What HAVE We Been Doing, Anyway?

It’s been a fun holiday season and while I loved having Gil home for two weeks of vacation, I’m excited to get back to work and dive into new projects! Our break, as illustrated above:

  1. While home for Christmas, I had lunch with my friend (and artist) Riece Walton at Spahr’s in Des Allemands, LA, where alligators are known to pop up behind the restaurant. No luck — good or bad — that day, but I kept my eyes peeled just the same. (Thank you for the warning, sign!) The catfish chips and fried oysters were just as good as I’d remembered, but the hush puppies blew my mind. Not just crispy, but shell-shatteringly so with a moist interior and more seasonings than corn meal, they were easily the best hush puppies I’ve ever tasted.
  2. The cold weather kept us mostly inside once we were back in NJ and cabin fever set in. It’s always the dogs who suffer most in these situations and this time was no exception. They found themselves posing for pictures in the adorable snoods we bought at the Greyhound Friends of New Jersey craft show. (Pictures and downloadable cards of the boys are available in my Etsy shop along with lots of other goodies. The boys are also featured on this site’s home page, if you want to check them out.)
  3. Oh! AND THEN Gil and I attended the faaaabulous 12th Night Midwinter Masque hosted by our friends Nancy Hightower and Valya Dudycz Lupescu this past weekend. (And thank you to Marco Palmieri for the pictures!) My mask was a public hazard, but I got the hang of it by the end of the evening. Apologies to all I hooked, stabbed or otherwise inconvenienced throughout the evening. Also, Amy’s Mask: 5, Crystal Snowflakes Hanging From Ceiling: 0.

Now, bring on Carnival season!

Pear Butter | Minimally Invasive

I’ve also been making good use of that pear shipment I mentioned in my last post. I worked up this recipe for pear butter at Thanksgiving, when I realized I’d forgotten to buy applesauce to go with the latkes. Not wanting to go grocery shopping on Thanksgiving morning — if shopping was even an option — I chose instead to make something with ingredients already in my house. This pear butter is spicy, warming, complex and just the tiniest bit sweet. Also? It’s simple to make and takes kindly to fiddling.

Pear Butter Ingredients | Minimally Invasive

I’ve already made another two batches and changed things up successfully each time. Give it a try and let me know what you think!

Pear Butter

Use a variety of pears or just one type, if you prefer. The quantity of sugar is merely a suggestion; you’ll have to determine the level of sweetness you want based on the pears you have and what you think the final result should be. My pears weren’t especially sweet and I didn’t want a sugary product, so two tablespoons worked well for me. The St. Germain was added more for its perfume than flavor; feel free to use another liqueur or omit entirely if it’s not your thing. Use it any way you’d use apple butter or try it warmed and spooned over vanilla ice cream for a luscious treat.

6 ripe pears, peeled and cut into chunks
1/2 cup water
1 3-inch cinnamon stick
1 small star anise
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
2 tablespoons vanilla sugar (or 2 tablespoons sugar, plus 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract)
pinch of salt
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon St. Germain liqueur

Put all ingredients except liqueur into a large saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until pears are soft, about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

When pears are soft, remove star anise and cinnamon stick and blend with immersion blender on low speed until pears are the consistency you like. Stir in St. Germain liqueur. Taste and adjust salt/sugar, if necessary.

Sauce keeps five days in the refrigerator, longer if frozen

The Christmas That Went All Pear-Shaped

Hi everyone, I hope you’re enjoying the holidays! Do you have exciting plans for the new year, or perhaps for New Year’s Eve? Because Gil and I are antisocial, we’ll be dining at our favorite local-ish restaurant — Café Matisse — instead of going to a party. And because we’re old and geeky, our reservation is bordering on Early Bird Special territory so we can be home early enough to watch at least the first installment of the LOTR trilogy. (Tradition must be given priority, after all.)

For Christmas, we visited my family in Louisiana, though Gil’s visit was cut short when Ru and Otis got sick. The boys are on the mend now, but we thought it would be unfair to burden our teenaged dog sitter with arse-spraying mayhem when she should be with her family, enjoying a day free of frequent walks and poop-stained carpet (I hope), so Gil flew home on Christmas Eve to tend to them. I know what you’re thinking: “How will Gil survive a full year without boudin?” amirite? But don’t worry, I ate his portion at the family party that evening, so as a couple, we’re covered till next Christmas.

In a stab at healthy eating, I also indulged in loads of fresh citrus from my Dad’s trees this year. I gloried in satsumas, mandarins, kumquats and grapefruit, and even fit a couple of Meyer lemons into my bulging carry-on. My distress at coming back to a fruit-scarce home was unnecessary because I returned to find huuuuge boxes of grapefruit, apples and pears sent by our friends in Florida!

So for the next week I’ll be sharing recipes for grapefruit, apples and pears just in case you lucked into similar bounty.

Gluten-Free Flaugnarde with Pears | Minimally Invasive

In honor of our pear-shaped Christmas, I thought I’d start with this indulgent breakfast recipe — Gluten-Free Flaugnarde with Pears. Though a cousin to the clafoutis and the Dutch baby pancake’s doppelganger, it tastes less eggy and doesn’t puff up quite so much in the oven. I made a few adjustments to the recipe, which I’ve detailed below, but even with the changes, Gil ate roughly 2/3 of the finished product, so I’m comfortable labeling it a complete success.

What were the highlights (or lowlights) of your holiday season?

Gluten-Free Flaugnarde with Pears adapted from Food & Wine

While adapting this recipe to make it gluten-free (with Cup4Cup flour), I winged a few other minor changes. There was no butter listed in the ingredients, so I took a page from the Dutch Baby rulebook and melted a tablespoon of unsalted butter in a 10-inch cast iron skillet until the foam subsided, then poured in the batter. (I think I’ll skip this preheating step next time, as the crust was a little bit tough.) I swapped out dark rum for my homemade dark rum-based vanilla extract and liked the results, so I adjusted the amount of rum in the recipe and added regular vanilla extract for flavor. Then the pears cried out for a little cinnamon, so I sprinkled a small amount over the top before baking, but can see myself using a heavier hand next time around.  

3 large eggs
1 cup gluten-free flour blend
2 pinches of salt
1 cup warm milk
1/2 tablespoon dark rum
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 tablespoons superfine sugar
2 tablespoons butter, divided
2 ripe medium Bartlett pears— peeled, cored and thinly sliced
Cinnamon, to taste

In a blender, combine the eggs, flour, salt, milk, rum and 1 1/2 tablespoons of the sugar. Set aside for 30 minutes before proceeding with recipe.

Preheat the oven to 450°F and coat bottom and sides of a 10-inch cast iron skillet with 1 tablespoon of the butter. Pour the batter into the pan and arrange the pear slices on top. Dot with the remaining butter, sprinkle with cinnamon and remaining sugar and bake in the lower third of the oven for 15 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 400°F and bake for 30 minutes longer, or until the flaugnarde is puffed and deeply golden.

Day 13, Pear Pizzas

2012 Advent Calendar, Day 13

There will be more DIY gifts and desserts to come, but for now, kick back, hang out with the family (or friends, or pets), and make some pizza. Maybe put on a movie and some comfy loungewear and enjoy an evening in.

I was inspired by both the arrival of the new Cup4Cup Pizza Crust Mix in stores and this recipe, though I changed it up pretty significantly. I kept the pear base but played around with nearly everything else.

2012 Advent Calendar, Day 13

Pears and gorgonzola are a beautiful thing, but add a drizzle of honey (truffle, if you have it), and the whole thing sings.

2012 Advent Calendar, Day 13

If you’re worried about gorgonzola or blue cheese being gluten-free, you need to check into it, but you certainly can find GF versions of them both. This page is old, but lists commercial options for each. Or, if you get the good stuff, your cheesemonger should be able to steer you in the right direction.

recipe after the jump

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Cajeta with Crêpes and Roasted Pears

cajeta dessert

I’ll let you in on a little secret that maybe isn’t so secret: Cajeta is the food of angels. It’s essentially a milk caramel sauce, but what sets it apart from dulce de leche or confiture de lait is that it’s usually made from goat’s milk, which makes it more delicious by half, IMHO; it has a little tang and complexity the others don’t. Cajeta’s incredible on ice cream, with cookies or toast, over a simple cake, on a spoon, as a beverage (not that I’ve tried that…yet), or in a million other ways, I’m sure.

still life - pears

But because we have an abundance of pears in the market these days, I teamed the cajeta with crêpes and topped them with, you guessed it, roasted pears. AGAIN.

crepes, roasted pears and cajeta

I looked at a lot of cajeta recipes before starting, and most of them emphasized that you Must Stir Frequently, especially after adding the baking soda, or else! I liked Rick Bayless’s recipe because of his relaxed attitude to the whole thing and, you know, he’s Rick Bayless. So don’t worry too much when you’re making it; I just wandered into the kitchen every now and then (more frequently toward the end) to give it a stir.

Usually, cajeta would be a bit thicker than you see in the picture above, but I was in a hurry to wrap things up and skimped on the cooking time a little. It was still mind-blowingly good. And it would make a great homemade gift for the holidays, if you’re into that sort of thing. I’m pretty sure the recipient would be.

recipes after the jump

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That’s a Wrap

Summer’s over and so is the photography portion of the cookbook project I spent my weekends on. I couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate 1) completing the work, 2) the unofficial start of fall and 3) football season than with a big pot of beef & lamb chili and an over-the-top dessert. It’s a retread of the Vanilla Roasted Pears with Amaretto Mascarpone I made earlier in the year, but made this time with the courage of my convictions. And let me tell you, espresso cream is in no way a bad (or overpowering) thing.

Seckel and Bartlett Pears

I had no real plans to go with such a fall feast, but the pears at the farmers’ market called to me Saturday.

I was powerless against them.

Fall dessert

Wicked, wicked pears.

Decadent fall dessert

Now please pardon me while I shovel more of this into my piehole.

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Recipe doctoring

I’m a big mark for Patton Oswalt. Of course he’s funny, sometimes scathingly so, but what I like most about him is the degree of reflection he puts into any interview he gives. He’s been making the rounds to promote his new book Zombie Spaceship Wasteland, so I caught him on a couple of podcasts recently — The BS Report with Bill Simmons and WTF with Marc Maron (which you must subscribe to, if you don’t already). Aaaaanyway, Oswalt made a great observation on The BS Report while discussing his work as a script doctor. He said he learned early on that movie remakes can be done well, provided they aren’t too faithful to the original. That if you explore the story from a tangent — and remake rather than retell — the new project isn’t so burdened and can become its own thing, possibly more interesting than the source material.

I agree fully with this approach, having experienced it repeatedly while struggling to make old favorites gluten-free. Some recipes handle the noodling better than others, but the simple fact is GF baked goods NEVER will be the same as ones made with wheat. And once I accepted that fact and moved on, I learned to love my food for what it is instead of moaning about what it can’t be.

In that spirit, I had a craving for tiramisu early in the week, wanted to make it gluten-free, and started pondering. You’d think finding an alternative to ladyfingers would be a big problem, but it really wasn’t; I stayed faithful to the original idea with mascarpone and cocoa, but remade the dessert into something new by using roasted pears as the base.

A quick search turned up a recipe for roasted pears on Smitten Kitchen, whose seal of approval is all the convincing I need to try a new dish. I sliced up both red bartlett pears and bosc, then adjusted the sugar down a bit, knowing they’d have to contend with a sweet topping later on.

When the pears came out of the oven they were perfect specimens of roasted pearhood, so even if I’d stopped there, toes would’ve curled and plates would’ve been licked. As you can see, the red bartletts were beautifully caramelized after an hour in the oven:

The boscs retained more of their juices and didn’t caramelize quite as much, but still were gorgeous and delicious in their own right:

But I just couldn’t stop there, since the milky, creamy part is what I love most about tiramisu. I didn’t want espresso in the mascarpone cream to overwhelm the delicate pears, so I worked up a rich version with amaretto and vanilla bean whipped cream instead.

Toppings were simple: I tried one version with cocoa powder and one without, but sprinkled both liberally with toasted ground almonds. I loved them equally and couldn’t choose a favorite any more than choosing between Rufus or Otis.


recipe after the jump

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Tarted up



That’s what this weekend has been for me, and I couldn’t be more grateful. It began Friday with an afternoon spent wandering Tribeca searching out lonely cobblestone streets for a portrait session next weekend. I found a couple of candidates that will work wonderfully, but the best part of the afternoon was simply being alone with my thoughts, not working, not stressing, just being. 13+ hours of working and commuting each day is draining during good weeks, but has been especially brutal for the past few months with no hope of vacation between April and Christmas and deadlines upon deadlines. It really got to me.

So that simple half day meant more to me than I can say. I returned home that evening practically dancing and ready to greet the weekend. We paid our weekly visit to the farmers’ market Saturday morning where I loaded up on produce, fresh cheese and grass-fed beef, then spent the rest of the day out and about. So there was no cooking until today, really, unless you count the white chili I made last night with the remnants of our mid-week roasted chicken. It was nothing out of the ordinary — just the usual suspects with cannellini beans and some Rancho Gordo hominy (and cooking liquid) thrown in for good measure. Oh, and topped with farmer cheese and some of that green salsa from a couple of weeks ago. Yum.


I skipped the greyhound hike today to spend a little extra time cooking, so as soon as the boys left, I cranked up some bluegrass and got to work on this pear tart. I went savory instead of sweet, and finally got to try Clotilde’s olive oil tart crust (which deserves every rave review it got). It featured the goodness of caramelized onions, fresh herbs, gorgonzola, walnuts and fig vinegar. Again, nothing too out of the ordinary, but why reinvent the wheel when this combo is so very, very good?

But the first bite proved it was still missing a little something, so I sprinkled it with a little fleur de sel and grated a little Balinese long pepper over it. Yes, I sound like a brat, but this pepper is amazing stuff and went perfectly with the tart. Per-fect-l-y. It’s been sitting in my pantry since Memorial Day, and I can’t believe all the time I wasted not using it.

Bosc pears channeling Rosalind Russell

recipe after the jump

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This is a public service announcement

I’m a big fan of Apartment Therapy‘s food blog, The Kitchn; they post frequently about a wide range of subjects and I’ve found quite a few recipes there that have gone into regular rotation in our home. Unfortunately, this isn’t one of them.

The post linked to Gourmet’s Cumin-Apple Crisps and a bright idea was born as I realized: “Hey, I love apples and I’m totally into cumin!” Unfortunately, I love apples so much, I didn’t have any in the house. I decided to use a bosc pear instead, which might’ve led to my latest kitchen disaster (though I suspect the unholy union of cumin and sugar contributed).

Out came the mandoline — my favorite kitchen toy — and I sliced one of the pears, snatching a few thin slivers for myself along the way. I sifted the cumin and sugar together, sampling a tiny bit before sprinkling it over the crisps; it was horrible, but I hoped some wondrous alchemy would take place in the oven and continued with the recipe.

Ninety minutes later I realized just how misplaced my optimism was, as my tongue turned inside-out to get away from the taste of the chips.

Now, it’s (probably) entirely my fault for substituting pears for apples, but the sugar and cumin just did not marry well on that platform. Maybe next time I’ll try The Kitchn’s suggestion and use cinnamon instead of cumin.

It’s a shame these were such a huge disappointment. They were so pretty: