to Whenever I have poached pears, I think about Rémy Fünfrock, the pastry chef who changed my life forever. He took a just graduated girl (who was trying to figure out how to combine her passions with a job) under his wings, forbid her from applying to culinary school and jump started her career in the food industry. Rémy is also the first person to introduce me to poached pears.
Around this time ten years ago, on the Le Voyage section of the Café Boulud Palm Beach dessert menu, we featured a Frozen Hazelnut Parfait with Warm Poundcake and a Poached Pear.
Ridiculously delicious! Not to mention that all of Rémy's dessert looked like pieces of art.
Rémy taught me so many kitchen techniques and introduced me to new desserts from which I realized for the first time in my life I preferred fruit desserts over chocolate (gasp). I am forever grateful for the care and time he put into sharing the beauty of this fabulous trade, training me and answering all of many many MANY questions I had (even if he had to ask me to shut it once in awhile!).
When I was at the store the other day there was a great deal on organic Bartlett pears, so naturally I jumped on it and went straight home to poach. There are numerous ways to poach fruit, but I swoon over red wine poached pears likely because of the great memories from Café Boulud. Also, poached pears can be used for both sweet and savory dishes and look so elegant while being so easy to prepare. For this recipe, I added some citrus flavors and seasonal spices to go along with the fall mood.
In addition to the pears, I tried something new this time since I knew I was going to have the pears with my almond milk oats and sweetened up the red wine reduction by adding maple syrup. DELISH!
You can use the pears and sauce for a variety of dishes: serve with some yogurt or ice cream, slice and add to a sandwich or top off a salad. I fanned a pear and drizzled the sauce over my morning oats (see first pic) and had one of the best breakfasts ever!! Check out the recipes below!
Red Wine Poached Pears
& Maple Syrup Red Wine Reduction
Yields: 4 servings
In a small pot, bring all the ingredients (except the pears) to a boil, then turn down the heat to a simmer.
Place the pears on their sides (yes, only half the pear will be covered). Let simmer for 5 minutes and then flip the pears so the opposite side is covered. Repeat for about 20-30 minutes until the pears are a rich red cover and cooked yet firm.
Remove the pears from the heat and cool. Transfer the pears and red wine broth to a storage container and chill overnight (or at least 3 hours).
To make the reduction, remove the cinnamon sticks and pour the broth into another small pot. Simmer the broth for about 20 minutes until it starts to thicken to a desired consistency (note the maple syrup will thin it out a tiny bit). Stir in the maple syrup. Drizzle on top of your dish or let cool to use later.
Cranberry Cacao Nib Oatmeal Cookies (Repost from Nutrish and Delish)
As a former pastry cook at fine dining restaurants, I created and tasted numerous desserts primarily made with refined sugar, butter and heavy full fat cream. I won’t lie, most of them tasted pretty great, but day after day of taste testing (which a cook has to do to ensure dishes are made correctly for the guests) got to me both physically and mentally. I remember one day when my co-worker Maggie and I looked at each other while we were preparing the evening’s desserts and we both had the look of dread on our faces. Did we really have to taste the freshly made raspberry coulis on the warm and fluffy beignets one more time?!
I know, I know…poor us. Trust me, I feel incredibly fortunate to have had the experiences I did and learn about traditional baking and dessert making from world-renowned experts. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. But overtime, my body learned the power of over indulging in not-so-good-for-you foods.
Despite getting sick of buttery and sugary treats, I still crave and love baked goods and dessert. Baking will always be one of my main passions. It’s just nowadays, I really try to cut back on the refined ingredients and add as much nourishment as I can to whatever I’m creating without compromising its taste or texture. Some of my trials are major errors and others are just simply delicious while being quite nutritious!
Here’s one of my most recent examples: Cranberry Cacao Nib Oatmeal Cookies.
Oatmeal cookies are usually thought to be healthy because they contain whole grains (aka fiber) and typically fruit, but a lot of times these cookies are also loaded with butter and refined flour and sugar. If you haven’t noticed by now, the first thing I usually do is try to see how much whole wheat flour I can use in a recipe without it becoming too dense or tough to chew. Why choose whole wheat flour? It is closer to its original grain form and contains more protein and fiber than its nemesis: unnecessarily overly processed white flour.
Check out the list below of the remaining key ingredients in this recipe and the reasons I chose them:
Coconut oil: Yes this is a saturated fat but unlike butter, coconut oil may help the body’s immune system, regulate blood sugar levels and raise good cholesterol (HDL) instead of just raising bad cholesterol (LDL), which high levels of can lead to heart disease.
Honey: Yes this is a sugar and yes it is nutrient dense with a decent amount of calories per serving, but the reason honey makes the cut into my cookies is because it is naturally made as opposed to fully stripped and refined like white sugar. Honey also contains flavonoids and antioxidants, which can help protect against inflammation, cell damage and chronic illness such as heart disease, while sugar only offers calories. That said, honey should still be used in moderation because of its sugar content, and you'll see I often use pure maple syrup too since it has about 25% less sugar content.
Cranberries (dried): Any dried fruit is calorically dense because each piece of fruit keeps it’s calorie content despite shrinking in volume. It is especially important to exercise portion control here and choose dried fruit that is 100% natural with no added sugar, which is often found with dried fruits. Fruit itself contains enough natural sugar that it does not need anymore to taste sweet.
Cacao nibs: This is chocolate in its purest form – literally just cacao beans crumbled into teeny tiny fully flavorful pieces. And as I’ve stated before, chocolate (without a lot of added sugar and fat) has many health benefits, including antioxidant and fiber filling powers.
Hemp hearts: These little seeds are not only adorable with a delightful nutty taste to them, but they also have over 3 grams of protein per Tablespoon. Additionally, they have both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, which are essential fats (i.e. our body cannot make them and we must get them from foods) needed for our brains and nervous system to function.
These cookies are just as easy to make as a traditional oatmeal cookie recipe, but instead of just being a treat to satisfy your sweet tooth, they also exclude a lot of typical processed ingredients and include more protein, fiber, healthy fats and antioxidants. A much healthier (and just as tasty) dessert! I hope this post helped you guys get a better feel for how I think and what my goals are for my recipes and this blog.
Cranberry Cacao Nib Oatmeal Cookies
(with vegan sub suggestions)
Yields: 2 dozen cookies
Preheat the oven to 350*F.
Combine the coconut oil, honey and brown sugar in a bowl (if it doesn't fully mix it is okay and will become more cohesive in the next step).
Add the egg, vanilla and almond extract and mix well.
Stir in the oats, flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt and cinnamon until combined.
Mix in the cranberries, cacao nibs and hemp hearts.
Drop the dough by 2 Tbsp placed about 2 inches apart on a nonstick baking pan (I typically use a Silpat or parchment paper).
Place the sheet tray in the oven and bake the cookies for about 12-15 minutes or until golden brown.
Cool and devour! :D
How yummy does these cookies look?! Nom nom nom... They were fluffy yet chewy with a nice nutty flavor from the hemp hearts, chocolate crunch from the cacao nibs and pure sweetness from the cranberries. So I packed some up for my future snack attacks so I wouldn't eat them all right away! Thank you mason jars - the kitchen accessory with a million joyful uses. ;) Enjoy!!
with Hearty Apple Almond Crisp
You will quickly learn that I care a tremendous amount about breakfast, am a self-proclaimed breakfast-pusher and still believe it IS the most important meal of the day despite arguments and studies against the age-old saying.
This is why: breakfast jumpstarts my day and ultimately motivates me to end the day as well as it starts.
Eating breakfast is a daily reminder that I begin the day on the right foot, nourishing not just my body but also my mind. The positive start to the day gives me more energy physically and mentally, allowing me to concentrate better knowing that I am prepared to work or study without dealing with mood swings or cravings from lightheadedness due to low blood sugar levels. Choosing to have a healthful breakfast not only gets your engine going, but also prompts good decision making from the moment you get up. You are more likely to avoid the worse for you foods and prevent overeating at lunch or dinner.
Even if there are clashing studies on breakfast's physiological benefits, there are plenty of studies showing that skipping breakfast is associated with eating more throughout the day, greater BMI (body mass index), weight gain and metabolic syndrome, a group of risk factors that can lead to serious health problems such as heart disease and diabetes (1,2,3,4). Those risk factors include a large waist circumference, low HDL cholesterol levels (high-density lipoproteins aka ‘good cholesterol’), high triglyceride levels, high fasting blood sugar and high blood pressure (5). Earlier this year a prospective study from Sweden also reported that adolescents who skip breakfast or have "poor breakfast habits" are at increased risk for metabolic syndrome later in life. Eek! Too young!!
If your main excuse to skip breakfast is that you don’t have enough time in the morning to prepare, then try making it the night before (ex. overnight oats or yogurt parfait) or making something that is easy to eat during your commute (ex. veggie omelet wrap, homemade smoothie or nut butter on toast). Remember, breakfast doesn’t have to be huge or even comprised of traditional breakfast foods, but it does need to be a nutritious combination of complex carbohydrates, protein and healthy fats, and limited in sugar and saturated fats.
Check out one of my favorite balanced breakfasts that you only need to make once but can eat for a week (i.e. meal prep) when you know your schedule is going to be extra busy. My Hearty Apple Almond Crisp is loaded with fiber (whole grains, fruit), protein and omega-3 fatty acids, all necessary nutrients to keep my brain focused, my hunger managed, my mood stabilized, my digestive system running and my heart healthy.
And the recipe is easy peasy: place the fruit mixture in the pan, top with the oats mixture and bake in the oven until the crisp turns golden brown and the fruit liquids start to boil through the top. This recipe includes apples (yes, I am still using my Annual Farm Crawl apples - 13 pounds is a lot!), plums and blueberries, but feel free to get creative and switch up the combinations to your fruit preferences.
Hearty Apple Almond Crisp
Yields: 8 servings (7" x 11" glass baking pan)
Preheat oven to 375*F.
Combine the topping dry ingredients in a bowl. FYI - the flaxseeds have a strong nutty flavor to them so if you don't want that to stand out, cut the amount in half.
In a separate bowl, chop up the apples and plums into 1"-2" pieces and combine with the blueberries. Add all of the spices, orange juice and maple syrup from the first list of ingredients and stir until all of the fruit is coated. Spread the mixture into the bottom of a baking pan (make sure to grease it - I misted it with olive oil).
Add the almond milk, maple syrup and olive oil to the dry mix. Spread the oats mixture evenly on top of the fruit base.
Bake the crisp for ~45 minutes until the topping turns golden brown and the liquid starts to bubble through.
Eat alone or top with some nonfat plain Greek yogurt. Enjoy!! :D
February is American Heart Month, raising awareness about heart disease, the leading cause of death for both men and woman: 1 out of 4 deaths (1)! Heart disease includes conditions such as atherosclerosis (when arteries become clogged due to plaque build-up) that can result in coronary artery disease and ultimately cause heart attacks, heart failure and strokes by obstructing the flow of oxygen and blood to the rest of your body (1,2).
What causes plaque build up? It’s mainly low-density lipoprotein (aka LDL aka ‘bad’ cholesterol) mixed with fat, calcium and other miscellaneous materials found in your blood (1,3,4). LDL cholesterol is found in animal food sources such as meat and whole milk dairy. Many processed foods, especially commercially produced baked goods, that contain trans fats from hydrogenated oils or shortening are also high in LDL cholesterol.
The good news is that maintaining healthy nutrition habits can help prevent heart disease.
A heart healthy diet includes:
Limiting: saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, salt/sodium, alcohol
Incorporating: fruits, vegetables, whole grains (i.e. eat your fiber!)
Unfortunately, many traditional baking recipes use butter, which is no doubt a fantastic tool in adding texture and flavor to baked goods but alas a major dietary source of ‘bad’ cholesterol and saturated fat. Simply put each Tablespoon of butter is loaded with fat (11g), saturated fat (7g), cholesterol (30mg), salt (95mg) and very high in calories (100 kcals) (5).
I remember at my first post-college restaurant job we had THE best granola on the breakfast menu and we employees definitely took advantage of our endless access to it. But when I started working in the kitchen and had to make it for the first time, I nearly fainted learning that the recipe called for 4 pounds of butter. Granted we were mass-producing this tasty treat, but still!! Granola is one of those tricky food items because us dietitians keep telling you to eat more whole grains (which oats surely are) because fiber helps lower cholesterol levels, but typical granola is usually coated in butter and sugar (negating oats' benefits) and mixed with other nutrient dense foods, such as dried fruits and nuts. Not heart healthy!
That said, I do love granola for it’s delightful taste and texture from oats, fruits and nuts but since it is very high in calories per serving, it should only be used in small amounts, such as a topping to some nonfat Greek yogurt or low-fat ice cream, and not eaten like regular cold cereal. Granola is also easy to make at home where you can control the ingredients and lower the fat, sugar and calorie content per serving, making it a healthier food in your diet and for your body. Recently, I was reading my Real Simple magazine (love Martha!) and saw a recipe for Applesauce Granola. I didn’t make her recipe (it includes butter), but I did steal her applesauce addition (think: natural sweetener) to create this Tropical Ginger Applesauce Granola. It’s delicious granola but with much less fat, no added refined sugar, and packed with whole grains, fiber, healthy fats and protein. Now that is heart healthy!
Tropical Ginger Applesauce Granola
(adapted from Real Simple)
Combine the oats, cashews, sunflower seeds, dried fruit, coconut and ginger together in a bowl. Add applesauce and maple syrup and toss until fully coated.
Spread oat mix evenly on a baking sheet (I line mine with a Silpat).
Bake ~60-80 minutes @ 275*F, stirring the oats every 20 minutes, or until golden brown.
Yields: 2 pints