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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, September 25, 2007

A Pear Mon Frere?

Alongside peanut butter on a spoon, poached pears were my favorite food growing up. I loved the melt-in-your-mouth texture and soft, sweet taste.

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Pears are fall fruits that are native to the Middle East, but in the west, are grown commercially in Washington, Oregon and California. France is also revered for its superior pear varieties.

Pears are best picked when they are still firm. Unlike most tree fruits, they ripen off the tree and improve in both taste and texture. Choose pears that are firm, yet not hard, and ripen them at room temperature in a paper bag. They should be refrigerated when ripe and will keep only a couple days there-after.


Stilton Pear Salad with Candied Spiced Pecans
The tangy snap of red wine vinegar, sweetness from fresh ripe pears, and the crunch of candied nuts makes this salad a feast for the harvest season...

Poached Pears with Maple Mousse
Tender cooked pears in a rich wine marinade meld with warming spices with a silky-sweet "healthy" mousse to top it off...

There are hundreds of varieties of pears. The most common are Bartlett, Bosc and comice. There's a whole family of Bartlett Pears that range in color from red to yellow and have a red blush when fully ripe. They are bell shaped and are great for eating fresh or cooking. Bosc Pears have a long, narrow neck and have a brownish skin that is firmer than the Bartlett varieties. They are delightful eating fresh and make a perfect pear pie. A typical winter pear found in holiday gift boxes, Comice Pears have a plump shape and range from green to red in color. They go great with cheeses and fruit salads.

Any way you slice 'em, pears have a number of health benefits. They have large amounts of insoluble fiber (the gritty texture) to aid the colon in elimination, and soluble fiber, like pectin, to help lower serum cholesterol levels. Pears also contain vitamin C, B-vitamins, potassium and iron. Much of the fiber and vitamin content is in the skin, so try to eat these healthful fruits whole as much as possible.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Kid's Health - Tortillas, Wraps and Burritos

You can stuff anything into a tortilla. Of course they make burritos, but you don't have to limit yourself to traditional Mexican ingredients. Chicken or tuna salad stuffed into neat little packages, for example, makes a healthy, high protein lunch when the kids get sick of the usual same old sandwich. You can even spread tortillas with nut butter and jelly.

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If made with whole grains, tortillas give kids some added protein, fiber and B-vitamins to get them through their day of thinking hard and playing hard. If you can, try to get the brands that offer sprouted grains. Sprouted grains are easier to digest and the nutrients absorb better into the cells.

Sprouted grain tortillas are generally a little stiffer than regular varieties, so it's recommended to heat them first before wrapping. Even regular tortillas taste better toasted. Just place them over the burner (gas or electric) and toast for several seconds on each side. Line your favorite ingredients on top of the warm tortilla, then wrap and go.

Chicken Quesadillas
This easy Mexican favorite is a hot item for lunch boxes or after school snacks...
Burritos Gone Bananas
Bananas, nut butter and agave nectar rolled up in a neat little package...
Heirloom Tomato, Cream Cheese and Spinach Wraps
School's in! These light and fun wraps have vitamins-a-plenty to ward of the flu that comes with the start of the school year...

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The Caveman Diet

The paleolithic diet, or "paleo" diet for short, is the original diet that humans consumed before the advent of agriculture. It's based on our old hunter and gatherer ways of eating that consisted of lean meats, vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds. Everything else, like wheat, all other grains, flours, sugar, dairy products, beans, legumes and starchy tubers, are out.

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Why? The answer is simple: According to paleo experts and anthropologists, humans were really not designed to eat these foods in the first place. Since we've only been eating agricultural foods (wheat, grains, dairy, etc.) for some 10,000 years, paleo scientists agree that it just hasn't been long enough for our bodies to adapt. For the 2.5 million years before then, the hunter-gatherer diet was the diet we "grew up" on.

Although some people seem to fare well with a modern diet of milk, wheat, sugar and grains, others have a harder time. Allergies, food intolerances, gastro-intestinal upset, yeast overgrowth, fatigue, menstrual disorders, chronic muscular pain, and a whole slough of other symptoms and diseases are showing up on the radar. These are becoming more widely recognized as related to the foods we eat. Folks who suffer from these symptoms may benefit from a simpler diet that's free of the common trigger foods.

Get the Recipes!
Beef Stew with Roots and Winter Squash
Tilapia on Vegetables Primavera

Here's a look at the "Yes" and "No" foods on the paleo diet, and why:

"Yes" Foods

Lean Meats, Poultry and Seafood - These make up almost half of the foods eaten on the paleo diet. Animal protein is consumed with just about every meal. Choose wisely though: fatty cuts (bacon, chops, chicken legs, ribs, etc.) should be avoided.

Vegetables - Almost all vegetables are good choices on this diet. Even the mildly starchy varieties, such as carrots, parsnips, winter squash and turnips, are valued. Raw and cooked vegetables should make up nearly half the diet, as they give us fiber to help digest the meat and provide us with many nutrients.

Fresh Fruits - Fruits can be eaten throughout the day. There is no limit or "carb counting" for these power-packed foods that provide us with disease-fighting nutrients, vitamins, minerals and fiber. For people battling with insulin conditions, such as diabetes, insulin resistance or syndrome X, sweet fruits should be limited or restricted.

Nuts and Seeds - Nuts and seeds have good fats, some protein and minerals. The "good fats", namely the omega 3's, are needed to balance cholesterol levels (especially when eating all that meat!) and support brain function. Since nuts are so concentrated in fat, people trying to lose weight might want to limit consumption to a small handful a day.

Dried Fruits - These can be eaten in moderation when you've got the sweet tooth. That means raw desserts are on the menu! See the Natural Cooking July '07 eLetter to learn all about how to make raw desserts that are both healthy and totally satisfying.

"No" Foods

Grains and legumes (including flours) - Grains and legumes contain what are called "anti-nutrients". These can interfere with the absorption of some minerals in the body. Some, but not all, of them are cooked out when heated. Many grains, especially the ones in the wheat family, are related to mild and severe gastro-intestinal problems.

Milk and Daily Products - Studies show that some people of Northern European ancestry and a few African tribes have genetically adapted to tolerate milk sugar after infancy (NY Times, 2006) but most others still aren't able to digest it very well, causing stomach upset, allergies, bloating, diarrhea and other conditions.

Starchy Tubers - According to Dr. Loren Cordain, a leading expert on the paleo diet, our paleolithic ancestors probably didn't eat too many of these. They are toxic when eaten raw and were probably eaten only in emergency situations. Starches are also linked with diabetes and other insulin conditions, as well as obesity.

That being said, the paleo diet is probably the hardest diet to follow. It's hard enough to give up just one of the staples from our standard American diet, but to give up almost all of them? For most, just the thought of this might tip the scales. But if you are one of those people (and you know who you are) who has struggled with unanswerable problems with immunity, digestion, and general health, the long term benefits of this simple way of eating might outweigh the quick fix and convenience from our modern staples.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Late Summer Salads, Video - Dicing a Tomato, Cucumber and Onion

The end of summer doesn't mean the end of fresh salads. It just means adding an element of warmth and comfort to help transition into shorter days and cooler nights. Fresh baby greens are still at the farmers' market from September through October... Use 'em! But think about how you can give them a richer element now that the season is changing.

Start with richer and thicker dressings. Nut butters work wonderfully. Almond butter, tahini and cashew butters make sweet, comforting sauces without any added cream or heaviness (see Carrot Salad with Tahini Dressing, below - the tahini can be substituted with your favorite nut butter).

Roasted veggies also add a warming quality to fresh salads. Roasted peppers, summer and winter squashes, tomatoes and eggplant make colorful salad toppings, and add a touch of flair and fancy. Stay tuned for October's blog entry to learn how to roast bell peppers.

Toasted nuts on any late summer or fall salad can also do the trick. They supply good fats to help us settle into the fall season, and give salads a rich, roasted and crunchy texture. Toast them or candy them for an extra sweet treat (see Baby Spinach Salad with Caramelized Onions and Apples).

Try these recipes and make sure to watch the video if you need some quick dicing tips for tomatoes, cucumbers and onions!

Watch the Video!
Israeli Tomato Salad, How to Dice a Tomato

Israeli Tomato Salad
Local, seasonal heirloom tomatoes are the best for this colorful salad. Choose a variety of reds, oranges and yellows to make it stand out.

Carrot Salad with Tahini-Garlic Dressing
Shredded carrots, pepper and raisins blended with a rich sesame dressing makes a perfect side for a light lunch or dinner.

Baby Spinach Salad with Caramelized Onions and Apples

Warm spiced apples and sweet onions over wilted spinach makes a nice accompaniment throughout the fall and winter months.