Monday, September 22, 2014

All About Pears & A Recipe for Spicy Baked Pears with Walnuts

Last month, I headed to Portland to take a peek at the farms that grow one of my very favorite fruits, pears.

And as much as I wanted to pick a pear straight from the tree and take a hearty bite, it just wouldn’t have done the pear justice. It's because pears don’t actually ripen on the tree. They’re harvested when they’re mature, but when left at room temperature, they slowly ripen to the sweet, juicy fruit I love.

On this trip, I learned that the best way to see if a pear is ripe to “Check the Neck!” You simply apply gentle pressure to the neck of the pear (near the stem) with your thumb and if it’s slightly soft, it’s ripe! I love that.

Pears get tan lines, too! 

But keep in mind that a pear isn’t really just a pear (or a body shape!). Anjou, Bartlett, Bosc, Comice, Concorde, Forelle, Seckell—each has their own flavor, texture and strength in the kitchen.

I put together this little guide to help you navigate your way through the world of pears.

Pear Type
Helpful Tips
Culinary Uses
Dense flesh; remains green when ripe so check the neck for ripeness
Perfect addition to a warm bowl of oatmeal
Red Bartlett
Sweet and succulent when ripe
Adds a burst of color to entrees and salads
Turns from bright green to yellow as it ripens; creamy and sweet
Yummy in salads or desserts
Red Bartlett
Remains red as it ripens; creamy and sweet
Adds a nice hue to juices and smoothies if blended with their skins in-tact
Long, tapered necks; skin that is naturally a cinnamon brown color; honey-sweet flesh that holds its shape well when heated
Great for use in warm dishes or baked goods
Full, round shape with short neck and stem; usually green, sometimes with red-blush spots
Great for pairing with cheese
Tall, elongated neck; vanilla-sweet flavor
Delicious for snacking
A rare variety; naturally freckled skin
Great for pairing with wine (and cheese)
Small size and olive-green skin with a maroon blush; crunchy flesh and ultra-sweet flavor
Great for kid’s snacks or garnishing
A brilliant crimson red color, which brightens as it ripen
Gorgeous addition to any recipe for a pop of color

*Info adapted from USA Pears. For more information about the various pear varieties, click here.
in pear heaven!
And the variety doesn’t stop there. Pears can be enjoyed in savory and sweet recipes, cooked or raw, in salads, sandwiches, pastas, and desserts. 

enjoying my pears for lunch in a Curried Chicken Salad with Pears and Grapes

Pear Marionberry Pie for dessert

There’s also something to love about a biting into a pear – just the way it is – for an afternoon snack.

That’s where these little pear packs come in handy. They protect your precious pear from the harsh outside world and the risk of getting bruised and bumped.  When you use a pear pack, you’re guaranteed to have a flawless pear when snack time hits.

the prettiest view during lunch
It’ also hard to overlook the nutritional benefits of pears. This humble fruit is high in fiber (a whopping 6 grams per medium pear) and a good source of potassium and vitamin C. 

Since my trip to Portland, I’ve been inspired to experiment more with pears in my kitchen – adding sliced pears to my homemade wraps, poaching them in coconut milk, incorporating them in my whole grain salads, and baking them, as demonstrated in this super simple, no-fuss recipe below.

Spicy Baked Pears with Walnuts

Heat intensifies the sweetness of pears, while also softening the texture to result in a completely delectable, crowd-pleasing sweet course. Serve with a scoop of ice cream or creamy Greek yogurt! 
Spicy Baked Pears with Walnuts

3-4 pears, halved
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon nutmeg
1 tablespoon butter
½ cup walnuts, chopped
Drizzle of honey

Spicy Baked Pears with Walnuts

1.     Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
2.     Cut the pears in halve so as not to include the core and place in a medium-sized baking dish.
3.     Sprinkle the cinnamon and nutmeg over the pears, and place a small amount of butter over each pear half.
4.     Sprinkle the chopped walnuts in the baking dish.
5.     Drizzle everything with honey.
6.     Bake for 20-25 minutes.

Enjoy, preferably with those you love.

For another yummy pear recipe, check out our Almond Pancakes with Brown Butter Pears.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

{Recipe Redux} Oven-Dried Tomatoes

I’m having a hard time letting go of summer this year.  The tomatoes, eggplants and peppers at the Saturday Farmer’s Market beckon me away from the pumpkin, whispering I’ll have plenty of time this winter to savor the sweetness of squash but only a few fleeting weeks until tomato plants are bare.     

To preserve summer in my mind, I'm making oven-dried tomatoes to store in my freezer, before moving on to the winter squashes and root vegetables.  Make these with me on this last official weekend of summer before welcoming soups and stews and slow braises back to your kitchen. 

I make big batches with end-of-season tomatoes, buying up the (cheaper) not so pretty seconds to turn sweet and caramelized over long slow hours in the oven.  I simply place the dried tomatoes in small mason jars and cover them with olive oil, storing them in the freezer until I’m craving a summer tomato. 

Here is the method for making the oven-dried tomatoes.  The quantities are up to you.  I sometimes buy 20 pounds or more of tomatoes, rationing the little jars of oven-dried tomatoes in my freezer throughout the winter, trying to make them last until the asparagus start peeking out of the ground. 

Oven-Dried Tomatoes

Small tomatoes (Roma tomatoes work well)
Sea salt
Extra virgin olive oil

Preheat oven to 250 degrees. 

Line a baking sheet(s) with parchment paper.  Cut the tomatoes in half and place cut side up on the lined baking sheets.  Sprinkle with sea salt.

Place the baking sheets in the oven and bake for 6 – 8 hours, or until the tomatoes are shriveled and caramelized, but not completely dried out.  Remove from oven and let cool completely.

Once the tomatoes are completely cooled, layer them into small 4-ounce mason jars and cover them completely with olive oil.  You can store these in the refrigerator for three days, or place in them in the freezer for longer storage.  Just defrost the jars overnight in the refrigerator.

Use the oven-dried tomatoes for a frittata, pizza, pasta sauce, or salad.  Be sure not to waste the tomato oil left in the bottom of the jar.  It’s perfect for drizzling on grilled bread, brushing on pizza dough, cooking eggs or making a vinaigrette.  

Enjoy, preferably with someone you love and delicious memories of summer!  

See the links below for other creative and delicious ideas for drying fruits and vegetables, from our friends and colleagues at Recipe Redux!

Friday, September 19, 2014

How to Build the Perfect Smoothie

Breakfast seems to be the hardest meal of the day to squeeze into our busy lives.  It’s the question we get asked most:  I’m always rushed in the morning. What is a quick, healthy breakfast I can grab while I’m running out the door?

There are so easy many options!  Slow-cooker oatmeal, overnight oats, granola, healthy muffins, egg sandwiches… And smoothies.

Smoothies are easy to make, and easy to sip on the way to school or work.  There are an infinite number of smoothie combinations, which is great for satisfying taste buds but can also be confusing.  Here are some easy guidelines for building the perfect smoothie.

As with all breakfasts, you want your smoothie to have (1) protein (2) whole, intact carbohydrates with fiber (3) good-quality fats and (4) no added sugars.  You don’t want to turn your morning meal into dessert.  If your smoothie contains all those components, it will keep you full and satisfied until lunchtime.  Or at least snack-time.

Protein:           You don’t need to add protein powder to your smoothies.  There are many whole foods sources of protein that are perfect for smoothies.  If you eat dairy products, then milk, plain yogurt or cottage cheese are all good sources of protein and can provide a tasty base for your smoothie.  Other sources of protein are nuts or nut butters; seeds like hemp seeds, chia seeds or pumpkin seeds; whole oats; or tofu. 

Carbs:             Carbohydrates are like gas for an engine—they give us the fuel we need to work and play.  Without carbs in our morning meal, our brain doesn’t have energy to help us think, resulting in brain fog.  If you use milk or yogurt as your smoothie base, both of those are good sources of carbohydrates.  Fruits and dried fruit are also healthy source of energy, as well as good sources of fiber!  If you use a milk alternative as your smoothie base (almond, hemp, rice or coconut milk, for example), be sure to choose an unsweetened version.  Add sweetness to your smoothies from fruits.  Bananas and dates are both naturally sweet and add both sweetness and thickness to a smoothie.  Frozen bananas are our favorite trick to a thick and creamy smoothie!

Fiber:               Fiber keeps us full longer and keeps our blood sugars nice and even, so it’s an important component of our morning meal!  There are lots of ways to add fiber to our smoothies, including fruits, dry fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds.  Aim for at least 4 grams of fiber in your smoothie.  It’s pretty easy to do!  For example, a banana, a half of an avocado, and 2 pitted dates all have about three grams of fiber each.  Adding vegetables to smoothies is a great way to sneak extra nutrition into your day.  Vegetables like spinach, kale, cauliflower, carrots, pumpkin and beets can just disappear into a smoothie.  Great for picky kids, too!

Fats:                Fat is satiating—it makes us feel full and satisfied.  Plus, healthy sources of fats, like monounsaturated fats and omega-3 fatty acids help us better absorb all those nutrients in our smoothie.  Healthy sources of fat include avocados, nuts and nut butters, seeds, and oils.  For example, you can add a shot of flax seed oil or fish oil to your smoothie.  Seeds like hemp seeds, chia seeds and flax seed provide protein, fiber and a healthy dose of omega-3 fatty acids.  If you like your smoothies creamy and thick, add avocados.  Even if you don’t like avocados (although we can’t imagine that!), you’ll like it in your smoothie.

When you’re building your smoothie, just ask yourself?

What is my source of protein?
What is my source of carbohydrate?
What is my source of fiber?
What is my source of good fat?

If you can answer each of those questions, you’ve got the perfect morning smoothie for you or the kids!  To help you build the perfect smoothie, here is one of our new favorites, a Chocolate Raspberry Almond Smoothie.

Chocolate Raspberry Almond Smoothie

Serves one         

3/4 cup hemp milk (made by blending ¾ cup water with 1 tablespoon hemp hearts)
1 cup frozen raspberries
2 pitted dates
½ small avocado
¼ cup unsalted almonds
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder

Blend all the ingredients together until very smooth.  Enjoy, preferably with someone you love!

Disclosure: While we are the consulting dietitians for the National Processed Red Raspberry Council and, we're sharing this recipe simply because we love it!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Pumpkin S'mores Bars & A Recap of Blog Brûlée

My attendance at Blog Brûlée was partially funded by the Sponsors of the event. I was not compensated to write this post, and all opinions are my own.

You can’t beat the fresh air in Vermont. I discovered this during my 45-minute car ride from the airport to the hotel in which I kept the car windows down the entire time. And the people in Vermont are the sweetest. I had this realization when I made immediate friends with the girls at the check-in counter at Smuggler’s Notch, the beyond gorgeous resort I stayed at last weekend.
on a walk at Smuggler's Notch

taking the road less traveled

And Vermont is now so special to me because it is home to the first ever Blog Brûlée, a healthy blogger conference that gave this blog a new spark of creativity and a stronger sense of community.

I reconnected with old friends and built new friendships with some truly amazing bloggers – friendships that I think will be ongoing both online and off. Take a peek at their blogs!

Jessica of Nutritioulicious
Kylie of Immaeatthat
Danielle of Food Confidence
Kristina of Love & Zest
Ashley of The Fresh Beet
Rachel of An Avocado a Day

The conference was educational. I learned a lot from some of the writers, recipe developers, and photographers I admire most, including:

EA Stewart, The Spicy RD
Brierly Wright, editor of Eating Well Magazine
Anne Mauney of FANNEtastic Food
Carolyn Ketchum of All Day I Dream About Food
Janice Bissex and Liz Weiss of Meal Makeover Moms

And the amazing Blog Brûlée founders:

Gretchen from Kumquat, a gluten-free blog with photos so beautiful, I could look at them for hours.
Deanna from Teaspoon of Spice a food-loving blog that makes me inspired to whip up something new every time I read it.
Robin from Robin’s Bite, a blog I fell in love with a few years ago for making healthy eating fun and approachable.
Reagan of Healthy Aperture, with food photos that are beyond drool-worthy.

I laughed. My roommate, Jen (who I adore) and I hit it off right away and found ourselves bonding over Davidson Safe Eggs in the morning and giggling uncontrollably at Jimmy Fallon videos at night.
And this Lip Sync Battle with Paul Rudd was mine.

The conference was delicious. We shared stories while enjoying jicama salad and shrimp skewers for lunch, sesame-crusted salmon for dinner, and chocolate, Cabot Creamery cheese, and Boyden Valley Wine in-between.

But, most of all, I left feeling happy and connected. I left with a better understanding of the things I’m good at, and the things I’m not so good at – not from a judging perspective, but from the perspective of a friend that wants me to do my best.

It also served as a good reminder that life is really what you make it. And if you have good food and good people around you, life is pretty sweet.

I’m already missing the Blog Brûlée crew but am so thankful to have them as our new friends and part of our blogging community.

A HUGE thank you again to the incredible sponsors who made the Blog Brûlée weekend possible:

And now for a recipe inspired by the pure joy I felt while roasting marshmallows with new and old friends last weekend.

Whole Wheat Pumpkin S'mores Bars from NourishRDs

(We may be in a serious heat way in Southern California, but it’s not stopping me from welcoming autumn with full-force. I got my first taste of autumn in Vermont and I’m just rolling with it.)

Whole Wheat Pumpkin S’Mores Bars

Whole Wheat Pumpkin S'mores Bars from NourishRDs

1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 cup pumpkin puree
1 large egg, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
2 cups whole wheat flour
pinch of sea salt
1 1/2 cups dark chocolate chips
2 cups marshmallows

Whole Wheat Pumpkin S'mores Bars from NourishRDs

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. In a large bowl, combine the butter, sugar, maple syrup, pumpkin puree, egg and vanilla. Stir until well-mixed.
  3. In a separate medium-sized bowl, combine the baking powder, pumpkin pie spice, flour and salt. Stir until well-mixed.
  4. Slowly add the flour mixture to the pumpkin mixture. Stir until well-mixed.
  5. Pour the batter into a pre-greased 9 x 9 baking pan.
  6. Bake for 20-25 minutes. Take out of the oven and pour the chocolate chips and marshmallows onto the warm bars. Place in the oven for 2 more minutes. For 1 more minute, turn the oven to broil so the marshmallows turn golden brown (keep on an eye on them so the marshmallows don’t burn!).

Whole Wheat Pumpkin S'mores Bars from NourishRDs
Enjoy, preferably with those you love.