Saturday, February 13, 2010

Vanilla Poached Pears

Fruit and custard. I remember my Grandma used to stew her own apples and serve them topped with warm custard. I can't remember if she made her own custard or if it was made from powder in a can, but it was such a delicious dessert, we always looked forward to visits with Grandma.

And then, about three years ago I was invited to a luncheon with a friend and for dessert we had a lovely poached pear. Ever since, she has been asking if I could make up the recipe, and well, finally, here it is.

By combining both memories - the restaurant and Grandma's version - I came up with a vanilla poached pear with a white chocolate creme anglaise.

Poached pears, if kept in their syrup, will keep for quite some time in the refrigerator, the creme anglaise maybe two days.
Once poached though, you can slice them on top of cereal for breakfast, add them chopped to a pancake mixture, stir them through fruit muffins, add them to a sandwich with some sharp cheddar - basically, the list is endless. You can switch up the flavouring to whatever you have available, or whatever you feel like. Fresh ginger would be delicious, ginger and pears just seem to have a "thing" for each other. Anise would add a licorice flavour, you could add whole cloves or cinnamon sticks, bay leaves would be great too.

Just remember to use almost-ripe pears. Bosc seem to hold their shape the best, but Bartlett work just as well too. Mini pears would look so cute.


Vanilla Poached Pears
Makes 8 poached pears

2 cups sugar
6 cups water
1/2 vanilla bean
1 cinnamon stick
8 almost ripe pears

Combine the sugar and water in a large pan. Add the vanilla bean and the cinnamon stick. Stir well.

Peel the pears leaving the stems attached and place into the sugar mixture.

Bring to the boil, then reduce heat to a really gentle simmer and cook 20-25 minutes or until pears are tender and a small kinfe can insert easily into the base. Cool in syrup. (See - it's so easy)

White Chocolate Creme Anglaise
Makes 3 cups

1 cup cream
1 cup milk
1/2 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped out
1/3 cup white sugar
4 egg yolks
100g white chocoate, chopped

Bring the cream, milk and vanilla (pod and seeds) to a simmer.

Meanwhile, mix together the sugar and the egg yolks, whisking until the yolks have turned a pale yellow colour.

Place the chopped chocolate into a clean medium size bowl.

When the cream/milk mixture just starts to bubble around the edges, pour a little (about 1/4 cup) at a time into the egg mixture, stirring constantly, until at least half of the milk mixture is added to the eggs. Pour the eggs back into the saucepan with the milk and using a wooden spoon, stir constantly over medium heat until the mixture is thick enough to just coat the back of the spoon.

Using a fine mesh strainer, strain the custard over the chocolate in the bowl (discard the vanilla pod). Stir until the chocolate has melted.

Serve warm with the poached pears, or cover and refrigerate for up to three days.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Cheddar Biscuits

I woke up on Sunday morning and was craving the light buttery taste of cheddar biscuits for breakfast, obviously dripping with butter.

This recipe has been in my repetoire for a very long time. I don't even remember where the recipe came from - was it passed on from a friend? I really have no idea.

I like to use this same recipe on top of chicken pot pie, I just shape the biscuits and put them on top of the pot pie raw, and bake until the biscuits are done. The chicken pot pie is generally bubbling over and hot by that point as well.

They are delicious beside a bowl of steaming soup. I even split and toast them the next day (and the next if there are any left) and smother them in butter for breakfast. Probably not the healthiest choice, but definitely the most delicious choice.

You can make mini versions for crowds to snack on, or bigger versions to make into sandwiches. This recipe is really versatile too, sometimes I will add fresh chopped herbs, or a touch of chilli powder, depends on how I feel.


Cheddar Biscuits
Makes six 3" round biscuits

5 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled, cubed
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
3/4 cup buttermilk
2 tablespoons melted butter, for brushing

Preheat oven to 450F.

Into the bowl of your food processor place in this order the butter, flour, baking powder, baking soda, sugar and salt. Pulse until butter is mixed in. The dry mixture should look like coarse sand with a few lumps.

Transfer mixture to a large bowl and toss through shredded cheese (you can add any herbs or other flavourings here). Using a fork to begin, pour in buttermilk and mix to combine. The mixture should just come together when you squeeze it into a ball. If you need to add more buttermilk, do so, but do it sparingly. If your dough is too wet you will end up with a heavy finished biscuit.

Here's the trick to make them flaky - you want to squash the mixture down into the bottom of the bowl. Then, cut the dough in half down the middle and place one half on top of the other. Squish the dough into the bottom again. Do this two more times to make lots of layers. Your dough should also come together quite nicely at this point.

Place dough onto lightly floured flat surace and roll to 3/4"-1" high. Cut out into desired shape and place onto baking sheet.

Brush tops with melted butter and bake for 15 minutes, or until the tops are nicely browned, and when you lift up the biscuit, the bottom has started to brown as well.

Remove from oven and leave to cool for 5 minutes (if you can!).

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Sweet Potato Salad

The sun is shining and it feels as if the days are beginning to get longer (it's still light out for a couple of minutes when I get home from work these days). Is Spring really almost here? The groundhog says at least another 6 more weeks, but I say enough!

It's time for a salad, but not just a leafy green thing you eat when you really don't want to eat anything else, I want it full of good stuff and I want it to fill me up.

I basically pulled everything from my fridge and pantry and came up with this delight. It's still a touch seasonal with the sweet potatoes and cranberries, but it's brightened up with fresh peppers and green onions and a crunch of toasted sunflower seeds is a nice nutty surprise.

And, the best thing is that while the sweet potatoes are roasting you can prepare the rest of the salad - it's so easy.


Sweet Potato Salad
Makes 6-8 serves

4-6 orange sweet potatoes (about 1kg)
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 sprig fresh rosemary, leaves finely chopped
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

1/2 cup toasted sunflower seeds
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1 bunch green onions, chopped
1 red pepper, 1/4" dice

1/2 cup cranberry juice
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon honey
1/4 cup canola oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 375F.
Scrub potatoes really well, but do not peel unless you are absolutely against eating the skin (it's really good for you, as well as it cuts down on one step in the kitchen). Cut into 1/2" cubes and place in a large bowl with the canola oil, chopped rosemary, cumin, ginger and salt & pepper. Toss well and place in a single layer on a baking sheet and roast for 25-30 minutes or until potatoes are tender and golden. Remove from oven and set aside to cool.

While potatoes are cooking, combine dressing ingredients in a small bowl and mix well.

Combine cooled roasted sweet potatoes with sunflower seeds, cranberries, green onions and red pepper. Pour over dressing and mix through.

Really, how easy is that?

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Sunday Brunch

I have recently decided that it's time to invite more people to our house. It feels like it's been a good couple of years since we've done any serious entertaining. I guess I got pregnant (couldn't drink, felt extremely fat and tired), we had the baby (still fat, still couldn't drink and even more tired), then we moved (twice in less than 4 months, so really, really, really tired), and now we've been in our new house for a year, our baby is sociable and sleeps through the night (I am also back to my pre-pregnancy weight and can drink again), so it feels like it's the perfect time to make a semi-return to our pre-baby lifestyle.

We had friends over for wine last Sunday night, I had a lovely cheese board ready and cooked up some pot stickers and spring rolls with a sweet soy chilli dipping sauce. And, it was a success. Tired on Monday, but our first "event" went well.

This week we invited 3 couples and their kids for Sunday brunch. It really reminded me not to EVER have more than 2 kids....they just make too much noise on a Sunday morning, and it reminded me that I really should pay more attention as to who my husband is inviting over. I counted 6 and in the end there were 8 adults and 5 kids. I can't even find an excuse for making such a huge mistake. Thank goodness it was brunch, and we have a toaster!

Sunday rolls around quite quickly for me. I generally work Saturdays, so some serious planning was necessary. I did all my shopping on Saturday and Sunday I was up early getting ready.

I cooked 2lbs of bacon and 2lbs of breakfast sausage in the oven, roasted 2 big bunches of lovely fat asparagus with tomatoes and garlic as well. I made a simple arugula salad and a cheese quiche, pancakes, sliced baguette and cooked up about 5lbs of home fries. I also baked a Banana Cranberry Bread, which was so moist, but not too sweet. And then, we finished off with a pavlova topped with fresh cherries (pitted), strawberries and raspberries.

Champagne was chilled for the Mimosas and cranberry juice on hand for the kids.

What a delightful way to start the day!

Banana Cranberry Bread
Recipe adapted slightly from Simply Recipes

3 ripe bananas, mashed with a fork
1/3 cup melted butter
3/4 cup sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 & 1/2 cups flour
1 cup fresh (or frozen) cranberries

Preheat oven to 350F.
Lightly grease a loaf pan, making sure you get into all the corners.
In a large bowl, combine the mashed bananas with the melted butter. Add the sugar, egg and vanilla. Mix in the baking soda, salt and flour, stirring until just combined. Fold through the cranberries and pour mixture into prepared loaf pan.
Bake for approximately 1 hour, cool on a rack for 30 minutes, then turn loaf out. It stays really moist if you leave it in the pan to cool.
And, it lasts for about 5 days wrapped tightly on the counter. Don't refrigerate (or if you do, make sure you bring it back to room temperature, or warm it slightly, before serving).