The Reluctant Desserteur

Week of January 8 – 14, 2018

Kraut and pork

New Year’s Day:        Pork Chops, Bacon and Kielbasa Cooked in Sauerkraut, Mashed Potatoes, Green Salad

Israeli Hummus

Tuesday:                      Hummus with Crudités, Leftovers

pasta putanesca

Wednesday:                Pasta Putanesca, Dressed Arugula

Thursday:                    Broccoli Silk Bisque, Grilled Cheese Sandwiches

white pizza

Friday:                         Oysters on the Half-Shell, White Pizza with Swiss Chard

enchilada plate

Saturday:                     Beef Enchiladas, Green Salad


Sunday:                       Fontainebleau Cheese with Crudités and Crackers, Roast Chicken, Carrot and Sweet Potato Purée, Dressed Greens, Caramelized Pear Custard

What a week to live through!  Dogs had to be carried to and from the yard to make their ablutions – their paws would freeze and stop them in their tracks.  Foreheads froze on a walk to and from the mailbox.  And every time we came in from a trip or a walk we spent the next 30 minutes sighing out something that sounded like “Hoh,” and rubbing our hands together.

Despite sensational weathermen and women who made this week sound like a reverse version of the Apocalypse, we’ve actually suffered colder temperatures in Pittsburgh in my lifetime.  I remember an actual 15 below when the boys were small and Billy crying when we stepped from my car into the wind on a trip to the store, so that I had to carry him (he was about the same size as a small dog back then) with his hooded face buried on my shoulder.  I also remember a lot of snow in the 1950s and 60s and coming in from sled-riding or hockey – which we played with broom sticks and rubber balls, wearing leather-soled penny loafers to ‘skate’ on icy LaClair Street in Regent Square – and sitting directly on the hot-air register to restore feeling to my hands and feet.

So, really, our survival was not a close thing, we being born-and-bred Pittsburghers, a hearty, if somewhat profane citizenry with a bit of an accent-challenge.  And we had plenty of good food to help us get through.  The life-restoring pot of pork and sauerkraut on Monday will always be my go-to cold weather food.  And the white pizza on Friday was a revelation.  We recreated our favorite roast chicken (see superior roast chicken for the recipe) on Sunday for Billy and Emily.  And . . .I did something I have just begun in the last few months to do regularly on a Sunday when we have the kids or guests over – I cooked dessert.

Barbara grew up not eating dessert.  Jeanne, her mother, was a dietician and, wisely, no doubt, just did not do dessert except for holiday dinners when she would serve us pot-de-crèmes in these nifty little pots with flowery tops.  At the Stewart house we rarely had a cooked or assembled dessert, but we certainly went through several boxes of Oreos, Vienna Fingers, and Nutter-Butters each week, to help us get through the 6 gallons of milk that mom brought home from two separate shopping forays.  So, when Beez and I began to cook together, dessert for the boys might be an industrial-baked cookie, at most.

But recently, under the tutelage of Jacques Pépin and Alex Guarnaschelli (she devotes about a tenth of The Home Cook to dessert) I have been getting into desserts at least one day each week.  And on Sunday, in addition to the good chicken and the interesting purée, we had, if I says it as made it, and I does, we had a great dessert.  Now this dessert was great, in spite of the fact that I think Jacques got the proportions of custard to pears wrong in his book (we needed about twice as much custard).  This means, which is hard to believe, that the next time we cook it, it will be even better.  And you can thank us for the recipe below, which ensures that you’ll have a better dessert than we did.  (Checks may made out to ‘Psycho Chef’ and mailed directly to our address.)

Caramelized Pear Tart

(picture from Heart and Soul in the Kitchen– we forgot to take one)


(adapted from Jacques Pépin, Heart and Soul in the Kitchen) 

Timing:            30 to 40 minutes – an additional 20 minutes to cool down before serving. 


2 ripe, hard pear (about 1 lb.)
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 tablespoons of butter
1 ½ cup half-and-half  [Note:  we have doubled this and the following ingredients for the custard, since Jacques’ suggestion of ¾ half-and-half left the pears surrounded by a thin layer of custard.  But they should be covered or almost covered by the custard]
2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 tablespoon dark rum
2 large eggs, beaten with a fork
4 tablespoons pure maple syrup

Confectioner’s sugar for serving

Cook the Dessert:

Preheat the oven to 400 F

Caramelize the Pears:

Peel the pears, cut them in half, core them and then cut each half into 3 wedges.

Put the pears in a skilled with the sugar and the butter and cook, uncovered, over high heat (adjust so as not to burn) for about 6 minutes, turning onece, until they are caramelized.

Transfer the pears to a 4-5 cup gratin dish.

Mix the ingredients for the custard:

Mix the half-and-half, vanilla, rum, beaten eggs and maple syrup in a bowl.

Pour the custard over the pears.

Place the gratin dish on a baking sheet and bake for 15 – 25 minutes until just set.  Why just set?  We cooked too long and the custard developed fissures on its surface.  It was still delicious, but it’s better if not overcooked.


Let the custard cool, then dust with confectioner’s sugar if you like, and serve.

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