Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Port Wine Poached Pears

Pears have been poached for some time.  Archaeologists have found ancient mummies with perfectly poached pears just so they can take them into the afterlife.  It is even said that the ferry man (Charon) on the River Styx can be bribed with a Port Wine Poached Seckel Pear (what is he supposed to do with 2 coins in the afterlife?).

Fortunately poaching is not especially difficult and pears are almost made for poaching.  This recipe makes less than ripe pears edible.  This particular recipe features Ruby Port, in this case an inexpensive one.  The flavors of pear, cinnamon, port, honey and vanilla all come through in the final product.  There is a slight sweetness and strangely a certain amount savoriness from the Port.  This has not been prepared to be a particularly rounded flavor as it will be combined with a few more things.  The rich color comes from allowing the pears to soak in the poaching liquid over night.

Ruby Port, Sugar, Seckel Pears, Honey, Cinnamon, Vanilla and a Straight Sided Sauce Pan

Peeled and Cored Poached Pears with a Melon Baller and Peeler

A shot of the deeply Melon Balled Pears ready to hit the Hot Tub

The Ingredients combined in the Sauce pan.  Notice that the pears are nearly immersed.

A small plate covers the Pears to insure that they stay immersed in the poaching liquid.

The pears, now tender, are separated from the poaching liquid to cool more quickly.

The Pear after soaking in the Poaching Liquid over night with Poached Pear Ice Cream and Pear Creme Brulee

General notes:

Total Time: 24 hours, actual hands on prep time: 20 - 30 minutes
Servings: 6

6 Seckel Pears (or whichever you like)
750 ml Ruby Port Wine
1 Tsp Cinnamon
1 1/2 cups Sugar
1/2 cup Honey
1 Tsp Vanilla

Written Instructions:
  • Combine ingredients except Pears in a medium straight sided sauce pan
  • Peel Pears, leaving stem attached for presentation purposes
  • Using a melon baller remove core of Pear from the bottom of the pear, taking care not to break pear
  • Carefully add Pears to the sauce pan with the other ingredients, try not to splash as it might stain your clothes)
  • Bring Pears and Liquid up to a boil and quickly drop to a gentle simmer.  In other words small bubbles that will not move the Pears around very much
  • When the Pears have become tender, test this by inserting a thin knife into one of the pears, if it goes in easily, the Pear is tender
  • Remove the sauce pan form the heat and put somewhere that you can easily remove the Pears from the liquid
  • Remove the Pears and place in a separate container that will fit the Pears, the Liquid and fit in your refrigerator
  • Let the Pears and Liquid cool for a few minutes, recombine and put into your refrigerator
  • Ensure the Pears are immersed in the poaching liquid, by weighting them slightly if need be
  • Forget about them until the next day
  • Take them out, drain and make it happen in your tum tum, or add them to your favorite dish, or stuff with cheese

Friday, January 16, 2009

Braised Winter Greens with Pears and Onions

This dish uses Pears as a counterpoint to Winter Greens which are typically somewhat peppery and slightly bitter. The Pears, along with the Onions help to balance out the pervasive flavors of the Greens while providing some textural differences as well. This is a great side dish to serve with Chicken or Pork entrees or for those who don't dig on swine or fowl, try it with your favorite starch or marinated tofu.

The 10" Saute Pan ready to go to work, heating over medium heat

Just like any good night you will want to start off with a little Olive Oil

Add the Onion to the Saute Pan with a little Kosher Salt and keep them moving

Add in the diced Pear and continue to saute

Add in the Winter greens with a little more Salt and Olive Oil

Put a lid on the pan to capture some of the steam and start the moist heating process of braising

Braise the mixture for 20-25 minutes to make the greens tender and deepen the flavor. Cook uncovered to eliminate the excess moisture.

General Notes
Servings: 4 sides
Total Time: 30-45 minutes depending on how much prep your greens require
Any winter greens will work well, this was a mixture but only one kind can be used as well

2 pears, peeled, cored and diced
1/2 a yellow onion sliced on the thin side of medium
4 cups Winter greens (such as Kale, Collard, or Mustard), washed thoroughly, destemmed, and cut into 2 inch strips, about 1 bunch
Olive Oil as needed
Kosher Salt to taste
Black Pepper to taste
White Wine Vinegar if needed
Honey if needed
Written Instructions
  • Put a pan that you have a lid to on the stove at medium heat
  • Drizzle in a small amount of Olive Oil and let heat until it easily slides around the pan
  • Add the sliced onions with some Kosher Salt and saute to add some color
  • Cook for a few minutes until the Onions have browned and softened
  • Add diced Pears and saute to give them a little bit of color
  • When you have just slightly browned the pears and started to softening add the greens to the pan
  • Add a little Olive Oil and Kosher Salt and Cover the pan with the lid
  • Every few minutes stir the mixture a little to help keep the onions and pears from sticking. The steaming and braising effect happening inside of the pan should help keep this from being a worry
  • Cook in this manner for 20 - 25 minutes or until the greens taste tender when you try one
  • Adjust the seasoning as necessary with Kosher Salt, Black Pepper, Vinegar, or Honey depending on which way your taste decides you should take the flavor. If it still taste a little bitter add a small amount of honey and retaste. Too sweet? Add a little bit of vinegar and so on and so forth
  • Remove from heat and make it happen in your tum tum

Pear Creme Brulee

Chances are your parent's favorite dessert to order in a restaurant is Creme Brulee. It seems like a daunting and horribly time consuming task that can only be accomplished with professional grade equipment. Well, the sad news is that most home cooking equipment is of better quality than most kitchen equipment and most professional cooks have no more skill than the average home cook. They do have far more burns, cuts, and scrapes though, which must amount for something. The digression ends and on to the dish at hand...Pear Creme Brulee.

This is not a 30 minute meal, in fact it is not even a 60 minute meal, however it is not difficult nor is there a lot of hands on time. This recipe is an adaptation from a Creme Brulee recipe from Le Cirque, one of the World's greatest restaurants. The only hope is that this does it justice. You will notice that this version uses a deeper ramekin, as that is what was on hand. The pear flavor is subtle, but noticeable. This can be enjoyed on its on or used as a component in a larger more ambitious dessert such as the one in the last picture (Pear Creme Brulee, Ruby Port Poached Seckel Pear with Ice Cream made from the Poaching Liquid). Recipes for the rest of that will follow this post.
2 Cups Heavy Whipping Cream is added to a Sauce Pan and placed over Medium-Low Heat

The Heavy Cream is brought to a simmer with diced Pears, Vanilla, and Salt

While the Cream is heating, Whisk together Eggs, Sugar and Honey in a Metal Mixing Bowl

The simmering Cream mixture

The various Custard filled Ramekins in the Oven in a Water Bath

The Baked Custard cooling on a Wire Rack

Pear Dessert Trio, Port Poached Pear, Pear Creme Brulee and Poached Pear Ice Cream

General Notes
4 servings if using 6 ounce Ramekins
Total Time: 4 1/2 Hours, Hands on Time: 20 - 30 minutes
The Pears are separated out in the ingredients as their omission and eliminating any pear related steps, will yield a plain vanilla creme brulee.

2 Cups Heavy Whipping Cream
1/2 tsp Vanilla Extract or if you Roll Deep 1/2 Vanilla Bean, split lengthwise
4 Egg Yolks
1/3 cup Sugar
2 Tbsp Honey
Pinch of Kosher Salt
4 additional tbsp sugar for topping

2 Pears, as always the best quality that you can find and your budget allows

Written Instructions
  • Preheat your oven to 300 degrees
  • Fill a kettle or pot of water and begin heating it to a simmer while working on the rest
  • Peel, Core and Dice the 2 Pears and momentarily set aside
  • In a medium Sauce Pan combine the Cream, Vanilla, Salt and Pears and bring to a simmer over medium heat
  • While the Cream mixture is heating, combine the Egg Yolks, 1/3 cup Sugar and Honey in a metal mixing bowl
  • Whisk the Egg Yolk mixture together until well blended and lightened in color
  • Remove the Cream mixture from the stove when it has just begun to simmer and add it to a blender, or food processor, put the lid on but not all the way and cover the lid with a towel (This is to puree the pear and release even more Pearness). Also make sure that the Cream mixture does not fill more than half of the blender/processor. Other wise you can find yourself covered in HOT Cream in a very bad way when the blender/processor starts up
  • CAREFULLY turn the blender/processor onto its lowest setting and blend until smooth
  • A little at a time (maybe a quarter of a cup), add the hot cream mixture into the egg mixture taking care not to scramble the eggs by adding too much hot cream the first time
  • Once you have added maybe half of the hot Cream mixture to the eggs, at which point the eggs should be pretty hot but not scrambled, feel free to add the hot Cream mixture more aggressively. Oh, and by the way this is basically "Tempering the Eggs"
  • Next, strain the custard through a fine mesh strainer or cheesecloth into a vessel suitable for pouring
  • With any luck your water is simmering and your oven is preheated at this point so put your ramekins into a high sided oven safe pan that is water tight and comfortably accommodates the ramekins
  • Add the custard base into the ramekins filling them to just below the top of the ramekin
  • Open the oven and keep the door completely open, slide the middle rack out about half way, ensuring that it will hold the weight of the pan etc.
  • Place the custard filled ramekins on the oven rack and add your simmering water to the pan such that the water comes about halfway up the sides of the ramekins
  • Loosely cover the pan with aluminum foil and bake for about 1 hour
  • Remove the whole operation when the custard is firm at the edges but still a little wobbly in the middle. It will have some more carry over cooking to finish up after you take it out
  • With an oven safe mitt, remove the ramekins to a wire rack to let them cool
  • When cooler, cover individually and refrigerate for at least 3 hours or up to 3 days
  • When ready to enjoy and they are very cool and set up, turn on the broiler of your oven or break out the blow torch
  • Put one tablespoon of Sugar onto each custard and broil right under the burner until the sugar is bubbly and lightly browned, or torch them spinning the whole while ensure even browning
  • Turn off the Broiler and carefully remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly
  • Time to make it happen in your tum tum, and please be sure to crack the sugar topping with a spoon. it is one of the greatest but most simple pleasures.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Honey Roasted Pear with Various Cheeses

This dish has been designed to be a tasty and easy dish to make with pantry ingredients and any kind of pear regardless of ripeness. It can be served as an appetizer or as a light dessert. The delicate flavor of the pear is made more intense in the roasting process and is further augmented with the honey. Depending on the type of cheese that you choose, you can create a whole range of textural and flavor combinations. You can even combine different cheeses or add a sauce or chutney to this to add even more interest. One of the steps is also optional if you are pressed for time, scared, or don't have a broiler. The pictures differ slightly from the written directions as a better process was discovered after the pictures were taken.

Rinse, Halve, and Core 2 pears, in this case D'Anjou

Toss the pears with a little olive oil, sprinkle with kosher salt and add the pears to an oven safe roasting vessel cut side down.

Roast the pears in a 350 degree oven for 20 - 30 minutes or until they are browned and soft but not falling apart.

Make a mixture of Honey and Olive Oil and coat the Pears with it before Broiling

Top with your favorite white cheese, in this case they are each topped differently. One has Brie, one has Gorgonzola, one has Goat Cheese and one has all three.

Serves 4 as an appetizer or dessert
Total Time: 30 - 45 minutes depending on ripeness of pears and oven accuracy.
If you are omitting the broiling phase, add the Honey Olive Oil mixture before the Initial Roasting.

2 D'Anjou pears (rinsed, halved and cored) or which ever look good or you have
2 tbsp Honey
Olive Oil as needed
Kosher Salt to taste
Preferred Cheese, or refer to this list for examples

Written Instructions
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees and move one oven rack to middle setting and another to the top "broiler" setting.
  • Rinse halve and core 2 pears.
  • Lightly coat the Pears with Olive Oil sprinkle with salt and add cut side down to oven safe roasting pan.
  • Roast in the preheated oven for 20 - 30 minutes or until the pears are golden and lightly browned.
  • Remove from the pan from the oven and place or a trivet on your counter top.
  • While the Pears are cooling slightly, Whisk the Honey with just enough Olive Oil to help the honey loosen up and become more spreadable.
  • Flip the Pears cut side up and lightly coat with the Olive Oil Honey mixture.
  • Turn the oven up to broil and place the pears back into the oven on the "broiler" rack.
  • Broil briefly to brown the Pears, and caramelize the Honey.
  • Remove the pan from the oven, turn off oven and move the Pears to a platter.
  • Top with your favorite cheese taking care to add an appropriate amount. More is not always better, you should be able to taste the Pear.
  • Get down.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Pear and Goat Cheese Ravioli

This dish was created to show one method of using pears in more savory dishes. Pears are sauteed with onions briefly to add a little bit of color, take away some of the raw taste and soften the texture. These are then stuffed into ravioli's with some goat cheese to add a little saltiness and richer mouth feel. Then the ravioli are tossed with spinach to bring up the savory component, walnuts to add some crunch, butter to bring the whole thing together and a splash of a champagne vinegar to brighten all the flavors. The more explicit written recipe follows the pictures. The written directions look long but it is not a difficult dish to make.

The pears are cut into a dice following the standard preparation

Diced onions are sweat for 5 minutes over medium low heat until translucent

The diced pears are added to the onions and allowed to lightly caramelize for another 10 minutes

Store Bought Wonton wrappers are laid out on parchment paper in pairs. Egg wash, a pastry brush, the pear/ onion mixture, and goat cheese crumbles are placed conveniently nearby.

The Wonton Wrappers are brushed with egg wash, then a spoonful of pear/onion mixture is added to the center along with a couple goat cheese crumbles. The corresponding wrapper is then placed on the filling and pressed down to the other wrapper. Care is taken to keep as much air as possible out of the "pocket"

The brushed, filled, and sealed raviolis ready for the boiling water.

Half of the raviolis right after being added to the salted boiling water.

The raviolis are then added to a 10" fry pan which has been wilting the spinach while toasting the walnuts and browning the butter. A light splash of Champagne vinegar is added and the raviolis are then tossed lightly with the "condiment." The finished dish looks like this.

Servings 4 as a side, 2 as a main entree
1 hour total time or less, depends on ravioli pressing skills.
As a general rule of thumb, use the best things you can get your hands on. So if the Starkrimsons look awful or nonexistent get whatever looks good.

1/2 package Wonton Wrappers purchased from grocery store near chilled Asian ingredients.
2 Starkrimson pears (peeled, cored and diced)
1/2 Large Vidalia Onion (diced)
1/2 container Goat Cheese Crumbles
8 oz Fresh Baby Spinach
1/4 cup Walnut pieces
2 tbsp Unsalted Butter
1 tsp Champagne Vinegar
1 Large Egg
Olive Oil as needed
Kosher Salt and Black Pepper to Taste

Written Instructions
  • Fill a large pot of water and set on the stove to boil, do not add salt until it is boiling.
  • Place a 10" - 12" Fry Pan or Saute Pan on the stove and begin heating over Medium-Low heat
  • Halve the Onion, remove the papery outer skin, and dice
  • Add a couple tbsp or Olive Oil to the fry/saute pan, wait about a minute to heat and add the diced Onions. Promptly sprinkle on a little Kosher Salt and stir briefly to coat the Onions with Oil and Salt.
  • While the Onions are cooking, peel, core and dice the two Pears.
  • Add the diced Pears to the Onions when the onions have turned translucent.
  • Cook, stirring occasionally until the pears have softened and have browned slightly.
  • Remove the pan from the heat, remove the mixture into a small bowl and set aside to cool.
  • Wipe out the pan and set aside to be used again after the raviolis have been put together.
  • Enjoy a few drinks of a Delicious beverage.
  • Taste a small amount of the cooling filling with a goat cheese crumble and check the seasoning. Add salt and/ or pepper if needed.
  • Break the egg and beat it lightly in a bowl to make the egg wash.
  • Lay out a 2 or 3 foot sheet of parchment paper across your counter, tin foil can also be used.
  • Arrange the Wonton Wrappers in pairs (2 rows) down the length of the parchment/ tin foil.
  • Brush the first 4 Wrappers in one row with egg wash taking care to get the edges.
  • Spoon some filling into each Wrapper, such that there is a generous border of Wrapper around the filling. Maybe 1 inch all the way around or so.
  • Sprinkle a few crumbles of Goat Cheese onto the filling.
  • Cover with the corresponding Wrapper and carefully seal. Be sure to get as much air as possible out of the Ravioli.
  • Continue on until all the raviolis are filled and sealed.
  • The water should be boiling, if not bring it to a boil and continue to the next step.
  • Put the wiped down fry/saute pan back onto the burner over Medium heat.
  • Add the Butter and melt.
  • Add the Walnut Pieces to the melted butter and toast.
  • Add half the Raviolis to the boiling pot of water and stir gently to try and prevent sticking.
  • While the raviolis are cooking add the spinach to the fry/saute pan and remove the pan from the heat without turning off the heat. Stir the spinach off the heat, it will wilt rather quickly. It is done off the heat to prevent over cooking.
  • Check the first batch of Raviolis. Break off a small portion of one ravioli and taste. It should taste soft and not floury.
  • When the first batch is done carefully remove the Raviolis from the boiling water with tongs (be very careful so you do not break them) or a slotted spoon or strainer and add them to the fry/saute pan.
  • Cook the second batch of raviolis and then add to the fry/saute pan as well.
  • Put the fry/saute pan back on the heat and quickly stir to mix the butter, walnuts, raviolis and spinach.
  • Taste a small amount of one of the raviolis and if needed add the splash of Vinegar.
  • Remove from heat, put on a plate and get down.

Flavoring and Augmenting

Pears lend themselves to a few different preparations. Mainly poaching, roasting, baking and raw eating.

The following is a list of classic flavor combinations as listed in the book Culinary Artistry by Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page. "Many of these combinations are considered classic and are especially widely practiced. These are indicated by boldface type."

brandy, especially pear brandy
brown sugar
cheese, especially Brie, Cantal, Gorgonzola, and Roquefort
cinnamon basil
creme anglaise
creme fraiche
currants, black
Grand Marnier
ice cream, especially caramel, pistachio, and vanilla
Melba Sauce
pepper, black
Riesling, Late Harvest
star anise
vinegar, balsamic
wine, especially Burgundy

Pears are mainly used in dishes on the sweeter side rather than on the savory side. I feel that pears can be used as a more complex sweet counterpoint to dishes. For instance, you are cooking bitter, peppery, winter greens and need something to balance out that nearly astringent flavor. A lot of cooks would turn to sugar, which only tastes sweet or honey which is slightly more complex. Instead use things that have more complex flavors and textures like carmelized onions, apples or PEARS. Moreover, Pears combine very nicely with various cheeses and spices so you are only adding to the layers of flavor.

Selection and Basic Preparation

Seckel, D'Anjou, Starkrimson

There are over 5,000 varieties of pears grown across the globe. The local grocer carries maybe 5 if you are lucky so rather than detailing every pear that trees can grow the focus will be turned to pears in general. Pears are an interesting fruit in that they ripen after being picked. This means that buying an unripe pear is more of a test in patience than of fruit squeezing ability. Pears should smell fragrant and be as blemish and and bruise free as possible. Pears ripen from the inside out so a good test of ripeness is to gently press near the stem of the pear and feel for how much it gives. If it is hard and you are not willing to wait a few days it is time to cook them. If it is soft and you are hungry wash it up and make it happen. The more common types of pears that might grace the shelves of your local grocer are D'Anjou, Asian, Bartlett, Bosc, Comice, Seckel. The following are descriptions from the Food Lover's Companion by Sharon Tyler Herbst.

D'Anjou: A large winter pear with firm flesh and yellowish-green skin that is often blushed with red. It's sweet and succelent and is delicious both cooked and raw. The D'Anjou is available in most regions from October through Midwinter.

Asian Pear: There are over 100 varieties (most grown in Japan) of this firm, amazingly juicy pear whose season is late summer through early fall. In size and color, they range from huge and golden brown to tiny and yellow-green. In general, ripe Asian pears (also called Chinese pears and apple pears) are quite firm to the touch, crunchy to the bite (unlike pears we're used to), lightly sweet and drippingly juicy. The most common Asian pear in the United States is the Twentieth Century (also know as nijisseiki), which is large, round and green to yellow in color. Ripe Asian pears should be stored in the refrigerator.

Bartlett: This large bell-shaped fruit has a smooth, yellow-green skin that is sometimes blushed with red. The Bartlett's flesh is sweet and juicy. It's generally available from late July through October and is delicious either cooked or raw.

Bosc: A large winter pear with a slender neck and a russeted yellow skin, the Bosc is available from October through April. It has an agreeable sweet-tart flavor and is delicious fresh or cooked. The Bosc holds its shape well when baked or poached.

Comice: [kuh-MEES] This large, exquisite pear has a meltingly smooth, sweet flesh and fruit-filled fragrance. It ranges in color from greenish-yellow to yellow blushed with red. It's available from October to January and is best eaten uncooked.

Seckel: [SEHK-uhl] It's a small russet-colored fruit with a sweet, spicy flavor. The Seckel's firm flesh makes it excellent for both cooking and canning but some people find it too crisp for out-of-hand eating. It's available late August through December.

Basic Preparation
The following shows how to get a pear ready for most types of cooking. Most poaching recipes ask to keep the pear intact and preparation of that will be shown in subsequent posts.

Starkrimson Pears with Bird's Beak Knife

Peeling pear from stem to base in thin strips, a vegetable peeler may also be used

Removing core with melon baller, a spoon or a careful knife may also be used

Carefully remove the stem from above and below the core by cutting a "V" into the pear

Monday, January 12, 2009

On the Workbench...Pears

If pears and apples were rock bands, apples would be Coldplay and pears would be The White Stripes. Both good bands and both successful, but The White Stripes are not used in everything being sold and they take a little bit more work to enjoy. So for the first ingredient to be laid on the workbench, the Pear, has been humbly submitted.

One of the main downfalls for pears is the grocery store. Nearly every grocery store carries them in two conditions, calculus hard and post biker bar fight. Needless to say most people do not have the patience to buy a pear and wait around for it to ripen, so the pears sit on the shelf waiting for the high school stock boy to drop them while ogling a lady or the pears get crushed while trying to finish off the case. So the recipes that will be featured in this section will use them in their varying states of ripeness.

The next post will feature examples of pears, selection tips and flavor matching.

The Workshop is Open

Well the world has been gifted with a new blog, one dedicated to cooking and eating. The idea is to take one ingredient and explore the myriad ways of preparing it. If all goes to plan this little corner of the internets will become a reference for those who are avid cooks looking to expand their repertoire and a place for beginning cooks to overcome the fear of trying something new. The ingredients will be selected as close to their seasonal peaks as possible as the flavor, availability, and price will all be optimum.

The first post of each ingredient will feature a list of classic flavor matches, as well selection and handling instructions. This information will come from a variety of sources, mainly books and personal observations which will be identified as such so that James Peterson and Thomas Keller cannot take any undue credit.

Following that, we will create as many dishes as we can featuring the ingredient in question and document their creation through pictures and written descriptions. Each recipe will be designed to be a jumping off point or component to other possible future dishes.

So let this blog be carved into the annals of cooking for the rest of time to enjoy.