter, 1 scant cup flour, pinch of sugar, pinch of salt and 1 tablespoon of excellent corn meal. (I like Bob’s Red Mill.) Combine the dry ingredients in a food processor along with the butter. Pulse until you think it’s nearly done, but not quite. You are NOT looking for an even texture of pea size bits of butter. You are looking for a rough texture of some bits pea size, some almond sized and no more dry flour. Add 1 tablespoon of plain yogurt and just enough ice water, added in drops, to make the dough come together. It should not look uniform. Press into wax paper and freeze for half an hour.

5. Here’s the good part: GRATE the dough all over a tart pan, and lightly press the bits into the bottom and a bit up the sides.
Freeze again for 15 minutes. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees and bake until light golden brown.

6. Right before serving, roughly chop your roasted tomatoes and arrange on the tart shell, along with everything else you put on the roasting tray. That’s it–no need to put it back in the oven. Top with slivers of extra sharp Cheddar (I love Cabot’s President’s Select sealed with purple wax.)–or slices of goat cheese or a grate of gruyere…

And that’s it. No worries about rolling, or that a custard is going to leak and ruin your crust, or that you’re going to undercook or overcook.

Dear Dinner Confidential

Dear Dinner Confidential,
I hate cooking. There, I said it…I have three kids with very different opinions on what good food is. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a horrible cook, but how can I get past…what one likes, the other does not? If only they would just keep their sweet little opinions to themselves I might actually like cooking…I realize this is a behavioral issue and not a cooking issue…or is it?
Sincerely, frustrated and ready to run away to Italy…or France….or Greece

Dear EGH,

Questions: would you enjoy cooking if it were just you and your husband eating? Does he appreciate your efforts? Is it typical that you give in to particular likes/dislikes and serve three (or four) different meals? Are there any dinners that the team agrees on? If not are there any food groups the team agrees on? ie does everybody like chicken, broccoli, etc. Can you send me a 2 minute video of dinner time at your house? Or a play by play of one dinner in particular?

Cooking/eating/behavioral issues can be hard to separate.

Here is my Right off the Bat advice:

I think that the most important part of making dinner is that you are THANKED. If the diner is eight years old, this might just be eating what is served without choking and a “thanks, Mom” when dinner is done. Get them to start the habit. It is the same kind of thing when I had to tell my husband way back when, “Look, I am going to talk now, I’m probably going to cry now, and here’s what I want you to do: listen, no advice, and either hold my hand or hug me. Or both.” My husband said to me, “But that might not be what I want to do.” And I said, “That’s not what I’m talking about.”

However–and feel free to kick this to the curb–I think it is critical for the success of any dinner meant for a crowd, particularly a crowd with no shame in expressing unedited feelings, to pick your battles. For instance it might not be the best choice to serve fish if nobody likes fish. If Ferdinand really hates something I have learned not to try to make him eat it. For my own well being. I know there are people out there who run a clean plate club and I’m not one of them. I always ask Ferdinand if he would like to try something that might be new on the table, and I take him for his word if he says no. If I feel like he is judging too quickly, I get him to smell it. If there is a food that I know he will tolerate, but isn’t crazy about–visible pieces of onion say–I lay down the law. He has to eat it. Otherwise it gets ridiculous. There is no reason why you should have to eat food with no flavor.

My suggestions: Make the rules and stick to them. If you have to, write them down so you can remember them. (the kids will remember but they aren’t going to help you remember.) Make the rules possible to stick to. My rule is that we all have to eat 5-6 fruit and veg a day. I don’t bend on that. Also, I don’t go for Ferd’s need to have all of his food separate. I don’t mind making a pasta with only ingredients that he likes, but he is going to eat from the same platter that we do. I used to make tiny little piles of individual ingredients and it drove me out of my mind. If your rule is that everyone has to eat what is served, or they don’t eat until the next meal, than that’s it.

Have everyone make a list of their favorite foods and their favorite food ingredients. From that, make a list of all the dinners that you make already that generate general happiness. If no one can agree on anything, but some of the ingredients on the no can do list are things like “toast” or “foods that touch”, explain that everybody has to stretch a little. Only foods they absolutely cannot tolerate are allowed.
One of the ways I cope at a dinner party where there are restrictions from various guests is to make a few different plates, with something like roast chicken as a center piece. Let them pick and choose. Or a “build your own.” You can build your own burgers, build your own tortillas, even build your own soup. Kids love the control and they will shock you at what they put on the plate. If you are feeling really generous, you can always say that one day a week, when you make food that is what YOU really want to eat, they can have a bowl of cereal.

It’s all in the doing

I used to work as a waitress. In fact I worked for so long as a waitress that even after I put down my pad and mini apron for a short career as a housewife, I could not imagine that I would ever be able to do anything else. Even my career as a housewife, was really just an extension of being a waitress with added benefits and no pay.
In my mind however, I was an actor. Not because it was what I did, but because it was my intention.
As it was for a bunch of other well educated waiters, who worked with me. We imagined so hard and so much that we were what we had trained to be instead of what we were actually doing, that at some point, we didn’t really need to act to call ourselves an actor, we could just be one.

Waiter 1: What do you do?
Waiter 2: I’m a talk show host.
Waiter 1: Wow. Where do you work?
Waiter 2: There is so nothing out there.
Waiter 1: It’s ridiculous. Where are you looking?
Waiter 2: I need to fix my roots and do something with my teeth. Because I cannot believe the crap people that are actually on television and call themselves a talk show host.
Waiter 1: I know.

The problem that most people have with cooking can have similar roots–fear of failure, is the audience going to love what I do, and do I have time for this. The twist is, there is no claim to being a professional or even wanting to be a professional, people admit that they don’t necessarily love cooking, (but they can’t really remember) and then figure with their limited experience they should stay out of the kitchen. Because they can’t cook. Or, because they are not going to bring the house down with ingenuity. Or they are sick and tired of a house that doesn’t appreciate their efforts.

In the end, except for on Thanksgiving which probably has more SOS phone lines set up than any other day, most of America doesn’t cook. We watch it happen on TV, we heat things up, we wish we did, but the truth is, we don’t.

I say, just cook. The more you cook, the more you will be cooking. Throw it down that there is no take out this week, there is no frozen this week, and on one night (or more), the kitchen is available to the house so that they can cook for you. Pick a cookbook. Make 6 simple menus with reality in mind.
Buy only food that you love to cook with. Remember the difference between the love you might feel for a real live man that lives and breathes, and the love you might feel for one who is a character on your favorite television show, is the same as the difference between a real piece of chicken and a crushed up, re-formed, breaded and fried nugget in the shape of a dinosaur. Or a potato and a flake. Buy real food, and you are going to have a real commitment to cook it.

Meat doesn’t have to be anything more than roasted and plenty of vegetables can be served raw with a little salt and olive oil. Make some crazy sauces–red pepper coulis or salsa verde or gremolata. Just do it, do it, do it. Get up, do it. You can do it. And tell me how it goes.

How to make baked beans

Don’t fool yourself. This is no time to think healthy.  I’m not saying it’s not possible to make healthy baked beans–it is.  What I’m saying is, when you start dreaming on baked beans I can guarantee that these are the ones you’re dreaming on.  The first time I had them was in the middle of the country where there is no fear of sugar, cans or whole pigs on a spit.  Not everything has to be good for you to be good.

Get ready to go can shopping.  You need 1 16 oz. can of lima beans, 1 16 oz. can of kidney beans, 1 31 oz. can of pork and beans (that’s right,) 1 16 oz. can of butter beans, 3/4 pound of bacon, 4 onions, 1/3 cup of apple cider vinegar, 3/4 cup of light brown sugar (that’s right,) and 1 tablespoon of dry mustard.

Open all those cans and rinse everything well with cold water, except the pork and beans.  Dice and fry the bacon.  Stir everything together in a casserole dish and bake for 2 hours at 325 degrees.

Serve it up with barbecued chicken slathered in my new favorite barbecue sauce: Bone Suckin’ Good.  It comes out of a jar.  ( Keep going with cornbread, coleslaw, corn on the cob, a pile of fresh green beans and peach pie.  Hang some Chinese lanterns up in the backyard and the speakers in the window.

Puttin’ on the Peach

When it’s a struggle

to get up

from the raft of the bed

And to get through the list

that keeps rolling over

from yesterday

Leave it until tomorrow and eat some peaches.  Wait until you find the ones that are covered in a gentle fuzz of summer and smell like sweet red and yellow sun.  They should drip at first bite.  You can fold chunks of them into creamy yogurt with drizzles of honey or roast them with butter, sugar and sprigs of tarragon and set them onto toasted, buttered slivers of French baguette.

Peaches are excellent for dinner.  Start with a vinaigrette.  Use a jelly jar with a tight fitting lid to shake it up.  Add half a teaspoon of dijon, half a teaspoon of raspberry jam, a tiny pinch of brown sugar, a pinch of salt, a squeeze of fresh lemon juice from half a large lemon, a dash of red wine vinegar, a grind of pepper, and your best olive oil to taste.  The typical ratio is two parts oil to one part vinegar/acid, but I like it to have a bit of bite so I go edge on the side of vinegar.

Look for balance.

Once you’re happy with it, add half a finely chopped shallot.  Lightly toast a handful of walnut halves.  Wash and dry arugla leaves, chop a few peaches, one perfectly ripe tomato, rip a few basil leaves and toss everything together.  Taste again for salt and pepper.  It’s beautiful with a single slice of your favorite goat cheese as a garnish.