Do I Dare To Eat a Pear?
Well it's been quite a couple of weeks, don't you think? I don't know anyone who hasn't had their bouts with the jitters. Even folks like me who can be annoyingly optimistic at the worst of times have had our resolve tested. It's not just getting the bad news -- it's the volume and pace of analysis and punditry that follows, making it hard to catch your emotional breath.
Even if you're not worried enough about Washington's budget and your own, there's been a bounty of news stories about the potential impact if enough of us pull our collective purse strings tighter. I saw a quote the other day in amNY.com from Tim Zagat about $300 dinners and the high end of the restaurant business: "I think that's going to come to a screeching halt." I'm actually a bit more concerned about the coffee cart guy who for years supported his family by having the coveted spot right outside Lehman Brothers' front door. Or the massage therapist I know whose practice -- and income -- got cut in half when Bear Stearns went bankrupt.
For me, cutting out restaurant meals is not much of a budget savings since we rarely eat out. Part of the reason has always been cost -- I find it's easy to spend a lot on a mediocre meal and then I'm furious with myself. More of the reason is because restaurants are often noisy and uncomfortable and I want the whole pleasure of the meal -- the food and the conversation. So we usually eat at home.
One exception is an occasional dinner at Demarchelier, a cozy neighborhood French bistro on Manhattan's Upper East Side. This is the kind of restaurant that makes you nostalgic even upon your first visit. There's a small bar with a TV always tuned to a soccer game. The self-service coat rack is at the rear. Regulars sip glasses of chilled Lillet or martinis. The menu is written with chalk on a blackboard as if it changes ever day, despite the fact that it never does.
Demarchelier is only a few blocks from the Metropolitan Museum and a favorite Friday night out is a late afternoon visit to the Met followed by an early dinner. I always order exactly the same thing: a glass of Champagne, a salad of endive, sliced apple and Roquefort cheese, and calves liver with shallots. I never cook liver at home and think of it as a food that is both good for you (all that iron) and terrible (all that cholesterol). Plus it's a skill to cook it as well as the chef does here.
The endive salad, however, is easy to reproduce. Spears of pale green Belgian endive, slices of crisp apple and little globs of creamy Roquefort. But once I had some ripe pears on hand and substituted them for the apple and it was a revelation. Ripe pears are juicier and sweeter than apples, adding more contrast to the bitter endive and the salty blue cheese. I dress the salad with a classic vinaigrette to which I've added a forkful of Dijon mustard. See our recipes for the salad and vinaigrette.
I should suggest that the chef at Demarchelier make the switch, although then they'd have the dilemma of having to change that permanent chalkboard.
This fall has produced a splendid crop of pears and there's a bounty of them in the city's produce stores, grocers and of course, at our Greenmarkets. If you're uncertain which variety to choose, see our link to an article that may help. We also have two other recipes that use pears either as the centerpiece or a sweet accent. These include Poached Pears With Parmesan Foam and Pear and Walnut Salad.
A favorite dessert is to poach whole pears and serve them with a drizzle of caramel sauce. Here's how I poach mine: in a large (3-to-4-quart) saucepan I combine a cup of sugar with 3 cups of water. I bring this to a boil and then simmer for a few minutes until all the sugar has dissolved. Add whole, peeled pears (my favorite for poaching are Bartletts but any pear will work), leaving the stem on as a detail, and simmer for 30 minutes, occasionally turning the pears around so that they poach evenly. At this point turn off the heat and let the pan and its contents cool to room temperature (the pears will continue to poach during this time). With a slotted spoon remove the pears and then bring the liquid back to a boil and cook until it's reduced by half. Let this cool a bit and then pour over the pears and refrigerate. The pears will keep this way for up to 3 days and the syrup is nice to spoon over the pears when you serve them. If you don't want to make caramel sauce you could partner the pears with a scoop of vanilla or cinnamon ice cream or a piece of cheese, something blue like Stilton or a tangy Pecorino.
As for all that bad news that's spinning around us, let's remember that we're all in this together. So invite a friend over for dinner. We all could use a treat right now….