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.

#PearUp with a Pal for Lasting Results!

Red Pear SuccessNow that 2017 is fully underway, you may be feeling less motivated to maintain your New Year’s resolution. You’re not alone: By two weeks into January, approximately 1/3 of us have failed to maintain our resolutions. So maybe it’s time to #pearup with a friend or group!

Studies suggest that people who participate alongside a partner or group, whether for weight loss or physical activity, tend to stick with the program longer (1, 2). Weight management programs that incorporate meetings or phone calls tend to have greater success partly due to encouragement and accountability (3). Newer research even suggests that online weight loss communities via various social media platforms are associated with greater weight loss (4, 5). From my personal experience, friends make the journey fun and we feel less alone. Friends and I sometimes get together to prep recipes for the week, incorporating lots of fruit, veggies, and fun into what can be an otherwise dull task!

Likewise, partner or group exercise tends to be more effective than going solo. This is partly due to the Köhler effect, which is when weaker members are motivated to keep up with more capable members of a group (6, 7). Additionally, if the group relies on everybody completing the task at hand, the weakest members tend to step up their performances, such as finishing a group jog (8). This seems to happen because we try to match our partner’s performance (9, 10), and virtual workout partners may have similar effects – noteworthy for those just starting out or who have anxiety around group fitness or gyms (11). Personally, I’m a fan of group exercise because meeting a friend makes me show up, we cheer each other on, and it feels less like work and more like fun. I’ve made some of my closest friends this way!

Whether you’re off and running with your resolution or still trying to get off the couch, think about enlisting a friend. Chances are, your friends need motivation and want to #pearup, too!

  1. Wing RR, Tate DF, Gorin AA, Raynor HA, Fava JL. Self-regulation program for maintenance of weight loss. N Engl J Med. 2006;355:1563-71.
  2. Dishman RK, Buckworth J. Increasing physical activity: A quantitative synthesis. Med Sci Sports Exerc. Jun 1996;28:706–19.
  3. Kulik NL, Fisher EB, Ward DS, Ennett ST, Bowling JM, Tate DF. Peer support enhanced social support in adolescent females during weight loss. Am J Health Behav. 2014;38:789-800.
  4. Pappas GL, Cunha TO, Bicalho PV, Ribeiro A, Couto Silva AP, Meira W Jr, Beleigoli AM. Factors associated with weight change in online weight management communities: A case study in the LoseIt Reddit community. J Med Internet Res. 2017;19:e17.
  5. Turner-McGrievy GM, Tate DF. Weight loss social support in 140 characters or less: Use of an online social network in a remotely delivered weight loss intervention. Transl Behav Med. 2013;3:287-94.
  6. Kerr NL, Hertel G. The Köhler group motivation gain: How to motivate the “weak links” in a group. Soc Pers Psychol Comp. January 2010;5:43–55.
  7. Weber B, Hertel G. Motivation gains of inferior group members: A meta-analytical review. J Pers Soc Psychol. 2007;93:973–93.
  8. Steiner ID. Group process and productivity. New York: Academic Press; 1972.
  9. Stroebe W, Diehl M, Abakoumkin G. Social compensation and the Köhler effect: Toward a theoretical explanation of motivation gains in group productivity. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum; 1996. Witte E, Davis J, eds. Understanding group behavior: Consensual action by small groups; No. 2.
  10. Kerr NL, Messé LA, Seok DH, Sambolec EJ, Lount Jr. RB, Park ES. Psychological mechanisms underlying the Köhler motivation gain. Pers Soc Psychol B. 2007;33(6):828–41.
  11. Feltz DL, Forlenz ST, Winn B, Kerr NL. Cyber buddy is better than no buddy: A test of the Köhler motivation effect in exergames. Games Health J. 2014;3:98-105.

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

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

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!