Perfectly balanced pear salad


Let’s face it: Salad can be boring. The run-of-the-mill salad — bibb lettuce with chopped carrots and tomatoes, topped with thousand island dressing — that I grew up with never made me too enthusiastic. Then, years ago, I purchased a copy of “Raising the Salad Bar” after reading a review of it in The San Francisco Chronicle. This book has had a home among my cookbooks since then, and I find myself turning to it more frequently during summer months, when I am less inclined to turn on my oven.

The thing I like about this book is that it has salads of all types. Whether you want a summer salad with fruit, like this Mixed Greens and Roasted Pear Salad, or something more substantial with steak, they’ve got it. And every recipe I’ve tried from this book has been good.

This pear salad has a nice sweet flavor accented by crunchy walnuts and cheese that has a bite to it. You can use whatever greens you’d like, and make substitutions as you see fit. I leave the red onions off because they tend to be too harsh for my taste. If you don’t have a food processor for the vinaigrette, you can mash the pear with a fork and stir everything together.

In any case, this was a nice dinner on a hot night. It’s one worth adding to your file.

3 pears, peeled, halved, and cored
Olive oil
1 small head red leaf or bibb lettuce, washed and dried
1 bunch arugula, large stems removed, washed and dried
1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced
4 ounces gorgonzola, crumbled
1/3 cup chopped, toasted walnuts

Pear Vinaigrette
1/2 roasted pear (of the three called for above)
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup apple juice
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar, sherry, or apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
Salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Brush the pears with a little olive oil, place them on a baking sheet cut sides down, and bake for 20-25 minutes. The pears should be browned on the bottom and easily pierced with a fork. Set aside to cool. Reserve half of one pear for the dressing.

In a large bowl, mix the lettuce, arugula, and red onion.

To make the vinaigrette, place the reserved roasted pear half, oil, apple or pear juice, vinegar, lemon juice, and salt and pepper in a food processor or blender. Process until mixture is pureed. Add a little more oil or juice to thin the mixture, if necessary. Add enough dressing to coat the salad; mix well, then divide the salad among individual plates. Top each serving with a roasted pear half and sprinkle goat or blue cheese over all. Top with toasted walnuts.

Scrumptious cupcakes for a special occasion


I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: brownies are my favorite dessert. When I’m craving chocolate, I usually whip up a batch of brownies. When I’m feeling creative, I start with a base brownie recipe and improvise with the flavor. But brownies never seemed quite right for a special occasion — until I discovered Curtis Stone’s Brownie Cupcakes.

From the chocolate-loaded brownie cupcake to the decadent, creamy cream cheese frosting, these are perfection. The cupcake has a bit of give to it when you bite in and the frosting is wonderfully smooth. It’s the most delightfully messy cupcake I have ever made and eaten. It really doesn’t get much better than this.

My birthday is tomorrow. Each year, when I think about what to make, these cross my mind. I have only made these twice, but each time they left me wanting more — which is why I make them strictly for special occasions. Whether the festivities are for a birthday or other type of event, these cupcakes definitely merit being part of the celebration.

6 ounces good-quality dark chocolate (60 percent to 70 percent cacao), chopped

6 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 tablespoon light corn syrup

Pinch of salt

3/4 cup sugar

2 large eggs

1/2 cup all purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

2/3 cup coarsely chopped walnuts

4 ounces cream cheese, room temperature

1/3 cup light corn syrup

4 ounces good-quality dark chocolate (60 percent cacao), chopped

8 small, fresh strawberries

To make the cupcakes: Position the rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Line 8 standard cupcake molds with cupcake liners.

Stir the chocolate and butter in a small heavy saucepan over low heat until the chocolate and butter melt and the mixture is smooth. Stir in the syrup and salt. Remove from the heat and set aside.

Using an electric mixer, beat the sugar and eggs in a large bowl for 2 minutes or until the mixture is thick and light. Stir in the chocolate mixture. Add the flour and baking powder and stir just until blended, then stir in the walnuts.

Divide the batter equally among the prepared cupcake molds filling the paper liners completely. (Filling the liners completely is key — otherwise the cupcakes will collapse and will be less fudgy.)

Bake for about 25 minutes, or until the cupcakes puff and crack on top and a skewer inserted into the center of the cupcakes comes out with fudgy crumbs attached.

Remove the cupcakes from the oven and cool completely on a cooling rack.

To frost the cupcakes: Using an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese in a large bowl until light and smooth. Beat in the syrup. Place the chocolate in another bowl and place the bowl over a small pot of boiling water. Stir constantly until the chocolate melts. Add the melted chocolate to the cream cheese mixture and beat until blended and fluffy, stopping the machine and scraping the bottom of the bowl to ensure that the mixture is well-blended. Spread the frosting generously over the cooled cupcakes. Garnish each one with a fresh strawberry and serve.