Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Apricot Crostata

I love before-and-after shots, so it's very tempting just to leave these photos as the entire blog post without any explanation at all. The top one is the Apricot Crostata I made last night. Mind you, it was 80 or so degrees outside with about a gazillion percent humidity. I'm not sure what I was thinking in trying to bake in that weather, except that I'd picked up a dozen gorgeous, ripe apricots at the Greenmarket on Saturday, and they were starting to get to that stage where they would go from perfect-to-eat to starting-to-rot.

The bottom photo shows what happens when you take said crostata to work and let a team of hungry bankers have at it for a day. I watched one person on my team discreetly sneak some small bits of it each time she walked by the credenza where I'd stationed my culinary creation. Other folks did the usual and just hacked off a chunk of it to enjoy while sitting at their desks working on spreadsheets.

Having never made this recipe before, I was a little bit skeptical that some of the extra steps were worth it. I have another version of the same dessert that I've made for years and absolutely swear by, but, lately, it had been letting me down a bit. When I finally spotted the apricots at the market last Saturday, I debated for about a second as to whether I would make my usual tart with an almond-honey filling from Patricia Wells or venture into uncharted waters.

It was the apricots that made me take the plunge. I'd been treated to an early sample the week prior by the fruit vendor, so I just knew that their sweet perfume deserved to be maximized to its fullest. I pulled out a recipe from The Washington Post Food Section from a couple of years ago: Apricot Crostata. I'd been a bit hesitant about the fact that you actually have to cook the apricots and basically make a quick jam from them. I've never made jam. It's one of those things I think about, but then you have to fuss with sterilizing bottles and thermometers and stuff.

This, however, was just about as easy as it would have been to open up a jar of someone else's jam and pour it into the crust. It took about 15 minutes and the only real extra effort was in having to pit and chop the apricots, which can be done while the pastry base is sitting in the fridge. There was the added satisfaction of the bragging rights I got because I could truly say that I made the entire thing from scratch. To my mouth, that made it taste all the better.

Buon appetito!

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Chicago 4th of July

To tempt you, I thought I'd just lead off with one of the best meals I had when I was in Chicago this past weekend, visiting family for the 4th of July. This is The Bell Ringer from Firehouse Grill in Evanston. The weather wasn't the greatest on my trip, but it was perfect for shopping, checking out the little boutiques, and staring out the car window at some of the large, gorgeous houses we passed on the way back to their place.

It was also the ideal temperature outside for digging into a post-shopping burger topped with buttery melted cheddar cheese accompanied by sour cream and chili on the side waiting to be slathered on top. The meat was grilled and seasoned correctly; the bun-to-burger proportions were correct; and the extra toppings added to, rather than detracted from, the balance of creamy, salty, beefy richness.

Being a big burger fan, I'm very sensitive to good quality, flavorful meat being used to create my meal. I had no complaints about this one. In fact, I was dreaming about having it again the next day, and had I been able to control the agenda, we would have eaten there again.

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