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.

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!

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

Kale, Cabbage, and Pear Slaw with Citrus Dressing

Kale, Cabbage, and Pear Slaw SM

Here is a quick fruit and vegetable slaw with a sweet and tangy dressing. This slaw makes an ideal side dish for a simple summer dinner of grilled fish or chicken, but it will also transition well into the fall as a bright and fresh side for roasted meat. This recipe is the perfect use for slightly under-ripe pears—they will add a unique texture and flavor to this colorful slaw.

Ingredients
Dressing
½ cup freshly squeezed orange juice
¼ cup freshly squeezed lime juice
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons grapeseed oil (or other neutral-flavored oil)
Salad
1 small bunch Lacinato kale, stemmed and shredded
1 small head red cabbage, cored and shredded
4 scallions, thinly sliced
2 firm USA Pears, such as Bosc, cored and thinly sliced
¼ cup chopped almonds

Directions
For the dressing: Combine all of the ingredients in a jar with a tight-fitting lid and shake vigorously to dissolve the sugar and salt. Set aside until you are ready to dress the salad.

For the salad: In a large bowl, combine the cabbage, kale, scallions, and pears. Toss gently with the dressing to thoroughly coat the ingredients. Transfer to a clean bowl or platter and garnish with the chopped almonds.

prep time: 25 minutes
yield: 8 servings

Roasted Pear Pasta with Cinnamon and Feta

Roasted Pear Pasta with Cinnamon and Feta sm

Here is a wonderful, warming pasta dish full of unique flavors. Roasted pears, cinnamon, feta cheese, and toasted pine nuts make for a surprisingly delicious combination, and this meal comes together in a snap. You’ll fill your kitchen with the aroma of sweet, roasting pears and spicy cinnamon before you get your first bite of this creamy pasta. Enjoy this dish as a meal on its own, or pair it with a simple green salad dressed with Pear and Roasted Carrot Vinaigrette.

Ingredients
1 tablespoon plus 2 tablespoons butter
3 firm ripe USA Pears, such as Bosc or Red Anjou, cut into ½-inch slices
12 ounces penne pasta
1 tablespoon salt (for the pasta water)
½ teaspoon cinnamon, plus more for dusting
¾ cup crumbled feta cheese
¼ cup pine nuts, toasted

Directions
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Melt 1 tablespoon butter in a small, microwave safe dish. Spread the pear slices out onto a sheet pan, drizzle with the melted butter, and toss gently to coat. Roast the pears for 15-20 minutes or until just tender. While the pears are roasting, fill a large pot with 4 quarts of water plus 1 tablespoon of salt. Cover and place over high heat to boil.

To toast the pine nuts, place them into a small sauté pan over medium-low heat and stir frequently until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Set aside until ready to use.

When the pasta water boils, cook the penne according to the package instructions. Drain the pasta and return to the dry pot. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons butter, cinnamon, feta, and pine nuts. Stir together to melt the butter and combine the ingredients. Lastly, gently stir in the still-warm roasted pears. Transfer the pasta to a platter or bowl and sprinkle with a few pinches of cinnamon to garnish.

prep time: 30 minutes
yield: 4 servings

Pear, Sausage, and Fontina Calzones

calzones smSQ

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

Pear Breakfast Popovers

Pear Breakfast Popovers SQsm

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

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