This is the time of year when I start exploring. For what, you ask. Recipes, tabletop ideas and those must-have items and gadgets for the year to come. They’re out there—in ads and stores, and everyone’s talking about them. You look, hunt, gather, and begin the editing process: What stays, what goes and what works? What do you really need, and what do you just plain want? This sifting process is specially true in the kitchen, and I’m not just talking about the latest and greatest countertop item—I am talking about food.
I scour cooking magazines, watch as many coking demos as possible, and buy a parade of books by my favorite chefs, looking for recipes to make my own. We all have our standard recipes, our favorites, and our specialties, but during the holidays I want new recipes (or variations on a theme) to impress family and guests with dazzling dishes, many of which will become classics during the coming year.
The holidays are an important time for exploration in the Brown family’s culinary future. To properly sift through all the information available, I find it best to keep a few things in mind—besides the ease of prep and readily available ingredients. I am a big fan of “make it now, cook it later.” So before you disregard a recipe that doesn’t seem to offer this option, remember you can change a few things in a recipe to make this a reality. And since there are very few new ideas, I ask myself, “Is this recipe different enough? Does it offer an original twist on a great basic?”
And I make sure I’m not focused just on main event dishes. They say the devil is in the details, so make sure your search is well-rounded enough to include great holiday breakfast foods, as well as interesting condiments flexible enough to be passed around at lunch, dinner or even for snacks.
A perfect example is poached pears, which can be made in advance and used later in various ways. Try pouring poached pears onto ice cream or spooning them on top of thick French toast. Whatever you do, make sure you take advantage of all the great culinary input this season has to offer.
Spiced Poached Pears
- 3 peeled pears (Comice)
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 1½ cups white wine
- 3 cups water
- ¼ cup sugar
- Orange zest
- 7 whole cloves
- 1 vanilla bean, split the bean and scrape seeds
- 2 star anise
- ½ cup maple syrup
- ¼ cup raisins
- Bring water, sugar and wine to a boil, and reduce to a simmer.
- Add orange zest, cloves, vanilla bean, star anise, raisins and pears and cover pot.
- Cook for about 15 minutes or until liquid starts to thicken. Test pears with a skewer or knife for tenderness.
- Remove pears. Continue simmering the liquid, adding the maple syrup until the liquid has thickened.
- Chop 2 pears into cubes or pulse in a food processor. Slice 1 pear in half and set aside for garnish.
- Place the pears on top of French toast and drizzle with the syrup.