Cooking with Lady Smokey: Pears, Almonds, and The Mavericks

Whew, we’ve had a busy spring and now the temperatures in Nashville are starting to rise. Summer is just about here. I have a few yummy recipes and food combinations to share that we stumbled upon while waiting for all the amazing Tennessee summer produce to arrive.

These first couple of recipes I came across in searching for ways to use a big bag of organic pears I got on sale at our neighborhood natural foods store, The Turnip Truck. Pears are so underrated. Besides being so unique and subtly delicious, they also provide our bodies with many surprising health benefits- from protecting our hearts and controlling diabetes as they are high in fiber and have a low glycemic index, to helping prevent certain types of cancer. I sometimes forget about eating and cooking with pears. I was really happy for the reminder.

Both of these first recipes are from Bon Appetit and both are delicious, different, and got rave reviews from everyone I shared them with. I am terrible at following recipe directions and usually either make up my own or change them so much that they barely resemble the original recipe at all. With both of these, however, I stuck pretty much to the recipe. So, here they are, very closely resembling their original Bon Appetit state. I present you with- dessert first…

Oatmeal Pear Blondies
• 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
• 1/3 cup old-fashioned oats
• 1/4 cup (packed) dark brown sugar
• 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
• 3 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces

• Nonstick Vegetable Oil Spray or Butter (to line baking dish)
• 1/2 cup Unsalted Butter, cut into 1/2″ slices
• 1 1/2 cups All-Purpose Flour (or 1 cup all-purpose and ½ cup whole wheat pastry flour)
• 1 cup Old-Fashioned Oats
• 2 tsp Baking Powder
• 1 tsp ground Cinnamon
• 1 tsp Sea Salt
• 1 3/4 cups (packed) Brown Sugar
• 2 Eggs
• 1 tsp Vanilla Extract
• 2 cups firm Pears, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch cubes

Combine flour, oats, brown sugar, and salt in a medium bowl. Using your fingertips, rub in butter until moist crumbs form and no dry flour remains. Cover and chill. Preheat oven to 350°. Coat a 13x9x2-inch baking dish with nonstick spray or butter and set aside. Stir butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat, swirling occasionally, until melted, deep golden brown, and dark brown bits form at the bottom of pan (do not burn), 7–8 minutes. Pour into a medium bowl; let brown butter cool slightly.

Whisk flour, oats, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt in a large bowl; set aside. Whisk brown sugar, eggs, and vanilla in another large bowl until mixture is smooth. Slowly stream brown butter into brown sugar mixture, whisking constantly; whisk until well blended.

Add pears to dry ingredients; toss to coat. Stir into brown sugar mixture (batter will be thick). Using a spatula, scrape batter out of bowl and into pan. Smooth top. Scatter chilled topping over batter. Bake until golden brown, edges pull away from sides of pan, and a tester inserted into the center comes out almost clean, with a few moist crumbs attached, 30–35 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let blondie cool completely in pan. Cut into squares.

This next one was a delicious morning treat served with coffee. The black sesame paste was so unique and gave it an interesting texture and color.

Pear Black Sesame Tea Cake
• 1/2 cup Unsalted Butter, room temperature, plus more
• 1 1/2 cups plus 2 Tbsp All-Purpose Flour
• 1 cup Almond Flour or Almond Meal (I ground raw almonds and this worked just fine.)
• 2 tsp Baking Powder
• 1/2 tsp Baking Soda
• 1/2 tsp Sea Salt
• 1/2 cup Black Sesame Seeds
• 1 1/3 cups plus 2 Tbsp Sugar
• 1 Egg
• 1 Egg Yolk
• 3/4 cup Buttermilk
• 1 firm but ripe Bosc Pear, peeled, cored, cut into 1/4-inch cubes

Preheat oven to 325°. Butter one 9x5x3-inch loaf pan or six 4x2x2-inch paper or metal loaf pans. Whisk 1 1/2 cups flour, next 4 ingredients in a medium bowl. Grind sesame seeds in spice mill to form a thick paste, about 2 minutes. Using an electric mixer, beat 1/2 cup butter and 1 1/3 cups sugar in a large bowl until well combined, 2–3 minutes. Add sesame paste and beat, occasionally scraping down sides of bowl, until blended, 1–2 minutes. Add egg and egg yolk. Beat until pale and fluffy, 3–4 minutes. On low speed, beat in flour mixture in 3 additions, alternating with buttermilk in 2 additions, beginning and ending with dry ingredients. Toss pear with remaining 2 Tbsp. flour in a small bowl; fold into batter. Spoon batter into prepared pan; smooth top. Sprinkle with remaining 2 Tbsp. sugar. Bake until a tester comes out clean when inserted into center, about 1 hour 40 minutes for large loaf and 45–55 minutes for small loaves. Let cool in pans on a wire rack.

With pears and almonds left over, I came up with this next meal. We served it with some sweet potatoes roasted in coconut oil! Delicious!

Baked Coconut Almond Chicken
• 1 cup Raw Almonds, toasted in an iron skillet just until fragrant
• ½ cup Raw Shredded Coconut (or toasted)
• Sea Salt & Black Pepper
• 1 Egg (or Coconut Milk)
• 2 Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breasts, cut into smaller pieces
• 1-2 Tbsp Olive Oil

Preheat the oven to 375. Grind the almonds and coconut together. Pour into a bowl and mix with salt and pepper. Set aside. In another bowl, place the coconut milk or beaten egg. Pour the olive oil in the bottom of an iron skillet (or oven safe dish). Coat the chicken pieces, one by one, with the coconut milk (or egg) and then cover it with the almond mixture and place in skillet. Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until chicken is golden and done on the inside.

Ginger Pear Slaw
• 1 Bartlett Pear, cored and then cut in slices and then thin 1” pieces
• 1 small Green Cabbage, thinly chopped
• 1 bunch fresh Cilantro, chopped
• 1” piece of fresh Ginger, peeled
• 1 Shallot, peeled
• Juice of 1 Lime
• ½ cup Brown Rice Vinegar
• 2 Tbsp Olive Oil
• 1 Tbsp Honey
• Sea Salt & Black Pepper to taste

In a bowl, mix the pear, cabbage, and cilantro together. Mix remaining ingredients together in a food processor or blender to form the dressing. Pour over the cabbage, pear, cilantro mixture and stir.

Our friend, art lover and curator, and keyboardist extraordinaire, Jerry Dale McFadden’s band,The Mavericks have a new album out called, In Time. I recently had the pleasure of seeing them play as part of a T.V. taping at the Ryman. Unfortunately, I wasn’t allowed to take any photos but, afterwards, front man Raul Malo and guitarist Eddie Perez stepped across the alley to jump on stage at Robert’s Western World. Thank goodness for phone cameras!

Raul Malo & Eddie Perez on stage at Robert’s in Nashville- May, 2013.

I have always loved The Mavericks’ unique sound. I was so excited about their new songs and the band’s reunion this past year (after nearly 8 years). It was so great to see them and I came home and immediately purchased their new album, In Time. I am obsessed. It is a really fun album. I clean to it, cook to it, eat to it- all the while, dancing to it. I highly recommend it and if they happen to be rolling through your town, be sure to go see them live. These guys are awesome and have such great energy.

I’ll end with this youtube I found of them performing “Come Unto Me” at what looks like The Americana Music Awards at the Ryman last fall.