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Rocket Fueled Wine and Cheese Platter

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I’ve been to way too many art exhibits and indie film openings where the organizers begrudgingly put out a cheap bottle of bottom shelf wine, an uncut block of generic cheese, and the cheapest fruit platter in the “reduced for quicksale” bin.

I get it. To you, the munchies are an after thought. But if you’re honest with yourself, half the people in your lobby are just there for some free booze and a couple bites. The other half are there in a misguided attempt to impress their OK Cupid date. The folks who actually came to see your art are statistically insignificant.

That’s why you absolutely have to impress them with the munchies. Give them something to talk about. Make them want to instagram the appetizers.

You can do it on the same cheap wine, cheese, and fruit budget. All you need to add is a little time.

Red Wine Poached Rocketship Pears

8 cheap, firm pears (bruised are okay)
2 cups bottom shelf sweet red wine
2 cups water
1 cup brown sugar
1 cinnamon stick
1 bag dried mission figs
1 bag dried apricots
1 block generic mozzarella cheese

If you want to make two colors of space ships in the hopes of inspiring an epic intergalactic battle amongst your guests, you’ll want to also make epic white vessels to battle the evil red ones.

White Wine Poached Rocketship Pears

8 cheap firm pears
2 cups bottle bottom shelf sweet white wine
2 cups water
1 cup white sugar
1 inch fresh ginger root, peeled and sliced
juice and zest of 1 lemon
1 bag dried mission figs
1 bag dried apricots
1 block generic cheddar cheese

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Whichever color of ship you prefer, begin the process by peeling your pears and cutting them in half, lengthwise. You now have the body of two rocketships.

Use a melon baller (or a spoon) to remove the seeds. Don’t dig all the way through your pear. The less flesh you remove the better.

You now have sixteen ships, all ready for their paintjob.

To poach the ships, mix the wine, water, and sugar and cinnamon stick for the red pears or wine, water, sugar, ginger, lemon juice, and lemon zest for the white ones.

Pour your mix in a wide stockpot and bring it to a boil. Keep stirring until all the sugar has melted into the wine.

Once everything has melted, carefully pour half the mix into a bowl (or, if you’re really clever, into a second stockpot). Now neatly arrange a single layer of pears along the bottom of the pan, cut side down. I fit about eight into mine, which just happens to be half your available pears. Clever, that.

Put the lid back on the stockpot and reduce the heat to low. Simmer for 15-20 minutes, depending on how soft you like your pears. Err on the side of less time if want these to hold up in a fridge the night before your big shindig.

Remove the pot from the heat and let the pears cool in their own juices. If you’re making red pears, I recommend flipping them over during this process so the back of the ship can soak in some extra color. When you put them in the fridge, arrange them cut side down so you won’t flatten the magestic swelling back end of your retro rocket ship.

If you’re extra clever, you’ve already guessed you can pour the rest of your wine broth into a second stockpot and get two batches going at once. If you don’t have a second stockpot, carefully transfer the cooked pears and all their broth into a bowl to cool. Now pour the rest of your wine blend in the stockpot, bring it to a boil, arrange a layer of pears face down, reduce the heat to low, and wait another 15 minutes.

I said this was clever, not fast.

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Now comes the fun part – transforming your pears into retro rocketships!

The morning of your show or exhibit, drain the pears and pat them dry with paper towels. Admire them for a moment before taking on the god-like task of creating an entire intergalactic army.

The stem end is the front of your rocketship. The wide end is the back.

Use your fist to flatten a dried apricot. Cut that sucker in half. You now have a pair of stubby side wings for your ship.

For the exhaust, cut the wide bottom end off a dried black mission fig. You’ll also want to slice a thin part off one side, so it’ll lay flat. Push this right up against the butt of your ship. Suddenly, you have a rocket exhaust.

Like any grand retro rocketship, you need a flaring wing sail. Cut your block of cheese into squares. Cut that square into triangles. Now slice those triangles as thin as necessary to make an appropriately sized sail. I gave mine a little curve to complete the effect.

The easiest way to get it to stay in place is cut a single line in your pear and wedge it in there. This works great for white wine poached pears, but if you do that with the red pears, you’ll end up exposing the white interior. I say, just shove a toothpick in there to hold the cheese in place. If you’re afraid of drunk guests eating the toothpick, shove it alongside the sail as an exterior support, so it’s visible on one side.

Instead of boring old wine, cheese, and fruit, arrange fleets of these ships on your serving platters. Blue disposable plastic plates work just as well as solid black ceramic plates. You can even arrange them in those little disposable one-use paper boats you see at state fairs. Have fun with it. I like to put mine on different colored plates for the white and red ships then arrange them in formations so it looks like strategic battles are taking place.

The goal here is to get people talking about the food without you needing to spend a dime more than you already budgeted for lame munchies. Without going over budget, you now have 16 rocket ships, half a bottle of wine, plus some leftover cheese and dried fruit to sprinkle on extra plates. Congrats.

This recipe is easy to scale up or down depending on how many people are attending your event.

If you want to make a non-alcoholic army, substitute grape juice for a batch of ships. Mark those plates with some grape asteroids so they’re easy to spot.

While being inclusive, remind people your rocketships also happen to be both gluten free and vegetarian. Aren’t you the best host ever?

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