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Poached pears are a light and lovely dessert that can follow just about any meal. For best flavor, choose Bartletts; for best texture, Bosc or Anjou.

Makes 4 servings

4 ripe but firm pears
1 cup unsweetened apple juice
2/3 cup water
1/2 lemon
1 piece of vanilla bean (about 2 inches), split lengthwise in half
1 cinnamon stick, broken into 2-3 pieces
Yogurt Cheese (recipe follows)

1. Peel the pears. Use a long apple corer to remove the cores from the bottom, leaving just the stems intact.
2. In a large wide saucepan or flameproof casserole, combine the apple juice with water. Cut several strips of zest from the lemon half, making sure to avoid the white pith. Squeeze the juice into the pot. With the tip of a small knife, scrape the tiny seeds from the vanilla bean into the liquid; toss in the pod, as well. Add the cinnamon stick.
3. Bring the poaching liquid to a simmer over medium-low heat. Arrange the pears on their sides in the pan. Don’t worry if they are not completely covered with liquid. Partially cover the pot and simmer, rolling the pears gently to turn them several times, until they are just tender, 15 to 20 minutes.
4. With a slotted spoon, remove the pears and let cool. Boil the syrup in the pan until reduced by about a third and flavorful. Chill, if desired. Serve each pear with a few tablespoons of syrup and a dollop of Yogurt Cheese on top.

Yogurt Cheese:
This simple thickened yogurt is easy to make and amazingly versatile. It can be mixed with herbs and served as a savory spread or used plain or sweetened as a topping for dessert.

Makes about 1 cup

2 cups (1 pint) plain goat or sheep yogurt

1. Line a fine sieve with a double thickness of damp cheesecloth. Place the sieve over a deep bowl to catch the whey. (Be sure the sieve does not touch the bottom of the bowl.)
2. Without stirring, gently spoon the yogurt into the sieve and let drain, covered, in the refrigerator until thickened but still soft, 24 to 48 hours. Drain the whey. If made in advance, cover and refrigerate the yogurt cheese for up to one week.

From “The Swiss Secret to Optimal Health,” by Thomas Rau, MD, with Susan Wyler. Berkley Books 2009. Reprinted by permission.

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