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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, August 24, 2007

Eggplant In Season

By Sarah Kruse

The humble eggplant makes a cameo appearance as early as June at farmers markets in warmer climates, but officially takes center stage in late July and August throughout much of the U.S. after a long, hot growing season.

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Technically a berry and belonging to the nightshade family, plants that grow at night, eggplants are native to tropical Asia. First cultivated in India, they spread to Africa and were then introduced into Europe by the Arabs in Catalonia in the 13th century. The first eggplants were the size and shape of eggs, providing its name. The large, pear-shaped purple eggplant may dominate supermarket shelves, but at farmers markets, youll find long slender purple Japanese and Chinese varieties as well as round, baseball-sized white, gold or lavender-striped ones.

Get the eggplant recipes:
Vegetarian Moussaka
The reward of this Greek casserole is bite after bite of tender roasted eggplant in a tomato-based red wine marinade...
Baba Ganoush
Roasted eggplant meets lemon, sesame and garlic in this popular Middle Eastern dip...

Back in the mid-1700s, Europeans thought eating eggplants caused insanity. While thats obviously not true, eggplants may drive you crazy if you dont know what to do with them. No need to be intimidated since this versatile, under-appreciated vegetable adeptly takes the lead in main dishes or a supporting role in side dishes.

Cut into slices, large eggplants can be used as a meat substitute. Dice into cubes and add to pasta or rice dishes. Slice into wedges and marinade for a stand-alone side dish. Cut in half and stuff with rice and lentils for a main dish. The possibilities are endless! Plus, the cooling, sweet flavor of eggplant complements strong-flavored veggies and spices. The spongy white flesh absorbs flavors (and oil, so be careful).

Eggplants do require a bit of prep work. To minimize the sometimes bitter taste (more common in the larger varieties) and to improve digestibility, sprinkle the eggplant with salt and let rest in a non-corroding colander for 30-45 minutes. Rinse and pat dry before proceeding with your recipe.

Look for eggplants that are shiny, uniformly firm and heavy for their size. Avoid those that are dull and puffy or have soft spots. Store in a cool place and use within a few days of purchase.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Kid's Health - Sneaking in the Good Stuff!

What kid doesn't love pancakes? Waffles? Muffins? Organic moms love them too -- they know how easy it is to sneak in the good stuff without the kids even knowing.

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Whole grain flours can have a strong flavor and heaviness, but if added into foods with a mix of all-purpose flour, toasted wheat germ, or ground seeds, the flavors meld right in without a sneaking suspicion. The food actually tastes better, too. Baked goods that have only refined flours tend to leave us wanting -- there's no texture nor real taste.

Try these as a start (and see the recipe for Whole Grain Fluffy Flapjacks!):

Whole Wheat Pastry Flour -- Since it has less gluten than regular whole wheat flour, pastry flour makes for light and fluffy pancakes, waffles and muffins. Try a mix of whole wheat pastry and regular whole wheat for more texture; you might want to start with 3/4 pastry and 1/4 regular.

Toasted Wheat Germ -- Adds a nutty, sweet flavor and is high in B vitamins and fiber. Replace up to 1/2 cup of flour with wheat germ in your favorite recipes. It can also be sprinkled onto cereal and sandwiches.

Ground Flaxseeds -- Talk about added nutrition! Flax is high in beneficial fatty acids for proper brain development in kids. It also has lots fiber. Sneak this one into baked goods, cereals, smoothies and sandwiches.

Ground Nuts and Seeds -- Many kids don't like nuts. It's too bad because nuts and seeds are high in good fats, protein and minerals. Grind them up and add them to your baked goods, even cakes. Replace up to 1/2 cup of flour with the ground nuts.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Conscious Eating, Stress-Free Eating

You wouldn't stare out the window daydreaming while enjoying a nice lunch with a friend, would you? Your guest would think you rude and remote. What about when eating alone? Most of us hardly consider the food in front of us as a friend that requires attention, presence and good conversation. Without the understanding of food as a friendship, eating just seems to be another bad habit. With it, we realize that we never truly dine alone.

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Conscious eating, or being mindful of the food in front of us, is beneficial to the body, the mind and even the emotions. All three interrelate. Our actions affect the mind, and the mind affects our actions.

When we eat on the run, in the car, with anxiety or while processing heavy emotions, the body goes into "survival mode". From a very basic animalistic nature, the body assumes a protective, defensive posture. Stress and anxiety kick the fight or flight survival response in gear and the body goes into heightened alertness. The heart rate speeds up, the adrenals activate, and the mind runs rampant. The body's primary focus now is on survival, not digestion. Eating this way can cause all sorts of problems, from heartburn and gas, to bloating and irritable bowel syndrome.

In a hyper-vigilant state, the body needs a quick source of energy to deal with the stress it is experiencing, so it starts to burn carbohydrate, which is the fastest-burning fuel in the body. Since it thinks it's in a state of emergency, the body will store fat for later, rather than burn it now for fuel. Most people I know would much rather burn fat than carbohydrate -- burning fat means burning pounds.

Every trick we can pull from our sleeve to bring the body back into a state of peace and happiness while eating is valuable. When the mind and emotions are calmed, the body goes back into "thrival" rather than "survival". There is no threatening situation it has to deal with, and all it needs is a nice, slow, consistent burning of fat, rather than an immediate rush of carbohydrate. In turn, sugar cravings subside, and up-and-down moods swings go with it.

Tips for Stress-Free Eating

  • Sit with your food for 30 seconds before diving right in. Sense how your body is reacting to your hunger and the desire to eat. Gently notice your dependency on the food in front of you, then give in to your desire and eat with gratitude.
  • Pay attention to your thoughts. Do you think about work or try to solve problems while eating? Are you pondering a rough relationship or struggling with financial woes? These are a part of life, but while eating, put them aside.
  • The dinner table should be a calm and peaceful place to eat. If you have kids, make sure that there is enough food for everyone so that kids don't have to go into competition over food.
  • Don't talk politics at the table. Instead, talk about what's been going well for you and your guests.
  • If you start to wander off in a daydream while eating, take a breath and come back to the food.
  • If you are eating a "trigger food" like sweets, French fries, chips, or hamburgers, go extra slow and stop to take several calming breaths between bites.
  • Really enjoy the taste of the food you are eating. Notice the subtle flavors.
  • Chew each bite at least twenty times before taking the next bite. The first step in digestion starts in the mouth. Food needs enough saliva to help break it down so the stomach doesn't have to work too hard.
  • Don't eat on the run. Once in a while is fine, but for the most part, take a longer lunch break and take a longer time to eat; 20 minutes to eat a simple meal is good.

Now it's just a matter of enjoying the company. Whatever food you have chosen as your dinner guest, accept it, converse with it and by all means, enjoy it! Sit with it as you would sit with a good friend; treat it with respect, kindness and gratitude. Like all good, healthy relationships, friendship with food is a two-way street. Even if you can't see the value of the relationship right off the bat, give it time to develop and pretty soon you'll start to experience the benefits -- a lighter body, a healthier mind and a happier spirit.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Quick and Easy Chicken Dinners - 3 Ways!

Chicken is one of the most versatile and easy all-season foods to make. Grilled and sliced thin over salads, it makes a refreshing light summer meal. Roasted with roots, it's one of America's favorite comfort foods for the cold winter months. It can be browned, steamed, braised, sauteed, fried, roasted, broiled, pounded or even pureed.

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My favorite way to prepare the darker cuts is by browning and braising them in rich sauces. This technique imparts a tender texture and allows the spices and seasonings to infuse into the meat. And it's so easy: 25 minutes and you're done!

Watch the Video!
Browned and Braised Chicken in White Wine and Garlic

Get the Recipe:
Browned and Braised Chicken in White Wine and Garlic

I've never been a fan of dry breast meat. Problem solved: pound it! Pounded chicken has a tender, moist texture and delicate flavor. It cooks up in minutes, leaving only 10 minutes from fridge to table.

Watch the Video!
Pounded Chicken Breasts 2 Ways: Grilled and Breaded

Get the Recipes:
Pounded Grilled Chicken Breasts
Tender Breaded Chicken Breasts