Devils Workshop

has been moved to new address

Sorry for inconvenience...

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.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Melons - Summer's Hefty Healers

In the market yesterday, three out of five people in line were lugging one of these massive fruits through the check out line.

But, reading from my Food Lover's Companion, I learned that watermelons, since they lack flavor complexity and have a watery texture, are considered the "least sophisticated" of the melon varieties. Once again, I came to the conclusion that Mt. Shasta folks are just not very sophisticated.

There are two broad categories of melon, the muskmelon and the watermelon, each of which has many varieties. The muskmelon varieties (the sophisticated ones) which include canteloupes, honeydews, casabas and crenshaws, have seeds that are contained within the hollow cavity in the center of the fruit. Watermelon varieties, on the other hand, have seeds that are dispersed throughout the flesh.

Melons of all kinds are hefty healing fruits. They contain large amounts of anti-oxidants, such as beta-carotene and vitamins A and C for immune health. They have a high potassium content, which is important for the nerves and muscles. All varieties have cooling properties for the body in the middle of a hot summer.

Hieroglyphics dating back nearly 2,500 hundred years ago show that Egyptians knew the pleasures of these sensuous fruits of the vine even then. At that time, though, melons were much smaller and were less sweet. It wasn't until the renaisannce period that they were transformed into the sweet juicy summertime fruits that we are so accustomed to today.

All parts of the melon can be used--Asians love the roasted seeds, and the pickled rind is a favorite in many parts of the world.

Choose melons that are heavy for their size and that have a sweet frangrance. Canteloupes should have a well-raised “netting” and yield to slight pressure at the blossom end. Avoid immature fruits, since melons do not ripen after picking.

The New Whole Foods Encyclopedia; Rebecca Wood
The New Food Lover's Companion; Sharon Tyler Herbst

Melon and Basil Soup
Yield: 4-6 servings

This cold soup is cooling and sweet. The basil and lime kick-start the sweetness of the melon, making it a perfect refreshment for the mid-summer heat. This soup should be eaten by itself as a light lunch or an afternoon repast, as melon is hard to digest when eaten with other foods.

2 canteloupes or other variety muskmelon, seeded
4-6 tablespoons unfiltered honey
3/4 cup water
Zest (grated peel) and juice of 1 lime
3 tablespoons fresh basil, minced
Fresh baby basil leaves, for garnish

Using a melon baller, scoop out 10-15 balls from the melons for the garnish. Cover the balls and refrigerate until needed.

Scoop out the remaining melon flesh from the rinds and place in a food processor or blender. Add in 4 tablespoons of honey, the water, lime zest and juice. Blend until smooth.

Remove the soup to a large bowl and stir in the minced basil. Taste for sweetness, adding 1-2 tablespoons honey, if desired. Cover and refrigerate 2-3 hours to allow the flavors to develop. When ready to serve, transfer the soup to shallow serving bowls and garnish with the melon balls and baby basil leaves.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

In the Sugar Zone

For those of us with the curse of the sweet tooth, we all know that eating healthy can come to a dead halt with just a simple craving.

But with the healthier alternatives available for us these days, we don’t really have to feel that we’ve sunk into a deep dark hole. While we can admit that we are in the "sugar zone" -- or chocolate zone or whatever our zone of choice may be -- we can take a breath, find some humor about it, and most importantly take a minute or two to think about our options.

If you are the “right here, right now” type, resolve that it may take a little more effort than simply just opening the fridge or freezer for ice cream, a soda or boxed cookies. If you don't have anything a little healthier, can you take 10 minutes to make a quick trip to the natural foods market for a better option?

A couple of my brand name quick-fix favorites are Amazake rice drinks (a sweet, thick beverage made from sweet rice) and Blessings Fudge Raw-eo Cookies (raw cookies made with ground almonds, cashews, honey and carob). They’re sweet, but are a healthier option to refined sugar, high fructose corn syrup and white flour. OK... I go for the chocolate sometimes too, but always organic and fair trade! (See my upcoming article in the August issue of my Natural Cooking eLetter for more on fair-trade chocolate, and a fantastic raw chocolate mousse cake!)

If you like spending time in the kitchen, try experimenting with desserts using pureed fruit, agave nectar, brown rice syrup or barley malt syrup instead of white sugar. These options have less impact on insulin response and make for a smoother rise in energy compared with white sugar. Honey is very sweet and impacts the system in a similar way to sugar, but I use it occasionally, as it comes power-packed with antioxidants and immune building nutrients.

So you don’t have to hit the floor anymore when it comes to cravings. With all the delicious but nutritious options available to us these days, the curse of the sweet tooth could actually be a blessing!

Oatmeal Pecan Praline Cookies
(sweetened with golden raisin puree and barley malt syrup)
Yield: about 2 dozen cookies

These comfort cookies are perfectly sweet, great for lunch boxes and healthy enough even for breakfast. The malt adds a lively flavor that goes nicely with the oats and spices, and the praline gives these treats a touch of sophistication without loosing the comfort of a good schoolhouse cookie.

Pecan Praline
1 cup pecans or walnuts
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons maple syrup

3/4 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup barley malt syrup (see note)
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 large egg
2 teaspoons vanilla
3/4 cup unbleached flour
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
2 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup raisins (optional)

For the pecan praline, heat a medium skillet over medium heat. Place the pecans in the pan, stirring and flipping frequently, until the pecans are lightly toasted, about 5 minutes—watch out, they burn fast at the end. Add the spices and salt; mix about 30 seconds.

Turn the heat to low and add the maple syrup. Stir constantly, cooking until the mixture has thickened and is very sticky, about 3 minutes. Remove to a plate and cool completely. As soon as the praline is cool enough to work with, chop the chunks into small pieces, separating the pieces with your fingers if they are clumping together.

For the cookies, preheat the oven to 350º. Blend the raisins and the barley malt syrup in a food processor until roughly puréed (the batter will be a little chunky).

With an electric mixer, beat the raisin mixture with the butter, sugar, egg and vanilla until well blended. In the meantime, whisk together the flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices in a medium bowl. Slowly add the flour mixture into the mixer, blending until smooth and all ingredients are incorporated. Turn the setting to low to fold in the rolled oats, optional raisins, and pecan praline.

Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper or a baking liner. Drop the dough by heaping tablespoonfuls onto the sheets, spacing them about 2 inches apart. Lightly press the cookies down with your palm. Bake 12 minutes, until lightly browned—they will be soft to the touch right out of the oven and will set up while cooling. Transfer the cookies to a rack to cool.

Note (Barley Malt and Brown Rice Syrups): Malting is a process using the grains’ own enzymes to break down the sugars in the grain. These products are roughly fifty percent complex carbohydrates and fifty percent simple sugars, making them less sweet and easier for the body to metabolize. You’ll find these in glass jars in the baking or sugar section of your local natural foods market. They are becoming readily available at commercial stores too.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Unmatchable Heirloom Taste

It's easy to think of Aunt Mable's broach that has been passed down through the generations as an heirloom... but an heirloom tomato?

An “heirloom” seed refers to an old variety of vegetable or fruit that predates the hybrids, which were starting to be bred and grown in the 1940’s. These unadulterated heirloom seeds have been passed along through families and seed companies for decades and are not in circulation as commercial varieties.

Heirlooms have endured through the generations because people cared enough about their outstanding flavors, unique character or their distinct growing habits to save the seeds from one season to the next. Unlike hybrids that are bred to grow anywhere, ripen uniformly, ship well, and keep longer, heirlooms have maintained their intrinsic personalities and richness in flavor.

Through hybridization, thousands of varieties of unique vegetables and fruits from all over the world have been lost to us. By purchasing heirloom produce, or growing our own and keeping the seeds, we can all participate in saving the many varieties of our traditional foods from extinction and preserving historical plants with special genetic traits.

Many food lovers agree that heirloom vegetables and fruits have an unmatchable richness, sweetness and juiciness, and give people a sense of history and cultural heritage with every bite... a “pedigree”, so to speak.

Look for heirlooms at the farmer’s market or the local organic grocery. They may not be perfectly round or perfectly colored, but I guarantee that they’re perfectly flavored!

Heirloom Tomato Israeli Salad
Serves 4

My favorite for this recipe is to get one of those baskets of mixed heirloom cherry tomatoes in hues of yellow, red and orange (even the green zebras look cool) that you find at the farmer's market. Slice them in half and toss them with the other ingredients and you have an exquisite presentation, not to mention a dynamite taste.

1 basket heirloom cherry tomatoes or 4 medium-sized heirloom tomatoes
1 cucumber
1/2 red onion
Juice of 1/2 lemon
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons parsley, finely chopped
Salt and pepper, to taste

Dice the tomatoes, cucumber and onion in a large bowl and toss with the lemon juice, olive oil, parsley, salt and pepper. Blend well and taste. Add more salt and/or lemon juice until the flavors pop out.