Pear, Sausage, and Fontina Calzones

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You might find it hard to believe, but I consider calzones a quick weeknight-friendly dinner. So many grocery stores now carry pre-made pizza dough, which can simply be divided into 4 pieces to make calzones. Roll out the dough, fill it with your favorite savory sausage, shredded fontina cheese, and fresh, sweet chunks of pear, and then simply seal and bake. Serve the calzones alongside a simple green salad and you’ll have an elegant dinner ready in less than 45 minutes.

Ingredients
1 ball store-bought pizza dough (16 ounces)
Flour for dusting
8 ounces bulk OR 2 link sausages, any flavor, cooked if raw, and cut into bite-sized pieces (I used mild Italian pork sausage)
8 ounces Fontina cheese, shredded
1 ripe USA Pear, such as Bosc or Green Anjou, large dice

Directions
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Divide the dough into four equal portions and shape each portion back into a round. Set the dough aside on the counter to warm slightly, covered with plastic wrap. Cook your sausage if you purchased it raw. If bulk, divide the sausage into bite-sized balls and fry in a little olive oil. If you chose links, simmer the links in water for 5 minutes until firm, rinse under cool water, and slice. Gather all of your ingredients to fill the calzones: sausage, shredded cheese, diced pears, and a small bowl of water for sealing the calzones.

Dust a cutting board lightly with flour and roll out one ball of dough into an approximately 8-inch circle. Fill with one-quarter of your filling ingredients, placing them all in one half of the circle. Dip your fingers in the bowl of water and carefully dot water along half of the dough’s edge. Gently fold the calzone in half and seal the ingredients inside. For an extra-protective seal, dot water along the top of the semi-circle and fold the dough back onto itself, pressing it with the tines of a fork or pinching into a decorative, scalloped edge. Carefully transfer the calzone to a lightly oiled sheet pan. Follow the same directions for the other calzones, being sure to leave 2 inches of space between each calzone on the sheet pan. Bake for 20-24 minutes, or until lightly browned. Serve the calzones while still warm from the oven.

prep time: 20 minutes
cook time: 25 minutes
yield: 4 calzones

Baby, It’s Cold Outside!

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This winter has been one of the coldest, snowiest I can remember! I don’t like being cold, so I spent this past weekend watching a movie marathon while 10 inches of snow fell outside. And… now it’s official: I have the winter doldrums. But, nothing can fix this cabin fever like a little exercise! Today I’m planning to be active, won’t you join me?

Exercise boosts endorphins, chemicals that trigger feel-good emotions in your brain. Likewise, exercise focuses the brain and relieves stress, depression, anxiety, and sleep disruptions that lead to more stress. While we still have this snow, I’m planning to pull out my sturdier running shoes for a short snow run – I feel less impact on my knees. Walking releases stress, too, and allows me and my doggie to enjoy the loveliness of the winter wonderland! Perhaps this weekend I’ll grab a few friends and hit a nearby trail for some snowshoeing. And if the snow doesn’t stick around, I can do any of these activities with different footwear! There are so many more activities, too – skiing, snowboarding, sledding – all of which torch calories while you’re having fun. No matter what winter activity you’re enjoying, make sure to dress warmly, stay hydrated, and grab your snacks before you hit the cold. Plan to eat an hour before you head out or find easy, portable snacks, like pears plus peanut butter, that fit in your pocket or next to your water bottle in your pack. Even better, après snow, curl up with a steaming bowl of tomato soup plus a grilled pear and cheese sandwich. Mmm, deliciously warms the soul! I promise we’ll all feel better getting out and about!

Pear Breakfast Popovers

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Here is an elegant and delicious breakfast recipe that is incredibly easy to make. The simple batter is whipped up in the blender and poured into a muffin tin filled with warm, cinnamon-spiced pears. Just 25 minutes in the oven and the popovers become light, fluffy, and irresistibly golden brown. Make a double batch and freeze the extras in a heavy-duty zipper bag. Just pop them into a hot oven for a few minutes to reheat for a quick breakfast.

Ingredients
¼ cup (half a stick) butter
2 firm ripe USA Pears, such as Green Anjou or Bosc, medium dice
½ teaspoon cinnamon
3 eggs
1 cup milk
½ teaspoon vanilla
1 cup flour
⅛ teaspoon salt
Maple syrup for serving

Directions
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Melt the butter in the microwave in a medium bowl, about 30 seconds. Dip the corner of a paper towel in the butter and lightly grease a 12-muffin tin, including about ½ an inch around the edges of each muffin cup. Add the diced pears and cinnamon to the bowl with the remaining butter and gently stir to combine. Divide the pear mixture between the 12 muffin cups and place in the preheated oven for 5 minutes. While the muffin tin preheats, combine the eggs, milk, and vanilla in a blender and whiz for 5 seconds to mix. Whisk the flour and salt together in a small bowl and add it to the blender. Cover and blend about 10 seconds to thoroughly combine the ingredients, scraping down the sides if necessary. Once the timer goes off, remove the muffin tin from the oven and immediately pour the batter over the pears, leaving about ¼ inch of room at the top of each muffin cup. Return the tin to the oven and bake for 22-25 minutes, undisturbed, or until the popovers have puffed up and are beginning to turn golden brown. Loosen the popovers from the tin and serve immediately. Top each popover with any bits of pear that remain in the tin and drizzle with maple syrup, if desired.

prep time: 15 minutes
cook time: 25 minutes
yield: 4 servings

Love Your Heart!

heart-shaped pear

For centuries, the heart was thought to be the center of all thought processes and, therefore, responsible for emotions – particularly love. If you’ve ever been in love and felt your heart pound at the mere sight of your sweetheart, this makes sense! Although we now know that the heart does not control emotion, you should still love your heart. The heart is the epicenter of the body’s transportation system; through muscular contraction and relaxation it pumps blood through every single tissue to nourish and remove waste products. When the heart or blood vessels are damaged, such as from stress, inactivity, or a poor diet, there is an increased risk for hypertension, heart attack, stroke, and more. Researchers, again and again, suggest a diet high in plant foods – whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, and plant oils, particularly olive oil or canola oil – may reduce risk for coronary artery disease and stroke. [1]

This Valentine’s Day, do something good for your heart! Aside from the benefits of phytonutrients, heart-healthy antioxidants in plant foods, pears are also an excellent source of fiber that may help reduce cholesterol levels and reduce risk for heart disease. [2,3] One of my favorite, easy treats is chocolate covered fruit – yes, dark chocolate also contains phytonutrients!

  1. Prepare your favorite chocolate by melting over a double boiler or heating slowly in a microwave. Stir often and keep an eye on it!
  2. Slice pears into eighths, dredge in a mixture of 1 part lemon juice to 3 parts water, and pat dry.
  3. Dip pear wedges halfway into chocolate, and place on wax or parchment paper to set.
  4. After approximately 10 minutes, you have a delicious treat.

Love your heart!

[1] American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/78/3/544S.full

[2] American Heart Association http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/GettingHealthy/NutritionCenter/HealthyEating/Seasonal-Produce—Spring-and-Summer_UCM_441181_Article.jsp

[3] American Heart Association http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/GettingHealthy/NutritionCenter/HealthyDietGoals/Whole-Grains-and-Fiber_UCM_303249_Article.jsp

Tangy Braised Cabbage with Pears

Tangy Braised Cabbage with PearsHere is a great side dish for winter dinner menus. If it has never occurred to you to use cabbage for anything other than coleslaw, give this recipe a try. The cabbage becomes wonderfully tender as it cooks, and the tanginess from the balsamic vinegar alongside the sweetness of the pears is really a thing to behold. This dish is excellent alongside a whole roasted chicken or with Braised Pork with Pears and Sherry Vinegar.

Ingredients
2 tablespoons butter
1 medium sweet onion, halved, peeled, and cut into thin half-rings
1 medium head red cabbage, cored and cut into approximately 2 inch pieces
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
½ cup dry white wine
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 bay leaf
2 firm ripe USA Pears, such as Bosc or Anjou

Directions
Melt the butter in a large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. Once foamy, add the onions and sauté until just beginning to brown, about 5 minutes. Add all of the cabbage to the pot and season generously with salt and pepper. Sauté the cabbage, stirring often, until softened and glossy, about 5 minutes more. Add the wine and continue to cook until it has mostly evaporated, again, about 5 minutes. Add the balsamic vinegar and the bay leaf, stir, and cover the cabbage, reducing the heat to low. Cook the cabbage for 45 minutes, setting a timer to remind you to stir it every 15 minutes. After 45 minutes, cut the pears into a medium dice and add them to the pot. Stir and cover, cooking 15 minutes more. Check the seasoning of the dish, adding salt, pepper, or a little more vinegar if necessary. Serve the cabbage hot.

prep time: 10 minutes plus one hour cooking
yield: 4 servings

Shaved Pear and Vegetable Salad with Blue Cheese

Shaved Pear and Vegetable Salad with Blue Cheese

Here is a distinctive salad recipe that uses slightly underripe pears. All of the salad components are shaved very thinly using a mandoline slicer, making the salad not only beautiful, but highlighting the unique texture of every ingredient. Try substituting different seasonal vegetables to make your own version—thinly sliced celery, sweet onion, cabbage, delicata squash, carrots—whatever you like!

Ingredients
Dressing
2 tablespoons tangerine juice (from one juicy tangerine)
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
2 teaspoons sherry vinegar
2 teaspoons sugar
½ teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons walnut oil
Salad
1 small red onion, peeled and trimmed
1 fennel bulb (reserve delicate fronds for garnish)
1 small bunch radishes, bottoms trimmed and about ½ inch of the top left on (leaving a little greenery on makes the radishes easy to hold while slicing on the mandoline)
2 raw beets, peeled and trimmed (use golden beets or Chioggas if you can find them—red beets will color the other vegetables)
2 slightly underripe USA Pears, such as Concorde or Anjou
4 ounces of your favorite blue cheese, crumbled

Directions
For the dressing: Combine all of the ingredients in a jar with a tight-fitting lid and shake vigorously.
For the salad: Slice all of the vegetables as thinly as possible on a mandoline slicer, transferring them to a large bowl as you go. This can be done several hours in advance—be sure to cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator until ready to serve. Just before serving the salad, thinly slice the pears on the mandoline, leaving the core behind. Add the pears to the bowl with the other vegetables along with about two-thirds of the dressing. Gently toss the ingredients together, sliding apart vegetables that remain stacked together with your fingers. Arrange the salad on a platter, drizzling with more dressing, if desired. Crumble the blue cheese on top and garnish with the reserved fennel fronds.

prep time: 25 minutes
yield: 4 generous servings

The No-Resolution Revolution

fruits and veggies

New Years’ resolutions don’t work! Unfortunately, we tend to make the same, hopeless resolutions year after year. According to studies, the usual resolution is weight loss…  But, Americans continue to gain weight. The overweight and obesity rate in the United States is now 69%, or about 7 in 10 Americans!1 So why do we continue to make resolutions?!

Ditch the resolution: It’s time for a no-resolution revolution. It’s as simple as this: Small changes make a BIG difference, but big changes make a small difference. What do I mean? We often set ourselves up for failure by setting unrealistic goals when we can slowly, gradually make small changes over time; small behavior changes make weight changes that add up over time. This is what leads to permanent behavior change and weight loss! Studies suggest that drastic changes are less likely to stick around than small changes, such as increasing fruit and vegetable intake. Before making another resolution, resolve to make small changes. Happy New Year!

sources: http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/obesity-overweight.htm
 http://www.usa.gov/Citizen/Topics/New-Years-Resolutions.shtml

The Perfect Poach

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December is National Pear Month and the holiday season… This is the perfect recipe for poaching pears! So, how do you poach the perfect pear? Easy, it’s science! Osmosis is the movement of water across a membrane, or in this case, the pear’s cell wall. Poaching uses a minimal amount of water to simmer at a low temperature to optimize texture and flavor: The fruit will soften due to an increase in movement of the poaching liquid into the flesh of the fruit; thus, the flavor of the poaching liquid is infused into the fruit! Ideally, the poaching fluid is about 2 parts liquid (water, wine, acid) to 1 part sugar/spices. Poaching creates a tender mouthfeel by breaking down the plant cell wall and allowing the poaching liquid to enter and leave its essence. Yum!

To poach the perfect pear:
Choose a pear with a slightly firmer texture, such as a Bosc or Seckel.
Peel if desired, then either leave whole or cut in half and core.
Fill a stainless steel pan with the poaching liquid. (Hint: sugar solutions help maintain fruit texture!)
Flavor the liquid with spices or herbs.
Ensure the pears stay submerged and simmer until the fruit pierces easily with a fork or knife.
Remove the pears and serve! Dispose of the liquid or simmer until desired consistency for serving.

Happy National Pear Month and happy holidays!

Spice-Roasted Chicken and Pears

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Here is a satisfying cold-weather main dish with a short prep time. Ripe pear slices and warming spices add a new twist to a classic roasted chicken dinner. Serve this dish with a pot of steamed Basmati rice and simple salad (dressed with Pear and Roasted Carrot Vinaigrette, perhaps?).

Ingredients
One 3.5 – 4 pound roasting chicken, cut into 8 pieces
1 tablespoon whole fennel seeds
6 whole cloves
2 cinnamon sticks, broken in half
4 – 8 dried Thai bird chiles, crushed (or substitute a few pinches of chili flakes)
2 tablespoons brown sugar, packed
2 teaspoons freshly grated ginger
2 teaspoons lemon zest
1 teaspoon coarse salt
2 tablespoons canola oil
2 firm ripe USA Pears, such as Red Anjou or Bartlett, cut into 8 – 10 slices each

Directions
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Place the cut up chicken into a large bowl, patting it dry with paper towels if necessary. In a small bowl, combine the spices, chiles, ginger, lemon, sugar and salt and mix to combine. Pour the oil over the chicken and toss to coat. Add the spice mixture and the pear slices and mix gently to distribute. Spread the chicken and pear mixture out into a 9 x 13 baking dish in a single layer, placing the chicken pieces skin-side up. Roast the chicken for 30 minutes at 400 degrees, then reduce the heat to 350 degrees and cook for an additional 20 – 30 minutes or until the chicken reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees. Serve immediately with the pear slices, pan juices, and spices spooned over the top.

prep time: 15 minutes plus roasting time
yield: 4 servings

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

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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