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Honey Poached Pear with Citrus Glaze & Gorgonzola Cream

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Honey Poached Pear with Citrus Glaze & Gorgonzola Cream

Time: approximately 2 hours 20 minutes; 25 minutes to peel the pears and prepare the poaching liquid, 35 minutes to poach the pears and make the gorgonzola cream, 1 hour to cool pears and reduce citrus to a glaze, 20 minutes to core pears and plate them.

Serves: 10

Inspired by: Last night I hosted a dinner with a blind tasting of 8 Bordeaux wines. We had a young Sauternes for after the dinner – Chateau Rieussec’s second wine. I tasted it once and remember it having very pronounced citrus flavors. I wanted to make a dessert that would be a nice pairing with the wine. I think the most interesting wine and food pairings are with similar flavors and textures,or with contrasting flavors or textures. In this case, I wanted to try to make a dessert that included both elements. I came up with this recipe as I do many – I read about 20 different poached pear recipes from various food blogs on the web to understand common themes. Then I turned to Alice Waters’ “The Art of Simple Food”. I love how she explains generally how to do something and then what you can add or substitute. So, I used her general recipe concept and then added some things that might make the dessert a better match with our wine (honey, orange and lemon juice with their zests, dried apricots). Then I started looking for poached pear recipes that used cheeses in some way – ideally blue veined cheeses because they are known to be a fantastic contrast with Sauternes. One of Emeril Lagasse’s recipes uses Sauternes in the poaching liquid and has a Gorgonzola mixture that is stuffed in the pears. He mixed Gorgonzola together with cream cheese to make it creamier. I liked that concept and decided to mix the Gorgonzola with mascarpone because I like its richness for desserts. Thank you to all my cooking teachers out there!

Supplies:

Large stockpot – mine is a 12-quart that was 8 inches in diameter and it worked because the water covers the pears.

Ingredients for Poaching Pears:

  • 9 cups water
  • 2 oranges
  • 2 lemons
  • 1 cup honey
  • 1.5 cups sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 10 Bosc or Bartlett pears- stems in tact – firm and not too ripe
  • 10 dried apricots

Ingredients for Gorgonzola Cream:

  • 1 cup (about 8 ounces) crumbled Gorgonzola, softened
  • 1/2 cup mascarpone
  • 2 teaspoons honey
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • ¼ cup slivered almonds (optional for garnish)

Preparation:

  • With a cheese grater, grate the outer skins of the oranges and lemons (larger pieces of “zest” will look prettier in the final glaze).
  • Then juice the oranges and the lemons. (Don’t throw away the juiced lemons – they’ll still be useful.)
  • In a large stockpot combine the water, sugar, honey, citrus juices and zests, and vanilla over medium-high heat and bring to a boil, stirring until the sugar is dissolved.
  • While the poaching liquid is heating, peel the pears, leaving the stem intact. Rub the pears with the juiced lemon pieces after peeling each one to keep them from oxidizing and discoloring. Cut a small slice off the bottom of each pear so they can sit upright.
  • When the poaching liquid comes to a boil and the sugar is dissolved, add the pears and simmer, covered, until tender. If you keep the pears whole, this will take approximately 30-40 minutes for large, fairly firm pears. The pears may float up, so every now and then, move them around so all of the pear gets some time in the poaching liquid.
  • While the pears are poaching, in a small mixing bowl combine the Gorgonzola, mascarpone cheese, honey and salt and pepper and mix until thoroughly combined. Taste the mixture and feel free to add more mascarpone and honey if you’d like it to be a bit richer. Transfer the cheese mixture to a pastry bag fitted with a plain tip (or a plastic bag with the corner cut off).
  • When the pears are tender, use a slotted spoon to carefully remove them from the poaching liquid and transfer to a plate. Allow to cool standing upright. Remove the apricots as well to a separate dish. Return the poaching liquid to a boil and cook until liquid has reduced to a syrup. This can take quite a while – possibly up to an hour.
  • Set syrup aside in a small bowl or until cooled to room temperature.
  • Once the pears have cooled, use a melon baller to carefully remove the inner core of the pears, working from the bottom of the pears, and being careful to not puncture the sides or top of the pears. Ideally no seeds or rough core will remain.
  • When you are ready to assemble your dessert plates, put each pear on a plate and one of the poached apricots near it. Pipe the Gorgonzola cream in a design around the pear and apricot. Top the cream with a few almond slivers. Spoon a bit of the glaze over the pear. This is not a sticky sweet dessert, but if you’d like it to be sweeter, use more glaze.
  • Alternatively, you can pipe the Gorgonzola cream into the cavity of the pears.
  • Serve at room temperature with your favorite Sauternes or other white dessert wine.

Wine Suggestions: This recipe was designed as a pairing for a young Sauternes with citrus flavors and it worked well. When pairing wine with dessert, it’s best if your wine is sweeter than your dessert. This turned out to be a fairly light, not-to-sweet dessert and the pairing worked well. The pear tasted fantastic with the contrast of the Gorgonzola cream, and the Sauternes was fantastic with that contrast too. We enjoyed this with a 2007 Carmes de Rieussec, Sauternes.


Tabouli

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Tabouli

Time: Approximately 30 minutes of active time; 2.5 hours from start to finish.

Serves: 4-6 as a side dish

Inspired by: My love for Mediterranean flavors. I don’t even remember having Tabouli as a child with any of my Armenian relatives, but I have had it made by Lebanese friends. There are so many different variations on this dish. I prefer a nearly equal ratio of parsley to bulgur (many recipes are mainly bulgur and just a little parsley). This is the recipe I’ve refined and ended up with after trying various versions over the years – I love some of the subtle flavor nuances. I also usually add cucumber to give it a bit of crunch.

Ingredients – Salad:

  • 1/2 cup dry bulgur wheat
  • 1 1/2 cups minced parsley (or just use one large bunch of parsley)
  • 1/4 cup minced mint leaves
  • 2 tomatoes, diced
  • 1/2 cup diced persian cucumber (optional)
  • 1/4 cup chopped green onion (optional)

Ingredients – Dressing:

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt (kosher if you have it)
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed (optional)
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Preparation:

  • Boil 3-4 cups of water. When it reaches a boil, add the bulgur, remove from heat, and let stand for 45 minutes. Once bulgur is soft, drain excess water and cool to room temperature.
  • Toss bulgur with parsley, mint, tomatoes and optional cucumber and green onions.
  • Separately, whisk the olive oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper, cinnamon and crushed garlic.
  • Pour the dressing over the salad and toss until well coated. If you plan to refrigerate before serving, hold off on putting the tomato in until serving as tomatoes lose flavor in the refrigerator.

Creamy Mushroom Soup

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Time: 40-45 minutes

Serves: 8-12

Inspired by: I’ve always loved creamy mushroom soup and have thought about trying to make it, but prefer not to eat soups with a lot of cream. Once I tried my version of a healthy creamy zucchini soup that turned out well, I thought I’d use a similar approach to a mushroom soup – creamy without the cream! This turned out even better than I had thought it would. Wow! Yum! It’s amazing how much creamy texture yellow potatoes can add!

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon salted butter
  • 1 large white onion
  • 2 small to medium yellow potatoes
  • 2 pounds cremini mushrooms
  • 2 (14.5 oz) cans chicken broth (don’t use low fat or low salt – get the ones with all the flavor or make your own)
  • Approximately 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • Approximately 1.5 teaspoons salt
  • 2-4 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley for garnish

Preparation:

  • Wash the mushrooms and let them drain in a colander.
  • Wash, peel and dice the potato.
  • Pour the chicken broth into a medium sized soup pot and add the diced potatoes (the broth should cover the potato). Simmer for about 15 minutes until potato is soft.
  • While potato is cooking, slice the onion and sauté it on medium heat with 1 tablespoon olive oil until it’s well cooked and translucent.
  • Once the onion is cooked, add it to the chicken broth and potato.
  • Slice and dice the mushrooms. In the same pan, sauté the mushrooms on medium heat with 1 tablespoon butter, 1 tablespoon olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon of pepper until cooked through – about 5 minutes. Taste and add more salt if needed.
  • Remove 2 cups of the sautéed mushrooms and place in a bowl. Add the rest to the soup pot and cook for 1 more minute.
  • Using a cup or ladle, take about half the mixture from the soup pot, put it in a blender and puree – about 1 minute. Taste and add salt if needed and then pour into a large serving bowl. Repeat this with the rest of the mixture in the soup pot until it has all been pureed and salted to your liking. Add half of the reserved mushrooms to the soup and stir in.
  • Chop some fresh parsley.
  • Serve the soup into bowls, garnishing each with fresh parsley and the rest of the reserved sautéed mushroom slices.

Wine Suggestions: This would be fabulous with a Red Burgundy. Mushrooms and an earthy Pinot Noir are awesome! We drank this with a yummy older earthy Bordeaux last night and it was also a fantastic combination.


Spicy Shrimp – Pan Fried

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Spicy Shrimp - Pan Fried

Time: 5 -8 minutes

Serves: 2 – 4

Inspired by: Minimal ingredients in the kitchen and being so hungry that I want to make something yummy in minutes! These are great on salad, pasta and quinoa or just to nibble on their own. Normally I prefer not to cook during a party, but I hosted a party last night and it was so easy to make these while everyone was hanging around the kitchen because it just took minutes.

Ingredients:

Preparation: Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a cast iron skillet or saute pan. Once it is hot, add the shrimp. Sprinkle with the spice (any amount to your liking – a small amount goes a pretty long way) and cook for about 2 minutes on each side and serve.

Wine Suggestions: These are yummy with any off-dry white such as a Riesling or possibly a Viongier or Condrieu. They are also nice with a medium-bodied red with some nice fruitiness or spice such as a fairly ripe Spanish Rioja, Southern Rhone or Merlot.


Easy Chocolate Mousse

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Easy Chocolate Mouse

Easy Chocolate Mouse

Time: only 10 minutes to prepare plus 5 minutes to make the whipped cream; chill for 50 minutes or longer.

Serves: 10 very small espresso cups or 6 larger servings per above picture.

Inspired By: This is a Rachel Ray recipe. I was watching a show once that had her on at the end and she whipped these up in less than 5 minutes. I love easy so I had to try it. She calls these “Chocolate Cups with Whipped Cream”. I think they are very chocolate mouse-like although perhaps a bit denser/richer. One of these days I’m going to try this with white chocolate or even butterscotch chips – I’d probably use a bit of amaretto when I do that.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup semi sweet chips
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2 tablespoons booze; amaretto, Kahlua, dark rum, hazelnut liqueur or whatever sounds good – I prefer Kahlua
  • 2/3 cup boiling milk
  • Whipping cream (plus a little sugar and vanilla to add in when whipping it)
  • Four mint leaves

Preparation:

  • Put your milk in a small pan on the stovetop and heat to a boil.
  • Put first five ingredients into a blender. Blend well – about 1 minute. Then stream in the boiling milk and blend until smooth – about 1 minute. The hot milk will cook the egg.
  • Pour into cappuccino or espresso cups and refrigerate for 50 minutes (or more – you can make these hours ahead, or even a day ahead).
  • Whip the cream with some sugar and vanilla (usually only 2-3 minutes).
  • Chill for 50 minutes. Serve with a dollop of whipped cream and mint sprig.

Notes: These are very rich so I think they are even better with strawberries. Dip the strawberries into the chocolate – yum!!

Wine Suggestions: I would skip the wine – these are so rich, but I’ll add the same notes here I included with the chewy cherry brownies. I often hear people say they like red wine and chocolate. I can see how this might work in some unique cases of overripe, almost sweet wines, but I prefer my wine to be a bit sweeter than my dessert. I think a late harvest zinfandel or a tawny port could be awesome with chocolate, and fortified fruity wines like Banyules and Ruby Ports typically have cocoa or chocolate in the nose, as well as other berry fruits like cherry and raspberry and are classic companions to chocolate.


Seared Ahi Salad with Wasabi-Ginger Vinaigrette

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Time: 20-30 minutes

Serves: 2-4

Inspired by: My Armenian “sister” Michelle Babayan, who is a phenomenal personal chef and caterer. Michelle’s Ahi (Yellowfin Tuna) salad with a creamy wasabi dressing is to die for, and the 18 spice blend she uses to coat the Ahi before searing is amazing with fabulous flavors to bring out the flavors of the fish without being spicy hot and overwhelming the fish.  I love her spice blend on the Ahi and have now found that I love mine too!  When I use mine, I use it more like a rub – because it’s much spicier than hers. I like it to add beautiful flavor, but not overwhelm the fish. What’s interesting is that when I use my blend, I find that it tastes a lot different than when I use it in other dishes. It’s very chameleon-like! I really love both spices with this salad. This is one of my favorite meals.

Ingredients – Dressing:

  • 1 1/2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
  • 1/8 cup lime juice
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 2 teaspoons wasabi (I get it freshly prepared at the sushi counter at whole foods)
  • 2 teaspoons minced ginger
  • 1-2 tablespoons olive oil

Ingredients – Salad:

  • 1 pound sushi grade or searing grade Ahi tuna
  • 4 tablespoons Michelle’s 18 spice blend or 1-2 tablespoons Spice it Up …by Karen™
  • Mixed greens or watercress
  • Papaya or mango – cut into small pieces
  • English cucumber – sliced
  • Red radish – sliced (optional)
  • Red pepper – sliced (optional)

Preparation:

  • Mix all of the dressing ingredients in a shaker.
  • Put the salad ingredients in a large bowl.
  • Rub olive oil on the Ahi and coat it with the 18 spice blend, or give it a good rub with my spice blend.
  • Heat a skillet to sear the fish (a cast iron skillet is best as it gets very hot) – add a tablespoon of olive oil, and then sear just a couple of minutes on each side – it should get crispy on the outside but not cooked through.
  • Slice the Ahi quickly so it doesn’t continue to cook – 1/4 to 1/8 inch slices.
  • Toss the salad with the dressing (but reserve a bit of it).
  • Lay the Ahi over the salad and then drizzle it some dressing over it.

Notes: I also love charred red pepper in the salad – especially when I want a warmer salad. You can cook that on one side of the skillet and the fish on the other  – but start it about 5 minutes before the fish. Spread that over the top of the salad along with the Ahi.

Wine Suggestions: My favorite with this salad is a California Pinot Noir or a Red Burgundy. I’ve also had it with a light Chinon that was really yummy. I’ve also found that when using my spice blend, it’s really nice with a slightly bigger red such as a Grenache/Syrah or a Rioja.


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