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!

Put Your Best Fork Forward!

Woman with curly blonde hair in an orchard excitedly about to bite a fresh pearHappy National Nutrition Month! Every year, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics encourages getting back to the basics of a healthful diet, and moving toward healthful habits can be as simple as changing the next bite. Lately, I have been hearing of more nutrition and food fads and myths than usual. It seems the internet has made everyone a nutrition expert. (Insert a shrug and a sigh.) My personal pet peeve is the use of the phrases good food and bad food. Unfortunately, nutrition isn’t black and white unless you’re eating a hot fudge sundae. When I was an obese teen, I’d come home after school and cram my mouth full of snack cakes, potato chips, whatever packaged food I could find in our overstuffed pantry. These, of course, were not nutrient-dense choices and I don’t ever recommend eating this way. But can we still splurge on perceived bad foods while maintaining a healthful diet?

Yes. Eating well doesn’t have to be complicated, it can be as simple as starting with the next forkful. Each bite is important, but never splurging is an impossibility. I eventually overhauled my diet and my palate – but I didn’t start there. I started with one simple change. I added more fresh produce. Notice I didn’t say I cut out the junk, ran five miles a day, and added fresh produce, because I didn’t (at first). I made a conscious decision to add fresh foods to my plate. Sometimes it was as simple as a few carrots in addition to my chips. Sometimes it was a piece of fruit after a meal. Over time, I started to feel a little better and liked how fresh foods tasted – and it wasn’t terribly difficult to maintain one bite at a time. Now, I feel great and I definitely still splurge!

Considering it is National Nutrition Month, let’s focus on a simple change, such as improving the next bite. Do I wish as a teen I had stuffed my face with pears and carrots instead? Of course. But starting with the next bite can turn into a lifelong habit!

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.

Healthy is Strong

Bosc Heart
February is American Heart Month, and taking care of yourself and the ones you love is the perfect way to say I love you this Valentine’s Day. According to the Million Hearts® Healthy is Strong campaign, heart disease is the leading cause of death in men and women. Instead of giving your sweetie chocolates this Valentine’s Day, why not give your heart? For men and women, one small change can add up to one healthy heart!

One simple way to boost heart health is with physical activity. No, you don’t have to run five miles every day, but increasing activity slowly, such as a romantic walk with your sweetie, improves cardiovascular health. As a rule of thumb, aim for 150 minutes of activity each week – and if you #PearUp with a partner, you’re more likely to stick to your plan!

Another quick fix is to add in heart-y foods to your diet, such as fresh fruits, vegetables, no salt added nuts and seeds, fish, and healthy oils, such as olive or canola. To keep it simple, try a piece of fruit for a snack, such as the delicious Anjou, Bosc or Bartlett pear – all American Heart Association Heart-Check certified for health. For a delectable option that still feels sinful, try sliced pears drizzled with dark chocolate. Yum!

So this February when love is in the air, remember that a healthy heart is a strong heart! Visit Healthy is Strong or Go Red for Women for more tips to take charge of your heart health.

Dark Chocolate Dipped Pears

Valentine pears dipped in chocolate and topped with fun toppingsMove over strawberries—chocolate dipped pears are a fresh twist on this decadent Valentine’s Day treat. Rich dark chocolate pairs perfectly with Red Anjou pears, which just so happen to be heart-check certified by the American Heart Association. (Happy National Heart Month!) Decorate your dipped pears with a variety of creative options for sprinkling, like nuts, coconut flakes, and even vivid red chile powder for a kick. With this thoughtful homemade gift, your Valentine will definitely be yours!

Makes 32

2 USA Red Anjou pears (about 1 pound)
1 teaspoon Fruit-Fresh® Produce Protector
8 ounces dark chocolate (60 to 70% cacao), chopped

Options for Sprinkling:
Finely chopped pistachios or other nuts
Flaky sea salt
Shredded coconut
Chile powder
Curry powder
Sesame seeds
Chopped colorful dried fruit, such as apricots, cranberries, or goji berries

Fill a medium saucepan with about 1 inch of water and bring it to a simmer over medium-high heat. Line a baking sheet with wax paper.

Halve, core, and stem the pears and cut each one into 16 wedges. Sprinkle with the Fruit-Fresh and toss the pears gently to coat evenly. (This will prevent the cut pears from browning for several hours.) Arrange the pears on the prepared baking sheet and place it next to the stove.

Place the chocolate in a medium stainless-steel bowl and set the bowl over the pan of simmering water. (Make sure the water doesn’t touch the bottom of the bowl.) Once the chocolate begins to melt, stir until melted and smooth, about 3 minutes. Remove the chocolate from the heat.

Immediately begin dipping the wide ends of the pears in the chocolate, coating about half the length. Allow the excess chocolate to drip back into the bowl and place the dipped pears on the wax paper. Working quickly before the chocolate dries, sprinkle with your choice of the optional garnishes. Refrigerate, uncovered to allow the chocolate to set, about 1 hour.

Once set, cover loosely with plastic wrap and keep the pears in the refrigerator until served. Enjoy them within the day.

Chocolate Pears 3

Simple Swaps for a Happy & Healthy 2017

Eating well doesn’t have to be a hassle. One of the easiest ways to be happier & healthier this year is by making fun, simple swaps to what you already enjoy eating. It’s as easy as following these two steps:
1) Decide what you love eating.
2) Make what you love eating with better-for-you ingredients.

Here’s some inspiration to kick off your year…

Fresh pears atop mixed greensDROP: Dried cranberries in salad.
SWAP: Diced pear in a salad.
Pears have no added sugar, an excellent source of fiber, and have immune-boosting vitamin C.

Pear and Walnuts make a satisfying snack!DROP: Protein bar as a snack.
SWAP: Pear + handful of nuts.
For similar calories, you will be more satisfied eating a pear + nuts because it’s a snack that has more volume and takes longer to chew.

Vegetarian taco bowls with fresh pears and avocado cremeDROP: Lunch sandwiches.
SWAP: Lunch bowls.
You can get a lot more veggies in a bowl than between two pieces of bread! Think of tasty combinations with different textures, like romaine lettuce, cucumber, tomatoes, grilled chicken, quinoa and hummus.

Swaps work for food, and they also work for your attitude on fitness and health goals…

DROP: “I need to get serious about getting healthy.”
SWAP: “I am going to have fun creating new healthy habits!”
Of course it’s important to commit to creating healthy new habits; however, getting serious seriously doesn’t work. Changes that are attainable and can stick are those that you enjoy doing!

DROP: “I don’t have time to do a workout.”
SWAP: “Anything is better than nothing!”
If you have 30-60 minutes to exercise during your busy day, great. However, even if you only have seven minutes to walk around the block, that’s better than zero minutes! Go for it, no matter how much or how little time you have.

The Superfood Sway book by Dawn Jackson BlatnerDawn Jackson Blatner is a registered dietitian nutritionist and certified specialist in sports dietetics. Dawn is the nutritionist for the World Series Champion Chicago Cubs, a food and nutrition blogger with Huffington Post, and a nutrition expert on the advisory board of SHAPE Magazine. She is the author of two award-winning books: The Flexitarian Diet and The Superfood Swap. Dawn recently starred in (and won!) the hit primetime ABC television show called, My Diet Is Better Than Yours. You can get your copy of Dawn’s newest book, The Superfood Swap, anywhere books are sold such as Amazon, Indie Bound or Barnes & Noble.

#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.

Promises, Promises

lonely-seckelEvery year I make a New Year’s resolution… and sometimes stick to it. Over the years, countless clients have told me they resolve to lose weight in the coming year, but most of us fail to reach our resolutions. What’s the problem? Instead of vague promises to lose weight or get healthy, perhaps we should focus on the causes of the issue: Small changes are what really add up. A more realistic goal may be to change a particular behavior that contributes to health. Here are a few ideas.

  • Slow down! When we eat quickly, we tend to eat too many calories before our brains register satisfaction. Take in the environment, enjoy conversation, and savor each bite. If you’re struggling to hit the brakes, make sure you’re spending at least 20 minutes enjoying your meal.
  • Prepare ahead of time. You don’t have to spend Sunday afternoon preparing the week’s meals – I know I don’t have an entire afternoon to spare! Instead, focus on one meal: Prep dinner while making breakfast. To save time, I make larger amounts and spread the meals over the week.
  • Drink up! Drinking more water is so simple, but even dietitians fail at this one. Water is necessary for metabolic processes and may help us feel fuller. I’m not a sipper, so I’ve set my phone to vibrate multiple times each day to remind me to drink a glass of water – and it works!
  • Wear an activity tracker. It’s easy, many are inexpensive, and they sync with your phone so you can track progress. I use mine for biofeedback and if I haven’t reached my steps in the evening I take the dog for a longer walk or get in some steps while brushing my teeth.
  • Reduce screen time. This recommendation isn’t just for kids! If you binge watch your favorite show or eat dinner in front of the TV each night, I’m talking to you. In the time it takes to watch just one episode, you can get in a workout or prepare dinner for the next night – two items on this list!

Small changes really do add up. But if you must focus on the scale, try a more realistic and measurable goal – such as, to lose 10 pounds and keep it off for the entire year. Isn’t that the hard part, anyway? Here’s to a happy and healthy 2017!