September 16, 2011

quite the pear


I checked my Facebook News Feed Aug. 12 and saw a picture and announcement from my friend Kathy, which caught my eye.

Kathy: I'm starting a new game: "What the Hell is That?" Identify the object in the photo and win a prize. This week's prize is a lovely basket of fresh pears from my tree. If you live too far away for delivery, it will be a picture of a lovely basket of fresh pears from my tree. Go!

I love guessing, and I love winning. Winning is awesome, and this game was right up my alley. By the time I saw the post, the first guessers went for headphone earbud, car speakers, computer microphone and plastic drain cover. They were wrong. Fifth to play, I kept my answer short:

Me: strainer

I waited impatiently to find out if I was correct, but ended up calling Kathy directly when I couldn't stand the suspense a moment longer. She told me what I already knew: I was right. A moment later she confirmed it for the world and Facebook.

Kathy: And Laura Chapman is our WINNER of the inaugural edition of What the Hell is That?! For her superior guessing powers, Laura will receive a lovely basket of pears to do with as she pleases. Stay tuned next Friday for a chance to win another fabulous prize on What the Hell is That?!!

The competitive person that I am was excited. I mean, I would have gladly walked away with the honor, privilege and satisfaction of knowing that I was the best guesser in the world of Kathy's Facebook friends list that day. I could brag all day with a smile on my face and call it good.

The pears, which are one of my favorite fruits, were an added bonus.

I eagerly anticipated the day when the pears became mine, and they did the morning of Sept. 8, while green pumpkins weighed heavily on my mind.

With a whole basket of pears at my disposal and Reading in the Kitchen under way, I wondered if there was a way I could combine both. But I couldn't think of any instances of pears in literature.

Kathy delivers my basket o' pears prize.

Thankfully, my office buddy was already on it. After listening to me yap about the series and my pears all morning, he broke down and found a scholarly article titled The Pear in History, Literature, Pop Culture, and Art by Jules Janick of Purdue University. There is a whole section on pears in literature — I was saved. Thank you, office buddy. You are a far superior researcher than I am.

According to the article, the first mention of pear in literature dates back to Homer's The Odyssey. The pear was named as one of the "gifts of the gods."

I next learned William Shakespeare was apparently a  fan of name dropping pears. For example:

"...As crest-fallen as a dried Pear," (Merry Wives of Windsor).
"I must have saffron to color the Warden pies," (Winter's Tale).
"O, Romeo... thou a Poperin Pear," (Romeo and Juliet).

More recently, in Charles Dickens' David Copperfield, Uriah Heep says, "I suppose you have sometimes plucked a pear before it was ripe, Master Copperfield? I did that last night, but it'll ripen yet! It only wants attending to. I can wait?"

See, all three of these instances (I'm lumping Bill Shakespeare's all together) make perfectly good references to pears. Now that I was validated in using these pears, and all the wiser for having read up on the topic, I needed to decide what to do with so many pears.

Eating the pears as they were was not an option. I mean, I did enjoy a few raw pears, but there were so many. I didn't want them to go bad, and I knew I had to cook with them. With three good examples of pears in literature, I decided to make a three-course meal featuring the pear as the main ingredient.

The menu:
•  Roasted Red Onion and Pear Salad (from Carrie Vitti's Deliciously Organic)
•  Pear and Gorgonzola Cheese Pizza (from AllRecipes.com)
•  Pear Cupcakes with Brown Butter Spice Frosting (based on a cake recipe from Food.com, but modified)

In town for a football game, my Mom joined me at the grocery store while I bought ingredients I didn't already have. She was a great resource for me in finding substitutions for produce that I couldn't find.

For example, my local grocery store did not have chives for the pizza or bibb lettuce for the salad. We settled on green onion and romaine lettuce as satisfactory subs. I also made a smarter long-term decision by purchasing dried thyme for the salad dressing instead of fresh. While the fresh would have likely been delicious, I knew it would most likely turn before I had a chance to cook with it, again.

It was nice having her in the store with me. Not only did it save me multiple phone calls to ask for her input, but I learned a lot. Mom is a great cook, and it was interesting to pick up on some of her habits. She offered up some tips for preparation, which I will get to later.


With a few modifications to the recipes and my mom's advice, cooking went well. Funny enough, the salad was the most time consuming part of the meal and the pizza the fastest.

I made the cupcakes first. In a large mixing bowl, I added 1 cup white sugar, 1 cup brown sugar, 3 eggs beaten, 1 cup cooking oil, 2 teaspoons vanilla, 3 cups flour, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon baking soda and two teaspoons of cinnamon. I was nervous, because it created a thick batter, which looked like this:


Oh, boy. I didn't know what I was going to do with that. It hardly looked like cake batter should. Then, I remembered I still had to include the pears. I used the most ripe of Kathy's pears and pealed the skin off and cut out any bruising. Using a cheese shredder, I added about five medium pears to the mix. It looked much better.


I lined two muffin tins with cupcake liners and added a quick coat of non-stick spray. I baked the two dozen cupcakes for between 25 and 30 minutes at 350 degrees.

I took a break while those baked, then removed them from the oven to cool. I began prep work for the salad, next. I sliced a medium-sized red onion into half-inch wedges and tossed them in 2 tablespoons of olive oil. I threw them on a baking sheet and cooked them in the oven for 30 minutes at 400 degrees. The original recipe called for coconut oil, but that was one of the concessions I made at the grocery store to keep my budget minimal.

While the onion roasted, I made the salad dressing. The recipe called for 2 tablespoons of fresh-squeezed orange juice and 1 Tablespoon of fresh-squeezed lemon juice. I used 1 orange and 1 lemon. My mom taught me a neat trick. I took the fruit out of the fridge a couple of hours before making them to bring them to room temperature. Then, I rolled them on the counter to soften them before slicing into them. This helped me get more juice out of them. Next, I added a teaspoon of Dijon mustard, 1 teaspoon of honey, 1/2 teaspoon of thyme and black pepper. I whisked these together before adding 1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil.

I washed the romaine and baby spinach and tossed them together, which differed from the original recipe. I did it for convenience and didn't notice any change. Then, I added 1/2 cup of Gorgonzola and 1/2 cup of dried cranberries (more than called for, but I eyeballed it till it looked good). I sliced 1 good-sized pear into thin slices and mixed everything, including the dressing together. I served the red onion on the side, because not everyone likes onion. Crazy, I know.

The pizza came together fast. I used one tube of refrigerated pizza dough spread thin. Then, I covered the pizza with Gorgonzola, 2 ounces of walnuts and one pear diced small. I covered it with 1/4 pound of provolone, which I picked up from the grocery deli. This took all of two minutes (and a good thing, too, because I was expecting lunch guests in 10 minutes). I baked it for eight minutes on 450 degrees. It came out perfectly golden. I served the green onions on the side for the same reason I served the red onion on the side.

In between all of this, I made frosting for the cupcakes. This was the only hiccup I had while cooking

I browned 1/2 cup butter on the stove and added it to 6 cups of confectioner's sugar (powdered sugar) and 1 tablespoon of cinnamon and 1 tablespoon of brown sugar. This seemed like a good idea, because both were used in the cake, and I wanted to link both parts together. This made for a thick and chunky frosting I wasn't pleased with. So, I added about 1/4 cup to 1/3 cup of whipping cream to the mix, and it made the whole thing fluffier.

I invited two friends and my sister over for Sunday lunch to try out the dishes  and gauge their feedback.


Roasted Red Onion and Pear Salad
Glenna: The red onion added a sweet taste to it. I also liked the pear's texture in the salad.
Jacie: I've never had a pear in a salad. I wasn't sure what I thought about it, but I liked it.
Sarah: The dressing was light and refreshing.

Pear and Gorgonzola Cheese Pizza
Glenna: The refrigerator dough went well with the cheeses. It would have been interesting to see how it tasted with the green onions baked into the toppings.
Jacie: Again, I wasn't sure about pear on pizza, but it was very good.
Sarah: I've only ever had pineapple on pizza before. This makes me think other fruits might be good on pizza.

Pear Cupcakes with Brown Butter Spice Frosting
Glenna: I hardly noticed the pear. It tasted more like a spice cake. I didn't think the frosting was too sweet.
Jacie: It would be a perfect cupcake for fall.
Sarah: The frosting wasn't overly sweet, and the buttery taste really stood out.
Glenna summed it up well when she said, "It was a good fall meal."

Overall, I enjoyed the meal. Like Glenna said, it was a good fall meal, or rather, a good meal for this time of year when summer becomes fall. For example, the citrus flavors in the dressing tasted summery, while the dried cranberries felt more fall-like. It makes a good combo with the pears, which are harvested at this time of year.

All of the dishes were also pretty easy to make. The pizza would have been more time consuming if I had made the crust from scratch. I loved the Pillsbury pizza dough, though, because it tasted a little like crescent rolls, which matched well with the other toppings.

I took the leftover cupcakes to work Monday, and they went over well there. Even a friend, who normally doesn't like pears, enjoyed the finished product. The pear taste was hard to notice, but the shredded fruit gave the cake a great texture. The cupcakes stayed moist for a couple of days, too, which is awesome.

Overall, I thought the pears tied into the books/ plays well enough. With the Gorgonzola cheese, especially, it had a very Greek feel to it, which matched the theme of The Odyssey. I can also see a young David Copperfield throwing down a few of the cupcakes. The pizza was just awesome. I can't say enough about it. I'm having a love affair with it! I'll probably make it again.

Check back this afternoon for a bonus recipe. I made it later in the week with leftover supplies from these recipes and last week's. I just winged it on this one, so it was kind of fun.

Thanks for reading this week, and I look forward to taking on another dish for next week. I welcome any suggestions you might have for future books and dishes to try.

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