Pear and Gouda Cheese Ball with Cranberries and Pecans

The all-American cheese ball is a throwback worth revisiting. Popular at holiday parties of yesteryear, today we take a fresh, lightened-up approach with the addition of pears. Swap the classic orange cheddar or crumbly blue for a nutty aged Gouda. The nuttiness plays well with both the sweet pears folded into the cheese mixture and the crunchy pecans that are sprinkled on the outside, while parsley and scallions add a savory bite. Perfect for an office gathering or a family affair, this pear-flecked cheese spread presents well in the shape of everyone’s favorite holiday fruit. And it’s deceptively easy to pull off, too.

Serves 8 to 10

Ingredients:

1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, at room temperature

2 cups finely shredded aged Gouda cheese (about 6 ounces), at room temperature

1 ripe USA Anjou pear, peeled, cored (reserving the stem), and finely diced

1 green onion, white and light green parts only, minced

3 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

Nonstick cooking spray

1/4 cup finely chopped pecans, toasted

3 tablespoons minced dried cranberries

Crostini or crackers, for serving

Directions:

In a medium bowl, mix the cream cheese, Gouda, pear, green onion, 1 tablespoon of the parsley, the salt, and pepper until well combined.

Coat a large piece of plastic wrap with cooking spray. Transfer the cheese mixture to the center of the plastic wrap and press and mold it into an oval disk. Tightly wrap and refrigerate until well chilled, at least 1 hour and up to 2 days.

In a small bowl, mix the remaining 2 tablespoons of the parsley, the pecans, and cranberries; set aside.

Remove the cheese disk from the refrigerator, unwrap it, and place it in the center of a serving platter. Use another piece of plastic wrap and your hands to mold the cheese mixture into the shape of a pear. Sprinkle with the pecan mixture to coat the top and sides evenly. Wipe the edges of the platter clean with a damp paper towel. Place the reserved pear stem in the top, and serve with crostini or crackers arranged around the edges of the platter.

Photography: George Barberis (@georgebarberis)
Recipe and Styling: Andrea Slonecker (@andreaslonecker)

Grilled Pear and Lamb Flatbreads

pear and ground lamb flatbread with fresh mint

Pears and meat are a winning combination. We often think of pork and chicken with fruit, but let’s not overlook lamb. That robust flavor is deliciously complemented by sweet, aromatic charred pears hot off the grill, and both partner perfectly with Middle Eastern flavors. Here we have a complete meal cooked almost entirely on the grill. A very simple dough is rolled out to make homemade flatbreads that get cooked right on the grill, and then topped with sliced grilled pears and red onions, spiced ground lamb, charred halloumi cheese, and an addictive yogurt-tahini sauce. Think of these flatbreads as a pizza of sorts, perfect for a patio party, and they’re as delicious hot as they are at room temperature.

Serves 6

Dough
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 cup whole-wheat flour
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup plain yogurt (not Greek)

Toppings
1 cup yogurt
1/3 cup tahini sauce
Juice of 1 lemon
1 large garlic clove, crushed
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing
1 pound ground lamb
1 1/2 teaspoons ground fennel seed
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin seed
1 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon dried chile flakes
3 USA Green Bartlett Pears, halved, cored, and cut into 8 wedges each
1 red onion, cut into 1/2-inch-thick disks (each layer kept together)
8 ounces halloumi cheese, cut into 3/4-inch-thick slabs
Pine nuts, for topping
Handful torn mint leaves, for topping

To make the dough: In a large bowl, whisk the flours, salt, sugar, and baking powder. Add the yogurt and fold it in with a rubber spatula, just until blended. Dump the dough onto a work surface dusted generously with flour. Knead the dough gently until smooth, about 30 seconds, then cut it into 6 equal portions. Using a well-floured rolling pin, roll each portion of dough into an imperfect oval, about 1/8-inch thick. Add more flour to the surface or the pin as needed, as the dough will be rather sticky. On a large baking sheet, stack the dough between sheets of parchment paper, and cover loosely with plastic wrap while you prepare the toppings and preheat the grill, or for up to 1 hour.

To make the toppings: In a small bowl, whisk the yogurt, tahini, lemon juice, garlic, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Taste and adjust the seasoning, then cover and set aside.

Heat the oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the lamb, fennel seed, cumin, coriander, chile flakes, and season with 1 teaspoon of salt and several grinds of pepper. Cook, stirring often, until the liquid has evaporated, and the lamb browns and becomes slightly crispy in the rendered fat, 7 to 9 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and set aside.

Prepare a fire in a charcoal or gas grill. For charcoal, when the coals are ready, distribute them and preheat the grate. Wait until they’ve reached medium-high heat, or when you can hold your palm about 3 inches above the grill grate for 3 to 5 seconds. If using a gas grill, preheat on high, covered, for about 15 minutes, then adjust the burners as needed throughout cooking.

Brush the pears, red onion, and halloumi with a light coating of olive oil, and season the pears and onions with salt and pepper. Arrange them on the grill and cook, turning occasionally, until all are tender and nicely charred on both sides, 5 to 7 minutes for the pears and halloumi, and 8 to 10 minutes for the onions. Remove the toppings from the grill as they are done and collect them on a large rimmed baking sheet.

Brush the grill grates clean. Grill the flatbreads, two or three at a time, until puffy and charred in spots, 1 to 2 minutes per side.

To assemble the flatbreads, top each with a generous smear of the yogurt spread, dividing it evenly. Pull apart the onion rings and tear the halloumi and divide them amongst the flatbreads. Scatter the lamb over the top, followed by the pears and pine nuts. Finish with the mint leaves. Cut the flatbreads into triangle-shaped slices and serve warm or at room temperature.

Pear “Toasts”

Pears sliced lengthwise topped with delicious toppingsYou’ve probably noticed how trendy the idea of toast has become, with food magazines, cooking shows, and restaurant chefs across the country coming up with enticing toppings for a humble slice of bread. There are even entire cafes dedicated to the concept. But what happens when you have the wacky idea to exchange a slice of pear for the bread? Magic!

Here are four delicious ideas for topping pear “toasts” at home. Consider this a jumping off point for coming up with your own creative combinations, using whatever variety of pear you have ripening on the counter, and any tasty toppings sitting in your fridge or pantry. The options are practically endless, since pears taste amazing with both sweet and savory flavors. These quick creations are a yummy snack for kids and adults alike, whether the craving strikes after school or at the office. But really they are great anytime of the day, from breakfast on the go to a midnight snack.

The first step is to slice a ripe USA pear lengthwise, cutting on either side of the core to create 1/4-inch thick planks. Next, get topping!

Toast 1:
USA Green Anjou Pear
Almond Nut Butter
Banana Slices
Honey Drizzle
Cinnamon Sprinkle
Poppy Seeds

Toast 2:
USA Bosc Pear
Roasted Red Pepper Hummus
Cucumber Slices
Crumbled Feta
Chopped Kalamata Olives
Dill Sprigs

Toast 3:
USA Bosc Pear
Gorgonzola Dolce Cheese
Salami Slices
Chopped Hazelnuts
Chopped Parsley

Toast 4:
USA Red Anjou
Vanilla Greek Yogurt
Chopped Dried Apricots
Mint Leaves
Black Sesame Seeds

Pickled Pear and Irish Cheddar Toasties in a Bread Basket

Little grilled cheese and pickled pear snadwiches stuffed inside a hollowed out bread loaf on a green plateLittle toastie sandwiches, filled with melting Irish Cheddar and piquant pickled pears, are (adorably) presented right in their own hollowed out bread loaf. This recipe makes 2 pints of sweet and tangy pickled pears perfumed with caraway and bay. You won’t need that much for the toasties, so you’ll have pickled pears in your fridge for a month, if they last that long! Enjoy them with cheeses and charcuterie, in salads and sandwiches, or as a tasty snack.

Makes 8 toasties; serves 4 (because everyone will want 2!)

Caraway Pickled Pears
2 medium ripe or slightly underripe Bosc pears
1¼ cups apple cider vinegar
1 cup water
6 tablespoons honey
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons caraway seeds
2 bay leaves

For the Toasties
1 unsliced loaf of hearty whole-grain sandwich bread (AKA a “Pullman” loaf)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
7 ounces Irish cheddar cheese, sliced and at room temperature
16 slices Caraway Pickled Pears

To make the pickled pears: Halve and core the pears, and slice each one lengthwise into 1/8-inch-thick slices. Pack the slices into 2 wide-mouth, pint-size glass canning jars, or other heatproof container(s). Bring the vinegar, water, honey, salt, caraway seeds, and bay leaves to a boil over medium-high heat in a small saucepan, stirring until the honey and salt are dissolved. Boil for about 2 minutes. Pour the hot brine into the jars, completely covering the pears. Cover the jars with lids and set aside to allow the brine to cool to room temperature as it pickles the pears. When completely cooled, use right away or refrigerate the pickled pears for up to 1 month.

To make the toasties: First preheat the broiler.

loaf of bread on a cutting board with the crust and top intact, but the middle removed in a blockUsing a bread knife, saw off the top crust of the bread, just where it begins to dome (if it is a flattop loaf, then just saw off about ½ inch of the top crust); set the top aside. Now cut out the inside of the bread in one giant rectangle, so that you will basically have a crustless smaller loaf within the outer shell of crust. Here’s how to do that: Saw around the perimeter of the bread parallel to the long and short edges of the loaf, leaving about a ½-inch border on all edges and without cutting all the way through the bottom crust. Now cut a slit through one of the long edges of the crust that runs parallel to the bottom crust, about 1/2-inch from the bottom of the loaf, leaving about a ½-inch border on either end of the loaf so as not to completely slice off the bottom crust; this will free the inside bread rectangle, leaving a long slit toward the bottom of the bread bowl (but that won’t matter, it’s a secret!). Carefully remove the now crustless interior rectangle of bread and cut it into 16 slices.

Arrange the slices in a single layer on a large, rimmed baking sheet and brush the top sides with butter. Place them under the broiler, about 4 inches from the top heating element, until nicely toasted. Flip and toast the slices on the other side. Remove them from the oven, and now preheat the oven to 400˚F.

Top 8 of the toasted bread slices with a slice of cheese and then 2 slices of pickled pear. Place the other 8 bread slices on top, creating 8 little toastie sandwiches. Stuff the toasties back into the hollowed out bread “basket.” You will likely only be able to fit about 6 of them inside, so set the other 2 aside for now. Replace the top of the bread. Wrap the entire loaf in a sheet of aluminum foil and place it on the center oven rack. Bake until the cheese is melted, 30 to 40 minutes. Place the remaining 2 toasties on a small baking pan and heat them in the oven a few minutes before the big loaf is done, just until the cheese is melted.

To serve, place the bread basket and extra toasties on a large platter, and enjoy while the cheese is hot and melty!

The Time is Ripe for Pears: Chicago

From Philadelphia, we headed west to the chilly city of Chicago on our sixth stop in The Time is Ripe for Pears Tour. The city’s trademark wind was in full force, but so was the enthusiasm of local pear fans!

On our first night in Chicago, I was treated to a delicious local delicacy: a pizza pot pie. Yep, that’s right; it’s all the tasty toppings of a pizza—plum tomatoes, peppers, garlic, whole mushrooms, sausage—wrapped up inside a doughy bundle and set inside a dish to bake. When it’s finished, they bring it to your table inside the dish and gently coax it out onto your plate. It’s so good! If you’re ever in the Windy City, check it out: Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinder Co. And order the Mediterranean Bread!

On Thursday, we enjoyed a wonderful lunch at the impressively sleek Blackbird Restaurant. Chef David Posey (below) treated us to a meal just as impressive. My favorite course was the Seared Bass with Clams, Glazed Parsnips, and Pears (also below). Luckily for you, I get to share the recipe here!

That evening, we bundled up to head to Pastoral Artisan Cheese in the Loop, where we sampled Bosc, Anjou, and Starkrimson pears along with some complementary cheese choices, courtesy of our friends at Pastoral. The pairings were excellent, but don’t take my word for it! Check out this video to see what these tasters had to say. And note: I’m not the only one who uses, er, cheesy pear puns!

 

They also drew this darling little sign to spread the word. Curious to learn more about which cheeses you should pair with pears? Watch this short video to see what we sampled in Chicago, and click here for more pairing inspearation.

All in all, we had a great trip to Chicago — and we’re very excited for our last two stops here in the Pacific Northwest! If you’re in the area, make sure you visit us! We’ll be here in Portland on Friday and sampling at Beecher’s Cheese in Seattle the following week. More info here.

Pasta con Peras y Queso

Stumped about what to have for dinner tonight?  Try this quick and easy recipe – just pick up some fresh, new season USA Pears at the store – the yellow of a ripe Bartlett and bright red Starkrimson add beautiful color to this dish from Mexico!

Pasta with Pears and Cheese

Pasta con Peras y Queso (Pasta with Pears and Cheese)

Ingredients

2 USA Bartlett pears, ripe & chopped
2 USA Starkrimson pears, ripe & chopped
6 ounces penne pasta
2 tablespoons butter
½ cup grated parmesan cheese
¼ cup crumbled gorgonzola cheese
½ cup cream
½ cup milk
1 tablespoon chicken bouillon granules
Salt, chopped onion, garlic, and olive oil as desired to season pasta while cooking

Directions

Boil the pasta in water with some salt, onion, garlic, and a little olive oil.  When the pasta is al dente, drain the water and set pasta aside.

In a skillet, melt the butter, then add the parmesan, gorgonzola, and cream. Poor the milk in slowly and still in the chicken bouillon. Let the mixture simmer on low heat for 5 minutes or until the cheese is melted and the sauce begins to boil.  Add the pasta and pears to the same skillet, mixing with the sauce and heating through, reserving some chopped pears for garnish.

Difficulty: easy
Preparation time: 35 minutes
Yield: 4 servings

Pears and Cheese

March seems to be the unofficial month of cheese. And as you know, pears and cheese happen to go together like peanut butter and jelly, like milk and Oreos, like…well, you get the picture.

We’ve been at three events in the month of March alone, sampling fresh pears along with a variety of Oregon cheeses. The Portland Boys and Girls Club held their annual Showcase of Wine and Cheese early this month, where we sliced succulent Taylor’s Gold pears, crisp Bosc pears, and juicy Anjous.

Mid-month, we traveled down to Willamette Valley Vineyards to slice up pears at their Wine, Pear & Cheese Jubilee, and last weekend, we went way down south to the famed Rogue Creamery for the Oregon Cheese Festival.

People had a great time sampling pears (the state fruit!) along with a variety of crumbly, creamy, rich and salty cheeses from around our lovely state. Are you hungry yet? Check out our website for ideas on how you can find your favorite pear and cheese pairings.

Cheers!

Go Packers!

It’s almost game time, and Pear Bureau Northwest is rooting for the Green Bay Packers. Lucky for us (or should I say them?) their colors just so happen to match the bright hues of USA Pears – particularly the Green Anjou and the (ripe) Bartlett.

If you’re hosting a Super Bowl party on Sunday, we’ll make it easy to score big with your guests. Here’s how you can pump up the excitement with pears:

• Fill baskets, trays, or a large glass vase with green and yellow USA Pears—the colorful centerpiece can double as a healthy snack!
• Place USA Pears in quesadillas—it’s the perfect Cheesehead tribute!
• Serve this Pear Mango Salsa along with your chips and dips. The fruity mixture is festive and delicious!

Visit our website for our complete green and yellow game day menu. Go Pack!

This Weekend: Wine, Cheese & Pear Jubilee!

wvv-057
If you’re going to be in the Willamette Valley this weekend, don’t miss the 7th Annual “Wine, Cheese & Pear Jubilee” at Willamette Valley Vineyards. You’ll have the chance to sample award-winning wines paired with local artisan cheeses and of course, Oregon grown pears! We’ll be there sampling ripe pears, so come on by and see us!

P.S. The $5 admission includes a free Riedel wine glass!

A Healthier Gift Worth Giving

gift-basket-1I love the holidays, but this year seems more stressful than past years. It’s getting down to the wire and I need a quick, thoughtful gift. I think I’ve got it – a personal gift from the heart that is useful, fun, and perfect for the new year! I’m a foodie at heart, so why not share my passion with all of the people I love?

Gift baskets have taken on a modern, fun twist in recent years. Here is my plan: take five flavorful and festive items, grab a basket or pretty bag, combine, and dress it up! My personalized gift looks like this: two or three comice, forelle, or red Bartlett pears, a fine wedge of cheese (I like bleu), a mini jar of jalapeno jelly, sesame crackers, and a bag of dried apricots, almonds, or walnuts. Try red and green pears for a festive centerpiece! The combination of items is purely enticing, and is one gift surely to be enjoyed through the end of the year; the bonus is that this gift doubles as a healthy appetizer or new year’s eve party dish! To save a few bucks I buy in bulk, and dress it up with tissue paper, ribbon, and fresh rosemary sprigs. But the best part of this gift is that it comes from the heart, full of things I want to share with my loved ones.gift-basket-2

Not into these items? Change it up to suit your personality; make it unique! Throw in your favorite kitchen tool, dried herbs, an apron, candle, bottle of wine, or a beloved book or recipe. If you love it, it’s sure to make your loved ones smile. Or if you’re drawing a blank, kitchen or finer food stores have varieties of fun items and delicacies to mix and match with pears as the festive focal point. For some ideas on foodie items to pair with pears, visit the pear, wine, and cheese pairing section of this website. Merry gifting and happy holidays!