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.

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!

Mulligatawny Soup with Chicken, Pears, and Coconut

mulligatawny-soupThis autumn inspired version of Mulligatawny soup is sure to delight. Colorful pears, tender chicken, sweet potatoes, and rich coconut milk star in this adaptation of a classic English soup with Indian origins. The recipe comes together in about 30 minutes for an easy weeknight dinner, and the leftovers taste even better. Top the soup with crunchy toasted coconut and bright, fresh cilantro leaves.

Ingredients:
2 tablespoon butter, divided
1 pound chicken breast, cut into ½ inch pieces
salt and pepper
1 medium yellow onion, medium dice
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
1 ½ teaspoon Madras curry powder
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon garam masala
4 cups chicken broth
1 pound sweet potatoes, medium dice
2 firm USA Pears, such as Concorde or Comice, medium dice
1 (13.5 oz.) can coconut milk
¾ cup unsweetened coconut flakes, toasted
1 cup loosely packed cilantro leaves

Directions:
In a large soup pot over medium heat melt 1 tablespoon of the butter. Add the diced chicken and season generously with salt and pepper. Saute for 3 to 4 minutes or until just cooked through. Transfer chicken to a small bowl. Add the remaining butter to the same pan and saute the onion until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, ginger, and all three spices and saute for one minute more. Next, add the chicken broth to deglaze the pan, stirring to pick up any browned bits. Add the diced sweet potatoes to the liquid, cover, and bring to a boil. Once boiling, uncover and reduce to a simmer, cooking for 6 – 8 minutes or until sweet potatoes are tender. Add the diced pears and continue to simmer for 5 minutes more. Stir in the coconut milk and season the soup to taste with more salt and pepper if necessary. Divide the soup between bowls and garnish each with the toasted coconut and cilantro.

Prep time: 30 minutes
Yield: 4 – 6 servings

Pear Compote with Earl Grey & Vanilla

compoteThis super simple compote is a beautiful and delicious way to preserve some of fall’s fading flavors. You’ll make a simple infusion which combines the unique flavor of Earl Grey tea with vanilla and orange, and then simply stir in sugar and fresh pears. Serve this compote over yogurt or ricotta for a delightful breakfast or snack, spoon it over vanilla ice cream, or try it atop crostinis spread with your favorite soft cheese.

Pear Compote with Earl Grey & Vanilla
Ingredients
1 cup boiling water
2 Earl Grey tea bags
1 orange
1 tablespoon vanilla paste
¾ cup sugar
3 firm ripe USA Pears, such as Comice or Red Anjou, small dice

Directions
Place the tea bags into the cup of boiling water and steep for 2 to 3 minutes to make a very strong tea. Remove the teabags and discard. Peel two long strips of zest from the orange using a vegetable peeler. Stack them on top of one another and slice them on a diagonal into very thin strips. Slice the orange in half and squeeze the juice into a medium saucepan. To the same saucepan add the tea, orange zest strips and vanilla paste, and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Continue to simmer the mixture, uncovered, for 5 – 7 minutes or until reduced by half. Once reduced, add the sugar and stir to dissolve. Return to a simmer and cook for 2 minutes (but no longer) to lightly caramelize the sugar. Stir in the diced pears, cover, and cook for another 5 – 7 minutes until the pears are just tender. Allow to cool for one hour and then transfer to a pint jar, being sure the pears are submerged in the syrup, and refrigerate (the compote will thicken considerably as it cools). Store in the refrigerator for up to one month.

Prep time: 20 minutes
Yield: 1 pint of compote

Sweet Vermouth Poached Pears

vermouthpoachSweet vermouth has really made a comeback thanks to the craft cocktail movement, and I am so glad it did. Without it, I’d have never tried a Manhattan and noticed the distinct and wonderful flavors that a good vermouth can lend, not to mention that I’d have never come up with the idea for this unique recipe. Pick up a bottle for making these poached pears and pour yourself a little over an ice cube to enjoy while you cook. You won’t be sorry.

Sweet Vermouth Poached Pears

Ingredients
3 cups good quality sweet vermouth, such as Carpano Antica
1 cup water
2 tablespoons honey
1 orange, peel only (use a vegetable peeler to cut several thin strips)
2 cinnamon sticks
6 whole cloves
3 firm USA Pears, such as Bosc
Greek yogurt, for serving

Directions
In a medium saucepan, combine vermouth, water, honey, orange peel, and spices. Cover and bring to a simmer over medium heat. In the meantime, peel and halve the pears. Use a melon baller to scoop out the seeds. Transfer the pears to the simmering liquid, being certain they are submerged (cover with a piece of parchment paper if necessary). Reduce the heat slightly to keep the pears at a low bubble. Simmer the pears for 15-20 minutes, or until tender when pierced with a fork. Transfer the pears to a bowl, leaving the liquid behind, and cover them to keep warm. Increase the heat under the sauce to medium-high and bring to a low boil. Cook for approximately 15 minutes, or until the liquid has reduced to about ¾ cup. Pour the sauce through a fine mesh strainer and onto the still-warm pears. Serve immediately with Greek yogurt on the side.

Pear Excellence 2013

This year’s Pear Excellence Culinary Student Competition was another pear-fect success, with talented culinary students from across Canada showing off their flair with the pear for a panel of esteemed judges. Held in Toronto in April, the contest celebrated its sixth year. Culinary students Diego Beltran, Rebekah Roberts, Allegra Jimenez, Connie McKibbon, and Aaron Lackie faced off for the National Grand Prize, showcasing pears in dishes savory and sweet, from gluten-free chocolate chai cake to grilled flatbread. The judges chose Allegra’s “Pearfect Pearing” dish for the grand prize. The dish paired a savory cheesecake with poached Bosc pears, pear chips, and a candied beet salad for a plate the judges said was innovative, well-executed, and an exceptional blending of flavors.

All the regional finalists were applauded for their creativity and execution. Their dishes truly put USA Pears on a pedestal:

  • “The Pearfect Pearing,” Allegra Jimenez, National Grand Prize Winner, Regional Winner – Vancouver
  • “Pear and Black Thai Rice Cakes with Pear Sage Pesto,” Connie McKibbon, People’s Choice Winner, Regional Winner – Ontario
  • “Trout Ceviche with Pear Blini,” Diego Beltran, Regional Winner – Quebec
  • “Pear and Bison Grilled Flatbread,” Rebekah Roberts, Regional Winner – Prairies
  • “Pear Cake Delight,” Aaron Lackie, Regional Winner – Maritime

To view the winning recipes and photos of the finalists” culinary creations, click here.

(Parlez-vous francais? Cliquez ici.)

100 Pearcent Approved!

A dear friend recently called to tell me, “I thought of you today; I ate a pear!” This is a phrase I often hear from friends, family, and even my students. Admittedly, I appreciate hearing it. This is not only because I personally love pears (I have an almond butter and pear sandwich in my lunch today!), but because I know that every time my loved ones take a bite of a juicy Anjou or crisp Bosc, they are doing something wonderful for their bodies. Pears are delicious and have been cultivated and enjoyed across cultures for thousands of years. Plus, pears are packed with fiber, phytonutrients, vitamin C, and potassium, nutrients that have been linked to preventing some of the most prevalent chronic diseases. Perhaps this is why pears have been recognized as one of the 20 most popular fruits by the Food and Drug Administration?

When I first started writing about pears, my friends wondered, why pears? My retort was, why not! Pears are a delicious and healthful fruit, and most people simply need to eat more fruit. As a connoisseur of fine cuisine and a nutrition professional, I can stand behind this amazing food 100 percent. So, my question is, have you had your pear today?

Six Ways to Slice A Pear

You know pears are versatile—you can eat them fresh, preserve them, and cook them in dishes both savory and sweet. But have you thought about the fun you can have with pear shapes?

Whether you’re an adult who likes to play with your food, or a parent who needs help convincing your kids that healthy foods are fun, you’re sure to get some ideas from this blog post. I’ve rounded up six simple ways to slice a pear. This is just a starting point—from these designs, you can coax new recipe ideas, invent delicious desserts, and have fun with your food. Enjoy!

Simple slices: Cut, remove the seeds, and eat! Dunk into yogurt or nut butters if desired.

Lengthwise slices: This cut is great for sliding into quesadillas and sandwiches.

Crosswise slices: The seeds make pretty stars with this cut. You can remove the seeds with a corer, too. Sliced thinly, this style makes for perfect pear “chips” when dried.

Balls: These are made with a melon baller, scooping out the widest part of the pear. As this photo shows, pear balls take a simple dessert idea and make it quite elegant. Simply glaze the pears, spoon over ice cream, and serve! You can also dip pear balls into a solution of diluted lemon water and stick them on a toothpick for an elegant cocktail garnish. Pear “olives,” voila!

Julienned: Cut ‘em like toothpicks. Or matchsticks. Or batons. Whatever term suits your fancy. This cut is essential to making excellent pear slaw.

Diced: This cut readies pears for salads and side dishes.

Culinary Flair with the Pear

Photo Credit: Jon Pesochin, www.jonbenjamin.ca

Last Friday, breakfast disguised as dessert and dessert stole from salad. The three finalists of our third annual U.S. culinary student competition heated up the kitchen with their creativity, taking home newfound fame and fortune thanks to their flair with the pear.

Chaz O’Neill’s Pomegranate Pear Stuffed Toast combined the naturally sweet flavors of (real) maple syrup, pear, and pomegranate in a dessert that looked like breakfast. Chaz, who hails from New England, prepared for the contest like a true student of cuisine, packing his secret ingredient—maple syrup from a local sugar shack—carefully in his suitcase. He was understandably nervous, then, when his luggage was lost in transit.

Luckily, he received his suitcase (with maple syrup bottle intact) just two hours before he had to begin prepping his dish for the panel of prestigious foodservice judges.

Michelle Soto of West Linn, OR, created a savory dish that could be fit for dessert or an appetizer. Her Savory Pear Basil Mini-Cheesecakes intrigued the judges, who remarked that the dish enlivened the popular salad combo.

Our third finalist, Jacqui Wou of Santa Barbara, CA, went all out with her entry, preparing not only a dish, but an entire meal: meat, vegetable, fruit and starch. Her Perfectly “Peared” Lamb was beautiful and pear was indeed perfectly poached, said the judges.

Visit our website to view the recipes and results, including the winner of the People’s Choice award!