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I clipped two dessert recipes from the November 1982 issue of Chicago Magazine, “Best of Dines, Worst of Dines.” Four decades later, they are still in my recipe file. One is complex and very rich, while the other is true simplicity and light in both preparation time and calories. I further simplified the simple recipe to universal acclaim this past week. For Thanksgiving, I will prepare a cranberry relish, made from scratch, that is both flavorful and ridiculously healthy. I suspect I will also make cornbread muffins, relatively healthier than general-purpose flour breads. What tasty, tempting recipes have you enjoyed with Thanksgiving and Christmas feasts and parties?
When I first carried the two restaurant dessert recipes away from school in Chicago, I took the first occasion to wow home audiences. The first was a flourless chocolate cake, that requires a springform pan. This was gluten-free before gluten-free was a thing. The volume of the cake is created by six egg whites beaten stiff. The substance comes from finely chopped nuts. The chocolate is semisweet. For garnish, either dust with powdered sugar (perhaps with a pattern/stencil) or follow the original recipe for another level of chocolate ganache. If you like chocolate, if you really like chocolate, you will love this.
The other recipe, even in its original form, is far simpler, far quicker, and far lighter. Pears, poached, with fresh berries, reduced to a sauce over low heat, that is all. Now the details.
Poached pears with berry reduction, full-up version:
From your tree or market, select enough pears to serve one per person. The riper, the quicker they will poach, more on this later. Pick or buy about six ounces of berries razz, black, or even straw. Pull out two pots, one deep enough to hold the pears upright, the other a saucepan for the berries.
Fill the large pot with water deep enough to cover the pears, standing up. Add a vanilla bean or about one teaspoon of vanilla extract. Add sugar. Add the juice of one lemon. Turn up the burner to bring the pot to a simmer.
Simpler version: leave out the sugar and lemon. Caution: the lemon is there to keep the pears from browning if not served promptly. Plan accordingly
Put the berries in a sauce pan and turn up the burner to low or medium.
Pair the pears. I recommend Anjou pears for their shape, but any pear will work. Cut off the bottoms so the pears will sit upright on plates or in flat-bottomed bowls. Place pears in the simmering water, set timer for 5 minutes.
Start stirring the berries in the sauce pan. They will start falling apart. Just adding low heat to berries causes them to start softening, so stirring causes them to reduce into a sauce. If you must, you can add sugar. If you are finicky, you might strain the sauce. However, I recommend just stirring until you have a sauce, not straining out any of the berries.
After five minutes, start testing the pears with a sharp knife. If soft, lift out and transfer to an ice bath. Repeat until all are in the ice bath.
Assemble by placing a pear on a dessert plate or in a shallow bowl, then drizzling the berry sauce over the pears.
Look, pears are deliciously juicy in their own right. Why add sugar? The lemon is only there to keep the paired pears from turning brown, a problem you will not have until you either leave them sitting exposed to air for some time or leave them in water for even longer. Put this together shortly before serving and you need not add lemon or sugar.
Likewise, why add sweetener to berries? The berries, even if slightly tart, will blend with the sweetness of the pear on your tongue. See gilding lilies. As a bonus, your simple, elegant dessert is one or two servings of fruit.
Cranberry apple relish:
Reject the gelatinous glop. Go natural. Here is a refreshing, tasty, healthy cranberry relish. If you have extra, it is good enough to freeze and serve on other occasions than Thanksgiving. Stand by for dietary variants:
Rinse one package (about 12 ounces) fresh cranberries. Sort out any stems and such.
Chop one apple, your choice.
Put the cranberries and apple in a food processor with blade attachment.
Add 4 teaspoons of brown sugar. If you are avoiding added sugar, you can add the equivalent sugar free sweetener and a couple drops of maple flavored extract.
Add eight ounces of white grape juice or toss in the equivalent in green grapes.
Process into a finely chopped but not quite pureed relish.
Chill and serve. You can freeze this for some time, so might run a large batch now, checking the flavor and adjusting, perhaps with seasonal spices, then thawing and serving around Christmas as well. This is also a good seasonal topping with oatmeal.
Festive Cornbread muffins:
This is a modification of the Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book recipe, from my original red and white checked 1989 edition. In that cookbook, corn muffins are a variant on the basic muffin recipe. I modify with mild chili or green bell peppers finely diced, and I might throw in a bit of grated carrot or other root vegetable. This Thanksgiving, I finely diced half a green bell pepper and a radish (for a hint of peppery spice). I slim the recipe slightly with both the vegetables and skim milk.
I got 24 mini muffins (12 regular size muffins) and a small cornbread cake (about 6×6 and thin). The cooking time with these smaller muffins and the cornbread cake was only 17 minutes here at 2,000 feet above sea level.
Preheat the oven to 400°F
Whisk dry ingredients together:
1 cup flour
3/4 cup yellow corn meal
1/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
Mix wet ingredients together:
3/4 cup milk
1/4 cup oil
half a green bell pepper finely diced
a radish finely diced
Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, stirring so they are well combined.
Spoon into greased but not lined muffin pan. If using a mini muffin pan, expect faster baking. So, 20 minutes regular size, 16-18 minutes mini-muffin.
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