Dark Chocolate Dipped Pears

Valentine pears dipped in chocolate and topped with fun toppingsMove over strawberries—chocolate dipped pears are a fresh twist on this decadent Valentine’s Day treat. Rich dark chocolate pairs perfectly with Red Anjou pears, which just so happen to be heart-check certified by the American Heart Association. (Happy National Heart Month!) Decorate your dipped pears with a variety of creative options for sprinkling, like nuts, coconut flakes, and even vivid red chile powder for a kick. With this thoughtful homemade gift, your Valentine will definitely be yours!

Makes 32

2 USA Red Anjou pears (about 1 pound)
1 teaspoon Fruit-Fresh® Produce Protector
8 ounces dark chocolate (60 to 70% cacao), chopped

Options for Sprinkling:
Finely chopped pistachios or other nuts
Flaky sea salt
Shredded coconut
Chile powder
Curry powder
Sesame seeds
Chopped colorful dried fruit, such as apricots, cranberries, or goji berries

Fill a medium saucepan with about 1 inch of water and bring it to a simmer over medium-high heat. Line a baking sheet with wax paper.

Halve, core, and stem the pears and cut each one into 16 wedges. Sprinkle with the Fruit-Fresh and toss the pears gently to coat evenly. (This will prevent the cut pears from browning for several hours.) Arrange the pears on the prepared baking sheet and place it next to the stove.

Place the chocolate in a medium stainless-steel bowl and set the bowl over the pan of simmering water. (Make sure the water doesn’t touch the bottom of the bowl.) Once the chocolate begins to melt, stir until melted and smooth, about 3 minutes. Remove the chocolate from the heat.

Immediately begin dipping the wide ends of the pears in the chocolate, coating about half the length. Allow the excess chocolate to drip back into the bowl and place the dipped pears on the wax paper. Working quickly before the chocolate dries, sprinkle with your choice of the optional garnishes. Refrigerate, uncovered to allow the chocolate to set, about 1 hour.

Once set, cover loosely with plastic wrap and keep the pears in the refrigerator until served. Enjoy them within the day.

Chocolate Pears 3

Love Your Heart!

heart-shaped pear

For centuries, the heart was thought to be the center of all thought processes and, therefore, responsible for emotions – particularly love. If you’ve ever been in love and felt your heart pound at the mere sight of your sweetheart, this makes sense! Although we now know that the heart does not control emotion, you should still love your heart. The heart is the epicenter of the body’s transportation system; through muscular contraction and relaxation it pumps blood through every single tissue to nourish and remove waste products. When the heart or blood vessels are damaged, such as from stress, inactivity, or a poor diet, there is an increased risk for hypertension, heart attack, stroke, and more. Researchers, again and again, suggest a diet high in plant foods – whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, and plant oils, particularly olive oil or canola oil – may reduce risk for coronary artery disease and stroke. [1]

This Valentine’s Day, do something good for your heart! Aside from the benefits of phytonutrients, heart-healthy antioxidants in plant foods, pears are also an excellent source of fiber that may help reduce cholesterol levels and reduce risk for heart disease. [2,3] One of my favorite, easy treats is chocolate covered fruit – yes, dark chocolate also contains phytonutrients!

  1. Prepare your favorite chocolate by melting over a double boiler or heating slowly in a microwave. Stir often and keep an eye on it!
  2. Slice pears into eighths, dredge in a mixture of 1 part lemon juice to 3 parts water, and pat dry.
  3. Dip pear wedges halfway into chocolate, and place on wax or parchment paper to set.
  4. After approximately 10 minutes, you have a delicious treat.

Love your heart!

[1] American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/78/3/544S.full

[2] American Heart Association http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/GettingHealthy/NutritionCenter/HealthyEating/Seasonal-Produce—Spring-and-Summer_UCM_441181_Article.jsp

[3] American Heart Association http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/GettingHealthy/NutritionCenter/HealthyDietGoals/Whole-Grains-and-Fiber_UCM_303249_Article.jsp

A Pear of Hearts

fruits and veggies

Not only is today Valentine’s Day, but February is American Heart Month. Unfortunately, heart disease is the leading killer of both men and women, despite being preventable (CDC). Today, some of my culinary nutrition students presented current research on cardiovascular disease prevention with a focus on increasing antioxidants in the diet. Antioxidants, such as flavonoids and carotenoids, are naturally occurring nutrients in plant foods that prevent damage to the body’s cells; this damage, called oxidation, is a primary cause of most chronic illnesses, including heart disease.

To protect your heart and the hearts of those you love, the recipe for success is simple: Eat more fruits and vegetables! Brightly colored fruits and vegetables offer the strongest oxidation fighters, and also contain heart-healthy vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Want to make your valentine’s day and still indulge? Pair dark chocolate (flavonoids) and red wine (polyphenols) with sliced pears and strawberries for a sinful dose of antioxidants and love. Happy Valentine’s Day!

Will you be my Valentine?

February is American Heart Month. According to the American Heart Association, heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States; it’s no wonder Valentine’s month is devoted to the heart! The best way to love your heart is to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, exchange saturated fats for unsaturated fats, exercise, and manage weight and stress. From my personal experience in nutrition, most of us eat too many processed foods and not nearly enough plant foods packed with heart-healthy nutrients, fiber, and antioxidants. Certainly, we don’t have to cut out foods we love; we simply need to creatively come up with healthier, more natural alternatives.

Do something sweet for your heart this Valentine’s Day. Instead of an extravagant, high-calorie dinner, opt for a romantic dessert at home. Combine dark chocolate, rich in phytonutrients that may improve heart health called flavonoids, and fruit rich in heart disease fighting antioxidants. Give it a try! Melt 1.5 ounces of dark chocolate and drizzle over cut pears, walnuts, and strawberries for a decadent treat lower in calories than most restaurant desserts and higher in nutrients for a healthy heart.

Have a Heart-Healthy Valentine’s Day!

love1

I look forward to Valentine’s Day every year. It’s a day to celebrate love of family, friends, and chocolate! As a dietitian, I get many questions about the health benefits of chocolate. Is it true? Well, it is no coincidence that the American Heart Association chose February as American Heart Month. Well, maybe that’s because of Valentine’s Day, but the science is true. As part of an overall nutritious and physically active lifestyle, chocolate has a place!

chocolate-and-pearsSpecifically, cocoa contains agents protective against high blood pressure and other risk factors for heart disease. These benefits are from flavonoids, a type of antioxidant; antioxidants have been shown to protect cardiovascular tissue by neutralizing the damaging effects of free radicals. Like fruits and vegetables, cocoa is a plant food. However, how chocolate is manufactured tends to make it less than healthful. In other words, processing and added fat and other ingredients increase fat and calories while limiting cocoa’s antioxidant properties.

red-anjou-cupidHowever, a moderate portion of dark chocolate is a fairly healthy option, because dark chocolate contains more cocoa and fewer added ingredients. To get a heart-healthy benefit this Valentine’s Day, try dipping or drizzling melted chocolate over your favorite fruit! For instance, pears are full of nutrients, fiber, and water, and will help you fill up faster (and limit going overboard on sweet treats!). Either creamy or crisp pears are delicious paired with dark chocolate. Try this easy and tantalizing recipe: Halve and core pears, grill until tender, and then drizzle with melted dark chocolate. Not only will you and your sweetie find this dessert delicious, but it’s also nutritious!