Pear “Toasts”

Pears sliced lengthwise topped with delicious toppingsYou’ve probably noticed how trendy the idea of toast has become, with food magazines, cooking shows, and restaurant chefs across the country coming up with enticing toppings for a humble slice of bread. There are even entire cafes dedicated to the concept. But what happens when you have the wacky idea to exchange a slice of pear for the bread? Magic!

Here are four delicious ideas for topping pear “toasts” at home. Consider this a jumping off point for coming up with your own creative combinations, using whatever variety of pear you have ripening on the counter, and any tasty toppings sitting in your fridge or pantry. The options are practically endless, since pears taste amazing with both sweet and savory flavors. These quick creations are a yummy snack for kids and adults alike, whether the craving strikes after school or at the office. But really they are great anytime of the day, from breakfast on the go to a midnight snack.

The first step is to slice a ripe USA pear lengthwise, cutting on either side of the core to create 1/4-inch thick planks. Next, get topping!

Toast 1:
USA Green Anjou Pear
Almond Nut Butter
Banana Slices
Honey Drizzle
Cinnamon Sprinkle
Poppy Seeds

Toast 2:
USA Bosc Pear
Roasted Red Pepper Hummus
Cucumber Slices
Crumbled Feta
Chopped Kalamata Olives
Dill Sprigs

Toast 3:
USA Bosc Pear
Gorgonzola Dolce Cheese
Salami Slices
Chopped Hazelnuts
Chopped Parsley

Toast 4:
USA Red Anjou
Vanilla Greek Yogurt
Chopped Dried Apricots
Mint Leaves
Black Sesame Seeds

Spring is in the Air

pear blossoms on a tree in springSpring is in the air. And along with that, at least for me, comes the feeling of renewal – out with the old, in with new. First thing I like to do is go through my closet; sandals to replace boots, t-shirts replace sweaters, and long sleeve dresses make room for sleeveless ones.

Next stop, the kitchen. I try year-round to make sure my cupboards and refrigerator aren’t stocked with foods that have expired. But part of my spring-cleaning ritual still includes a thorough review. And after the gloominess of winter, I long for a kitchen stocked with fresh produce that make me feel great.

Well, hello, Anjou pear.

Yes, I could have enjoyed you when it was snowing outside, but honestly, I got sidetracked. Packed with satiating fiber and with the powerful antioxidant of Vitamin C, you are a welcome addition to my refreshed, spring lifestyle. Since I’ll be even more active than I was in the winter (just completed my yoga teacher training last month!), I’m going to need to stay satiated and energized with the right foods.

Here are some of my favorite ways to enjoy pears:

1. Sliced and cooked into my morning bowl of oatmeal for some sweetness.

oatmeall topped with pears and walnuts in a bowl2. Thin slivers on a slice of 100% whole wheat bread with peanut butter for crunch and sweetness (instead of jam). Perhaps with a drizzle of honey. Whole wheat toast topped with peanut butter and sliced pears
3. Slices or cubes added to any type of mixed green salad with olive oil and white balsamic vinegar for crunch and sweetness. Goodbye croutons and sugar-laden salad dressings.Mixed greens topped with fresh, sliced pears
4. Cut into wedges served with a tablespoon of almond butter for a delicious snack.Sliced pear wedges with nut butter for dipping

And now, I’m feeling properly prePEARed for spring!

Pickled Pear and Irish Cheddar Toasties in a Bread Basket

Little grilled cheese and pickled pear snadwiches stuffed inside a hollowed out bread loaf on a green plateLittle toastie sandwiches, filled with melting Irish Cheddar and piquant pickled pears, are (adorably) presented right in their own hollowed out bread loaf. This recipe makes 2 pints of sweet and tangy pickled pears perfumed with caraway and bay. You won’t need that much for the toasties, so you’ll have pickled pears in your fridge for a month, if they last that long! Enjoy them with cheeses and charcuterie, in salads and sandwiches, or as a tasty snack.

Makes 8 toasties; serves 4 (because everyone will want 2!)

Caraway Pickled Pears
2 medium ripe or slightly underripe Bosc pears
1¼ cups apple cider vinegar
1 cup water
6 tablespoons honey
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons caraway seeds
2 bay leaves

For the Toasties
1 unsliced loaf of hearty whole-grain sandwich bread (AKA a “Pullman” loaf)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
7 ounces Irish cheddar cheese, sliced and at room temperature
16 slices Caraway Pickled Pears

To make the pickled pears: Halve and core the pears, and slice each one lengthwise into 1/8-inch-thick slices. Pack the slices into 2 wide-mouth, pint-size glass canning jars, or other heatproof container(s). Bring the vinegar, water, honey, salt, caraway seeds, and bay leaves to a boil over medium-high heat in a small saucepan, stirring until the honey and salt are dissolved. Boil for about 2 minutes. Pour the hot brine into the jars, completely covering the pears. Cover the jars with lids and set aside to allow the brine to cool to room temperature as it pickles the pears. When completely cooled, use right away or refrigerate the pickled pears for up to 1 month.

To make the toasties: First preheat the broiler.

loaf of bread on a cutting board with the crust and top intact, but the middle removed in a blockUsing a bread knife, saw off the top crust of the bread, just where it begins to dome (if it is a flattop loaf, then just saw off about ½ inch of the top crust); set the top aside. Now cut out the inside of the bread in one giant rectangle, so that you will basically have a crustless smaller loaf within the outer shell of crust. Here’s how to do that: Saw around the perimeter of the bread parallel to the long and short edges of the loaf, leaving about a ½-inch border on all edges and without cutting all the way through the bottom crust. Now cut a slit through one of the long edges of the crust that runs parallel to the bottom crust, about 1/2-inch from the bottom of the loaf, leaving about a ½-inch border on either end of the loaf so as not to completely slice off the bottom crust; this will free the inside bread rectangle, leaving a long slit toward the bottom of the bread bowl (but that won’t matter, it’s a secret!). Carefully remove the now crustless interior rectangle of bread and cut it into 16 slices.

Arrange the slices in a single layer on a large, rimmed baking sheet and brush the top sides with butter. Place them under the broiler, about 4 inches from the top heating element, until nicely toasted. Flip and toast the slices on the other side. Remove them from the oven, and now preheat the oven to 400˚F.

Top 8 of the toasted bread slices with a slice of cheese and then 2 slices of pickled pear. Place the other 8 bread slices on top, creating 8 little toastie sandwiches. Stuff the toasties back into the hollowed out bread “basket.” You will likely only be able to fit about 6 of them inside, so set the other 2 aside for now. Replace the top of the bread. Wrap the entire loaf in a sheet of aluminum foil and place it on the center oven rack. Bake until the cheese is melted, 30 to 40 minutes. Place the remaining 2 toasties on a small baking pan and heat them in the oven a few minutes before the big loaf is done, just until the cheese is melted.

To serve, place the bread basket and extra toasties on a large platter, and enjoy while the cheese is hot and melty!

Go green and get your culinary jig on this St. Patrick’s Day

Many Irish staples carry an impressive nutrient profile. You can boost the benefits even further by complementing them with flavorful, nutritious pears. Here are 4 ways to do it:

steel cut oatmeal in a small mason jar1) Irish Oatmeal
Start the day with a festive batch of oatmeal. Prepare this simple recipe for Slow Cooker Steel Cut Oats, then speckle with pieces of bright green Anjou pear (in season now!).

pretty diced pear and apple chutney in a jar2) Soda Bread
This quick and easy 5-Ingredient Whole-Wheat Irish Soda Bread is hearty and satisfying without breaking the calorie bank. Serve with a spread of pear jam or spoonfuls of pear chutney and chunks of sharp cheddar cheese.

Hearty sheppard's pie slice with bosc pears on a white plate with a green napkin3) Potatoes
Spuds get a bad reputation for being unhealthy but are actually filled with important nutrients, including potassium, iron, fiber and B-vitamins. Bake, mash or cut into fries and roast in the oven. Serve with roasted chicken and a side of Cinnamon Pear Sauce. For a one-pot meal, add chopped, firm Bosc pears to your favorite recipe for a tasty spin on a classic Shepard’s Pie.

sliced pears atop red cabbage with green onions in a white bowl4) Cabbage
There’s more to this cruciferous and cancer-fighting veggie than corned beef. Enjoy cabbage year-round in salads and slaws. Stick with the green theme by combining cabbage with kale in a fresh and crunchy Kale Cabbage and Pear Slaw with Citrus Dressing.

February is Heart Health Month

Pears have more fiber than most other fruits. A graphic showing how pears rank higher than bananas and oranges in fiberThere’s good reason as to why we have an entire month dedicated to heart health: heart disease is the number 1 cause of death for men and woman in the United States (National Center for Health Statistics, 2016). According to the CDC, this has been the case for upwards of 80 years now, with current numbers pointing to about 610,000 deaths in the United States every year. Translation: heart disease is to blame for 1 out of every 4 deaths in America! While statistics like this are shocking and scary, there is at least one thing you can start doing today to immediately lower your risk: improve your diet.

The truth is, a healthy heart is directly correlated with a healthy diet. Studies show that fiber is excellent at preventing and reducing elevated cholesterol levels, which is a strong predictor of heart disease (Chai, 2012) (Department of Epidemiology, Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, 2008). High levels of cholesterol can lead to atherosclerosis, which is plaque buildup on the artery walls that can constrict blood flow and lead to heart attacks. Fiber, the zero-calorie indigestible part of carbohydrates, helps lower cholesterol by attaching itself to dietary cholesterol and ushering it out of the body, so it never gets absorbed into the blood (where it would otherwise stick and build up on the artery walls – yikes!).

So, how can you fiber-up your diet? Pears are a delicious place to start! A medium pear puts you 6 grams closer to meeting your daily fiber needs—which for women is 25 grams, men 38. Pears also have Vitamin C, with a medium-sized pear containing approximately 7 mg or 10 percent of the daily value. Because pears don’t need to be refrigerated, they’re also a very portable snack, especially if you work a desk job or are on the go. Pack one with you today to show your heart some pear love.

#PearUp with a Pal for Lasting Results!

Red Pear SuccessNow that 2017 is fully underway, you may be feeling less motivated to maintain your New Year’s resolution. You’re not alone: By two weeks into January, approximately 1/3 of us have failed to maintain our resolutions. So maybe it’s time to #pearup with a friend or group!

Studies suggest that people who participate alongside a partner or group, whether for weight loss or physical activity, tend to stick with the program longer (1, 2). Weight management programs that incorporate meetings or phone calls tend to have greater success partly due to encouragement and accountability (3). Newer research even suggests that online weight loss communities via various social media platforms are associated with greater weight loss (4, 5). From my personal experience, friends make the journey fun and we feel less alone. Friends and I sometimes get together to prep recipes for the week, incorporating lots of fruit, veggies, and fun into what can be an otherwise dull task!

Likewise, partner or group exercise tends to be more effective than going solo. This is partly due to the Köhler effect, which is when weaker members are motivated to keep up with more capable members of a group (6, 7). Additionally, if the group relies on everybody completing the task at hand, the weakest members tend to step up their performances, such as finishing a group jog (8). This seems to happen because we try to match our partner’s performance (9, 10), and virtual workout partners may have similar effects – noteworthy for those just starting out or who have anxiety around group fitness or gyms (11). Personally, I’m a fan of group exercise because meeting a friend makes me show up, we cheer each other on, and it feels less like work and more like fun. I’ve made some of my closest friends this way!

Whether you’re off and running with your resolution or still trying to get off the couch, think about enlisting a friend. Chances are, your friends need motivation and want to #pearup, too!

  1. Wing RR, Tate DF, Gorin AA, Raynor HA, Fava JL. Self-regulation program for maintenance of weight loss. N Engl J Med. 2006;355:1563-71.
  2. Dishman RK, Buckworth J. Increasing physical activity: A quantitative synthesis. Med Sci Sports Exerc. Jun 1996;28:706–19.
  3. Kulik NL, Fisher EB, Ward DS, Ennett ST, Bowling JM, Tate DF. Peer support enhanced social support in adolescent females during weight loss. Am J Health Behav. 2014;38:789-800.
  4. Pappas GL, Cunha TO, Bicalho PV, Ribeiro A, Couto Silva AP, Meira W Jr, Beleigoli AM. Factors associated with weight change in online weight management communities: A case study in the LoseIt Reddit community. J Med Internet Res. 2017;19:e17.
  5. Turner-McGrievy GM, Tate DF. Weight loss social support in 140 characters or less: Use of an online social network in a remotely delivered weight loss intervention. Transl Behav Med. 2013;3:287-94.
  6. Kerr NL, Hertel G. The Köhler group motivation gain: How to motivate the “weak links” in a group. Soc Pers Psychol Comp. January 2010;5:43–55.
  7. Weber B, Hertel G. Motivation gains of inferior group members: A meta-analytical review. J Pers Soc Psychol. 2007;93:973–93.
  8. Steiner ID. Group process and productivity. New York: Academic Press; 1972.
  9. Stroebe W, Diehl M, Abakoumkin G. Social compensation and the Köhler effect: Toward a theoretical explanation of motivation gains in group productivity. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum; 1996. Witte E, Davis J, eds. Understanding group behavior: Consensual action by small groups; No. 2.
  10. Kerr NL, Messé LA, Seok DH, Sambolec EJ, Lount Jr. RB, Park ES. Psychological mechanisms underlying the Köhler motivation gain. Pers Soc Psychol B. 2007;33(6):828–41.
  11. Feltz DL, Forlenz ST, Winn B, Kerr NL. Cyber buddy is better than no buddy: A test of the Köhler motivation effect in exergames. Games Health J. 2014;3:98-105.

Green Pear Juice

Green pear juiceThere’s perhaps no better way to start the day than a fresh pressed juice. Especially for those of us trying to reboot in January for a healthful start to 2017. With juicy, ripe pears as the base—delivering Vitamin C, sweetness, and flavor—this recipe is packed with nutrient-rich kale, cucumber, ginger, and lemon. It provides a burst of vitality on a chilly winter morning, but what’s more, it’s straight up delicious. If you aren’t yet on the juice kick, consider this a great place to start!

Makes 40 ounces (serves 2 to 4)

2 pounds ripe or slightly overripe USA Green Bartlett Pears, halved
1 bunch kale
1 ounce fresh ginger (about 3-inches long by 1-inch wide)
2 lemons, peel and outer pith cut away
1 large cucumber, cut into thirds

Pass all ingredients through a produce juicer in the order in which they are listed. Pour into glasses and serve, with ice cubes if desired.

Pear, Pistachio & Parmesan Pinwheels

PinwheelsYou’ll be the host with the most when you present these warm, flaky hors d’oeuvres to guests on New Year’s Eve. Diced USA pears are rolled up in puff pastry, with crunchy pistachios, piquant Parmesan, and a kick of cracked pepper, creating bite-sized bursts of flavor. Deceptively simple to prepare, and sweet and savory at the same time, they make the perfect cocktail accompaniment.

1 sheet frozen puff pastry (half a 17.3-ounce package), thawed
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 cup finely diced USA Red Anjou or Bartlett pear (about ½ a large pear)
¼ cup ground pistachios
¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper

Place the pastry sheet on a clean work surface and roll it out to smooth the seams and create a 10-inch square. Cut the square in half, forming two 10-by-5-inch rectangles. Brush the entire surface of each half of the pastry lightly with some of the beaten egg. Leaving a 1/2-inch border along a longer edge of each rectangle, sprinkle with the pears, pistachios, Parmesan, and pepper, dividing each ingredient evenly between the two.

Starting at the long side opposite the plain border, roll up each pastry like a jelly roll, pressing gently to seal the ends, creating a long log. Wrap each log individually in plastic wrap and chill in the freezer until firm, at least 1 hour and up to 3 days.

To bake, position racks in the top and bottom thirds of the oven and preheat it to 400°F. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper.

Cut each pastry log crosswise into about 24 round pinwheels. Arrange the pinwheels on the lined baking sheets, spacing them about 1 inch apart. Bake until the pinwheels are puffed and golden brown, about 20 minutes, rotating the pans from top to bottom in the oven about halfway through.

Cool briefly on the pans, and serve warm. Makes 48 hors d’oeuvres.

Four Recipes for Diabetic Eating

Nourishing, naturally sweet and truly delicious, pears are in season which makes it the perfect time of year to celebrate the joy of eating well. National Diabetes Month (November) is coming to a close, but eating diabetes-friendly foods is important year-round and it’s my personal mission to change the conversation around the diabetic diet from one of deprivation to one of gratifying intentions to eat to nourish your body. Whole foods, like pears, are nutrient dense and sustaining which makes them easy to love. I also love the concept of “food gratitude” as it offers you a positive way to celebrate the good-for-you foods on your plate like the many reasons to be grateful for pears. The fiber content of the pear, 6 grams per medium piece of fruit, helps to naturally keep blood sugars in check. Plus, they are a good source of vitamin C, a powerful antioxidant that boosts immune function and rids the body of disease causing free radicals. You can enjoy a pear as a snack or incorporate them into more savory meal preparations.

No matter how you enjoy pears, the right ripeness is most important. Check the neck near the stem with your thumb. If it yields to pressure you’ll know it is ripe. Here are a few of my favorite snack recipes using pears that are perfect for the diabetic and non-diabetic alike.

Pears with Tahini, Chocolate, Honey and Hemp Seeds
Ingredients:
1 medium pear
1 tablespoon tahini (sesame seed paste)
1 teaspoon honey
1 tablespoon hemp seeds
1 teaspoon dark chocolate shavings

Instructions:
1) Core then slice the pear into 6 equal wedges.
2) Drizzle with tahini and honey.
3) Sprinkle the wedges with the hemp seeds and dark chocolate shavings.

Savory Yogurt Pear Parfait
3/4 cup plain low-fat Greek yogurt
½ teaspoon orange zest
½ teaspoon honey
½ cup diced pears (tossed with 1 teaspoon lemon juice)
1 tablespoon unsalted chopped hazelnuts
1/2 teaspoon Za’atar
1/2 teaspoon olive oil
Pinch of sea salt

Instructions:
1. In a small bowl, combine the yogurt, honey and orange zest.
2. Top with pears, hazelnuts, za’atar, olive oil and sea salt.
CoolWeatherCobblerCool Weather Cobbler (From my new cookbook, Whole Cooking and Nutrition)
Ingredients:
For the Filling:
6 medium pears or apples, peeled, cored, and sliced
1 cup fresh or frozen cranberries and/or pitted cherries
1 tablespoon arrowroot powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
1 teaspoon freshly grated orange zest
For the Topping:
1 cup almond flour
2 cups gluten-free rolled oats
1/2 cup whole-wheat flour (or gluten free flour)
1/4 cup unsalted, toasted pumpkin seeds
1/4 cup raw, unsalted sliced almonds
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
2 tablespoons melted coconut oil or canola oil
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/3 cup pure maple syrup (preferably grade B)

Instructions:
1) Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
2) For the filling, toss together the fruit, arrowroot powder, cinnamon, ginger, and orange zest in a medium bowl. Spread the filling in the bottom of an 8×12-inch baking dish.
3) To make the topping, stir together the almond flour, oats, whole-wheat flour, pumpkin seeds, almonds, cinnamon, and salt in another bowl. Drizzle in the coconut oil, olive oil, and maple syrup and mix until evenly combined.
4) Crumble the topping over the filling and bake for 40 minutes, or until the topping is brown and the fruit is bubbling. Remove cobbler from the oven and set aside to cool for 10 minutes before serving.

Ginger-Cardamom Pear Sauce with Pistachios (From my new cookbook, Whole Cooking and Nutrition)
Serving Size ½ cup
Ingredients:
2 pounds ripe pears
1 cup water
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 teaspoon fresh ginger
6 tablespoons roughly chopped pistachios

Instructions:
1) Combine all the ingredients except for the pistachios in a medium saucepan over medium high heat.
2) Cover the pan and bring the mixture to a boil; then reduce the heat to medium – love and simmer for 30 minutes or until the pears are very tender.
3) Remove the pan from the heat and cool slightly.
4) Transfer the mixture to a blender or food processor and puree until smooth (or desired texture).
5) Top each serving with 1 tablespoon of chopped pistachios.

Cauliflower Pear Soup

soupCauliflower and pear are blended together to form a rich and creamy soup with just a hint of sweetness. A garnish of pear and sage leaves adds a festive touch.

 Ingredients:               
2 Red D’anjou pears
1 head of cauliflower, about 4 cups roughly chopped
2 cups water
1 cup chicken or vegetable broth
1 cup whole milk
1/4 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano
1 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
10-12 fresh sage leaves

Directions: 
Peel, core and chop one pear, then cut the other pear in half and peel, core and chop one half. Remove the core from the reserved pear half, and finely dice it, and set it aside for a garnish. Place the chopped pear and cauliflower in a soup pot and add the water and broth. Bring to a boil over high heat, then lower the heat and simmer until the cauliflower and pears are very soft, about 10 -15 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat a small skillet and add the olive oil. When hot, add the sage leaves and cook until crisp. Set aside to use as a garnish.

Add the milk, cheese and ½ teaspoon salt to the soup. Puree in a blender in batches or using a stick blender, until very smooth. Taste and add additional salt as needed. Note: amount of salt will depend on the broth you use.

Divide soup into bowls and garnish each with fried sage leaves, a drizzle of the oil and some diced pear.

prep time:10 minutes
cooking time: 20 minutes
yield: Serves 4