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Archive for the ‘tarts’ Category

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Humble ingredients often make the best dishes and onions are the secret weapon in everyone’s pantry. What is not improved by adding an onion? I start nearly every dinner with a diced onion, some olive oil and a hot pan. Every culture’s cuisine has a similar starting point – mirepoix, Cajun trinity, sofrito, battuto, recaíto – a starting base of onions and a mix of other vegetables that create a flavorful base. There may be carrots and celery, or green pepper, or include chilies or maybe herbs but it always starts with the humble onion. Cook onions nice and slow and entire dishes can be built around those deeply caramelized, flavorful strands. French Onion Soup is just one example that illustrates the magic of a caramelized onion. This is another one of those recipes.

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One of the things that bugs me the most about food blogs is every recipe has to have a long narrative, a story about how the thing was made, what it means to the author, what emotions it invokes in random eaters, praise from spouses and coworkers. Hey, I get it. I do it too but only when the story is actually there. The fact is there’s not always a great story worth telling so why force it? Most of the time I make things for no particular reason. It might be because I have extra ingredients laying around that need to be used and – surprise! – that thing is pretty good and worth sharing. The story isn’t very interesting when it’s just something I threw together or something I’ve been making for so long I don’t remember it’s origin. I try to write funny, entertaining posts but sometimes it just is what it is.

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The last several weeks have been rather complicated. I’ve made two multi-tiered wedding cakes for good friends and countless desserts for a client tasting, many with numerous components and sub-recipes. To-do lists are spilling from my computer at an alarming rate and stacks of receipts have turned my wallet into something worthy of George Costanza. Today I just wanted to make something simple. Spying the basket of apples on my counter, I formulated a plan.

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Ah, pears. So fragrant, so delicious, so damn hard to find. Yes, I know, pears are everywhere. I see them too but where are the good ones? Huh? The ones that are heavy for their size, which you can smell 20 feet away, the ones where you bite into them and juice runs down your arm? Not so easy to find, are they? It’s a common dilemma with fruit these days. The farmer’s market is a sure bet but like peaches, you have to hit them just right. It’s certainly possible but it’s a roll of dice. Blink and you missed them. Grocery stores, unless you are very very lucky, are nearly always a miss. They arrive unripe and they stay that way. I am beyond tired of flavorless, hard, mealy pears. Be they Barlett, Anjou, Bosc, Comice or the adorable Forelle, chances are good they’re mediocre. The best possible solution is grown your own but few have that option. So I’ve come up with a better idea. Find someone with a tree. Which is exactly what I did. I highly recommend this option.

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Have you ever had an idea that you can’t quite seem to make real? For me, it’s a frequent occurrence. Usually with a recipe idea but it could really be anything – an outfit, a paint color for a dining room wall, I suppose even song lyrics. Your idea seems to make so much sense in your head but then when you try to make it real, put it to paper, something just doesn’t look right, tastes off, or sounds different – just wrong in every possible way. This tart was like that for me.

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It took me three years to get this one right.  Every August, when the apricots are absolutely perfect, sweet and juicy, I’d pull this recipe out and try it again.  But only for those few weeks.  Beautiful seasonal fruit is fleeting in these parts and this just isn’t as good with mediocre apricots.  I’d make it once, but probably two or three times, and make cursory notes that never made sense a year later. I’d stare at the computer screen wondering what the hell I meant by “too poufy” or “iffy meh” and what I was supposed to do about it.  I have trouble remembering what I was thinking 12 minutes ago, much less 12 months. All my attempts were good yet I always felt it could be better.  And then just as quickly as they came, the apricots were gone and the weather started to cool.  Next year, maybe next year.

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There were two holidays in my house growing up where we went full on Polish – Christmas and Easter, the later much more so than the former.  Easter was when we had a table groaning under the weight of food – several kinds of pierogies, sausage, sauerkraut, a butter lamb, potato casseroles, and always kolacky and a lamb cake for dessert.  Sour cream usually featured heavily in there too.  A Chicago-Polish friend once told me that it wasn’t a proper meal at her house unless someone was passing the tub of sour cream.  For my clan, it wasn’t a proper Easter without three things:  pierogies, garlicky sausage and kolacky. Wait.  Four things.  Pierogies, garlicky sausage, kolacky AND polka music.  The night just cannot end without a rousing rendition or six of “Who Stole the Kiska”.  You should try it.

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