The Two Diet Changes to Make in 2016

When it comes to personal meal goals, it’s important to focus on making changes that will make an impact, but aren’t unrealistic or overwhelming. So, we’ve put together our top two big-impact changes. These are changes that studies have shown will help you stay at a healthy weight, prevent disease and have more energy!

1. Keep track of the colors on your plate: Mind your fruits and veggies and aim to get 1 1/2 – 2 cups of fruit and at least 2 1/2 – 3 cups of veggies each day. For more information about exactly how much you should be eating based on your age and activity level, check out ChooseMyPlate.gov. Research shows that getting enough colorful produce can help keep weight off and ward off nasty diseases like cancer and heart disease. This is why the new 2015 – 2020 US Dietary Guidelines for Americans continues to recommend eating a variety of fruits (specifically whole fruits) as one of the keys to a healthy diet.

One way to help you meet your goals is to set a general guide for when you will have your fruits and veggies each day. For instance, many people find that having 1 cup of fruit at breakfast and 1/2 cup with a snack or after dinner works well. 1 cup of fruit is equivalent to one medium whole piece of fruit, such as a medium pear, or 1 cup of pear slices. For a fast snack on-the-go, we love to pair (pun intended!) a pear with 2 tablespoons of sliced almonds (or 14 whole almonds).

As for veggies, a great way to divide the servings up is to eat at least 1/2 cup with breakfast or a snack, 1 cup with lunch and 1 1/2 cups with dinner. In the winter, it’s great to include veggie based soups with lunches and dinners to make it extra easy to get your servings in. And don’t forget salsa and tomato sauce, which also count as veggies. Click here for a downloadable pdf that makes tracking colors each day a fun challenge for kids and adults alike.

Inspired? Try this crunchy and delicious Watercress Pear Slaw. Watercress Pear Slaw

2. Make the switch to unrefined carbohydrates: Many fad diets make carbs out to be the enemy – but not all carbs are bad! Refined sources of carbohydrates, such as those made from white flour (white bread products)), white rice, and those with added sugars (cookies, cakes, soda, sweetened cereals, etc.) are quickly digested and don’t offer much staying power. Plus, they can contribute to weight gain and elevated triglycerides. Think of these carbs as treats–– you can still have in small amounts, but not as the main part of a meal.

Less refined carbs, which include whole grains (rolled or steel-cut oats, bulgur wheat, wheat berries, 100% whole grain pasta), whole fruits (like pears!), starchy vegetables (winter squash, peas, and corn), and beans and legumes (black beans, lentils, etc.), contain more nutrients, particularly fiber and protein. These carbs keep you feeling satisfied and your blood sugar and energy level at a more even keel.

Inspired? Try starting the day with this refreshing and satisfying Pear Oatmeal and Blueberry Smoothie!pear-oatmeal-blueberry-breakfast-smoothie-sm

If you make these two changes you will notice a huge difference in the way that you feel within days! Have a healthy and happy new year!

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

Six Simple Habits for the New Year

Woman Texting In Kitchen

A new year brings many things, a fresh start, a year of possibilities, and broken resolutions… We often set lofty goals and envision working out every day looking cute in our gym outfits, not the sweaty messes we really are. Visions are easy, reality is usually harder. Picking a healthy habit to work toward, rather than a resolution, might be simpler and more realistic. Give it a shot!

1. Make a plan. Whether you want to exercise more or lose fifty pounds, have a plan in place. Make it simple, such as walking 20 minutes twice a week or prepping meals on Sundays. Simple is easier to stick to and gives your schedule more flexibility.

2. Add a fruit or veggie. It’s not news that Americans don’t eat enough fruits and veggies. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that about 13% of Americans eat the recommended 1.5-2 cups of fruit and 9% eat the recommended 2-3 cups of vegetables. Keep it simple: pick up a pear or some baby carrots to munch between meals.

3. Move more. A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggested inactivity may impact health more than obesity! But you don’t have to run a marathon, or run at all, to be active. If you don’t currently exercise, work steps into your day or walk 30 minutes each week. If you’re already active, add one more workout each week. Small steps lead to big changes.

4. Don’t like exercise? Grab a buddy! Working out with someone may increase motivation; it may even improve intensity or performance. I have a gym buddy: We motivate each other to exercise and have much more fun doing it. For someone who used to be obese and hated exercise, I actually look forward to our work outs now!

5. Dust off your knives and cook a little. You don’t have to win Chopped to get a little creative in the kitchen. Plus, cooking with friends or family may improve dietary quality and enjoyment of meals. And if you’re preparing food at home you’re less likely to grab take out, right?

6. Finally, get back up again. Everyone has fallen short of goals or fallen off the wagon – sometimes many times. Life isn’t suddenly better when you reach the top, so stop beating yourself up. Get back up, brush yourself off, and jump back on that wagon. Happy New Year!

Black Rice Salad with Cherries, Pears, and Gouda

Black Rice Salad with Pears sm

This simple and hearty salad is full of fresh fruit and contains fiber. Its lightly sweet flavor comes from the ripe pears, cherries, and just a touch of fresh-squeezed orange juice in the dressing. It also features wonderful savory notes courtesy of the rice, gouda cheese, and walnuts. Put them all together and the result is a beautiful salad full of unique flavors, colors, and textures.

Try this salad for dinner on a hot summer day. Cook the rice and roast the onions in the morning and you’ll only need 10 minutes to complete this dish in the evening. Serve the salad alongside something simple from the grill, or as a vegetarian meal in and of itself.

Ingredients
Salad
1 small sweet onion, large dice
1 tablespoon canola oil
4 cups cooked and cooled black rice (or use any type of rice you like)
20 black cherries, halved and pitted
3 ounces gouda cheese, cut into small cubes
⅓ cup walnut pieces
2 ripe USA Pears, such as Bartlett or Anjou, medium dice

Dressing
¼ cup fresh-squeezed orange juice (from about one orange)
2 tablespoons whole grain mustard
2 tablespoons canola oil
½ teaspoon salt

Directions
Note: You will need to prepare and cool the rice before starting this recipe.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Place the diced onion in a small baking dish and toss with the tablespoon of canola oil. Roast the onion for 25-30 minutes, stirring once during cooking. Remove and allow to cool. In the meantime, prepare the dressing by combining the ingredients in a small jar and shaking vigorously. Set aside until ready to use. In a large bowl, combine the cooked and cooled rice, roasted onion, halved cherries, gouda, walnuts, and pear slices. Shake the dressing again to combine and pour over the rice mixture. Gently toss the ingredients together. Serve the salad at room temperature or return to the refrigerator to store and serve cold.

prep time: 40 minutes
yield: 4 – 6 servings

Creamy Spring Pea Salad with Pears

Creamy Spring Pea and Pear Salad

Here is a quick and fresh salad recipe to welcome spring. Based loosely on the classic pea, bacon, and mayonnaise salad famously served at every Midwestern potluck, my version uses fresh sugar snap peas, bold radicchio, smoky bacon, and sweet, ripe USA Pears for balance. Toss the fruit and vegetables in a simple, creamy dressing and chill until crisp. Serve this salad on the first day you fire up your barbecue—it will pair perfectly with anything from the grill.

Ingredients
Dressing
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice (from half a lemon)
2 teaspoons sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons finely minced shallot
¼ cup sour cream
¼ cup mayonnaise
Salad
6 slices thick-cut bacon, cooked, cooled, and chopped
1 head radicchio, quartered, cored, and thinly sliced
1 pint fresh sugar snap peas, strings removed and sliced on the bias
2 ripe USA Pears, such as Green or Red Anjou, medium dice

Directions
For the dressing: Combine the lemon juice, sugar, and salt in a jar with a tight-fitting lid and shake vigorously to dissolve sugar. Add the shallots, sour cream, and mayonnaise and shake again to combine. Refrigerate until ready to use.

For the salad: In a large bowl, combine all of the ingredients (you may reserve a small portion of the bacon for garnish). Toss thoroughly with the dressing, cover, and refrigerate for one hour (or up to 24 hours). When you’re ready to serve the salad, remove from the refrigerator, toss again gently, and transfer to a clean platter or bowl. Garnish with the remaining bacon, if desired.

prep time: 30 minutes plus chilling
yield: 4 servings

Shaved Ham and Pear Sandwich with Brie Cheese

Ham and Pear Sandwich with Brie smSQ

After a long winter of baking, soup-making, and braising, picnic season has finally arrived! We headed out to the gorgeous Hood River Valley last weekend to enjoy the nice spring weather and I created this delightful ham, pear, and brie sandwich to take along and celebrate the occasion.

Based on the traditional French sandwich of shaved ham, butter, and soft cheese, my version has added firm-ripe pear slices and a thin layer of honey mustard for texture and sweetness. Wrap the sandwiches in butcher or parchment paper and take them packing or slice them into smaller lengths to serve as an appetizer at your next gathering.

We enjoyed these sandwiches on the sunny patio of a winery in Lyle, Washington overlooking the Columbia River. The next morning, we drove from Hood River to Portland via Highway 35, where we saw thousands of pear trees in blossom. A perfect spring weekend!

Ingredients
Your favorite crusty baguette
1 tablespoon salted butter at room temperature
2 tablespoons honey mustard
½ pound of good quality ham, shaved
2 firm-ripe USA Pears, such as Anjou, thinly sliced
½ pound Brie cheese (or any double cream, soft cheese), cut into ¼ inch slices

Directions
Cut the baguette horizontally with a serrated knife into a top and bottom piece. Hollow out most of the soft center from the top of the baguette to make room for the filling. Spread the butter into a very thin layer on the bottom slice of the baguette and top with the honey mustard. Pile the shaved ham loosely on top of the mustard in an even layer. Next, top the ham with the pear slices, allowing them to overlap all the way down the length of the baguette. Lastly, place the cheese slices all along the top of the baguette to fill the hollow you have created, pressing down gently so that they will stay in place. Carefully place the top of the baguette onto the bottom, and slice the sandwich into four or more sections with your serrated knife. Enjoy immediately or wrap in paper and take the sandwiches on the road.

prep time: 15 minutes
yield: 4 or more servings

Spring Means Fresh and Green!

Pear and Spinach Salad

Green is the color of spring, when the world comes out of hibernation and bursts into vibrant shades, aromas, and flavors! Many of us, myself included, get into a winter rut: After months of hiding indoors and surviving on comfort foods, I’m ready for a fresh start. How about you? Why not use the inspiration of the season and think green?

Have you heard that you should eat your greens? It’s absolutely true! Green fruits and vegetables contain phytonutrients, fiber, water, vitamins, and minerals to help you live and feel your best, and the more variety you eat, the more benefits you get. Try tossing some fresh green Anjou pears into your morning smoothie. Or perhaps try fresh spinach on a sandwich? One of my favorite go-to salads is to toss together diced green Anjou pears, arugula, a splash of fresh lemon juice and olive oil, grated parmesan, and top with grilled chicken for a zesty, delicious, fresh meal. However you slice it, going green is good for you!

Chicken Salad with Pears, Bacon, and Avocado

chicken salad final

Spring is here, and I’m so relieved! By the end of winter I always feel utterly empty when it comes to cooking ideas, but show me a few blooming flowers and some 60-degree temperatures and new thoughts come flooding in.

I’m so grateful that we can get pears nearly year-round, and USA-grown Anjou pears are not only easy to find, they have a super juicy and bright flavor that is perfect for spring recipes. My new recipe is inspired by spring and is full of beautiful shades of green – sweet Anjou pears, crisp endive leaves, creamy, ripe avocado, and crunchy chopped pistachios.

This recipe will serve you well for many spring occasions. It would be a perfect addition to an Easter or Mother’s Day brunch, or make a lovely appetizer for a baby or bridal shower. Use store-bought rotisserie chicken and this lovely recipe will come together in under 30 minutes.

Ingredients
2 heads Belgian endive
4 pieces thick-cut bacon, cooked crispy and chopped
1 ½ cups cooked chicken breast, diced
2 firm ripe Anjou USA Pears, diced
1 ripe avocado, diced
¼ cup shelled pistachios, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon mayonnaise
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
½ teaspoon salt

Directions
Trim the bases from the endive and separate the leaves. Set aside until ready to use. Combine the remaining ingredients in a large bowl, setting aside 1 tablespoon each of the bacon and pistachios for garnish if desired. Gently toss the ingredients together until just combined. Spoon the mixture into the individual endive leaves and arrange on a large platter, leaning the leaves up against one another to steady them. Lastly, sprinkle the remaining bacon and pistachios over the stuffed endive for garnish.

prep time: 30 minutes
yield: about 20 stuffed leaves

Get Fresh with USA Pears!

Here in Portland, the sun is finally starting to shine. I’m seeing signs of spring at my local grocer—fresh asparagus, strawberries, and salad greens—and in my yard. Tulips! Who knew?!

Thanks to advanced storage techniques, fresh pears are in season through the spring, too, and they’re a great complement to other fresh produce in salsas, salads, and shish kabobs.

Check out the following recipes for some fresh ins-pear-ation:

Crostini with Feta and Pear-Strawberry Salsa

Pear and Spinach Salad with Parmesan Vinaigrette

Spicy Fish Tacos with Pear Mango Salsa

Pear Kabobs with Strawberry Dipping Sauce

Chocolate, Colored Eggs, and…Pears!

Bunny ears. Jellybeans. Honey ham. Fruit. Ever since I can remember, Easter meals have always included the same family traditions, from “egg fights” to Mom’s homemade cinnamon rolls for breakfast. Egg fights aren’t as messy as they sound, by the way: you just bump your hard-boiled Easter egg against your sister’s or your dad’s, and if your egg comes out unscathed, you’re the winner! Then you choose another opponent and continue “fighting” until both ends of your egg are cracked, then you peel it and eat it. It’s a fun way to play with your food and eat it, too!

Now that I’m older, I still appreciate some of the chocolate and the familiar old eggs, but I also look forward to including fresh fruit in our meal. To me, Easter not only signifies new life and celebration, but a new season, and I’m going to start a new tradition by putting fresh flavors on the table. I’m planning to make these Pancetta Crisps with Pear to contribute to the family dinner on Sunday. I think a pear-strawberry crostini or mini cheesecakes with pears would be a great addition, too.

I’m looking forward celebrating traditions both new and old on Sunday. I’ll give my Dad the black jellybeans (gross), everyone will participate in a loud, boisterous egg fight, and the family will gobble down Mom’s cinnamon rolls—and my pear appetizers.