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Honey-Glazed Roasted Pears delicious and eye-appealing

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This time of year, you'll usually find pears in the fruit drawer of my refrigerator. A crisp and juicy pear is a welcome midday snack eaten out of hand. Besides their buttery sweet flavor, it's the versatility and adaptability in the kitchen that I most appreciate about pears.

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They can go sweet or savory - baked into cakes, tarts and quick breads or tossed into salads and baked alongside meat.

A good source of dietary fiber, pears contain nutrients that have been found to contribute to a healthy heart. And during this season of colds and flu, we can all use some of the Vitamin C pears have to offer.

I've discovered that baking pears in a mixture of honey, lemon juice, olive oil and vanilla produces a caramel-colored delicacy. Just as roasting vegetables magnifies their sweetness, the same thing happens with pears. They develop a depth of flavor that is remarkably different than that of a raw pear.

When you plan to roast pears, you'll have the best results by selecting fruit that is firm and fragrant with a little give when gently pressed with a thumb. Under-ripe pears will take a long time to bake, and pears that are too ripe will simply disintegrate during roasting time, losing their appealing shape. Remind the person packing your groceries to be gentle with the pears - they are a delicate fruit and bruise easily.

Roasting pears bubbling with honey and lemon juice will send a magnificent fragrance wafting through your house. Keep an eye on the amount of liquid caramelizing in the bottom of the baking dish. If the amber-colored liquid bubbles away, the pears will begin to burn and turn bitter. Add an extra tablespoon of water at a time, as needed.

Honey-Glazed Roasted Pears are proof that a delicious and eye-appealing dessert does not need to be labor intensive. The glaze can be mixed, the pears cut in half and cored and you can slide the dish into the oven in no time. Allow 45 minutes for sure for oven time.

The tender, warm pears can be served as an impressive dessert with a dollop of sweetened whipped cream or a small scoop of ice cream or frozen yogurt. If you have pears remaining, refrigerate for another time. Chop them and stir the sweet chunks into a bowl of hot oatmeal. Mash a pear half and spread it on a toasted English muffin or a bran muffin with a drizzle of honey. The chilled and sliced Honey-Glazed Pears are well-suited to sit alongside cheese and walnut halves on a platter as an appetizer. Those same chilled slices are amazing served on a salad of fresh greens with toasted nuts and dots of your favorite blue cheese.

Honey-Glazed Roasted Pears are a treat you'll want to take advantage of before the pear season comes to an end. Make lots. You'll be amazed at all the different ways you will find to use them - sweet or savory, any time of the day.

Honey-Glazed Roasted Pears

3 pears, ripe, but still firm

2 tablespoons honey, local preferred

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Pinch of salt

1 cinnamon stick

2 to 3 tablespoons water

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly grease a shallow glass baking dish.

Wash pears and cut each one in half lengthwise. Remove core. Arrange pears, cut side up, in prepared baking dish.

In a small bowl, mix honey, lemon juice, olive oil and vanilla extract. Add a pinch of salt. Drizzle mixture over pears, being sure to completely coat the cut side of each pear with liquid. Add the cinnamon stick to the dish and the squeezed lemon halves. Put 2 tablespoons water in bottom of dish.

Bake, uncovered, in a preheated 375-degree oven for 30 minutes. Brush the pears with juices in dish half-way through the baking time.

After 30 minutes, use tongs to carefully turn the pear halves over so skin side is up. Brush each pear with juices in dish. Add the remaining tablespoon of water, if necessary. You do not want the honey glaze to start burning. Bake another 15 minutes. You will know the pears are done when you can poke a knife into the thickest part of one pear and it goes in without resistance.

Serve warm or chilled. Makes 3 to 6 servings.

Tips from the cook

--No need to peel the pears. You can if you like, but I prefer the rustic look the skin takes on when it bakes in the oven.

--You should be able to get 2 tablespoons of juice from one lemon.

--Any variety of pear will work for this recipe - Anjou, Comice, Bartlett. I prefer Bosc. They bake well and their flavor is superb.

--If you happen to find only hard pears at the store, bring them home and store the under-ripe fruit in a brown paper bag for a couple of days before roasting. Adding an apple to the bag will speed up the ripening process.

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