Monday, September 24, 2012

October Unprocessed - Join Me!

Hello dear reader. You may or may not have noticed the new icon on the left of my blog. It's a button for the October Unprocessed Challenge, which is starting in less than a week. October is coming up fast, the first is next Monday, so it's time to prepare!!

Sign up to take the challenge with me!
As a little background, the October Unprocessed Challenge is the brainchild of Eating Rules founder Andrew Wilder, and this is the fourth year he's held the challenge. I first heard of it on the Facebook page of a fellow IIN alum, Cora Poage of Sexy Soul Wellness. I clicked on the link, and the second I read what the October Unprocessed Challenge was about I signed myself up. Last year 3,000 people took the pledge, and Andrew's goal for this year is 30,000. Will you join us?

This pledge has me really excited! I mean, most of you know that I already eat pretty healthy, but there are those lingering processed items in the kitchen that I keep going back to. Taking a pledge to omit those items for a month is so much more do-able than telling myself I can never eat them again, and the challenge is a great step towards raising my awareness even more about what I'm putting into my body. Throughout the month, here on the blog, I'll be talking (and taking pictures) about my experience with the Challenge. You guys are going to hold me accountable. I'm going to be real and honest. If I slip up, I'll tell you. But I'll also be talking about all the delicious unprocessed things I'm eating, too.

If you want to join me in doing the challenge, please leave a comment here and/or on my Facebook page. And also please sign up on Andrew's website, as that way he can reach his goal. He also sends out all sorts of helpful updates via email - not spam, I promise! And trust me, you can eat MUCH more than you think you can! His goal is to raise awareness of what's in our food via the "kitchen test," where basically if you could make it in your kitchen (you don't actually have to make it, just know that you could) you can eat it. If it takes a laboratory to create the food, then you can't eat it, at least not this month.

Another point he makes, which I am also a fan of, is that you can make deliberate exceptions. For example, if it's your birthday and you know you're going to want a special treat that does not pass the kitchen test, go ahead and eat some. If you have a marathon or triathlon and know that you need to eat your Gu or whatever, that's okay too. The point is that we shouldn't buy some processed food items at the market because we have an instant craving for it or because it's an existing habit. Take this month to explore your habits, and notice any differences that occur in your mind and body. And please let me know what you're experiencing via comments.

So join me, and take the October Unprocessed pledge! For a day, a week, or the whole month! And remember, leave a comment below or on my Facebook page. And please sign up on Andrew's page too!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Blistered Padron or Shishito Peppers

Blistered to perfection!
While sorting out our CSA bounty the other week, I came across a carton of Padron Peppers. I've ordered these at restaurants before, and usually they're very mild. But the last time I had them (with my sister in Los Angeles about a year ago) they were SO spicy that we couldn't even eat them. The very nice waitress took them back to the kitchen and off our bill, she could see how much we were suffering. My sister and I both had tears, were gulping water, and blowing our noses. Not a pretty sight. Apparently they are spicier when out of season, but when they're in season (like now - Aug/Sep) they are a very mild pepper.

Anyway, I now had some in front of me, so it was with some trepidation that I cooked them as an appetizer to dinner. This batch was mild and delicious, and making them is so easy and simple!

- Rinse peppers and pat dry.
- In large bowl, toss peppers with enough olive oil to coat.
- Heat a large, heavy-bottomed pan (I used a cast iron) over medium heat. Add about a tablespoon of high-heat oil (such as sesame), just enough so the peppers don't stick.
- When pan is warm, add the peppers. Watch out for sizzling oil splatter. They will cook quick, so don't walk away!
- Keeping an eye on the peppers, turn them every couple minutes so they evenly blister.
- When they have enough blistering to your taste, put them back in the bowl and toss with sea salt.
- Serve/eat immediately! They're best when hot.

Monday, September 10, 2012

What to do when you have too many peppers!

Beautiful, aren't they?
I haven't been to the farm where our CSA grows peppers, but the place has got to be totally overrun with them right now (late August/early September), because every week we get another bag full of them. They are delicious, don't get me wrong, but in going through my fridge the other day I realized that I still had some from 3 weeks ago! I started thinking about what delicious things I could do with the peppers before they got too old (besides chopping them up and topping my salad with them) and I realized that in a few months, when peppers aren't so plentiful and they become pricey at the store, it would be fabulous to have a bunch ready-to-go in the freezer.

Some info and health benefits of bell peppers: (source: World's Healthiest Foods)
- Low in capsaicin, which is what makes other peppers spicy, resulting in a mild taste.
- Paprika is made from bell peppers (I didn't know this!), and will be whatever color the pepper is.
- Member of the nightshade family (others include tomatoes, potatoes and eggplant). If you have arthritis or joint pain, don't eat these as the alkaloids could be a contributing factor.
- Vitamin C and Carotenoid concentration is higher in ripe peppers.
- Twice the Vitamin C as an orange!
- Good source of Vitamin E.
- Lots of Phytonutrients: Flavonoids (luteolin, quercitin, hesperidan), Carotenoids (alpha/beta-carotene, cryptoxanthin, lutein, zeaxanthin), Hydroxycinnamic Acids (ferulic and cinnamic acid).

I had bell peppers, but I believe this would work with any type. The one thing to keep in mind is that peppers that have been frozen usually get a bit mushy when you defrost them, so while they work great in cooked recipes out of the freezer (think scrambled eggs, soups, etc.), they won't be so great raw.

Here's how I got my peppers freezer ready: 

1. Rinse peppers and pat dry.

2. Cut peppers in half, use your fingers to peel out the seeds and the green tops.

Step 2
 3. Cut the peppers into your desired form. I chopped, but you can do slices (think: fajitas) or even dice them if you want. It's up to you!

4. Put peppers onto a baking sheet and put them in the freezer until frozen. Ideally you would do a single layer, but I didn't have room in my freezer.

Step 4
 5. Once the peppers have frozen, put them into labeled freezer-proof glass jars or plastic baggies. I do my best to avoid using plastic, but all my jars were in use today.

Step 5

6. Put the peppers in your freezer, and use them as needed. In a few months, you'll be glad you thought ahead!

Monday, September 3, 2012

Eggplant Two Ways: Roasted & Baba Ghanoush

Dinner: Roasted Eggplant and Tomato with Pesto
I had a problem the other night. I was home alone, and there were two huge eggplants (a globe and a rosa bianca) sitting in the fridge. No matter the preparation I chose, I knew there was no way I was going to be able to eat it all in one sitting. But I needed to cook them soon. And then, I had an idea! Why not roast some eggplant tonight (with some under-ripe tomatoes), and make baba ghanoush tomorrow? Brilliant! I love meals that meld into each other - another way to use leftovers! If you aren't thinking ahead that far, you can roast the eggplant the same day as making the baba ghanoush, but be sure to allow enough time to let it cool first.

Eggplant and tomato slices. Fresh and hot, right out of the oven!
Roasted Eggplant & Tomatoes
2 Eggplants (any variety will work)
4-6 Tomatoes (under-ripe works great here!)
1t Salt (plus extra)
1/4t Black Pepper, freshly ground
2T Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 Garlic Cloves, finely minced (I used a press)
8 Fresh Basil Leaves, chopped (or 1t Dried Basil)

- Rinse the eggplant and pat dry, then slice into 1/4" rounds, put in a colander and sprinkle with coarse salt. This draws out the moisture, making them less bitter.
- Let eggplant sit for 20-30 minutes. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
- When time has elapsed, remove slices and pat dry with a paper towel.
- Put slices (plus sliced tomatoes, if using) in a big bowl, and toss with salt, pepper, oil, garlic and basil.
- Lightly oil the baking sheet, and arrange slices in a single layer (use two baking sheets if you're overlapping).
- Bake for about 30 minutes, until slice turn a bit brown.
- Eat immediately, or let cool to make the baba ghanoush.

Baba Ghanoush (without tahini)
Leftover eggplant, about to be blended up!

The result: delicious Baba Ghanoush!
1.5 Pounds of Eggplant, weigh before cooking (how many this is depends on size)
3T Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1T Fresh Lemon Juice

Note #1: Because I was using the seasoned roasted eggplant from the night before, I did not need to add seasoning. If you're using plain roasted eggplant, add 1t sea salt and 1 clove of pressed garlic to this recipe.
Note #2: Most recipes tell you to remove the skins of the eggplant, but I left them on the slices. Not sure how this would work in a regular blender (and I would not do it for bigger pieces) but in a Vita-Mix it turned out great.
- Add ingredients to blender or food processor, and pulse until combined to desired consistency.
- Serve either at room temp or chilled with your favorite dipping items: fresh veggies, whole wheat pita, etc. Or use as a spread on sandwiches.