Countdown to Christmas: Dessert – Ginger Pear Tarts


Here it is, the big day. I hope you have all that shopping done.
You’ve planned for the appetizers, the sides and the main attraction…
I hope you’ve saved room for dessert.

I couldn’t resist something spiced and a little lighter than a cake or that never ending tray of sweet offerings that nibble me into a coma. The gingerbread was such a hit, I decided to use it as the base of the tart. It holds up pretty well as a crust and with a light cream there’s plenty of room for spicy, soaked pears.

Merry Christmas to you and yours. I hope you enjoy the Holidays, the food and your families!

POACHED SPICED PEARS

2 pears, peeled halved and cored; I used Abate Fetel
1 Cup Sugar
1 1/2 Cups Water
1 Vanilla Pod, split
1 Cinnamon Stick, 2″ in length
Zest Strips of 1 Lemon
2 Tablespoons Brandy

Combine the sugar and the water in a large saucepan over a medium high heat.
Add the vanilla pod, cinnamon and lemon strips.
Once the sugar has dissolved add the brandy and the pear halves.
If the pears are not submerged, just cook until softened then turn them over, occasionally basting, if necessary.
Remove when softened, about 20 minutes. Cool and store in the liquid until ready to use.
May be made two days in advance.

TOFU CREAM

300g Soft Silken Tofu
1 Tablespoon Lemon Juice
1 teaspoon Vanilla Extract
4 Tablespoons Confectioners Sugar
1 Tablespoon Arrowroot Powder
1  (2-inch) Fresh Ginger, peeled
1/4  teaspoon Salt
1/4 Cup Pastry Flour

Grate the ginger and squeeze to remove the juice, should equal one tablespoon.
In a food processor, blend the tofu, ginger and lemon juice along with the vanilla, sugar, salt, flour and arrowroot powder.
Serve cold or baked.

GINGERBREAD COOKIE CRUST (half batch)

Preheat the oven to 350ºF.
Roll out the chilled cookie dough. Cut into rounds to fit your tart shells.
Dock with a fork to prevent excessive air bubbles and bake for 10 minutes..
While the tart shells cool, prepare the tofu cream and thinly slice the poached pears.
Dollop the cream and top with the sliced pears.
Return to the oven and bake for 15 – 20 minutes, until the tofu cream is set and firm.
Makes 6 four inch tarts.

Countdown To Christmas: Dinner


Dinner, oh dinner.
Yeah, this is the big one. It’s also the one that by experience has proven that planning ahead, pop it in the oven kind of dinners are waaaay more enjoyable than missing out on events while slaving away in the kitchen. Plus, there really are so many relatively quick and impressive recipe options to choose from, so I can watch the yule log burn on the Apple tv and sip wine while I build some new lego…  (or play with cooking show Barbie – Shhhhhh.)

Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without mashed potatoes. And although I’m sure you know how to make those, I’ve added a little roasted garlic to these. Not only does it make them extra good, it’s going to match up the rest of the dishes served.

Next are steamed green beans, because you can’t go wrong with those. I really don’t know anyone who doesn’t like them… even the picky seats at the kiddie table!

To balance things out, I just wouldn’t be a mother if I didn’t serve brussels sprouts. Actually, these are the one vegetables I was made to sit and stare at as a child but thankfully, I’ve learned to cook them properly. The trick is to under cook them, there the secret’s out – now stand back and watch and the hoards make way in the produce aisle! Briefly roasted with oil, then tossed with rosemary and a little of the dinner’s themed garlic seemed utterly delicious!

One of my most favourite sides I’ve made almost too many times to count. Popular around Thanksgiving, yet I haven’t made it for Christmas. Combine two of my favourites, it’s a creamy spinach and squash gratin.

The main attraction? Another relatively easy but impressive dish. Adapted from Gourmet’s November issue. This mushroom spinach pie has a little something for everyone with earthy mushrooms, spinach, walnuts and, of course, roasted garlic.

My favourite part? The pie seriously took me about six minutes to make it but it can be made hours in advance.

This dinner will serve 4- 6.

SIMPLE ROASTED GARLIC

3 Bulbs Garlic
2 Tablespoons Olive oil

Preheat the oven to 350ºF.
Cut the tops from each bulb and peel the outermost layers of papery skin from the garlic.
Coat each bulb well with the olive oil and roast for 30 – 35 minutes, until each bulb is soft, sticky and golden brown. Adding more oil or cover with foil, if necessary to avoid drying and over-browning.

ROASTED GARLIC MASHED POTATOES

4 Large Yukon Gold Potatoes, peeled and chopped
1 Bulb Roasted Garlic
2 Tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1/2 teaspoon Sea Salt, or to taste
Freshly Ground Black Pepper, to taste

Using a pressure cooker or traditional stove top method, boil the potatoes until soft.
Drain then mash by hand, those little lumps and bits are good.
Squeeze the cooled garlic from the skin into a bowl and mash with a fork.
Add the garlic, oil, continuing to mash until fluffy. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Serve immediately.

BUTTERNUT SQUASH + SPINACH GRATIN

This recipe can be made days ahead, up to the point of adding the crumb topping, which can be done while reheating.

1 Small Butternut Squash
1/2  Bulb Roasted Garlic, about 2 Tablespoons mashed
6 Cups Baby Spinach Leaves, packed
1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
1/2 Cup Unsweetened Almond Milk, or unsweetened soy milk will do
1/2 Tablespoon Arrowroot Powder
1/8 teaspoon Freshly Ground Nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon Salt, scant
1/4 teaspoon Pepper, to your liking
2 Slices Whole Wheat bread
1/4 Cup Earth Balance Butter, room temperature
1/4 teaspoon Dried Rosemary, crumbled – optional

Preheat the oven to 350F.
Lightly spray a casserole dish with oil.
Sauté the spinach in the olive oil. Once wilted, remove with a squeeze and discard any extra liquid.
Slice the neck of the squash in to 1/4″ rounds. Remove the skin from the edge and evenly layer the bottom the casserole dish.
Sprinkle over a pinch of salt and pepper.
Top with sautéed spinach, nutmeg, another sprinkling of salt and pepper, then evenly dot with the roasted garlic.
Add another layer of squash to cover in an even layer, sprinkling over another pinch of the salt and pepper.
Combine the almond milk with the arrowroot powder and pour over the squash.
Tightly cover with foil and bake for 40 – 45 minutes or until the squash is tender when pierced with a fork.
Meanwhile toast the bread slices to dry out completely. Either add to a food processor or chop finely by hand.
Add the butter and rosemary to the crumbs, mixing evenly.
Top the baked squash with the crumb mixture. Return it to the oven and continue to bake uncovered for about 10 minutes or until brown and crusty.

MUSHROOM SPINACH + WALNUT PIE

2 (397g) Packages Frozen Puff Pastry, thawed
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
4 Cups Sliced Mushrooms, I used crimini, but I’m doing shiitake for the next one.
8 Cups Baby Spinach, packed
1/4 Cup Walnuts, chopped
1 Bulb Roasted Garlic
1/2 teaspoon Dried Rosemary, crumbled
Salt and Pepper

Preheat the oven to 350ºF.
Heat 1 Tablespoon of the olive oil in a large sauté pan. Add the mushrooms and sauté until soft and browned.
Remove the mushrooms to cool.
Add the remaining oil and sauté the spinach leaves. Squeeze over the bulb of roasted garlic and stir.
While the spinach wilts and the mushrooms cool, roll out the first package of dough into about a 12″x8″ rectangle.
Place the dough onto a parchment lined baking sheet.
Top the dough with the mushrooms, then the wilted spinach.
Sprinkle over salt, pepper, rosemary and chopped walnuts.
Roll out the remaining dough to top the pie, crimping and tucking the edges under.
Lightly score the top with a sharp blade, occasionally piercing for steam vents.
Bake in the center of the oven for 20 – 25 minutes, until golden and crisp.

Good Gourd


The purée overflowith and another Holiday to eat pumpkin pie is fast on my heels, I just couldn’t be happier.

Pumpkin pie is one of those things rarely eaten but certainly loved. Perhaps it’s absence is why it’s so cherished by so many. I don’t care really. It’s the highlight of Thanksgiving dinners everywhere and a terrific way to eat pumpkin.

This year having so many varieties to search for the ultimate pie pumpkin, I wanted got the urge to try out a few different ideas stemming from the same great end result.

With the scraps I made these super Pumpkin Pie Poppers. It was a perfect way to taste test and to say I ate the whole pie, so with the winner, I made a fresh batch.

Of all the pumpkins collected from the patch, I found some that were fabulous in soups, some that were great for pasta and of course pie.

In the top three, the all classic Sugar Pie Pumpkin is always standard. It has a good texture, dense and creamy for pies.
Next, silky with a hint of melony sweetness was the Rouge Vif D’Etamps. This Cinderella pumpkin is not just charming for it’s good looks. Once it’s prepared for pie, it’ll make you and your guests all feel happy forever after.
Last it’s the queen of Venice. I know I just when on and on about how I love the Marina Di Chioggia but, as far as pumpkins go, it’s practically perfect in every way. This gourd tasted great on it’s own so naturally, it’s sweet and creamy texture worked beautifully in the gnocchi, cake, pie, pasta and CUSTARD that followed.

Essentially that’s what pumpkin pie is right, custard in a pastry shell? This notion got me to thinking about my own likes for pie and maybe others too. I’m more for the insides and not so much for the crust. I try, really I do to eat every last crusty crumb, but after all this testing, I was looking forward to my second, er, third Thanksgiving of the year, I thought maybe to just put the good stuff in a cup.

This revolutionary classic is so versatile and sure to please everyone at the Holiday table. Topped with whipped cream and fresh nutmeg or made extra decedent with a good sprinkling of sugar and a dusting of fresh cardamom, then brûléed to a sharp, crunchy perfection.
Ahhhhhh. Don’t even get me started on my love of crème brûlée.


Continue reading Good Gourd

Thankful


On a recent trip to the country side, it was easy to absorb the surroundings and be thankful for what we have. The warm autumn days have brought with it a tremendous bounty.

While on the road, we were fortunate to experience one of the more remarkable pumpkin patches of recent memory. Flooded by the sea of orange, we washed up by the barn only to be further delighted by the classy heirloom varieties our hosts, the Nauman’s, had so knowledgeably grown over the past 100 days or so.

Beautiful and rarely seen French and Italian heirloom pumpkins soon filled my cart once only destined to carry orange carvers. Pink, red, blue and green classics, fit for a princess’s coach were on their way into my life to nobly, and tastily end theirs.

During the purchase of my great pumpkins, I naturally dreamed of creamy, spiced pies but thoughts shift creatively with vegan visitors and Thanksgiving at your doorstep.

Cracking into my vibrant Rouge Vif D’Etampe, I couldn’t help but imagine it’s outcome. This stunning, old French heirloom is also known as Cinderella’s Carriage, as it was used as the artist’s model in the Disney classic. It’s lovely, dense, creamy orange interior yielded about 5 cups of puréed intention. Ideal for baking, the Rouge Vif is smooth and easy to relieve of any excess liquid. This pumpkin easily puts any Holiday can of pie to shame and is well worth the small, extra effort.


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