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Whole Gourmet Natural Cooking

Alison Anton's Natural Cooking Blog offers healthy recipes, inspirational food articles and culinary advice for the natural chef, and features dessert recipes from her upcoming cookbook, Desserts for Every Body.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

The VIrtues of a Good Pan

In general, the most highly touted pans are the multi-ply, heavy bottom varieties. The bottoms of these pans have three layers: a middle-ply (which is generally aluminum for its fast conduction of heat) sandwiched between two stainless steel layers. The cook gets the best of both worlds with this design.

Cheap, one-ply pans tend to have “hot spots” — spots of heat directly over where the heat source comes in contact with the pan. Since the heat is not being distributed properly, the food does not get cooked properly. This problem is solved with a good quality multi-tier pan. By the time the heat reaches the top layer of stainless steel, the heat has been evenly diffused by the aluminum layer inside the pan.

Since the middle layer of aluminum is completely enclosed within the stainless steel, it cannot chip off into your food unknowingly. And because the entire surface is stainless steel, the pan has a lovely shiny finish and is easier to clean. It is also far less likely to warp when going from hot to cold temperatures.

So it’s not only because it is “so much fun” to cook with nice, heavy pots and pans. It actually makes it easier on the chef — with fewer burns, mistakes and “uh-oh’s” from the kitchen.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

A Kid-Friendly Kitchen

Imagine allowing your kids to eat anything in the kitchen that they wanted. In most kitchens, kids find overly processed commercial foods that contain refined white flours, partially hydrogenated oils and high fructose corn syrup. But what if you had a healthy, kid-friendly kitchen and promoted healthy food attitudes and good eating habits?

Rersearch shows that children are naturally born with good control over their food intake -- they eat when they're hungry and don’t when they're not. When they want to skip dinner, it's usually because they've come home from school hungry and have been munching on who knows what in the afternoon. Giving them an afternoon snack that is both healthy and satisfying can help tremendously, and will keep the snowball effect from forcing and bribing them to eat dinner from rolling too far.

Most kids will get their appetites going for dinner if they have a part in the planning and preparation of a meal. It gets them excited, even proud, about what they've created and the choices they made. They now have a vested interest in eating it!

Having them choose between 1-3 kinds of foods can help foster self-esteem by giving them a role to play. For example, “Would you like carrots, corn or beets for our vegetable tonight?” This gives them a certain boundary, yet enables them to choose for themselves from what has been offered. Even a two-year-old can decide between carrots and beets!

A healthy kid-friendly kitchen might have easily accessible jars filled with nuts and seeds, sweet dried fruits, popcorn and other yummy snacks at arm's reach. You would find whole grain breads and cereals, healthy cookies or muffins and an easy to grab bowl of fresh seasonal fruits. Carrot and celery sticks with nut butters or hummus might be found on the bottom shelf in the fridge.

Take a walk through your own kitchen, looking in the cupboards and pantry. Read the ingredients lists. Do you feel okay with your kids grabbing and eating the foods that you see? If you don't feel okay with your kids running amok through the kitchen eating the foods that are there, then maybe a revamp of your pantry is in order.

I know it's always easier to say than do when it comes to feeding kids, but starting off with these few tips will help. So let them eat!

Recommended cookbooks:
Healthy Food for Healthy Kids, Bridget Swinney
Healthy Cooking for Kids, Shelly Null

Oatmeal Pecan Pancakes
Makes 10-12 medium cakes

1 1/4 cups milk
1 cup rolled oats
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup pecans, chopped

Combine the milk and oats in a large bowl and let stand 10 minutes. Add the oil and beaten eggs, mixing well. Stir in the flour, maple syrup, baking powder and salt. Mix just until the dry ingredients are moistened. Don’t over-mix. Fold in the pecans. Bake on a hot, lightly oiled griddle, using 1/4 cup of batter for each cake. Turn when top is bubbly and edges are slightly dry.

Bowl o' Crunch
Healthy Cooking for Kids

Healthy? Maybe not top of the list, but this quick snack fix is satisfying and offers alternatives in the same bowl as the traditional favorite... potato chips.

1 handful baked potato chips
1 handful baked blue corn chips
1 cup popped corn
1 handful mini-rice cakes or crackers
1 handful pretzels

Mix all the treats in a large bowl and serve. Great for lunch boxes too!

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Apples -- A Truly Autumn Crop

Have you ever noticed that the apples you buy in the spring and summer are soft and pithy and not worthy of your expectations?

Apples may appear on the produce stands all year round, but they are historically an autumn crop. Since they can be grown farther north than any other kind of tree fruit, apples like to blossom later in the spring, when the flowers are not as likely to be damaged by frost. A late blossom means a late arrival for the fruit, and they generally will taste best in the harvest months.

Surprisingly, apples are members of the rose family. Wild roses have similar blossoms to the apples’, and rose hips and apples are also alike in form, although quite different in size. Other close relatives include pears, cherries, peaches and plums.

Unfortunately, apples are high on the list for pesticide spraying, so I always recommend choosing organically grown whenever possible. Local is best too, so don’t forget the farmer’s market before the season winds down.

There are thousands of varieties of apples. Some lend themselves to eating right out of the hand, while others are transformed after baking. Right off the tree, I like the crisp sweet varieties best, like fuji, gala and braeburn; but for a world-class pie or apple crisp, go for a tarter one like pippin, gravenstein or granny smith.

“An apple a day” is right on for colon health. One apple, eaten whole with the skin, has nearly 17 percent of the recommended daily fiber intake. They also make a perfect food for the dry Indian summer and autumn months due to their moistening and cooling properties that soothe dry, hot lungs and reduce thirst. Apples make a good fever-reducing remedy, too. Try grating them and giving them to feverish kids.

Raw Almond Apple Pie
Yield: one 8- or 9-inch pie

If you crave a healthy dessert that gently lifts you into the Indian summer and harvest season, this one is for you. This pie is so sweet, fresh and fulfilling, you really won’t miss the “real” thing, especially if served with a dollup of nut cream (recipe below) on the side.

2 cups almonds
1 1/2 cups pitted dates
1 teaspoon vanilla extract or 1 vanilla bean pod, scraped
1/2 teaspoon sea salt

2 apples, grated
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
6 apples, cored and rough chopped
1 1/2 cups (about 30) pitted dates, soaked in water 30 minutes
1 cup raisins, soaked in water 30 minutes
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
2 tablespoons psyllium powder (see note)
1/2 cup raw sliced almonds, and another 1/4 cup for garnish

For the crust, oil an 8- or 9-inch pie plate. Process the almonds in a food processor until finely ground (you can also leave them a little course for texture, if desired). Add the dates, vanilla and salt; process until incorporated. Press the crust into the prepared pie plate.

Mix the grated apples and the lemon juice in a large bowl.

Blend the rough-chopped apples, dates, raisins, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt and almond extract in a food processor until puréed. With the processor running, gradually sprinkle in the psyllium, and blend until thoroughly incorporated.

Fold the apple purée and 1/2 cup of the sliced almonds into the grated apples. Turn the filling into the prepared crust and sprinkle the remaining 1/4 cup almonds over the top for garnish. Cover and refrigerate 2-3 hours before serving.

Note: Psyllium is a seed that is extremely high in both soluble and insoluble fiber. In powdered form, it is used to thicken raw custards and sauces. Make sure to purchase it powdered, as the whole husks won't break down enough to go undetected. You can find psyllium in the bulk aisle or in the supplements section at your local natural foods market.

Nut Cream
Yield: about 3/4 cups

This versatile recipe can be used for a variety of purposes. If blended with very little water, it can be frosted over cakes and dolloped on to pies or fruit. Use more water, and it transforms into a sweet and healthy replacement for cream in your favorite recipes.

1/2 cup fatty nuts (cashews, walnuts, macadamias, filberts) soaked in water 30 minutes (soak 8 hours to activate the enzymes, optional)
1/2 cup pitted dates, soaked in water 30 minutes (save soaking water)
1 teaspoon vanilla

Blend all the ingredients with just enough soaking liquid to make either a smooth, thick spreadable frosting or a thick, yet pourable sauce or cream.