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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.

Friday, April 27, 2007

The Art of the Choke

It's no wonder Marilyn Monroe won the first official title of California Artichoke Queen in 1949. Apparently, artichokes are considered an aphrodisiac, and in the 16th century women were even banned from eating these indulgent delicacies due to their sexual inference. I guess an artichoke a day won't keep the men away!

Artichokes are one of the oldest foods known to humans. Its Italian and Sicilian origins date back to 371-287 B.C., and were brought over to America by French immigrants when they settled in the Louisiana Territory in the early 1800's. Later that century, artichokes were established in the Monterrey Bay area by the Spaniards. Today, nearly one hundred percent of the country's entire artichoke crop is cultivated in this mid-coastal region of California.

The plant is an edible thistle - the part that we eat is actually the plant's flower bud. If allowed to flower, the blossoms of the artichoke measure up to seven inches in diameter and are a spectacular violet-blue. Most people haven't gotten a chance to see this beautiful showy blossom because the plant is cut for consumption rather than used for decoration. But it's sure worth the show!

You can purchase artichokes year round, but most organic farms will honor their peak season from March-May. Select globes that are deep green, with a tight leaf formation, and those that feel heavy for their size. Artichokes can be steamed, boiled, stuffed and baked, marinated, sauteed, roasted or fried.

So, if we see all you ladies gathering around the artichoke stand this season, we'll know what you're up to...

Marinated Baby Artichokes
Cream of Artichoke Soup

Friday, April 20, 2007

Community Supported Agriculture

People these days want to know where their food comes from and how it is grown. Community Supported Agriculture (a mutual commitment between a farm and the community) provides a direct link between the production and consumption of food. It creates a relationship between people and the food we eat, and puts the farmers' face on food, so to speak.

As a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) member, you can support local farms by investing in shares of the upcoming harvest and receive a weekly bounty of locally and sustainably grown, fresh, organic vegetables, herbs and fruit. This mutually supportive relationship helps create an economically stable farm operation in which members are assured the highest quality produce, often at below-retail prices. In return, farmers and growers are guaranteed a reliable market for a diverse selection of crops.

CSA boxes are filled with many heirloom and specialty varieties that are not available at the supermarket. It is an opportunity for members to eat a variety of clean, healthy food that's in season, support local farming and keep the food dollars local.

To find a CSA program in your area, visit the Local Harvest website.

And if you don't want to make the CSA commitment, remember to visit your local farmers' market - most should be getting into full swing right about now. Buy local first - it's fresher, tastes better and keeps your food dollars local!

Farmers' Market Sugar Beet and Sunny Salad

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Dandelion - The Dandy Weed

Most gardeners detest them, but herbalists consider the pesky dandelion to be one of the most nutrient-rich herbs in the plant kingdom. Even though these well-adapted weeds are the bane of those looking for the perfect lawn, the whole plant is actually edible; the flowers are used as a garnish, the leaves boiled like spinach or added to salads, and the roots used as a coffee substitute.

The dandelion may be a nuisance, but maybe it really has something worthwhile to say. Perhaps the name says it all - it comes from the French 'dents de lion', meaning 'teeth of the lion', referring to its jagged leaves. Just like the lion, dandelion lays down its territory and has a strong bitter bite!

This 'bitter bite' is the primary constituent responsible for its stimulating effect on the digestive system that increases bile flow in the liver and gallbladder. The increase in bile flow may help improve fat metabolism (including cholesterol) in the body. People today balk at bitter flavors - we're so conditioned by overly sweet or salty food - but mixed with other flavors, dandelions enhance the taste of many foods and create an interesting spark to an everyday salad.

The leaves are more nutritious than just about anything you can buy. They're higher in beta-carotene than carrots, and the iron and calcium content is unparalleled, even greater than spinach. And you can't beat the fact that this wholesome veggie grows free on virtually every lawn!

If you're going to collect dandelion on your own though, make sure you know the area that you are harvesting from and that it has not been sprayed with chemicals or fertilizers - this includes roadsides, the neighbor's lawn and even near popular hiking trails. The leaves are best at their youngest, before the flower has blossomed. But don't miss out on the flowers! Collect them in a sunny meadow in the springtime, when the most flowers are in bloom. Use only the flower's yellow parts; the green sepals at the flower's base are very bitter.

Dandy Spring Salad

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Bodacious Berries - 'Tis the Season!

Berries and other deliciously healthful fruits got a sudden bad rap when the Atkins trend held America’s dieters in its grip. But now as the fear of carbohydrates is starting to dissolve, I hope that dieters can once again enjoy the many pleasures and benefits of seasonal, fresh organic fruits, especially berries of all kinds.

Berries top the list of natural cancer and disease fighters. They contains large amounts of anti-oxidants, which keep free-radicals in check.

I've heard of free-radicals, but what are they again?

These are unstable oxygen molecules floating around in the body; "unstable" meaning that they don't really have anywhere to go or any other companion molecules to hang out with. And just like people, these solitary molecules will naturally go out looking for someone to connect with. As soon as they see another friendly oxygen molecule that they want to meet, they'll grab it away from the healthy cell that it was once attached to.

This process is called oxidation, and when imbalanced, can cause disease in many forms. You can see what oxidation does to an avocado or an apple when it is left out for several hours. When oxidation occurs inside the body, a similar process happens. You might not turn brown, but it is none-the-less damaging to the healthy cells, tissues and systems in the body.

"Anti"-oxidants, then, are the good guys that offer up oxygen molecules to the free radicals so they don’t get lonely and go stealing from healthy cells. This, in turn, creates cellular harmony in the body.

Oxidation and an over abundance of free radicals is brought on by many factors. Stress, polution, drugs, pesticides and radiation are just a few. With today’s environment and stress levels, it would behoove us not only to decrease our total load of stress and exposure, but to also increase our intake of foods and supplements rich in vital anti-oxidants.

Fortunately, most anti-oxidant rich foods are easy to detect. The vast majority of them are deep red, purple, orange and dark green in color. In most cases, the deeper the hue, the deeper the level of anti-oxidants in the food.

So don’t be afraid to take advantage of nature’s perfect foods this summer; blueberries, blackberries and strawberries should be staples throughout the growing season. Just remember that it is not only humans who love to devour these sumptuous summer fruits; molds, insects, birds and rodents eat them too, and they often head the list of the most chemically sprayed produce. So buy organic when you can and visit your local farmer's market every week.

Fresh Berries with Rosemary Almond Cream (the works and vegan versions)
Braised Tempeh (or chicken) with Blueberry Sauce