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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.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Parsnips - A True Winter Vegetable

Although these carrot relatives have a surprisingly sweet flavor, they never really took off in popularity in the West. Before being replaced by the more versatile potato, parsnips were a staple root in many European countries. Today I gather that most Westerners haven't a clue as to what a parsnip tastes or even looks like.

Parsnips look much like carrots, except that they have a tannish hue and are usually much wider around the base. Basically, they look like bulbous albino carrots, even though their flavors are quite different. Unlike carrots, parsnips are usually not eaten raw, as they have a tough texture and a strong distinctive taste that mellows when cooked. Their sweetness brings a distinctive nutty flavor to all kinds of foods, particularly soups and roasted vegetables. They can be boiled, roasted, steamed or sauteed, and can be mashed like potatoes.

On the nutrition end, parsnips have a good amount of insoluble dietary fiber, making them a good choice for constipation and colon disorders. They contain minerals, such as calcium, iron, magnesium and potassium.

Choose parsnips that are firm and sturdy and that are tan or creamy-white in color. The larger the root, the woodier it will be, so pick small to medium sized roots for the best flavor and texture. Parsnips are a fall and winter vegetable and are sweeter when exposed to cold weather.

Article References:
Prescription for Dietary Wellness, Phyllis A. Balch
The New Whole Foods Encyclopedia, Rebecca Wood
The New Food Lover's Companion, Sharon Tyler Herbst

Mashed Sweet Potatoes and Parsnips [print recipe]
Yield: 4 side servings

The addition of parsnips adds a sweet and nutty flavor to this mashed potato look-alike. True sweet potatoes (vs. yams) have a creamy, light colored flesh and resemble potatoes when cooked. The combination of sweet potatoes and parsnips make an exceptionally rich and sweet side to meats, tempeh and warming winter foods of all kinds.

4 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and quartered
3 medium parsnips, peeled and rough chopped
1/4-1/2 cup milk or broth
1-2 tablespoons ghee or butter (optional)
Salt and pepper, to taste

Bring a pot of water to boil. Place the potatoes and parsnips into the pot and boil until tender, 15-20 minutes.

Remove the potatoes and parsnips to a large bowl and add the milk and optional ghee. Mash the vegetables, adding salt, pepper, and more ghee and milk if desired. Serve warm.

Maple Roasted Parsnips and Onions [print recipe]
Yield: 4 side servings

8 medium parsnips, peeled and sliced
2 tablespoons melted ghee, butter or vegetable oil
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1/4 teaspoon salt
Dash pepper
1 yellow onion

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Place the parsnip slices on a large sheet pan and pour the ghee and maple syrup over the parsnips. Sprinkle with the salt and pepper, and toss the parsnips with a wooden spatula to blend.

Slice the onion in half through the stem and root, leaving the skins in place. Make a space for them on the sheet pan with the parsnips (they can be surrounded on all sides with the parsnips) and place the onions, cut-side down, onto the pan.

Place the pan in the oven and roast for 25-30 minutes, flipping halfway through roasting (leave the onions cut-side down) until the vegetables are tender and golden.

When the onions are cool enough to handle, slip off the skins and slice the onions into slivers. Toss the onions with the parsnips and serve warm.

Monday, January 22, 2007

How to Make a Reduction Sauce

Don't waste those yummy bits of seared meat, poultry or fish - make an easy reduction sauce with them in just minutes! The sauce can be used to top the meat, or can be used later to dress up vegetables, sandwiches or grains.

The base for your sauce is the fond - all those yummy browned bits clinging to the bottom of the pan after searing. After removing the meat from the skillet, aromatics such as minced shallots, garlic and herbs can be sauteed in the same pan. Cook these until they are softened slightly, no more than a couple minutes. Watch the fond, making sure it does not scorch, or the finished sauce will taste burned and bitter. You can also add flour in now for a thicker sauce later.

From here begins the deglazing - a process where a liquid (usually wine or stock or both) is added and the fond is scraped up from the bottom of the pan. The liquid will sizzle and steam on contact. The liquid is then simmered until it reduces. Most recipes will call for reducing the liquid by 1/2 or 2/3 of its original quantity. Reducing concentrates the flavors, making for a rich, potent sauce to top your meat or veggies.

Final steps: 1) return the meat juices (if any) to the skillet for a richer flavor, and then whisk in butter, olive oil or herb-infused oil for flavor and added thickness, and 2) add salt and pepper. Always taste before salting; salt can bring up the flavors, but if the stock you've used is salted, adding too much more can ruin the sauce.

Make sure you use a nice, heavy bottom saute pan or skillet for the best pan sauces. A non-stick skillet won't be able to develop the fond to the same degree as a traditional skillet, and will make a less flavorful sauce. See my September 24 entry, Virtues of a Good Pan, to learn more about good quality multi-ply pans and why they are the most touted pans by professional and home chefs.

A simple sauce like this is easy to make, and by using your creativity along with your favorite herbs, wines and vinegars, the possibilities are endless! Any creative ideas?

Red Wine Reduction with Rosemary [print recipe]

1 large shallot, minced
1 tablespoon unbleached flour
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup red wine
1 cup chicken broth
1 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary
3 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and black pepper, to taste

Remove the meat from the pan, leaving a few teaspoons of the fat for sauteeing. Add the shallot and saute 1-2 minutes until just tender. Watch the fond (bits of meat), being careful not to let them scorch. Add in the flour, stirring constantly for one minute.

Remove the pan from the heat and add the balsamic vinegar, wine and stock, scraping the fond from the bottom, stirring constantly to keep the flour from clumping. Place the sauce back on the heat and simmer, stirring frequently, until it has reduced by 1/2.

Whisk in the rosemary and olive oil. Taste for seasoning before spooning over meat, tofu or vegetables.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

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Chefs Blogs


Friday, January 05, 2007

New Year's Resolution #1: Eat More Cruciferous Vegetables!

Food can sometimes be our best medicine. Nature has blessed us with healing foods of all kinds, but the handful of mighty vegetables known as the cruciferous varieties are particularly powerful in protecting against all kinds of diseases like cancer, heart disease and strokes.

They are called "cruciferous" because, if given the chance to come to full bloom, these vegetables have flowers with four petals that resemble a cross - or crux in Latin. These veggies include arugula, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, bok choy, cabbage, cauliflower, collard greens, kale, mustard greens, radishes, turnip greens and watercress.

Each one of these power-packed vegetables contain vitamins-a-plenty, mega-minerals and other substances that research has proven to be active forces in fighting disease. Says the Linus Pauling Macronutrient Institute , "One characteristic that sets cruciferous vegetables apart from other vegetables is their high glucosinolate content [that] can help prevent cancer by enhancing the elimination of carcinogens before they can damage DNA".

Kale in particular is one of the best-known cancer fighters on the planet. Kale is a deep leafy green vegetable that is the richest of all leafy greens in carotenoids. It is extremely high in calcium, in a form that is more absorbable by the body than milk. Since this form of calcium is so easily assimilated, it is a wonder for protecting against osteoporosis and other bone diseases. Although cooking destroys some of the vitamins and phytonutrients, heating high-mineral foods leaves the minerals unscathed.

Unfortunately, people with sensitive systems can have a hard time digesting cruciferous vegetables. Most commonly, these vegetables can cause bloating, stomach upset and gas. If you suffer from these symtoms, but want to add more cruciferous vegetables to your diet, try adding them gradually in small amounts so that your body slowly learns how to tolerate them. Start by adding 1/4-1/2 cup twice a week and increase from there.

Preventing disease before it happens is one of the ways that we can take responsibility for our health. In this modern day and age no one is immune, but by eating a variety of fresh organic vegetables, especially the cruciferous and deep leafy varieties, we are decreasing the total load of toxicity in our bodies and taking positive steps toward longevity and happiness. Now that's getting to the "crux" of the matter!

Article References:
Linus Pauling Institute
Bauman College culinary course material
Prescription for Dietary Wellness, Phyllis A. Balch

Brussels Sprouts with Vinegar Glazed Red Onions
[print recipe]
Bauman College of Holistic Nutrition and Culinary Arts
Yield: 4 side servings

1 pound Brussels sprouts
Olive oil for sauteeing
1 red onion, sliced
Salt and pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts

Trim the outer leaves and stems from the Brussels sprouts and cut each in half lenghthwise. Steam the sprouts until bright green and tender all the way through, 12-15 minutes.

In a medium saute pan, heat 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Add the red onion slices and a dash of salt and pepper. Saute until crispy golden. Add the balsamic vinegar and cook, stirring frequently, until the vinegar is reduced and the onions are glazed. Remove the onions from the pan.

Add a little more oil to the pan and toss in the steamed Brussels sprouts. Add a dash of salt and pepper, and saute until they have browned around the edges, about 3 minutes.

Toss the onions into the Brussels sprouts and remove to a decorative plate or bowl. Sprinkle the toasted pine nuts over the top. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Steamed Kale and Carrots with Lemon Tahini Sauce
[print recipe]
Yield: 4 side servings

1 clove garlic, minced
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1/3 cup tahini (sesame butter)
Splash of tamari
1 tablespoon honey
1 bunch kale, chopped
2 carrots, sliced
2 green onions, sliced
Black sesame seeds (optional garnish)

Blend the garlic, lemon juice, tahini, tamari and honey in a small dish until creamy (use a blender if desired). Add water in increments to make a smooth, pourable dressing. Adjust flavors by adding a little more lemon juice, tamari or honey, if needed. Let stand at least 15 minutes for the flavors to develop.

Steam the kale and carrots together for 5-8 minutes, until tender and bright in color. Remove the vegetables to a bowl or serving plate and toss with the dressing. Top with the green onions and garnish with the optional black sesame seeds. Serve warm.