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Saturday, November 29, 2008

This Is Just Too Easy!

I am morally opposed to most "convenience" food products. Things like Spam, Rice-a-roni, instant ramen noodles and, most especially, Hamburger Helper. The problem with many of these "convenience" foods is that they are more expensive than they are convenient, and they contain more sodium and chemicals than they do food and nutrition.

Then there are the REALLY convenient foods. Shelf stable TV dinners, individual servings of soup, stew, and other things that used to come in a can or live in the freezer. I don't like these because of the extraneous packaging and extra pollution they cause, not to mention they usually taste like $#!+, at least to me.

But there are some convenience foods I cannot do without. Namely, potato chips, spaghetti sauce and frozen puff pastry.

Don't think potato chips are a convenience food? You don't know Oprah, do you? A bag of chips and a stiff martini contain all the major food groups (salt, grease, cold, wet) with a double helping of vegetables. Hey, potatoes are a vegetable, and so are olives. If they are pimento stuffed olives, that's another helping of vegetables. And if they are blue cheese stuffed, you now have your dairy. I am telling you, this is a balanced meal.

Spaghetti sauce, what can I tell you. I used to use Ragu. Then I started making it from scratch. Now I use one of those "fancy" brands, sometimes adding cooked ground beef or Italian sausage. I use it on pizza, on pasta, in lasagna and in making stuffed peppers and other recipes. Yeah, it probably has too much sodium but you are talking to someone who eats potato chips for dinner. Salt is a dietary requirement for me.

That brings me to the frozen puff pastry. You need to get to know this secret ingredient. There is practically no end to what you can make - savory, sweet, and everything in between. And if you have never thought about how this product is made from scratch, all I can say is DON'T!

First you have to make the dough. Then you wrap it around a block of cold butter. Whack it for a while with a rolling pin. When it's sort of flat you start folding it, like a letter, and rolling it, again and again and again. Eventually you end up with a thin sheet of dough that is actually infinitesimal layers of dough and butter. When it bakes, the liquid in the butter heats up and expands, causing the layers to separate and the dough to puff up. Then the liquid evaporates, leaving behind shatteringly flaky layers of buttery pastry. Mmmmmm!

What can you make with this miracle food? Anything! Topping for pot pie; turnovers; cheese puffs; angel cookies (I can't remember the real name - some people call them elephant ears) just to name a few. My favorite is a fruit tart. Couldn't be easier and boy is it tasty! Another one of those "too easy" recipes. Don't blink or you'll miss it.

Place the pastry, tightly wrapped, in the refrigerator to thaw for a day or two. Don't try to hurry this step along. The pastry is going to crack anyway but the longer it takes to thaw, the easier it is to work with. Re-wrap the other piece (usually comes two to a box) and return it to the freezer.

Peel and slice an apple. Or a pear. Or two. Use any fruit you like. Pitted cherries, sliced peaches or nectarines, plums or apricots. Whatever you like, have on hand, or don't want to eat raw.

Unfold the pastry and roll gently on a lightly floured board. If you are fussy you can trim the edges to be square and neat again. This is supposed to make it puff better. Or just leave it as is. You may also have to sort of pinch the creases back together where they broke apart. This area won't rise much but it will be okay.

For individual tarts, cut into equal size pieces about four or six inches square. For family style just leave it whole. Take a sharp paring knife and score the edge of the pastry all around, making about 1/2 to 3/4 inch border. Transfer to a baking sheet. It's best to line the sheet with baking parchment. Don't scoff, you'll be glad later when you don't have anything to clean up.

Now lay your fruit slices all over the pastry, layering them or overlapping them or just jumbling them all over. Be as neat or as messy as you like. Take a spoonful or so of sugar and sprinkle it all over the fruit and the edges of the pastry. Likewise a little ground cinnamon, nutmeg, mace or cloves, whatever you prefer or have on hand.

Pop the tart(s) into a preheated 400 degree oven and bake about 15 minutes or so. The pastry will puff dramatically around the edges, the fruit will cook and the juices and sugar will make their own "sauce". But don't let that deter you from serving the tarts with a dollop of whipped cream.

Luckily, the pastry sheets are kind of small so this makes just enough dessert for two for a day or two, or a nice presentation to take with you to a brunch or your book club meeting. I kid you not, they will think you bought this at Le Patisserie Expensive or that you are a Cordon Bleu chef.

Make this often, using the sheet of pastry left in the freezer. Once you open the package, you don't want to keep this around for too long. Besides, you need the fiber.

Quotable Quotes; in the category What The Heck Is A Runcible Spoon?
And they bought an Owl, and a useful Cart,
And a pound of Rice, and a Cranberry Tart.
Edward Lear

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