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

DSC00162
(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

DSC00166

DSC00165

DSC00163

DSC00168

DSC00173

DSC00175

DSC00177

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

DSCN2232

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…..

DSCN2231

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….
DSCN2234

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.

DSCN2230

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

DSCN2229

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.

DSCN2236

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……

I’ve got to share this!!

DSCN1699

Simply put, I must share!! Finding myself in two separate airports during the course of the past couple of days, I wandered into a book/ magazine shop in search of something fun to “flip” through while waiting for my flight, then flipping nervously through during my flight (you know that whole “flying thing makes me a little nervous” issue I possess—and yes I do bring along a book, sometimes even two—never been one to pack too light, I still need something to occupy my nerves…besides reciting the rosary or saying the Jesus Prayer on my chotki)…

I bought a CookFresh Magazine (from the Best of Fine Cooking). Flipping through during my heightened state of nervous panic, I spy a delightful apple dish that immediately screams, “Julie, (maybe not literally) Fall is coming…apple time.”

I love cooking with apples in the Fall (“but Julie, it’s just August!”—“don’t wander off the subject”). Once home, I’ve tried my hand at this most tantalizing recipe, finding that I simply must share……

Below you will find my rendition as I am famously known for tweeking any recipe and running drastically off course—makes things better that way….

Individual Apple Charlottes

I wanted to make just 4 so I pared this down…I’ll give you my pared down version.
You’ll need 4 ramekins
For the filling:
–about 4 to 5 medium size apples—jazz, pink lady, golden delicious ( I used a mix of Royal Gala and a new comer in my neck of the woods- Envy from New Zealand (it’s not time for you to fuss that I’m not using local—it’s August for crying out loud, no really good apples quite yet—trust me, these turned out just fine)
–1 lemon—strip the zest with a peeler and mince—being careful not to get any of the bitter white pith
–1 nice moist plump vanilla bean—you’ll be cutting it in half to scrape out the seeds
–1/3 cup of a mix of golden raisins—I always use more than what’s called for—be liberal—in cooking only 😉 )
–5 Tbs or 2 ½ oz of unsalted butter (Plugra is the bomb)
–1/4 cup granulated sugar
–I threw in some cinnamon
–I also used about 6 crushed cardamom pods—little black seeds only
–and of course I had to add some freshly grated nutmeg—(who cooks with apples and doesn’t use the holy spice trinity aforementioned!!)
–1 Tbs of Calvados (apple brandy—blessed Normandy!!)

For the crust:
–1 loaf sliced white (I know, I know…) Suggested and what I used is the Pepperidge Farm Classic White—since I just made 4, I used 8 pieces of bread)
–1 cup unsalted butter (Plugra!!)
–3/4 sugar—trust me, you’ll need more

–add Vanilla ice cream, whipped cream, or cream fraiche and enjoy.

Make the filling—
Peel, core and dice the apples into ¼ little cubes—place in a bowl and squirt a little lemon juice over them to keep them from turning brown while you’re preparing everything else.
Using a vegetable peeler, peel the zest off of half a lemon—-give or take half. Make certain you didn’t get any of the bitter white pith. I minced the zest and added it to the bowl of apples but the recipe calls for just strips that will be removed later—why remove? When chopped finely, the zest is just such a nice addition. Add zest to bowl.
Slice the vanilla bean in half and scrape out the seeds—add the seeds and remaining bean to the bowl with the apples. (Once you’re done with the pod, pull it out to dry then add to a jar of sugar to impart a delightful fusion creating vanilla sugar–add to tea, coffee….ummmm
Here is where I added the cinnamon, the ground cardamom seeds, and the nutmeg.
Add the raisins
Toss the apples, zest, vanilla bean seeds, the pod, raisins and spices—set aside till the skillet is ready.
I’m thinking Fall flavors…….
DSCN1692

Look at those vanilla specks…

DSCN1693

In a 12 inch skillet (or dutch oven) melt the butter over med- high heat and add sugar. When the sugar is fully moistened, add the apple mixture and cook, stirring almost constantly, until the apples start to release liquid and look soft on the outside (but still slightly crunchy on the inside—about 7 minutes or so)—aren’t things smelling heavenly—ummmmm
Take the skillet off of the heat and set aside, you can pull the pod out at this time. Add the Calvados—*****if your day has been hectic, pour yourself a wee dram while cooking but best to keep your wits about you as the more complicated step is yet to come.

Prepare the crust
Position a rack in the middle of the oven and heat the oven to 475° . Trim the crust off of 8 slices of bread. I sprayed the ramekins, at this point, with some PAM and brush the sides with some of the melted butter. Cut out 8 rounds from the bread ( I used a cup measure to cut the circles), which will fit in the bottom of the ramekin. Now the recipe called for just bread rounds cut for the bottoms of the ramekins–however, I cut tops out as well as I wanted a “top crust”
You will need to have long rectangular pieces cut which will wrap the inside of the ramekins.
In a skillet, melt the butter and place the sugar in a shallow dish. Dip a round at a time in the melted butter, coating both sides, then dredge in sugar—coating both sides. Place a buttered sugared round in the bottom of the ramekin. Next dip and dredge the long rectangle pieces fitting them inside along the edges of the ramekins. Finally dip and dredge the tops and set aside for a moment.

Assembly and Baking
Fill each ramekin with a gracious amount of the apple mixture, pushing down to insure no airspace—the mixture will shrink down while cooking so fill away…
Now top each filled ramekin with a top. Place ramekins on a baking sheet. I used a baking sheet I covered with foil because there will be a bit of bubbling and boiling over. Cover all with a top layer of foil to seal. Place in the preheated oven. Bake for 40 minutes. Talk about a heady aroma wafting its way through the house—ummmmm

DSCN1694

If serving immediately, use a thin paring knife cutting along the outer edge to help release being careful not the burn yourself, using a dish towel to help, place a desert plate on top of the ramekin then invert—the bottom, now the top, should have a nice “caramelization”. If wanting to serve later, cover, once cool, with plastic wrap and store in fridge. I made mine late in the afternoon and just set them aside until a while after supper, I reheated in a 450° for about 8 minutes–being careful to watch them as you don’t want them to burn.

DSCN1696

A great precursor to Fall—smell those warm spices—ummmmm

Ice cream, where’s the ice cream? This thing is absolutely divine—it’s a gracious serving worthy of splitting with someone special…..

DSCN1698

Just a few more weeks…..

DSCN0506

“Love is a fruit in season at all times, and within reach of every hand.”
Mother Teresa

Any walk in the woods, or even a ride down a rural road these days, will reveal that in the midsts of the weedy bramble and brush awaits beautiful tiny pink and red jewels which are slowly but surly ripening to a glossy juicy black. In just a few short weeks we will be rewarded by a wealth of blackberries—all ripe and ready for the picking.

Now these are of the wild variety, so they are smaller than their cultivated cousins and perhaps a bit more sour—all you need is to add just the right amount of sugar, a little lemon juice, a dash of cinnamon, a splash of creme de cassis…cook it down slowly and you have a heavenly warm compote worthy of ice-cream or pound cake—-or place this in a small oven proof dish and top with a mixture of flour, sugar, butter, oats…. creating a streusel topping and you have the quintessential crumble or buckle.

This is one of the joys of early summer which harkens back to childhood. Armed with only a bowl, I’d fight bees and red bugs, heat and humidity all the while being very weary of snakes under foot, just to spend hours picking the luscious berries from their thorny vines….two for me, one for the bowl, two for me, one for the bowl……… As the days warm and the temperatures soar, I still look forward to foraging the woods on the hunt for blackberries.

But as I wait for the blackberries and peaches to all come into season, to ripen on the vine or branch, I am reminded, always so aptly by Mother Teresa, that there is one thing that no one need wait upon for ripening…and that is the Love that is readily available from each of us for one another. God’s love, is constantly at our fingertips, always ripe and so ready for our hands to grasp—which in turn is the very love in our own hearts–which is always ready to be offered to those around us who are reaching and in need.

May we remember this the next time we walk past those folks we blindly pass by on the street, the halls of schools, the aisles of the grocery store— those strangers we sit by at the DMV, the doctor’s office, on the bus or subway… those in front of or behind us in line at the theater, the store…..so many people we encounter each and every day, who may simply need a smile, a kind word, a simple gesture of kindness…. all which equates to a Love that is easily shared with those in need….no need for that to get ripe–it’s already here……..let it begin with you and who knows how far reaching this Love can go….Happy pickings………