Pear Excellence 2013

This year’s Pear Excellence Culinary Student Competition was another pear-fect success, with talented culinary students from across Canada showing off their flair with the pear for a panel of esteemed judges. Held in Toronto in April, the contest celebrated its sixth year. Culinary students Diego Beltran, Rebekah Roberts, Allegra Jimenez, Connie McKibbon, and Aaron Lackie faced off for the National Grand Prize, showcasing pears in dishes savory and sweet, from gluten-free chocolate chai cake to grilled flatbread. The judges chose Allegra’s “Pearfect Pearing” dish for the grand prize. The dish paired a savory cheesecake with poached Bosc pears, pear chips, and a candied beet salad for a plate the judges said was innovative, well-executed, and an exceptional blending of flavors.

All the regional finalists were applauded for their creativity and execution. Their dishes truly put USA Pears on a pedestal:

  • “The Pearfect Pearing,” Allegra Jimenez, National Grand Prize Winner, Regional Winner – Vancouver
  • “Pear and Black Thai Rice Cakes with Pear Sage Pesto,” Connie McKibbon, People’s Choice Winner, Regional Winner – Ontario
  • “Trout Ceviche with Pear Blini,” Diego Beltran, Regional Winner – Quebec
  • “Pear and Bison Grilled Flatbread,” Rebekah Roberts, Regional Winner – Prairies
  • “Pear Cake Delight,” Aaron Lackie, Regional Winner – Maritime

To view the winning recipes and photos of the finalists” culinary creations, click here.

(Parlez-vous francais? Cliquez ici.)

Pear Blossom Festival

This weekend marks the 59th annual Pear Blossom Festival in Medford, Oregon. Medford is one of the four growing regions of USA Pears, especially famous for its picture-perfect Comice pears. (You may know them from gift companies like Harry & David.)

The Pear Blossom Festival celebrates the annual appearance of pear blossoms around the area with an arsenal of activities, including the Pear Blossom Parade, a 5k run, a street fair, and the Pear A-Fare, which features locally produced wines, fruit, chocolates, and more.

The festival is a great celebration, rich with the community pride of Southern Oregon. It seems that everyone in the region is involved in this festival, from the preschool-aged Blossom King and Queen to the families volunteering behind the scenes to put on the event. Even Spock himself participated back in 1967 as Grand Marshal of the Pear Blossom Parade – the only time he EVER appeared in public!

For more information, visit www.pearblossomparade.org. And if you’re in the area this weekend, be sure to visit the Pear Blossom festival!

Pear Excellence

This Tuesday, the five regional finalists of our Canadian culinary student contest competed for the national grand prize – the Pear Excellence title and $5,000. The kitchen heated up as the finalists chopped, sautéed, peeled, roasted, and battered USA Pears and other ingredients to present their dishes before a panel of 8 esteemed culinary judges.

The judges praised all the contestants, calling Melissa Drutz’s Pear and Potato Nests “innovative” and Amy Bonchuk’s Sauteed Amaretto Pears with Cheddar Bothwell Cookies “outside the box” and a great cheese pairing.

In the end, the judges named Martha MacDonald the grand prize winner for her Savory Pear Appetizer plate, which included pear cranberry fennel coulis and pork, local blue cheese, and fried sage leaves in a roasted Green Anjou pear.

Greg MacIver of LaSalle College won the People’s Choice award for his Pear Crab Salad with Crab Mayo and Tempura Cambozola Pears.

View a list of all finalists—and the winning recipes—here.

Powered by Pears

Last weekend, Ray Crittenden, Mid-Atlantic Regional Manager at the Pear Bureau, participated in the Ukrop’s Monument Avenue 10k with his son, Matthew. The race, which is held in Richmond, Virginia, is one of the biggest road races in the country!

Ray and Matthew not only finished the race in good time, but walked an extra three miles to and from their car, racking up NINE miles of walking on Saturday! Nice work, guys! Just goes to show what you can do when you’re powered by pears…

Pears and Cheese

March seems to be the unofficial month of cheese. And as you know, pears and cheese happen to go together like peanut butter and jelly, like milk and Oreos, like…well, you get the picture.

We’ve been at three events in the month of March alone, sampling fresh pears along with a variety of Oregon cheeses. The Portland Boys and Girls Club held their annual Showcase of Wine and Cheese early this month, where we sliced succulent Taylor’s Gold pears, crisp Bosc pears, and juicy Anjous.

Mid-month, we traveled down to Willamette Valley Vineyards to slice up pears at their Wine, Pear & Cheese Jubilee, and last weekend, we went way down south to the famed Rogue Creamery for the Oregon Cheese Festival.

People had a great time sampling pears (the state fruit!) along with a variety of crumbly, creamy, rich and salty cheeses from around our lovely state. Are you hungry yet? Check out our website for ideas on how you can find your favorite pear and cheese pairings.

Cheers!

Pears in the White House

President and First Lady Obama held their third state dinner this week, hosting Hu Jintao, President of China. They pulled out all the stops—Michelle worked with event planners to schedule some of the nation’s best jazz musicians to entertain, and decorators decked out the Blue and Red Rooms with a custom motif. Most impressively, Michelle knows how to plan a seasonal, carefully sourced menu. Their first course: “D’Anjou Pear Salad with Farmstead Goat Cheese, Fennel, Black Walnuts, and White Balsamic.”

I was happy the White House chose to kick things off with a pear salad, of course, and what a salad it is! Anjou (or D’Anjou) pears are in season through the spring, and they’re a great complement to any winter salad. Available in green or red, the pears are sweet, yet firm, with a hint of citrus flavor.

If you want to re-create the decadent salad, we have a recipe for you! Try our Mache, Roasted Pear, and Fennel Salad with Port Vinaigrette. Topped with some goat cheese crumbles, it makes a salad fit for a president!

After some additional research, er, Google searching, I discovered that this wasn’t the first time the Obamas included pears on a state dinner menu. In 2009, the prime minister of India and his wife paid a visit to the White House, and their menu included Pear Tatin among the desserts. This Starkrimson Pear Cinnamon Cake recipe comes close. With its upside-down approach, the pears become beautifully caramelized, creating a beautiful dish!

For a more authentic version, I’ll refer you to the pros: Martha Stewart and Saveur magazine. The next time you host a dinner party, think of USA Pears. They’re an elegant fruit that can be included in any—or every—course!

Go Ducks!

It’s game day! Tonight, the University of Oregon Ducks face off against the Auburn University Tigers for the BCS Championship title. Our office is excited for the game, especially our president, Kevin—he’s a U of O alum and a proud Ducks fan.

So when he realized that USA Pears naturally come in Ducks colors, we decided to get creative with our game day celebration! Here’s what we dished up:

Yes, it is as delicious as it looks. Since you’ve seen the final product, I thought I’d give you a sneak peek behind the scenes of a photo shoot.

Secret #1: All the food is real. We often eat it after the shoot has ended.

Secret #2: That table isn’t exactly a table… The main trick to making a shoot look realistic and appetizing is the lighting, so re-creating the table gives the photographer more room to play with the lighting, and the food stylist has different angles from which she can make sure the guacamole looks chunky enough and the napkins can be read.

Secret #3: See the ice in that bucket of beer? Yeah…it’s not ice. It’s giant bubble wrap! Convincing, huh?

Whether you’re cheering on the Ducks tonight or looking forward to your Super Bowl spread, check out our menu for simple, healthy game day eats!

Go Ducks!

Eat Well

Last week I attended the American Dietetic Association’s Food and Nutrition Conference and Expo with USA Pears, where nationwide dietitians come together to explore current topics in nutrition, try new products, and network. We handed out delicious pears to eager dietitians, discussing the flavors and nutritive benefits. The conference was a wonderful experience, but the final speaker, Anthony Bourdain of Travel Channel’s No Reservations, left me with food for thought.

He gave an insightful look into global food culture, how food affects us as a society and as individuals. Food is a social experience for humans; people come together over food. His final words struck a chord with me, “Eat well.” I think that sometimes we dietitians lose sight of what’s really important; food isn’t just a nutrient delivery device! It has meaning and it should always be delicious. One of my fondest memories is of my mother preparing Thanksgiving dinner, not just because the food was delicious or filled the house with the aroma of turkey and pumpkin, but because my mother was pouring her heart and soul into each dish. Each bowl, plate, or platter contained protein, vitamins, and minerals to nourish our bodies, plus a cup of love, a measure of happiness, and a dash of laughter. The food brought us together to relish family and savor the connections we were making.

Each meal is an opportunity to nourish the body and soul, to create new memories with friends and family. This is what I’m thankful for this holiday season.

Bread Stuffing with Pears, Bacon, and Caramelized Onions
If you are baking this delicious stuffing to accompany a holiday turkey, bake the stuffing while the turkey is roasting if you have room in the oven. Otherwise, bake it beforehand and reheat it once the turkey is done. Your guests will rave!

Ingredients
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened
10 cups unseasoned dry bread cubes
8 ounces bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 ¼ pounds frozen pearl onions, thawed and blotted dry
1 tablespoon golden brown sugar
3 firm but ripe Bosc or Anjou USA Pears, peeled, halved lengthwise, cored, and cut into ¾-inch cubes
3 large ribs celery, chopped
⅔ cup minced fresh parsley
1 ½ tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
1 ½ tablespoons minced fresh sage
1 ½ teaspoons salt
Freshly ground pepper
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
4 cups canned low-sodium chicken broth

Directions
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Coat a deep 9 x 13-inch baking pan with the softened butter. Place the bread cubes in a very large mixing bowl. In a 10-inch sauté pan, cook the bacon over medium heat until crisp. Using a slotted spoon, drain the bacon and add to the bread in the bowl. Remove all but 2 tablespoons of the bacon fat from the pan, reserving the extra. Add the onions to the pan and sauté over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until soft and lightly browned, about 3 minutes. Sprinkle the sugar over the onions and sauté, stirring constantly, until the onions turn golden and the edges caramelize, about 3 to 5 minutes. Add to the bread in the bowl.

Return the pan to medium heat, add 2 tablespoons of the reserved bacon fat and swirl to coat the pan. Add the pears and celery and sauté, stirring frequently, until softened, about 4 to 5 minutes. Add the parsley, thyme, sage, salt, and a few grinds of pepper, and sauté 1 minute longer. Add this mixture to the bread cubes and stir to combine. Add the beaten eggs and stock to the bowl, mix well. Place the stuffing in the prepared pan and bake, uncovered, until the top is lightly browned and crusty, about 1 hour.

Epicurious Entertained

Last week, I traveled to New York City with my co-workers to represent USA Pears at the second annual Epicurious Entertains NYC event. Let me tell you, Epicurious entertained!

Cristie, Lynsey, and I had a great time sampling pears for New York foodies, chefs, and kids. Consumers were able to taste fresh Comice, Bosc, Bartlett, and Starkrimson pears—for some, it was their first time to taste the varieties fresh from the tree!

On Friday, we watched legendary chef and cookbook author Madhur Jaffrey create dishes from her brand-new cookbook. She was followed up by Dorie Greenspan, who prepared her favorite recipes from her cookbook, Around My French Table.

On Saturday, we partied, danced, and snacked with kids! They sampled fresh pears, took home a ripe Bartlett in their pear packers, and decorated aprons on the roof deck. These kids loved pears!

We also huddled around the Epicurious kitchen to watch adorable Ella Knack, age 2, make gnocchi with her dad, Benjamin Knack, a Hell’s Kitchen star. She was quite the chef!

We had a great time sampling famous recipes and eating from some of New York’s best restaurants (in my humble opinion). Who doesn’t love a good slice of New York pizza?

Now, we’re excited to try YOUR recipes! If you haven’t entered our recipe contest, do it now! Visit the contest site for information on the different varieties of USA Pears, ins-pear-ation, and ripening tips. You could win a spa getaway for two to Oregon wine country!

Hood River Harvest Ride

I’ll be at the Hood River Fairgrounds bright (cross your fingers) and early on Saturday morning for the second annual Harvest Ride. I won’t be on a bike, but you should be!

The Harvest Ride offers five different riding paths through the beautiful countryside surrounding Hood River. While on your ride, you can take a break at one of the many farm stands and purchase a healthy natural snack. If your eyes are bigger than your appetite, you can leave your purchased pears or apples behind and the HRHR crew will bring them back to the fairgrounds for you!

Join hundreds of other bike enthusiasts for food, a great ride, and a celebration of the Columbia Valley’s bounty. Registration includes a finish-line lunch. Space is going quickly, so sign up now!

Check out the site for more info: www.hrharvestride.com.

If you’ll be there, swing by the USA Pears tent for some pear swag and info!