With the exception of breads, there are very few breakfast recipes on this blog. The simple reason is that I don’t eat breakfast. Yes, I know, it’s a bad habit but the fact is that I cannot stomach to eat anything early in the morning. My breakfast consists of a large mug of coffee with lots of hot frothed milk, basically an oversized cappuccino. Other people’s breakfast then becomes my lunch. Continue reading
As much as I like my vegetable garden to be neat and tidy, and as fiercely as I fight unwanted visitors there, I can also let things go and tremendously enjoy the areas where nature takes its course: the meadows where turkeys like to nest, white from Queen Anne’s lace right now, a hillside filled with Staghorn sumac and pokeweed for bird food, and, of course, patches of milkweed for monarchs.
We gave up on growing fruit trees a long time ago because deer were running them over or devouring them. The only survivors are two pear trees. In the last few years, some animal, most likely a groundhog, was faster than us and picked the loaded trees clean just when the pears were starting to ripen. This year we decided to take action and try to keep the critters away with Epsom salt and Plantskydd, a deterrent that has worked well so far.
On my pear protection mission today I found a bunch of pears on the ground that the wind must have knocked down. Before I could lose myself in fantasies about what to make with them, I had to find a way to bring them back to the house. It was sweltering hot and I had no intention to walk up to the house to get a basket or a bag. For a brief moment I considered taking off my T-shirt to carry the pears but the idea of bugs eating me alive made me discard that idea quickly. When I looked around at the edge of the woods for some suitable receptacle such as giant leaves, I found a large piece of bark – perfect for the purpose.
The pears will go into my favorite Spiced Chocolate Pear Cake.
Some people pride themselves that they don’t ever cook from recipes. Not me. I rely on recipes, daily and heavily. And that is not only because being a cookbook author and food editor, I feel that the shunning of recipes – viewing them as the crutches of mediocre cooks while real, natural talents cook without – undermines the very foundation of the trade.
Why should I burden my already overcrowded memory with things that others (and mostly pros, or cooks far better than me) have figured out and conveniently written down, such as the amount of baking powder in a cake? Julia Child failed her exam at the Cordon Bleu the first time around because she had not memorized the recipes from the school’s cookbook. There is no need to say anything more about the connection between memory and cooking talent.
Rather than piecing a recipe together from memory, I like to spend my time exploring. The few vegetables still growing in the garden in mid-November – beets, radicchio, kale, and cauliflower – do not require any more work, so one of my Sunday morning luxuries is to explore new recipes and ingredients. Today I tinkered with the persimmons I found at a local farm stand yesterday. Call me a culinary greenie but I have never eaten nor prepared persimmons!
I wanted to leave the persimmons as unaltered as possible. After leafing through cookbooks and surfing the web, I settled on poached pears with persimmons, inspired by a recipe I found in Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. It is best served chilled.
Poached Pears with Persimmons
1 cup sugar
1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and finely sliced
Grated zest of 1 organic lemon
4 firm, slightly underripe Bosc pears
¼ cup dried cranberries
2 ripe Fuji persimmons
1. Bring 1 quart of water to the boil in a wide pot. Add the sugar and stir to dissolve. Add the ginger and lemon zest.
2. Peel, halve, and core the pears. Place them in the simmering water and put a small heatproof plate on top so they are fully immersed in the poaching liquid. Simmer for 20 minutes, or until the pears can be easily pierced with a knife.
3. Transfer the pears to a bowl. Strain the poaching liquid and pour it back in the pot. Bring to a rolling boil and cook for 10 minutes, stirring and scraping the sides often so the syrup does not burn.
4. Stir the cranberries into the hot syrup. Pour over the pears. Cool, then refrigerate.
5. Remove the blossoms ends from the persimmons. Using a serrated knife, cut the persimmons into thin slices. Serve with the sliced pears and cranberries, drizzled with syrup.
Makes 4 servings
After a major power outage, just grinding coffee in the morning feels fantastic. The freak snowstorm left us without power for a little under three days, about the same amount as after Hurricane Irene but the loads of heavy snow caused quite a bit of damage on our trees. On my way to the orchard to buy pears yesterday I had to make a detour, as some roads are still closed.
When the power is back, and the mess of candles, dirty dishes, laundry, candle wax, water buckets and other remnants of living without electricity is cleaned up, I usually tackle the fridge and the freezer, throwing out soggy frozen herbs (wondering each time why I even bother freezing them, those are the first to spoil), and cooking with whatever can be saved.
It always takes me a few days to switch from the rescue cooking mode to the fun cooking mode. Today was the day. The gorgeous fall weather simply called for a pear pie. It is hard to believe that a week ago I walked around in snow boots knocking off a foot of snow from trees and shrubs.
For the pear pie filling I used pre-cooked custard, which is common in German recipes. It makes the pie wonderfully moist without being too sweet. I used Dr. Oetker Cream Pudding, which is available in the United States. The brand’s Vanilla Pudding can be used instead, which is even more widely available.
Pear Pie with Custard
2½ ounces shortening
1 cup flour
¼ teaspoon salt
Ice water as needed
1 package Dr. Oetker Cream Pudding (or Vanilla Pudding)
2 cups low-fat milk
¼ cup sugar
3 slightly underripe Bosc pears
½ cup dry white wine
½ cup + ¼ cup sugar
1 teaspoon grated organic lemon zest
2 tablespoons Amaretto
1. For the crust, put the shortening, flour and salt in a food processor. Pulse to a crumbly consistency. Add just enough ice water, one tablespoon at a time, to the dough so that it forms a ball.
2. Roll out the dough between to sheets of wax paper to fit a 9-inch greased springform pan plus a 1-inch edge all around. Remove the upper layer of the wax paper and flip the crust over into the pan. Even out the edge and place in the freezer.
3. For the filling, mix the custard powder with a few tablespoons of the cold milk and the sugar. Stir until smooth.
4. Bring the rest of the milk to a boil. Remove from the heat and whisk in the custard mix. Put it back on the burner and cook for about 1 minute, stirring vigorously, until the custard thickens. Remove from the heat and let cool, whisking every so often.
5. For poaching the pears, bring 2 cups of water, the wine, ½ cup sugar and lemon zest to a boil in a wide pot or a deep skillet. Stir to dissolve all the sugar.
6. Peel the pears and cut them in half. Remove the cores and place the pears in the poaching liquid. Reduce the heat and simmer for about 15 minutes, until the pears are easily pierced with a knife. Turn them once or twice during poaching.
7. Drain the pears (you can refrigerate and re-use the poaching liquid). Place the pears cut side down on a cutting board and cut them into even slices but do not cut them all the way through so that you can place them on the pie like a fan.
8. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
9. Whisk the cooled custard. If it is lumpy, you can smoothen it by blending it with a stick blender for a few seconds. Pour the custard into the pan with the crust.
10. Place the cut pears on the custard in a circle, tips to the center. Fan them out as much as possible.
11. Mix the amaretto with ¼ cup sugar and drizzle over the pears.
12. Bake in the preheated oven for 35 minutes, then increase the heat to 375 degrees F and bake for another 30 to 35 minutes, until the crust and the top are golden. Let cool for 5 minutes, then pass a knife around the edge and carefully remove the rim. Let cool completely on a wire rack. Refrigerate until serving but take out of the fridge 30 minutes before serving.
This weekend, I did a big spring cleaning of the kitchen. There were two surprises. I was not aware how much I have accumulated since I moved to the Pennsylvania mountaintop ten years ago (if I had not been into cooking already, I would have certainly started here, as the local restaurant scene is dire, especially if you come straight from New York City). Not that I don’t use all those tools and equipment. Everything is put to use some time, even if only once a year, like the cherry pitter. Yet I promised myself that I will try to stick mainly to replacements.
The other surprise was a jar of canned pears from 2009, the last year we were able to enjoy the pears from our own two pear trees. Usually the other stakeholders to the pears, most likely raccoons or groundhogs, eat the pears before we can. One year when I went out with two large baskets for picking, all the pears were gone. Not a single pear on the tree. It had been loaded with fruit just a couple of days before.
Since I don’t know if and when we will have our own pears again, I wanted to use this last jar for something special. I made my favorite pear cake that my husband says must be eaten with vanilla ice-cream (he had two helpings sitting next to me on the sofa as as I write this, saying that the second was only a test to see if it still tasted as good as the first).
Spiced Chocolate Pear Cake
2 cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground allspice
½ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon cardamom
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 packed cup (10 ounces) light brown sugar
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup pear nectar (from the canned pears)
¼ cup finely minced crystallized ginger
2 ounces finely grated bittersweet chocolate
2 cups canned pear chunks, drained
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
2. Butter and flour a 9-inch-diameter springform pan.
3. Mix flour with baking powder, baking soda, salt and all the spices.
4. Beat butter and sugar with an electric mixer until creamy. Add eggs, vanilla extract and pear nectar.
5. Gradually work in the flour mix until dough is smooth. Add ginger and chocolate. Fold in the pear chunks.
6. Pour mix into the prepared pan and even out with a spatula. Bake 45 to 60 minutes, until toothpick comes out somewhat clean (because of the pears, there will always be some moisture clinging to the tester, but it should not be liquid).
7. Cool cake 10 minutes. Release cake from pan sides with a plastic knife. Cool completely on rack.