Cocktail O’Clock: A Fall Drink Sans Pumpkin

Pear and Sparkling Cider

OK people, I know we all like to get overexcited about our pumpkin beers and our PS lattes, but does every fall cocktail these days have to be pumpkin-based? Nothing against the good ol’ gourd, I just feel like some other fall ingredients tend to get overloooked — like apple cider!

This classy fall cocktail combines cider, champagne, bourbon and pear for a decidedly different fall taste.

Pear and Sparkling Cider Cocktail

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Cider Revolution

I get really mad at the farmers market in winter. I know I’m not supposed to. That’s the whole point of farmers markets — you get whatever is good and in season. But in New York in January, every week seems to bring the same thing: potatoes, apples, sweet potatoes, apple cider. The thrill of stumbling upon zucchini blossoms, ramps or some other new discovery is gone.

So I’m always impressed by a winter market that can pack a surprise. Wandering around London’s Borough Market on a cold day in early January, I saw loads of booths offering hot apple cider and mulled wine (god I love that drinking outdoors and drinking in the AM are both acceptable in Europe). Then I saw one booth offering something different: mulled pear cider.

Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve never seen any cider other than apple. Why is this? The pear cider was rich, warming, and just a little bit thick, like a sweet, steamy soup — the perfect thing to warm your bones on a chilly winter morning. Personally, I think it could have done with a splash of bourbon, but that’s another story.

This is just to say…why do apples get to hog all the cider glory? I’d love to see more pear cider at the markets here. Peach cider? Plum cider? Zucchini blossom cider? Bring it on.

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Pretty Foods Always Taste Better

Caramel Pear Torte

You know how people go through with phases with books, movies, boyfriends, girlfriends and such? Well I’m going through a comfort food phase, so if anyone knows of how to make cake in a crock pot, let me know.

For now my latest comfort dessert is this rustic caramel pear torte. I’ll admit it does take an extra ten minutes to arrange the pear slices in the circular pattern. But to save some time you can always just throw the sliced pears in the bottom of the pan then pour the batter over it. The torte will taste the same either way — although as we all know, pretty foods always taste better.

Caramel Pear Torte

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Extreme Simmer: The SousVide Supreme

sous vide

So after hearing me bitch for the last two years about how everyone on Top Chef gets to sous vide but I don’t, someone finally decided to throw me a bone. The folks over at SousVide Supreme, the first legit sous vide machine aimed at home cooks, sent me over one of their $450 contraptions to test out for a few weeks. Woo-hoo!

For those who need a recap: sous vide cooking involves vacuum sealing ingredients in plastic bags with this neat little contraption:

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That’s actually the most fun part, watching all the air get sucked right out of the bag. Then you submerse the bag in a thermal hot water bath that’s designed to remain at an exact pre-set temperature, down to the degree:

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Foolproof Fruit Crisp: A Dessert Even an ESer Can Bake

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Like the rest of ES, I don’t do desserts.  Which is not to say that I haven’t tried.  My torrid history of dessert disasters goes back many years. I’m sure my mom still remembers the day my fifth grade best friend and I attempted chocolate chip cookies.   Amateurs both, we used the recipe from the back of the package of chocolate chips.  Careful adherence to the directions left us with a concoction that was more early-December-snowfall than Pillsbury doughboy.  So we tapped into some sandbox wisdom – we added water.  Baking the resulting quicksand yielded a burned, slippery looking substance that firmly coated the doomed cookie sheet.  Mom was more upset about the wasted ingredients and the lingering smell of burning than the charred cookie sheet, which was logical given the infrequency of her own cookie baking.

Undaunted, through the years I have managed to produce (accidentally) sugarless banana bread, baking-soda-flavored butterscotch cookies and Rice Krispie treats so hard that they actually made someone bleed.

My friend Sarah received a cake-making book for Christmas in order to carry on her family tradition, wherein the birthday honoree gets to choose a cake from the book for their party.  The cake is made from scratch, of course, with a long, scary list of ingredients and Mensa-approved instructions.  And that doesn’t even take into account the frosting.  My children better either ingratiate themselves with Aunt Sarah or learn to love brownies from a box.

All this poses a problem, though, when I am asked to bring dessert to a friend’s dinner party.  Believe me, visions of artfully arranged Chips Ahoy have danced in my head, but high fructose corn syrup freaks me out.  Fortunately, discount farmers’ market produce has led me to seek out (and find) a dessert that is not only practically foolproof, but also meets some of my beloved recipe criteria: few ingredients, use of food just this side of the compost pile,  and general crowd pleasure.

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