Embracing a New Old-Fashioned Take on Healthy Eating

nourished kitchen cover

Sustainable. Gorgeous. Rich in nutrients. These are three ways The Nourished Kitchen captures the fresh and simple elegance of food. In her new cookbook, blogger and real-food proponent Jennifer McGruther -- who favors the likes of bone-enriched broths and fermented goods -- entices readers to once again get their hands dirty in the kitchen.

What are you growing in your garden this year?

This time of the year, we're just starting our garden, as mountain living means that snow can linger into June and arrive again in September.  This year, my family is planning to plant lettuce, hearty greens, radishes, carrots and a wide variety of mints. Chocolate mint and mountain mint are always favorites.

Do you have a favorite seasonal food or dish, something you look forward to every cooking year?

Every season brings something I cherish, some recipe my family looks forward to all year. In summer, it's true sour pickles, seasoned with dill, garlic and spice. Pickling cucumbers enjoy such a short season. I buy them by the case, pack them into stoneware crocks and ferment them with a spiced brine until they come out sharp, salty and sour. Fall brings quince, and I like to pair it with apples and pears in a simple sauce, or to poach the quince and drop them into flaky pie crusts. In winter, I lean on savory winter squash pies and stews of root vegetables, grass-fed beef and broth. In springtime, it's lovage soup -- all clean and bright in flavor, but still warm enough to take the edge off the cold evenings of spring.

Sustainability is a central theme throughout this book. What does it mean to you?

Sustainability is a word that seems like its tossed about too frequently.  For me, it means that foods were grown with a mindful intention that honors the farmers, the farmworkers, the land, the animals and the consumers.

What's the biggest challenge of eating sustainably?

Many families struggle with their food budget, and choosing local grass-fed beef or pasture-raised pork, fresh milk, and organically grown vegetables seems like a luxury.  For other families, the biggest struggle is simply one of access. They may live too far from the countryside to make easy connections with growers, and too far from the city to access many resources there. Kitchen management and simple home economics can help to mitigate the increased cost of purchasing grass-fed meats, farm-fresh eggs or organic fruits and vegetables. Choosing single ingredient foods, as opposed to expensive packaged organic foods, can help to off-set some expense. Also, some of the most inexpensive cuts of meat, such as bone or offal, number among the most nutritious while traditional methods of preparing food, like soups, braises and stews, can turn even the least expensive, toughest cuts into something that is utterly tender and flavorful.

Similarly, adopting a waste-not, want not attitude will help you get the most from the produce you do purchase, making it go farther.

In terms of access, there are several resources that can help you connect with local growers.  The  Weston A. Price Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to traditional foods pathways, offers chapters across the country, as well as chapters world-wide, and chapter leaders can provide you with resources for local and regional farms practicing sustainable techniques.

Lastly, it's important to remember that every small step you make in the right direction is a positive one.  We must remember to fill bellies first, and then focus on increasingly healthy choices. Do the best you can with what you have.

berry panna cotta
Roasted Berry Panna Cotta

Serves 4 to 6

Cream and berries make a beautiful marriage, and roasting berries enhances their aroma, deepening both their tartness and sweetness, which turns almost candy-like with time.

1 cup chopped strawberries
1 cup raspberries
1 cup blueberries
1 tablespoon unrefined cane sugar
1 cup whole milk
2 tablespoons plain gelatin
3 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup honey

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Arrange the berries in a single layer a 9- by 13-inch baking dish, sprinkle with the sugar, and roast for 20 to 25 minutes, until the berries release their liquid and the aroma that wafts from the oven perfumes your kitchen with the sweet-tart bouquet of ripe fruit.

Pour the berries and their liquid into a food processor or blender and puree until smooth. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve to remove seeds or bits of skin.

Pour the milk into a small bowl, then sprinkle the gelatin over the milk. Allow the gelatin to soften for 5 minutes.

Transfer the milk and softened gelatin to a saucepan and stir continuously over medium heat for 5 minutes. Do not let the milk boil. Whisk the cream, honey, and berry puree into the milk and continue whisking for 5 to 7 minutes, making sure the gelatin is well incorporated. Pour into four 6-ounce or six 4-ounce individual ramekins or custard dishes, cover, and refrigerate until set, at least 6 hours or up to 1 day.

Serve the panna cotta cold, in the ramekins.

Dana Angelo White, MS, RD, ATC, is a registered dietitian, certified athletic trainer and owner of Dana White Nutrition, Inc., which specializes in culinary and sports nutrition

Photos and recipe reprinted from The Nourished Kitchen, by Jennifer McGruther (Ten Speed Press). 

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