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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, February 25, 2008

Seared Steak with Red Wine Reduction -- VIDEO!

Searing is a method of cooking where just the surface layers of the food are cooked, leaving the center rare to medium rare. Nutritionally speaking, this keep vitamins, healthy fats and the protein itself intact to insure you are getting the right nutrients with your meal.

Video - Seared Steak

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Different cuts of meat have different tastes and textures. Tougher (but generally more flavorful and less expensive) cuts are: flank, skirt and round. These do best when pounded and/or marinated to soften the tough meat. More tender (but generally less flavorful and more expensive) cuts are: tenderloin, sirloin, porterhouse, fillet mignon, strip steak or rib eye.

Cooking time varies depending upon how thick the steak is:

1/2 - 3/4 inch: RARE: 1-2 minutes each side; MEDIUM: 3-4 minutes each side
3/4 - 1 inch: RARE: 3 minutes each side; MEDIUM: 3-5 minutes each side
1 - 1 1/2 inches: RARE: 4-5 minutes each side; MEDIUM: 6-8 minutes each side

Seared Steak with Red Wine Reduction Recipe:
Serves 2

If you don't use alcohol for cooking, try using pomegranate juice or apple juice to replace the wine.

1-2 tablespoons melted coconut oil or olive oil
1/2 teaspoon onion or garlic powder
1 tablespoon dried herbs (Herbs du Provences blend, rosemary, thyme, savory, lavender...)
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
pinch cayenne pepper
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
12 - 16 ounce steak (3/4 - 1 inch thick)

2 shallots, minced
1/4 cup fruity red wine
1/2 cup beef stock
Dash sea salt
Dash black pepper
2 drops liquid stevia or 1 teaspoon agave nectar or sugar

olive oil
balsamic vinegar

On a large plate, mix the oil with the spices and herbs. Place the steak into the oil, flipping so that both sides are coated with the oil and spices.

Heat a large skillet to medium heat. When hot, lay the steak in the pan (no need to add more oil) and sear 3-4 minutes on each side, depending upon how rare you'd like your steak. Remove the steak to a plate and let sit 5 minutes before slicing.

Add the shallots to the hot pan and cook just 30 seconds. Add the wine, scraping the little bits, called fond, from the bottom of the pan. Simmer the wine for 2-3 minutes, until it has reduced by a third.

Add the stock and cook another 5-7 minutes, until the sauce has reduced by a third to a half. Stir in the salt, pepper and sweetener. Taste, adding more seasonings, if needed, to round out the flavors.

Spoon some sauce over the steak and drizzle with a bit of fresh, raw olive oil. Drop just a touch of balsamic over the top to bring out the flavors of the wine and meat. Serve warm.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Healthy Kids - Farm to School Program

I thought I'd post this blog, after hearing yesterday about the recall of 143 million pounds of beef from the California slaughterhouse being investigated for animal abuse. Cows too sick to walk were filmed being shoveled up with fork lifts and dragged across floors with metal chains.

Sad to say it, but I believe that this kind of treatment is typical for commercial slaughterhouses. It really backs up the necessity to purchase meat from local, organic humanely treated sources. Small farms are best.

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Now more than ever, there's a looming concern about whether or not our kids are getting the right nutrition at school. Are they eating meat from commercial, large-scale slaughterhouses? Has the produce been sprayed with dangerous chemicals? Are they serving milk with hormones and antibiotics? Are kids eating processed junk food high in fried fats and refined sugar? Inquiring moms need to know.

In an effort to increase nutrition at schools and provide kids with lasting education in nutrition and health, an organization called Farm to School is sweeping the nation. These programs connect local farms that provide fresh, seasonal and organic foods (including produce, meat, eggs and dairy) to school lunch programs. Kids not only get to eat the food, but also get involved in how it grows. Students visit the farms, start gardens, and implement recycling and composting programs at school.

And it's good for the farmers too. Schools implementing the Farm to School program buy shares in the farms, ensuring that the farm has the resources for the growing season ahead. It's a win-win for everyone: Farms, schools, kids, parents, communities and Mother Earth share the wealth.

All but nine states now have at least one Farm to School Program, and those numbers are growing fast. The Farm to School website has clear resources for how to get a program started at your child's school, including state and federal policies, funding opportunities, forums, publications and links.

Check it out!

Monday, February 11, 2008

Olive Oil -- In Season

Olive oil should be consumed all year round, but winter is the best time to savor its freshly crushed, robust flavors.

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The stronger the bite, the better. The compound called oleocanthal that gives olive oil its distinctive throaty sting is the very element that researchers have found to have anti-inflammatory properties. Internal inflammation is noted to have a key role in many modern diseases. To get the maximum nutritional benefit, skip over the "light", tasteless oils and go for strong, green and unrefined.

Olive oil is best consumed uncooked. Although not harmful when heated under the smoking point, its good-for-you fats and anti-inflammatory compounds become unwound when heated and will lessen the many health benefits for you. Try to incorporate raw olive oil into your diet everyday. Drizzle it over steamed veggies, in salads or on meats after cooking.

Moroccan Chicken with Olives and Lemon
Browned chicken is gently braised in a punchy, spiced charmoula (lemon and herb sauce). The lemons and olives are added at the very end to maintain their nutritional value...

Tuscan Minestrone Soup
A bowl of comfort... yet the addition of fresh vegetables and a drizzling of olive oil just before serving ensures nutritional vitality for the soup...

Deciphering the Labels

Extra-Virgin: This is the finest quality olive oil and always comes from the first pressing of the olives. Extra-virgin oils do not contain any refined oils and cannot be produced with chemical treatments.

Virgin: Virgin oils are less superior to extra-virgin, but no chemicals are used in processing and no refined oils are added.

Pure: Not really pure at all, these labels refer to oils that are usually a mix of refined oil and virgin oil. "Pure" oils cannot claim to be cold-pressed or untreated.

Cold-Pressed: Oils become bio-chemically altered when heated. Cold pressing keeps the delicate oils intact, maintaining sound nutrition quality, freshness and flavor.

First-Pressed: This oil comes from the first pressing of the olives, giving the oil a rich, strong, flavorful taste and a fine balance of acids.

Light: In other words, refined. These oils have been treated to neutralize any strong flavors. Refined olive oil has gained popularity in the west for a few reasons: it has a hotter smoking point and it doesn't have a taste. It also subliminally suggests to consumers that it has fewer calories than regular olive oil. Refined olive oil has the same amount of calories, yet is devoid of its many nutritional benefits.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Shopping Cart Makeovers

Even "natural" foods shoppers need a shopping cart makeover. With so many packaged, refined and processed items, it's hard to get out of any natual foods market with a cart of healthy, life-sustaining food. Even one false move in the bulk aisle can leave me wounded. As much as I wish it were true, sugar-laced granola, yogurt-covered pretzels and chocolate "energy nuggets" are just not healthy.

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But yet, I'm thankful. The bigger natural markets are a one-stop shopping spot that offer alternatives to the "SAD" Standard American Diet of hormone-laden meat and dairy, hydrogenated oils, refined flours and high-fructose corn syrup. And with a good amount of intention and self-control, everyone can make it out alive.

Here's How:

Stay around the perimeter of the store: This is where you'll find the fresh, perishable goods (produce, meat, eggs, dairy, vegetable proteins) that are more nutritious and have fewer calories pound per pound. Perimeter foods should eventually become your staples.

Limit purchases from the the center aisles: These aisles hold the packaged, processed foods that are high in sugar and flours, over cooked oils, fillers and too many ingredients in one box.

Know the aisles: When you go down an aisle for a particular product, try to make a beeline for what it is you want, skipping the other, less-beneficial items. Then move on.

Use the bulk aisle with caution: Choose raw instead of toasted nuts, flax and pumpkin seeds for omega-3s, whole grains (including easy-to-digest options like quinoa, millet and steel-cut oats) dried fruits, and trail mixes that don't contain chocolate. Okay... maybe small amounts of chocolate...

Make your shopping cart a work of art: It should look colorful and fresh, filled with 60-80 percent fruits and vegetables. Go for dark green, red and orange colors -- these indicate richness in beta-carotene, chlorophyll and other antioxidant-rich nutrients.

Eat before you shop: Treat errands like you're going out into a desert. Never make your trek without water, fresh fruit or nuts on hand. You may even want to sit in the car for 5 minutes to take a bite, calm your mind and set your intentions.

Make a list... Or not: It can be helpful to make a list and stick with it, but shopping without one is often more practical. If you know you love spinach, apples and loin of lamb, throw them in your cart and do something with them when you get them home. Improvise: Spinach can be tossed with a dressing or steamed along meats; lamb can be broiled or pan-seared with some simple herbs; and everyone knows what to do with an apple.

Some may snicker at making such a deal over the trivialities of grocery shopping. But those learning to be "conscious eaters" may have the last laugh. Gentle discipline with an intention of radiant health and inner tranquility just might be one of the best sources for a long and happy life.