Poached Pear-ables.

May 10, 2013

Poached Pears 012Juicy couture. Or something.

I took a cooking class in Valparaiso, Chile, where we poached pears in red wine and spices that hugged me all cozy-like just as mulled wine in the winter does. Although I had heard about poaching fruit, I had never actually tried it before myself. It was a true revelation; classy and delicious.

Since alcohol isn’t always an appropriate option here, I thought I’d give pear poaching a second go with something a bit more innocuous. Like apple juice. I mean, even babies drink apple juice. Glug glug.

Anyway. The finished product emerged like a dream, and as an added bonus, my house filled with wondrous smells of Christmastime and snowfall. Which is obviously totally appropriate in May (bring on the cold weather already, Paraguay!).

Apple cinnamon poached pears are a great option for a no-fuss but fancy-looking dessert. Stash this one away for your December dinner parties.

Or Friday morning mission meetings.

Apple Cinnamon Poached Pears
Inspired by marthastewart.com
Serves 8

8 ripe but firm pears, peeled
4 cups of apple juice (I used a Frugos brand that tends to be thicker in consistency)
1-2 cups of water
1/2 cup of sugar
5 cinnamon sticks
5 whole cloves
1/2 teaspoon of ground nutmeg

Slightly slice the pears on the bottom so they will stand nicely on your serving platter afterwards.

Combine the apple juice, water, sugar, and spices in a large pot. Add the peeled pears and bring to a boil. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the pears are soft to the piercing but not disintegrating (tip: poke from the bottom so you don’t mar the surface of your fruit). Remove from heat.

Pour half of the liquid into a small saucepan without the whole spices, and simmer until the sauce reduces down into a deliciously thickened glaze. Leave the pears in the remainder of the liquid to continue absorbing the spicy flavors.

When ready to serve, remove the pears onto a plate, drizzle with glaze, and accompany with a dollop of fresh whipped cream. Serve warm or cold.

Poached Pears 009Poached Pears 013Poached Pears 008

Chai-spiced Churros.

May 5, 2013

IMAG0535-1Good golly, these were scrumptious.

Ever since I had to make my grandmother’s very technical Tres Leches Cake twice in one day because the first attempt failed, I have been consuming an inordinate amount of microwaveables and plain quesadillas. Oh, the bachelorette life. Much to the chagrin of my palate’s better judgment, anything labor-intensive (so what if spreading peanut butter AND jelly is too many steps…) elicits only immediate balking from my mental capacities as I choose instead to wallow in a rut of laziness.

Of course, this all occurred after I volunteered to bring horchata and churros to our Cinco de Mayo fiesta. This being Paraguay, a land far from the culinary reach of Mexico, it was requisite that I make both items from scratch. The horchata was simple enough. Blended up rice, water, milk, cinnamon. Pish posh.

But the churros had me dragging my feet all week. The thought of slaving over the stove hand-frying enough dough for ten people with the weather [still–ughh] as warm as it has been held worse prospects than the Padres 2013 season. I perused recipes for other Mexican desserts daily, but encountered nothing to satisfy my need for low-maintenance output.

In the end, I dragged myself into the kitchen to make sugary use of my slothful Sunday afternoon. It was totally worth it.

Repeat after me: HOMEMADE CHURROS ARE ALWAYS WORTH IT. ALWAYS.

And it wasn’t even that much work in the end; a generally uncomplicated process so long as you set up your station efficiently and beforehand. This recipe produces spicy fried gold that brings any investment of time and resources, high returns to satisfy every last lazy bone in your body.

Happy Cinco de Mayo indeed.

Chai-spiced Churros
Adapted from allrecipes.com
Serves 4

1 cup of water
1 Tablespoon of sugar
1 Tablespoon of vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1 cup of flour
Vegetable oil for frying

1 cup of sugar
1 Tablespoon of ground cinnamon
1 Tablespoon of Trader Joe’s Salted Caramel Chai Tea Latte Mix
(I am sure any powdered chai mix would work just as well)

In a small saucepan, combine the water, sugar, 1 Tbs. of oil, and salt, and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and stir in the flour until just combined and a dough forms. Do not overmix (aka: tough, heavy churros).

In a medium saucepan, heat the frying oil on medium-low heat. Do not fry dough until the oil is hot. Nobody wants soggy poops. If your churros brown too quickly but remain undercooked inside, turn the heat down.

Originally, I used a plastic, disposable pastry bag with a Wilton 1M tip to give the churros their classic texture, but the batter proved too thick and everything just exploded. Instead, a plastic reusable pastry bag with no tip screwed in worked very well (a churro-maker or a freezer-sized Ziploc bag with the corner snipped off would also be adequate alternatives).

Pipe three to four inches of dough into the hot oil, cut the end with scissors, and fry until golden. Beware of frying too many churros at once–such are the dangers of wonky oil temperatures and/or everything clumping together. Five was a good amount for me as long as I remained vigilant in the beginning.

Remove the churros with wooden chopsticks (because I don’t know how to fry anything without them) and drain on a tray lined with paper towels. Pipe in the next batch of churros and while those cook, roll the cooked ones in the cinnamon sugar mix.

These are best served fresh, and if you are serious about celebrating life, pair with black coffee and a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Buen provecho!

Weird.

January 15, 2013

I glanced at my tablescape in horror. It was terribly mismatched and shamefully tacky–reminiscent of a Nicki Minaj and Katy Perry spontaneous combustion on my dining tabletop. I was mortified but nothing could be done. When you reside as a bachelorette in a somewhat temporary living situation on a missionary’s salary, you make do.

In this case, it meant a festive red Christmas tablecloth adorned with an assortment of neon-colored plastic bowls, cups, wooden-handled utensils, and glass Coca Cola plates. I shudder just recalling that nightmare of a setting.

While the interns were in Paraguay, my weekly tutoring student MJ instead spent her time practicing English and correcting Spanish grammar with the girls. I hadn’t seen her in awhile and wanted to invite her to dinner in my “new” house before we all left for our separate Christmas travels.

I don’t get to host very many dinner parties here in Asuncion and there is just something about them that make you feel a little more grown up (that is until you see your hideous table arrangements shouting at you in obnoxious shades of fluorescent green, pink, and orange). I took my job as hostess seriously, and crafted a carefully thought out menu to serve my guest.

In spite of the oppressive heat, I spent the afternoon sweating and perfecting a batch of Drunken Spaghetti accompanied by a cumin-infused cucumber tomato salad and some Spanish pan tomaquet. It may have been slightly sacrilegiously multicultural, but personally, I thought it was delicious (if I may say so myself).

I think I counted at least five times throughout dinner that MJ declared some variation of, “[Lo], you always serve me such weird food!” with especially forceful, awkward emphasis on “weird.” She choked her way through the pasta and bread. Later when I went to take her home, I noticed that she had not touched one bite of her salad. She didn’t even bother to move it around.

Paraguay’s a very humbling place to be, you know?

Drunken Spaghetti (I swear it really is tasty…)
Adapted from Italian Cooking Forever

1 package of spaghetti
1 bottle of red wine (anything but Port will work fine)
Extra virgin olive oil
4 cloves of garlic
1 cup of chopped pancetta (I had to use bacon)
3 small tomatoes, chopped
A handful of fresh basil
A wedge of lemon
Salt and pepper to taste
Red pepper flakes

Bring a pot of well salted water to the boil and cook your spaghetti for about five minutes. Meanwhile, in a separate pot, bring the wine to a slow boil. Drain the pasta, add to the wine, and cook until al dente.

While the pasta is cooking, heat some olive oil in a pan and saute the bacon and garlic until brown. Drain the cooked pasta of any leftover wine, return to pot, and mix in the bacon, garlic, and more olive oil. Season with salt, pepper, and lots of red pepper flakes.

Serve with fresh tomatoes, chopped basil, and a squeeze of lemon for a delicious tang of acid.

So not weird.

December 086

December 087Scary.

Lima Diaries: Aji de Gallina.

September 17, 2012

Chicken in a bread-thickened sauce served with boiled potatoes and rice.

Aji de Gallina

6 round rolls of french bread (it comes in rounds here the size of my hand)
3 cups of evaporated milk (whole milk is also acceptable)
2 chicken breasts
1-2 chicken bouillon cubes
1/2 large carrot, chopped in four pieces
1 stalk of celery, chopped in four pieces
1/4 leaf of leek
3 large orange aji peppers
1/2 red onion, chopped in large pieces
1 clove of garlic, peeled and smashed
6 potatoes
4 eggs
Coarse salt
(MSG omitted, ha)

Tear up the bread into bite-sized pieces and place in a large bowl. Pour the milk over the bread and let it soak to soften.

Make deep slice marks in the chicken breasts (to facilitate flavor seepage and quicker cook time). Place chicken breasts, carrots, celery, and leek in a medium pot and cover 3/4 with water. Add the bouillon cubes and salt, and boil until chicken is cooked. The stock should be very concentrated and salty to ensure the chicken breasts are infused with flavor.

At the same time in another medium pot, boil the scrubbed potatoes and eggs together until the potatoes are soft. (These were Ruth’s instructions. Personally, I would cook the potatoes and eggs separately for better executed finished products.)

While chicken and potatoes are cooking, cut off the heads of the aji peppers and slice them in half lengthwise. Clean out the veins and seeds, and slice each half in half again. Fry off the peppers with the onions and garlic to eliminate some of the spiciness (beware of the spicy air that results!).

When the peppers are soft, place them in a blender (though I suspect a food processor would do better) with the onions and garlic along with a few spoonfuls of the simmering chicken stock. Puree until smooth. Slowly add large spoonfuls of the soaked bread to the blender and continue pureeing until the mixture is smooth, adding chicken stock as necessary.

When the chicken is cooked, remove to a plate. Discard the leek, and add the carrots and celery to blender mixture. Pour the puree into a large pot, thin with water if too thick, and season with salt as needed. Keep on the lowest heat.

Finely shred the chicken breasts and add to the puree mixture. Heat through and serve on top of half a boiled potato with a side of white rice (cooked with garlic paste) and a garnish of hard-boiled egg. And an ice cold glass of the limeade I wish I had when I consumed this delicious but heavy meal.