Savory-and-Sweet Pear, Ham, and Gruyere Strata

strata

This delicious savory-and-sweet strata is the ideal recipe for this holiday season. It’s so versatile that it can act as the main course or a side dish for any meal—breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Ham, gruyere cheese, and fresh thyme add a rich, savory element, and pears and real maple syrup add a subtle sweetness that creates the perfect balance. Put this together the night before and pop it in the oven in the morning for an easy but elegant brunch to feed the whole family.

Ingredients
Butter for greasing pan
2 ½ cups half and half
6 large eggs
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon orange zest (from about half an orange)
½ teaspoon fresh thyme, roughly chopped
3 tablespoons pure maple syrup
10 loose cups good-quality, artisan bread, cut into 1 ½ inch cubes (from one small loaf)
⅓ pound best quality ham, thinly sliced
2 ripe USA Pears, such as Red or Green Bartlett, cut into large cubes
1 cup (loose) grated gruyere cheese (vintage sharp cheddar would be great, too)

Directions
Preheat oven to 375 degrees and lightly butter a 9 x 13 baking dish or large casserole. In a large bowl combine the half and half, eggs, salt, orange zest, thyme, and maple syrup and whisk to combine thoroughly. Add the bread cubes (be sure not to use more than 10 cups or the strata will be too dry) and toss to combine. Next, add the ham (tearing into smaller pieces if necessary), the pears, and about half of the cheese. Toss once again to evenly distribute the ingredients. Transfer the mixture and all of its liquid to the prepared baking dish and sprinkle with the remaining cheese (at this point the strata may be covered and refrigerated overnight). Bake the strata for 45-50 minutes, or until nicely browned and very hot in the middle. If baking the strata directly from the refrigerator, add 15-20 minutes to its cooking time, covering it loosely with foil for the additional time to prevent over-browning.

prep time: 20 minutes plus baking
yield: 6 – 8 servings

Keep Moving!

RBP9037046 Woman with Pear

With chilly weather sweeping the nation, it’s easy to stay inside and put exercise on the back burner. Although that’s certainly a good idea if it’s icy or the weather is too cold to exercise safely, after a few days it’s important to get moving again! To put this in perspective, consider these benefits of moving during cold weather.

  1. Prevent weight gain. Especially with the holidays approaching and the abundance of winter comfort foods, moving more can counteract excess calories consumed.
  2. Prevent seasonal depression. When I’m stuck inside for too long, I notice I get the blues (and cabin fever!). Getting out for a brisk walk, hike, or snowshoe helps clear the mind and increase endorphins that improve mood.
  3. Reduce stress and sleep better! This time of year is rife with stress, but moving more can balance stress and reduce negative effects of stress on the body, such as increased risk for illness. And here’s another benefit to decreasing stress – more energy AND better sleep!
  4. Improve immunity. The flu and cold season is upon us, and exercise boosts the body’s ability to fight illness by naturally cleansing itself and improving circulation of antibodies and nutrients.
  5. Prevent health conditions and diseases, such as cardiovascular disease. ‘Nuff said!

So get moving! Bundle up in layers that wick sweat away from your skin, drink a glass of water, power up with a piece of fruit such as a pear, wear appropriate footwear, and have fun!

Pear-Infused Vodka and Chai Cocktail

cocktail

Here is an elegant and delicious cocktail for you to enjoy this holiday season. You’ll need to infuse the vodka at least 10 days in advance, so be sure to grab some pears on your next trip to the grocery store! I recommend buying a mix of colorful pears for this recipe – the skins will turn your vodka a lovely honey-rose color as the flavor infuses. Then make a simple syrup with chai tea and shake up this sweet-and-spicy cocktail.

If you find cocktails like this too strong for your liking, try dividing a single recipe between 3 or 4 champagne flutes and topping with a dry, sparkling wine. You’ll get all the wonderful flavor with much less alcohol. Cheers!

Ingredients
Pear-Infused Vodka
5 firm ripe USA pears, such as Starkrimson, Green or Red Bartlett, Comice, or Anjou
1 bottle of vodka (750 milliliters)
Chai Simple Syrup
1 cup water
2 chai teabags (choose your favorite chai tea)
1 cup white sugar
Cocktail
2 oz. pear-infused vodka
1 tablespoon chai simple syrup
2 ice cubes
Cinnamon stick for garnish

Directions
infusionFor the vodka: Gently wash the pears under cool water and remove any stickers. Quarter and core the pears and place them into a half gallon glass jar (or divide between 2 quart-sized canning jars). Pour the bottle of vodka over the pears, seal, and set aside to infuse. Allow the pears to infuse the vodka for a minimum of 10 days or up to 3 weeks. To strain, place a fine mesh sieve over a large bowl and pour the pears and vodka over the sieve, pressing gently on the pears with a wooden spoon to release all of the liquid. Store the vodka in a clean glass jar.
For the simple syrup: Place the water in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer. Add the teabags and steep 5 minutes to infuse. Remove the teabags and add the sugar, turning the heat back on to low. Stir until sugar dissolves. Cool the simple syrup and store in a jar in the refrigerator.
For the cocktail: Place the vodka, simple syrup, and ice in a cocktail shaker, cover, and shake vigorously for 10 – 15 seconds. Strain the liquid into an appropriate cocktail glass and garnish with a cinnamon stick.

prep time: 25 minutes total (plus infusion time)
yield: 12 cocktails

ThanksCraving

cornucopiaWe have so much for which to be thankful! One thing I’m not thankful for is a week full of binging on foods that make me feel sluggish, grumpy and guilty. So how can we change our minds around Thanksgiving? By rethinking the craving to overeat.

My family is coming to my house for Thanksgiving this year, and I plan to pour my heart into every second with them. Of course, the crescendo will end in the Thanksgiving meal, which will feature a beautifully seasoned turkey, pear and chestnut stuffing, cranberry persimmon sauce, green beans amandine, rosemary focaccia, and of course, delectable pumpkin pie tartlets. Instead of encouraging moderation at the Thanksgiving meal, why not splurge? If we can keep our urge to overeat to one meal, and one meal only, perhaps the craving to splurge will be blunted. The brain triggers cravings in response to emotions, from pleasure to anxiety. Indeed, a classic study from the journal Appetite found that 97% of women and 68% of men reported experiencing cravings.1 But will avoiding cravings or finding a substitute make them go away? Not likely. Research suggests that resisting cravings can actually cause us to eat more – until we develop new patterns to avoid habitual cravings. So what’s the best way to manage cravings? Keep it to the actual meal itself – focus on enjoying your Thanksgiving meal, and get back to smart choices and portions on Friday. Happy Thanksgiving!

1Weingarten, H. P., & Elston, D. (1991). Food cravings in a college population. Appetite, 17, 167-175.

Whole Wheat Spaghetti with Pears, Radicchio, and Brown Butter

Whole Wheat Spaghetti with Pears, Radicchio, and Brown Butter

Here is a simple weeknight pasta dish full of fall’s flavors and colors. The sweetness of the ripe pears plays wonderfully together with the bitterness of the radicchio. Adding tangy, rich Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (get the real stuff for this recipe!) takes the dish to a whole new level. Serve this pasta as a meal in and of itself, or use it as a side dish for a simple roasted chicken.

Ingredients
1 pound whole wheat spaghetti
1 tablespoon salt
6 tablespoons salted butter
1 head radicchio, cored and cut into 2 inch pieces
2 ripe USA Pears, such as Green Bartlett or Starkrimson, sliced
⅓ cup chopped hazelnuts
3 ounces (about 1 cup very loosely packed) shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Directions
Place the pasta water on to boil, adding 1 tablespoon of salt to the cooking water. Once the water boils, add the spaghetti and cook according to the package instructions. In the meantime, place the butter in a wide sauté pan over medium heat. Cook for 3 or 4 minutes or until the butter is beginning to brown lightly and become fragrant. Add the radicchio to the browned butter and cook for 1 to 2 minutes, just until wilted. Turn off the heat and add the sliced pears, gently stirring to combine.

When the pasta is done to your liking, drain it in a colander. Add the hot pasta to the sauté pan with the sauce and toss with tongs to combine. Transfer to a bowl or platter and garnish with the cheese and hazelnuts.

prep time: 20 minutes
yield: 4 entree-sized servings

Pear and Red Potato Gratin

Pear Potato Gratin

This savory pairing of Pacific Northwest potatoes and pears makes a great side dish for roast pork or barbecued chicken. For a reduced fat approach, substitute chicken stock for half the cream.

Ingredients
2 pounds Anjou USA Pears, cored
2 pounds Northwest-grown red potatoes
2 teaspoons salt, to taste
½ teaspoon white pepper
½ teaspoon oregano
2 tablespoons garlic, minced
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup Gruyère cheese, grated
½ cup Rogue Creamery Oregonzola or Gorgonzola cheese, crumbled

Directions
Thinly slice pears into rings using a mandoline or knife. Slice potatoes to the same thickness as pears.

In a saucepan, mix seasonings together with cream and carefully bring to a brief boil.

Layer a third of the potato and pear slices in the bottom of a 10 x 2 round baking dish, alternating pears and potatoes. Sprinkle ⅓ of the Gruyere and Oregonzola on potatoes and pears. Repeat layers until complete. Pour cream sauce atop.

Cover baking dish with foil. Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour or until tender. Remove foil and bake until golden brown and bubbly. Let rest 15 minutes before serving.

yield: Serves 8

Pear, Roasted Carrot, and Ginger Quinoa Pilaf

pear quinoa pilaf

Fall is in the air, and all types of fresh pears are arriving at local grocers. This pear and quinoa pilaf makes a healthy and filling side dish or lunch. I love finding new ways to use quinoa, and roasted carrots and ginger make a wonderful savory contrast to the honey sweetness of the pears in this dish. Try this recipe with small and colorful Seckels if you can find them, but if not, any firm-ripe pear will do!

Ingredients
2 cups multicolored carrots, medium dice
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup quinoa, rinsed
1 ¼ cups vegetable broth
2 teaspoons fresh ginger, grated
Half an orange, zest and juice
6 firm-ripe Seckel USA Pears (or substitute 2 large pears), sliced or diced
¼ cup roasted and salted pistachios
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Directions
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Place the diced carrots in a small baking dish and toss with the olive oil and a generous sprinkling of salt and pepper. Roast in the oven for 18-20 minutes, or until soft and lightly browned on the edges. While the carrots roast, place the quinoa, broth, and ginger into a medium saucepan, cover, and bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce heat to medium low and cook for 8 – 11 minutes, or until quinoa is just tender. Uncover and allow any extra liquid to evaporate, stirring often. Remove the quinoa from the heat.

When the carrots come out of the oven, stir them into the quinoa along with all of the remaining oil from the roasting pan. Add the zest and juice from the orange half, the pear slices, and the pistachios. Stir together gently and season to taste. Serve the pilaf warm or allow to cool—the combination is wonderful served at room temperature as well.

prep time: 30 minutes
yield: 6 servings

Pear, Fig, and Salami Salad

pear fig salami salad

This salad of pears, figs, greens, salami, and cheese is full of subtle flavors that celebrate transition from summer to fall in the Pacific Northwest. Enjoy it with simple pork chops cooked on the grill or a lovely fillet of roasted salmon.

Ingredients
Dressing
¼ cup fresh orange juice (from about half an orange)
2 tablespoons champagne vinegar
2 teaspoons whole grain mustard
½ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon toasted almond oil
2 tablespoons grapeseed oil
Salad
4 cups baby arugula, packed
2 heads Belgian endive, halved lengthwise and sliced into ½ inch strips
10 – 12 fresh figs, halved or quartered
2 ripe USA Pears, such as Red Bartlett or Starkrimson, sliced
3 oz. mild salami, cut into ¼ inch cubes (or salami slices, cut into strips)
¼ cup ricotta salata cheese, crumbled

Directions
For the dressing: Combine the first four ingredients in a blender. Combine both the oils in a measuring cup and with the blender running, add the oil in a slow, steady stream to emulsify the dressing. Set aside until ready to use.

For the salad: In a large bowl, combine the arugula and sliced endive and toss with about ⅔ of the dressing. Transfer the greens to a platter and place the figs and pears decoratively on and around the greens. Drizzle the remaining dressing over the fruit. Top the salad with the salami, followed by the crumbled cheese.

prep time: 20 minutes
yield: 4 – 6 servings

Pear and Pineapple Green Smoothie

Pear and Pineapple Green Smoothie sm

Looking for a smoothie that combines both fruits and vegetables and still tastes delicious? Look no further! This recipe includes a full cup of spinach and several sprigs of brightly-flavored cilantro. These flavors are balanced by the honey-sweetness of pear and the tanginess of pineapple. Add refreshing coconut water as a base, and you’ve created the perfect green smoothie.

Ingredients
1 ripe USA Pear, such as Anjou, Bartlett, Concorde, or Comice, cored and cut into large chunks
1 ½ cups cubed pineapple
1 packed cup spinach
10-12 sprigs fresh cilantro
1 cup cold coconut water

Directions
Place all of the ingredients into a blender and puree at high speed until smooth.

prep time: 5 minutes
yield: 2 servings

Pear Bread with Brown Butter and Cardamom

Pear Bread with Butter and Cardamom

Got ripe pears? This pear bread recipe is simple to make and uses ingredients you probably already have on hand. The loaf is lightly spiced with cardamom and made moist and sweet with the addition of two ripe USA Pears. Browning the butter in a small saucepan before mixing up the batter gives this bread a wonderfully nutty flavor. Enjoy it as an easy breakfast, pack it into lunchboxes, or have a slice with a cup of afternoon tea.

Ingredients
¾ cup butter (1 ½ sticks)
⅔ cup packed light brown sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 ripe USA Pears, such as Anjou or Bartlett
1 ⅔ cups all purpose flour
¾ teaspoon cardamom
2 teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt

Directions
Place the butter into a saucepan over medium-low heat. Once the butter begins to sizzle, cook for 5 – 7 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the butter has taken on a golden brown color and smells nutty. Remove the pan from the heat and set the brown butter aside to cool slightly.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Prepare a loaf pan by greasing it with butter and dusting it with flour. In a medium bowl, combine the brown butter and sugar and stir well to thoroughly combine. Add the eggs and vanilla and mix. Grate the pears on the large holes of a box grater and add them to the wet ingredients as well.

In a second small bowl, combine the flour, cardamom, baking powder, and salt and whisk to combine. Add the dry ingredients to the wet and fold together gently just until the flour is moistened – do not overmix.

Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan. Bake the pear bread for 50-60 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean. Allow the bread to cool for 30 minutes before removing from the pan.