Jael here -- I cannot tell you how SUPER excited I am to have a guest post on the Simmer blog, and most importantly, THIS guest: my mother Lynnea. She's an inspiring woman, an impressive project manager (see below), and a really phenomenal cook. I'm thrilled to be able to have her speak to you directly with her own words and pictures about a recent charity dinner, and a recipe you'll want to file away for next Christmas -- if you can wait that long...
In our home the Christmas tree always stayed up until at least January 6, which we referred to as Ukrainian Christmas in honor of my immigrant grandparents who would have followed the Julian calendar. Even by today’s calendar, it makes sense when you realize that December 25th is really just the first day of Christmas. You can extend the season by celebrating the 12 days of Christmas and then Epiphany, when the Magi are said to have brought gifts to the Christ Child. (Besides, it gives us a reason to postpone putting the decorations away.)
This year I used the season as an occasion to organize a fund-raising dinner to help support the programs and ministries of our church. Using The 12 Days of Christmas song as a theme, our team of eight prepared a 12-course meal served at a beautiful neighborhood bed & breakfast. We began with 12 Drummers Drumming -- coconut-crusted wild-caught Alaskan salmon “drumsticks” served with a pineapple yogurt dipping sauce -- and ended with A Partridge in a Pear Tree, a deconstructed roasted pear tarte tatin with ricotta almond gelato.
The fun part was planning the menu around the theme; the challenge was coordination and timing. One thing that could be made a couple of weeks ahead was the pastry for the deconstructed tart, which I froze and reheated briefly before serving.
My favorite recipe for pastry crust is the one my mother makes, from an old Betty Crocker recipe. It uses milk and oil and can always be pressed together if you have trouble rolling it out. For eight small tart shells, add about ½ teaspoon of salt to a cup of all purpose flour. Pour 2 T. vegetable oil and 1 T. milk into a cup (don’t stir). Pour all at once into the flour and stir with a fork. I find I have better luck if I’m a little generous with the liquids. It should look like this:
The gelato was made a few days ahead. I began with a recipe for Watermelon Sundae from the July 2006 Gourmet — skipping the whole watermelon part, of course. I left out the heavy cream and used half & half instead of whole milk, subbed Cointreau and Amaretto for the rum, used orange zest instead of lemon zest, subbed almond extract for the vanilla and added 1 tsp. orange extract. After freezing, I stirred in 1/3 cup chilled, sliced, toasted almonds.
For the roasted pears, start with two very firm Anjous; peel, cut in half, scoop out seeds with melon-baller, cut in half again. Roll quartered pears in powdered sugar and pan fry in butter, preferably in an iron skillet, until beginning to brown. The heat will need to be quite high as the pears produce a lot of liquid. Try to brown on all three sides; tongs are very helpful. Remove from pan and cool until they can be handled.
Starting about ½ inch from the top of the pear, slice into thirds, keeping the top of the pear together, then fan out. Place fanned pears into aluminum pan and pour juices from skillet over them. The pears can be covered and refrigerated at this point for about 24 hours.
When ready to roast, pour Sauvignon Blanc about ¼ inch up the pan and put in hot oven. Roast until the liquid has reduced and caramelized, which will vary a lot depending on whether you have refrigerated the pears first and how much juice they have released. Ours took about 30 minutes. When it looks like this, add a splash of Cointreau:
Place a pear with the caramelized juice on a plate, add a scoop of gelato, lean a warm tart crust wing on top and finish with a drizzle of commercial caramel topping that has been thinned with some butterscotch schnapps.
Serve to your true love, yourself, and six good friends.