Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Friends, Pizza, Panini, Halloween and Graham Cracker Pound Cake with Hot Chocolate-Poached Pears and Blood Orange Sorbet

Thanks to a wonderful group of friends who have supported me through an especially emotional month, my life has been brightened by Oktoberfest, nights out with the girls, a homemade pizza party, the Hotel Del Coronado's Hallo-Wine and Spirits Party, steamy bowls of Chicken and Smoked Sausage Gumbo, dinner at Terra Nova, Newfy play dates, and new friends Holli and Monique. The rest of the year is filling up with photography and Wine & Dine San Diego assignments, holiday plans and travel. My kitchen has been fairly quiet, but I definitely plan on cooking over the holidays and throwing a small dinner party with my prize money from Saveur magazine.

I planned on dedicating a blog post about the Ocean Avenue Pizza Party to share some of the amazing pizza topping combinations we all came up with, but I was too busy making and eating pizza and drinking wine to take photos and notes. Earlier that afternoon, I did make and photograph a panini version with the toppings I used for my pizza. The panini version was inspired by a recipe for Fig Relish and Prosciutto Panini in Plum Gorgeous: Recipes and Memories from the Orchard, by Romney Steele.

Panini with fig jam, mozzarella, gorgonzola, arugula
and basil, dusted with Parmesan

For the pizza, I spread fig jam on the dough, followed by thin slices of fresh mozzarella and scattered dots of gorgonzola. Torn pieces of prosciutto, and arugula lightly tossed in a balsamic vinaigrette top the pizza when it comes out of the oven. Another winning combination was Nina's pizza with pumpkin puree, sage walnut pesto and pecorino. Her sage-walnut pesto is the bomb!

Without John to plan and throw his annual Halloween bash, and not wanting to stay home with the memories, I tagged along with the group to the Hotel Del Coronado's Hallo-Wine and Spirits Party.

It was an elaborate affair with wine tasting, passed hors d'oeuvres (I had four of those amazing smoked oyster crostini), charcuterie platters, dinner buffet, master pumpkin carver, and the wandering ghost of Kate Morgan, all in the garden courtyard, followed by drinks, dancing, and a costume contest in the Crown Room. We weren't quite sure what to stuff in our trick or treat bags, but Kai's made it home filled with charcuterie. The pirate costume reappeared for a second year, surrounded by the cast of Clue and a few other characters.

Hotel Del Coronado Hallo-Wine and Spirits Party

"I am sorry to see you here, but if you had fought like a man,
 you needn't be hang'd like a dog." - Anne Bonny

My Bluestem cookbook remained out on the coffee table after writing my recent Spicy Fig Cake post and I came across another dessert that sounded ideal for this time of year - Graham Cracker Pound Cake with Hot Chocolate-Poached Pears and Tangerine Sorbet. I've poached pears in wine, but never in homemade hot chocolate enhanced by cinnamon, cloves, allspice berries, and dark rum. The poached pears are definitely a keeper and the pound cake was moist and tasty, but the jury is still out on the tangerine sorbet.  Next time, I think I'll go with the pears, cake, and whipped cream, or just the pears with a dollop of whipped cream or scoop of vanilla ice cream.


Hot Chocolate-Poached Pears
From Bluestem
(Serves 4)


3 1/4 cups water
1 1/4 cups sugar
2 cinnamon sticks
1/2 teaspoon allspice berries
3 cloves
2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1 ounce unsweetened chocolate, chopped
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder
2 tablespoons dark rum
Pinch of salt
2 semi-firm ripe pears, peeled, halved, and cored (I used Bosc pears)


In a medium saucepan, bring the water, sugar, cinnamon sticks, allspice and cloves to a simmer over medium-high heat to dissolve the sugar. Add the chocolates, cocoa powder, rum and salt, and whisk until the chocolate is melted and smooth. Add the pears and poach them for 45 minutes over low heat. Turn them over once halfway through so they cook more evenly. They should be tender enough that a knife inserted in the thickest part will easily slip in and out.

Keep the pears warm until ready to serve. If you're not using them right away, you may refrigerate the pears in their poaching liquid in an airtight container for up to 2 days (letting the cooked pears steep in the chocolate poaching liquid overnight helps intensify the chocolate flavor). To reheat, warm the pears in the poaching liquid in a saucepan over medium-low heat. To serve, use a slotted spoon and gently transfer the warm pear halves to serving plates or bowls and spoon some of the hot-chocolate sauce over the top of the pears (you may wish to first strain the poaching liquid to make sure you don't serve any of the allspice berries or cloves).

Hot Chocolate-Poached Pears

Graham Cracker Pound Cake
From Bluestem
(Makes one 8 x 4 x 2 1/2 inch cake)


1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon half and half
3 large eggs, at room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla
3/4 cup graham cracker crumbs
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt

Hot-Chocolate Poached Pears (recipe above)
Tangerine Sorbet (I used blood orange)


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Generously butter an 8 x 4 inch loaf pan.

In the bowl of a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar together on medium-high speed until fluffy and light, scraping the bowl with a spatula as needed, about 5 minutes.

In a small bowl, whisk the half and half, eggs, and vanilla together. In a separate bowl, combine the graham cracker crumbs, flour, baking powder and salt.

With the mixer on medium speed, add one-third of the wet ingredients to the creamed butter and mix until incorporated. Scrape down the bowl. With the stand mixer on low speed, repeat the process with half of the dry ingredients. Repeat the process, alternating the wet and dry ingredients until everything is incorporated.

Transfer the batter to the loaf pan and bake for 60-65 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle of the loaf comes out clean. Let the cake cool completely on a wire rack.

To serve, slice the cake into 1-inch-thick slices. Place one slice of pound cake on each plate. Nest half of a warm poached pear next to each slice and top each slice with a small scoop of sorbet. Serve immediately.

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