Sunday, March 15, 2009

A Night of Decadent Abandon

I am currently under the spell of a pear tart. Sweet pear brandy combined with honey is lingering on my breath. It's a holiday for my mouth and a romantic interlude between the senses. Brief sips of wine cleansed my palate between each morsel. Each bite of tart was delivered on a magic carpet ride of fresh, home-made whipped cream. I'm thirsty but I don't dare wash away the flavors dancing in my mouth right now.

My evening began with a drive into town for pizza. I had to pick up Jeff's favorite. (Consequently I parked too close to a car in the parking lot and hit the side of it with my car door. I pretended to not notice the small scratch/dent it made when all of a sudden I noticed activity inside the car. Somebody was inside! I played dumb and walked away. No integrity there!) He would not be joining me in my vegetable experimentations. As he satiated himself on cheese, sauce and thick doughy crust, I conjured up a recipe for my left-over quinoa from the day before. I began by chopping up fresh kale, red chard and turnips and throwing them in a little stir-fry pan with coconut oil and some water. I let that steam for about 10 minutes and then set that aside.

I got out the loaf of tempeh that I have been saving and cut several thin slices. I threw them in the stir-fry pan and let them sizzle a bit before I realized that I would do anything to add BBQ sauce. Well, everyone knows that there is no such thing as sugar-free BBQ sauce, so I decided to try making my own. I got out my agave-sweetened ketchup and then grabbed a bottle of Jeff's BBQ sauce to look at the ingredients. Then, I put some ketchup in a little bowl and added red wine vinegar and molasses. Those seemed to be the most prominent ingredients on the label of the BBQ sauce. I mixed it all together and tasted. Wow. Very.....strong. Spicy. It was delicious. I ladled it atop of my tempeh and let it sizzle for a few minutes. It didn't take long to carmelize on the pan and cover the tempeh. I was ready to chow.

I added the finished BBQ tempeh to my plate of vegetable quinoa and just sat staring at it. It looked so good and I didn't want it to go away. I knew even before I took a bite that this was going to be one of the best dinners I've ever made. And it was so quick to make. I tried experimenting a little with different types of vinegars to make the BBQ sauce, but nothing tasted as good as the red wine vinegar.

The result was that I ate my entire dinner with my eyes closed. It was heavenly. Instead of having any thoughts during dinner, I experienced a kind of nirvana. A zen of nothingness but one of my senses. My tongue was pleased and I felt quite satisfied. I did not get a sweet tooth attack after dinner. I felt perfectly satiated without feeling overfull.

That was just the beginning of several culinary experiences tonight. After dinner I joined my husband outside in the freezing cold to observe a new favorite past time: making giant soap bubbles. They are particularly neat in the dark with a flashlight shining directly on the bubble. We had fun practicing making those for a while and then brought our chilly bodies inside.

I was still nice and full from dinner but wanted to sample a new chocolate bar I found a few days ago at a little local co-op. The chocolate bar was made with raw ingredients: cocoa, vanilla, himalayan salt crystals and amber agave nectar. I broke off a small piece and popped it in my mouth. Not expecting heaven (sugar-free afterall!) I was pleasantly surprised at the mild flavor. It was very dark chocolate but sweet. There was a nice balance of sweet to salty. For being sugar-free and only having four ingredients, it was wonderful. I broke off another tiny piece and savored the cocoa as it melted slowly on my tongue. What a perfect ending to a delicious evening of vittles.

Then the doorbell rang. Audrey our neighbor was standing in the dark on the front porch carrying a basket of something and a bottle of wine. We invited her in and she set out the pear tart that she had made earlier today in preparation for her dinner party this evening. She had an uneaten tart leftover. She also brought a little dish of sliced pears floating in pear brandy, made locally here in Oregon at Clear Water Creek distillery. The last dish contained her home-made, honey sweeted whipped cream. I pulled out the wine and poured a small glass.

Horse Heaven Hills is a local Washington winery. Audrey's dinner party tonight was themed "Local Ingredients." She spent all day yesterday searching for local ingredients and came back with a plethora of food items and information about farms, co-ops and locally milled flours. As I sipped the cab, she told me about her dinner party. Everyone brought homemade food made with local ingredients. The farthest location of an ingredient was a cream cheese made in Sierra Nevada. It helped form the perfect crust for the pear tart.

Audrey's pear tart was so beautiful I hated to cut into it. Two seconds later I was slicing a piece for myself. I added a few dollups of whipped cream and the rest is history. I sat on cloud nine savoring the delicate flavors of pear, cinnamon, brandy and a resonating honey after-taste. She had substituted whole wheat flour for white, and the results were perfect. The crust is indescribable. Pear brandy mixed with a bit of honey had crystalized on top of the thinly sliced pears and it tasted like caramel.

I was not expecting to indulge in decadence like this tonight. My plan was to sip herbal tea until I began to feel tired. Instead, I got surprised with an evening of delectable flavors and great conversation.

Here are the recipes from tonight:

My Homemade BBQ Sauce (really good, but you could probably do better)

Mix these together and enjoy: About 1/4 C. agave sweetened ketchup, less than 1 tablespoon molasses and less than 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar.

Quinoa & Vegetables Lightly Steamed with Coconut Oil

Cook quinoa normally. Chop red chard, kale, turnips and throw in stir-fry pan. Add about 1 tablespoon of virgin coconut oil and add about 1/2 C. of water.

Cover and steam for about 10 minutes or so. Add pre-cooked quinoa for the last few minutes. Remove from pan and add sea salt. Enjoy!

BBQ Tempeh

Slice thin pieces of tempeh from tempeh loaf. Throw into stir-fry pan and sizzle on medium-high. Flip them once while sizzling. Throw on BBQ sauce until it bubbles. Remove from pan and enjoy!

Audrey's Pear Tart

Whip heavy cream with honey and a little pear brandy to accompany tart.

2 ounces cream cheese
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 C. whole wheat flour, plus extra for your hands
1/2 C. plus 1 1/2 tablespoon honey
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tablespoons pear brandy
1 Bosc or Red Bartless pear
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1. Heat oven to 400 degrees with rack in center. Line an air-cushioned baking sheet with parchment. Combine cream cheese and butter in a food processor. Add flour, 1/4 C. honey and the salt and process until combined. Dough will be sticky. Turn dough out onto prepared baking sheet. With lightly floured fingers, pat dough out into a flat 8-inch circle.

2. In medium bowl, combine 1/4 C. honey with lemon juice and brandy. Halve pear lengthwise; core; leave skin on. Cut lengthwise into 1/4-inch-thick slices; transfer to lemon-juice mixture; coat well. Place slices in strainer to drain liquid. Arrange lengthwise around border of dough, overlapping slightly. Arrange remaining slices in center. Drizzle tart with a little pear brandy-honey mixture. Dust pears with cinnamon. Bake until golden, 25 to 30 minutes. Enjoy!

(recipe alterations courtesy of Audrey of course; original recipe: Martha Stewart Living, Oct 97)

Alas, as I write this the last of the sweet flavors have dissipated into enzymatic digestive juices. I sip herbal tea and prepare for a night of dreams about more dessert. It was a most fun evening. Thank you Audrey!

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Hey! I'm so glad you stopped by my blog so I'd know where to find yours! You picked quite a challenge for yourself, and it sounds like it has been well worth it! Good for you!!

Meanwhile, I made my own ketchup back in January (with a chipotle kick), and it was so much better than the store bought stuff I usually buy. I think s/f BBQ sauce might be a fun challenge. Yours sounds really good!

I also have to say that the pear tart has me drooling... and plotting. I have some pears at home. I think they might like being made into a tart like this one!!

I'll be reading! :-)