The first dinner party I ever hosted was last year for the Easter holiday. Similar to Thanksgiving, Easter is a holiday that many New Yorkers are somewhat orphaned. I don't come from a religious family, but we always had an Easter supper, and I think many of my friends had the same experience growing up.
However, airline tickets are expensive and Easter doesn't really qualify as a must as far a traveling home is concerned. Granted, I'm pretty certain my mom would have an amazing Easter basket waiting for me if I did come home, but American Airlines doesn't seem to want to get on board with my travel budget.
So, for Easter last year I went all out. I rented a long banquet table, nice china and made sure it was a table setting fit for only the fanciest diners in Soho that evening. Then it came down to the food.
I ordered a spiral cut ham from a local butcher, and the rest of the meal was sort of ad-libbed. I bought some canned veggies to heat up right before dinner, which I now think is lame, but frankly, my kitchen confidence as far as main meals go wasn't quite up to speed at that time. The fact that I did bake the lemon tart I served for dessert redeems me a little bit, at least in my mind. The one lesson I took away from the experience is that dinner parties are serious business and pre-planning is a must. Even though I planned, I spent more time in the kitchen than mingling with my guests.
Since then, I've been thinking of other desserts that require very little kitchen time, allowing one to spend more time with guests instead of hovering over the stove. And now, I think I've found a perfect recipe that requires minimal attention but produces beautiful results: Apple Cider Poached Pears with Vanilla Ice Cream.
I wrote about this dessert over at Examiner.com where I serve as the Brooklyn Dessert Examiner. As I noted in the previous article, the use of apple cider, not apple juice, is important to note before getting started. Most farmer's markets carry high-quality apple cider, and believe me - it's worth seeking out.
Secondly, vanilla ice cream is a great accompaniment to this recipe, and Brooklyn’s own Van Leeuwen Artisan Ice Cream in Vanilla is recommended.
Apple Cider Poached Pears with Vanilla Ice Cream
4 c. of apple cider (NOT apple juice)
1 cinnamon stick
2 ripe pears, peeled (any variety of pears will do)
1 tbsp. cornstarch
Vanilla ice cream
Sprinkle of cinnamon
Pecans, as garnish (if desired)
In a small saucepan, pour 4 cups of apple cider and one cinnamon stick. Bring to a simmer.
Peel 2 pears, and if you prefer, halve and core. Leave stems on as this adds to the presentation and allows you to pick the pears out of the pan without damaging the fruit’s body. Place pears in apple cider, cover, and let simmer for 45 minutes. If your pears are not quite ripe, you might need to add an addition 15 to 20 minutes to poaching time.
On two small plates, sprinkle cinnamon powder for presentation. Remove pears from simmering cider by using tongs and lifting by the pears’ stems. Place pears on cinnamon-sprinkled plates. Add 1 tablespoon of cornstarch to cider and cinnamon stick mixture and whisk until a minimally thick sauce forms.
Scoop out a single serving of vanilla ice cream and add next to plated pears. With a small spoon, drizzle apple cider and cinnamon sauce over pears and ice cream. If you like, sprinkle chopped walnuts over pears and cream. Now, feel free indulge in what might be the easiest winter dessert ever created.