Waffles with Cherry and Pear Compote

We are all big breakfast food fans at my house. Some of my fondest food memories of my childhood involve the early morning meals of Saturdays and Christmas. As each weekend began, my dad would fry mounds of bacon to the point of perfect crispiness, not quite burnt but nearly so. He would then drop eggs into the hot bacon fat, spooning the sizzling grease over the top of each yolk until the whites were just set and the yolk thick and oozing for optimal toast dipping. Christmas morning was (and still is) the one day of the year where my family deems it perfectly acceptable to begin the day with an absolute sugar rush. Our traditional coffee pairing is a little number that involves Pillsbury biscuits, cream cheese, pecans, orange zest and lots and lots of butter.

Ever since I went to college, however, and even now, living at home but spending most of my weekend mornings serving brunch to others rather than experiencing it for myself, the Saturday morning ritual of a late second breakfast, filled with enough protein and fat to last until nearly dinner, has pretty much ended. Sure we still often find ourselves making omelets and other breakfasty things for dinner, but it’s not quite the same when you’re not in pajamas, a cup of coffee in hand and warm, late morning light streaming through the windows. So when the rare opportunity comes for a weekend day off, I always seem to make time for an extra special brunch-type meal.

The most recent pick were these waffles from Food Network Magazine. They originally caught my eye because of the cherry and pear compote (I’m a sucker for anything with dried cherries) but as I looked through the recipe, there were many more details that seemed to peak my interest. Like the addition of whole rolled oats, the little touch of orange zest, and the use of cottage cheese rather than milk for extra moisture and a kick of protein. The end product adheres to all of the qualities of waffles that make them so appealing, but kicks them all up about 10 notches. The cottage cheese caramelizes slightly on the outside, making for an extra crispy crust while keeping the inside extremely tender. I hope this doesn’t sound unappealing (because it’s actually quite nice) but it’s almost like custard on the inside, dense, spongy, and creamy. The oats add dexterity and the waffles as a whole are only just sweet so that the nutty and citrusy flavors can shine through. And the whole combo is certainly not complete without the pear and cherry compote, simmered in fresh orange juice until syrupy, and the cottage cheese topping, whipped in the food processor until smooth and rich.

Altogether, the dish is everything you want in a breakfast. It’s stick to your ribs filling and the sweetness is balanced out by the zing of tangy fruits. It may even replace the Pillsbury classic at the Christmas morning breakfast table this year, amped up in decadence with perhaps a splash of brandy or bourbon in the compote and a sprinkling of toasted pecans overtop. And if you happen to have leftover waffles, they freeze wonderfully and can go straight from the freezer to the toaster and to your plate ready for a thick smear of peanut butter on top, because everything is better with peanut butter, right?

Orange Waffles with Cherry and Pear Compote and Creamy Topping
Makes about six waffles from
Food Network Magazine

For the Compote
2 Tbs unsalted butter
2 large Bartlett or d’Anjou pears, peeled and cut into ½ inch cubes
½ cup dried cherries
Juice from 2 oranges
1 Tbs sugar
splash of brandy or bourbon (optional)

For the Waffles
2 cups of all-purpose flour (you could sub half with whole wheat)
½ cup rolled oats
2 Tbs sugar
1½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp ground ginger
pinch of salt
1¼ cups milk
1 cup 2% cottage cheese
2 eggs
½ tsp vanilla extract
zest from half an orange
2 Tbs melted unsalted butter

For the Creamy Topping
1 cup 2% cottage cheese
1 Tbs sugar
1 Tbs milk
½ tsp vanilla extract

Toasted pecans, for serving

Start by making the compote. Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the pears and cook for about 4 minutes until slightly browned in some spots. Add the cherries, orange juice, sugar, and about ¼ cup of water. Bring to a simmer and cook until the liquid is reduced and syrupy. This took me about 15 minutes but it depends on how much liquid came from your oranges. If it starts to ever look too thick before the pears are soft enough, just add more water. Once thickened, remove from heat and add the splash of brandy or bourbon, if using. Transfer to a serving bowl and set aside to cool.

For the waffles, preheat the oven to 250 degrees and begin heating the waffle iron. Place a cooking rack over a baking sheet and set inside the oven. In a bowl, whisk together the flour, oats, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, ginger, and salt. In a separate bowl, whisk together the milk, cottage cheese, eggs, vanilla, and orange zest. Whisk the liquids into the dry ingredients until just combined (it will look lumpy). Stir in the melted butter. Set aside.

While the batter rests for a few moments, make the creamy topping. Combine the cottage cheese, sugar, milk, and vanilla in the bowl of a food processor and puree until very smooth. Transfer to a serving bowl and refrigerate until ready to use.

To make the waffles, spray the hot waffle iron with cooking spay and pour a heaping ½ cup of batter into the iron. Close and cooking according to iron’s instructions or until the waffles are golden and crisp. Transfer finished waffles to the rack in the warm oven until all the waffles are made. Serve the waffle with the compote and the creamy topping and top with a sprinkle of toasted pecans.

Pome and Circumstance

As circumstance has it, I don’t really cook too much anymore. With a nighttime restaurant job, my college self’s pastime of making overly elaborate meals for nearly every meal is essentially gone. On the bright side, things are a good deal cheaper with a steady diet of yogurt and toast but unfortunately much less inventive.

However the current circumstance and the changes this has brought to my lifestyle has created a change in palate. I used to gravitate toward long lists of ingredients and the challenges that they offered. I’ve now had to make peace with the fact that I can’t quite take on those challenges every day anymore. But it’s been an easy transition. Perhaps my constant proximity to food, and very beautiful and luxurious at that, satiates the need for it. I now need, seek, and crave things that are simple, quick, and filling. Whether I’m eating lunch before work or scouring the fridge after a long night, all I want is a meal that is starchy, crunchy, juicy, and salty all that the same time. In short, bread, cheese, and pome fruits.

Something about the combination of salty fatty cheese (cheddar and goat are my current preference) with chewy and filling bread all offset by a palate cleansing and thirst-quenching bite of an apple or pear really seems to be all I need right now. Even when I’m having it for the fifth day in a row, I still drive home maybe a little too fast in my anticipation for my nightly cheese on toast.

Fortunately for me the fall season is fast approaching and my pome fruit addiction is about to become tastier with the soon-to-come abundance of these gems. A fresh picked apple or pear in incomparable in every aspect imaginable. Apples, in their weight, seem halved and their flesh denser and drier. The skin is thick and floral and they take twice as long to eat as a regular apple, though whether this is from their savored tastiness or substantiality, I do not know. Yet they still have just the right amount of juiciness that they spray a fine mist of sticky nectar with that first crisp bite. With fresh-picked pears, they are heavy in their syrupy juice so that it relentlessly drips down the chin. The texture is minimally gritty and rather thick and creamy like butter. Pure and simple, fresh and raw - that is the way I best like my pome fruits.

To change up the pace with the starch aspect of my new typical meal I made these cheesy savory scones. The recipe is by Nigel Slater from his book Ripe. He suggests them as a perfect accompaniment to a raw pear. He is quite correct with that note as he is on most things fruit and vegetable related. The book in its entirety is exquisite and a must have for anyone fascinated by nature’s sweetest produce and both the sweet and savory applications for them. The recipe, too, is quintessentially British as a savory take on the teatime classic and a base for some of the country’s finest cheeses. They are light and airy as a biscuit yet a little more moist and wet from the melting cheese dispersed throughout. The touch of spelt flour and hazelnuts adds a deep nuttiness and slight sweetness to counterbalance the salty cheese. Eaten warm with a smear of butter, a clean arugula salad, and, of course, a fresh juicy pear, it is a lunch I’d be glad to return to as my circumstances require.

Goat Cheese and Thyme Scones (with pears)
recipe adapted from Nigel Slater’s Ripe
makes 4 scones

1 cup all purpose flour
¾ cup spelt or whole wheat flour
1 Tbs baking powder
3 Tbs cold butter cut into small cubes
3½ oz shredded sharp cheddar cheese
2 oz goat cheese
1 tsp. chopped thyme
¼ cup hazelnuts, toasted and coarsely ground
½ cup buttermilk
salt and pepper
pears, for serving

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. In a mixing bowl sift together the flours and the baking powder. Scatter the butter cubes over the flour and use your fingers to rub it into the flour until evenly distributed. Alternately, you could do this step in a food processor and transfer to a mixing bowl after. Add the goat and cheddar cheese, the thyme, the ground hazelnuts, and a pinch of salt and pepper to the flour and butter mixture and give a small stir to combine.

Pour the buttermilk over the flour mixture and use a fork to quickly bring the ingredients together into a firm ball of dough. If it looks a little too dry add a little more buttermilk. Dump onto a floured surface and shape into a round disk about 6 inches in diameter. Transfer to a lightly floured or parchment lined baking sheet. Using a knife, score a deep cross into the dough (making sure you don’t go all the way through to the baking sheet) so that you have 4 wedges. Sprinkle a little more cheese and thyme overtop.

Bake for 35 to 40 minutes until puffed and golden brown. Let cool for about 10 minutes before eating with a lovely autumn pear.

The Art of Simplicity

I find that I like to make things complex with my cooking. Maybe it’s for the sake of a little challenge, making me feel like I’m furthering my knowledge or something. Sure, why not make the elaborate curry that requires me to spend ridiculous amounts of money on spices from a specialty food market? Sound like fun! Or, macaroons? Sure. Who doesn’t love tediously piping little circles of egg whites onto parchment? Even the other day my mom told me, “Oh Katie, you’re such a Martha.” I took it as a compliment.

But whatever the reason for this extravagance, I always tend to stray from the straight path, opting for rocky, muddy, and treacherous road instead. The flair, unfortunately, doesn’t always work in my best interest. Like the time I tried to make my family a vegetarian molé chili; “you’ll love it, the secret ingredient is chocolate!” And when we sat down to bowls of a substance totally indistinguishable from garbage sludge, I had to admit defeat. Or the time I attempted making treacle tart to bring to a British themed dinner, only to end up sealing the teeth together of all who ate the cement-like toffee. Their pained but polite words of approval settled uncomfortably in my stomach.

As much I do enjoy culinary adventuresome, I still can’t deny comfort in simplicity. The food that I post here are my weekend experiments. What I eat on a normal basis is more along the line of cheese and crackers or yogurt and granola or, my new strange but favorite fixation, egg salad sandwiches. To me, taking very few ingredients and combining them in ways that result in powerfully flavored dishes is almost as much of a challenge as making those extravagant meals. I like this challenge too and through trial and error, I’ve discovered that there are keys to great simplicity in food.

First, successful simplicity requires good ingredients. Simple food does not have extra fluff to mask anything under par. There are only few components and those need to be top notch to provide heightened and optimal flavor.

Also, there needs to be contrast. This is what turns ordinary and bland into something that gets people excited. Simple does not have to be boring at all. When two or three ingredients that are different yet complementary, not only in flavor but texture, come together, it causes all senses to stimulate at once making for a memorable eating experience. And finally, it needs to be cooked with love and care, the ingredient that makes a difference in all cooking.

So one rainy and cold evening a few weeks ago I made grilled cheese, the ultimate comfort food, but with a twist. I cut up thick slices of ricotta bread from the farmers market. I crammed the inside with slabs of creamy Fontina cheese, crispy organic bacon, and slices of just-underripe local pears. I gave the bread a lovely swipe of butter and let it spend some time getting hot and melty in the pan.

Though unconventional it worked. The sweet pears were a perfect match to the salty bacon and the Fontina, though mild, enveloped all in a buttery blanket of richness. It was the bread that really made this sandwich. It crisped up beautifully because of the high butterfat content and its milky and slightly tangy notes rounded out the whole package. I enjoyed it alone, a sublime retreat, that lasted mere minutes but felt like hours in food divinity. Each bite was like music as my teeth moved through layers of resounding crunch. In secluded gluttony, I licked my buttery fingers unashamedly for I had finally truly felt like I discovered the art of simplicity. Four ingredients (five if you count butter) and one amazing sandwich.

Fall Grilled Cheese
serves 1

All I can say about this is go all out. No skimping on this recipe please and savor it for every fatty and cheesy bite its worth. You can always work out later.

Ricotta bread (brioche, challah, or white country bread works too)
Fontina cheese, as much as you feel meets your standards of cheesiness
3 slices of bacon
1 slightly underripe pear

Heat a frying pan to medium and lay down the slices of bacon. Cook until crisp and drain on paper towels. Wipe out the pan and set aside for later.

As the bacon cooks, prepare the other ingredients. Slice two thick pieces of the bread and then slice as much cheese as you like. Slice the pear into quarters and then cut thin pieces from each of these. You will only need about half so you can eat the remaining slices as a snack.

To assemble lay about ¾ of the cheese on one piece of bread. Place the pears on top and them the bacon. Dot the remaining cheese on top of the bacon so it melts to the other piece of bread and holds the sandwich together. Lay the remaining piece of bread on top. Generously butter the outside of the sandwich.

Get a pan on medium heat and also turn the oven to about 400 degrees. Cook the sandwich in the pan for about 2 minutes a side, pressing down occasionally and constantly checking to make sure you don’t burn anything. Once both sides are golden brown and crispy, transfer the pan to the oven for about 2 minutes to let the cheese melt. Remove, cut any way you like, and enjoy.