Posts Tagged 'Pear and Berry Crisp'

Dinner Party Menus: Perfect Macaroni and Cheese

I spend a ridiculous amount of time on food.  Between searching recipes, reading food magazines, planning menus, shopping, cooking, and cleaning it all up, food is certainly a central element in my life.  (My husband and I keep joking about all the things I could accomplish if I gave up cooking for just one week…  Stay tuned to see if that ever actually happens!)

It occurred to me today that I might be able to save time for some of you by posting the menus I’ve put together for dinner parties at my house.  I try to plan things that go together nicely and that will allow me to do as much work as possible before my guests arrive.  (We usually have cocktails and apps around my kitchen island, so the last thing I want my guests to see is me frantically trying to put a meal on the table.)  Saving time and lessening stress is always a good thing, right?

Last night, Dr. O and I hosted a typical fall dinner party with one exception: we had a vegetarian guest.  Now, vegetarians certainly aren’t unusual and I’ve worked with more challenging diets, but I came to realize that I didn’t have many recipes in my entertaining arsenal that didn’t include meat.  I first experimented with Hearty Root Vegetable and Mushroom Stew from my copy of The Best of America’s Test Kitchen 2010.  While it certainly wasn’t bad, it wasn’t dinner party food; my friend Christopher suggested that I was expecting a miracle out of a vegetable stew.  After some discussion, we came up with the menu below for six guests.

Appetizers:
Spinach dip and lemon artichoke dip from Whole Foods (I’ll take help where I can get it!)
Crackers
Cucumber slices (as a dipping alternative)
Mixed olives
Roasted, salted almonds (from Whole Foods bulk section – fantastic!)

Meal:
Perfect Macaroni and Cheese
Green Beans with Caramelized Shallots
Simple Roasted Tomatoes (Just toss any quantity of cherry tomatoes in a roasting pan with olive oil, salt, and pepper; roast for 15 to 20 minutes towards the end of the macaroni and cheese baking time.)

Dessert:
Pear and Berry Crisp

Here’s the preparation schedule I followed for a 7 p.m. dinner party.  (Yes, I am one of those people.  Having a schedule totally reduces stress and the likelihood that I’ll forget something, though.)

Anytime Friday:
Chill wine
Wash and iron napkins
Make and store crisp topping

Saturday morning or afternoon (work takes approximately 1 hour):
Slice and store shallots for green beans (refrigerator)
Rinse, trim, and store green beans (refrigerator)
Wash and dry cherry tomatoes, place them in roasting pan, and store (counter)
Wash, slice, and store cucumbers (refrigerator)
Thaw berries for crisp
Wash and slice pears for crisp
Assemble fruit portion of crisp and store (refrigerator)
Set table

5:45 p.m.: Make macaroni and cheese (hold at room temperature until baking time)

6:30 p.m.:
Put out appetizers
Put pot of water for green beans on stove (no heat yet)
Put pot for cooking shallots on stove with shallot butter inside (no heat yet)
Preheat oven for macaroni and cheese

7:00 p.m.: Guests arrive!

7:15 p.m.:
Put macaroni and cheese in oven
Start boiling bean water

7:30 p.m.:
Put tomatoes in oven (beneath macaroni)
Start cooking shallots

7:45 p.m.:
Remove macaroni from oven
Add green beans to boiling water

7:50 p.m.:
Remove tomatoes from oven
Drain green beans and toss with butter, salt, and pepper
Combine green beans with caramelized shallots
Change oven temperature to 400°F for crisp
Serve dinner

8:30 p.m.: Put crisp in oven

9:15 p.m.: Remove crisp from oven

9:35 p.m.: Serve warm crisp with vanilla ice cream

It seems like a lot of steps, but since I did things like put the bean water and shallot butter on the stove ahead of time, I’d say the actual amount of hands-on work that needs to be done while guests are standing around takes fewer than 10 minutes. Consequently, I can actually interact with and enjoy my guests (the point) instead of working myself into a frenzy (so not the point!).

The food turned out really well.  I’ve made Perfect Macaroni and Cheese (here’s a link to my post) and Pear and Berry Crisp (my post) before; both are absolutely to die for.  The tomatoes and the green beans were perfect complements to the macaroni.  I would normally serve a buttery chardonnay (like La Crema Sonoma Coast Chardonnay) with this dinner, but my friend brought a red (2005 La Baronne Alaric) with the dish in mind; it paired beautifully.

So that’s my dinner party…  What do you think?  Do you consider this type of post helpful, or not so much?  I’d love to hear from you!

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Pear and Berry Crisp

If you’re planning a special meal this weekend, I have a terrific dessert for you to try – Pear and Berry Crisp from the January/February 2005 issue of Everyday Food. I made it once a long time ago, and then I’ve made it twice in the past 2 weeks for company. It’s ecstasy on a plate! 🙂

One nice thing about this recipe is that you can make the topping up to 5 days ahead; I just made mine earlier in the day. In a medium bowl, I combined 1/2 cup of flour, 1/2 cup of packed brown sugar, 1/4 cup of regular sugar, 1/2 teaspoon of ground allspice, and a pinch of salt. I stirred in 1 cup of rolled oats and then used a pastry blender to incorporate 1 stick of butter into the mixture until large, moist clumps formed. I refrigerated it until I was ready to use it. Please note that this is actually *double* the amount of topping listed in the recipe. My dear mom always said that was the way to go; plus, since I baked this in a 9 x 13-inch pan, I think I would have had a hard time covering the surface area of the crisp with anything less.

When I was ready to put the crisp together, I spread 1 bag (12 ounces) of frozen mixed berries on a paper towel-lined baking sheet. While the berries thawed for 30 minutes at room temperature, I peeled 3 pounds of pears and cut them into 3/4-inch pieces. In a large bowl, I combined the pears with 1 tablespoon of fresh lemon juice, the thawed berries, 3 tablespoons of sugar, and 2 tablespoons of flour and tossed to combine. I put the fruit mixture in a shallow 2-quart baking dish and sprinkled it with the oat topping.

I baked the crisp at 400F until the fruit was tender and the topping was golden brown (45 minutes). After 20 minutes of cool time, I served the crisp with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Pear and Berry Crisp

Heaven! This is just an absolutely delicious combination. I’m used to having apples in a crisp, but the pears are a wonderful change. I’m sure I’ll make this again and again.

TIPS: The recipe says to use ripe pears. Mine have been pretty firm (but not rock hard) each time I’ve made this crisp. The pear pieces end up very tender but definitely not mushy.

If you want to go with the original amount of topping, I would use a smaller shallow dish, like maybe an 8 x 8-inch one. Just make sure the crisp is bubbling before you take it out of the oven to ensure the fruit is thoroughly baked; a thicker fruit layer may need some extra time in the oven.

Recipe link: Pear and Berry Crisp




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