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Simple Sides: Holiday Baked Pear Salad Surprise

By Dennis Linden

Children in this country consume an estimated 12 percent of their calories from fast food and 20 percent of all American meals are eaten in the car! The consequences are predictably unhealthy. Competing schedules in the day-to-day lives of a busy modern family make it difficult to share a home-cooked meal together, but not impossible. In fact, with a little planning, cooking together can become a fun family event and learning opportunity. This feature will focus on providing a child or a group of children, working together under the supervision of an adult, with one uncomplicated, healthy and delicious side dish recipe. The dishes will be centered on seasonal fresh produce items; the recipes will always contain tasks that will allow even the youngest kitchen helper to contribute to the family meal. Parents should always read through each recipe carefully to judge the division of labor based on age and ability, as well as to identify where adult attention might be especially needed.

Cookin' with Kids

Many of the recipes presented here will seem very basic, this is by design. It is hoped that these simple preparations will provide the culinary foundation and confidence to inspire kids to try more challenging recipes as their experience and confidence in the kitchen develops. Melissa’s encourages parents to find the time to gather as a family unit at least once a week for a dinner that everyone pitches in to prepare. It’s a wonderful way to teach a child basic culinary skills and, more importantly, cooking with your children will build memories in all of your hearts forever. “No one is born a great cook, one learns by doing” – Julia Child.


Here’s a quick and easy recipe that the kids will have fun helping to prepare. The dish relies on two seasonal fresh fruits decorated with ribbons of Melissa’s Fire Roasted Sweet Red Bell Peppers and presented on a bed of greens to create a dish wrapped in natural holiday colors with a tasty surprise inside!

Baked pears were always a family favorite during the holidays when I was a kid. Though if I were granted a do-over, nutritionally, that admittedly scrumptious sugar-cinnamon syrup has to be replaced with a more healthy coating. This recipe is that do-over -- enter Melissa’s Blue Agave for an initial generous brushing of each pear cavity! It’s the perfect natural sweetener and void of all those empty calories in refined sugar. And, since this is my grown-up version, the cinnamon flavor is traded up for a fine cheese laced with sweet red pepper. Showing your young kitchen helpers that there can be more to a baked pear than a sweet dessert dish encourages culinary creativity. Besides, there’s not much to be learned from slathering a pear in a sugary syrup and then baking it; this recipe has a few more fun steps that add culinary knowledge and experience in this very tasty cooking lesson.

Another departure from most all traditional baked pear recipes is leaving the skin on rather than peeling. Firstly, this is a holiday dish so use Red D’Anjou or Starkrimson varieties…’tis the season! Also, pears contain important polyphenols and flavonoids that are concentrated in the skin; while all pear varieties contain about the same beneficial nutrients, the red coloring indicates the presence of various antioxidants not found in green varieties. No doubt, traditional recipes use peeled pears for a cleaner, less rustic, presentation, and, probably because that’s the way the dish has “always been prepared” so say the culinary fundamentalists. Better to instill the kind of culinary confidence that includes a bit of imagination in the kitchen instead of just teaching your helpers how to read and follow recipe instructions. Tweaking is a good culinary habit to develop!

This recipe’s prep has an arts ‘n crafts process to it that the kids will enjoy. The only knife work is slicing the pear in half, which might be the job of the supervising adult in the room depending on the age/skill of your young assistances. Removing the core center of each pear is easily accomplished with a serrated spoon by a child of almost any age, though it might be best to have a few spare pears in reserve. Melissa’s tub of ready-to-use Pomegranate Arils are very convenient for those who have done their fair share of working with this fruit; but for a child it is a fun and fascinating procedure to remove them from a whole pomegranate. To do this, fill a large mixing bowl with water, quarter a pomegranate, and let your helpers go at it one quarter at a time. With sleeves rolled, the quarters are broken apart and submerged in the water; as the arils are separated from the white membranes they will sink to the bottom of the bowl while the membranes will float to the surface. Scoop out the floating debris, then drain and collect the fruit at the bottom. Fun stuff!

Have your assistants use a cheese slicer for thin slabs of cheese; use kitchen shears, instead of a sharp knife, to make the ribbons of Fire Roasted Sweet Red Bells. Construction: Stuff the arils into the pear cavity, cover with a piece of cheese and then crisscross the ribbons over the cheese at the neck of each pear half. The finished baked pears are then place on a bed of peppery holly-shaped arugula greens and served as a baked pear salad side dish rather than an after-dinner dessert.

One serving note: this blog usually promotes not letting your novice cooks forget about eye appeal by dressing up each plating with an appropriate garnish. However, in this case, the obvious garnish would be a sprinkle of arils over the whole dish. But, that would give away the surprise inside! Happy holidays!

Holiday Baked Pears
Serves 4

Ingredients for Holiday Baked Pears

Ingredients

4 ripe Red D’Anjou or Starkrimson Pears
1 Pomegranate
8 thin slices of young Tuscan Pecorino Cheese [option mild goat cheese]
8 tablespoons Organic Blue Agave Syrup
1 jar Melissa’s Fire Roasted Sweet Red Bell Peppers, selected pieces
2 cups Arugula

What the kids can do:

Slice pears in half lengthwise.

Slice pears in half lengthwise. Remove the stem and trim off the flower ends. Then, scoop out the seeds in the center with a serrated teaspoon to make a large cavity. Fill each cavity with pomegranate arils.

Arrange the pears cut side up in a baking dish and drizzle ½ the agave over them.

Arrange the pears cut side up in a baking dish and drizzle ½ the agave over them. Lay the cheese over the pears. Select a few large pieces of sweet red pepper from the jar and slice pepper into thin, two-inch long ribbons. Arrange ribbons crisscross at the neck of each pear half. Drizzle with the remaining agave. Then, hand off for baking.

What the supervising adult should do:

Bake for 25 - 30 minutes 375 degrees until the pears are soft, and the cheese has browned and melted over and into them.

Bake for 25 - 30 minutes 375 degrees until the pears are soft, and the cheese has browned and melted over and into them. Let cool for 5 minutes before serving. Plating: Cover small salad plate with a bed of arugula and lay a baked pear half on the greens.
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