Monday, January 27, 2014

Roast Pear & Arugula Salad with Port Cherries

After the indulgent holidays many people choose to embrace a little lighter fare such as salad. But that doesn't mean it has to be boring and bland or total deprivation. Just a little moderation is good. A few ripe Bosc pears prompted a mid-winter salad full of bright, fresh flavors. Bosc pears are a favorite of pastry chefs because they hold their shape nicely when cooked and they have a lovely perfumed flavor. But any kind of pear will work. You can peel the fruit if you prefer, but I like the flavor and color contrast the skin provides.

Given that it is cold and blistery outside I wanted to deepen the flavor of the pears by roasting them in the oven. It both intensifies their flavor and makes the whole house smell fabulous.

My aunt gave me a bottle of her homemade port for Christmas. It is quite delicious. I macerated dried, tart cherries in warmed port to plump them.

I am in love with arugula. I can't get enough of it. I adore the peppery taste. I put in on sandwiches. I top a simple tossed green salad of arugula with fried eggs. I put it in soup. Here it is used as the base of the salad, add goat cheese for tang, toasted almonds for crunch, cherries for tart, and pears for sweet with a shallot vinaigrette to round out the flavors.

To keep the salad neat I toss the arugula in the vinaigrette alone then arrange the other ingredients on top. You can finish with additional vinaigrette if you choose, but it doesn't really need it.

I couldn't stop eating this salad as I was photographing it. I kept having to make new plates to photograph it is that good. This salad would go nicely with Christmas Carbonara.

Roast Pear and Arugula Salad with Port Cherries

3-4 Bosc pears (any kind of pear will work)
3 ounces (85g) dried tart cherries
2 ounces (4 Tablespoons/55 ml) port wine, optional
1/4 cup (30g) slivered almonds, toasted
4 ounces (113g) goat cheese, crumbled
5 ounces (141g) baby arugula
1 teaspoon finely minced shallot
2 ounces (4 Tablespoons/55 ml) white balsamic vinegar or cider vinegar
3 ounces olive oil

Preheat oven to 350℉ (176℃). Wash and dry the pears. Cut in half, remove the core, cut each half into 4 slices. (Peel the pears if you prefer, but there is a lot of flavor in the peel and the color contrast is pretty.) Place on a rimmed baking sheet. Roast in the preheated oven 20-25 minutes until a knife easily penetrates the flesh. Remove from oven and allow pears to cool.

Put cherries in a heat-proof glass bowl. While the pears are roasting heat the port (if using) until hot about 1 1/2 minutes in a microwave or about 3-5 minutes on a stove. Remove from heat and pour over the cherries. Macerate in the liquid for 10-15 minutes until they plump slightly. Drain, reserving the liquid, set cherries aside to cool. (You can just use dried cherries without plumping them in wine if you prefer.)

Put the vinegar, a tablespoon of the reserved port (if using), the minced shallot, olive oil, salt and pepper to taste in a glass jar with a tight fitting lid. Shake vigorously. Or put all ingredients in a blender or food processor expect the olive oil. Slowly process adding the oil a little at a time until emulsified.

Put the arugula in a large bowl toss with the dressing. (You may not need all of it.) If making the dressing in a jar make sure to shake well before dressing the arugula. The dressing separates quickly. Divide arugula between 6 plates. Arrange pears on top. Sprinkle with goat cheese, cherries, and almonds and serve. Makes 6 serving.

If you have left over pears and cherries store in separate glass containers in the refrigerator. The two together make a sweet snack.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

The Gage

Back in the summer of 2009, Addison, Maddie, and I were in Chicago to visit the new Modern Wing  of The Art Institute of Chicago. Wandering through Millennium Park after viewing the new building and the exhibits we found ourselves in desperate need of lunch. By chance we stumbled upon The Gage. This was before we used our mobile phones for help. We just walked around and read menus until we found something to our liking. It was a great find.

So when our girl's weekend took us to Chicago this past summer we stopped for lunch at The Gage between shopping on Michigan Avenue and savoring the beauty of Millennium Park. Not only does The Gage serve well-prepared, delicious food it also delivers some very tasty libations. 

The resurgence of the cocktail is a trend that has been going on in America the past few years. While in Europe this summer I noticed it had entered their arena as well.

The bartender is now called a mixologist, creating signature drinks with house-made  flavorings. The cocktails are often served in interesting glasses or finished with an artful garnish. 

The crusty bread and salted butter at the The Gage would make an ample meal on its own. The rich restaurant decor is inviting and charming. I love the tin ceiling.

I appreciate an open kitchen in a restaurant as there is nothing to hide. It is also fun to watch the well choreographed rhythm of the kitchen staff.

We enjoyed lunch so much we returned the following day for brunch, which is something we don't often do. The Gage is well known for their exceptional burgers, as well as, brunch. The chef was kind enough to make it so we could each have a taste of the delicious burger.

It was convenient to have Millennium Park across the street so we could walk off all the food we had consumed. The park is so lush and lovely during the warm months of the year.

Chicago is such a great town. If you have never been, definitely put it on your bucket list.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Meringue Drops

There is something very therapeutic about making meringue. Perhaps it is the transformation of egg whites and sugar into a sweet, fluffy white confection. Or maybe the rhythm of piping and the orderly rows are pleasing. I don't know what it is, but to me the process of making meringue treats is just plain fun.

Last year around this time I wrote about meringue mushrooms. This year I decided to mix it up a bit by adding some nuts. It does not matter whether you use pistachios, pecans, or almonds or semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate. The choice is yours, feel free to try different combinations. You could even use white chocolate and crushed candy canes in place of the nuts for an added twist. Like the meringue mushrooms, these little treats seem to delight both young and old and have a way of disappearing quickly.

When the meringues are completely dry and crisp they are easy to remove from the parchment paper. They pop right off. 

Put the dipped meringues on the parchment paper-lined trays to set up before storing in an air-tight container.

Meringue Drops

4 large egg whites, at room temperature
1/4 teaspoon cream of tarter or a pinch of salt
1 cup (200 g) sugar
6 ounces (170 g) semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1 cup (125 g) pistachios, pecan, or almonds, toasted and finely chopped

Preheat oven to 200℉ (93℃). Line two rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside. Put egg whites and cream of tarter or salt in the bowl of a standing mixer with a whisk attachment. Beat on medium speed until soft peaks form. Gradually add the sugar. Continue beating on high speed until very stiff about 5-8 minutes.  

Put mixture in a pastry bag fitted with a plain 1/2 inch (1.27 cm) tip. Put a small amount of meringue in each corner of the trays under the parchment paper to keep the paper in place. Pipe drops of equal size on the parchment-lined trays.

Bake for an hour, then switch the trays in the oven and bake until completely dry and crisp, up to two hours.  

Melt the chocolate in a small bowl over simmering water or in a microwave on 50% power. Put the chopped nuts in another small bowl. Dip the flat part of the drop in the melted chocolate then dip in the chopped nuts. Allow to set up before storing in an air-tight tin.