A Holiday Meal Classic: by Andy Muto

We’re excited to show you this guest article written by our good friend Andy Muto, Wellness Chef & Food Director at Gary Roberts High Performance Training. When he’s not busy educating athletes about healthy eating and meal planning, he’s usually preparing meals for hundreds of them at a time. Read about the mainstays in his kitchen for the holidays, and a special piece on the wonders of persimmon. You can check out our chicken products here to try with this wonderful, historic recipe.

Healthy Holiday Table

It was 6:00 in the evening and the dark had already embraced the neighbourhood. Through the slight crack in the living room window pane, I heard the wind blowing strong in my young ears. There was a snowstorm raging outside. I peeped out through the letter slot in the front door; the street light was swaying wildly, desperately trying to shine its light through the thick, almost endless snowfall. What a beautiful memory of Winter! But the vision that I remember most as a child is the table that my mom regularly set for our family and friends. There were almonds, walnuts, dried figs, lupini beans, fresh pomegranates, grapes, persimmons, homemade olives, preserves, marinades, wine, and gasossa (Italian 7-Up)!

Regardless of what you celebrate, this is the season when most of us will spend time with family and friends. One of the greatest joys is breaking bread together and making memories of love and laughter, nourishing intimate relationships, and solidifying our connection to one another. Here are some recipes, antidotes and beneficial nutritional information that will keep your wellness in check over the holidays and create the perfect atmosphere of warmth in your home.

Cinnamon

One of the most used and forsaken spices in our pantry. Don’t be content with just the ground stuff you buy that may have lost all it’s true flavor, scent and essential oil. Buy the whole quills and grate a fresh pinch wherever it’s required. Choose the sweeter Cinnamon quills from Sri Lanka; you’ll be amazed by the difference!

Fresh Marjoram

The Romans used this herb to scent their baths; the Greeks considered it a symbol of peace. I use the floral herb on lamb, chicken, roasted eggplant, mushroom sautés and even on fresh fruit! It’s nutritional value and medicinal properties are outstanding!

Fennel

Crunchy, sweet and so refreshing – what a fantastic comfort food to combat the cold of winter. Fennel, or finocchio in Italian, possesses unique health benefits that are worth making it part of your meals. Our family eats it regularly before or after a meal. I stuff chicken with fennel, use it with blood or ruby oranges in a salad or simply cut into wedges. It just feels so good and warm in the belly!

Spotlight Ingredient: Persimmon

The Japanese call it Kaki. The Italians also call it Cachi (Kaki). Like all food that grows in nature, persimmons are full of nutrition for your body. They are a great source of vitamin C, contain plenty of potassium, manganese, copper, and lycopene – the same disease-fighting component found in tomatoes.

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In late autumn and throughout the winter months, persimmons line the stalls of markets and grocery stores. Most common to us are the hachiya and the fuyu varieties. The hachiya looks like a large orange Roma tomato (artistically resembling an orange heart) and has a beautifully rich and luscious, almost sensual texture. Be warned, you will be thoroughly turned off if you attempt to eat it in its unripe state! It will make your mouth feel like you’ve eaten a bucket of sand! Thus the hachiya persimmon will be soft when ripe. There are many theories about how to ripen hachiya. Here’s a clue – persimmons ripen in the cold and frost. The best method I’ve come across is putting one in the freezer overnight and taking it out in the morning. It’s not as perfect as those ripened naturally, but the fruit still retains its sweet and tasty attributes.

The variety which is most versatile and can be eaten like an apple is the firm fuyu persimmon. It is sweet and crunchy like a winter apple! Enjoy the fruit alone in its natural state or slice it and use it in a winter salad with fig balsamic. Stew the softer variety and use the sauce as a compote to top any of your favourite seasonal desserts like custards, and sweet breads like pan d’oro or stollen to make them stand out.

Medieval Fennel Chicken

I’m always looking for authentic recipes and never being content with faux contributions. One day in one of my more extensive searches, I dug for hours looking for a traditional English recipe for chicken. My search led me to a tattered book from 1752 full of illegible notes. It was a cookbook written by the personal chef of King George II! I had to decipher the poor spelling, but I had no problem seeing the genius behind this man’s creativity. The paste he used to flavor the chicken was brilliant. It makes a fantastic marinade for this season because the flavours and scents fill the house with warmth, comfort, and memories! I could go on and on…just try the recipe. Like me, it will become a mainstay for entertaining in your home. Try it with a NIKU whole chicken.

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Medieval Paste

  • 15 Cinnamon Quills or 8 tbsp Spoons of Ground Cinnamon
  • 1 tbsp Cloves
  • 2 tbsp Fennel seeds
  • 1 2” piece of fresh Ginger (peeled)
  • Pinch of Saffron
  • 1 cup of White Wine

Place all ingredients into a blender and blend until it thickens. Don’t be fooled by the brownish, unattractive look. The flavor and scent is unbelievable!

Chicken

  • 1 Fennel Bulb cut into strips
  • 1 cup White Wine
  • 1 Whole Orange cut into wedges
  • Medieval Paste

Method

With your hand, rub the paste all over chicken trying to get under the skin where possible. Be generous in applying it to the bird. Take sliced fennel and stuff chicken. Place the bird in baking pan, pour in some white wine. Surround the bird with some remaining fennel and Orange wedges.

Bake at 375F for 45 minutes to just over an hour (depending on size). Use thermometer to determine safe temperature for serving.

When fully cooked, remove from heat and let cool. Coarsely cut chicken into pieces, combining stuffing and chicken together. Serve on a Tuscan style ceramic plate to add the final touch to a dish full of history, character and memorable flavor!

Persimmon Winter Salad

A fantastically simple salad to serve as an appetizer, with some warm whole grain bread, or part of a chicken dinner.

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Ingredients

  • 4 fuyu persimmons, washed and sliced into bite size moons
  • Some fresh Arugula
  • Fresh Marjoram sprigs
  • Pomegranate seeds (optional)
  • Olive Oil
  • Fig Balsamic

Fig Balsamic: Quick Method

  • ¼ cup of good quality Balsamic Vinegar
  • 4 dried figs
  • Pinch of Nutmeg
  • Pinch of Marjoram

Blend the ingredients and puree until smooth and creamy.

Fig Balsamic: Reduction Method

  • 2 cup of good quality Balsamic Vinegar
  • 2 dried figs
  • Pinch of Nutmeg
  • Pinch of Marjoram

Put balsamic and figs, marjoram and nutmeg in saucepan and gently stew until it begins to thicken. Cool, and use as a beautiful condiment on everything!

Salad Method

Place sliced persimmons in a mixing bowl. Add a few leaves of fresh arugula, a drizzle of olive oil and fig balsamic. Mix well. On a serving platter, place a few more fresh green leaves. Pour marinated persimmon mixture on top of leaves. Sprinkle marjoram all over. Drizzle fig balsamic in a decorative manner. Add a few pomegranate seeds to bring out some brilliant red to a phenomenal orange dish!