Grilled Stuffed Pears

Pears grilled and stuffed with quinoa and cheeseWhen it comes to summer grilling, pears are often overlooked. But the fact is their hardy texture is ideal for standing up to the intensity of the grill, and as they cook, their delicious flavor is enhanced by the smoky flames. Grilled pears can be prepared in both sweet and savory ways: think grilled pear halves topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream for dessert, or sliced grilled pears tossed in a summery salad. Here they are cooked on the grill until just tender and juicy, with a quinoa salad stuffing that evokes flavors of the Mediterranean. Extra-virgin olive oil, Spanish-style chorizo, and fresh mint add a bold, summertime flare, while white balsamic vinegar adds a sweet, fruity tang to complement the flavors found in the grilled pears. Serve these at your next backyard barbecue, for an outside-the-box appetizer or entrée.

Serves 4 as a main course, or 8 as an appetizer

4 USA Anjou pears
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2/3 cup quinoa, rinsed and drained
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
2 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar (sometimes labeled “golden” balsamic vinegar)
1/3 cup chopped dry-cured Spanish chorizo
1/4 cup sliced or coarsely chopped almonds, toasted
1/4 cup thinly sliced scallions
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
1/2 cup crumbled feta
8 cups baby arugula

Put the quinoa in a small saucepan and add 1 1/4 cups water and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Bring it to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to maintain a gentle simmer, cover, and cook until the water is absorbed, about 15 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and set aside, still covered, for 5 minutes. Uncover and fluff the quinoa with a fork. Drizzle in the olive oil and vinegar, and sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Toss the hot quinoa to coat evenly, then spread it out on a platter to cool to room temperature. Once cooled, add the chorizo, almonds, scallions, and mint and gently toss to incorporate. Taste and adjust the seasoning.

Prepare a hot fire in a gas or charcoal grill, or preheat a stovetop grill pan until smoking hot. Grease the grill grates with oil.

Meanwhile, cut the pears in half. Using a round metal spoon, such as a tablespoon-sized measuring spoon or a melon baller, remove the core plus a little extra flesh. Rub the pears on all sides with a light coating of olive oil and sprinkle them with salt.

Grill the pears on the cut sides until deep grill marks appear, 3 to 5 minutes. Turn the pears over and fill them with the quinoa stuffing, piling it on in a big heap in the center of each one. Sprinkle the tops with the feta. Close the grill lid and continue grilling until the pears are tender when pierced with a fork and the feta topping is lightly browned, 10 to 15 minutes, depending on the ripeness of the pears. If they seem to be cooking too quickly on the bottom before they become tender within, simply move them to a cooler part of the grill and continue grill roasting, with the lid closed, until they are cooked through.

Serve the hot grilled pears over the arugula, finished with a drizzle of olive oil over the pears and greens.

Be empowered to shift your perspective around food and your body!

woman cooking in the kitchenAs the summer months quickly approach, the buzz around diets and weight loss become more and more prevalent. This summer, try shifting your focus from deprivation and that elusive “bikini body,” which you already possess, and take the opportunity to slow down. It’s so easy to get caught up in the “shoulds” and “wants” that you may forget to glorify the little things that make your life rich on a day-to-day basis. Be empowered to shift your perspective around food and your body! When you breathe, slow down and harness food gratitude, you’ll be pleased to learn that eating can be an extraordinarily joyful experience.

Eating requires that you engage all your senses, which cause your brain to release feel-good chemicals, elevating your mood and evoking feelings of trust, enjoyment and relaxation. Let’s try it!

Take in and embrace what you see. From vibrantly colorful produce stacked at the market to a beautifully plated meal, our eyes act as a gateway to appreciating the food we eat. This is a great time to consider where your food came from and how it was grown, and if you’re eating a meal, you can reflect on the work that went into preparing it.

Try this: Hold a pear or two in your hands. Note the differences that are present between one pear and another from shape and texture to size and color variations. Currently in season are the Red Anjou and Green Anjou, which have been taking a nice long rest in cold storage since late last fall (they don’t ripen on the tree) and are now ripening perfectly!

Savor each bite. We often choose our foods based on the way they taste and the flavors we enjoy, but we rarely take the time to truly savor each bite. Chew mindfully and pay attention to the experience and the way the flavor and texture of your food changes. By savoring each bite, you can enjoy less quantities of food – and still feel satisfied.

Try this: Take a bite of a ripe pear. Note the texture, level of sweetness and juiciness this particular pear possesses. There are ten varieties of USA Pears, each with its own distinctive features – from taste to texture to color – so have fun to trying the different qualities that each variety embodies.

Inhale. Scent evokes memories and emotions, which you can use to enhance the enjoyment of a meal. How a food smells is directly related to your perception of how that food tastes.

Try this: Cut into a juicy pear and take a moment to embrace the sweet aroma. Does this evoke any emotions or excitement? Take note of your thoughts.

You may give this a go once in a while or incorporate a few of these tips on a daily basis, but either way, the act of engaging yourself in all that your food is offering will allow you to celebrate your plate in a way that takes the emphasis off dieting and deprivation. Happy Summer!

Pear “Toasts”

Pears sliced lengthwise topped with delicious toppingsYou’ve probably noticed how trendy the idea of toast has become, with food magazines, cooking shows, and restaurant chefs across the country coming up with enticing toppings for a humble slice of bread. There are even entire cafes dedicated to the concept. But what happens when you have the wacky idea to exchange a slice of pear for the bread? Magic!

Here are four delicious ideas for topping pear “toasts” at home. Consider this a jumping off point for coming up with your own creative combinations, using whatever variety of pear you have ripening on the counter, and any tasty toppings sitting in your fridge or pantry. The options are practically endless, since pears taste amazing with both sweet and savory flavors. These quick creations are a yummy snack for kids and adults alike, whether the craving strikes after school or at the office. But really they are great anytime of the day, from breakfast on the go to a midnight snack.

The first step is to slice a ripe USA pear lengthwise, cutting on either side of the core to create 1/4-inch thick planks. Next, get topping!

Toast 1:
USA Green Anjou Pear
Almond Nut Butter
Banana Slices
Honey Drizzle
Cinnamon Sprinkle
Poppy Seeds

Toast 2:
USA Bosc Pear
Roasted Red Pepper Hummus
Cucumber Slices
Crumbled Feta
Chopped Kalamata Olives
Dill Sprigs

Toast 3:
USA Bosc Pear
Gorgonzola Dolce Cheese
Salami Slices
Chopped Hazelnuts
Chopped Parsley

Toast 4:
USA Red Anjou
Vanilla Greek Yogurt
Chopped Dried Apricots
Mint Leaves
Black Sesame Seeds

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

Smoky Red Pear and Grilled Corn Salsa

USA Pears are back in season, and this unique late summer salsa is the perfect way to show them off! Adding a few pinches of cumin lends the salsa a gentle smokiness which balances the honey-sweetness of the pears. Serve this salsa with your favorite tortilla chips or use it to generously top grilled chicken or pork.

red pear salsa
Ingredients
2 ears of corn, shucked
1 tsp. neutral flavored oil, such as grapeseed
½ a medium sweet onion, small dice
1 jalapeno, seeded and finely minced
2 firm ripe red USA pears, such as Starkrimson or Red Bartlett
1 lime (for zest and juice)
¼ tsp. ground cumin
¼ tsp. sea salt
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh cilantro

Directions
Preheat your grill to medium. Drizzle the oil over the corn and rub to coat with the oil. Once the grill is hot, cook the corn for about 15 minutes, turning occasionally, until hot and blistered in spots. Set the corn aside until cool enough to handle. Once cooled, cut the kernels from the cobs using a sharp knife. In a medium bowl, combine the corn, sweet onion, jalapeno, and pears. Zest half of the lime and add it to the salsa, then halve the lime and squeeze the juice over the ingredients. Add the cumin, salt, and cilantro, and gently toss to coat. Transfer the salsa to a bowl and serve.

Prep time: 35 minutes
Yield: 3 cups salsa

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

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

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