How to Cook Pears Properly

This December, the growers of USA Pears are spotlighting a trio of clever pear preparations by top Pacific Northwest chefs. December has again been proclaimed National Pear Month by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), thanks to the abundance and variety of fresh pears in season and available nationwide.

“We’re so inspired by the thoughtful pear preparations popping up on top menus,” says Cristie Mather, communications director for USA Pears/Pear Bureau Northwest. “Even though these dishes originated in the kitchens of popular restaurants, home cooks of all skill levels can learn to pickle or dehydrate a pear.”

This National Pear Month, take a cue from the pros and experiment with these pear preparations:

Poach and Dehydrate

At Ox Restaurant in Portland, Ore., chefs Greg Denton and Gabrielle Quiñónez Denton take a patient approach. Their pear “prosciutto” is made by poaching halved pears in a savory mixture of sage, rosemary, red wine, salt and pepper – then dehydrating the pears for 18 hours at 125 degrees and slicing them. Served with foie gras terrine, pickled chanterelles, malted white chocolate and salted pear reduction, this Ox dish has locals lining up to indulge.

Pear Proscuitto
Pear Proscuitto

Pickle and Grill

Seattle restaurateur and chef Ethan Stowell’s take on pears will make you rethink your next pear salad. At Tavolàta, his double-treatment of pears – first pickling, then grilling – lends a sharp and satisfying flavor to a bed of healthy endive and frisée. Served atop a base of creamy goat cheese with a walnut vinaigrette, it’s clear this salad needs no entrée. (See recipe below.)

Mortar and Pestle

Pok Pok Restaurants owner and chef Andy Ricker uses a mortar and pestle to gently bruise slightly under-ripe pears in his version of Son Tam Phonlamai. One of Pok Pok’s signature recipes, this savory fruit salad aims to strike a balance between sweet and tart. Pick up Andy’s newly released book for the full recipe, or try it at Pok Pok’s Portland, Ore. and Brooklyn, NY restaurants throughout the fall.

Son Tam Phonlamai with Crisp Bosc Pears POK POK photo credit Austin Bush © 2013
Son Tam Phonlamai with Crisp Bosc Pears POK POK photo credit Austin Bush © 2013

For additional pear recipes and inspiration, including tips on selecting pear varieties, culinary applications, or how to tell when a pear is ripe, visit www.usapears.org, and follow USA Pears on Facebook at www.facebook.com/usapears and Twitter @USApears.

About Pear Bureau Northwest/USA Pears

The Pear Bureau Northwest was established in 1931 as a nonprofit marketing organization to promote the fresh pears grown in Oregon and Washington. Today, the United States is the third largest pear-producing country in the world, and Oregon and Washington comprise the nation’s largest pear growing region with 1,600 growers producing 84% of all fresh pears grown in the United States. Pears grown in these two Pacific Northwest states are distributed under the “USA Pears” brand. Pears are an excellent source of fiber (24% DV) and a good source of vitamin C (10% DV) for only 100 calories per medium sized pear. Sweet and juicy with no fat, no sodium, and no cholesterol, pears are a perfect choice for a snack as well as for any course of any meal of the day. Visit www.usapears.org for more pear facts and recipes.

 

Pickled and Grilled Bosc Pears with Endive, Frisée and Walnut Salad Recipe

By Chef Ethan Stowell (Seattle, Washington)

(Serves 4)

Pickled and Grilled Pears Salad
Pickled and Grilled Pears Salad

For the pickled pears:

4 Bosc pears, cored and cut in 8 pieces
3 cups water
1 cup red wine vinegar
2 T sugar
1 teaspoon salt
4 T pickling spice

For the walnut dressing:

1 cup walnut oil
¼ cup red wine vinegar
1 T Dijon mustard
Salt and pepper

For the endive, frisée and walnut salad:

32 pieces pickled Bosc pears
2 each Belgian endive, cut into bite sized pieces
2 heads of frisée, green leaves removed, cut into bite sized pieces and washed
1 cup toasted walnuts
1 teaspoon minced shallots
1 teaspoon minced chives
½ cup fresh goat cheese, at room temperature
Walnut dressing (see recipe below)
Salt and pepper

Pickled Pears:

In a medium sized stainless steel pot add the water, vinegar, salt, sugar and pickling spices. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and let cook for about 15 minutes to let the spices infuse. Add the pears and continue to simmer for 5 minutes. Turn the heat off and place the entire pot in the refrigerator to cool overnight.

Walnut Dressing:

Place all of the ingredients in a small clean glass bottle. Screw the cap back on the bottle or stuff a wine cork in the opening. Shake vigorously for 30-45 seconds or until all of the ingredients are perfectly combined. Set aside until ready to use. Shake vigorously before every use.

To make the salad:

Preheat a grill for the pears, preferably a grill that is heated by natural wood. Drain the pickled pears. Working in batches, grill all of the pear pieces for about one minute per side or until nice grill marks are seared into the fruit. Set aside at room temperature while you make the rest of the salad.
 
Lay out four entrée size plates to build the salads on. With the back of a spoon, smear the goat cheese across the bottom of the plate in a circle. It should be about a 4 inch across circle of goat cheese. Arrange the pickled pear pieces around the outside of the goat cheese to act as a border and a well to set the salad.
 
In a large metal bowl, toss the endive, frisée, walnuts, shallots and chives. Season to taste with salt, pepper and walnut dressing. Divide the salad between the four salad plates and serve immediately, preferably with a warm baguette.
 

~ Courtesy of Pear Bureau Northwest/USA Pears

Top five meals in 2012

Each year, I share with my readers the five best meals I have eaten that year. This is always very hard to do, as I get to enjoy many of the finest restaurants in the world. In this year alone I was able to sample creations by talented chefs in Atlanta, Barcelona, Dallas, Florence, Roatan, Highlands, Knoxville, Madrid, Milan, Nashville, New York City, Quebec City, Rio de Janeiro, Rapid City, Santa Fe, Segovia, St Mary’s, St Simons and Toledo. So here are my top 5 eats for 2012: Continue reading “Top five meals in 2012”

Atlanta Chef Expo 2012

A sold out event for breast cancer awareness and the love of all Atlanta foodies, the Atlanta Chef Expo hit the high note in it’s very first year. Located at the Foundry at Puritan Mill, the exhibit hall was bustling with restaurant chefs, caterers and bakers. The sweet and smoky smells attracted visitors from all over the city even on a rainy Sunday afternoon.

Along with chef’s tables and exhibition booths, there was also a full service bar, cooking demonstration stage and music. Being mardi gras weekend, Carnival theme seemed to be floating throughout the expo. Not surprisingly, many Louisiana dishes were represented. Some of the highlights were:

Restaurant RowAqua Blue presented a bite size sushi grade ahi tuna on a crispy wanton which was simple and delicious. Aqua Blue continues to enjoy its presence as one of the best seafood restaurants in Atlanta. Marlow’s Tavern hit a home run with two must try dishes at the entire expo. The first was a shrimp and crab nacho with cheese…yummy! The second was fried chicken sushi with spicy chipotle sauce, a different take on the shrimp tempura sushi roll. One bite would convert non sushi lovers into one.

Catering Alley – My award goes to the Lamb BBQ Sliders prepared by Executive Chef Nicholas Walker at Cobb Galleria Centre catering. The lamb was an excellent substitute for pork and the sauce was not overbearing how it usually is in most BBQ sliders. Chef Walker always comes up with his own unique twist on classic favorites. Wolfgang Puck Catering (that operate at the Georgia Aquarium) served delicious homemade French style macrons, along with other sweet treats. It’s hard to find macrons so fresh and delicate in the south, so it was quite impressive what WPC did. JW Marriott Atlanta Buckhead also surprised me with peppery homemade potato chips served with a creamy vidalia onion dressing. The salty crunchy treat made a delicious snack that I would definitely order at a restaurant.

The Chef’s Table – There were many innovative chefs in this area, who were serving handmade pasta (yes, made live at the expo itself), chicken samosas and chilled gazpacho. The one that caught my attention was a creation by Chef Rian McDonald. It was a jumbo shrimp stuffed with candied bacon, pineapples and herbed cheese, then wrapped in puff pastry and baked. Highly complex!

Gluten Free/ Vegan – In my mind, the most unique award should go to Chef Barry Garber of Creative Vegan Ensembles. He was born and brought up in Georgia, but served Calcutta-Jewish-Vegan recipes that I didn’t knew even existed. There was Indian spiced ladyfingers with tomato sauce and sauteed tofu with raisins and almonds.

The Sugar Shack – Never thought I would be crazy about Creole Pretzels and Creole Crunch Popcorn, but ChayJ’s New Orleans Candies did an excellent job delivering the right balance of flavor, crunch and freshness to their products. I may need a box of those to go please!

Amusing Treats had a tree bearing customized cookies, which I thought was an interesting idea. Something to keep in mind for special occasions and party favors. I found the perfect sweet endings at Honeysuckle Gelato with caramel, fig and lavender flavors. Currently only at food trucks and some restaurants, Honeysuckle Gelato will be at grocery stores soon.

Living it up at the Atlanta Food & Wine Festival

After years of hosting Food and Wine festivals around the country, Food & Wine Magazine finally found it’s way to Atlanta. Sourced to the duo, Dominique Love and Elizabeth Feichter at Corporate Community Outsourcing, this is the first year of the Atlanta Food and Wine festival. With it’s growing popularity of the dining scene, perhaps the only city in the Southeast (after Miami), it was about time!

The broad theme of the event was “southern.” Represented by local growers, farms, suppliers, authors, restaurants and chefs, the festival drew attention of the foodies around the country.

Over the course of the three-day weekend, you could participate as much as your appetite can hold.  There are street cars and tasting tents that are open till late in the night. A tour of the Buford Highway’s ecletic scene or a day at the Wonderland gardens. And if that wasn’t enough, you can attend one of the private dinners at various restaurants and chef homes. I attended some of the learning experiences and connoisseurs lounge yesterday (day 1 of the event) and here are some of the highlights.

The Bloody-Mary breakfast was perhaps one of the best in class. Top Flr and the Bakeshop joined forces to start your day with a healthy (umm…not really) breakfast that was sure to brighten up your mood. (If you start your day with vodka, how many things could possibly go wrong?)

 

If you happened to miss the breakfast of champions, you could still get your fill at the 9:30am Argentinian wine tasting with Susana Balbo, a prominent female winemaker.

 

If drinking early in the morning is not your thing, you could actually get a grilled breakfast by Delia Champion, owner of Delia’s Chicken Sausage, a popular unconventional sausage stand in East Atlanta. She demonstrated a Krispy Kreme chicken sausage on her grill at the terrace of the Lowe’s hotel. Yummy!

 

I then explored some exotic fruits such as white sapote and sapodilla with the Van Aken’s. They shared recipes that combined fruits and meats into interesting creations – ham and guava, passion fruit snapper ceviche, etc.

 

It was already mid morning, when I decided an “Escape to Greece” is just what I needed. Chef Pano Karatossas of Buckhead Life Restaurant Group explored the fine wines of Greece while pairing it with a rich piece of lamb. There are different grapa varieties found in the islands of Greece, but all of them have a similar sweet acidic nature to them. I went wine tasting at a vineyard in Santorini a few years ago and was intrigued to see how low the grape vines were to the ground. (So that the strong ocean breeze doesn’t blow the grapes away).

 

Tennessee Truffle growers attempted to solve the mystery of growing truffles in their workshop, “Truffles: Much Mystery, Little Mastery.” Clearly, you don’t need a degree in agriculture to either grow, cook or eat truffles. (See my recipe of cooking with truffles.) What I did learn was that were over 60 varieties of truffles found around the world, not just white and black (duh!). Truffle grits pie and a Manhattan with shaved truffle anyone?

 

Renowned chef Mark Abernathytook the heat up while grilling vegetables and a pizza margherita under the hot summer sun of Atlanta. He was very approachable and interacted with the audience, answering all their questions about grilling. “I am not rich but if I was, each day I would eat and drink well and hang out with my kids” he exclaimed.

Me too chef. That’s exactly what I am doing at the Atlanta Food and Wine Festival all this weekend!

Upscale burgers at Oliver & Bonacini

Oliver & Bonacini has a few restaurants spread around the metro Toronto area that range from casual affordable to super fine dining where celebrities have been spotted. The restaurants are the creation of celebrity chefs, Peter Oliver and Michael Bonacini. I had lunch at Oliver & Bonacini Café Grill in Oakville but they have other locations in Bayview Village, Blue Mountain, Waterloo and downtown Toronto as well.

Fresh fruit juice cider

This Café was located at the entrance to a high end mall, and appeared very sleek yet casual. There was a definite business crowd, along with a few older shoppers who seem to enjoy fine dining during the week. The décor was contemporary with gray and white metallic furniture. We were seated promptly and my 3-year old nephew was attended to with a high chair right away.

The lunch menu consisted of simple everyday dishes with a refined twist. They offered freshly made juice cocktails – an apple beet cider served warm and an orange mango pineapple concoction. I ordered the grilled chicken burger with sweet potato fries. The ground chicken patty was moist and well cooked, served with a chipotle mayo, while the fries were crisped to perfection.

We also tried the vegetarian Portobello burger which had roasted red pepper, roasted tomato, goat cheese and basil almond pesto on a giant roasted Portobello. It was a treat whether you were a vegetarian, or not. The beer batter haddock served with fries and coleslaw seemed a big hit with both young and old. My nephew ate it all without a fuss!

For dessert, I had to have the gelato combination – I really liked the pistachio (despite the little chunks of ice) but the milk cream was ok. Overall, Chef Zuzana Harsaghy did an excellent job in keeping the food real, appetizing, yet upscale.

Their dinner menu seems more adventurous, with many fusion influences. The butter chicken caught my eye and I will have to come back next time for it.

More on where to dine in Toronto