Thursday, 5 April 2012
Sometimes the plate is empty. Sometimes it feels like you've got nothing left to give.
The last few weeks have been a wild tumble of brilliant and bad news, huge life decisions, multiple lifelong medical diagnoses and many hours at the doctors, almost constant house guests - all in the midst of plenty of work. Last night I got back from a 38hr round trip to the UK. It's been bone-achingly exhausting.
On Saturday this blog turned three. I had this post planned - the dish was made, photographed and eaten. I wanted to write something cheery and celebratory. I typed and typed but I couldn't find the words.
Usually the kitchen is a solace - a calming, healing environment. At the moment I'm finding cooking stressful. Hopefully this will ease as we settle into our new lives, irrevocably changed by these past few weeks. The horizon is very bright - but different.
The many hours of journeying in the past two days were useful. I had time to just sit and think. Process. To mourn what is lost and get excited about the new. To make lists, imagine how things will work out. To adjust to change.
Though blogging is usually something I really enjoy and find rewarding, sometimes it can be frustrating and dispiriting. An exciting new recipe doesn't work. Testing takes time, ingredients you might not have. You get an iffy comment that makes your heart sink. It's ok to acknowledge that.
But when I look back over these three years to the things I've learnt, the people I've met, the opportunities that have arisen, I'm amazed. Every time I've got frustrated and lost heart but not quit I've learnt something - even if it's just that I can keep going and that it is worth it.
So here is a true 'poires au chocolat' recipe for everybody - as healthy as I get and gluten and dairy free.
The sweetness of the pears is tempered by the lemon and the spices. The sauce still feels creamy and rich despite being made with the poaching juices.
You can jazz it up with ice cream - as in the classic French recipe - or leave it plain. I think I prefer it simple.
Poires Belle Helene
(a Poires au Chocolat original, based on the classic French dessert)
4 small pears - I used conference
water to cover (approx 2 ltrs)
2 strips of lemon zest + juice of whole lemon
1 cm fresh ginger, cut into 2 rounds
2-3 whole cloves
4 cardamon pods
1/2 stick of cinnamon, crushed
1/2 vanilla pod, split
1 tsp mild runny honey
100g dark chocolate (70%)
vanilla ice cream to serve (optional)
Select your pears carefully - though a few scratches won't matter, you don't want them to be badly bruised. They should still be firm to the touch - any riper and they'll disintegrate.
Fill a big pan with water and add the lemon zest, lemon juice, ginger, cloves, cardamon, cinnamon and vanilla pod. Fold a square of baking paper bigger than the pan into 2, then 4, then 8. Place the pointy tip in the middle of the pan and cut the bottom off so that it fits into the pan. Cut a cm or so off the pointy tip then unfold - it should look like a doughnut with a tiny hole in the middle. This is your cartouche.
Bring the water up to a boil then reduce to a gentle simmer. While the water is heating up, prepare the pears. Use your peeler/a corer/a knife to take out the bottom crown and the seeds inside - leave the stem. Peel the pears from the stem down in strips (this keeps the pretty shape). As you peel, dip them into the lemony water to reduce browning. Immerse in the simmering water. Repeat with the others. You need to work fairly quickly so the cooking time isn't staggered- if you'd rather go slowly (or have increased the number of pears), get a bowl of cold water and add some more lemon and leave them in there until you're ready to add them to the pan.
Top the water with the cartouche (so the pears don't poke out of the water and brown). Leave on a gentle simmer for roughly 15 minutes or until the pear gives to a toothpick but still firmly keeps shape. Remove the pears to a bowl then tip some of the water in so they're covered. Leave to cool while you make the sauce (if you're making them ahead, keep in the fridge once cool then reheat gently so they're not icy cold).
Chop the chocolate into small chunks and place into a medium bowl. Strain the remaining poaching water into a jug and measure out 150ml. Return to the pan and add the honey. Reduce by half over high heat - you can check it is about 75ml by pouring it back into the measuring jug. Leave to cool for a minute (it'll be boiling hot and would scorch the chocolate - but don't let it cool too far), then pour over the chocolate. Leave for a few minutes then whisk until smooth. Leave to thicken and cool for 10 minutes or so.
When you're ready to serve, remove the pears from the poaching liquid. Cut a slither off the bottom of each one so that it has a flat surface to stand on. Serve with the chocolate sauce in a jug and an optional scoop of ice cream.