15 February 2009

Baked Pears with Calvados and Mascarpone Cheese

For Grandma Annie, a fresh, juicy pear was the ultimate treat.

It took me rather a long time to appreciate pears. I found the taste a bit metallic and far too subtle on my young palate. Give me an orange instead, later an apple. That was then. This is now.

I was an adult before I began to savor the pear, which I now realize is a more sophisticated and shapelier cousin of of the apple.

A few years back, as we settled into autumn in the southwest of France, I bought two bottles of cider, pear and apple. Pear was sweet and light, while the apple was vinegar-y and heavy to my American-bred palate. I tossed it out.

Baked Pear with Calvados and Mascarpone Cheese (serves four)

  • 2 Red Bartlett pears
  • 1/4 cup Calvados
  • 2 teaspoons butter
  • 2 teaspoons brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

For the cheese topping:
  • 1/3 cup mascarpone cheese
  • dash vanilla extract
  • pinch sugar
  • 2 tablespoons roasted walnuts


Halve the pears, cutting from the top down, and hollow out the center. A grapefruit spoon or a sturdy melon baller is perfect for this task. Set aside.

Melt butter and sugar, add the Calvados and a pinch of cinnamon. Pour over the pears and allow them to absorb the liquid for about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, pre-heat oven to 375. Place the pears cut side up in a buttered baking dish. Drizzle the remaining liquid over the pears, allowing it to pool in the center of the pear halves. Bake for 30-40 minutes until pears are softer, but still firm.

While pears are baking, blend mascarpone with vanilla and sugar.

Remove pears from oven. Allow to cool for 10 minutes. Stuff center of pears with mascarpone cheese. Top with roasted walnuts.

The taste is subtle, the sensation on the tongue is crisp, creamy and crunchy.

05 February 2009

A Humble Little Cafe

I want to own a humble little restaurant. A café, really, with only a few tables and a small menu. Unpretentious, with a daily special and a friendly waiter.

There was such a café in our town once, owned by a local foodie who grew up in the restaurant business. There were probably five tables inside, and a small terrace in back, overlooking the water. it changed hands a couple of times. One owner put two tables on the street and three more on the terrace.

One day my husband and I, waiting on a Friday afternoon for our friends at the bookstore, bought lemonades near closing time. We went out into the terrace, and much to our surprise, watched the owner as he locked the door. No matter, the tiny terrace was open on the water side and we simply made our way down to the path along the shore. We found this all very charming and a bit amusing.

(The photo above is not a café, but a table outside an antique store in St. Paul Village in the Marais. This seems to be common in the village, which I imagine to be its own little community.)

I want to own a place that makes customers feel they are treating themselves while spending very little money. It can be done.

In these bad times, we can't give up on the good ones. We need them. My community has seen many layoffs recently; some are temporary. Some may not be. The number now is likely to be in the hundreds. I don't know for sure.

What I do know is that we still need sustenance. And sometimes we don't feel like cooking. So we need an affordable treat. That is getting harder to find.

Our spirits need sustenance, too. That can mean many different things. It certainly can mean a good meal in a humble little café.

What do you think?

01 February 2009

Roasted Asparagus and Red Pepper Salad with Chevre and Bacon

"Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without" and "Shop locally - check your pantry" are two phrases I've been hearing a lot of lately.

Except for the doing without, I'm pretty good at being frugal. If someone would have told me even a few years ago that the penurious years of college and the early stages of my career would train me for the rest of my life, I might have been shocked. But I'm closer to retirement than college now, and I'm wondering just what the future holds. We're lucky for now. For now.

So I continue to save scraps of this and that for future soups and stews. My freezer is filled with odds and ends, that make for some pretty interesting and sometimes inspired meal pairings.

Sunday night, we had four red peppers and a bunch of asparagus in the crisper. We wanted a light meal. My husband was feeling flu-ish and I was sure I was next.

Roasted Asparagus and Red Pepper Salad with Chevre and Bacon
  • 3-4 red peppers, washed and trimmed into strips.
  • 10-15 asparagus spears, washed and trimmed
  • 1-2 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1-2 medium shallots, cut into thin slices
  • 2 tablespoons chevre
  • 1 tablespoon bacon bits

Pre heat oven to 425. Coat peppers and asparagus and roast them until they begin to turn brown along the edges. You may want to give the red peppers a 10-minute head start. While the vegetables are roasting, brown the shallots in olive oil in a small skillet until they turn transparent and golden. Once the vegetables are roasted, allow to cool for 3 minutes and layer them on a salad plate, sprinkling chevre and bacon bits. Season with fleur de sel and freshly ground pepper.

I added this dressing

This salad would be great with a sausage-based dish or with herbed chicken.