Sunday, February 20, 2011

Luscious Pears

Pears are such beautifully elegant fruits. The way they hang from the tree, so voluptuously, tempting you so seductively. I mean, look at that shape! (Reminds me a little of myself). 

Anyway, did you know that there are over 3,000 varieties of pears around the world? The most popular ones here in the U.S. are likely varieties you've heard of before: Bosc, Bartlett, and Anjou, but how about Comice, Concorde, Forelle, Seckel, and Starkrimson? They are new to me and I'll be trying to find some the next time I'm at the farmer's market.

Pears are not only delicious but super healthy and make a great snack. With only 100 calories a piece, they have no fat and a whopping 6 grams of fiber! They are a bit high in sugar, but are certainly a better choice than these pre-packaged "100 calorie" treat bags you can buy of cookies and other junk that aren't nearly as full of energy, enzymes and nutrition as these babies.

But which pears are best for which purpose? Most of those I've researched work great as is, or can hold up to cooking. The Anjou pear is great for snacking, cooking, and slicing into salads; the Bartlett is creamy, sweet and aromatic and is good fresh, canned, or added to a salad; the Bosc is honey sweet and great fresh or in cooking; the Comice is a dessert pear and is best paired with a good cheese for an after-dinner snack; the Concorde is vanilla sweet and can be heated or eaten fresh. You get the idea.

Pears are an elegant addition to salads. I like adding slices along with a strong creamy cheese, such as a bleu or gorgonzola, and a sprinkling of walnuts to a bed of lovely greens dressed with a champagne vinaigrette. Super. A really nice elegant simple salad.

I also like unfussy desserts that are not too sweet and pears, with their natural fruit sugar, are great just simply poached. Sometimes you'll see recipes for poached pears served alongside a dessert sauce called Creme Anglaise. It's an incredible sauce but takes a bit more time to prepare. The following recipe is just for the pears. Simple. Unfussy.

Poached Pears

1 lemon
3 cups red wine
1 cinnamon stick, 4 inches long
1/2 cup sugar
4 large perfumed pears (preferably Anjou)

Wash the lemon and wipe dry. Remove the zest in long strips, reserve the pulp for another use. Pour the wine into a large saucepan. Stir in the lemon zest, cinnamon stick and sugar. Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves.

Peel the pears, leaving them whole and the stem intact. Arrange on their sides in a flameproof deep-sided dish big enough to hold them without overlapping. Pour the wine mixture over them and poach for 20 minutes over gentle heat, turning often.

Drain the pears and set aside in a bowl. Boil the cooking liquid over high heat until reduced to about 1 cup of fragrant syrup. Remove the zest and cinnamon. Coat the pears with the wine syrup and let cool. Refrigerate for a few hours if you wish. I prefer them at room temperature.

Serves 4.

Variation: make the recipe with a sweet white wine such as a Riesling if you don't care for red wine or wish to keep the color intact (red wine will dye them purple).

For more pears recipes, check out this website. Rather a lot to choose from!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Getting ready for Game Day

Well, I'm no sports fan (of football, at least) so this weekend's Super Bowl will go more or less unrecognized at my house. However, all this talk everywhere of Super Bowl menus and making vats of chili and cornbread put me in the mood for making them - a week early. So regardless of the impending game, last Sunday's rainy weather was perfect for a warming bowl of hearty chili and cornbread to go alongside of it, paired with a nice cool beer.

The chili recipe I used as a basis from which to start is from my Silver Palate cookbook but there were 2 problems right off the bat. One is that the recipe is called "Chili for a Crowd" and that's no joke: the serving suggestion says: 35-40 servings! Since I didn't need that much chili, I improvised with the quantities to bring it to 4 servings. The second issue is that the recipe calls for beef, which I don't eat, so I substituted ground turkey. Despite my finagling with the recipe I was pleasantly surprised with the results. It was damn good chili!

The cornbread was also delish. Thanks Ina ("Barefoot Contessa"), for the recipe.

Turkey Chili

2 Tbsp. good quality olive oil
1 yellow onion, coarsely chopped
2 sweet Italian sausages, casings removed
1 - 1 1/2 pounds of ground turkey (or the original ground beef chuck)
1 tsp. ground black pepper
1 Tbsp. tomato paste
3 cloves fresh garlic, minced
1 tsp. ground cumin
2 tsp. good quality chili powder
1 Tbsp. Dijon-style mustard
2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. dried basil
2 tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. dried dill
1 can (14 oz.) Italian plum tomatoes, crushed
1/8 cup red wine
1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1 Tbsp. fresh chopped parsley
1 can kidney beans, drained
1 can pitted black small or medium California olives, drained

For garnishing chili:
sour cream
finely chopped onions or scallions
grated cheddar cheese

Heat oil in a large pot. Add onions and cook over low heat, covered, until tender and translucent, about 10 minutes.Crumble sausage meat and ground turkey into the pot and cook over medium-high heat, stirring often, until meats are well browned. If using beef, spoon out as much excess fat as possible.
Over low heat stir in black pepper, tomato paste, garlic, cumin, chili powder, mustard, salt, basil, oregano and dill. Add tomatoes (add the liquid if you wish. Recipe says to drain it but I wanted it in), wine, lemon juice, parsley and kidney beans. Stir well and simmer, uncovered for another 15 minutes.
Taste and correct seasoning. Add olives, simmer another 5 minutes to heat through. Top with extra goodies. Serve immediately.

Jalapeno Cheddar Cornbread

Preheat oven to 350F.

Dry ingredients:
3 cups flour
1 cup medium coarse corn meal
1/4 cup sugar
2 Tbsp. baking powder
2 1/2 tsp. salt

Wet ingredients:
2 sticks butter (1/2 lb.), melted in a saucepan. While that's melting, whisk together:
3 eggs
2 cups milk
Add the butter.
Incorporate the wet ingredients into the dry. Stir. Let batter sit for 15 minutes to absorb the liquid.

Meanwhile, prep the remaining ingredients:
8 oz. grated white Cheddar (sharp or extra sharp are best)*
1/2 cup chopped scallions*
1-1 1/2 large jalapeno peppers, finely chopped, all seeds and white membrane removed

* leave a little behind to add to the top before baking.
Stir these in to the batter. Grease a 9"x13" pan, spread the batter in. Sprinkle on the remaining cheese and scallions. Bake for 30-35 minutes. Allow to cool slightly before cutting.

For an 8x8" pan, I reduced the quantities in 1/2.

So, weather you watch the game on Sunday or not, make this chili sometime. I realize everyone has a favorite they've tasted somewhere or made themselves, but if you're open to trying something different, I think you'll love it as much as we did.

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