Warm and spicy…let’s add a pear—Or— once again, Cooking with Cookie

“There are only ten minutes in the life of a pear when it is perfect to eat.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson

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(a beautiful Bosc pear / Julie Cook / 2015)

AAAAGGGGHHHHHH
Bam, bam bam. . .
Did you hear that?
That is the sound of my head clunking against the wall.
Looking outside, for as far as the eye can behold, which by the way they’re telling us is less than half a mile, is nothing but grey, fog, mist, damp, drizzle, cold, wet, blah, yuck, monotone of what has become our Winters. . .
Day after day of grey onto more and more grey. . .

HELP!!
A diversion!
That’s it, a diversion. . .
We need a diversion!!!!
Actually we really need to hop on a plane, flying “down under” to our friends in the Southern Hemisphere for a quick visit as I hear they’re in the midst of a heat wave.
Really.
But since we must follow practicalities, we need a more readily available diversion.

Consider the pear.
What?
Yes, the pear.

When I was a little girl, I can remember my grandparents, always this time of year, receiving a box of crisp fresh pears. . .from some exotic far away land like, say, Florida or California. Why they couldn’t go the grocery store like my mother would, in order to purchase the mealy overly ripe heavily bruised variety, was beyond my young comprehension. And if the truth be told, the pears my mom bought actually came in cans.
What??
You’ve never seen the canned pear tree!!??
Libby, DelMonte. . .it didn’t matter.
Pear halves packed in heavy syrup.
Those being the heady days before “health”. . .

Mother would serve them, as most folks during those dark days of canned, store bought, prepackaged, processed, readily available foods, drained and perched on a bed of iceberg lettuce (the only lettuce my dad believes in) accented with a dollop of the real deal, nothing low-fat about it, mayonnaise topped with a smattering of grated cheddar cheese.
Voila the ubiquitous Pear Salad of the 1960’s.

Of course there was that exotic French Liqueur, found when I tagged along with my Dad, as a little girl, to the local liquor store for his weekly run for beer, Poire Williams— the one with a real full sized pear floating in a bottle of clear liquid —the mystery I never could figure out. . .as in how they got the actual pear inside the bottle. . .and not understanding why dad wouldn’t buy me the bottle so I could investigate further.

Yep.
That pretty much sums up what was my full knowledge of pears. . .until I finally grew up.

There’s nothing better than a perfectly cool, crisp, juicy pear.
You know, the one whose juices dribble down your chin as you take each tenderly sweet bite after bite. . .but as Mr Emerson so blatantly reminds us at the start of the post, that time of perfection is but a very narrow window.

In my quest and need of and for diversion from the constant grey outside my window, I opted to poke around for a new recipe—something fun to cook in order to take my mind off of the cold grey outside and the fact that I threw all gluten out the window over a week ago. . .just to see if it could help an ailing GI tract and shed this weight that seems to have hunkered down for the duration (more on that later).

Not looking for anything to do with pears, or fruit for that matter, a recipe jumped out at me concerning the poaching of pears in a delicious sounding concoction of sugar, spices and water.
Hummm.
Never being one to poach my fruit nor believing in any sort of dessert other than that of chocolate and cream, I was a bit intrigued. I figured I could poach a couple of pears and have them as part of a salad.

Heading to the store, I purchased 4 organic (of course) Bosc pears. You know, the pretty pears which are beautifully shaped, well, like a pear.

The recipe called for 8 pears but in a household of two, I opted on 4 pears, yet I still used the full recipe of poaching liquid which worked out perfectly.

Interested yet?
I thought you’d never ask. . .

You’ll need 4 to 8 Bosc pears (they hold their shape the best)
2 cups sugar ( I know it sounds excessive but it’s just a part of the “bath”)
8 cups water—however I used 2 cups of leftover champagne I had sitting in the fridge since New Year’s Eve along with 6 cups of water. You could use some white wine if you’d like. . .
1 Vanilla bean split
1/2 a lemon –I used a Meyer lemon
a small handful of whole cloves about 8 or so
1 cinnamon stick or 2 if you’re feeling adventuresome
1 star anise— since I didn’t have that, I used about 1/4 teaspoon of anise seed– oh so judiciously as I’m not into licorice.
And wishing I had thought to throw in a cardamon pod or three

Put all ingredients in a large pot and bring to a boil, immediately dropping down to a low simmer—
mmmmmmm can’t you smell that warm spicy aroma now just filling your kitchen??

In the meanwhile, peel your pears.

Slice them in half and using a teaspoon, gently scoop out the seeds.
Once the sugar has dissolved, put the pears gently in the “bath”–cover and simmer for about 20 minutes or until the pears are soft (test by gently poking with the tip of a knife)

Once the pears are soft and your house smells heavenly, remove the pot from the heat and allow the pears to cool in their bath.
At this point you can put the whole pot in the fridge, allowing the pears to rest in the “broth” chilling nicely. Sampling with a small spoon of the “bath water” I decided I could drink the whole pot.

What I did with my pears was to make a salad.
I tore up some romaine lettuce (the kind Dad does not consider real lettuce), placing it on a salad plate.
I next sprinkled some blue cheese crumbles (you can use Gorgonzola) over the lettuce and drizzled blue cheese dressing over the salad in training. I then placed a single pear half on the bed of lettuce. You can certainly slice it in half if you prefer.
I put a small dollop of mascarpone cheese in the center of the pear (you could use cream cheese or blue cheese), sprinkled a few sugared walnuts around, finally drizzling the remainder of the apple cider sugar glaze I used for the walnuts, over the pear and lettuce.
Voila—the new 21st century pear salad

Oh here’s what I did to the walnuts. . .
In a small sauce pan I put in about a 1/2 cup of sugar. I turned the heat up to med-high, watching it like a hawk so it wouldn’t burn, get away from me and set the house on fire.
As the sugar began to melt, turning to a liquid, I used a small wooden spoon to stir it.
Just as soon as the sugar melted, I slowly poured about a 1/4 cup of apple cider in the pan, continually stirring as the sugar now wanted to clump and harden back up. I continued stirring allowing my mixture to boil, adding about a TBL or two of Maple syrup. I allowed this to boil down, reducing into a thick syrup, at which point I dropped in a handful of walnuts ( 3/4 to 1 cup)—allowing them to get a good coating of the syrup.
Next I poured the syrupy nuts onto a dry plate allowing them to cool.
I then placed them willy nilly on the salad, drizzling the pear and salad with the remaining syrup. . .
Absolutely divine–light, refreshing and oh so tasty

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Oh–and by the way—does anyone know how they got those pears in those liqueur bottles???

Cookie’s stewed apples

Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.
Martin Luther

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I don’t know about where you live but the temperatures are starting to take a bit of a nose dive. We actually had our first frost last night here in northwest Georgia as the thermometer dipped into the oh so low 30’s. The nightly weather reports have been dotted with the stories of the early snows throughout much of the country—news of such always puts me in the mood to be in the kitchen working on something warm, comforting and heavenly.

I had gone a bit overboard at the grocery store the other day buying, en masse, the beautifully displayed apples. I don’t know if I thought the apocalyptic end was in sight or that I wanted to keep every doctor within miles away but I found myself buying more apples than I really needed.

And there they were this morning, a bevy of beauties sitting all nestled in the bowl on the counter–waiting… waiting for me to do something magical with them….

I know!! Let’s make stewed Apples—Cookie’s delightfully fall stewed apples…talk about a bite of fall in one’s mouth…..

First, let us gather our supplies shall we…..

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You’ll notice the base will be: Apple Cider, and of course we need Calvados or any good Apple brandy; I had some leftover coke, why not; the juice from an orange, cinnamon, my delicious cinnamon simple syrup, cardamon–pods crushed or the powder; nutmeg–freshly grated; Vermont Maple Syrup (I order mine each year from Taft’s Milk & Maple Farm in Huntington, VT –talk with Mary–she is a wonderful person http://www.vtmaplesyrup.com ), honey (my son’s fiancé brought me a jar of Beekman’s Vanilla Creamed Honey–talk about decadent…it is laced with vanilla seeds and is truly heavenly–use sparingly as it’s just too good) Plus about 7 or 8 nice size apples. I mix varieties as some will turn to mush as they cook and others will hold their shape…providing a nice variety which is great for the “stew”….

I used a naval orange but you may use any type, even a tangerine—I’ve been known to use a lemon if I didn’t have an orange–you just want a little citrus….
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Now you know I’m not one to measure so this may really throw some of you more exact folks out there a big curve–I measure with my eyes and my tastebuds…it’s from being the art teacher for all those years—eyeballing things just took over. And here is where I throw my Jessuit friend William, over on teilharddechardin.wordpress.com, a curve ball as to whether I am a type A or type B personality—-but in the kitchen my “little bit of this and a little bit of that” just works…..

Using a large deep saucier or soup pot, pour in probably about 2 cups of the apple cider, probably 1/2 to 3/4 cup Calvados, part of the left over Coke-if you don’t have a Coke or don’t want to open one for this, don’t–it’s not crucial. Squeeze half or both halves of the orange, pour in approx 3/4 cup maple syrup–we’ll probably need more later. Pour in 1/2 cup of Cookie’s cinnamon simple syrup if you made it, if not just add more ground cinnamon and maple syrup. Several shakes of ground cinnamon, cardamon, a couple of gratings of the fresh nutmeg– bringing it all to a boil–now reduce to a simmer while you prepare the apples.

Wash your apples—I like to spray them with “Fit”–it is a fruit and vegetable spray/wash that helps to remove that waxy business the producers like to coat the fruit and veggies with….yuck…. Spray with the Fit, rub all over, rinse well.

Next you may use an apple slicer which makes this little chore rather effortless or you can simply cut into 8ths. I do not peel my apples as the skin adds such a nice textural quality to the end product but if you want to be a purist, peel away.

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Once the apples are sliced, place them in the pot of simmering deliciousness. Your house is smelling really good right about now…..

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Bring the mixture, complete with apples, to a boil, stirring to coat the apples with the liquid as we don’t want them turning brown. Reduce the heat, cover (don’t fret if the lid doesn’t fit all the way down yet, the apples will shrink down)–allow to simmer about 20 to 30 minutes…stir ever so often. After about 30 minutes taste the liquid as the apples will now have released their heady juice—here is where you may need to add some more Maple syrup or honey. Just keep adding a little, tasting until the level of sweetness works for you.

At this point you can cut off the heat, allowing the apples time to ‘sit in their juices’ as it were–breaking down and absorbing flavor. I usually let them sit on the stove until later when everyone wants a bowl– I will then heat them back up, as serving them warm just seems best. You may certainly use them as a side if serving some sort of pork or on their own as a desert. I’ve been known to heat a bowl for breakfast or ladle over oatmeal…so versatile, healthy and oh so heavenly divine.

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Serve them warm in a bowl topped with vanilla ice cream or a little whipped cream, or serve plain….this is what the doctor ordered on a chilly day…can’t get much better than this……