Plum brandy update and poached pears

The long days at work are far from over which leaves very little time for baking and cooking.  Thankfully I have a recipe working away even while I'm not at home.  My plum brandy is happily marinating away in the corner of my dining room, getting sweeter and fruitier every day.  I opened up the jar the other day to taste my progress and, what a difference!  The almost harsh brandy taste is almost completely gone.  It now tastes like delicious, sweet, spicy, smooth, and fruity brandy.  All that after only a few weeks!  I can only imagine what this will taste like in December (by which time I'm sure I'll have decided I have waited long enough and will want a real taste).  Some of the plums have kind of lost their color which can only mean that they are not only graciously giving their flavor to the brandy but also donated their beautiful purple color.


Along with my other farmers' market purchases I also bought pears.  If you give me an apple and a pear I will usually reach for the apple.  For some reason the crispy crunch you get from an apple is simply more satisfying to me than the grainy nature of a pear.  One way I do like pears though, and I feel almost silly saying this, is poached in wine.  After all, who wouldn't agree with me on that one?  I was watching a show called French Food at Home about a woman who "quit the corporate life and moved to Paris to learn how to cook" (how lovely...) and watched her make an incredibly simple poached pear recipe that I just had to try.  This recipe takes a while but couldn't be easier.  Not only its flavors completely embody fall and makes you look like an accomplished cook, it fill your house or apartment with an amazing mulled wine smell.
Poached Pears in Wine
from French Food at Home on Cooking Channel
(4) Bosc pears
(1) bottle of red wine
1/2 cup of honey


Pick 4 pears (or like in my case 3) that are relatively firm.  You don't want them falling apart while cooking in the wine.  Peel them but keep the stems on.
Pour the bottle of red wine you have selected into an oven proof baking dish that has a cover on it.  Le Creuset pots are perfect for this.  Turn the heat of your stove onto medium and mix in the honey and let it melt into the wine.  I used less than 1/2 a cup, more like 1/4 cup.  I don't love really sweet desserts and figured the pears would have plenty of sugar.  (NOTE: here you could add spices like cinnamon sticks, or star anise, a vanilla bean maybe?)  Add your peeled pears.  The wine should only cover them about half way.  That's OK.  You will turn them every hour or so, so they absorb the wine equally and evenly.
Turn the heat up until the wine starts to boil.
Put the pot, with the lid/cover on, into your oven, set at 250 degrees.  The temperature is very low but you will be cooking the pears for anywhere from 3-5 hours so you don't want it too hot.
I cooked mine for 3 hours, turning the pears every hour.  By the time they were done their naked white bodies had turned a beautiful burgundy red.
Remove the pears and put the pot of wine back on the stove.  Turn the heat up to high and let the mixture boil until it had reduced by more than half.  It should be a dark red syrup when you are done.
Drizzle it over the pears and enjoy.


The sweet syrupy wine is just so incredibly good.  I have some leftover and I am trying to figure out what else I could drizzle it on because throwing it away seems like a shame.  Any ideas?


Farmers' Market and Comfort Food

I am in serious need of comfort food.  October is one of the busiest months for me at the restaurant.  Everyone who was away for the summer, relaxing on their decks or patios with friends, are now booking dinner at the restaurant.  Companies that had vacated DC for the summer are back at work and throwing cocktail parties and business dinners.  It's as if Washingtonians feel bad for deserted us during July and August and feel like they need to make it up to us.  Great for business but utterly exhausting.  After an unavoidably hard week I needed comfort food and fast - something warm and satisfying. -something that reflects the season.  I headed out to the farmers' market to get inspired.
Grape kiwis? Never heard of them.  They kind of smelled like kiwis.  So cute!  You apparently eat them whole, no peeling necessary.
I buy my eggs from this woman every Sunday.  I'm not sure if I can really taste the difference between these and the ones you would get at the store but appart from it being more fun I just like thinking that my eggs came from happy chickens on her farm.  She reuses the egg cartons too.
Twin Springs is my go-to fruits and vegetable stand.  I used to go to their Bethesda location on Saturdays when I lived there.  I feel a sense of loyalty to them and their prices are very reasonable.
I guess other people like them too!
It's dahlia season!
How beautiful are these variegated beans and eggplant
I didn't know you could grow ginger this far north.  I assumed it was a tropical plant.  Wrong again!
OK these aren't from the farmers' market.  They were hanging off the plant growing in front of my building but it was so colorful I thought I'd take a picture!  When did we decide that fall colors were represented by fall foliage?  The farmers market is bursting with pinks and purples and bright greens!
I ended up coming home with butternut squash, a LOT of apples, a few pairs, apple cider and some brussels sprouts.  Now what to make.....?
When it comes to comfort I think is stews and soups.  Since it was in the 70s this week (the last warm spell of the year I'm sure) I wasn't quite ready for a stew so I went with soup.  Butternut squash and apples are a pretty classic combination for soup.  I've been craving pizza from Delancey ever since I had it Seattle this summer.  The owner of the restaurant started out writing a food blog so I thought I'd check it out for a recipe.  Success!

Butternut Squash and Apple Soup
adapted from Orangette

¼ cup olive oil ( I used just a couple tablespoons)
1 2-lb butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 2-inch pieces (about 4 cups)
2 flavorful apples, preferably Gala, peeled, cored, and cut into 2-inch pieces (about 2 cups)- ( used 3 apples.  They just looked so good.)
1 large onion, peeled and coarsely chopped (about 1 cup) ( I'm sure she was calling for a white onion but I used a red onion for its sweetness and color)
¾ tsp curry powder ( I didn't have curry powder so I used some cumin and paprika instead)
¾ tsp ground mace ( I used nutmeg which is pretty close)
½ tsp ground cardamom
1 cup good-quality apple cider (I had some from the farmers' market)
1 quart chicken stock (vegetable works fine as well) ( I used vegetable bouillon cubes. I know I should have my own stock... if I just had the time to make it)
I wanted to add a little spice so a I added a few pinches of Espelette pepper.  It's a mild chili pepper flake cultivated in France.  It adds just enough spice to give the soup a little kick without making it really spicy.

Peel and cut the butternut squash and apples (that I both bought at the farmers' market!  Market use #1!!) into cubes and add them to a large pot along with the onion. "Saute" them, more like steam them, until the onion starts to turn translucent.  Add the spices, the cider  (that I bought at the market!  Use #2!!!) and the vegetable stock and cook away, about 40 minutes, until the squash is nice and tender.  Honestly that's about it.  That's what's great about soups.  Once you do all the chopping it's really up to the pot and heat to do their job and meld all the ingredients.
Carefully ladle the cooked vegetables and broth into a food processor or blender and pulse it until it becomes smooth.  Remember to do this in small batches because hot liquids will create pressure in the blender and rise to the top quickly.
When you are ready to eat it you could put a little dollop of creme fraiche or fromage blanc in the middle or eat it as it is. Yum.


Food, for me, can really wipe away whatever it was that I was thinking about or worrying about.  The act of chopping and cutting and measuring and stirring relaxes me and eating the final product is so satisfying.  This easy soup was just what I needed after my long week.  One day off and on to the next one!

Last Sunday I tried to make chocolate caramels from a cookbook my Italian chef friends gave me...and failed miserably.  It was probably because the instructions were in Italian.  I can understand a good 50% of what I hear and read but 50% just doesn't cut it when it comes to baking and confectionaries.  Out of failure comes success though.  I had a lot of leftover cream so I made butter!

I started out by shaking the cream in an empty 1/2 gallon milk jug.  By the time it got to whipped cream consistency it really got too hard for me to shake.  I must be seriously lacking in upper body muscle.  I transferred my whipped cream to the mixer and let it finish the job.

Butter in my butter bell for my morning toast this week