Starter: Balsamic-Glazed Pear and Goat Cheese Crostini with Hot Spiced Apple-Pear Cider

Everyone has their own memories and traditions for Christmas morning. For our family it begins by waking up to the aroma of freshly baked coffee cake topped with strawberries. Outside, the frost, or sometimes snow, glistens in the dawn’s first light as we gather around the fireplace and open stockings. The morning is a bustling mix of stretching, yawning, and wide eyed wonderment that is only finished when every stocking has been opened and every gift unwrapped. As noon arrives, the attention once again turns to food, and the smell of the upcoming Christmas feast fills the house. To stave off the voracious, albeit still joyous crowd you present the starters; Balsamic-Glazed Pear and Goat Cheese Crostini and Hot Spiced Apple-Pear Cider.

The crostini are deceptively simple combining only a few ingredients to create a truly magical dish. The mix of the sweet balsamic glaze with the crunchy toasted baguette and rich salty goat cheese is the perfect balance of flavor and texture. And then there are the pears. We used our famous Webster Comice Pears, the sweetest and juiciest of the pear varieties, which made these appetizers simply melt in your mouth.

The Hot Spiced Apple-Pear Cider was the perfect complement to the rich yet delicate crostini. While the cider is flavored with cinnamon sticks, whole cloves, black peppercorns and allspice berries, the taste does not linger, instead refreshing and cleansing your palate in between bites of pear and goat cheese. As we had an abundance of fresh fruit, we decided to modify the cider recipe slightly and use fresh pressed juice as opposed to bottled cider. We again reached for the Comice Pears because of their natural sweetness and abundant juice, paired with slightly tart but very flavorful Honeycrisp Apples. The fresh pressed juice required a little more straining and filtering but the result was superb. As someone reaches for the last crostini, mug still in hand, you know the guests stomachs have been appeased … for now.

Balsamic-Glazed Pear and Goat Cheese Crostini

Ingredients

2 Webster Comice Pears

3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

1 tablespoon butter

1 teaspoon honey

24 baguette rounds, toasted

½ cup spreadable goat cheese

½ cup slivered almonds, toasted*

Ground black pepper, if desired

Directions

Slice pears stem-side-up into 12 quarter-inch width vertical planks. Cut large slices in half lengthwise for a total of 48 slices.

Heat vinegar, butter, and honey in large frying pan over medium heat for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring constantly, until reduced by half, about 2 tablespoons. Add pear slices and continue cooking for 1 minute, turning once.

Place 2 pear slices on each baguette round and top with 1 teaspoon goat cheese. Sprinkle almonds over cheese and garnish with fresh pepper, if desired.

*To toast almonds, place in heavy frying pan and toast over medium heat, stirring constantly, for 1 to 2 minutes or until tan with toasted aroma.

Makes 24 servings.

Recipe courtesy of usapears.org

Hot Spiced Apple-Pear Cider

Ingredients

4 cups apple cider (we used fresh pressed Honeycrisp Apples)

4 cups pear juice or nectar (we used fresh pressed Comice Pears)

4 teaspoons dark brown sugar

2 (2 ½ inch) cinnamon sticks

4 whole cloves

4 black peppercorns

4 allspice berries

Directions

Place all the ingredients in a saucepan and simmer over medium heat for 5 minutes. Let steep, off the heat, for at least 20 minutes. Reheat, and then strain and serve.

Makes 8 servings.

Recipe courtesy of pauladeen.com

The Fruit Company® got its start in 1942 when Roy Webster began selling apples and pears from his orchards located in Hood River, Oregon. The area was perfect for growing fruit thanks to the volcanically enriched soil and glacial water from the nearby Mt. Hood. The fruit was exceptional. The company was passed down from father to son and today is owned and operated by Roy's Grandson Scott Webster.

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