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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.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Trick or Treat? Fair Trade Halloween Chocolate!

There’s a bittersweet tale behind chocolate. As much as we love to see our kids parading through the neighborhood for sweets, kids on the Ivory Coast of Africa (where 43 percent of the world’s cocoa is produced) are being sold into abusive child labor camps on the cocoa farms. Young kids are forced to work excruciatingly long hours with very little or no pay under extreme conditions.

This is largely due to the insufficient income for cocoa farmers. The major chocolate companies (Hershey's, M&M/Mars and Nestle) still refuse to pay a fair trade price for chocolate. Why? Because Westerners are addicted to getting chocolate for cheap. Since we can get it at such a low cost and at an arm's reach, we assume chocolate is a dime a dozen. In all actuality, chocolate should be pricey; it is an arduous crop to produce, taking 400 pods of cocoa to yield just one pound of chocolate.

The “fair trade” label is part of the solution. Buying fair trade is a commitment to pay a little more so that the farmers get their fair share. It also means that the chocolate was purchased from farms that do not practice abusive child labor.

What can you do? This year, purchase fair trade chocolate to hand out to your little ghouls and goblins. It’s a little step, but a little goes a long way.

Buying fair trade Halloween chocolate is easy:

Global Exchange has individually packaged chocolate treats online. I’m doing the gold coins this year – I see a big pumpkin filled with sparkley treats for little fingers to grab!

For store bought chocolate, the following companies produce fair trade chocolates. They can be found at grocery and specialty stores:

Equal Exchange (100% fair trade)
Divine (100% fair trade)
Ithaca Fine Chocolates (100% fair trade)
Green and Black's
Endangered Species

Monday, October 15, 2007

How to Cook Winter Squash - Recipes!

Winter Squashes keep us going through the cool autumn and winter months, offering good sources of complex carbohydrates and necessary minerals and vitamins. Since these are true winter vegetables, they taste best when they’ve been exposed to the cooler weather of autumn and winter.

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The deep orange flesh of winter squash means they are loaded with beta-carotene, which converts to vitamin A in the body. According to Bauman College of Holistic Nutrition, Vitamin A is known for immune support, enhanced eye site (especially night vision) and aiding the digestive tract, where 70-90 percent of our immune system is located.

Sweet and Sour Mediterranean Squash
Served as an appetizer in Italy, Mediterranean vinegars and white wine balance the sweetness of winter squash and currents...

One Pot Meal!
Butternut Quinoa Pilaf with Ginger-Almond Sauce

Warming and mildly spicy, this high-protein pilaf makes an easy weeknight meal for the fall and winter months...

My personal favorites are kabocha (deep orange, eliptical shaped) and turban (the ones that look like UFO's). Don't be afraid of the weird shapes and sizes. Once you break open the alien shell and cook it up, you'll wonder what you ever waited for.

Cooking Winter Squash

Removing the skins - Cut the squash in half with a very sharp knife. With the cut-side down on the cutting board, sliver away the tough skins from the meat. Be very careful and use the sharpest knife you own, as dull knives slip and can be dangerous.

Roasting - This is the best way to get all the sweetness from the flesh. Roasting caramelizes the squash, bringing the natural sugars to the surface. It's also the easiest way to cook it; you don't have to deal with cutting away the dangerously hard skin. Use in soups, dollop on top of casseroles, or drizzle with butter, maple syrup and cinnamon.

Roasting Directions - Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Slice the squash in half lengthwise with a sharp knife and scoop out the seeds with a spoon. Place the pieces, cut-side down, on a baking sheet. Bake 45-55 minutes, until soft. Scoop out the flesh.

Braising - Cooking in a liquid (braising) gives the hard squash a chance to soften up and bring out it's delightful flavors. The squash is skinned and diced into chunks for pilafs, curries and stews.

Steaming - Given a little extra time in the steamer basket, these once rock hard nuggets will soften up like butter. Serve on top of a grain and drizzle with a creamy dressing or soy sauce.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Soups of the Season

Whether they’re called potages, broths, chowders, gumbos or consommés, there’s something about a good pot of homemade soup that just plain feels good... Especially during the cool autumn months when people start to come indoors to warm up.

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The best soups start with a good base. Most of the time, I use chicken stock because it noticeably enriches the undertones of the soup without dramatically altering the flavor. For most soups, the stock isn’t the target flavor. The function of the stock is the “behind the scenes” taste to enhance the soup's highlight: the beans, veggies, meats and spices.

Making your own soup stock is the best way to go, since you're in control of the final flavor, spicing and saltiness. But don’t kick yourself if you don't have the time or energy to make your own. I find organic pre-made chicken stocks to be just as good. I do like to make my own vegetable stocks. The pre-made varieties are too starchy for my taste; I like a thinner, brothier stock.

Stock Recipes:
Vegetable Stock
Chicken Stock

Soup Recipes:
Lentil and Sausage Soup with Spinach
A warming autumn or winter soup with hints of cumin and coriander. The addition of tahini makes a rich and creamy cup...

Kabocha Squash Soup with Roasted Red Pepper Puree
Red and orange colors pop out of the bowl to brighten any autumn potluck or family meal. Taste and presentation A+...

Salvaging Your Soup

What do you do when your homemade soup just isn't right? Here's some tips to save that soup:

Not Enough Flavor: It's amazing what the right amount of salt can do. What was once bland and lifeless is now a symphony to the senses. Go slow, adding 1/4 teaspoon at a time until the flavors of the soup start to pop out in your mouth.

Too Salty: Once you have it right, don't add more salt! Salting can be dangerous - what was once a symphony to the senses is now a feast for the garbage disposal. The only way to salvage a too-salty soup is to add stock or cream until the saltiness dissolves.

Too Bitter: Add 1-2 teaspoons sugar, maple syrup or agave nectar. If it's still too bitter, add 1/4 teaspoon at a time until the bitterness balances out. Milk or cream also balances bitter flavors.

Too Boring: Add 1-2 teaspoons vinegar, cider or lemon juice to give it some kick. Yogurt also gives bland soups some life. Whole milk or cream adds richness. You can also try adding more herbs and spices, 1/4 teaspoon at a time. Let it sit 5-10 minutes before going overboard - the flavors take time to develop.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Roasting Bell Peppers VIDEO!

You too can have the smell of fresh roasted peppers wafting through your own kitchen. Roasting peppers at home is easy, and takes less than ten minutes. They can be roasted on a gas stovetop flame, under a broiler or on a barbecue.

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WATCH THE VIDEO! How to Roast Peppers

Here's the Instructions:

Turn the heat source to high. Wash and dry the peppers.

With a pair of tongs or long fork, place the whole peppers directly on or under the heat source and gently turn them until they are blackened and blistered. This takes several minutes on each side. Try to get all the nooks and crannies to blacken.

Place the peppers in a bowl and cover for about 30 minutes, or until cool enough to handle. With your fingers, gently peel off the blackened skins. If they are hot peppers, use plastic gloves and be very careful not to get any of the pepper juices on your hands or in your eyes. Resist the temptation to peel the peppers under water or rinse them off, as you will lose the flavorful juices.

Slice them in half and remove the seeds. Slice thin for salads and appetizers, mince for a garnish, or puree for dips and dollops.