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Poached Pears with Chocolate Sauce

There’s something exotic-sounding about a poached pear.  It doesn’t really mater if it’s poached in water, fruit juice or wine, the presentation will make your family and friends salivate.  So simple to make and you can fiddle with the poaching ingredients to suit your taste (i.e. orange peel, star anise, ginger, lemon peel).  Poaching in red wine is also very dramatic and because the liquid is reduced, it becomes a rich, delicious syrup.  Click here to view my red wine poached pears with rice pudding.

Serves 4
4 cups water
1 1/3 cup sugar
4 Bosc pears, peeled
1 cinnamon stick
2 teaspoons whole cloves
1 vanilla bean,  split
2-3 star anise
1/2 cup dried cranberries or raisins (optional)

Simple Chocolate Sauce –
1/2 cup Ghirardelli 60% cacao chips (or any good-quality bittersweet chocolate)
2 to 3 tablespoons cream (whole milk will work, too)

In a large pot, heat the water and sugar until the sugar is dissolved. Add the remaining ingredients (except cranberries or raisins). Cover with parchment paper with a small hole cut in the center and place a lid on the pot.  Simmer and cook the pears 15 to 25 minutes, depending on the pears and how ripe they are.  You want the pears soft but not falling apart.  Remove from heat and let the pears cool in the liquid.  While the poaching liquid is still warm, add the cranberries or raisins.

For the chocolate sauce, place chocolate chips in a microwavable bowl and add the cream or milk.  Microwave on high for 30 seconds.  Remove and stir to combine cream with chocolate.  If necessary, return to microwave and cook for another 30 seconds.  Add more cream if sauce is too thick.  Drizzle over the tops of the pears.

The Culinary Chase’s Note:  Delicious and light! Serve the pears by themselves or with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.  You can also refrigerate the pears overnight in the poaching liquid.  Bring the pears to room temperature before serving.  If you like, reduce the poaching liquid to a cup and spoon over the pears.  Enjoy!

Chewy Oatmeal Cranberry Cookies

Oatmeal cookies have been around since 1896 (first published in the Boston Cooking School cookbook).  The humble cookie has been around since the end of the 14th century where little filled wafers were sold on the streets of Paris.  Renaissance cookbooks were rich in cookie recipes.  Biscuits (aka cookie) became the ideal traveling food because they stayed fresh for long periods. For centuries a ship’s biscuit, an iron-like cracker, was aboard any ship that left port because it could last for months.

Makes about 24 
inspired by Smitten Kitchen 

1/2 cup butter, softened
2/3 cup light or dark brown sugar
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups rolled oats (use old-fashioned not quick-cooking rolled oats)
3/4 cup dried cranberries or dried cherries

Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C). In a large bowl, cream together butter, brown sugar, egg and vanilla until smooth. In a separate bowl, whisk the flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt together. Stir this into the butter mixture then stir in the oats, raisins.  Drop cookie dough by the spoonful onto a parchment-lined cookie sheet (spaced 2-inches apart).  Bake 10 to 12 minutes or when golden at the edges but still a little undercooked-looking on top. Let them sit on the hot baking sheet for five minutes before transferring them to a rack to cool.

The Culinary Chase’s Note:  These were soft, chewy-good!  If you chill the dough before baking, the cookies will be a bit thicker.  Another way to enjoy these is to crumble in a trifle, or layered with yogurt and fresh fruit.  Enjoy!

Rosemary Shortbread

I’ve come to the conclusion that tattooed baristas along with body piercings are the ones who really make great cappuccinos!  TIBS, Just Us, Smiling Goat, Culture Espresso Bar, Joe to name a few all make some of the best cappuccinos I have ever tasted outside of Italy!  Making flawless coffee is an art in itself and perhaps the tattooed baristas already have a handle on art through the images on their bodies (making a statement?).  I don’t know but what a delight when I am introduced to a new coffee shop and I see the staff with tattoos!  A few weeks ago my husband told me of a new place to enjoy coffee and he was waxing lyrical about it.  The cappuccino at Blue Bottle Coffee was everything I had hoped it would be.  Yes, I am a coffee lunatic!  The shop in the basement of Rockefeller Center (opened March 2012) offers a small selection of pastries and one that I had to try was rosemary shortbread.  The slight hint of salt and savory taste of rosemary had my taste buds howling for more. 

Makes 18 or so bars
adapted from Melissa Clark

2 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon of finely chopped fresh rosemary
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted cold butter, cut into 1-inch chunks
1 1/2 teaspoon honey

Preheat oven to 325ºf.  In a food processor,  pulse together flour, sugar, rosemary and salt. Add butter and honey, and pulse to fine crumbs. Pulse a few more times until some crumbs start to come together, but don’t over process. Dough should not be smooth. 

Press dough into an ungreased (or parchment paper-lined for easy removal) 8 or 9-inch-square baking pan.


Prick dough all over with a fork. 

Bake until golden brown, 35 to 40 minutes for 9-inch pan, 45 to 50 minutes for 8-inch. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. Cut into squares, bars or wedges while still warm.

The Culinary Chase’s Note: Texture-wise these bars would remind you of a brownie.  Before placing shortbread in the oven, I sprinkled a tinsey bit of sea salt over the top.  Sweet and savory flavors mingling so well with one another that it was impossible to only have one!  Enjoy! 

Fresh Fruit Cake

I had a craving for something sweet and because it’s just the two of us, making a cake doesn’t make sense as we would be eating it for days to come.  This super easy dessert stays moist even on day three!  It’s so easy to whip up and I like the idea of baking it in a sauté pan. 

adapted from Design Sponge

fresh fruit (peaches, nectarines, plums, berries)
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
grated zest of one lemon
1 cup flour
2 eggs
3/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 pinch salt
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

Preheat oven to 180c (350f).  Cream butter and sugar. Add the grated lemon zest. Add the eggs, and vanilla, stirring each to combine. In a separate bowl combine the flour, salt, and baking powder. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and stir to combine. Pour the batter into a greased 8-inch pan. Top with fruit. Combine the brown sugar and cinnamon, and sprinkle the mixture on top of the fruit. Bake for 30 minutes, or until the top is browned.

The Culinary Chase’s Note:  Let me just say this was absolutely delicious and John has asked me to make this again…with pleasure!  Enjoy!

Mango Sorbet – an ode to summer!

With the days becoming shorter and the nights cooler, summer is slowly saying goodbye.  However, this sunny-looking mango sorbet will always remind me of summer no matter what time of year it is.  Sorbet is basically frozen water or juice sweetened with fruit or even fresh herbs and can be sweet or savory.  Use the savory type as a palate cleanser in between courses.   Folklore has it that sorbet dates back to the first century A.D. when the Roman Emperor, Nero, positioned runners along the Appian Way. They passed buckets of snow hand over hand from the mountains to his banquet hall where it was then mixed with honey and wine.  Sorbet is a great choice for anyone who is lactose intolerant or vegan.  Sorbet is easy to make and so fresh tasting!

You Will Need:
3 to 4 ripe mangoes (roughly 3 1/2 lbs.)
1 cup simple syrup (equal parts of water & sugar – dissolved)

3 to 4 tablespoons fresh lime juice, or to taste

Using a potato peeler, peel the skin from the mango and with a knife cut the flesh from the pit.  Add flesh to blender along with syrup and lime juice.  Purée until smooth and pour into an ice cream maker and follow the manufacturers instructions.  Remove from ice cream maker and place into a shallow container, cover and freeze until slightly firm.

The Culinary Chase’s Note:  Depending on how sweet the mangoes are will determine how much simple syrup to use.  Add 1/2 cup and then do a taste test.  The lime juice will also help to cut some of the sweetness of the mango and syrup.  When making the simple syrup, muddle a few fresh mint leaves to flavor the syrup (strain before adding to mango).  Mango and mint go well together.  Enjoy!

Star Anise Ice Cream

I wouldn’t go so far as to say I am a gadget queen but I certainly enjoy using the ice cream maker attachment for my KitchenAid mixer.  I’ve had it 2 months now and have made strawberry ice cream, lemon ice cream and now this one.  Each time feels as though it’s my first and my excitement is rewarded with a scrumptious dessert.  The thing that most appeals to me about having your own ice cream maker is that you get to choose what goes into it and that’s huge knowing you have created something for your family with natural ingredients.  And, once you find a base recipe that you like, it opens up more opportunities for you to experiment.

Star anise is a spice that closely resembles anise in flavor and is a less expensive substitute for anise in baking.  It’s used in liquors such as Galliano, Sambuca and in enhancing the flavor of meat such as biryani.  Star anise is widely used in Chinese cuisine (an ingredient in the five spice powder) and in Indian cuisine (garam masala).  Medicinally, star anise can help in the relief of abdominal cramps, indigestion, gas, bloating and nausea.  For more health benefits, click here.

Makes about 1 quart (1 litre) 
inspired by David Lebovitz (The Perfect Scoop)
2 teaspoons anise seeds
2 cups (500ml) heavy cream
1 cup (250ml) whole milk
⅔ cup (130g) sugar
1½tablespoons good-flavored honey
pinch of salt
5 large egg yolks

Toast the anise seeds in a medium saucepan over moderate heat for about 3 minutes, until they smell fragrant. Pour in 1 cup (250 ml) of the cream, then add the milk, sugar, honey, and salt. Heat until warm, then cover, remove from the heat, and let steep at room temperature for 1 hour.

Isn’t mother nature amazing?

Rewarm the anise-infused milk mixture. Pour the remaining 1 cup (250 ml) cream into a large bowl and set a mesh strainer over the top. In a separate medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks. Slowly pour the warm anise-infused mixture into the egg yolks, whisking constantly, then scrape the warmed egg yolks back into the saucepan.

Stir the mixture constantly over medium heat with a heatproof spatula, scraping the bottom as you stir, until the mixture thickens and coats the spatula. Pour the custard through the strainer and stir it into the cream. Discard the anise seeds and stir until cool over an ice bath.

Chill the mixture thoroughly in the refrigerator, then freeze it in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

The Culinary Chase’s Note:  While I didn’t have anise seeds in my cupboard I did have the star anise and absolutely love the flavor of this ice cream.  You know it’s not vanilla ice cream as it has a faint flavor of liquorice but even that makes you wonder what the flavor is.  This is definitely one to repeat!  Enjoy!

The Best Homemade Lemon Ice Cream!

This recipe (adapted from Gourmet) forms part of another – Frozen Lemon Gingersnap Pie – which I will share with you in another post.  There’s something so quintessentially summer whenever lemons are mentioned in a recipe, making any day of the year sunny.  Flavored shaved ice (precursor to ice cream) has been used for thousands of years.  In China, a frozen mixture of milk and rice was used as far back as 200 BC (ref: BBC, October 26, 2009).  Roman Emperor Nero had ice brought down from the mountains and combined it with fruit.  Arabs used milk rather than fruit juices in their ice cream.  In the 10th century ice cream was being made throughout the Arab cities.  They used milk or cream and sometimes yogurt flavored with rose water, dried fruits and nuts.

I love trying different flavors but this lemon ice cream has to be the best one I have savored in a very long time.

  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 4 teaspoons finely grated fresh lemon zest
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 6 large egg yolks
  • 2/3 cup fresh lemon juice 
Bring cream, milk, sugar, zest, and salt to a boil in a 2-quart heavy saucepan, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Whisk yolks in a bowl until blended, then add hot cream mixture in a slow stream, whisking. Transfer custard back to saucepan and cook over moderately low heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until thick enough to coat back of spoon and registers 175 to 180°F on thermometer, 3 to 5 minutes (do not let boil).
Immediately pour through a fine-mesh sieve into cleaned bowl, then stir in lemon juice. Cool custard to room temperature, stirring occasionally, then chill, its surface covered with a round of wax paper, until cold, about 3 hours. Freeze custard in ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions.

The Culinary Chase’s Note:  This was so delicious and I didn’t bother straining the custard…too good to lose the lemon zest.  Summer pleasures.  Enjoy!

Easy Homemade Strawberry Ice Cream

An ice cream maker had been on my list when we were living in Asia but I never did purchase one because the voltage there is 220 and that meant when we moved back to Canada it would not work unless I had a converter .  I went that route when we moved from Canada to Hong Kong in 1999 (a bit naive to think my kitchen appliances would work there)  and while a converter works, I’m not so sure it’s all that great for the longevity of kitchen appliances.   Needless to say when I finally bought one, I was so excited!

My daughter is here to celebrate her birthday and I asked her if she would like to help me christen the ice cream maker.  I initially wanted to make maple-bacon crunch ice cream but Laura said I should make that one later which I read between the lines – no, mom not while I’m here! Not to worry as I know I’ll have many more opportunities to experiment with flavors.

Makes about 1 1/2 quarts 

inspired by Gourmet
1 lb strawberries, trimmed, halved if large
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 teaspoon fresh lemon juice  
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 cups heavy cream
ice cream maker

Coarsely mash strawberries with sugar, lemon juice, and salt using a potato masher in a large bowl. Let stand, stirring and mashing occasionally, 10 minutes.

Transfer half of strawberry mixture to a blender and purée with cream until smooth. Return strawberry cream to bowl with remaining strawberries and chill, stirring occasionally, until very cold, 3 to 6 hours. Freeze mixture in ice cream maker. Transfer to an airtight container and put in freezer to firm up.
The Culinary Chase’s Note: Absolutely stunning flavors and the taste was as though the strawberries were just picked…so sweet! Laura mashed the strawberries and we decided not to purée them but combined the ingredients and then added to the ice cream maker (we also skipped the chilling period…couldn’t wait).  Heavenly results in 25 minutes!

Strawberry Cupcakes

Fresh strawberries always remind me of summer.  As a child I distinctly recall picking wild strawberries in my grandparents’ field…this was not an easy task as it would take forever to pick a pint (wild strawberries are tiny!).  All the whinging that took place was soon placated by strawberry shortcake topped with sweetened whipped cream or later on as a preserve on toast.  Yes, summers for me and my siblings did have its rewards.

If you live in an urban setting, a field of wild strawberries may seem like something out of a novel.  Thankfully, U-Pick farms are usually a short drive away and provide a perfect backdrop for easy food education where kids of all ages get a chance to learn where fruits and vegetables come from.  The fruit is easily accessible and usually a good size which means less time to fill a box.  Oh yes, sampling is a must! 

Makes 12
adapted from Sweet Paul magazine

1/2 cup butter (1 stick), room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups plain white flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup chopped strawberries
whipped cream
15 strawberries, sliced

Preheat oven 350f (180c).  Line a cupcake pan with paper liners.  Beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Add eggs one at a time until well incorporated.  Add vanilla, flour, and baking powder.  Mix together until you have have a smooth batter.  Fold in the strawberries (don’t mix).  Divide batter evenly between paper liners.  Bake 20 minutes or until firm to the touch.  Remove and cool on a wire rack.  Serve with sweetened whipped cream and a strawberry slice.

The Culinary Chase’s Note:  Even without the cream these were scrumptious!

Pear Fritters with Lemon and Ginger

I have to admit that growing up I wasn’t too keen on pears.  But as an adult I have come to enjoy them in savory and sweet dishes.  Pears are not only juicy and sweet but are a good source of vitamin C and copper (helps protect the body from free radical damage).  They’re also a very good source of fiber (helps prevent constipation, helps to lower high cholesterol).  While there are literally thousands of pear varieties, the Bosc, Bartlett, Anjou and Comice pears are the most commonly available types in the United States.  To get the most antioxidant protection from pears, eat when fully ripened as that’s when their antioxidant levels actually increase.  
Makes about 40 fritters
adapted from Fine Cooking

2 small firm-ripe Bartlett pears, peeled, cored and finely diced
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh ginger
finely grated lemon zest of one small lemon
1 1/2 cups plus 1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons plus 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3 large egg whites
1 cup whole milk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups flour
2 to 2 1/2 cups canola oil 2 to 2-1/2 cups canola oil

In a small bowl, combine the pears, ginger, lemon zest, 1 tablespoon of the sugar, and 1/8 teaspoon of the cinnamon. Macerate at room temperature for 15 minutes. In a medium bowl, whisk the egg whites to soft peaks. In another medium bowl, whisk the milk, 1/2 cup of the sugar, and the vanilla until the sugar dissolves and the mixture is slightly frothy. Whisk in the flour just until combined—it shouldn’t be completely smooth. With a rubber spatula, fold in the egg whites, and then fold in the pear mixture.

 In a small bowl, mix the remaining 1 cup sugar and 2 teaspoons cinnamon. Pour 1/2 inch of oil into a 10-inch cast-iron skillet with a candy thermometer clipped to the side. Heat over medium-high heat to 350°F. Using 2 tablespoons or a small ice cream scoop, carefully drop a ball of batter into the hot oil. Add 4 or 5 more to the oil, but don’t crowd the pan. Fry until golden-brown, about 2 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, turn the fritters over and continue frying until golden-brown and cooked through, about 2 minutes more. Transfer to a paper-towel-lined plate and drain briefly. Toss in the cinnamon sugar to coat and transfer to a platter. Continue cooking the rest of the fritters in the same manner. Serve hot.

The Culinary Chase’s Note:  I love the combination of pear and ginger.  These pear fritters brought back memories of when I used to eat Tim Hortons apple fritters…although these are much nicer (sorry TH!).   My daughter enjoyed dropping the batter into the hot oil but not as much as she did consuming these little gems!  Cheers!