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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.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Persimmons and Persimmon Recipes

This decorative orange fruit brings a brilliance to holiday tables everywhere. But that's not the best thing about them. When mature, "their flavor is a blend of apricots, plums, pumpkin and honey", says my friend Rebecca Wood from The New Whole Foods Encyclopedia. The taste is almost indescribably succulent.

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An unripe persimmon, though, can be an awful experience. The enzymes are so astringent that they make the fruit extremely chalky and puckery to the mouth. To get the most out of the experience, have patience and wait to eat them until they are perfectly ripe.

How can you tell if a persimmon is ready to eat? First of all, there are two main types of persimmons; each have a very different consistency and have their own tell-tale signs of ripeness:

Hachiya Persimmons have a slightly pointed shape and resemble a large orange acorn. This type needs to be absolutely soft to the touch, almost to the point where you think they might be going rotten. Once ripe, Hachiyas are very fragile and should be used immediately. Hachiyas can be eaten right there on the spot or pureed into baked goods, sauces and puddings.

Fuyu Persimmons are smaller and flatter and look like small, orange tomatoes. These are non-astrigent and stay firm to the touch, almost hard, when ripe.
Fuyus are wonderful sliced and eaten like apples, diced into green salads, or tossed into winter fruit salads.

Persimmons of all varieties are good sources of vitamins A and C, and are high in potassium, a mineral-electrolyte necessary for the normal functioning of nerves and muscles.

Persimmon Recipes:

Warming Winter Fruit Salad - Bauman College
This sweet and sour fruit salad brings inspiration after the farmers' market has closed for the season....

Flaming Persimmon Pudding
Wow your family and friends with a show of pyro-technics at your holiday party this year! Okay... It's just a little flaming rum...

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

How to Get Your Greens -- Green Veggies VIDEO!

Food can sometimes be our best medicine. Nature has blessed us with healing foods of all kinds, but the handful of mighty green vegetables known as the cruciferous varieties are particularly powerful in protecting against all kinds of diseases like cancer, heart disease and strokes.

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Watch the Cruciferous Vegetables video for preparation ideas!

They are called "cruciferous" because, if given the chance to come to full bloom, these vegetables have flowers with four petals that resemble a cross - or crux in Latin. These veggies include arugula, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, bok choy, cabbage, cauliflower, collard greens, kale, mustard greens, radishes, turnip greens and watercress.

Each one of these power-packed vegetables contain vitamins-a-plenty, mega-minerals and other substances that research has proven to be active forces in fighting disease. Says the Linus Pauling Macronutrient Institute , "One characteristic that sets cruciferous vegetables apart from other vegetables is their high glucosinolate content [that] can help prevent cancer by enhancing the elimination of carcinogens before they can damage DNA".

Kale in particular is one of the best-known cancer fighters on the planet. Kale is a deep leafy green vegetable that is the richest of all leafy greens in carotenoids. It is extremely high in calcium, in a form that is more absorbable by the body than milk. Since this form of calcium is so easily assimilated, it is a wonder for protecting against osteoporosis and other bone diseases. Although cooking destroys some of the vitamins and phytonutrients, heating high-mineral foods leaves the minerals unscathed.

Unfortunately, people with sensitive systems can have a hard time digesting cruciferous vegetables. Most commonly, these vegetables can cause bloating, stomach upset and gas. If you suffer from these symtoms, but want to add more cruciferous vegetables to your diet, try adding them gradually in small amounts so that your body slowly learns how to tolerate them. Start by adding 1/4-1/2 cup twice a week and increase from there.

Preventing disease before it happens is one of the ways that we can take responsibility for our health. In this modern day and age no one is immune, but by eating a variety of fresh organic vegetables, especially the cruciferous and deep leafy varieties, we are decreasing the total load of toxicity in our bodies and taking positive steps toward longevity and happiness. Now that's getting to the "crux" of the matter!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Winter Power Foods -- Recipes!

Inevitably, most of us will get a cold or flu this season... It's just that time of year. But we can reduce our chances, or at least lessen the duration of illness, by keeping the immune system on top of the game. Supplements are one way to go, but we should also take advantage of the plethora of healing foods right under our noses.

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The winter months generate their own set of "power foods" to keep us healthy all season long. Winter power foods should offer either of the following: good fats to fight disease and keep our bodies insulated from the cold, or vitamins and phyto-nutrients to boost immunity throughout the flu season. For best results, they should be eaten as staples throughout the long, cold, winter months.

Here's a quick look at five of the healthiest foods to keep you powered up all winter long:


Winter's crop of US grapefruit grows in Texas and Florida. If you're local, you're lucky. In The Prescription for Dietary Wellness, nutritionist Phyllis Balch claims that grapefruits feed the good bacteria in the intestines, which helps keep digestive immunity normalized. Like all citrus fruits, they are high in vitamin C to ward off the common cold.

From a nutrition standpoint, grapefruits with deep red or pink flesh are the best, as these have the highest amounts of carotenes and other substances called phyto-nutrients known to fight disease.

Grapefruit Ambrosia
Ambrosia is the nectar of the Gods; and this one is pretty enough to serve even Aphrodite...

Cruciferous Vegetables

Each one of these power-packed vegetables contain vitamins, minerals and phyto-nutrients that are known to be highly nutritious. Cruciferous veggies are excellent sources of carotenes, chlorophyll and vitamin C. According to Michael Murray in his book The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods, "one cup of kale [or collards] supplies more than 70 percent of the RDI for vitamin C, with only 20 calories".

Cruciferous vegetables include arugula, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, bok choy, cabbage, cauliflower, collard greens, kale, kohlrabi, mustard greens, turnip greens and watercress. Most of these veggies are thick and hearty and are grown all winter in the milder climatic regions.

Steamed Kale with Sauteed Onions and Garlic
This quick and easy way to get kale into your diet will soon become an addiction...

Olive Oil

Is olive oil seasonal? You bet. California's crop is first, usually appearing in stores by late November or early December. European oils arrive on the shelves at the beginning of the year. Olive oil should be consumed all year round, but winter is the best time to savor its freshly crushed, robust flavors.

Olive oil is high in monounsaturated fatty acids, a desirable form of fat that does not affect blood cholesterol levels, and in fact, may improve them. Eating olive oil in the raw is the best way to make use of these good fats. Try to incorporate olive oil into your diet everyday drizzled over veggies, in dressings, or lightly heated with sauteed vegetables, meats or vegetable proteins.


Cranberries are extremely high in antioxidants, the "good guys" that help fight disease and boost immune function. Like their cousin the blueberry, cranberries are of the top sources for antioxidants when measured against 100 kinds of fruits, vegetables and grains.

Since fresh cranberries are most abundant over the holidays, stock up on them while supplies last. Buy them fresh and store them in the freezer for 6-12 months. Dice them over salads, puree them into dressings, or cook them into chutneys or sauces. I throw them into my smoothies every morning with other nutritional berries. Use them throughout the winter months to help immune function and ward off colds and flu.

Walnuts and Flaxseeds

All nuts and seeds have good fats to give the body extra insulation and moisture throughout the cold, dry winter. But walnuts and flaxseeds are the two best choices to have on hand for their high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids -- essential fats that research has proven to fight disease and increase immunity. Omega-3s are the fats that are most deficient in the American Diet.

To get the most out of these oils, flaxseeds should be ground before eaten. Otherwise, they will just pass through the system undigested. Essential oils can go rancid quickly, so it's best to store nuts in the refrigerator. Blend flaxseeds and walnuts into smoothies or sprinkle them over salads. Flax can be used to replace some of the flour in muffins, pancakes and baked goods.

Flaxy Pumpkin Muffins (vegan)
Sweet and creamy pumpkin puree is used in these healthy muffins to increase nutrition and decrease the amount of oil used for moistening...

Garlicky Apple-Walnut Dressing
This simple, easy dressing whips up in minutes and can be used over salads or meats, or for dips and satays...

Sunday, December 02, 2007

How to Make a Ginerbread House - Step by Step!

There's no better way to spark up the holiday cheer than to create a gingerbread house with the whole family. My mom, brother and I made them every year that I can remember as a child. My mom would make the dough from her old authentic German recipe handed down from her grandmother, and we'd cut out the patterns, assemble the houses, frost them and adorn them top to bottom.

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Things have changed a little since then... I adapted the dough so that it is easier to work with, and I always make sure to use all-natural, organic ingredients, and candies that have no high-fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated oils or food colorings. I'm not saying that these houses are "healthy" or "good for you", but possibly better than the houses of the 70's. It's my hope to see dried fruits, nuts, seeds, goji berries and banana chips on top of these little houses everywhere!

Since the icing has to hold all the candies in place throughout the weeks before Christmas, it uses about one ton of powdered sugar that allows the icing to get rock-hard within about 30-45 minutes of being exposed to the air. I generally do not recommend powdered sugar since it is goes through such a vigorous refinement process, but for such a specific purpose, there may not be any other way around it.

HERE'S AN IDEA! I thought of grinding coconut flakes into a flour and whipping them into the fluffed egg whites. Cooking chemistry can sometimes be a science, and I'm not sure if the egg whites need the sugar to harden up. I haven't tried this, but if any of you are up for experimentation, I'd love to hear comments about the results. I'd try at least 2 pounds of coconut with the eggs (see Royal Icing recipe, below).

Plan to set aside at least 3 hours for making your gingerbread houses, from start to finish. The dough and frosting can be made several days in advance (see storage techniques below). The dough or baked cookies can be frozen for several months until ready to use.

I have included three house templates for a large, medium and small house that can be downloaded for free (links below) or you can get creative and make your own! The houses pictured below are House B and House C (medium and small).

Download house templates here!

Enjoy and have a very merry Christmas!

Gingerbread Houses - Baking, Assembling and Decorating [print recipes]
Yield: 1 large house (House A)
OR 2 medium houses (House B) and 1 small house (House C)

This recipe makes a crisp cookie that can withstand the test of being frosted, adorned with candies and oogled over for weeks during the holiday season. The extra dough can be rolled and cut out into ginger people, but know that the cookies will be a touch harder than a typical gingerbread cookie.

1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups organic soft brown sugar
1 cup light organic sugar
1/4 cup molasses or sorghum syrup
4 eggs
4 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 tablespoon allspice

1/2 cup light organic sugar

MAKING THE DOUGH: Blend the butter with the sugars and molasses in an electric mixer on medium speed until light and creamy (put the molasses into the mixer before turning it on or you will have molasses everywhere but in the dough). Add in the eggs and blend another 1-2 minutes.

Whisk the dry ingredients together in a large bowl and gradually add them into the mixer, scraping down the sides until incorporated. The dough will be slightly crumbly.

Remove the dough to a large bowl or a flat work surface. Bring the dough together with your hands, working it until the dough forms a smooth mass that holds together easily. Wrap the dough in plastic and refrigerate at least 30-60 minutes before rolling.

ROLLING: Divide the dough into five pieces. Roll each piece out on a flat, floured work surface to 1/8-inch thickness. Cut out the patterns for the house using the templates. Work quickly, as the dough is easier to cut and shape while it is still cool. Using a pastry or pizza spatula, carefully lift the pieces onto sheet pans lined with a baking liner or parchment paper (or double up two sheet pans) to keep the cookies from burning.

BAKING: Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Bake 10 minutes, until golden, rotating the cookies halfway through baking. Cool on the pan for 1-2 minutes before removing them to a cooling rack to cool completely before assembling.

SUGAR GLUE: Heat the 1/2 cup sugar in a medium sauté pan over medium heat until it bubbles and turns a very dark brown, 8-12 minutes.

ASSEMBLING: Have ready a sturdy surface on which to place your house (inverted sheet pan, wooden or plastic cutting board, sturdy cake board, etc.)

Prepare the sugar glue, keeping it on low heat while working so that it doesn’t harden up.

Have ready a house side panel and a front or back panel. Place them together to get an idea of how they will fit. Dip the edges that will come together into the sugar glue and very quickly hold them together, assembling them at the proper angle. It should hold within 10-20 seconds. Adhere the back panel and the other side panel in the same fashion.

To assemble the roof, very quickly drizzle the sugar glue onto the top edges of one side of the house. Place one of the roof cutouts on top of the house, letting it adhere to the glue. Repeat for the other roof cutout. Drizzle glue along the top of the roof where the two panels come together.

Assemble the chimney by dipping the edges of the pieces into the glue and holding them to the roof. Assemble the door, leaving it slightly ajar. You can do the same for window panels, if desired.

Royal Icing
Yield: for 1 large house (House A)
OR 2 medium houses (House B) and 1 small house (House C)

This icing gets rock-hard in order to keep the candies on top of the house and to hold throughout the weeks before Christmas. If you plan to decorate a snow-drifted yard with your house, make a double batch of the icing. This recipe uses raw egg whites, but if you are hesitant, they can be substituted with meringue powder for the same affect (use recipe from any packaged meringue powder).

3 egg whites
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 pound organic powdered sugar, sifted or
whirled in a food processor

Beat the egg whites and cream of tartar until stiff peaks form. Gradually beat in the sugar until the frosting stands in firm peaks and is stiff enough to hold a sharp line when cut through with a knife.

STORAGE: Place a piece of plastic wrap over the frosting so that the plastic is in direct contact with the frosting. Wrap the bowl in plastic and store refrigerated for up to 2 days.

While working, keep the bowl of frosting covered with a damp towel to keep it from drying out. Once spread onto the house and exposed to the air, it will harden up within 15-25 minutes. Frost and decorate one panel at a time and work quickly!

Decorating Ideas:
Nuts and seeds
Dried fruits
Goji berries
Chocolate dipped dried fruits
Candied ginger slices for stone walks or chimney smoke
Popcorn bushes
Banana chips
Pretzel fences
Panda brand red licorice
Sunspire "MnM's"
Shredded coconut for icicles and frosty trees
Ice cream cone trees