Pear Sweetened Spiced Molasses Cookies

pear-cookies-crop-1These delightful fall cookies are reminiscent of a classic soft molasses cookie, but are made with less than half of the sugar in a typical recipe. Pear puree stands in for much of the sugar, adding a wonderfully unique pear flavor to the cookies, along with fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Bake off a batch of these tender cookies and store the extras in the refrigerator for packing into lunches or for after school snacks.

Ingredients:
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
¼ cup packed light brown sugar
1 egg
1 cup pear puree (from about 2 ripe USA Pears, such as Red or Green Bartlett, diced and
pureed in a blender until smooth)
¼ cup molasses
2 ¼ cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon cloves
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
granulated sugar, for rolling

Directions:
In a large bowl, combine melted butter and brown sugar and whisk to combine. Add egg, one cup of the pear puree, and molasses and whisk again until smooth. In a second bowl, combine the flour, spices, baking powder, and salt, and stir to mix. Add the dry ingredients to the wet and stir until the mixture comes together to form a soft dough. Refrigerate the dough until firm, at least one hour.

When you are ready to bake the cookies, preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Prepare a small bowl of granulated sugar for rolling the cookies. Roll the chilled dough into 1 ½ inch balls and roll in the granulated sugar, placing the cookies onto greased baking sheets as you go. Lastly, flatten the cookies slightly with the bottom of a drinking glass that has been dipped in the remaining sugar to prevent sticking. Bake the cookies for 11-13 minutes, rotating once during cooking. Allow to cool before removing from pans.

Stuffed Avocado with Bay Shrimp, Pear, and Mango

This stuffed avocado recipe is both simple and elegant. Begin with sweet and salty bay shrimp, and add crunchy pears and tropical, ripe mango to provide great texture and flavor. Bright, fresh lime juice plays perfectly with the creamy, rich avocado, and a pop of fresh mint will bring it all together. Serve this salad for lunch on a warm day, or alongside some grilled meat at your next barbecue.

Stuffed AvocadoIngredients
8 oz. bay shrimp
¼ a red onion, finely minced
1 firm ripe USA Pear, small dice
1 ripe mango, peeled and diced small
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice
2 teaspoons neutral oil, such as grapeseed
¼ teaspoon sea salt
1 small handful fresh mint leaves, torn
2 ripe avocados, halved and pitted

Directions
In a medium bowl, combine the shrimp, onion, pear, mango, and lime juice and gently stir to combine. Add the oil and salt, and toss to coat. Gently mix in the torn mint at the last moment. Divide the mixture between the four avocado halves, filling the cavity and allowing the extra shrimp salad to overflow onto the plate. Serve immediately.

Prep time: 20 minutes
Yield: 4 servings

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

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

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

Three Different Dips for Fresh Pears

peardIpsHere is a fun and simple way to serve fresh USA Pears as a snack or appetizer. I’ve taken already fiber-rich pears and added ingredients containing protein, calcium, and antioxidants. Whip up these three dips and store them in the refrigerator for up to three days. Simply pull them out to soften slightly before the kids get home from school or while waiting for guests to arrive. All that’s left to do is slice up a few of your favorite USA Pears for dipping!

Three Different Dips for Fresh Pears

Ingredients
¼ cup of your favorite nut butter
2 tablespoons dried cherries, finely chopped
4 oz. low-fat cream cheese, softened
⅛ – ¼ tsp. almond extract
3 tablespoons sliced almonds, toasted and chopped
1 (6 ounce) container plain or vanilla flavored Greek yogurt
8 – 10 fresh raspberries
cinnamon, for sprinkling
2 firm ripe USA Pears, such as Red or Green Anjou

Directions
Arrange three small bowls at your workstation. Into the first, add the nut butter and stir until smooth and blended. Top the nut butter with the chopped dried cherries. Into the second bowl, add the cream cheese and almond extract, and stir to combine. Sprinkle the cream cheese mixture with the toasted almonds. Into the third bowl, add the yogurt and raspberries, and stir well until the berries begin to break up and color the yogurt pink. Sprinkle the yogurt mixture with cinnamon. Lastly, cut the pears into wedges and serve alongside the three delicious dips.

Prep time 20 minutes
Yield: 6 snack-sized servings

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

Love Your Heart!

HERO red pear with heart check logoThis Valentine’s Day, love your heart! Have you heard of phenols, flavonoids, and antioxidants? Phenols and flavonoids are families of phytonutrients, nonessential nutrients found in plant foods that provide color, flavor, and health benefits, particularly as antioxidants. In the body, antioxidants inhibit molecules that cause damage to body cells. Because of these antioxidants and other nutrients, increased fruit and vegetable consumption has been linked to decreased risk for many chronic illnesses, including heart disease, cancer, and neurodegenerative diseases. Does this mean pears are good for your heart?

Well, a systematic review of pears and health published in the November/December 2015 issue of Nutrition Today supports what I’ve been saying all along. To be specific, pears contain many nutrients, including fiber, vitamin C (an antioxidant!), potassium, and phytonutrients that act as antioxidants – in particular, pears provide between 27 and 41mg of phenolic compounds per 100 grams (1 small pear). Many antioxidants are found in pears, and those with high phenolic and flavonoid contents – such as the anthocyanin in the skin of red pears – had significantly higher antioxidant and anti-inflammatory abilities. Does this mean that pears may fight heart disease? It’s possible. One study by Mink et al included in the review found that dietary intake of foods rich in flavonoids, particularly pears and apples, was associated with a reduced risk of death due to cardiovascular disease.

Did you know that the Anjou and Red Anjou pear was recently certified as a Heart-Healthy Food by the American Heart Association? So this Valentine’s Day when you and your loved ones are surrounded by love and candy hearts, do something good for your actual heart and eat a pear!