Monday, October 17, 2011

Grilled Heirloom Tomato Flatbread

They say it takes 7 to 10 exposures of a new food to acquire a taste for it.  There is some validity to the statement based on the fact that I have integrated previously despised foods into my diet through repeated encounters: olives, beets, peppers, spicy foods, cabbage- the list goes on.  Despite that, I have eaten raw tomatoes hundreds of times and I just can't seem to develop a liking for them.  However, when it comes to heirloom tomatoes, my dislike suddenly disappears.  Heirlooms are exceptionally different from processed, mass-marketed, genetically modified, average run of the mill tomatoes.  The amazing colors and flavor not only rationalize my dislike for the inferior tomatoes but become a sensory experience.  I hoard heirlooms into fall until they slowly start to disappear and I have to wait a whole year for their return.

What makes this bite better?
Just as family heirlooms are highly valued, an heirloom tomato is no different.  Known for their inherited unique characteristics, genetic variation and perfect imperfections, heirloom tomatoes are some of the few diverse foods that still exist in a food system that has been genetically drained and homogenized.  In addition to the enjoyment of their complex flavor, eating heirlooms benefits your health and the environment.  Farmers are more inclined to grow heirlooms locally and organically eliminating the risk of pesticide ingestion or consuming foods that have been artificially ripened or transported environmentally threatening distances. Since heirlooms are grown organically and allowed to fully ripen, they have a higher nutrient content.  In general, tomatoes are high in vitamin C, vitamin K, potassium, other antioxidants and lycopene.  Lycopene promotes prostate health and immune system function in addition to preventing chronic disease and certain types of cancer.  Heirlooms come in a array of colors which indicate varied nutrient content.  So grab a few in every color!

Grilled Heirloom Tomato Flatbread
1 pre-made pizza dough
Corn meal (or other coarse flour)
Heirloom tomatoes
Olive Oil
Parmigiano Reggiano (optional)

Spread corn meal or flour on a flat surface to prevent dough from sticking and work dough into a flat circle.  Heat a grill to high.  Brush olive oil on one side of the dough and place oiled side down on grill.  Brush olive oil on the remaining side.  Thinly slice one half of an onion and grill the onions until slightly charred.  Slice the heirloom tomatoes and dress with olive oil, salt and pepper.  Once the pizza has developed grill marks, flip to the other side.  Place onion and heirloom tomatoes on the flatbread and close the grill to allow the tomatoes to heat through.  Finish with basil, additional salt and pepper if needed and parmigiano reggiano cheese if desired.  Slice, serve and enjoy.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Granola Bars

I am not a morning person.  I snooze my alarm at least 4 times before I get out of bed and that's on a good day.  Needless to say, I don't leave myself a lot of time in the morning to get out the door, let alone to make a healthy breakfast.  However, I have also found that breakfast is the most difficult meal to eat on the run.  Some of the easy choices are just not healthy- bagels with butter, donuts, pastries, processed bacon, egg and cheese on a biscuit? Yuk.  

I love granola bars and often grab them when I am in a hurry.  But the good ones are expensive and the cheap ones are full of high fructose corn syrup and preservatives (check the labels people).  Granola bars have been on my list of recipes for quite some time, so I finally buckled down and made my own.

It took me two tries to get a recipe I was happy with.  The first batch came out like cardboard.  I was trying to find a substitute for butter, which most recipes call for.  For the first batch I tried almond milk which did not work.  For the second batch I used peanut butter.  This helped maintain moisture while adding extra flavor, protein and healthy fat to substitute for the butter.  It was also important to decrease the amount of oats and increase the amount of nuts, seeds and dried fruit. 

Enjoy the granola bars on their own, topped with almond butter or crumbled with yogurt and fruit.  Breakfast for the week? Check. Now I can sleep in...

What makes this bite better?
Since ancient times, honey has been highly-regarded not only for its sweetness but also for its healing properties.  Honey is rich in antioxidants, specifically phenolic compounds.  Recent studies have identified the phenolic compounds found in honey to be beneficial in the prevention of cardiovascular diseases.  These compounds have also been found to reduce cancer cell proliferation and thus may have important implications in cancer prevention and treatment.  In addition, honey is a great source of energy due to its high carbohydrate content.  This makes it ideal for athletes and children.  Ever since I started training for the NYC marathon I have used honey during training rather than sports gels or chews.  The addition of honey to your diet can have valuable antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant effects that other sugars and sweeteners do not provide.

Granola Bars
1 1/2 cup oats
2 1/2 cups mixed nuts, seeds, dried fruit*
1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup peanut butter (almond or cashew)
Salt (about 1/2 teaspoon)
1 teaspoon vanilla (optional)
1 teaspoon cinnamon (optional)

In a large bowl, combine dried ingredients (oats, dried fruit, nuts, seeds, salt and cinnamon).  Heat a saucepan over medium heat and mix honey, vanilla and peanut butter, stirring continuously.  Once combined remove from heat and pour over dried mixture.  Make sure not to let the peanut butter over cook.  The mixture should clump easily.  If the mixture is too moist, add additional oats. If it is too dry, add a small amount of water.  Cover a baking dish with parchment paper.  Choose the size of the baking dish based on your desired thickness of the bars.  Pour the mixture onto the paper and press down to mold the mixture to fit the pan, using parchment paper or plastic wrap.  Make sure the thickness is consistent.  Bake at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes or until the edges and top are golden brown.  Remove and allow to cool completely.  This may take a while and if necessary place in the fridge.  Once completely cooled, cut into squares.  Store for breakfast and enjoy :)

* For this recipe I used dried cranberries, dried raisins, almonds, walnuts, peanuts, pumpkin seeds, flax seeds and sunflower seeds- pretty much anything I had lying around.  Other suggestions include dark chocolate chips, shredded coconut and pecans