A-PEAR-antly, it’s quite hot!
No matter how much I complain, I do actually love the desert. It’s beautiful, clean, and there’s still a lot of nature left in tact for our viewing pleasure. Plus, 8-9 months out of the year the weather is perfect – not too hot, not too cold; no major rain to slosh through or snow to shovel; just right at all times. But Summer… ah Summer, you evil, heartless vixen. Sure, the beach cities think Summer is a beautiful, fun, happy season. Unfortunately she’s happy living at the BEACH, and when Summer comes to visit us out here, she is a fiery beast raging with uncontrollable fury who wreaks havoc on our plants, our cars, our elderly, and anything in her path. I used to giggle living in La Mirada (Orange County, CA) when my ex-brother in law would tell us that he was in 125 degree weather in Iraq – not giggling because it was funny, but because I couldn’t wrap my brain around the concept of such heat, and it made me nervous just thinking about how their shoes must be melting as they walked and their clothes getting permanently fused to their bodies! Now, I myself live in a city that has seen 110 to 120 degrees multiple times in the past few years I’ve been here. It’s just rude!! And even worse, April has decided to start throwing tantrums like her cousin Summer, and it was as high as 106 last week… IT’S THE MIDDLE OF STINKING SPRING!!! At least it sprinkled yesterday to cool us off a bit before it gets really hot again in a month or so.
Now that those hateful little months and seasons have had a piece of my mind, I can fondly recall the delicious salad I made last week. When it’s this hot, I generally don’t like cooking food in the oven because our open kitchen heats up half of the house. One of the readers asked to see a meal with pear in it, and I thought that would be a perfectly crisp and refreshing ingredient for a summer meal. Little did I know that the weather would try to trick me into thinking summer now starts in mid-April. So I grabbed my cookbook called The Pampered Chef Spin on Salads Recipe Collection (only $7.50!), found the Carmelized Pear and Bleu Cheese Salad, and immediately fell in love. I really enjoyed the cranberry vinaigrette made from scratch, and I bought a fabulously potent aged bleu vein cheese by Shaft’s. I wasn’t sure if the pear was supposed to cool before serving the salad, so I treated it like we do with proteins on our salads at work – cook it, top it, serve it. The next day they were good served cold as well, so honestly I guess it’s just a matter of preference. Funny enough, the warmth and heartiness of the pear actually DID make it feel a bit like a meat on top. If you leave the cheese out, you could have a perfectly satisfying vegetarian meal! Of course, you know I’d NEVER ignore my cheeses, that would be just plain mean.
I had actually used two different kinds of pears because I couldn’t decide which one to buy when I was at the store. The recipe calls for Bartletts, but states that you can also use green or red pears, so I grabbed both green and red Anjou pears to see which I liked better. Jeremiah only ate some of his pears but finished the salad underneath so I saved them in the fridge. I love that he’s usually willing to try new things at least once, even if they’re a little foofoobougiegirl for him sometimes. I decided both pears were tasty, and it really depends on what feel you’re going for. The big red Anjou gave a firm, meaty quality that made the dish feel like a main course. I think I preferred the small green Anjou, however, for it’s smooth sweetness that kept the salad light and flavorful as a starter course. Since we had both on one salad that day, all our courses were covered in one, haha! It was also slightly harder to finish carmelizing the larger pear because I was scared to burn the edge by trying to cook all the way to the center (so that may be why the smaller one ended up being sweeter with the carmelization). Perhaps if I use the red pears again, I will slice them a bit smaller instead of just in half like it says.
Ryley loves Craisins (dried cranberries), so we always have plenty on hand. I found this neat package of walnuts at Fresh and Easy that has individually wrapped servings, which is great for taking snacks on the go or using small amounts without opening a big expensive bag and letting it sit around too long. Apparently, nuts can go bad! I wasn’t aware of this until chef told me at work that nuts can get rancid or even carry salmonella (no joke) and make you sick. Whodathunk?! I just thought if the bag was sealed, I was safe forever! If you have nuts around that you don’t finish in a few days or so, it’s best to keep them in the freezer and they’ll last a whole lot longer than just sitting on a cupboard shelf. Your fridge is the next best option. So anyway, I toasted my little bag of perfectly portioned nuts, and sliced the bleu cheese… then sliced some more… then just a little more. Have I mentioned I love cheese? I’ve always made my salads with romaine because it has more nutritional value than iceberg lettuce, but mixed greens can actually be even better (plus it’s what the recipe uses). Most grocery stores have two options for bagged mixed greens – regular or organic. Fresh and Easy has NINE. I will admit I was a bit overwhelmed because they’re all good for different reasons, and many of them would have worked. I chose the Herb Salad Mix because I thought the aromatic herbs they included would complement the other ingredients nicely.
My first time preparing the salad, I made the dressing exactly as specified, and it was delicious. I used a “lite” cranberry juice because it was literally 1/3 the amount of calories and carbohydrates (sugar), and since I knew I’d be adding sugar, I thought it would be good to start with less in the first place. I also switched out the vegetable oil and replaced it with extra virgin olive oil because I prefer the flavor. I recently bought a raspberry balsamic vinegar aged over 18 years from a fabulous little shop in Old Town called La Quinta Olive Oil Company that imports everything directly from Italy and other countries and lets you taste every single flavored olive oil and balsamic vinegar they offer with pieces of fresh-baked bread (I also bought a portobello garlic olive oil – also incredible). I wanted to include my exciting new find in the vinaigrette so I pulled out the balsamic to replace the red wine vinegar in my double batch this afternoon. Well, as I was cleaning and typing this post and doing laundry and getting ready to pick Ryley up from school and compiling my shopping list and looking for the coupon and organizing my work clothes and reducing sweetened cranberry juice (my run-on sentence is just as purposeful and chaotic as my
ADD multi-tasking each day), I boiled the reduction until it hissed and burned in my stainless pot. OOPS. What’s worse is that I checked it twiced, first time not even close and the second, about halfway reduced. Next thing I know, all I have is still-boiling burgundy sludge plopping into my sink, and then hardening there right next to the disposal opening instead of in it. Double oops.
I think I’m just mostly mad that not only did I have to miss lunch because of my mishap, but I also had to go back to the store before attempting this again because I didn’t have enough sugar and cranberry juice to give it another go. I AM at least glad that I hadn’t put the raspberry balsamic in yet because I would’ve been unbelievably upset about wasting it (at $18/bottle I would’ve thrown away a couple dollars’ worth with just one booboo). I still intend to make this dressing, and I think the fuller flavor will be well worth the wait. Guess I’ll just have to enjoy the pear salad again during the heat of tomorrow afternoon instead, and the anticipation only makes it more satisfying.