The third installment of the Hamptons Home & Garden mystery series finds our heroine, interior designer Meg Barrett, finishing up the decoration of the Bibliophile Bed & Breakfast for the eccentric (and wealthy, naturally—this is the Hamptons, after all) book collector Franklin Hollingsworth. A hurricane has forced Meg to abandon the antique yacht she’s been staying in with her grumpy one-eyed cat, Jo; fortunately, the B&B’s manager, Brenna, has offered a suite for Meg and Jo to ride out the storm in. This affords Meg not only safe haven but extra time to arrange each book-themed suite to her liking before the inn’s grand opening.
But the B&B proves less safe for Randall McFee, the expert who’s just authenticated Franklin’s recent find of an unpublished F. Scott Fitzgerald manuscript. The aftermath of the hurricane finds him dead at the bottom of a cliff purportedly haunted by the ghost of a widow who had committed suicide there. At first, it looks as if Randall followed suit, but Meg starts to suspect that all is not as it seems when she discovers that rare books have begun to go missing from the B&B’s shelves. As she uncovers more criminal activity alongside secrets long thought buried, she begins to worry that a killer might be coming for her next.
Meg is an unusual sleuth in that she’s hearing-impaired, and I very much enjoyed reading of how that integrated into her investigations, as I firmly believe that representation matters. I also enjoyed how delightfully boy-crazy she is—if that term may be fairly applied to a woman in her early thirties. (Full disclaimer: I had a friend lovingly describe me as such in my wild, single days when I was just a bit younger than Meg myself.)
Fans of interior decorating will love the many passages detailing the places Meg encounters in her investigations as well as the three pages of tips at the end on repurposing vintage finds. There were also three delicious-looking recipes included. The no-cook one was attributed to Meg, but the other two were named after her father, the chef in the family. I chose to try out this one:
Jeff Barrett's Tomato Tart Appetizer
1 sheet of Pepperidge Farm frozen pastry dough (they come in packages of two, 17.3 oz total; to use both sheets, double the recipe for the filling)
Parchment paper (to bake on)
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon brown sugar
2 ¾ lbs Roma tomatoes (or any small tomato around 2 inches in diameter)
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano plus one sprig for garnish
Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 400.
Take one sheet of the pastry dough and roll it out gently into a flat rectangle, then place the dough onto the parchment paper lined baking sheet. (If you don't have parchment paper, lightly grease the bottom of the baking sheet.)
In a large skillet, melt the butter over medium heat, then add the sugar and cook to dissolve it. When it begins to caramelize, add the tomatoes and cook for 15 minutes.
Add the balsamic vinegar and cook two more minutes. Remove the tomatoes, leaving the juices in the pan. Place the tomatoes on the pastry dough, sliced-side down. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and oregano. You should have enough tomatoes to completely cover the dough in a single layer, except for the edges.
Place on the middle rack of your oven and bake the tart for 30 minutes, or until the pastry is golden brown on the bottom. Remove and allow to cool for at least 5 minutes. Cut into squares and enjoy!
So far as I can tell, the only Pepperidge Farm frozen pastry dough is a puff pastry, and fortunately, I had one left over from a previous recipe! Overall, this tart was very easy to put together, though I’m still unclear as to when and how exactly the tomatoes should be sliced. I went ahead and sliced them in half before cooking them in the skillet, and that seemed to work out well.
Actually, “well” is a bit of an understatement for this dish, which was delicious! My lovely assistant Karin and I—betraying the American sensibilities of our palates—took one look at the tart as it was cooling and decided that we needed cheese to go with it. And don’t get me wrong, it was very tasty on its own! However, I did have a delicious wedge of honey goat chevre tucked away that turned out to be the perfect accompaniment to this light, elegant dish. Despite it being termed an appetizer, Karin and I made a lovely meal of it. The middle does get a bit soggy after a while, so it’s best eaten fairly quickly.
Next week, we head west to Ohio to check out some not-so-fancy (but oh-so-delicious!) French cooking. Do join me!
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Doreen Sheridan is a freelance writer living in Washington, D.C. She microblogs on Twitter @dvaleris.
Read all posts by Doreen Sheridan for Criminal Element.