Pear Sweetened Spiced Molasses Cookies

pear-cookies-crop-1These delightful fall cookies are reminiscent of a classic soft molasses cookie, but are made with less than half of the sugar in a typical recipe. Pear puree stands in for much of the sugar, adding a wonderfully unique pear flavor to the cookies, along with fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Bake off a batch of these tender cookies and store the extras in the refrigerator for packing into lunches or for after school snacks.

Ingredients:
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
¼ cup packed light brown sugar
1 egg
1 cup pear puree (from about 2 ripe USA Pears, such as Red or Green Bartlett, diced and
pureed in a blender until smooth)
¼ cup molasses
2 ¼ cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon cloves
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
granulated sugar, for rolling

Directions:
In a large bowl, combine melted butter and brown sugar and whisk to combine. Add egg, one cup of the pear puree, and molasses and whisk again until smooth. In a second bowl, combine the flour, spices, baking powder, and salt, and stir to mix. Add the dry ingredients to the wet and stir until the mixture comes together to form a soft dough. Refrigerate the dough until firm, at least one hour.

When you are ready to bake the cookies, preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Prepare a small bowl of granulated sugar for rolling the cookies. Roll the chilled dough into 1 ½ inch balls and roll in the granulated sugar, placing the cookies onto greased baking sheets as you go. Lastly, flatten the cookies slightly with the bottom of a drinking glass that has been dipped in the remaining sugar to prevent sticking. Bake the cookies for 11-13 minutes, rotating once during cooking. Allow to cool before removing from pans.

Stuffed Avocado with Bay Shrimp, Pear, and Mango

This stuffed avocado recipe is both simple and elegant. Begin with sweet and salty bay shrimp, and add crunchy pears and tropical, ripe mango to provide great texture and flavor. Bright, fresh lime juice plays perfectly with the creamy, rich avocado, and a pop of fresh mint will bring it all together. Serve this salad for lunch on a warm day, or alongside some grilled meat at your next barbecue.

Stuffed AvocadoIngredients
8 oz. bay shrimp
¼ a red onion, finely minced
1 firm ripe USA Pear, small dice
1 ripe mango, peeled and diced small
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice
2 teaspoons neutral oil, such as grapeseed
¼ teaspoon sea salt
1 small handful fresh mint leaves, torn
2 ripe avocados, halved and pitted

Directions
In a medium bowl, combine the shrimp, onion, pear, mango, and lime juice and gently stir to combine. Add the oil and salt, and toss to coat. Gently mix in the torn mint at the last moment. Divide the mixture between the four avocado halves, filling the cavity and allowing the extra shrimp salad to overflow onto the plate. Serve immediately.

Prep time: 20 minutes
Yield: 4 servings

Smoky Red Pear and Grilled Corn Salsa

USA Pears are back in season, and this unique late summer salsa is the perfect way to show them off! Adding a few pinches of cumin lends the salsa a gentle smokiness which balances the honey-sweetness of the pears. Serve this salsa with your favorite tortilla chips or use it to generously top grilled chicken or pork.

red pear salsa
Ingredients
2 ears of corn, shucked
1 tsp. neutral flavored oil, such as grapeseed
½ a medium sweet onion, small dice
1 jalapeno, seeded and finely minced
2 firm ripe red USA pears, such as Starkrimson or Red Bartlett
1 lime (for zest and juice)
¼ tsp. ground cumin
¼ tsp. sea salt
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh cilantro

Directions
Preheat your grill to medium. Drizzle the oil over the corn and rub to coat with the oil. Once the grill is hot, cook the corn for about 15 minutes, turning occasionally, until hot and blistered in spots. Set the corn aside until cool enough to handle. Once cooled, cut the kernels from the cobs using a sharp knife. In a medium bowl, combine the corn, sweet onion, jalapeno, and pears. Zest half of the lime and add it to the salsa, then halve the lime and squeeze the juice over the ingredients. Add the cumin, salt, and cilantro, and gently toss to coat. Transfer the salsa to a bowl and serve.

Prep time: 35 minutes
Yield: 3 cups salsa

Grill Master

grilled pearsTo me, summer means sunshine, farmers’ markets and grilling. I personally love the flavors of grilled foods and regularly grill veggies as a side or base for meals. One of the greatest challenges I have faced in my years of counseling and teaching is that people have been trained to think they don’t like fruit and/or vegetables, and they don’t venture outside the norm for ingredients or culinary techniques. The remedy is simply to get a little creative in the kitchen – or backyard – and be okay with failing once in a while. I base most of my meals on produce, and in the summer that means adding a treat of grilled fruit at the end!

Grilling is probably one of the simplest culinary techniques for fruit and veggies. In the beginning, it’s a good idea to stay close to the grill to keep an eye on your food; err on the side of slightly lower heat so it doesn’t burn, then turn up the heat at the end for beautiful grill marks. Grilling infuses fruit with smoky and savory flavors and causes caramelization of sugars, leading to more color and flavor changes. It’s a whole new way to experience fruit! In my food science lab, we talk about how sugars in fruit, when exposed to high temperatures, start to melt: The sugars are inverted and water is released, resulting in sugar molecules rearranging and binding together to form chains. Organic acids and other flavor compounds also accrue, resulting in different flavors than the original sugars. Basically, the compounds are altered so we sense a unique flavor on our taste receptors.* Science is fun!

My favorite treat is to slice pears in half, set them on the top rack to soften, then pop it onto the heat for a bit at the end. I serve them drizzled with honey or chocolate sauce, then sprinkle with walnuts or a dollop of whipped cream. Delicious and a pretty presentation! Want more ideas? Check out a few of my favorite grilled pear recipes, including grilled pears stuffed with mascarpone and bacon, at USA Pears.
*McWiliams, Margaret. (2012). Foods Experimental Perspectives. New Jersey: Prentice Hall.

Pear and Fresh Vegetable Summer Rolls

summerrollsThese colorful and refreshing summer rolls aren’t just beautiful, they are absolutely delicious! You can use any variety of vegetables and herbs to fill the rolls, not just those I’ve mentioned here. Use firm pears for filling the rolls – they add just the right amount of sweetness along with a unique crunch. It takes a little practice to get the hang of working with the spring roll skins, but once you’ve got it down, you’ll be wanting to make fresh rolls all summer long.

Ingredients:
several handfuls spinach leaves, stems trimmed
half an English cucumber, cut into long, thin strips
1 large carrot, grated or cut into a fine julienne
1 sweet pepper, cut into long thin strips
2 firm USA pears, such as Anjou, sliced julienne style
several sprigs fresh basil
12 spring roll skins
your favorite peanut sauce or sweet chili sauce for dipping

Directions:
Prepare all of the vegetables first and place them in small dishes around your work area. Julienne the pears last to delay browning, and place them at your workstation as well. Moisten one spring roll skin by running it under cold water for about 5 seconds on each side. While the skin is still firm, transfer it to your work surface. Do not allow the skin to get too flexible before you place it on your work surface or it will be difficult to work with. Fill the roll by layering several spinach leaves across the center, leaving about one inch of open space on both sides. Top with the sliced vegetables, then the pears, and finally with a few basil leaves. By now the wrapper will be pliable. Starting at the bottom, carefully roll the summer roll up like a burrito, wrapping the ends in about halfway through your roll. Place the completed roll on a platter, and repeat the process until you are out of ingredients. Do not stack the rolls, as they can become quite sticky. Once all of the rolls are completed, slice them on a diagonal with a serrated knife, arrange, and serve with your favorite dipping sauce.

Prep time: 40 minutes
Yield: 12 rolls

It’s What is on the Inside that Counts

more bruised pearsWe’ve all done it – picked up a slightly speckled piece of fruit and put it back in search of a more cosmetically appealing piece. Just like meat and eggs, produce is graded, and most grocery retailers purchase and profit from higher grade produce. According to US Department of Agriculture (USDA) standards, U.S. Number 1 fruit must be “carefully hand-picked, clean, well formed” and free from injury, including bruising. Produce items that don’t make the gradearenow being called “ugly fruit and vegetables” – those that are imperfect and less/not profitable – and often end up being discarded. According to the USDA, food waste is the greatest contributor to landfills, 31% of edible food is wasted, and food waste accounts for an estimated annual loss of $161.6 billion.

Interestingly, recent studies suggest that blemished fruit, the stuff not pretty enough for consumption, may have increased antioxidant content and actually be better for us. Antioxidants, such as polyphenols found in pears and other fruit,1-3 molecules that prevent damage to human cells and may play a protective role against disease and illness,4 act as part of a plant’s immune system fending off pests, fungi, and disease.5-8 When a plant is injured, polyphenol amounts increase in the affected area to protect and heal the injured tissue as seen in studies on apples, strawberries, green beans, raspberries and walnuts: If we eat these affected areas, we may consume more antioxidants than just consuming healthier portions of the plant.6-8 Some organizations are already onboard with collecting and distributing ugly produce, including California-based Imperfect Produce who recently partnered with Whole Foods to increase sales of ugly produce. And this trend isn’t going anywhere – this is the first time the USDA has issued food waste reduction goals.

For fruit, just like humans, perhaps the perfect body doesn’t exist – what matters is what is on the inside. Not sure what to do with that bruised pear? Slice it, bake it, or throw it in a smoothie for a delicious meal or snack!

1 http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/79/5/727.full
2 http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/dietary-factors/phytochemicals/flavonoids
3 http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0278691510005697
4 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18778075
5 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20043255
6 http://publik.tuwien.ac.at/files/PubDat_194363.pdf
7 http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1744-7348.2010.00402.x/abstract
8 http://ojs.aas.bf.uni-lj.si/index.php/AAS/article/view/197/126

Thai-Inspired Chicken and Pear “Noodle” Salad

PEARNOODLEThis fresh and fun recipe isn’t just chock-full of vegetables, it’s chock-full of delicious USA Pears! Firm, fiber-rich Anjou pears stand in for noodles in this salad, and the “noodles” couldn’t be more simple to make using a spiral vegetable slicer. Start by shredding leftover chicken (or pick up a rotisserie chicken). Next, shake together the Asian lime dressing, slice the veggies for the salad, and finally, toss it all together with the pear “noodles”. Top the salad with toasted, chopped peanuts and get ready to fall in love!

Thai-Inspired Chicken and Pear “Noodle” Salad

For the Asian Lime Dressing:
¼ cup freshly squeezed lime juice
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons water
1 – 2 teaspoons fish sauce, according to your taste

Directions:
Combine the lime juice and honey in a small jar with a tight-fitting lid and shake vigorously to dissolve the honey. Add the water and fish sauce and stir to combine. Taste for seasoning, adding more fish sauce or honey if necessary.

For the Chicken and Pear “Noodle” Salad:
8 ounces cooked, cooled, and shredded chicken breast
2 packed cups finely shredded red cabbage
1 medium carrot, fine julienne
3 scallions, sliced thinly on the bias
3 firm USA Pears, such as Anjou, sliced into a noodle shape on a spiral vegetable slicer
1 cup loosely packed cilantro leaves
a handful of fresh basil leaves, torn
1/4 cup chopped roasted and salted peanuts

Directions:
In a large bowl, combine the shredded chicken, cabbage, carrot, and scallions with about half of the dressing and toss gently to combine. Spiralize the pears at the last moment to prevent discoloration, and add them to the salad along with the cilantro and basil. Toss the salad gently once again to combine. Taste for seasoning, adding more dressing if desired. Transfer the salad to a large platter or bowl and top with the chopped peanuts.

Prep time: 25 minutes
Yield: 4 – 6 servings

Tackle the Fridge!

098

This weekend I tackled the fridge, and I don’t mean Super Bowl XX champions Chicago Bears’ William “Refrigerator” Perry. I’d like to say that I clean my fridge at least once per month, but like most Americans I only get to this important task about twice per year. Unfortunately, this practice can lead to increased food spoilage, food waste and risk for foodborne illness. According to the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), 9000 deaths and 6.5 to 33 million illnesses each year are directly linked to foodborne illness – often from not keeping foods at the appropriate temperture. [1] It seems to me we need to talk about refrigerator health!

First things first: Your refrigerator should remain under 40°F. Bacteria grow most rapidly between 40° and 140°F, called the Food Danger Zone, and some can double in number every 20 minutes in this zone. These foods may look and smell perfectly fine but can cause illness, so it’s best to cool foods quickly and purchase a refrigerator thermometer. [1] Second, foods that will not be cooked, such as fruits and vegetables, should live above riskier foods, such as raw meats. These hazardous foods should reside in sealed containers on bottom shelves. Likewise, crisper drawers are appropriate places for fruits and vegetables – they preserve freshness by maintaining appropriate temperature and humidity. Third, items should not be packed so tightly in the fridge that cold air cannot circulate around foods to maintain freshness. Finally, the FSIS recommends wiping up spills immediately, particularly from raw meats, and going through the fridge weekly to discard potentially hazardous or old food. [2]

Now that spring and summer fresh fruits and veggies are abundant, make sure your refrigerator is a happy, healthy home for them – and you. Salud!

 
1. http://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsis/topics/food-safety-education/get-answers/food-safety-fact-sheets/safe-food-handling/fighting-bac-by-chilling-out/ct_index
2. http://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsis/topics/food-safety-education/get-answers/food-safety-fact-sheets/safe-food-handling/refrigeration-and-food-safety/ct_index

Don’t Be a Yo-Yo!

RBP9037046 Woman with PearThat dreaded time of year is here again – swimsuit season. I have helped countless people lose weight, including myself, and despite many new and radical diets, the science still points to one principle: To lose weight, expend more calories than you eat. Sounds simple, right? Nope. What this doesn’t take into account are cravings, lack of motivation, hormones, metabolism, boredom, emotions, workplace and social saboteurs… Should I continue? Unfortunately, many experience the yo-yo effect, losing weight, gaining it back and having to start over again. For lasting weight loss, small changes must be made and maintained over time for true behavior change – and to end the weight loss/regain cycle.

Research from the National Weight Control Registry, a registry of more than 10,000 people who have successfully lost weight and kept it off, points to a variety of factors. The average weight loss for those on the registry is 66 pounds (range 30 to 300 pounds), maintained for an average 5.5 years (range 1 to 66 years). Most participants report maintaining a low calorie, low fat diet and four common trends, 1) eating breakfast, 2) getting on the scale at least once weekly, 3) watching fewer than 10 hours of television each week, and 4) exercising – participants exercised one hour/day on average. [1] Noted early in the research, once weight loss was maintained for 2-5 years the chance for longer-term maintenance improved dramatically. Not surprisingly, those who did regain weight reported significant decline in physical activity, increased consumption of calories from fat, and decreased restraint in food choice. [2, 3]

So, how can you put these principles into practice? Get moving, fill up on healthful foods that are generally lower calorie – particularly fruits and vegetables – and make small, sustainable changes!

1. http://www.nwcr.ws/Research/default.htm
2. http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/82/1/222S.full.pdf+html
3. http://www.ajpmonline.org/article/S0749-3797(13)00528-X/abstract

Spring Tartine with Shaved Pears, Fromage Blanc, and Pea Shoots

Spring Tartine

Spring is in the air, and this easy and elegant tartine features some of the season’s finest flavors. Enjoy this open-faced sandwich as a meal in itself, or make miniature versions using your favorite baguette. Simply toast the bread, spread with tangy fromage blanc, and top with delicate spring pea shoots and thinly shaved USA Pears gathered into pretty curls.

Spring Tartine with Shaved Pears, Fromage Blanc, and Pea Shoots

Ingredients
4 slices of your favorite artisanal bread, about ¾ inch thick
8 ounces fromage blanc goat cheese (or other spreadable goat cheese)
1 cup (gently packed) pea shoots or other delicate spring greens
2 firm USA Pears, such as Bosc or Anjou, cut from the core and very thinly sliced on a mandoline
olive oil, for drizzling
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Directions
Toast the bread until it begins to lightly brown on the edges and spread each slice with a generous layer of the fromage blanc. Next, top each toast with a small handful of loosely gathered pea shoots. Follow the pea shoots with the thinly sliced pears, curling or overlapping them in an attractive way. Lastly, drizzle the toasts with olive oil and sprinkle with just a pinch of salt and pepper. Transfer the tartines to a platter and serve immediately.

Prep time: 20 minutes
Yield: 4 tartines