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Sunday, December 30, 2012

Artichokes:

Artichokes are a vegetable that I remember from my childhood.  Again it was at Grandma's who lived down stairs from us in the house in Brooklyn.  When we moved to Long Island,  I did not see artichokes for quite a while, but I remembered how good they are.  When I remember artichokes I remember how grandpa would put the whole petal in his mouth and chew and then discard what was left.  I think of Little Rascals when character Stymie was given an artichoke and when told what it was stated, "It might choke Artie but it's not going to choke Stymie!"  Then there is comedian Pat Cooper who took an artichoke to school as a kid where his classmates jibed "Look at the kid, he's eating flowers.

Artichokes  are the giant unopened buds of a flowering plant, an edible thistle.  They have been favorites in Spain, Italy, and other Mediterranean countries for hundreds of years.  The most common artichoke is the globe type.  Other types are the oval type, the baby artichoke,  and most recently the thornless artichoke. 

The peak season for artichokes is March, April, and May when California ships half of it's crop. They also show up in the fall but July and August are the worst time.  The weather is just too hot. Look for heavy, firm artichokes with densely packed leaves and a uniform dusty green color.  Artichokes are quite perishable, so use immediately or cut off a thin slice of the stem and drop some water on it and store in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for no more than a week.

Cooking artichokes is not difficult.  Rinse well with cold water.  Use a soft kitchen brush to remove the dust on the leaves.  Slice a quarter inch off the stem and one inch off the top.  You can then use kitchen scissors to trim the thorns on the petals, but the thorns tend to soften during cooking. Open the petals to allow any seasoning to fall between them. You  can then boil the artichokes in salted water with a little lemon juice for 30 - 40 minutes.  You can also steam  with stems up for about 30 - 40 minutes.  To bake  double wrap your artichokes tightly in tin foil and bake at 425 degrees for about an hour.  Artichokes are done when a sharp knife goes easily into the base.   Cooked artichokes can be stored in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for a week.

Artichokes are very high in antioxidants which are associated with reducing risk of heart disease, certain cancers, Alzheimer's, and other chronic diseases.  They are an excellent source of fiber and vitamin C.  The also contain folate, potassium, and magnesium.  Artichokes are a source of plant protein, a good substitute  for the saturated fat and cholesterol in animal protein.

To eat an artichoke remove one petal at a time and pull it  through your teeth to remove the soft tender flesh.  When the petals are gone use a short knife or spoon to remove and discard the hairy "choke".   Then it's  time to enjoy the sweetest, tenderest part of the artichoke, the heart.

So, eat up, enjoy, I'll show you how.

 

Friday, December 28, 2012

APPLES:

Growing up in Brooklyn, N.Y. we lived upstairs from my grandparents who owned the grocery store.  I would often go downstairs to see Grandma.  Sometimes I would be met by the glorious smell of apples cooking.  Sometimes Grandpa would send home a bag full of apples that were bruised and Grandma would cook them up.  Whenever I cook some apples that smell brings me back to Brooklyn.  Now I'm a little more sophisticated.  I throw a handful of raisins in with the cooking apples.

Apples are one of the most widely cultivated tree fruits.  They are actually a member of the rose family.  Apples have been grown for thousands of years and are bred for various tastes and uses.  There are currently 7500 varieties of apples.  Apples are used for cooking, fresh eating, and cider production.  They have been present in mythology and religion of many cultures often as a mystical or forbidden fruit.

The top 9 varieties of apples grown in Washington state are Red Delicious, Gold Delicious, Gala, Fuji, Granny Smith, Braeburn, Honey Crisp, Crisp Pink, and Cameo.  Apples are available all year with a few varieties that are not always around.  For a pretty good listing of apple varieties from A to Z visit http://www.orangepippin.com/apples.

Pick apples that are firm with smooth shiny skin.  Apples grow with a coating of natural wax which protects them from shriveling and weight loss.  They are washed at the packing sheds to remove dust and chemical residues.  This washing removes about half of the original wax which is then replaced with a natural coating.  While the wax is safe to eat the US Food and Drug Administration recommends washing all fruits and vegetables at home.  Use cool tap water to prevent the wax from turning white or cloudy.  Soaps or detergents are not recommended.  Most varieties can be held approximately 2 weeks in the coldest part of the refrigerator.  Some types including Granny Smith and Fuji can be stored up to a year.

Apples are often eaten raw except for the seeds which are slightly poisonous.  Sliced apples turn brown with exposure to the air, but pouring a little lemon juice or pineapple juice on them will prevent it.

The proverb "An apples a day keeps the doctor away" is attributed to J.T. Stinson addressing the health affects of apples in a lecture at the 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis, Missouri.  Research suggests that apples may reduce the risk of colon cancer, prostate cancer and lung cancer.  Apples contain ursolic acid which increases skeletal muscle and brown fat and decreases white fat obesity, glucose intolerance and fatty liver disease.  Relatively low in vitamin C apples are a rich source of other antioxidant compounds which prevent cell and tissue damage.  Fiber content while low helps with bowel movements and may also help with heart disease, weight loss, and controlling cholesterol.  Research summarized that apple juice helped prevent increases in oxidative damage which contributes to a decline in cognition commonly seen with aging and in neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's.  Registered Dietition Tammi Flynn from her experience developed the 3-a-day plan in which you eat an apple before each meal.  People report feeling changes in their bodies and losing 3 times the weight as before.

I like to sprinkle raw apples with cinnamon or put some peanut butter on them.  Don't forget about the raisins in the apples sauce.  So eat up, enjoy, I'll show you how.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Fennel:

Every year around the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays I think about fennel.  As a kid growing up there was always fennel at the Thanksgiving and Christmas tables.  So, fennel brings me back to grandma's dining room table and my childhood.

Florence fennel, sweet fennel or just fennel is a highly aromatic flavorful herb with both culinary and medicinal uses.  In America fennel is often mislabelled  as anise.  Fennel is part of  many culinary traditions.  The Italians call it "finocchio".

Fennel is eaten as a vegetable both raw and cooked.  The crisp bulb can be saute'ed, stewed, braised, grilled or eaten raw. The taste has been described as a cross between celery, cabbage, and licorice.  Fennel is prominent in Mediterranean  cuisine.  It is used raw or cooked in side dishes, salads, pastas, vegetable dishes and risotto.  Fennel seed is common in Italian sausages, meatballs, and northern Italian rye breads.

Fennel's ripe seeds and oil are used to make medicine.  Fennel contains anethole which is widely used as a carminative to fight flatulance.  Fennel is used for various other digestive problems including heartburn, bloating, loss of appetite and colic in infants.  In India fenned seeds are eaten  raw sometimes with a sweetener to improve eyesight.  Extracts from seeds have shown in animal studies to have potential use in treatment of glaucoma.  Historic anecdotes say fennel helps improve milk supply in breastfeeding mothers because it contains phytoestrogens which promote growth of breast tissue.

Fennel will thrive just about anywhere.   You can plant seeds in early April in ordinary soil.  Fennel will grow to be about 8 ounces to 2 pounds in weight.  Stalks and fronds should be a bright light green.  The bulb which has virtually all the usable meat should be creamy white with no cracks or withering.  Any brown or yellowing means the fennel is old.  Fennel that is not consumed within a few days will lose up to 50% of its flavor.  Store fennel in plastic bags in the crisper for no more than a few days.

Fennel season starts in September and continues to May.  Peak periods with lowest prices occur in November and December.   For an easy and delicious treat slice the bulb and put it in a tin foil pocket with butter, salt and pepper.  Then roast in the oven or on the grill for about 15 to 20 minutes  and....

Eat up! Enjoy!  I'll show you how.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Hello Everyone!



Hi Everyone,

My name is Tom Schiera.  I'm a produce guy. I love produce.  I worked in a grocery store  starting at age 10 years old.  My grandfather, Joe, had a small store that specialized in fancy fruits and vegetables in Brooklyn, New York.  Later I worked in the produce departments of supermarkets.  I came to just love fruits and vegetables. I love selecting them, displaying them, preparing them, and, of course, eating them.  Over time I have learned a lot about fruits and vegetables.  I'd like to share that knowledge with you.

I like to think of produce as a living thing.  Of course it lives as it grows but also after it is harvested.  It requires food and water.  It can move.  It changes as time goes by.  It will eventually die and disintegrate.  Produce is generally at its best when it has smooth, shiny, firm skin.

Fruits and vegetables are pleasing to the eye and the palate.  They provide vitamins and other nutrients.  Another thing about produce is that it is usually eaten around the table with family.  So, in a special way it becomes part of our life experience.  We remember eating this or that at this time or another.  The sight, smell, and taste of produce triggers memories.

Scientists are finding out that by eating the right fresh fruits and vegetables we can take care of our health, even to the point of preventing cancer.  We  can feel better, control our weight, and prevent disease. All this is from just eating your fruits and vegetables!


So, eat up!  Enjoy!  I'll show you how.