Vanilla, pears, vanilla, pears… and cake!

My garden is still under 2 feet of snow. The last frost date here is June 8. There is no point in even starting seeds indoors yet, but my fingers are twitching to get into the garden and start digging around in there. How are you doing, little worms? Are you still there? Garlic, will you grow? I think I will go uncover you, poor little things….

In the meantime, I am still on a mega pear kick. Which keeps me somewhat content as the winter stretches on… and on… and on. Pears bring such a sweet, delicate, subtle flavour, and never as much as when they are caramelized (I know, you’ve heard it before).

Also, I am on a mega vanilla kick, having procured 60 vanilla beans on eBay for the paltry sum of 2.00$ plus shipping. You, too, can buy ludicrous amounts of vanilla on eBay for paltry sums. Some of it is great, some is a bit dry and dessicated, but what’s great is that I can use vanilla in EVERYTHING without renegotiating my mortgage. Vanilla, pear, vanilla, pear. Definitely topping chocolate-peanutbutter and chocolate-mint AND salt-vinegar on the flavour combinations hotlist.

Elsie, too, is enamoured. Her new favourite food is ricotta with pear-vanilla sauce (her palate is very cultivated, I’m pleased to boast). She can’t get enough. When the grocery money comes in, I’m gonna make a batch of ricotta (another use for buttermilk, P & Sari). Recipe = mix ricotta with the pear-vanilla sauce you made after reading this.

So in homage (if you are Jian Gomeshi, you pronounce it hommage, à la français, even if you are speaking English to Anglophones) to the change of seasons, and to tide you over till your radishes come up next week (I don’t want to hear about it, by the way), I hereby present my Vanilla-Pear Upside-Down Cake, inspired by the vanilla roasted pears on SmittenKitchen and Cook’s Illustrated‘s Apple Upside Down cake (Sept-Oct 2009).

Vanilla-Pear Upside-Down Cake

You will need: Either a 9″ round cake pan or an 8″ square cake pan.

A nice, but not necessary, addition is a sploosh of Calvados, Poire Williams, or other brandy or cognac.

Pears:

3 pears (any kind, but I like Bosc), peeled, cored, and cut into 1/2″ thick slices

1/2 vanilla bean

1/2 cup white sugar

1/2 lemon – juice of

2 tbsp unsalted butter, cut into little chunks

1. Preheat oven to 375 F and generously and unabashedly butter your cake pan.

2. Slice the vanilla bean down its length, scrape the vanilla seeds into the sugar (a small spoon or blunt ended butterknife are good tools for this job), and mix till all the vanilla is distributed throughout the sugar. I find shaking it in a jar is very effective.

3. Fill pan with pears, toss with lemon juice and vanilla-sugar, and then dot with the butter. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of water OR aforementioned booze over top. Cut the vanilla bean into 4 pieces and distribute them evenly throughout the pears.

4. Bake 30-ish minutes, basting and stirring occasionally till the liquid is reduced and the pears are cooked. If there is too much syrup you can always remove some with a turkey baster. You’ll find a use for it. Like, spooning it into your cakehole.  But there should be some syrup left in the pan.

the pears look like this; they caramelize more as the cake bakes.

When the pears are done, lower the heat to 350 F. Make the batter while the oven is cooling.

the cake batter:

 1 cup (5 oz) unbleached, AP flour

1 tbsp corn meal (optional, but good)

1 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

3/4 cup (5 1/4 oz) sugar

1/4 cup packed (1 3/4 oz) brown sugar

2 large eggs, at room temp if possible (you can warm them in a bowl of warm water)

6 tbsp (3/4 stick/ 3 oz) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly

1/2 cup sour cream or plain yogurt (or crème fraîche, ooh la la)

1 tsp vanilla extract

5. In a medium bowl, sift together the first 4 ingredients (in green). Set aside.

6. In a large bowl or the bowl of a mixer, beat the sugars with the eggs, till light yellow and creamy looking. Add to this the butter, sour cream, and vanilla and beat till smooth.

7. Add the flour mixture to the egg mixture and mix gently till blended.

8. Pour the batter over the pears (rearrange the pears if necessary to ensure full pear coverage). Put the pan in the oven and bake for around 35 min., or till a cake tester comes out clean.

9. Cool 10 minutes, then run a knife around the outside of the cake and invert onto a plate. Any pears that stick to the pan can be placed back onto the cake. Let cool completely and serve with vanilla ice cream, with more booze drizzled on top, or just on its own. Honestly, it doesn’t need anything else.

Enjoy! PS, my beet salad was featured on Foodpress.com‘s Today’s Specials! crazy! Eat your heart out, Famous Chef Recipe Stealer!

What do snot and baby food have in common?

They are both being produced in vast quantities in our household!!!

I’ve been skimming a few other blogs lately, mostly ones I’ve found surfing the comments on popular and well-read food blogs. The ones I tend to get to seem to all be written by “mommies” (ugh), who want to eat well, and juggle their careers with all of their wholesome aspirations for their families, and who also like to do crafts, and organize their tupperware drawers.  I guess there are a lot of us out there, who are trying to find a wider audience for our tales of motherhood. I assume they’re kind of like me – just writing stuff for the pleasure of writing, happy if someone likes it, maybe looking for a bit of an outlet after day-in-day-out of cookingdiapersdisheslaundrybaths-bedtimestoriespickinguptoysplayingstoredressingundressing…

I have been trying to stay away from the “mommy-blogger” club, but since that’s pretty much what I am (a mum) these days, it’s hard to avoid it completely. And I desperately want to share with you 2 things related to my current domestic activities: making baby food, and removing snot from the faces and cranial cavities of my daughters.

OK. So you’ll have to wait for the baby food part, cause I really need to talk about snot.

Over the holidays, both of my kids got colds. Frida (AKA The Demon) goes to daycare so she of course got sick first. Try as we might, we could not keep her far enough away from her 5-month-old sister Elsie. We’d watch in horror as the tendrils of snot would creep from Frida’s oozing nose to her sister’s wide-eyed face . As her cold morved morphed into an eye infection, Elsie came down with her first cold. You may have heard about the flooding in Gaspé: The snot was really flowin’.

(Elsie more recently got her revenge, by regurgitating a good-sized load of freshly-digested milk right into Frida’s mouth. That’ll teach her to french-kiss her sister)

Here’s something I bet you haven’t written in your gratitude journal: “Boy, am I grateful for the ability to blow my nose”. If you were having trouble coming up with one for today, you can use that, it’s a good one.

While 5-month-olds are generally content to let the mucous run down their faces, 2-year-olds are old enough to realize this is unpleasant, but are not quite at all capable of blowing their noses. This results in a near-constant howl of, “mon nez il coule!” (my nose he is running). Said 2-year-old then blows through her mouth when we hold the kleenex up to her nose, despite her skill at blowing snot bubbles, to her immense delight and that of her nose-picking friends.

There is a solution to all this mucous, however. When babies (and toddlers) can’t blow their noses, they get really stuffy at night and they can’t drink properly, so they sleep even less than usual, which isn’t a lot, so we have to get that stuff outta there. Cue the nose-vacuum, nasal aspirator, or snot-sucker. You stick it in the nostril, and suck as hard as you can (yes, with your mouth) through a long, long, straw. The snot burbles out and collects in a chamber (very, very far away from the mouthpiece) and then you can blow it out into the sink, onto a kleenex, or dirty sock, or whatever you have handy. There is one fancy European version that is even called the NoseFrida Snot Sucker. Not making this up. Before you suck out the snot, however, you shoot saline solution up the nose. They love that.

So what this all boils down to is, for 3 weeks over Christmas we were full-time, salt-water shooting, snot-sucking parents, who also had the unenviable task of getting penicillin into Frida without her gagging it up all over the place. We were mopping up snot, penicillin, saline, and of course the near-constant flow of regurgitated milk, leaked whiz, and missed poops.

Just in case you were thinking, “Yeah! I can’t wait to have kids!” – wait. Christmas passed, the snot tap was shut off, and finally, the girls were healthy. Until… 3 days ago. So since then, we’ve been back on snot patrol, one of us gleefully aspirating snot from our childrens’ noses as the other restrains the flailing arms and legs . Elsie puts up with it just fine; in fact, I think she likes liked it. Frida, on the other hand, claims to want a “treatment” like her sister, and then flails around like flapjack in a frypan as we attempt the extraction, howling promises to blow her nose. And then blows gently through her mouth into the kleenex. And then admires her snot-bubbles in the mirror.

But there are joys here and there. I’m so excited that Elsie eats food now, cause she actually eats what I make for her. I can hold out hope for another year or so that at least one of my kids will eat something I make (spaghetti with Classico sauce does not count as “something I make”).

The other day, I was stewing some pears for  Elsie, when I became distracted, most likely by some snot flood that I had to sandbag. When I remembered the pears, they were browning and caramelly – not burnt, just gloriously sticky and sugary. I added a bit more water, gave them a little stir, and left them on the stove. They finally were soft enough and were also so wonderfully caramelized I didn’t even want to give them to the baby. When I put them through the blender the colour was like… ah, caramel. The flavour is divine. Intense pear flavour, with a gorgeous, deep, almost bitter sweetness from the caramel. All without adding sugar. A very happy accident, much like Elsie herself (whoops! well, what did you think – that I wanted to get pregnant when my first kid was 14 months old?).

Unfortunately I don’t have a picture of it, to show you the colour, cause it got consumed too fast. When I tried to make it again, I was too scared to let it caramelize all the way – It was still good, but you really almost have to forget it on the stove in order for it to get really deep and golden.

Anyway, I don’t know how many of you are actually interested in making pear sauce, but take our word for it, it’s gooo-ood, and kids like it too, and so do grown ups! I could imagine it being unbelievable with Liberté fatty fat Mediterannée 8 % Vanilla yogurt. Do you get that out there in AngloLand?

Here’s how I made it:

Peeled a bunch of pears (I used Bosc, cause that’s what was on special) & cored them & chopped them into 2″-ish chunks

Put them in a cast iron pot with a bit of water, no cover

Turned the burner on medium

Forgot about the pears till there was no more water in, freaked out, stirred, added a bit more water

Let them cook even more till they were covered in a lovely brown caramel almost all over

Puréed them

Put them in jars.

I tried this with apples too but they got too soft, too fast and did not caramelize before turning into a mushy pulp.

I am excited about this stuff, not only cause it’s divine, but also because it means that “cooking” for a 7-month-old does not have to be so damn boring! If any of you mamas have any other fun baby food recipes, don’t hesitate to share!

We are delving in to fun times, here, folks – Elsie eats food that’s really easy to make, and the colds are just about over. I’ll have fun while it lasts, cause that’s another thing snot and baby food have in common – kids have colds that last for about the same length of time as they eat puréed food (not that long, in the grand scheme). Have fun with the snot bubbles!