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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Grateful Dinner Guests Bring Dessert: Raspberry & Asian Pear Crumble

One of the nicest gestures of friendship is the invitation to dinner. Friends who invite to their home for a meal are the friends I happen to like the most. I love having a home-cooked meal prepared for me. As much as I love cooking, eating at someone else’s home offers an introduction to foods I have never had before or a new preparation on a tried and true classic.

However, having a mild obsession with food has its drawbacks. My husband thinks I am a difficult dinner guest to please. But I don’t think so. I do like great food and I have a high standard that I set for myself, but I am always pleased to be invited for a meal and I appreciate any and all efforts our hosts put forward in creating our meal.

Maybe this comes across as showy or “a one upmanship” type thing, but I usually like to bring a little something. Not to display my prowess in the kitchen but as a thank you for the invitation. My lovely neighbour, Jules, invited me over for a girl’s night three weeks ago and after learning that some of the girls were going to show up with bubbly, I thought that I might bring some rose syrup for our drinks. Well, it turned out that all the girls ended up bring beer, and I was the only one with bubbles and rose syrup in hand. Jules laughed and quickly poured me a flute joking that I was being a show off. I realized that maybe she would have appreciated it more if I had brought this dessert instead. It’s my no fail, dead-simple dinner invitation crumble.

The fruits are inter-changeable to reflect your own tastes and what is in season. I like this with apples (or course), strawberries and rhubarb, apricots and almonds, and peaches and raspberries.

3 half-pints raspberries
1 large Asian pear
¼ c light brown sugar
1 tbsp corn starch

4 tbsp butter
½ c flour
1c quick cook oatmeal
¼ c sugar (dememerra)

1. Peel and chop asian pear into small bite size pieces, about the same size as your raspberries.
2. Tumble washed raspberries and asian pear and into a 8 x 8 baking dish. Sprinkle with sugar and cornstarch. (I have added a little bit of sugar here because I find raspberries are slightly tart and the sugar mellows it out abit. This is not a super sweet dish)
3. Pre heat oven to 350 degrees.
4. Mix flour, oatmeal and sugar. Blend in butter until it resembles coarse meal. Don’t fully incorporate the butter, you still want to see the the little flecks and bits of butter embedded within the mixture.
5. Spoon topping over the prepared fruit. Cover most of the fruit with the crumble mixture, but I always leave alittle around the edges to allow the fruit to bubble up.
6. Place the baking dish on top of a baking sheet (in case of spills) and place in the oven for 35 minutes. Check to see if the crumble has a golden crown and if the fruit has bubbled up a bit. If so, remove from the oven and cool slightly. If not, leave in for another five minutes, check.
7. Cool slightly and serve with a dollop of whipped cream.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Roasted Pumpkin and Acorn Squash Bisque

When I invite friends over for dinner, I want them to leave feeling full, delighted and cared for. So when I invited my good friend, Manish, over for dinner, I had to find something that was not only delicious and savoury but also vegetarian. I always find this a bit of a challenge because as a meat eater, vegetarian meals don’t come naturally to me.

In the summer, I think this task would be fairly easy – you could put together a delicious salad with baby greens and sprouts followed by a light spaghettini in a light tomato broth including fresh heirlooms and sundried tomatoes with a dollop of chevre. But it’s cold outside and we are looking for something a little more, something warm and sustaining. In the end, I settled on a pumpkin and acorn squash soup and a vegetarian Japanese curry.

The pumpkin and squash soup is very easy to make. It takes a bit of time but it sits in the oven for most of the cook time. If you can’t find a sugar pumpkin, you can substitute whatever squash you find available.

Roasted Pumpkin and Acorn Squash Bisque

1 sugar pumpkin
1 acorn squash
1c milk
1l vegetable broth
4 tbsp brown sugar
salt & pepper

Optional: coriander chutney

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2. Split the acorn squash and pumpkin in half (vertical wise). Scoop out seeds.
3. Place the acorn squash & pumpkin halves on a baking sheet. Sprinkle the cavity with a tablespoon of brown sugar. Bake in oven for about an hour until the vegetables are soft.
4. Remove from the oven. If you can handle it, quickly scoop out the flesh from the squash and pumpkin. Put the roasted vegetables into a large pot. Discard the skins.
5. Add milk, broth to the pot and bring to boil. Turn down. And carefully, blend with a handheld immersion blender. (I think this is far safer than sending it into a food processor or a blender. Just proceed carefully.) Blend until its smooth and silky. Add a little bit of water if the soup is too thick. Taste and adjust the seasonings.

Finish with a spoonful of coriander chutney (if you don’t have this, you can always substitute pesto.) Let your guests swirl the chutney into the soup. Enjoy!
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