Today is February 29, which means that this is a leap year! In celebration of this extra day, let’s leap back in time to Valentine’s Day ’08 so I can share this post (which finally has photos to accompany the text)!
The truth is, no one will ever look at me and feel like they are bearing witness to someone who’s got an ounce of culinary skill. And I’m okay with that, because I know that I make one mean chocolate chip cookie and my Mom and Sister say that I make the best tuna (as in, for sandwiches, not as in an actual cut of the fish meat itself). I’m also quite adept at pancakes, grilled cheese sandwiches, eggplant gratin (thanks Denise!), skillet lasagne and drop biscuits. Basically, if the recipe is stamped with the word “EASY” and the instructions are clear and not to be deviated from, I’m good.
See, the thing is… I live alone and I hate cooking for one. Food is best enjoyed when shared with friends and/or family, and I am more than willing to enter a kitchen, be given a job, and participate in the whole cooking affair when there is another human being involved. Otherwise, it’s a shock to my poor system to try out an unknown recipe… which requires ingredients not already in my fridge, my time and patience, and my willingness to eat whatever the product comes out to be. Scary.
My friends laugh, and yet to some extent they coddle me. Take for example, my desire to match Courtney’s Valentine’s Day dinner with an equally luxurious-sounding dish. “I’m making a yummy dish that has goat cheese and sun dried tomatoes in it,” she said. “Why don’t you bring dessert?”
I immediately began searching the Food Network web site for a recipe for upsidedown berry crostada that I saw on that show Everyday Italian with host Giada De Laurentiis (by accident, of course; I couldn’t tell you what channel the Food Network is on, but while channel-flipping one afternoon I stopped because I really liked her top and ending up watching for an hour).
But as I began reading the recipe, panic set in. Difficulty: Medium. Lots of prep time, which I didn’t have unless I prepared most of it that night. Mascarpone cheese. What the heck is mascarpone cheese, and where do I get it??? Lemon zest? I’ve never zested anything in my life! And I bet it requires some sort of crazy-specific kitchen utensil that I don’t own.
So there I am, at work, knowing that if I’m going to make this crostada I’m going to have to go find these mystery ingredients tonight and figure out this zesting thing when Sarah walks by on her way out and senses my distress. I explain my predicament, and her amused eyes turn kind. “I have a zester. Would you like me to come over tonight after the gym and help you?”
I could’ve kissed her, only she’s married and as much as I jest, I don’t swing that way. But I did accept her offer, and it only took me two grocery stores and an emergency call to my friend Amy (“how many ounces are in a cup?”) to find the mascarpone cheese. Best yet — when Sarah came over to help she didn’t do stuff for me, she made me do it. (Which is the only way I learn. Period.) And let me tell you, zesting is actually quite fun and it smells gooooooood. I was terrified that I’d shave off a nail or a finger and therefore proceeded very tentatively, but the end result not only looked pretty, but it tasted pretty damn good too!
The only thing I’d do differently is to put an aluminum foil-covered baking sheet on the oven rack underneath the crostada to catch what bubbles over the sides of the baking dish, because now I have to clean berry juice puddles from the floor of my oven. A small price to pay for a delicate slice of dessert heaven!