10.19.12 Room for Dessert

Bowl 790 xxx
photos by gluttonforlife
Sugar brings me down. It causes inflammation which is basically the root of all evil. Too much of it (which is almost any at all) and I become tired, my face is more prone to break out and those little aches and pains creep in. It's insidious because you may not make the connection between that Snickers bar and the way you're feeling. It gets worse, though. Did you know that the consumption of refined sugar is now definitively linked to obesity, type II diabetes, hypertension and heart disease? (Learn more here.) Sweets are a limited commodity in our house and, when we do have them, I try to substitute honey, maple syrup or rapadura for the white processed stuff. And I focus on the incredible abundance of delicious fruits designed by nature to satisfy a sweet tooth. Are you turning away in disgust at the thought of a tangerine supplanting an Oreo in your heart? Stick with me. Because eating for health does not require a Dranconian regimen, merely the desire to become interested in tastes and treats that are both delicious and good for you. Cookies, muffins, cupcakes, tarts, donuts and pies are something of a national obsession, and they play no small role in the alarming increase of the aforementioned ailments. I'm actually kind of shocked by how many popular blogs and cookbooks are devoted to recipes for greasy, gooey treats. But I'd be lying if I said I never indulged. I just prefer to do it my way.
Pear 790 xxx
a perfect pear

Take, for example, this gorgeous little Seckel pear. Next to one of those buttercream-frosted cupcakes from Magnolia bakery (I will never, ever understand what people are lining up for) it shines as a paragon of pure, simple sweetness. Seckels are thought by some to be the only truly American pear, descended from a wild seedling found near Philadelphia in the late 17th century. Quite a pedigree for this short, tubby fruit that’s small enough to preserve whole or serve cut in half as a garnish. They are delicious eaten out of hand with perhaps a tender chunk of young Manchego, but they’re also firm enough to withstand cooking. A Seckel's delicate flavor holds up beautifully to a quick poaching in fruity red wine.

Acidulated 790 xxx
hold steady

Seckels' smooth skin is olive green with a glossy red blush. The woody stem should be attached, or decay will quickly set in where the interior is exposed. These pears are best on the firm side, so gently probe around the neck for a very slight yield. No pinching, as they bruise easily! Prepare them for poaching by peeling them, leaving the stems intact if possible, and hold in acidulated water (just water with a little lemon juice) so they do not begin to darken.

Poaching 790 xxx
bathing beauties
I poached these gently in wine, orange juice and pomegranate molasses, with a bit of the orange zest and some star anise and cardamom to intensify the flavor. Baste them as they cook, so they are uniformly colored all over. They will also soak up more of the sauce and its color if you store them in the fridge. Incidentally, you can try this recipe with any number of fruits, including lady apples (or big ones), fresh or dried figs, plums, etc.
Serving 790 xxx
a perfect pair
The pears cook quickly and are done when the tip of a sharp knife slides in easily. Remove them to a plate and take a few minutes to reduce the wine, adding some honey to create a thick, sweet syrup. Served warm or cold on a smear of creamy Greek yogurt, they make a wholly satisfying dessert (or breakfast) that is both simple and sophisticated. Not really something you can say for a salted-caramel-bacon-glazed donut.

Pears Poached in Red Wine

serves 4
  • — 8 Seckel pears
  • — 1 1/2 cups fruity red wine
  • juice of 1 orange and its peel in wide strips
  • — 2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses
  • — 3 cardamom pods
  • — 3 whole star anise
  • — 1/4 cup honey

Squeeze half a lemon into a medium-sized bowl of fresh water. Peel pears, keeping stems intact, and drop them in acidulated water as you go. Toss peel in your compost bucket.

Combine red wine, orange juice and pomegranate molasses in a medium saucepan and stir together over medium heat until well combined. Add pears, orange zest and spices and lower heat to a simmer. Poach pears until they are easily pierced with the tip of a sharp knife, about 15 minutes.

Gently remove pears and set in a shallow bowl or small casserole. Stir honey into poaching liquid and turn heat to high. Reduce liquid by half, stirring occasionally; this should take about 15 minutes. Cool slightly and strain out spices if desired before pouring over pears.

Serve with a dollop of Greek yogurt or crème fraîche or a pour of heavy cream.

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Hi Laura, Thank you for this delicious recipe which will surely be enjoyed in my home this weekend. I have to fully agree with you, my favorite indulgences are those that come from whole foods, made at home and feel good not only as I enjoy them, but afterwards as well. Wishing you a wonderful, Fall weekend. Stefanie
Stefanie on October 19, 2012 at 6:56 pm —
Yes, feeling good afterwards—in body and soul—is so much better! xo
laura on October 19, 2012 at 10:48 pm —
I admit it. I'm hooked, addicted, and crave sugar. It's a problem, as you point out, with our culture. But I'm trying to migrate away from the granulated white stuff, and frankly to stay away from blogs that focus so many recipes on it. Some weeks I do better than others. But I'm trying to find ( and develop on my own) recipes that star fruits in all their glory without any pumping up by granulated sugar. I'm playing with honey of course, various kinds of nectar, and using fruit juices. I have some brown rice syrup, but haven't dug into it yet. This looks like a wonderful recipe - I love seckel pears. They're so sweet looking in their diminutive form. I'll definitely be making this. Thanks!
The Wimpy Vegetarian on October 21, 2012 at 1:54 am —
Yeah, yeah, yeah. One battle at a time, please. :-)
The Wimpy Vegetarian on October 23, 2012 at 12:55 am —
I look forward to what you'll come up with, Susan. And, while you're at it, reconsider white flour as well...
laura on October 21, 2012 at 9:00 am —
Now I understand your comment! I agree with you wholeheartedly. And though I do focus on gf baked goods, I personally don't eat much sugar at all (and I use organic fair trade unbleached only). I was a professional baker for many years, and I'm now baking again, only GF and a bit more healthy (I cut sugar in recipes where ever I can) You are right that over sweet baked goods are a national obsession.. and I do not understand the cupcake craze either, frosting and fondant are disgusting (in my opinion) give me a bourbon and maple syrup glaze. I welcome any suggestions you have as to using rapadura in gf baking (I have over head costs to consider too). THANK YOU for all your wonderful recipes and photos! I love reading your blog. You are inspirational!
tamika on October 22, 2012 at 11:07 am —
Tamika, I had no idea ingredients were regulated that way! Is that about "safety"? Seems like we should try to do something about it. I feel your pain. And the whole agave thing, so disappointing. I had a source for "raw" (heated below 116 degrees) blue agave but it seems to have dried up...
laura on October 23, 2012 at 10:23 pm —
Thanks, Tamika—right back at you! I look forward to hearing what YOU have to say about baking with rapadura (and honey and maple syrup and sorghum and brown rice syrup), since you're definitely more the expert. Aside from the odd pumpkin loaf or gf biscotti, I try to reserve baking for special occasions, but I like to have an arsenal of recipes at the ready. xo
laura on October 22, 2012 at 11:15 am —
I wanted to mention part of my cottage business is selling jam (you know this) at farmer's mkts and such. NYS ag and mkts oversees me, I am only allowed to make high acid fruit jams and jellies with SUGAR no honey, no maple, nothing else. Just sugar. It blows my mind that the US is so dependent on sugar! Our natural resources are honey and maple. Anyway, pardon my rant. (Then there was the woman who asked if I made jam with agave syrup because she doesn't eat anything processed. I did not laugh, until she walked away. Agave is processed just like corn syrup. We've been duped.) OK, done. xo
tamika on October 23, 2012 at 7:17 pm —