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!

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.

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!

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

Pear Compote with Earl Grey & Vanilla

compoteThis super simple compote is a beautiful and delicious way to preserve some of fall’s fading flavors. You’ll make a simple infusion which combines the unique flavor of Earl Grey tea with vanilla and orange, and then simply stir in sugar and fresh pears. Serve this compote over yogurt or ricotta for a delightful breakfast or snack, spoon it over vanilla ice cream, or try it atop crostinis spread with your favorite soft cheese.

Pear Compote with Earl Grey & Vanilla
Ingredients
1 cup boiling water
2 Earl Grey tea bags
1 orange
1 tablespoon vanilla paste
¾ cup sugar
3 firm ripe USA Pears, such as Comice or Red Anjou, small dice

Directions
Place the tea bags into the cup of boiling water and steep for 2 to 3 minutes to make a very strong tea. Remove the teabags and discard. Peel two long strips of zest from the orange using a vegetable peeler. Stack them on top of one another and slice them on a diagonal into very thin strips. Slice the orange in half and squeeze the juice into a medium saucepan. To the same saucepan add the tea, orange zest strips and vanilla paste, and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Continue to simmer the mixture, uncovered, for 5 – 7 minutes or until reduced by half. Once reduced, add the sugar and stir to dissolve. Return to a simmer and cook for 2 minutes (but no longer) to lightly caramelize the sugar. Stir in the diced pears, cover, and cook for another 5 – 7 minutes until the pears are just tender. Allow to cool for one hour and then transfer to a pint jar, being sure the pears are submerged in the syrup, and refrigerate (the compote will thicken considerably as it cools). Store in the refrigerator for up to one month.

Prep time: 20 minutes
Yield: 1 pint of compote

Chai-Spiced Baked Oatmeal with Poached Pears

oatmealIngredients
2 cups milk
2 chai tea bags
2 large eggs PLUS 2 egg yolks
⅓ cup packed brown sugar
1 cup heavy whipping cream
⅛ teaspoon salt
1 ¼ cups old-fashioned oats
1 firm ripe USA pear, such as Bosc or Anjou
For garnish
1 ripe USA pear, such as Concorde or Anjou
½ cup fresh berries, such as raspberries or blueberries

Directions
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Pour the milk into a medium saucepan and warm over medium heat until steaming. Add the teabags, cover, and steep for 5 minutes. In the meantime, combine the eggs and yolks in a small bowl and whisk thoroughly with a fork. Once the tea has infused the milk, remove and discard the teabags. Add the brown sugar to the hot milk and stir to dissolve. Next, add the cold whipping cream, followed by the beaten eggs and the salt, and whisk thoroughly to combine. Set the mixture aside.

Divide the oats evenly between six 6 – 8 ounce ramekins. Peel the firm pear and cut into ½ inch cubes (if your pear is still quite firm, try dicing into even smaller cubes so that it will become soft during baking). Divide the pear cubes between the ramekins. Lastly, pour the custard into the ramekins atop the oats and pear, filling all of the ramekins evenly. Place the ramekins in a baking pan and pour boiling water into the pan so that it comes halfway up the sides. Cover loosely with foil and carefully transfer to the preheated oven.

Bake for 20 minutes, and then check the custards for doneness. This is most easily achieved by pulling back the foil and very gently shaking the pan. If the centers are still jiggly, they need more cooking time. Continue to check every 5 minutes until the centers are just set. Once set, carefully remove the pan from the oven and then remove from the hot water bath individually using tongs or a kitchen towel. Serve the baked oatmeal hot or warm with slices of fresh, ripe pears and a few of your favorite berries.

prep time: 20 minutes
cook time: 30 minutes
yield: 6 servings

Pear, Carrot, and Coconut Muffins

Pear, Carrot, and Coconut Muffins SM

Here is a fun fall take on the classic morning glory muffin, a popular recipe published in Gourmet Magazine back in the 1980s. These muffins are chock-full of fruit, vegetables, and nuts, making them hearty and filling, but they retain a soft, light texture, as any great muffin should. They will keep very well in the refrigerator and reheat wonderfully thanks to their high moisture content. If you prefer your muffins warm from the oven, you can even mix up a batch and bake off just a few at a time, saving the remaining batter for up to 5 days in the refrigerator.

Ingredients
2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 cup lightly packed brown sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
⅛ teaspoon nutmeg
1 ½ teaspoons baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 ½ cups finely shredded carrot (about 2 medium carrots)
1 ½ cups finely diced pear (from about 2 ripe USA Pears, such as Bartlett)
⅔ cup unsweetened shredded coconut
½ cup walnuts, roughly chopped
¾ cup neutral-flavored oil, such as canola or safflower
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons demerara sugar, for sprinkling on top (optional)

Directions
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, soda, and salt, and whisk to combine. Add the carrot, pear, coconut, and walnuts to the flour mixture and stir gently to coat the fruit and vegetables. In a separate small bowl, whisk together the oil, eggs, and vanilla. Add the liquid mixture to the dry and stir gently until no dry pockets of flour remain. Line a muffin tin with papers and fill each cup ¾ full with the batter. Sprinkle each muffin with a little demerara sugar. Transfer to the preheated oven and bake the muffins for 25-30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean.

prep time: 15 minutes
yield: 12-16 muffins

Walnut Pesto Toast with Sliced Pears and Gorgonzola Cheese

daves-killer-bread-walnut-pesto3

This recipe, courtesy of Dave’s Killer Bread and Lauren Kelly Nutrition, will expand your toast horizons. Perfect for breakfast or an after-school snack, this simple pear toast is anything but boring.

Ingredients
Pesto
4 ounces extra virgin olive oil
3 garlic cloves
2 tablespoons walnuts
¼ cup parmesan cheese
¼ cup fresh basil leaves, torn
Sandwich
½ USA Pear, sliced
¼ cup crumbled gorgonzola cheese
Sliced walnuts for topping
4 slices of Dave’s Killer Bread

Instructions
Add ingredients to make the pesto to high speed blender or food processor in the order displayed. Blend until smooth. Toast bread until light brown. Spread pesto on toasts. Add sliced pears and top with cheese and walnuts. Serve immediately.

yield: 4 servings

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

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