Sunday, October 30, 2011

A Perfect Pear

Here is my October column from the Petaluma Post, enjoy:

I say it every year, fall is my favorite time of the year.  I am not a sun girl, I love the fog and cool nights, and I am starting to get the bug for the first rain.  By mid-August I begin looking for the first signs of autumn to arrive.  The first note is fresh pears in the market place.

The first to arrive is my favorite, the Bartlett pear.  I am lucky that my mom-in-law has a great old tree that puts out a ton.  They are a tender fruit and their season is short lived.  But it just tells me that there is more to come.  This year I took several pounds and dried them.  Mr. PSC and I enjoy hiking and I thought I would take a shot at it.  Nothing fancy, no special equipment, I just used cookie sheets lined with sil pads (those French baking pads).  Washed the pears, left the skin on for more fiber, cut them into eighths, let them soak in lemon water as I was working (about 15 to 20 minutes) then laid them out tightly on the sheet pan, but not touching.  Placed them in a convection oven with just the fan on and door ajar (not lit, not even a pilot light) for about 5 hours, then turned the fruit and let them continue to finish overnight.  They made a great light weight snack.

Seckel and Comice pears will be the next two to arrive in the market and be available through the end of October, perhaps into November with the cool year that we have had.  Both of these pears are better fresh eating pears than baking.  Their soft sweet flesh is a great pairing with cheese.  Locally I love it with Point Reyes Blue.  This cheese is very bold and robust and with the sweetness of the pears is a wonderful combination.  When choosing your pears it is best to choose them just a little bit on the green side, they will ripen well on your kitchen counter.  Look for even color without bruises.  They are ripe when they yield to pressure around the stem area.

Bosc pears are the pear with the longest season running from July through August.  A tan green pear with a rough skin, its flesh is very firm and crisp.  This is my choice for baking and cooking, it holds up very well.  It is also the hardest pear to tell when ripened, it does not soften like other pears, however it will begin to shrivel near the stem when ripe.

Pears are very versatile from savory to sweet dishes.  I can say that you could do an entire pear themed meal.  Including cocktails.

Pear Martini for 2
4 oz Absolute Pear Vodka
4 oz Pear puree
1 oz lemon juice
1 oz agave syrup

For the pear puree I used a hand blender to combine equal amounts of pear and pear juice, but you could just buy pear sauce.  I often use agave syrup in place of simple syrup, but either will do.  Just shake hard with ice and serve up in a martini glass.  I also experimented with other recipes and several other ingredients, which I mentioned in my mid-September blog post.

Wild Arugula Salad with Comice Pear and Crumbled Blue Cheese
Serves 6
8 oz wild baby arugula
1 medium Comice pear
3 oz crumbled Point Reyes blue cheese

1 lemon juice
3 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
1 Tbs honey
Salt and pepper to taste

Core and slice the pear to about ¼” thick, do not go too thin, this is a very delicate pear and will break apart.  Whisk the dressing ingredients together, then place the greens and cheese in the bowl first, then place the pear on top of salad.  Drizzle with dressing to cover the pears (the lemon juice will help them not brown).  Finally, toss lightly.  This is a great salad to add to, toasted walnuts, pecans, almond or pine nuts are great additions. Chèvre is also a great alternative to the blue. 

Roast Pork Loin with Rosemary Pears
Serves 6
3 lbs boneless center cut pork loin
½ Tbs dry rubbed sage
2 Tbs olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
8 Bosc pears, cored and quartered
2 sprigs rosemary
1 Tbs olive oil

Rub the pork loin with salt and pepper, then brown in the olive oil in a heavy bottomed oven proof roasting pan.  Toss the pear quarters with rosemary and olive oil, and arrange around the sides of the pork loin.  Bake at 350 degrees for approximately 45 minutes, till the internal temperature is 145; the USDA has recently lowered the cooking temperature or pork, and it may still have a slightly pink interior.

Remove from the oven and allow to rest 5 to 8 minutes on the carving board.  During this time, remove the pears and place them on the serving tray, dispose of rosemary sprig.  Add a ½ cup of white wine to the bottom of the roasting pan, stir to loosen the fond (those good baked on bits and brown stuff at the bottom of the pan).  Return the pan to the stove and reduce by half, thicken with corn starch if desired.   Then just slice the loin, display nicely amongst the pear and dress with the gravy.

Pear has two great uses in baking.  First they bake great in coffee cakes and pound cakes.  Second with the low fat movement many recipes have started to use apple sauce in the place of oils and butter, but you can make great pear sauce and use it there too.

Pear Sauce
2 lbs peeled pears (I really like the Bartlett)
½ c sugar
½ c water
2 Tbs lemon juice

Place in a thick bottomed sauce pan, start by using a potato masher to break up the fruit, then bring to a low simmer; be very careful it will scald easily.  Simmer 30 to 45 minutes till the fruit is tender and you can mash it easily.  From here cook to desired thickness, up to 1¼  hours for baking uses.

Pear Cake
This is a very rich pound cake that we made when I was an apprentice pastry chef in Austria.  It is great with any fruit!
9 oz butter
9 oz sugar
4 egg yolks
3 eggs
12 oz flour
2 Pears - Peeled Bosc are best, halved, cored each half cut into thin wedges

Cream butter and sugar well, add the eggs and yolks till creamy - go slowly.  Fold in the butter till just combined, then pour into a  prepared 9” baking pan (if using larger it will be thin, so just watch the baking time).  Arrange the pears on top, taking your time and be artistic.  Bake at 325 for 12 to 30 minutes depending on thickness.  Allow to cool. Enjoy

Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Great Northern White

Here's my September column from the Petaluma Post

As the Fall months start to roll in we are beginning to eat more comfort foods; I think that is nature calling, telling us to pack on some weight to survive the winter, but apparently nature did not get the memo, we have plenty of food 365!  We hear that we need more lean protein and to get more fiber (which is not generally comfort food).  Beans are perfect for just that, they are filling, can fulfill that craving for comfort food, but have good protein and fiber too.  If you are on a budget you can buy a pound for less than a dollar that will feed a family of four for a couple meals.  If you are like me and are always running, dry bean preparation is just not going to happen, but a can that serves two can be had for less than a couple bucks; and I believe beans are one of those things that are just fine canned.  Once prepared (or opened) they can be added to many daily dishes or stand on their own.  I really like white beans, they are small and add easily to a variety of dishes.  They pick up flavors and add texture as well as being filling.  Try adding them to you next green salad, and they are great in any soup.  You can even use them as an appetizer.

How to cook your beans
1/3 cup dried beans equals about 2 cups cooked beans.   There are two ways to start out if you are starting with dry beans, which need to be rehydrated.  If you have time, the best way is to cover them with water three times the volume of your beans and allow to soak overnight, then drain the water.  This process will give you a nicer looking end product with less broken and split beans.  However if you are short on time you can cover with the same amount of water, bring to a boil, turn off the heat, and allow to rehydrate for 1 to 2 hours.  Either way you are now ready cook, which is very simple.  I have always been taught not to salt beans until after they have been cooked.  Cover the beans with fresh water, about twice the volume, bring to a boil, turn down the heat to a simmer and cook for approximately 1 to 1½ hours, till they mash between your fingers.  Drain and cool or use in your recipe.  Cooked beans can be held in the refrigerator for 4 to 5 days or bagged and frozen for up to 6 months.  Cooking ahead and freezing is very cost effective. 

If you are choosing to use canned bean, open the can.  Big time saver.  In the following recipes I may indicate cans of beans, but feel free to substitute cooked beans in the same volume.

Cassoulet is a classic French dish, in a lot of ways it is the original baked beans.  It can be made ahead and allowed to slowly simmer.  It is usually made with fattier meats like duck and sausages; however it can be made into a great vegetarian dish that is hearty and filling too.

Vegetarian Cassoulet
Serves 4
1 cup dried white beans (Great Northern or Cannellini) prepared as above
or 2 cans white beans, drained
1 white onion, sliced
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 head fennel, sliced
2 red bell peppers, sliced
1 carrot, peeled and sliced
4 sprigs thyme
1 small sprig rosemary
1 cup Crimini mushrooms, halved
¼ cup olive oil
2 cups vegetable stock
1 bay leaf
Salt and pepper to taste

Use a wide topped oven proof skillet, you want it wide and shallow.  Heat the olive oil, add the garlic and onion, then sauté till translucent.  Add in the rest of the vegetables and herbs, and continue to sweat till juices are released.  Add in beans and vegetable stock, place into a 350 degree oven for 20 to 30 minutes till the beans just crack open and the liquid is reduced.

½ cup bread crumbs
1 Tbl olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tsp chopped parsley

Combine all the ingredient and sprinkle over the top of the cassoulet, then bake for another 10 minutes at 350.  Till golden brown.

White Bean Hummus
This is a recipe that I created for making crostini.  So often a topping will not stay on the bread and you need just a little glue.  This is a tasty, edible, and mildly sticky; perfect.

1 can white beans (Great White or Cannellini), drained well
¼ cup roasted garlic (I always keep a supply on hand)
Salt and pepper to taste
Olive Oil

Place the white beans and garlic into the food processor (you can do by hand with a fork in a bowl) pulse till it becomes a puree.  It should be quite thick.  Then slowly add olive oil to reach the consistency wanted (a quarter to half cup should do it).  Keeps 5 to 7 days.  We often add in sundried tomatoes, fresh herbs, pesto.

Beans aren’t just for soup anymore, think of tossing them into salads or even pasta dishes to make them just a little bit more filling.  They taste great and really are very good for you - just like you mom said.