Chitown, the Food Saturday, Sep 18 2010 

When Boyfriend and I vacation, we tend to do a lot of walking.  We’ll tell you that it’s the best way to see the city, or that it’s silly to spend money on cab fare when it’s seventy perfect degrees outside, or that this is the reason we chose a hotel right smack in the center of everywhere we wanted to be.  But the real reason?  The real reason is that we really like to eat, and on vacation, we eat a lot. 
 
Chicago was, of course, no exception to this rule.  I spent a solid two months perusing the boards over here to get the rundown on what Chicago had to offer.  I ogled the crazy menu at Alinea (and, of course, ultimately deemed it too rich for our twenty-something wallets), and had a days-long inner battle about which deep dish pizza we should try (since we’re both insufferable snobs when it comes to our pizza).  I even had a list of brewpubs and bars with extensive beer lists that I was forced to narrow down quite a bit for lack of time.  With all this hemming and hawing between our various culinary choices, there was one stop that was simply a no-brainer the instant I looked at the menu.  It fairly shouted Boyfriend’s name to me, through the computer screen, and, despite its distance from the hotel and relative obscurity with respect to anything else we wanted to see or do, I knew we had to go. 


 
So onto my carefully-planned itinerary it went – after the brewery tour, and before a stop at Hopleaf to keep our buzz going, I decided that we’d go to Hot Doug’s so Boyfriend would experience the glory of the “encased meats” I knew he’d love, and the duck fries we’d never heard of (but now simply had to have).  And that was that…until we went to The Second City Comedy Club the night before.  I’d overestimated both how long it would take us to walk from The Loop to Old Town, and how long dinner at Adobo Grill would take, and we had a little time on our hands.  I insisted we go to the Spice Merchants, which instantly assaulted every one of our senses in the best possible way, and to get some fudge (because there is always room for dessert on vacation), before we wandered into a specialty store selling olive oils and balsamic vinegars.  Since we walked in only a few minutes before closing, I fully expected to be hustled along and back out the door, especially since we didn’t really want to buy anything that would necessitate checking our bags on the flight back to Jersey.  But, on the contrary, the clerk struck up a conversation about what we were planning to do while we were in Chicago.  When we casually mentioned Hot Doug’s as part of our plans for the next day, he was instantly apologetic.  “I’m really sorry,” he told us, “but I’m pretty sure that they’re closed this week…” After a few frantic minutes peering into Boyfriend’s (incredibly slow) BlackBerry, our fears were confirmed – there would be no Hot Doug’s trip on this vacation. 
 
Of course, we were disappointed.  And I have no doubt that Hot Doug’s would’ve fulfilled every one of our salivating expectations.  But the rest of Chicago’s food more than made up for the travesty of missing out on one of our highly anticipated destinations.  
 
Most notably, Boyfriend and I both returned from Chicago completely devoted to the genius that is Rick Bayless.  Not only were the churros and hot chocolate at XOCO mouth-watering and flawlessly executed, but the menu was so original, so eclectic.  In a world of taco-enchilada-fajita Mexican restaurants, Rick Bayless challenged everything Boyfriend and I thought we knew about Mexican food.  We were hooked from the first bite. And the Wednesday-only pork belly torta?  Words cannot describe.  Having never eaten pork belly in our lives, I wasn’t honestly sure we would enjoy it.  Or, more accurately, I wasn’t sure I would like it, since Boyfriend likes virtually everything he eats.  And no amount of glowing reviews on every website I read could make me order that sandwich without knowing what pork belly tasted like.  But when Boyfriend shared a bite with me, I instantly regretted that decision.  Because my torta was really good, but Boyfriend’s was outstanding.  The salsa, in particular, was stellar – hot enough to satisfy our spice-loving palates, but not so harsh that it overwhelmed the rest of the sandwich.  And this magical sandwich…did I mention that it was our very first meal in Chicago?  I think we knew right then and there that we’d be enjoying our time in this city.


 
Aside from our new crush on Rick Bayless, we also developed a really strange love for Portillo’s hot dogs.  I don’t mean that it was unusual because of the place we got so attached to – with the sports memorabilia, highly amusing staff, speedy service, and delicious chocolate milkshakes, it was no wonder we enjoyed it. But hot dogs?  We don’t even eat hot dogs at barbeques if there are other options – we’re really cheeseburger and sausage kind of people.  But these hot dogs.  I don’t really know what it was; I got very attached to the chili dog, while Boyfriend raved about the Chicago dog and it’s tiny, lime green peppers.  I would tell you the exact tally of hot dogs eaten in five days, but it’s embarrassing, and quite frankly I’d rather not face the potential judgment. 
 
And then there was the thing we didn’t think we were going to like.  We’re Jersey kids and we like our pizza the way we like our pizza, so neither of us thought that deep dish was going to do it for us.  We actually walked into Lou Malnati’s expecting to be underwhelmed (I know, I know…blasphemy!), and were pleasantly surprised to find that we more than enjoyed our little upside-down pizza (I’m sorry, the toppings go on the top.  This is why they’re called toppings).  While it will never replace the pizza I’ve grown up with, the pizza I desperately miss whenever I leave the tri-state area, Boyfriend and I were glad to have tried, and liked, it, if for no other reason than to avoid the wrath of Chicagoans everywhere. 
 
And!  And!  Garrett’s Popcorn.  What is that about?  Though fully warned by a friend from the Chicago area, we couldn’t believe our eyes when we wandered passed our first Garrett’s and found an actual line of people waiting for the doors to open in the morning.  Not that we didn’t eat it and love it (I mean, it’s popcorn drenched in caramel, after all), but lining up outside the door?  At breakfast time?  I don’t know…maybe I just didn’t eat enough to get hooked.
 
Now, I’ve long held the belief that calories don’t count on your birthday, but after a trip like this, I may need to revise my theory a little – perhaps to include one’s significant other, vacation, and several days of eating as if it were your birthday.  And at the end of it, only hours after we landed in Newark, I’m sure you can guess what we were doing. 
 
Eating birthday cake, of course.

Chicago Thursday, Sep 9 2010 

I take birthdays pretty seriously.  I like to bake big cakes, make big plans, do big things.  I like to remember birthdays as unique and special experiences that can’t be had every day – not just having dinner with some friends at a local restaurant, but doing something truly special.  Because there’s really only one day a year that’s all about you, and why wouldn’t you want to celebrate it in a big way?  For me, birthdays are less about the age, and more about the occasion.  And for Boyfriend’s 25th last week, we certainly did celebrate. 

Conveniently, Boyfriend had some time off available right around his birthday, and he had a specific vacation in mind – a vacation that would finally get him to Wrigley Field.  Needless to say, I had no complaints about Chicago; I’ve never been there, and had been itching to go myself.  So off we went to the Windy City, where we spent five days eating hot dogs and wandering around a new city.   

We spent some time on The Ledge at the top of the Sears Willis Tower, where Boyfriend looked specifically for every sports arena in the greater Chicago area, pointing out Soldier Field and the United Center like an excited kid on Christmas.  And while we couldn’t see Wrigley from the top, we got to see it right up close the next day, the way Boyfriend felt it should be seen.  We took the Red Line out to Wrigleyville, stood in the general admission line for close to an hour, and (literally) ran to the left field bleachers, where I spent a tense two hours trying to avoid home run balls hit our way during batting practice.  While the Cubs would go on to lose the game, Boyfriend was in heaven – it was a beautiful day, he was watching baseball, and we’d nabbed a stray ball during batting practice.  And after the game, we fell in love with Murphy’s Bleachers and the Goose Island Brew Pub, where we finished celebrating Boyfriend’s birthday (a few days early) with some delicious beers and snacks.  Another El ride, a chocolate milkshake, and several hot dogs later, we spent the rest of the evening relaxing…which is something we rarely do much of on vacation. 

Antsy and looking to burn off some milkshake calories, we spent the next day biking around the lake, near Chicago’s version of the beach, and riding through Navy Pier before the crowds got to it.  We stumbled upon a giant hot air balloon of sorts, as well as the set of the movie Transformers 3, and tried to keep my sun-burned self in the shade.   At night, we saw live blues at a club where the bouncer told me I looked too young to be there (ouch?), and the bartender informed Boyfriend that there was no Coors Light to be had.  We took photos of ourselves reflected in the Chicago bean, admired Buckingham Fountain, and sat at an impossibly small table at The Second City, where we laughed hysterically for two full hours.   

But our favorite thing about Chicago (besides, of course, the food, which we’ll get to later), was definitely the people.  Everyone we met, from our airport shuttle driver to the women sitting behind us at the Cubs game, was so genuinely excited for our first trip to Chicago and so eager to help us decide how to spend our time.  Strangers commented on Boyfriend’s “CANADA IS HOCKEY” t-shirt, reminding us that while Canada may be hockey, for this year at least, the Cup was Chicago.  We also had an oddly endearing conversation about Trenton, NJ and its pork roll with the Brewers at Half Acre, and very hot-dog-specific chat with a store clerk (moments before the store was scheduled to close, which, incidentally, is precisely when most clerks are the least chatty) that centered around our deep sadness at Hot Doug’s summer closure. 

And after days of eating, drinking, and watching sports, was it any wonder that, upon our return to windy, rainy New Jersey, Boyfriend stepped one foot off the plane, turned to me, and asked (in his best it’s-my-birthday-and-you-have-to-do-what-I-say voice) “um, can we go back to Chicago now?”

Cornbread Tuesday, Aug 10 2010 

A few weeks ago, Boyfriend and I went to see Dave Matthews play at Citi Field in New York.  This was a big deal for a lot of reasons:

1 – Boyfriend is a huge Dave fan, and he’s seen him enough times that he can’t remember the actual tally.

2 – Zac Brown Band, who we both love, was the opening act.

3 – Boyfriend hadn’t seen DMB in concert since college.

4 – It coincided with NYC Restaurant Week.

I think you can imagine how excited I was to discover this out this last detail.

Since Boyfriend was already coming home the night before the concert, we planned to spend the entire day in the city – eating, drinking, and sweating in the 100-degree temperatures.  After attempting to read through the exhaustively long list of participating restaurants and their menus, I had an epiphany.  And that epiphany’s name was Bobby Flay.

I’ve never eaten at a celebrity chef’s restaurant, but the topic was on my mind after days of planning our Chicago itinerary and reading up on Rick Bayless’s restaurants.  So to Mesa we went for their pre fixe, Restaurant Week lunch menu.  And can I tell you?  I haven’t been that full after a meal that involved not one bite of meat ever. Ever.  We had delicious smoked shrimp cakes (that I was predictably nervous about, being very afraid of all things deemed “smoky”) dressed in a beautiful pineapple relish that balanced the heat out nicely.  Boyfriend had red snapper that he assured me was fabulous but was, to me, just another fish I wasn’t interested in.  And I had a monstrous chile relleno followed by the best bread pudding I’ve ever tasted, while Boyfriend enjoyed a chocolate strawberry shortcake.

But for Boyfriend, who loves all things spicy and most anything unique, the real gem of the meal was the cornbread.  Made with both yellow and blue cornmeal and studded with kernels of corn and chunks of jalapeno, he took one bite of his first roll, looked across the table at me, and whispered, almost in awe, “when are you making these for me?”  We ate the entire basket of them, in addition to a second basket brought over to replenish the first.  I mentioned we were really full afterward, yes?

Several hours after cleaning our plates at Mesa, we made our way to Citi Field to watch the show.  Halfway through, Dave played the song we were hoping he would – Boyfriend’s favorite song, and the one he was very much looking forward to hearing live for the first time in years.  The song we’d sung loudly in the car on the way to the train that morning, and the song that is the first track on the DMB/Zac Brown Band playlist I made in preparation for the concert.  What song is that, you ask?

Cornbread, of course.

Spicy, Cheesy Cornbread

Adapted from this recipe http://allrecipes.com//Recipe/jalapeno-corn-bread/Detail.aspx

1 1/2 cups yellow cornmeal

1/2 cup whole wheat flour

6 tbsp sugar

2 tsp baking powder

1 1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp baking soda

2 eggs

1 cup buttermilk

1/4 vegetable oil

1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese

2 – 3 tbsp red pepper flakes

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Grease a 9-inch square baking pan and set aside.

In a large bowl, combine cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and red pepper flakes.  Stir to combine.

In a separate bowl, whisk eggs, buttermilk, and oil together.  Slowly pour wet ingredients into dry ingredients and stir to combine.  Add cheese, and stir until it’s well-distributed.

Pour batter into pan and bake for 20-25 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Cut bread into squares and serve warm.

Sigh. Tuesday, Aug 3 2010 

Not to have a pity party or anything, but I’m struggling, and that struggling has led directly to a serious lack of posting.  See, two weeks ago, my computer got a virus.  Admittedly, it was entirely my fault, but now I’m definitely in a pickle because while my computer has been restored to a mostly functioning state through the genius efforts of my Dad, my blog, sadly, has not been so lucky.

I had a minor meltdown when I first discovered this last Friday, but I eventually brushed it off, consoled myself with hours of Sex and the City episodes, had one too many cocktails, and decided I’d sort it out next week.  Well, it’s now next week, friends, and the prospects are still looking a little grim.  My problems are multifaceted and, for someone with little to no computer knowledge, quasi-insurmountable.  First and foremost, I’ve lost every picture I’ve ever uploaded to this site.  Not that they’re missing from the site, actually, so  much as they’re missing from my WordPress media library and I can’t upload new ones.  And if I can’t access the old ones, and I can’t upload new ones, I effectively have no idea how to once again get pictures onto the blog.  So there’s that.  There’s also the unique problem that the icons along the top of my WordPress taskbar (through which you make font bold, underlined, etc, and add pictures, run spell check, etc) are gone.  I have buttons, but they’re all blank – which means that for the moment, it’s sort of a Russian roulette system of posting and editing.  I have no idea what any of the buttons do until after I click them.  And that’s…risky.

My final issue was recently resolved through no effort of my own, so I guess it isn’t so much a current problem, but regardless, there was a period of time this weekend where my computer rejected all forms of Javascript.  Now, again, I have no idea what Javascript does, per se, but I do know that I need it to blog.  In that, without accessing it, I couldn’t preview or publish posts.  SIGH.

All of that to say that I haven’t forgotten you all, and I actually have a terrific cupcake recipe to share, as well as a cute little story that I may or may not cave and put up (sans pictures) in the next day or two.  Guess it depends how much Boyfriend harrasses me.  Till then, please send any extra good karma my way.  Lord knows the blog could use it this week.

Bruschetta Tuesday, Jul 20 2010 

During the oppressive heat of the summer months, most food bloggers take solace in the fact that the stellar produce at this time of year makes up for the sweaty, blistering temperatures.  The peaches, the blueberries, the sweet Jersey corn…farmers markets are brimming with foods that require very little alteration to taste phenomenal.  This isn’t the winter, where the East Coast bemoans its abundance of squash and Brussels sprouts and dreams of the days when strawberries ripen.  Around this time of year, people are thrilled to leave their ovens off and let the fresh produce speak for itself.

Often, it’s the tomato that steals the spotlight.  But here’s a confession – I don’t like tomatoes, at least not raw ones. I don’t like the seedy, pulpy interior, and I don’t like the slick skin that holds it all together.  I don’t like large, fresh slices of the beefsteak variety on hamburgers, and I pick them out of salads, unceremoniously dropping them on Boyfriend’s plate more often than not.  He, of course, adores them – he wishes I liked them more.  And I want to like them, I really do, but if I can’t stomach them at the peak of their apparent deliciousness, I don’t think it’s in the cards for me.

Not to be outdone in the crazy department, though, I’ll eat them peeled and cooked into tomato sauce.  In fact, I love tomato sauce.  And salsa.  But not ketchup.  You know, just in case you thought I was predictable. As if I’d let that happen.

Spurred by this irrational love of saucy, cooked tomatoes mingled with onions and garlic, I decided to do bruschetta for dinner.  Simple, fairly healthy, and so quick to put together, I find this meal endlessly satisfying – the crunchy bread, the acidic bite of the tomatoes, the tangy cheese…what’s not to love?  Unless, of course, you don’t like tomatoes.

Bruschetta

3 tbsp olive oil, divided

4 thick slices of French bread

1 tbsp butter

1/8 cup diced onion

1 clove fresh garlic, minced

1-2 tbsp fresh chopped basil

3 whole, peeled plum tomatoes (Yes, I did get mine from a can.  In the midst of tomato season.  I’m a sad, sad creature.)

Salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, to taste

Shredded Parmesan or Pecorino cheese

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees, and brush both sides of each piece of bread evenly with 2 of the 3 tablespoons of olive oil.  Once your oven has reached 350, put the bread on a baking sheet in the middle of the oven and cook for 5 minutes on each side (or until the bread is crunchy and golden).  Set aside.

Meanwhile, heat the remaining tablespoon of oil and butter in a saucepan over medium heat.  When the oil has heated, add onions and cook until transluscent.  Add garlic and saute for 1-2 minutes, until the garlic is fragrant but not browned.  Add tomatoes, basil, and spices, and cook until everything is heated through.  Taste and season accordingly as you go.

When the topping and bread are both finished, top each slice with a quarter of the tomato mixture and sprinkle with cheese.

Oreo Cheesecake Ice Cream Tuesday, Jul 6 2010 

Though at the moment we’re enjoying a very reasonable streak of 80 degree weather, those psychics we all call weathermen assure me that this won’t last – by Sunday the temperature will return to a staggering 95 degrees, and we’ll all sweat ourselves into puddles watching the fireworks. Such is life in the summer months. But I’m not complaining! At the end of the day, the bottom line is that I would rather slather myself with sunscreen and watch through the fiery humidity than spend even one extra minute in snowy winter weather. But when the weather gets this toasty, there are certain things my heart just yearns for. Things like beaches, cold beers, watermelon…and ice cream.

I’ve waxed poetic about my adoration of all things cold and creamy before, but the summer only amplifies my desire for it. I’ve tried to trick myself into forsaking my love for something a little less, um, fattening, but nothing else does it for me. Sorbet, frozen yogurt, Italian ice – they’re all very lovely, but they lack the smooth taste of velvet that ice cream has. In my mind, at least, nothing else comes close to satisfying the craving. It’s ice cream, or it’s nothing. And really, the first choice is clearly the superior one.

So  it’s kind of a miracle I haven’t attempted a custard-based ice cream before. Actually, it’s not that miraculous – I’m very, very impatient. And that extra cook-cool-refrigerate for two hours bit always put me off the custard base strategy that everyone else raved about. It was way easier for me to throw some milk and cream into the ice cream maker and let it just twirl away for a half hour. But now that I know when I’m missing? Now that I’ve experienced how much of a difference those three little steps make? Now, I don’t know how I’m going to go back.

Oreo Cheesecake Ice Cream

Adapted from over here, at Cathy’s Kitchen Journey

2 cups whole milk, divided

1 cup sugar

2 eggs, beaten

12 ounces cream cheese, softened

1 tsp vanilla extract

10 Oreo cookies, crumbled

Beat cream cheese in a large bowl until soft and smooth. Set aside.

In a saucepan over medium-high heat, combine sugar, eggs, and 1 1/2 cups milk. Cook, stirring frequently, until the mixture comes to a boil (I took mine off pretty much the instant it came to a boil – see the very, very impatient mention above). Slowly and carefully add the hot milk to the cream cheese and beat until combined.

Cover the bowl and refrigerate until the mixture is cool (I did all of this on day one, refrigerated it overnight, and finished it the next day).

When you’re ready to make the ice cream, remove the bowl from the fridge and add the last 1/2 cup of milk and the vanilla to the mixture (it will be thick and custard-like already). Pour the mixture into the ice cream maker and mix according to manufacturer’s instructions.

When the mixture is finished, scoop the ice cream into a bowl and fold in Oreo cookie crumbs. Store in a freezer-safe container.

Happy Birthday, Blog! Wednesday, Jun 30 2010 

Hey!  Guess what!  Today is my blog’s first birthday.  They grow up so fast, don’t they? 

 

A lot’s happened in the last year.  Boyfriend has moved twice, I’ve taken three vacations and booked a fourth, and I survived my first business trip.  I’ve baked bread, embraced the art of the layer cake, and even made booze.  We’ve been to food, beer, wine, and even bourbon festivals, and visited more than a few breweries to boot.  And through it all, I’ve had a camera strapped to my hungry little hand, ready to capture whatever we were eating, drinking, or admiring. 

Admittedly, I have a long way to go: my photography is nowhere near the level I’d like it to be, and there are many, many culinary challenges I hope to attempt in the year(s) to come.   And even though we’re crossing cities off our Must See list with every vacation, there are so many left for us to visit. 

So happy birthday, blog!  With another oddly-specific birthday cake for Boyfriend and an eating-spree in a brand new city, we’re going to be quite the second summer together.

Beer, Bourbon, and BBQ Tuesday, Jun 22 2010 

Several years ago, while I was studying abroad, my college boyfriend came to visit.  As an early 21st-birthday present, I took him to Dublin for a long weekend, where we celebrated by going, where else, the Jameson Distillery.  First of all, if you’ve never been (to Ireland, Dublin, and/or the Jameson Distillery), I highly recommend it (Ireland, Dublin, and the Distillery).  The tour ends with a whiskey tasting involving all the usual suspects: Jameson, Jack, and Johnny.  The idea, of course, is to prove to you how smooth and delicious Jameson is, as compared to the rather harsh bite of the other two, er, gentlemen.  Not that I’ve ever been a particularly hard sell in that department.

Irish whiskey is, was, and maybe always will be my shot of choice, especially when pitted against scotch and bourbon.  I just can’t get passed the burn of even the longer-aged bourbons, and the only scotch worth drinking is prohibitively expensive compared to my favorite whiskey.  But I never like to judge too quickly, especially when it comes to something that could be delicious if given a chance.  Thus, the Beer, Bourbon and BBQ festival in National Harbor this weekend.  The festival boasted 60 beers to sample, 40 bourbons to try, and a bacon-tasting station.

Now, just to recap, I do not like the following:

1) Bourbon

2) Bacon

Which left beer.  And pulled pork.  And hushpuppies.  And more beer.  And water, given that it was 93 broiling, sunny degrees, and, despite mopping sweat from my forehead for five hours, I got not one single shade tanner.  The injustice of it all.

Anyway.  I’d like to report that I gave bourbon a fair go and despite my best attempts to choke down more than the eensiest, tiniest little sip of a taste, I still hate it.  I’m sorry.  I don’t know why, beyond the fact that it freaking hurts more than I can explain, and if I wanted something to burn like that wouldn’t it be easy to just chug some shitty tequila?  I even tried the 18-year-aged stuff and, to be honest, I don’t think it even tastes any different from the not-aged-at-all crap.  I can taste the years in scotch, but definintely not in bourbon.

I did have some fan-freaking-tastic beer, pulled pork, and hot sauce though.  Also, whoever convinced me that I don’t like barbeque sauce is an idiot, because that shit is tasty if it’s done right.  We tasted one that I was fully planning on purchasing before our departure, but in our near heat-stroke state of mind, all we could focus on was returning to the air-conditioned car and taking a nice long nap.  I’m regretting it now though, and seriously considering ordering myself a little stock of it from their online store.  A few considerations must be made for the fact that I rarely cook anything on which barbeque sauce would traditionally be eaten, however, and I fear that if I learn to cook things like pulled pork and ribs for myself, it will be literally all I want to eat during grilling season.

Boyfriend also raved about the bacon, which I confess I didn’t even try.  Honestly, I’m not a fan of anything smokey – if you describe food to me as having any kind of smokey character, it immediately turns me off.  And don’t even get me started on the rauchbeir thing.  I can’t even stand how that smells.

All in all, neuroses aside, it was a pretty great day.  We ate ourselves silly and washed it all down with some great beer.  Boyfriend purchased an obscenely large bag of beef jerky and ate half of it on the 45-minute drive back to Baltimore, which meant I woke up from my sun-induced nap to the overpowering smell of dried meat and a Boyfriend who was maybe rethinking the amount of jerky he’d just ingested.  Because like everything else in life, you can often have just a little too much of a very good thing.

Apologies and Rationalizations Monday, Jun 14 2010 

In my continued efforts to be the worst part-time blogger ever, I’m MIA again.  I know.  It’s shocking.  I have a plethora of excuses and rationalizations, all of which I will share with you now in an effort to make sure you forgive me and visit again next week, when I’m less, you know, sucky at this whole blogging thing.

- My first ever business trip is happening this week.  Hilarious, I know.  Given the fact that I’ve already struggled somewhat with the idea that I’ll need to wear pantyhose every single day, this whole trip can only go great places.  I’d like to state, for the record, that one of the things I did not learn in college was the fact that open-toed shoes are not business appropriate.  Um, what?  Is this common knowledge and no one told me?  My peep-toed pumps are slutty? Agree to disagree, but it limited my shoe selection to an almost insurmountably small amount because I do not own close-toed black shoes.  Of course I don’t.  Because my suits are only black.  Ugh, the perils of becoming an adult.

- Boyfriend’s Brother came home from studying abroad in Africa last week, which meant that Boyfriend came home from Maryland to gawk at his brother’s astonishing amount of photos.  We’ll just say that there were lions, and cheetahs, and snakes…oh my.  Boyfriend’s Brother also brought him back a (FIFA World Cup-sponsored) bottle of what appears to be Bailey’s, but is actually derived from a naturally alcoholic fruit.  First and foremost, I’m living in the wrong part of the world, because simultaneously eating a nutrious piece of fruit while getting a buzz on is sweet. Second, apparently this fruit is a large part of an elephant’s diet, and often leads to their slight intoxication.  I’m sorry, but can you think of anything more terrifying than a drunk elephant in a country where they’re already overpopulated?  Because I can’t.

- Did I mention it was the World Cup?  Not that I appreciate soccer nearly as much as Boyfriend, but I did spend a significant portion of the weekend trying to work out exactly why everyone felt the need to continuously blow those giant-ass horns (Boyfriend included).  I’m no closer to an answer than I was at 9am on Saturday morning.  Also, Boyfriend, in his overzealous excitement, showed up to my house on Saturday afternoon wearing a red, white, and blue plaid blazer with a red bandana wrapped around his head.  I devoted a lot of time that day to assuring friends that I did not dress him.

- I’ve been to three baseball games in the last week.  That’s not a typo. In seven days, I went to three games.  Now, you’ll remember that I don’t really even enjoy baseball, so I’m not entirely sure how that happened, but, alas, it did.  And baseball games?  They are not short events.  Boyfriend and I went to a Red Sox game that lasted into the 12th-ish inning, and featured the slowest pitcher I have ever experienced.  Holy mother. I have never heard more booing from a crowd when the subject of the booing was standing entirely still.  I think I’m learning to appreciate it or something though.  I mean, I definitely hate it less…

So there you have it.  My life is a blur of work and sports and eating.  As if this is new information.  My deepest apologies, and I’ll see you next week.  Please don’t boo me.

Cherry Jam Tart Tuesday, Jun 8 2010 

I have a real problem making cherry desserts.  It’s not that I don’t like cherries; quite the opposite, actually.  I love cherries.  I love them so much that I can, will, and do eat an entire three-pound bag in mere days.  I look forward to the sweet, ruby little gems every summer, and I react as if someone’s baked me a cake whenever they’re brought home from the grocery store.  I love them just that much.  So why do I hesitate to bake them into buttery pie crusts and tart shells?  Why do I balk at the thought of pitting a bag of those beauties and making cherry vanilla ice cream?

Because they’re too delicious. I literally refuse to waste their limited-time bounty on a pie.  They just don’t need it!  At the peak of their season, deeply red and oh-so juicy, why would I bother burying them under butter and crust and unnecessary sugar?  I wouldn’t.  I won’t.

Which is why desserts like this are so crucial to me – while I adore cherry-flavored anything almost as much as the cherries themselves, I don’t feel guilty baking and sharing a dessert centered around a jar of cherry jam.  Would this be better with homemade cherry jam?  Cherry jam you pitted, boiled, and canned yourself?  Probably.  Was it delicious as-is, with a jar of store-bought jam and an impossible-to-screw-up crust? Absolutely.  And best of all, I personally harmed no cherries in the making of this tart.

Cherry Jam Tart

Adapted from the Smitten Kitchen

In my continued efforts to screw things up really badly to make sure they’ll stand up to the “oops” moves of others, I added the butter and sugar to the rest of the dry ingredients instead creaming them together independently.  Unwilling to let it go and start dough over at 9pm on a weeknight (what I was doing baking at that point anyway is really beyond me), I just crossed my fingers and mixed feverishly until dough materialized.  I’m sure there are all kinds of technical reasons why this is badbadbad, and I don’t advise you to replicate my mistake, but all’s well that ends well, and this one ended pretty freaking well.

1 1/2 cups flour

1/2 cup polenta

2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

8 tbsp butter, cut in one-inch cubes and at room temperature

1/2 cup sugar

2 eggs

1/4 tsp vanilla extract

1 10-ounce jar of cherry jam

Extra sugar, for sprinkling

1 egg white

Combine flour, baking powder, polenta/cornmeal, and salt in a small bowl.  Set aside.  In a larger, separate bowl, cream together butter and sugar until smooth and pale yellow.  Add eggs (not the egg white) and vanilla and beat to combine.  Add the flour to the wet ingredients slowly, just until the dough comes together.

Separate 1/3 of the dough, and roll it into a log.  Wrap well in plastic wrap, then refrigerate for at least an hour (I left mine for two days before I cooked it and it worked out fine).  Form a ball with rest of the dough and wrap it in plastic wrap.  Refrigerate until you’re ready to make the tart.

When you’re ready to bake the tart, preheat the oven to 375 degrees and butter a tart pan (I don’t have one – I used a pie pan).  Press the larger ball of dough evenly into the bottom of the pan (I rolled mine out, which was also, evidently, wrong, but that seems to be the theme of this post. It worked fine, and any breaks in the dough can just be pressed back together if you opt for my screwy version. Also, I was supposed to refrigerate the dough-lined pan at this point, and I didn’t do that either.). Spread jam evenly over the top of the crust.  Remove the dough log from the fridge and cut very thin disks using a sharp knife.  If the dough becomes too soft to do this, feel free to pop it back in the fridge until it firms up, then resume cutting.  Lay the circles over the jam in concentric circles until the entire top is covered.  Brush the top with the final egg white and sprinkle with sugar.

Bake until the top crust is golden brown, 20 – 25 minutes. Cool completely before eating.

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