Poached! Poached pears

One of my favorite things about living in Chicago is the abundance of restaurants. I love dining out almost as much as cooking, and the Second City is definitely a first class foodie town; one day, when I’m not a poor student anymore, I’m going to go lose my mind at Alinea, Charlie Trotter’s, and the rest.

This story has a point, I swear. A few weeks ago, I was lucky enough to score an invite to the opening party for Zed451. One of the “Harvest Table” features which ended up on every single one of my plates was the red wine poached pears with balsamic reduction. I kinda went nuts over these pears. They’re so simple, but the pear-wine-vinegar combo is excellent. One of the best things about an opening event is that the restaurant staff is more than excited to tell you about their creations. Even though I didn’t exactly get the recipe for those pears handed to me, I got a few hints – albeit vague ones. I decided to try (possibly in vain) to reverse-engineer the recipe and recreate it in my own kitchen. Here’s what I came up with:

Ehh, so maybe these aren’t the most photogenic pears in the world. I think if I didn’t know any better, I’d be convinced that these are photos of fish.Click on the image to zoom in on the fish pears.

In the photos? I think the pears look like fish…tuna with soy sauce, perhaps? In real life? Not so much. I turned the flash on for one of the pictures, and the contrast between the red and white is a bit more apparent.

Brighter poached pears: the flash photo. Click to zoom in on the glowy pears.

Yep, this is what I was peeling pears for (see yesterday’s post). I’ve never poached anything before, but I love poached pears and thought it was a good idea to try this out for myself. Plus, the magic internet is a great resource for learning things: Cookery Online has a definition of poaching.

The Recipe:
Poached Pears with Balsamic Vinegar Sauce
3 medium-sized pears, peeled and cored
1 1/2 cups red wine (I used Yellowtail Shiraz-Cabernet because it was on sale for $5!)
1 cup apple juice
juice of 1/2 lemon
2 tbsp granulated sugar
1 cup balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp brown sugar
1/4 tsp vanilla
2 tbsp butter
optional: Argo Tea Orange Passion Tea

Do This
Peel and core the pears, and slice off the top and bottom. Place them in a medium-sized bowl, and pour apple juice and lemon juice over top. Let the pears soak for a while – mine did for about half an hour.
Pour the red wine into a saucepan large enough to hold the pears. Turn the heat to high, and when the wine starts bubbling, add in the granulated sugar and the apple/lemon juice mixture that the pears have been soaking in. Allow the liquid to reach a boil, then turn the heat down to medium-low. It’s not quite a bouquet garni, but I plopped a tea strainer filled with Argo Tea’s Orange Passion tea into the poaching liquid for a minute or so while it was on its way to boiling. The tea probably didn’t steep, but the poaching liquid did take on a nice fragrance. Place the pears in the saucepan, small-end down. Cover the pan and hang out for 10-15 minutes. You can drink the rest of the wine if you want.

The pears are two-toned for a moment. Reminds me of those cupcakes!

My pears were extra-firm, so I let them hang out in the poaching liquid for 15 minutes, flipped them, then let them simmer for 20 more minutes with the wider side down before I turned the heat off. Put the pears back in the medium-sized bowl, and carefully pour the poaching liquid over top. Cover the bowl with a lid (or with aluminum foil if you don’t have a lid) and place in the refrigerator. When I transferred them to the bowl to refrigerate, they were soft enough that I could pick them up with a fork without having to stab at them, but not so soft that they fell apart. Allow the pears to refrigerate for several hours.
For the balsamic reduction: pour 1 cup of balsamic vinegar into a small saucepan with 1/4 tsp of vanilla. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat to medium.
**This is the part that I’m not 100% a fan of, but I gave it a try anyhow. It’s optional. Add 1/4 cup of the poaching liquid to the balsamic reduction.**
Cook until the liquid has been reduced to about 1/3 of a cup, then add a tablespoon of brown sugar and stir until dissolved. Remove from heat.
Slice up 2 tbsp of butter and place in a small bowl. Pour the balsamic reduction over top, and stir until the butter is melted and incorporated into the sauce. Place in the refrigerator. When ready to serve, stir until the solids have blended back into the sauce and it has a texture similar to light maple syrup.
Remove the pears from the poaching liquid and slice into small pieces. The outside will be a dark red, while the inside will be white or light pink. Drizzle with the balsamic sauce and serve.

A few important notes about these pears:

These aren’t the same pears as the ones at Zed451. Repeat: not the same. I thought I was going to replicate them, but ended up with something very different. Also, I left out the crumbled blue cheese because…blue cheese freaks me out crumbled gorgonzola cheese, because I thought it was blue cheese, and blue cheese freaks me out. They’re still tasty, and I believe Bob Ross would call this a “happy accident.”

This recipe is not final, and is going to be tweaked. I just wanted to post it now because (a) I like the photos, (b) it’s not terrible as-is, and (c) maybe someone who knows Zed451’s recipe will find this and forward the actual recipe to me (Eh? Eh? The email addy is therecklesschef AT gmail DOT com). Eventually, I’ll poach pears again, and maybe by then I’ll have figured out some new tricks.

I tried the pears with the sauce right after the sauce was made. My immediate thought before tasting them was “wow, this is going to be so sour.” It was. Overnight in the fridge, soaking in the poaching liquid, did wonders for the pears. The texture is flawless (crisp but not crunchy) and the flavor is much better. The time the reduction spent chilling in the fridge (in a tupperware container) initially worried me, because the butter had solidified and separated, but a quick stir brought the sauce back to a good consistency.

The pears are very tangy, and definitely meant to be consumed in small quantities, but I’m a fan. 

As for the plating? I’m still figuring that part out. I need to either stop moving the plate around so much during the photography part, or settle on a thicker sauce.


Unorthodox Techniques (Part 2: How to Peel a Pear)

My knife skills are…not as fancy as they could be. Also, I don’t own a good set of knives yet. Using a paring knife to peel a pear? Not gonna happen.

I’ll stick to using the vegetable peeler. It does the job just fine.

[I also found a video clip on the magic internet of someone peeling a prickly pear in a way that looked far too simple. I watched the clip without sound and thought it was a regular pear. This is why we always listen to the sound on instructional video clips!]

I’m no Top Chef, but…

This recipe happened via special request from The Boyfriend. We were watching Top Chef Chicago* last week, and were both disappointed when a sea bass and chorizo dish happened instead of Polish sausage in beer. Quelle travesty!

And so…Polish sausage? Meet beer:

In all fairness, this photo is misleading: I didn’t use Shiner Blonde for cooking the sausages, it’s just a tasty beer I was sipping while I made this! Click to enlarge the photo.

I wasn’t 100% sure where I was going with this, except that I remembered the judges on Top Chef saying “steam in beer” several times. Okay. I can do that. Here’s what else happened:

The Recipe:
Beer Soaked Polish Sausage

1 package (16 oz) Polish sausage, kielbasa, or your favorite sausage
1 can light beer (I used Busch)
2 large potatoes
Bertman Original Ball Park Mustard, or your favorite brown mustard
cooking oil
garlic salt
butter or margarine

Do This
Remove the Polish sausage from the package. Slice it into six equally-sized pieces (I cut mine in half at the horseshoe-shaped bend, then cut each half into thirds) and slice each of these pieces in half crosswise. You’ll end up with twelve pieces of sausage, each with a skin side and an inside-side.
Pour a few tablespoons of cooking oil into a large sauté pan – you want enough oil to lightly coat the bottom, but no more. Place the sausages, skin-side down, into the pan and turn the burner to medium heat. Cook until the skin turns a medium-dark reddish brown (how’s that for a color?) and flip so that the sausages are now all skin-side up. Cook for a few more minutes – because of the shape, the sausages will most likely not brown evenly, but when the middle is mostly browned, turn off the heat and remove the sausages from the pan.
Drain the cooking oil from the pan and wipe it clean. Replace the sausages in the pan (skin-side down again), shake a bit – 1 to 3 shakes each – of salt, pepper, and garlic salt over the sausages, and pour the entire can of beer over the sausages. Turn the burner to medium-high heat, and cover the pan with a lid. Hang out for a few minutes; this part takes a little while.
Now is a great time to start some water boiling for the mashed potatoes. Do that, and peel the potatoes while the water heats up. Slice each potato into small chunks – I like to cut mine into eighths – and put them in the pot when the water starts boiling. Leave uncovered (unless you’re a fan of constantly checking to make sure the pot doesn’t boil over) and let the potatoes hang out in the boiling water until they are soft enough that they are not resistant to a fork.
Check on your sausages. The beer should be bubbling all over the place, and steaming delicious beer-y flavor into the sausage. It doesn’t matter if you use cheap beer – I used Busch (don’t judge, it was left in the fridge from a month ago when some friends brought over random cases of cheap beer) and it didn’t have a negative impact on the flavor of the sausage. Save your expensive beer for drinking with the meal.

Click on the image to take a closer look at the sausages enjoying some beer.

Move the sausages around in the pan with a fork or spatula. This is especially important if the pan or stove is slanty or uneven. Just sayin’.
After the sausages have been steaming for 20-25 minutes, flip them over. Shake in a little bit more pepper/salt/garlic salt, and re-cover the pan.
Check on your potatoes. When they are soft enough that poking them not-so-gently with a fork causes them to break apart, turn off the burner, remove the potatoes from the stove, and drain the water out. Place the potatoes in a bowl, add a few (between 2 and 6, depending how healthy/unhealthy you’re feeling) tablespoons of butter or margarine, and mash away. Add in a glug or two of milk to make the potatoes creamier, and add salt and pepper to taste (and minced garlic or garlic paste if you’re feeling fancy).
Cheater’s potatoes: if you started them late or if your potatoes just do not want to boil, drain the water out and transfer the potatoes to a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave for 6-7 minutes, and they should be much softer, albeit less moist and a little bit guilty of shortcutting.
After the sausages have steamed for another 20-25 minutes (and you’ve been checking in on them and moving them around in the pan this time, too) and the potatoes are all boiled and mashed, turn the stove off and drain the beer from the pan. Serve the sausages over the mashed potatoes, topped with your favorite brown mustard. It’s not mandatory to use Bertman Original Ball Park Mustard, but you get extra credit for it because it’s delicious.

This isn’t the most attractive dinner, but it sure is tasty! Click on the photo to zoom in.

A note on the mustard (this one’s for you, Boyfriend!): Bertman Original Ball Park Mustard, once served at Cleveland Municipal Stadium (the largest man-made freshwater reef in the world), is the official mustard of Jacobs Field, or Progressive Field, or whatever they call it now, and it is a very delicious brown mustard. I was skeptical before trying it, but have since determined that it is acceptable to eat with a spoon if you do not have Polish sausage handy.

Ideally, we would have made some sauerkraut to go with this. It didn’t happen because we got too impatient at the grocery store and didn’t want to look for the sauerkraut**, but next time? That’s happening.

*I’m hopelessly addicted to this show because (a) it’s about food and (b) parts of it were filmed in/near my neighborhood. Also? I just realized today that recipes used in the show are posted on the Top Chef website, which is kinda amazing.
**And also because for some ridiculous reason, I was under the (wrong) impression that sauerkraut was horseradish. It’s not, and I am embarrassed that I ever thought that.

The Most Important [Tiny] Meal

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. But what if you’re not super hungry?

Ta-da! It’s Tiny Breakfast! Everything on this plate can fit on one fork. Magic!

The fork is for scale. Click to zoom in and make the breakfast bigger than it is in real life! Clockwise from top left: Tiny Breakfast Sausages, Tiny Pancakes, Tiny Omelette, Tiny Hash Browns.


The Recipe

Tiny Breakfast

1 egg
1/2 cup flour
1 tbsp butter
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup + 1 tbsp milk
2 tbsp Sprite (or other lemon-lime soda)
1/4 tsp vanilla
1 slice American cheese
1 onion
1 small potato
breakfast sausage (I used Bob Evans’ brand, the kind that comes in a tube)
maple syrup
salt & pepper

Do This
Crack the egg into a bowl and beat gently with a fork. Set aside 1/4 of the beaten egg.
In a small bowl, mix 1/2 cup flour, 3/4 tsp baking powder, 1/8 tsp salt, 1 1/2 tsp butter, 1/4 tsp vanilla, 1/4 of the egg, and 2 tbsp of Sprite. This is your pancake batter – it should be thick but bubbly, and all of the dry ingredients should be dissolved.
Peel the onion and the potato. Cut a small slice from each, and reserve for later (3-4 servings of a complete Tiny Breakfast require one 1/4″ ring of onion and 1/8 of a small potato) – you can save the rest and make Normal Sized Hash Browns if you like. Chop the onion and potato into the smallest bits you can. Also, take the slice of cheese out of its wrapper and chop it into small bits.

Click to zoom in on the little bits of cheese and onion!

Open the breakfast sausage package and pinch off a small piece of sausage. Roll tiny (larger than a pomegranate seed, smaller than a blueberry) balls of sausage and flatten into little patties.
Your prep work is done! Hooray!

Grab a small frying pan. Turn the burner to medium heat.
Tiny Pancakes: using a regular teaspoon (not the measuring kind – the tapered end of the flatware variety works to your advantage), spoon tiny dollops of batter (no bigger than a nickel) into the pan. When the edges start to turn golden brown, flip them with a spatula and cook for another minute or so. Transfer to a plate to cool, cover in maple syrup, and put a Tiny Butter Pat on top.

Six pancakes in a pan at once! Click to zoom in.

Tiny Omelettes: pour a tablespoon of milk into the beaten egg, and whip with a fork. Put a bit of butter (less than a tsp) into the frying pan, and when it is melted/bubbling, spoon the whipped egg into the pan. It should spread out, but not much more than 2-3 inches wide (if it’s bigger, you’re using too much egg!). When it’s cooked to the point that the egg is opaque, flip it over with a spatula. While the other side cooks, put little bits of onion and cheese on top. Use the spatula to fold the omelette in half. Cook for a few more seconds (until the cheese melts) and transfer to a plate. Sprinkle with salt or pepper if desired.
Tiny Breakfast Sausages: place the tiny sausage patties into the frying pan. Allow them to cook for a few minutes on medium heat, until one side is browned. Flip over and cook until each patty is brown on both sides. If the patties are resistant to browning even after several minutes, pressing down on them with the spatula tends to help.
Tiny Hash Browns: put a teaspoon of butter into the frying pan. When the butter is melted and bubbling, place the bits of potato and onion into the pan. Season with salt and pepper, and use the spatula to flip the potatoes and onions occasionally. When the Tiny Hash Browns have reached a rich brown color, transfer them to a paper towel and pat out some of the butter.
Enjoy your Tiny Breakfast on a small saucer – or on a dinner plate if you want to feel like a giant!

My first excursion into Tiny Food was very fun! There was a bit of trial and error, especially with the Tiny Omelette (it’s not easy getting the egg to spread out where you want it…I might try using a cookie cutter for “boundaries” next time), but everything tasted just as good as its normal sized counterpart. I also learned that I need to invest in some better knives, because my onion and potato bits could have been a little bit smaller.

Future Tiny Breakfasts might include Tiny French Toast, Tiny Fruit Salad, and Tiny Bacon.

Upside-down Pineapples, But Not Cake

I really like pineapple upside-down cake. It’s probably one of my favorite desserts. This isn’t a recipe for pineapple upside-down cake, though.

It’s a recipe for Pineapple Upside-Down Pork.

Interestingly enough, that particular piece of pork looks kinda like sponge cake.

The recipe:

Pineapple Upside-Down Pork
3 thick pork chops (mine were 1.5 lbs total)
1 can pineapple rings
1/2 stick salted butter
dark brown sugar
maraschino cherries
Worcestershire sauce
garlic powder
onion salt

Do This
Preheat the oven to 365 degrees.
Open the can of pineapple rings, pour the juice into a glass, and set aside. Line the bottom of a glass baking dish with the rings. If you’re using a 13×9 pan and a standard can of pineapple rings, you should have exactly one left over. Eat it. It’s tasty.
Remove the stems from several maraschino cherries, and place one in the center of each pineapple ring. You’re also allowed to snack on these.
Melt the 1/2 stick of butter and spoon 5-6 heaping tablespoons of brown sugar into a bowl with the melted butter. Stir until the sugar is mostly dissolved. Add in a few shakes of garlic powder, onion salt, salt, pepper, and Worcestershire sauce – start with well under 1 tsp of each and modify to taste. Pour half of the pineapple juice into this mixture, stir until all of the sugar and spices are dissolved and the consistency is similar to maple syrup. Taste-test it: it should be part sweet (the pineapple and sugar), part savory, and just a bit tangy (the spices and Worcestershire). Pour this sauce over the pineapple rings and cherries.
Trim the fat from the pork chops, then cut each chop in half so that you have two pieces with the same dimensions as the original chop, but half the thickness. If you started with 3 chops, you’ll end up with 6 slices of pork.
In a small bowl, mix about 1 tsp each of salt, pepper, garlic powder, and onion salt. Rub a pinch of this blend into each piece of pork – it should be a very light coating because there are 6 pieces of pork and only a few tsp of spices. Arrange the pork on top of the pineapple rings.
Put the baking dish in the oven and set the timer for 15 minutes. When it goes off, quickly flip the pork over (the side now facing the top should have a light coating of the brown sugar sauce) and pour the remaining pineapple juice into the pan. Set the oven timer for another 10 minutes. Check to make sure that the pork is cooked all the way through (return to the oven for a few more minutes if the meat thermometer doesn’t read at least 160 degrees when stuck in the center of the thickest piece of pork) and set aside to cool for five minutes.
With pineapple upside-down cake, the most fun part is flipping over the pan to reveal the pineapples and cherries on the bottom (now top) of the cake. I strongly suggest that you do NOT try this with the pork. I suspect that you would spill sauce all over the place, and possibly burn yourself. A safer idea might be to use a fork or spatula to put the pork onto a plate, layer the pineapple and cherry on top of the pork, and spoon the sauce over top to recreate the upside-down cake look.

I was worried at first that this would end up being extraordinarily sweet, but the garlic powder and Worcestershire sauce do a great job of balancing out the sweetness of the pineapples, sugar, and cherries. I encourage constant taste-testing to achieve this balance – except for the uncooked pork, of course. When I made this dish, the sauce was sweet enough to resemble the dessert that inspired the dish, but not overwhelmingly so. In the same vein, the spices and Worcestershire sauces are not meant to be applied as generously as I might encourage with other recipes; the garlic powder, onion salt, pepper, and Worcestershire sauce were added gradually in small (< 1/2 tsp at a time) amounts until I reached a blend of sweet and savory.

I’m no sommelier, but I thoroughly reccomend serving this dish with Invisible Cherry Kool-Aid.

Check-ch-check-check-check-ch-check it out

Hey, foodies! And people who like food!

Check out the Foodie Blogroll, put together by the fabulous Jenn. Lots of really brilliant food blahgs and websites…if you thought mine was good, you’ll be floored by the awesomeness.

Also, I’m the Trib’s Blogger of the Week*. Spiffy!

*And no, I don’t really carry around a bag of flour at all times. I’m just cheesing it up for the camera :)


Okay, as many of you guessed, yesterday’s post was indeed an April Fool’s joke. It wasn’t entirely out of the realm of possibility – in the past 6 months, I’ve caught my hair, sleeve, several dishtowels, a plastic bag, and some chocolate chips on fire while cooking – but thankfully, nothing tragic happened yesterday. Our kitchen is fine, the landlord still loves us, and my insurance company isn’t going to be footing the bill for a “replacement” KitchenAid mixer anytime soon.

To make up for my cheeky shenanigans, I’m going to share my actual Bananas Foster recipe.

Bananas Foster was invented at Brennan’s Restaurant in New Orleans. Naturally, I used the recipe on their website as a jumping-off point.

Jumping-off point? Yeah. See, I don’t really like regular Bananas Foster because it’s too…banana-y. I’m sure this is a travesty of sorts, but my version is pretty damn tasty even without the banana liqueur.

This is what we call a potential fire hazard.

The Recipe:

Bananas (Almost) Foster
3 ripe bananas
1 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 stick salted butter
ittybitty shake of cinnamon
1/4 cup Malibu coconut rum (or your favorite)
1/4 cup Bacardi light rum (or your favorite brand)
1 pint vanilla ice cream
15-20 Nilla wafers, crushed

Do this
Start melting the 1/2 stick of butter in a skillet or large sauté pan over medium-low heat. Spoon in 1 cup of dark brown sugar and mix into the butter until mostly dissolved. Add a shake of cinnamon and pour in the coconut rum. Keep this mixture going on low heat while you cut the bananas.
Peel the bananas and cut in half lengthwise and crosswise – you should get 4 slices per banana, but if you mess up, it’s ok. You’ve probably got more than just 3 on hand, so it’s completely acceptable to snack on the slices that aren’t the right size.
Put the banana slices in the pan, and cook until they’re soft. I like to flip mine a few times to coat them with the sauce.
Measure out 1/4 cup of rum and get your book of matches ready. Pour the rum into the pan and wait for it to heat up. This is where the directions weren’t super clear to me, so I’ll elaborate: wait for the rum-sugar-butter-et cetera mixture to get hot enough that it’s bubbling. If you try to light it sooner, you’ll probably end up extinguishing the match. Trust me, I went through about 15 before I figured this out.
Once the stuff in the pan is bubbly and frothy, strike a match and watch the pyrotechnics.
Scoop some vanilla ice cream into a bowl, put some bananas and delicious sauce over the top, and top with crumbled Nilla wafers. Celebrate that you accomplished something pyrotechnic without burning down your kitchen, and enjoy your dessert!

It’s a little blurry, but it’s pyrotechnics!

There are video clips of this, too. I’m going to try editing out all of the failed attempts to light the bananas, and I’ll post the video later. Check back for that.

‘Nanners (Almost) Foster.

I’m a fan of what the coconut rum adds to this dessert. I also made WAY too much of the sauce, so I’ve reserved it and put it in the freezer for something I’m going to bake this weekend.