You know those days when it’s just damn hard being a normal person, but you have to anyway? Well today was like that. It’s raining here in Boston- a nasty gray, dark rain which is clearly here to remind us that there are many dark days in our future. Winter is a-comin’ and let me tell you it is never pretty. The gray-ness matched my mood well when I woke up on the wrong side of the bed this morning had a quick but nonetheless agitating argument with the man I share my life with and then had to head out to ride the train to Central Square- the only place in this area that rain can neither help nor hinder when it comes to making it a more or less tolerable armpit of our fair city. Yes, Central Square is impervious to rain or shine, snow or heat. It is the forgotten land- a truly wretched and stinky place. And every now and then I get a little ticked off that I have spent the last nine years of my dancing life in its midst.
I sloshed my way through the puddles and drunken posses (all the usual characters) and fumbled through teaching two ballet classes, trying to not yell at my students and to make successful and coherent small talk with parents. Then, because there may be a merciful god out there, I had a lovely lunch with my friend and fellow blogger, Sharon Kitchens, of Delicious Musings, which managed to pull me out of my funk temporarily before leaving the square and heading home.
On the way home I realized that there was nothing to be done but hole up in the tree house (that’s the top floor apartment of the victorian house we share with our friends) for the remainder of the day and make the most comforting foods that I could out of what awaited me in the fridge and cupboards. This is what I came up with:
Sweet Potato-Pear Tzimmes with Pecans and Raisins, adapted from Veganomincon
Time: 1 hour 15 minutes
Jeff did the grocery shopping this week and returned with more pears than I knew what to do with- I can’t blame him, it’s pear season and we shop at a wholesale produce market where everything is gorgeous and cheap. Luckily, this Tzimmes called for pears and is pretty much the ultimate fall comfort food (Tzimmes is what my people call fruit roasted with sweet potatoes and spices) it was perfect.
2 lbs. sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 3/4 inch chunks
3 firm bartlett pears, seeded and cut into 3/4 inch chunks
1-2 Tbs vegetable oil
1 Tbs sweet cooking wine, such as Mirin
1 Tbs pure maple syrup
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup pecans, chopped
3/4 cup golden raisins (I used tiny black currants)
Preheat the oven 350 F
Place the sweet potatoes and pears on a large rimmed baking sheet. Sprinkle with the oil and mirin. Mix it all up to make sure everything is coated. Add the maple syrup, cinnamon, salt and pecans and toss to coat.
Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 3o minutes. Remove foil (careful, the steam escaping will be HOT) and add the raisins (I added the currants with everything else and they did not burn). Carefully toss and mix and bake uncovered for another 30 minutes, tossing every now and then.
Serve warm or at room temp.
White Rice with Chiles and Black Beans
This is just one of the ways I like to make rice, and is definitely nothing fancy. I thought something slightly spicy would offset the sweetness of the Tzimmes nicely and that beans would give us a little protein as well.
One small yellow onion (or half a medium), diced very small
1 jalapeno/hot pepper of your choice, seeds removed, diced small
2 Tbs olive oil
white rice (I like short or medium grain, but you can use whatever you like best)
One 15-oz can black beans, drained and rinsed
2 cups water
In a medium-sized pot, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion pepper and cook until pepper is soft and onion is translucent, about 7 minutes. Add salt and a teaspoon of epazote and stir. Add the rice, stirring to coat it with the oil, then stir in the beans and the water. Bring to a boil covered, on medium-high heat, then turn down to low and simmer, covered for about 15 minutes.
Pear Gingerbread Upside-Down Cake, adapted (heavily) from Gourmet Today
Active time: 30 minutes
Start to Finish:1 1/2 hours
I am not kidding, we have a lot of pears. So, I was still looking for ways to use ’em. Plus c’mon, gingerbread?! What is more comforting than that? It is rich and dark and spicy, I’m getting hungry again just thinking about it. This recipe is from the new Gourmet Today, but I made it vegan and also used less sugar (a lot less) and substituted whole pastry flour for the all purpose. This was one moist and delicious cake.
For the topping:
2 1/2 firm pears (preferably bosc)
1/2 stick (4 Tbs) earth balance/butter/whatever you like
1/3 cup packed light brown sugar (I use the organic Whole Foods brand)
For the Cake:
2 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup molasses (not robust)
1 cup boiling water
8 Tbs (1 stick) earth balance buttery sticks
1/3 cup packed, light brown sugar
Make the topping:
Peel, halve and core the pears. Cut each halve into 4 wedges.
Heat the earth balance in a 10 inch cast irons skillet over moderate heat until foam subsides. Reduce heat to low, sprinkle brown sugar over butter and cook, undisturbed for 3 minutes (it’s okay if there are lumps). Arrange pears decoratively over sugar and cook, undisturbed for another 2 minutes. Remove from heat.
Make the cake:
Put a rack in the middle of the oven preheat to 350 F.
Whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt and spices in a bowl. Whisk together the molasses and boiling water in a small bowl or measuring cup.
Beat together butter and brown sugar in a mixer with the paddle attachment (hand mixer will work fine as well) at medium speed until creamy ~ 2 minutes. Reduce speed to low and add flour mixture alternately with molasses mixture in 3 batches, ending with the flour and mixing until smooth.
Pour batter over pears in skillet, carefully, trying not to send the pears cascading in all directions (like I did). Bake until a wooden toothpick or knife inserted into center comes out clean ~45 minutes. You may want to place a tray under the cake, on the next rack- mine got very big and dripped onto the bottom of the oven. Cool skillet on a rack for 5 minutes, then run a thin knife around the edge and invert onto a plate with a lip over skillet. Serve warm or at room temp.