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.

Ditch the Guilt

52549295 - pensive happy woman remembering looking at side sitting in a bar or home terrace

It’s Sunday morning and you splurged too much on food or drink last night. You’re tired, unmotivated, and guilt creeps in from not making the best choices. Sound familiar? The truth is we all splurge sometimes, myself included, and we need a plan – especially with the holidays approaching – to ditch the guilt and get out of the splurge cycle!

As a dietitian, I feel like I work with guilt almost as much as I work with improving eating habits. Unfortunately, too many of us associate eating habits or what the mirror displays with self-worth and confidence. We are more than what we eat! Here are some steps I review with my clients (and sometimes myself!), give it a try! First, reflect on the occasions when you splurged. Would you take back the entire day or night, the time spent with friends, or the experiences you had? Probably not, so stop obsessing and forgive yourself. Second, stop telling yourself you should eat a certain way and that you’re a failure when you don’t. Instead, focus on eating healthfully and exercising to feel better. Third, start with the next bite. Most people count diet by days, when diet is everything we put in our bodies over time. Weeks are a much better measure of health, so let’s find balance over the next few days. Fourth and finally, increase your fruits and vegetables. Not only do fruits and veggies provide nutrients, fiber, and water, but they are the foundation for leading a healthful life. In the end, it’s never too early or too late to feel better, so start right now!

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

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

Pear, Buckwheat, and Gouda Scones with Fig Jam

SconesDo you have company coming for Easter brunch? Alongside the ham and asparagus, serve these delightfully unique savory scones. Honey-sweet pears, nutty buckwheat, and tangy Gouda cheese are a match made in heaven. Offer the scones with a side of fig jam and watch how quickly they disappear.

Pear, Buckwheat, and Gouda Scones with Fig Jam

Ingredients:
1 ¼ cups all purpose flour
¾ cup buckwheat flour
¼ cup sugar
⅛ teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
6 ounces firm, aged gouda cheese, grated
2 ripe USA Pears, such as Red Anjou or Bosc, small dice
¾ cup buttermilk (plus 2 tablespoons more if necessary)
Fig jam, for serving

Directions:
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. In a food processor, combine the flours, sugar, nutmeg, baking powder, and salt and pulse to combine. Add the cold butter and the cheese and pulse briefly 8 – 10 times, or until the mixture becomes crumbly. Transfer to a large bowl, add the diced pears, and stir gently to combine. Make a well in the center of the mixture and pour in the buttermilk. Using a fork, gently bring the mixture together until just combined, adding more buttermilk if necessary. The mixture should be moist and crumbly, but not sticky. Turn the scone dough out onto a lightly floured board and using floured hands, gently press into a circle about ¾ inch tall. Using a 2 to 3 inch floured biscuit cutter or glass, cut as many scones as you can from the dough and gently transfer them to a baking sheet, leaving at least one inch of space between each scone. Gather the remaining dough and press into a circle again, continuing to cut out scones until all of the dough has been used up. Bake the scones for 22-25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of a scone comes out clean. Allow the scones to cool for at least 15 minutes and serve with the fig jam.

Prep time: 20 minutes, plus baking
Yield: 8-12 scones

Crunchy Vegetable and Pear Salad

crunchy saladDid you know that many varieties of USA Pears are delicious when not yet ripe? Red and Green Anjou Pears are a perfect example. Though they might not seem ready to eat, they are already full of juicy pear flavor with a great, lightly crunchy texture. That makes unripe Anjous the perfect addition to salads and slaws.

This tasty salad is full of crisp, colorful vegetables and sweet Red Anjou Pears. Toss it with my almond butter-based dressing (sweetened with dates instead of refined sugar), and enjoy it as a quick lunch or an easy dinner side.

Crunchy Vegetable and Pear Salad

Ingredients
For the Almond Butter – Date Dressing:
3 tablespoons unsalted almond butter
3 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
2 Medjool dates, pitted and finely chopped
½ cup water
½ teaspoon sea salt

Directions:
Combine all of the ingredients in a blender and puree until smooth. Set the dressing aside until ready to use.

Ingredients
For the Salad:
4 packed cups chopped cabbage (red and/or green)
1 medium carrot, julienned or grated
1 yellow pepper, thinly sliced
3 scallions, sliced thinly on a diagonal
1 bunch watercress
2 firm USA Pears, such as Red Anjou, thinly sliced
¼ cup roasted almonds, roughly chopped

Directions:
In a large bowl, combine all of the salad ingredients except for the almonds. Drizzle with the dressing and toss gently to coat. Sprinkle the almonds over the top and serve.

Prep time: 20 minutes
Yield: 4 – 6 servings