New Year Baking: Pear, Candied Ginger and Walnut Quick Bread

A loaf of bread, a spot of tea and thou.

A loaf of bread, a spot of tea and thou…the perfect combo for a damp January day. (The cat fetish was made by fellow potter and friend, Ana Vizzuraga.)

Happy 2014! I hope all of you had a joyful holiday season and rang in the new year with great gusto and style.

We enjoyed a lovely and extended holiday time traveling and visiting with family and friends, returning home just in time to say goodbye to 2013 (with a bit of good riddance, in my book.) Alas, 2013 wouldn’t quite let go of me in that immediately upon my return, I contracted a stomach flu-type bug, which was with me all week. Needless to say, being in the kitchen was pretty far from my mind.

As this first weekend of 2014 rolls past, I’m finally feeling much better and I think I’m ready for a little sweet and light in my cooking…something for my breakfast and dessert pleasure. So what’s in the fridge and cupboard? Pears, walnuts and lots of candied ginger left over from making  chai tea mix and chocolate hazelnut and ginger biscotti. Although I love pears, I hardly ever cook with them, usually preferring to eat them raw in salads or with cheese. But of course, they are so transcendent when cooked…the heat enhancing their natural sweetness, releasing their perfume and still retaining a most pleasant texture.

It's quite hard to sit and wait for this to cool off.

It’s quite hard to sit and wait for this to cool off.

This Pear, Candied Ginger and Walnut Quick Bread was an experiment, and it came out even better than I had hoped. It has a very chunky fruit texture, which worried me a bit when I put it in the oven—wasn’t sure if I’d gone overboard on the pears—but the result is a moist, fruity, crunchy and incredibly flavorful loaf. You get a hint of the ginger and an essence of nutmeg in each bite. The tiny bit of lemon zest brings all the flavors together. I could eat the whole thing in a sitting, that’s how good it is…but I won’t. It is a new year after all, and there are all those pesky resolutions to be considered.

It’s been quite cold here this weekend, and even more so in other parts of the country (and world), which was all the more reason to enjoy a slice of this bread with a nice, hot cup of tea, coffee or cocoa.

Cheers, stay warm (or cool, if you’re in the southern hemisphere) and have a happy day!

loafsliced1Pear, Candied Ginger and Walnut Quick Bread
Makes 1-5″ x 9″ Loaf

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened, plus a bit more for greasing the pan
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon zest
2 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 (generous) teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 cup milk
2 medium pears, I used a Bosc and a Bartlett, peeled, cored and diced (about 2 full cups)
3/4 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
2 tablespoons finely chopped candied ginger

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9 x 5 loaf pan with butter and set aside.

In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, nutmeg, cinnamon and salt. In another larger bowl, beat the sugar and butter together with a hand mixer until well blended, then add the egg and zest and beat until well combined. Add the flour mixture and the milk in 3 alternate batches, alternating and beating each ingredient until just combined, do not over mix. Scrape the batter off the beaters, then add the pear, walnuts and ginger, stirring by hand gently until evenly combined. Transfer the batter to the prepared loaf pan (it will be thick, fairly stiff and lumpy), spread it until it is evenly dispersed in the pan and smooth the top. Bake at 350 degrees F for 50-55 minutes, or until the top is golden brown, the loaf is shrinking from the sides of the pan and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Transfer the loaf to a wire rack and allow it to cool in the pan for 15 minutes, then remove it from the pan and allow it to cool on the rack until room temperature. Slice with a sharp serrated bread knife and enjoy plain, or with a tiny bit of sweetened whipped cream if you’re still feeling decadent after the holidays.

withtea2

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Falling for Salad: Baby Kale with Fall Fruits, Pecans and Candied Ginger

I’d love to take credit for the simply brilliant idea of using candied (crystallized) ginger in a salad…but I can’t.

I was at The Porter in Atlanta recently meeting some friends and sharing some craft beers, when a salad on their menu caught my eye…it mentioned candied ginger. Candied ginger! What a fabulous addition to a salad with fruit in it…why didn’t I think of that? I didn’t order it because it wasn’t what I wanted to have with beer that night, but the friend sitting next to me did, and kindly offered me a bite. I had just that one bite…and I knew I had to make my own version the moment the leaves touched my lips! It was a baby kale salad with fruits, nuts and ginger, and I told my friend I was absolutely going to try and recreate this fall salad. And I think my version tastes even better than the bite I remember…full of festive flavors.

Baby kale, which is a bit bitter in its raw state, becomes something quite different when tossed with a cooked hard apple cider and shallot vinaigrette. Then add in some sweet toasted local pecans and crisp local Fuji apples, a Bartlett pear, a bit of candied ginger and this salad really comes alive. I’m not usually one to toss my salads because I don’t like for my greens to wilt under the dressing or to be overly dressed. But I have to say that this fall salad must be tossed to really enjoy the full flavor and to achieve a perfect bond between the ingredients. As the slightly warm and tart vinaigrette coats the sturdy kale leaves it begins to permeate them, creating a wonderful balance to the bitterness, turning it into bittersweet. The candied ginger is a perfect foil for the kale and is a spice match with the apple vinaigrette, fresh apple, pear and pecans.

And yes, if you don’t like kale, you can absolutely use your favorite greens in this salad. In fact, I think you’ll find that my hard cider vinaigrette is a wonderful dressing for any green salad that utilizes fresh or dried fruits, root veggies or nuts. We’ve really, well…fallen for for this salad, and I hope you will, too!

Baby Kale Salad with Fall Fruits, Pecans, Candied Ginger and Hard Apple Cider Vinaigrettte
Makes 4 servings

For the Hard Cider Vinaigrette:
2 large shallots, peeled and minced, about 1/2 cup
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup hard apple cider (such as Crispin)
1 teaspoon honey
2 Tablespoons apple cider vinegar
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

For the salad:
8 cups fresh raw baby kale leaves, washed and dried, trim off long stems
20 pecan halves, lightly toasted and broken into pieces
1 Tablespoon finely chopped candied (crystallized) ginger
1 fresh Bartlett or other favorite pear, cored and cut into thin slices
1 fresh Fuji or other favorite apple, cored and cut into thin slices

Heat the 1 Tablespoon of olive oil in a heavy bottomed saucepan over medium low heat. Add the shallots and cook, stirring until they begin to soften and are just about to start turning brown, about 2-3 minutes. Add the hard apple cider and the honey, bring to a simmer and allow to cook for about 5 more minutes, stirring, until the mixture has reduced by about a quarter. Remove from the heat and pour into a medium sized bowl. Whisk in the cider vinegar, Dijon mustard, kosher salt and black pepper. Then slowly whisk in the olive oil until the mixture is emulsified.

In a large bowl, combine the kale leaves, pecans, ginger, pear and apple. Pour over about 1/3 cup of the warm dressing and toss to coat well. Add a bit more dressing if needed to ensure that everything has a light coating of the dressing. Serve alongside your favorite dish or some roasted vegetable soup! The remaining dressing will keep for several days stored in an airtight jar in the fridge.