Day 226 – National Pears Helene Day

For dinner tonight, I made some boneless pork chops with Shake’N Bake. Yep, that Shake’N Bake. Don’t laugh – it’s actually a nice little short cut to get a pork chop breaded and prepped for the oven. Sure you could create your own with a collection of bread crumbs and spices, but the nice folks at Kraft have already gone through the trouble. Plus they give you a little plastic bag in which to shake your chop which allows for easy preparation and even easier clean up. I’m not sure of the exact spices they use, but it gives the chops a nice flavor. After 20 minutes in the oven they were done.  Taking a short cut in the kitchen is nothing to be ashamed of especially for a nice relaxing Wednesday night dinner. Like Ricky Bobby and Cal Naughton Jr., you shake and then you bake.

I tell you this because I am probably the first person to ever follow up a nice Shake’N Bake dinner with a dessert recipe from world renowned French chef Auguste Escoffier who was one of the preeminent chefs of at the turn of the 20th century and, some may argue, of all time. Escoffier created the dessert of poached pears in chocolate syrup with vanilla ice cream in 1864 and named it in honor of the operetta La belle Hélène. He keeps popping up in the background of this quest having also invented the peach melba dessert and the bombe Néro, both of which we have saluted along the way. His creations are often named after the popular operas or opera singers which, if you would think of that in modern terms, would be like naming your creations after movie stars or films. Wouldn’t it be fun if we had desserts like this around today, like a Fast and Furious Flambé or a Jeff Spicoli Spumoni? In any case, Escoffier created the Pears Helene dessert which is what today’s celebration was all about and I soiled the image of his creation by associating it with Shake’N Bake. You never know, maybe he would have been a fan. He could have created a similar recipe and just called its something fancier to make it more renowned like La traviata de Shake’N Bake.

Honestly I had no idea what this dessert was so I looked it up online and I found a recipe on  AllRecipes.com. Th recipe was from someone named Chef John, so assuming he has earned his Chef stripes, I saw him as the expert. Actually, there was video along with the recipe that I really appreciated. Chef John is a good teacher and patiently works his way through the whole process while adding subtle little jokes and other tidbits to make it interesting. After watching it, it gave me the confidence that I could do this and not to be intimidated by the dish’s French culinary roots. It’s really just poaching pears.

I went to Clements Market and got some pears. Chef John suggested using Bosc pears, so that’s what I picked up (I’m usually partial to a Bartlett). It was hard to tell if the pears were ripe enough, but they seemed to be. It’s always hard to tell with a pear. I feel pears have two levels of ripeness: underripe and overripe with no in between. These were closer to the underripe side, but Chef John didn’t seem to be too concerned about this. I cored out the bottom of the pear along with the seeds and then peeled the skin so I ended up with four naked pears. I then added them to a pot of water which was seasoned with some lemon zest, sugar and some vanilla. Chef John recommended using a vanilla bean and because I didn’t have this, I just added some vanilla extract. That may or may not have changed things. In any case, I kept the pears in a rolling simmer for about 20 minutes and then let them cool. Eventually I moved them to the fridge.

Later, after we had time to digest the Shake’N Bake, I pulled them out of the fridge. I warmed up some chocolate sauce and then dunked the pear right into the sauce so the bottom was good and coated. I placed it in a bowl, and then poured out a little more of the warm syrup. Then I added a scoop of vanilla ice cream.  It looked pretty nice. I think both Chefs John and Escoffier would have been proud.

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I was on my own here because Lola had gone to bed. It was too bad because I would have liked to have gotten her opinion. I am not sure if I achieved the optimal pear poaching in my preparation because the pear was still kind of hard. It was easy enough to cut with a knife, but you couldn’t slice through it with a spoon as I assume you would want to so you could grab a taste of pear, some ice cream and chocolate syrup in each bite. The pear tasted good having soaked up some of the syrup it was cooked in, but I think it would have tasted better had I cooked it more. I think this came from my trying to figure out what a rolling simmer looked like. I may have had my heat on too low. In any case, it was good and I could definitely see the appeal. I just undercooked the pears. The ice cream and chocolate sauce were pretty tasty though.

The other pears have been sitting in our fridge soaking in the syrup overnight, so maybe I’ll have Lola try some Pears Helene a little later in the day to see what she thinks.  She always has a better palette for these kind of things. Plus, she’s a fan of poached pears. Maybe I’ll take the pears and add them to a salad for her today with some crumbly cheese and walnuts. I’m never a huge fan of cooked fruit. I prefer mine raw and fresh. It’s all a matter of taste.

So concludes my day of culinary excellence which ranged from the modern delight of Shake’N Bake to the classic dessert from the creative mind of a classic French chef with Pears Helene. That’s quite a ride and I can almost hear the ghost of Escoffier tumbling around his grave. But this is modern society and one of the conveniences of life in 2017. When else can you enjoy a market that supplies you with fresh pears, meat cut to order and prepared packages of seasoning and then look up recipes of classic culinary experts in the comfort of your home to prepare them? Modern convenience at its finest. That was my tribute today to this great dessert. It gave me insight into a new way to cook things and also the desire to try again to make it better. That’s celebration and I was happy to partake, I just wish someone would write an opera about it.

Next Up: National Artichoke Hearts Day 

 

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