Saturday, December 18, 2010

Poached Pears with Ginger

Susanna Foo's Poached Pears

The five 3-course meals I prepared for The Gastronomer for her 2008 Christmas present were a hit, so I decided to repeat the gift for her birthday in 2010. This time, however, I vowed to be more adventurous in my recipe selection--venturing away from The America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook in search of dishes that would challenge me and open up new frontiers in our kitchen. For the first menu, I returned to Susanna Foo Chinese Cuisine, which had been the inspiration for an excellent meal featuring a water chestnut salad and Mandarin pork wrapped in scallion crepes a few months before.

I usually write about the appetizer first, then the side dishes and entree, and finally dessert, but in this case I can't resist reversing the order, because this recipe is amazing. It's going straight to the Brightest Stars list--in the interval since we first tried these poached pears last March, I've made them at least four more times at The Gastronomer's request. In fact, I'm eating one right now for inspiration. They are truly a triumph in Asian fusion. I haven't tried any other poached pear recipes, but I can't imagine that they could compare without the ginger and star anise. Honestly, you don't even need the pears--at times when I've had some leftover white wine and ginger on hand I've seriously considered cooking up the sweetly spiced liquid to drink on its own. It's really amazing how the flavors of the cinnamon stick, ginger, lemon, and star anise become infused in the liquid when you boil it.

Recipe by Susanna Foo Chinese Cuisine.
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 cup white wine
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 2 2-inch pieces of lemon zest
  • 1 4-inch cinnamon stick
  • 1 2-inch piece gingerroot, sliced (no need to peel it)
  • 2 star anise
  • 6 firm pears
Place the sugar, water, wine, lemon juice, lemon zest, cinnamon stick, gingerroot, and star anise in a saucepan just large enough to hold all of the pears in a single layer. Bring the liquid to a boil, stirring occasionally to dissolve the sugar, and cook for about 5 minutes to allow the spices to flavor the liquid.

Peel and core the pears. You can either leave them whole or cut them in half [or even quarters--which is much easier--if you don't mind sacrificing presentation]. Carefully place the pears in the boiling liquid, adding more water if necessary to cover them. Return the liquid to a boil. Cover the pan and reduce the heat to low. Simmer the pears until they are just tender, 10 to 20 minutes, depending on the ripeness of the pears [The Gastronomer and I have found that it can take up to 45 minutes if the pears are very hard, as is often the case when you purchase them from American supermarkets].

Using a slotted spoon, remove the pears from the liquid and set aside. Increase the heat to high and boil to reduce the liquid to about 2 cups. Strain the sauce, discarding the solids.

If serving hot, place the pears in individual serving dishes and spoon some sauce over each. If serving cold, place the pears in a bowl, pour the sauce over them, and refrigerate, covered.

Yield: 6 servings
Estimated Start-to-Finish Time: Not given
Actual Start-to-Finish Time: 1 hour 15 minutes
Substitutions: The Gastronomer has recently been requesting that I add far more than the suggested 2 pieces of lemon zest because she loves eating them after they have cooked with the poaching liquid. Feel free to do the same without fear that the pears will be overly sour--there's enough sugar in the recipe to balance out a lot of lemon flavor. We usually don't bother to reduce the liquid down to 2 cups--it's already sweet and flavorful enough, and it's nice to have more of it!

Friday, December 3, 2010

Pumpkin Cheesecake Crumble Squares


It's time to get excited for the third edition of the Eat My Blog charity bake sale, hosted by The Gastronomer and friends at Tender Greens in West Hollywood (Los Angeles) this Saturday. For the last bake sale in June, I contributed an old family favorite--applesauce spice cake. This time, I wanted to try something new and settled on these pumpkin cheesecake bars. Any recipe with "cheesecake" in the title has the potential to be tricky, so I did a practice run last week. I'm pleased to report that the crumble squares came out great--delicious enough to bring to Thanksgiving dinner with the in-laws.

Get there early on Saturday for the full selection of treats baked by ~70 LA food bloggers and chefs. This is no ordinary bake sale--expect a spread of truly creative, incredible desserts. All proceeds will be donated to the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank. Hope to see you there!

Recipe by Bon Appetit, October 2006, courtesy of Epicurious

For Crust
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) chilled unsalted butter, diced
  • 1 cup pecan halves (about 4 ounces)
  • 3/4 cup old-fashioned oats
For Filling
  • 1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, room temperature
  • 3/4 cup canned pure pumpkin
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
For Topping
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
Make Crust

Preheat oven to 350°F. Generously butter 9x9x2-inch metal baking pan. Line rimmed baking sheet with parchment. Pulse first 4 ingredients in a processor until coarse meal forms. Add pecans; using on/off turns, process until nuts are chopped. Add oats; pulse until mixture is moistened but not clumping. Press 3 1/2 cups crumbs onto bottom of prepared square pan (do not clean processor). Transfer remaining crumbs to lined baking sheet. Bake crumbs on sheet until golden, stirring once, about 12 minutes. Cool crumbs. Bake crust until it is beginning to become golden, about 20-25 minutes. Remove from oven while preparing filling. Maintain oven temperature.

Add Filling

Blend all ingredients in the same food processor until smooth. Spread filling over warm crust; bake until set, dry in center, and beginning to rise at edges, about 20 minutes. Maintain oven temperature.

Add Topping

Mix all ingredients in a small bowl. Spread evenly over hot filling. Bake until topping sets and bubbles at edges, about 5 minutes. Cool completely in pan on rack. Sprinkle crumbs over topping; gently press into topping. Cover; chill until cold, about 2 hours. Can be made 2 days ahead. Keep chilled. Cut into squares.

Yield: 16 bars
Estimated Start-to-Finish Time: Not given
Actual Start-to-Finish Time: 1 hour 45 minutes
Substitutions: I used walnuts in place of pecans since we had a big bag on hand--this worked out fine. The original recipe said to bake the crust for 30 minutes before adding the filling, but I found that it was quite hard after 25 minutes (cutting the bars out of the pan was a bit difficult). Most user reviews on agreed that 30 minutes was too long.
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