Friday, November 20, 2009

Here are the tools you will need: NONE.

I once made what seemed like a multitude of these little individual Oreo-like icebox cakes. They weren't difficult, just sort of time-consuming. Which I really don't mind. In fact, I'd like more of my time to be consumed this way. I baked a tiramisu cake the same day.

Another time, I made ravioli from scratch. They turned out a little lumpy, but fine overall.

The point is, I'm willing to put time and effort into all kinds of edible things. But never pie crust.

Why does it seem so far out of reach? Like don't-even-bother, cross-it-off-the-list impossible. Just forget about it and buy a ready one at the store.

All this is to say that I've been inspired/guilted by this post to bring something to Thanksgiving dinner that's baked into a real pie crust made by me. Stay tuned.

[My fear of turkey-cooking lives on.]

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Pears and chocolate

I'm home from a weeklong bop around Europe full of good eating and sight-seeing with Melissa — and lots of time on trains/planes/buses/feet. First report: the discovery of an Italian duo I want to explore to its full extent.

You know how you hear some little tidbit for the first time, then evidence of it suddenly appears everywhere? You wonder how you'd missed it for so long. In the past few weeks, the pairing of chocolate and pears has worked that way. And let me tell you, they make a great couple.

Before I left, the torta di pere from Smitten Kitchen was first on my radar. It's a bittersweet chocolate and pear cake, and it's among the best I've made. There's lots of fine chopping and a good deal of time spent beating eggs, but it's fun in that it's very science project-y to bake. You spread the batter in the pan, then scatter all the chocolate and pear bits on top. The thing is, while it's in the oven, that batter envelops the fruit and chocolate. And it doesn't just let them sink in; the batter swells like a big marshmallow blob around the sides until it flows over the top and meets in the middle to seal everything in. I know because I spent much of the 40 minutes of baking time watching in fascination with the oven light on.

When I mention to Melissa that this fruit-and-chocolate combo somehow tastes very Italian to me, she acts like this is nothing new. All the Italians are doing it. That, and wearing purple. And two months into living on an Italian hilltop, she knows. In fact, just the night before, she'd had scoops of pear gelato and dark chocolate gelato sharing space in un piccolo cono.

Then on Friday, I got to Perugia myself. Even though I'd seen pictures, I don't think I believed until then that people really do live on this beautiful cobblestoned hilltop stocked with pizza, gelato and beer. And views! Melissa's gelato man was out of pear, so I settled for a Nutella/stracciatella cone.

But then! We got panini at a little market off the city center and, at the last second, she picked up a Perugina chocolate bar for me with pear. So perfect. I've been eating it square by square over the past few days and wondering if I'll be able to find this type of bar in Austin.

Until then, I'm imagining the pear-and-chocolate combinations I can cook up in my kitchen. Maybe adding chocolate to poached pears? Maybe together in a cheesecake? Maybe a tart, with ginger figuring in somehow? Any other ideas? I'm ready to put them to the test.