December 30, 2009

To a healthier new year…

Posted in Between Us column, Health at 7:44 pm by dinaheng

One thing most people groan about when the calendar page turns is the need to lose those extra pounds gained over the holidays.

According to Laura Pensiero, the secret to controlling weight is staying in motion (however you can) and focusing on adding good foods to your diet, not by dieting and depriving your palate. So what are good foods? In Pensiero’s mind, it’s food that’s extremely fresh, locally grown, and eaten in season.

“It’s about moving into a lifestyle that provides you with more variety and more pleasure,” Pensiero says. “Food grown in season offers you better quality, price, total flavor profile, and leads to the engagement of excitement in the next season.”

Pensiero, owner of the restaurant, Gigi Trattoria in Rhinebeck, N.Y., Gigi Market in Red Hook, N.Y. and a partner in Just Salad restaurants, is a registered dietitian, chef, and author of several cookbooks, including the recent “Hudson Valley Mediterranean…The Gigi Good Food Cookbook” ($30, William Morrow).

The author says most of us have lost touch with the foods we consume, and the people who grow the food we eat. In “Hudson Valley Mediterranean,” she offers more than 120 recipes that celebrate seasonal eating and the people of the Hudson Valley, from farmers to local craftsmen.

The recipes are easy to prepare, and show how foods that are harvested at their peak and brought to the table quickly yield more nutrition for better health.

“Work time in a recipe should never take more than 15 minutes,” Pensiero says. “It may slow cook all day, but in the time it would take to go somewhere and pick up take-out, you could put together a meal. It’s rewarding to nourish yourself with a wonderful, flavorful meal. It’s like getting a massage.”

She says food lovers appreciate waiting in springtime for white asparagus to appear, for that perfect summer tomato, for fall mushrooms, and holiday foods at the end of the year.

“Seasonal foods can be eaten yearround, but there’s a gift with every season,” she notes. “The flavor of a peach in August is different from a peach in January. For the best flavor, select the vegetable in the season it’s grown.”

For those who are not big vegetable eaters, Pensiero suggests mixing seasonal vegetables into casseroles, braises, or stews to start. Try adding butternut squash, instead of white potatoes, into a stew. To bring out the most flavor, try roasting a vegetable until all the sugars come out, instead of steaming it.

“I believe some people are drawn to more sweet foods, and others to more savory, salty foods,” she says. “My downfall is rich Hudson Valley cheeses, rather than desserts. What’s important is adding healthier foods, which will bump out unhealthy food from your diet. Sometimes, overeating is just not being satisfied, and searching for more.

“A lot of people weren’t satisfied with low fat, low carb diets. There is a place for fats and carbs in the diet. Enjoyment and pleasure has to be part of a diet, or it’s just not sustainable.”

Try these mouth-watering dishes in your imagination… Strawberry-Stuffed French Toast, Baked Mac ‘n’ Cheese with Cauliflower and Peas, Apple Butter Harvest Pork Chops…

Then try them for real, and know that you’re creating your own healthier, happier new year.

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