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Sunday, December 15, 2013

Cranberries


 

Cranberries:

Cranberries are a group of evergreen dwarf shrubs or trailing vines.  They can be found in acidic bogs throughout the cooler regions of the northern hemisphere.  The cranberry is a glossy, scarlet red, very tart berry.  It is related to bilberries, blueberries and huckleberries.   The name cranberry derives from "craneberry" first named by early European settlers in America  who felt the expanding flower, stem, calyx, and petal resemble the neck, head and bill of a crane.  They were also called "bounceberries" because the ripe ones bounce.  Native North Americans were the first to use cranberries as a food.  Algonquian Indians called the red berries "Sassamanash" and may have introduced cranberries to starving English settlers who incorporated them into their Thanksgiving feasts. 
 
About 95% of harvested cranberries are processed into products such as juice drinks, sauce, and sweetened dried cranberries.   The remainder are sold fresh.  Usually cranberries as fruit are cooked into a compote or jelly known as cranberry sauce.  The berry is also used in baking muffins, scones, cakes, and bread.  Cranberries are normally considered too sharp to be eaten plain and raw. 
 
Cranberries are harvested in the fall when the fruit takes on its distinctive deep red color.  This is usually from September through the first part of November or from Labor Day to Halloween.   During harvesting the cranberry beds are flooded with 6 - 8 inches of water above the vines.  A harvester is driven through the beds to remove the fruit from the vines.  Harvested berries float in the water and can be corralled into the corner of the bed and conveyed or pumped from the bed.   Cranberries are important crops in Massachusetts and New Jersey and are also cultivated in Wisconsin, Oregon, Washington State, British Columbia, and Quebec.                        
 
One of the tools in my paternal grandmother's kitchen was a sieve she used to strain cranberries for cranberry sauce and also tomatoes for tomato sauce. It was a cone shaped strainer that had four legs attached to it so it could be placed over a bowl. It had a heavy wooden pestle to  crush and force through whatever was being strained.  I can see that thing in my mind like it was just a few weeks ago, but it has been many, many years ago.   One Thanksgiving as dinner was being served someone noticed there was no cranberry sauce.  We asked, "Is there any cranberry sauce?"  Grandma said, " Oh, I must have forgotten it."   No one could believe it. No cranberry sauce?  Grandma disappeared into the kitchen  and soon returned with a big smile and a big bowl of her homemade cranberry sauce.  That memory has stayed with me all these years.
 
Cranberries are an excellent source of vitamin C, a very good source of dietary fiber and manganese, and a good source of vitamins E and K.   Raw cranberries are a source of polyphenol anti-oxidants, phytochemicals under research for possible benefits to the cardiovascular system and immune system and as anti-cancer agents.  Cranberry juice contains material that might inhibit the formation of plaque that causes tooth decay.  Cranberry tannins may prevent recurring urinary tract infections in women, but there is little evidence of the efficacy of treating urinary tract infections with cranberry juice.   For the cardiovascular system and for many parts of the digestive tract (including the mouth, gums, stomach, and colon) cranberries have been shown to provide important anti-inflammatory benefits.   The phytonutrients in cranberry  are especially effective against our risk of unwanted inflammation.  In the case of our gums the anti-inflammatory properties of cranberry can help lower excessive levels of inflammation around our gums that can lead to damage of the tissues that support our teeth. 
 
Choose  fresh plump cranberries  that are deep red in color and firm to the touch.  Firmness is a primary indicator of quality.  You will find fresh cranberries usually in 12 ounce packages rather than loose.  Cranberries can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 20 days.  Before storing discard any soft, discolored, pitted, or shriveled fruit.   Spread cranberries on a cookie sheet and place in the freezer for a couple of hours.  Once frozen they can be kept for several years, but once defrosted, use immediately. 
 
So........Eat up!  Enjoy!  I'll show you how.
 

Simple but good:

Cranberry Bread:
 
2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1  1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 tablespoon vegetable oil
3/4 cup orange juice
1 egg well beaten
1 tablespoon grated orange zest
1 1/2 cups cranberries (fresh or frozen) coarsely chopped
1/2 cup chopped nuts
 
Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees F.  Grease a 9 by 5 inch loaf pan.
In a bowl mix together the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, baking soda, and oil.  Stir in orange juice, egg, and orange zest.  Mix until well combined.  Fold in cranberries and nuts.  Spoon into the greased pan and bake for 1 hour or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Cool and remove from pan.
 
 
 

 

 

 



 



Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Okra

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Okra:

Okra is known in many English speaking countries as "lady's fingers".  It is a flowering plant in the mallow family related to such species as cotton, cocoa, and hibiscus.  Okra are valued for their edible green seed pods.
 
Okra is thought to be of Asian or African origins.  It was brought to the U.S. three centuries ago by African slaves.   In various Bantu languages it is called "kingombo" which eventually became "gumbo" for either the vegetable itself, or a stew based on it.   Cultivated throughout the tropical and warm temperature regions of the world, okra is among the most heat - and drought - tolerant vegetable species in the world. 
 
Okra is usually available year round in the South and from May to October in many other areas.  Okra can be found fresh, frozen, pickled , and canned.  Okra is considered a health food for its high fiber, Vitamin C, and folate content. The products of the okra  plant are mucilaginous resulting in the characteristic "goo" or slime when the seed pods are cooked; this mucilage contains a usable form of soluble fiber which is widely used to thicken stews and soups in many cultures.
 
My first experience with okra was while working in the supermarket.  At that time we packaged all the produce, mostly in the store.  Okra was one of the items we would package.  Well, we had this gal that was working with us in the produce department who was allergic to okra.  Every time we would package  okra she would take out a pair of rubber gloves, so she would not have to touch the okra.  Of all the things  we packaged that is the only thing she used the gloves for.  When we began displaying the okra loose, we just had to remember not to wet the okra.  That will turn it black.  Okra makes me think of that.  Today people where protective gloves for almost anything, especially having to do with food.
 
Okra is a rich source of dietary fiber, minerals, and vitamins; often recommended by nutritionists in cholesterol controlling and weight reduction programs.  Okra is a good source of vitamin A and  flavonoid anti-oxidants such as beta carotene, xanthin, and lutein.  It is a good source of vitamins C and K and rich in B-complex vitamins like niacin, vitamin B-6, thiamin, and pantothenic acid.   Okra contains the minerals iron, calcium, manganese, and magnesium.
 
Select young pods free of bruises, tender but not soft, and no more than four inches long.  Okra can be stored in the refrigerator unwashed in a paper bag, or wrapped in a paper towel in a perforated plastic bag for 2 - 3 days.  Okra may be frozen for up to 12 months after being blanched whole for 2 minutes.  Cooked okra can be stored (tightly covered) in the refrigerator for 3 - 4 days.
 
So..... Eat up!  Enjoy!   I'll show you how. 
 

Simple but good:

Roasted Okra:
 
18 okra pods (smaller ones are more tender)
1 tablespoon of olive oil
2 teaspoons of Kosher salt
2 teaspoons of pepper
1 wedge of lemon.
 
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Cover a roasting pan with tin foil.  Trim okra and slice into 1/3 inch pieces.  Arrange the okra in a single layer on the tin foil.  Drizzle on the olive oil, then sprinkle on the salt and pepper.  Stir the okra to coat with the oil, salt, and pepper.  Shake the pan to get the okra back to a single layer.  Roast in the oven for 15 - 20 minutes until the okra is just starting to turn brown on the edges.  Serve with a squeeze of fresh lemon.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Leeks

Leeks:

Leeks belong to the same family (Allium) as onion and garlic.  The leek, rather that forming a bulb like an onion, produces a long cylinder of bundled sheaths.  The edible portions of the leeks are the white base of the leaf (above the roots and stem base).  It's about 2/3 of the stalk.  The dark green portion, about 1/3 , is usually discarded due to its tough texture.   Leeks  are generally twelve inches long and one to two inches in diameter.  Its flavor is more delicate and sweeter than the onion. 

 Thought to be native to Central Asia leeks have been cultivated in this region and in Europe for thousands of years.  Leeks are easy to grow and tolerate standing in the field for a an extended harvest. Leek were prized by the ancient Greeks and Romans for their beneficial effect on the throat.  Roman Emperor Nero ate leeks every day to strengthen his throat.   The leek is one of the national emblems of Wales worn along with the daffodil. 

Leeks are boiled, which turns them soft with a mild taste, fried, which leaves them crunchier and preserves their taste, and eaten raw, which can be in salads, although they can sometimes be tough.   Leeks are typically chopped into slices 5 - 10 mm thick.  The slices have a tendency to fall apart though due to their layered structure.

My first exposure to leeks was in my grandpa's store.   They were usually sold as part of a package called "soup greens".   Soup greens would typically include a leek, an onion, a turnip,  a carrot, a parsnip, and a couple of sprigs of parsley.   When a customer would ask for soup greens I would need to get some help to get them together.   I always loved soup even to this very day.

Leeks along with onions and garlic have a unique combination of flavonoids and sulfur containing nutrients.  These members of the "allium" family should sit for at least five minutes after cutting and before cooking to enhance their health promoting qualities.   Leeks also contain concentrations of antioxidant polyphenols which play a direct role in protecting our blood vessels and blood cells from oxidative damage,   Leeks are an excellent source of vitamins K and A, a very good source of vitamin C, manganese, folates, vitamin B6 and iron. 

Select firm and straight leeks with dark green leaves and white necks.  Avoid leeks that are yellowed, wilted or have bulbs that have cracks and bruises.   Generally, large leeks are more fibrous.  Select those with a diameter of one to one and a half inches or less.   Leeks are available throughout the year with a greater supply from fall to early spring.   Store leeks for one to two weeks in the refrigerator unwashed and untrimmed in a plastic bag.   Leeks can be sandy.  To wash, remove the outer layer, trim the base, and make a cut in the middle of the white stalk towards the green tip leaving the bottom intact.   Rinse well under cold running water and then drain.     

So......... Eat up!  Enjoy!  I'll show you how.

 

Simple but good:   

Sautéed Greens

1 cup sliced leeks (about one leek)
4 cups chopped kale
1/4 cup vegetable or chicken stock
3 medium cloves of garlic, pressed
1 teaspoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
Salt and black pepper to taste

Heat one tablespoon of olive oil in  skillet and sauté leeks over medium heat for about 5 minutes, add 1/4 cup of broth and kale.
Cover and simmer on low heat for about 7 - 8 minutes stirring occasionally.
Toss with pressed garlic, lemon juice, remaining olive oil and salt and pepper to taste



Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Apricots

Apricots:

The apricot with the peach, plum, and nectarine is what is called a stone fruit.  It's single seed is enclosed in a hard stony shell.  The apricot appears similar to a small peach which is from yellow to orange in color, often with a red tinge on the side most exposed to the sun.   Its surface flesh can be smooth or velvety with very short hairs.  The flesh is usually firm and not very juicy.  Its taste is almost musky and can range from sweet to tart with dried fruit tending to have a more pronounced tartness.

Apricots originated in China where they have been cultivated for 4000 years.   They arrived in Europe via Armenia.   The apricot tree came to Virginia in 1720 and then appeared in the Spanish missions of California around 1792.  Apricots in the U.S. are grown primarily in California.  Turkey is the world's leading producer of apricots though.   Other leading producers of apricots are Italy, Russia, Spain, U.S., and France. 

Apricot season in the U.S. is from May through August.  In the winter apricots are imported from South America.  Dried and canned apricots are of course available year round.   Apricots are eaten fresh, dried, cooked into pastry, and eaten as jam.  The fruit is also distilled into brandy and liqueur. 

When I was growing up, my little sister was very young and had never seen an apricot before.  One day she opened the refrigerator to find one sitting there with its peach like appearance and its distinctive ridge that runs from top to bottom of the fruit.  She looked at it and announced, "Look, Mommy.  This peach has a 'hiney' on it."  So, that's what I remember when I think about apricots.

Apricots are  an excellent source of vitamin A, a very good source of vitamin C, and a good source of tryptophan, iron, fiber, and potassium.   Nutrients in apricots can help protect the heart and eyes.  The apricot is high in beta-carotene which helps protect LDL cholesterol from oxidation which may help prevent heart disease.  The vitamin A promotes good vision and is a powerful antioxidant which quenches free radical damage to cells and tissue.   Sulfur containing compounds are often added to dried foods like apricots as a preservative.  They can cause reactions in sulfite sensitive people.

Choose apricots with a rich orange color. Avoid those that are pale and yellow.   The fruit should be slightly soft.   Add sliced apricots to hot or cold cereal.  Add chopped apricots to pancake batter.  For a Middle Eastern flavor add diced dried apricots to chicken or vegetable stews.  Serve sliced fresh apricots in a green salad.

So......... Eat up!   Enjoy!  I'll show you how.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Sweet Basil


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Sweet Basil

"Sweet basil" or just "basil" is a culinary herb sometimes known as St. Joseph's wort.  It's Latin name is  "Ocimum basilicum".  Basil is native to India and other tropical regions of Asia where it has been cultivated for more than 5,000 years.  The word "basil" comes from the Greek ("basileus") meaning "king".  In recent times basil has become one of the most recognizable herbs since pesto ( a mixture of basil, pine nuts, and Parmesan cheese) has become popular.
 
Basil has a rich and spicy, mildly peppery flavor with a trace of mint and clove.  You will find basil sold fresh or dried.  Unfortunately the dried basil loses most of its flavor.  One teaspoon of dried basil is equivalent to one tablespoon of the fresh basil.  Some sources state there are more than sixty varieties of basil.  The most common "Genovese" basil has a bright and pungent taste.  Other varieties  have  unique tastes such as lemon basil, anise basil, and cinnamon basil which have flavors that subtly reflect their names. 
 
Growing up in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn I remember my maternal grandmother always had some "basilico" growing in the garden.  On seventy-seventh street  many of the houses had front yards back then.  My grandfather used to grow the most beautiful roses and he had trellises on which they grew.  It was beautiful.  It was in that garden that the basil grew.  There was also a subway station on the corner and people coming home in the evening would sometimes stop and pick one of the roses.  I'll bet some of the Italians would also help themselves to some basil.
 
There has been much research into the health benefits from essential oils found in basil.  In vitro studies have established that compounds in basil oil have potent antioxidant, antiviral, and antimicrobial properties and potential for use in treating cancer.  Basil is an excellent source of vitamin K and a very good source of iron, calcium and vitamin A.  It is a good source of dietary fiber, manganese, magnesium, vitamin C and potassium. 
 
Basil is commonly used fresh in cooked recipes , added at the last moment.  Basil is the ultimate complement to tomatoes, but also pairs well with garlic and olives.   Most other herbs tend to overpower basil's flavor and aroma but oregano is most often used with basil.  Other good combinations are rosemary and sage.  Basil stimulates the appetite and helps curb flatulence.   Basil pesto is most often served with pasta.
 
Choose basil that looks vibrant with deep green color.  Avoid dark spots or yellowing as well as wilting.  Basil can be kept in the refrigerator for short periods wrapped in slightly damp paper towel.  It can be frozen whole or chopped in airtight containers or in ice cube trays covered with water or stock.
 
Basil plants are readily available at your local supermarket.  They like the warm weather and will do well if kept on the porch.  Just remember to water frequently and pinch off the ends when they begin to flower. 
 
So, eat up, enjoy, I'll show you how.
 

Simple but good:

 
Basil Pesto:
 
4 cups packed basil leaves
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
2 cloves of garlic
1/4 teaspoon  salt
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
 
Place all ingredients except olive oil and Parmesan cheese in a blender.  Blend while adding the olive oil until completely blended.  Stir in the Parmesan cheese.
 
 

Friday, October 4, 2013

Carambola (Starfruit)

Carambola (Starfruit):

 
Carambola, also known as starfruit, is a species of tree native to the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, India, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka.   Carambola has distinctive ridges (usually five) running down its sides and when cut cross-section resembles a star.   The skin is thin, smooth, and waxy, and turns light to dark yellow when ripe.   The entire fruit is edible, and usually eaten out of hand, but it may be used in cooking,  and can be made into relishes, preserves and juice drinks.  The taste of the starfruit has been likened to a mix of apples, pears and citrus family fruits.   Most starfruit comes from Malaysia, but it is also grown in Israel, tropical Africa, Taiwan,  the Caribbean, and throughout South America, as well as California and Florida.
 
There are two kinds of starfruit: sour and sweet.  The sour variety has narrowly spaced ribs and is used mainly for cooking to give a unique tart flavor to poultry meats, and seafood.   The sweet starfruit has thick fleshy ribs , and is used for eating out of hand or mixed with other fruits in fresh salads.
 
Carambola is rich in antioxidants, particularly potassium and vitamin C,  low in sugar, sodium, and acid.   It is also rich in flavonoids and soluble fiber.   Carambola also contains antimicrobial activities.  Extracts of the fruit proved to have antimicrobial activity against Bacillus cerlus, E. coli, Salmonella typhi, and Staphylococcus aureus. 
 
Starfruit are available  from January to May and then again from July to October.  Pick firm, shiny fruit with even color.  Avoid fruit that has brown shriveled ribs.  You may store ripe starfruit at room temperature for 2 or 3 days or refrigerate, unwashed, in a plastic bag for up to a week.  Ripening fruit should be turned frequently to allow all the ribs to turn bright yellow.   When you are ready to use, wash thoroughly in cold water.  Pat dry.  Trim off the ends and any dry edges.  Cut fruit crossway in thin sections. 
 
Carambola contains oxalic acid which may be harmful to persons sufferings from kidney failure, kidney stones, or to those under kidney dialysis.   If your kidneys are healthy, though,  there is no concern, they filter out the oxalic acid. 
 
For a beautiful fruit platter arrange  bright green slices of kiwi, slices of golden starfruit and ripe red strawberries.
 
So....... Eat up!  Enjoy!  I'll show you how.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Mint

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Mint:

Mint, also called "mentha", is an aromatic perennial herb.  Mint belongs to a large family with over thirty species.  All mints prefer and thrive near pools of water, lakes, rivers, and in cool moist spots in partial shade.  In general mints tolerate a wide range of conditions, and can even be grown in full sun.  Mint very often grows wild.
 
Known in Greek mythology as the "herb of hospitality", mint was used as a room deodorizer.  Today it is more commonly used for aromatherapy through the use of essential oils.  The mint leaf, fresh or dried, is the culinary source of mint.  The leaves have a warm, fresh, aromatic, sweet flavor with a cool aftertaste.  The most common and popular mints for cultivation are peppermint, spearmint, and more recently apple mint.
 
Mint essential oil and menthol are used extensively as flavorings in breath fresheners, drinks, antiseptic mouth rinses, toothpaste, chewing gum, desserts, and candies.  Mint oil is used as an environmentally friendly insecticide to kill wasps, hornets, ants, and cockroaches.   Today naturalists employ peppermint to treat gallstones, irritable bowel syndrome, and the common cold.  Mint is a great aid to digestion and for settling the stomach. 
 
When I was growing up living in Brooklyn, the family (Grandpa and the three sons, my father being  the youngest) bought a summer bungalow out on Long Island to use for weekends and the summer.  It was a beautiful place on a corner lot with a hedge that around the property.  It had a screened porch in the front where we would eat.  In the backyard it had an old fashioned hand operated water pump, still functional,  and back in the comer an actual functioning outhouse.  Fortunately, there also was indoor plumbing, but the pump and outhouse lent ambience to the place.  Well, near the pump was a patch of  mint growing wild.  The aroma was intoxicating.  Now whenever I smell fresh mint it brings me back to the "Clinton Street house" as we called it.
 
Mint leaves are used in teas, beverages, jellies, syrups, candies, and ice cream.   Mint is also traditional with lamb dishes.  Alcoholic drinks sometimes feature mint for flavor or garnish, such as in the mint julep and the mojito.  Crème de menthe is a mint flavored liqueur.  Fresh mint adds refreshing flavor when snipped over peas, fruit, or lettuce salad.
 
Mint is available year round being grown outside or in hothouses.  Choose bright green unwilted leaves.  Wrap dry leaves in an unsealed plastic bag and keep in the refrigerator for a up to several days.  So add a little mint!
 
Eat up and enjoy!

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Cruciferous Vegetables: How Food Affects Health

Cruciferous Vegetables:

What do broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kale, cabbage, and bok choy have in common?   They are all cruciferous vegetables.   Cruciferous vegetables are members of the family Brassicaceae (also called Cruciferae).  The four petal flower from these vegetables resembles a cross or 'crucifer', hence the name. 

Cruciferous vegetables are non-starchy vegetables that contain dietary fiber, folate, carotenoids (including beta carotene), and Vitamin C.  Here are some of the most common cruciferous vegetables found in your supermarket or produce store:  horseradish, kale, collard greens, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, kohlrabi, broccoli, cauliflower, bok choy, rapini (broccoli rabi), Chinese cabbage, turnip roots, rutabagas, arugula, watercress, radish, daikon, and wasabi.

A review of research found that 70% of the studies found a link between cruciferous vegetables and  protection against cancer.  Cruciferous vegetables all contain phytochemicals (naturally occurring compounds that have biological significance), vitamins and minerals, and fiber that are important to your health.  Phytochemicals in cruciferous vegetables can stimulate enzymes in the body that detoxify carcinogens before they damage cells.  Cruciferous vegetables also reduce oxidative stress, the overload of harmful molecules called oxygen-free radicals.  Reducing free radicals  may reduce the risk of colon, lung, prostate, breast, and other cancers.

Health agencies recommend we eat several servings per week of cruciferous vegetables.  It is best to eat these veggies raw or only lightly steamed to retain their phytochemicals.  So,  make sure you're eating those cruciferous vegetables!  It's good for you!

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Arugala



Arugula:

Arugula is a member of the mustard family.  Its scientific name is "Eruca sativa".  Arugula is also known as "rocket salad" in Great Britain and the U.S..  In Italy it is "rucola" and in France "roquette".   Arugula is  cruciferous vegetable along with broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage.  It originated in the Mediterranean and was introduced to North America by Italian immigrants.   Early Romans thought eating arugula would bring good luck.  Today arugula is cultivated worldwide and is available year round.

Arugula has fine, smooth, dark green leaves that are notched near the bottom.   It can be eaten raw in salads with olive oil, vinegar, garlic, salt and pepper, or as a garnish.  It can be cooked as a leafy green vegetable.  It can be added to pastas, grains, sandwiches, wraps, and soups, or also makes a spicy pesto.   It is a great alternative to iceberg lettuce because it has a much greater density of nutrients with the same low calories.

Like other cruciferous vegetable arugula is associated with reduced risk of cancers.   It is rich in phytochemicals that have been shown to combat cancer-causing elements in the body.  Arugula is a great source of folic acid and vitamins A, C, and K.  It has high levels if iron and copper.   Arugula's peppery flavor provides a natural cooling effect on the body on a warm day.

Look for arugula with the roots still attached.  It keeps it's zip and flavor better.  Buy bright, tender, and fresh looking leaves with no signs of yellowing  or dark spots.  It should not show signs of limpness.   Use arugula as soon as possible after purchasing.  If you have to keep it a day or two do not remove the roots or wash it.  Just sprinkle with a little water and wrap in a paper towel.  Put in a plastic bag and refrigerate.   Remove the roots and wash only when ready to use.  Arugula tends to be sandy so wash it well. 

There is a sweet peppery digestive alcohol called "rucolino" that is made from arugula on the island of Ischia in the Gulf of Naples.   It is enjoyed in small quantities after a meal such as "lemoncello".

So there you have it: Arugula.  Eat up!  Enjoy! 

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Figs

Figs:

The common fig is a species of flowering plant in the genius "Ficus".  It is a member of the Mulberry family.  The fig has been cultivated since ancient times.  Nine sub fossil fig types dating to about 9400 - 9200 BC were found in an early Neolithic village.  Today figs are grown throughout the temperate world both for fruit and as an ornamental plant. 

Most commercial production of figs is in dried or otherwise processed form.   The fruit does not transport well, and once picked does not keep well.   Dried figs are available throughout the year.  California figs are available from mid-May to as late as mid-December.  Figs are deliciously sweet with a texture that combines the chewiness of their flesh, the smoothness of their skin, and the crunchiness of their seeds.

Some of the most popular varieties of figs are:

  • Black Mission - blackish-purple skin and pink colored flesh
  • Kadota - green skin and purplish flesh
  • Calimyrna - greenish-yellow skin and amber flesh
  • Brown Turkey - purple skin and red flesh
  • Adriatic - light green skin and pink-tan flesh (most often used for fig bars)
Figs can be eaten fresh or dried.  Figs are one of the richest plant sources of calcium and fiber.  Per the USDA Mission variety figs are the richest in fiber, copper, manganese, magnesium, potassium, calcium, and vitamin K.   The potassium in figs are helpful in controlling blood pressure and the dietary fiber is helpful in weight management.

I don't remember fresh figs as a kid.   The figs I saw were dried either in Fig Newtons, or packaged  dried in a wheel shape around the holidays.  It wasn't until I was in the supermarket that I encountered fresh figs that came in a clear plastic container.   I remember hearing that one of my wife's uncles planted a fig tree in the backyard of his Florida home.  I thought how "old world" that was.

When purchasing fresh figs  purchase only a day or two before you're planning to eat them.  Select figs with rich deep color that are plump and tender, but not mushy with firm stems and are free of bruises.  Avoid figs with brown or grayish spots on the skin, which indicates they are starting to ferment.   Ripe figs should be kept in refrigeration.  They should be well wrapped  to reduce exposure to air , which can cause them to become hard or dry.

Before eating or cooking wash  under cool water and gently remove stem.  Gently wipe dry.  Fresh figs are great to eat out of hand or wrap with a piece of prosciutto and use as an appetizer (like you would with a piece of melon).  Fresh figs can also be made into jam or preserves. Dried figs can be simply eaten as is, used in a recipe, or simmered for several minutes in water or fruit juice to make them plumper and juicier.

So........Eat up!  Enjoy!  I'll show you how.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Onions


Onions:


The onion (Allium cepa) also known as the bulb onion or common onion is used as a vegetable and enjoyed around the world.  While native to central Asia and the Middle East, it is cultivated  around the world.   The onion has been in cultivation for at least 7,000 years.   In ancient Greece athletes ate large quantities of onions because it was believed to lighten the balance of the blood.   Roman gladiators were rubbed down with onions to firm up their muscles.  Doctors were known to prescribe onions to facilitate bowel movements and erections., and to relieve headaches, coughs, snakebite and hair loss.   Today the consumption of onions has risen over 70% in the last two decades.   In the U.S. the per capita consumption of onions in 2009 was 20 pounds.

Common onions are normally available in three colors: yellow, red, and white.  Yellow onions, also called brown onions, are full-flavored and are the onions of choice for everyday use.  Red onions are a good choice to liven a dish with color.  They are also used for grilling, char-broiling, and roasting.  White onions have a golden color when cooked and a particularly sweet flavor when sautéed. .  White onions are traditionally used in Mexican cooking.  The large mature onion bulb is the most eaten, but also can be eaten in immature stages.  Young plants harvested before bulbing occurs are used as scallions (green onions).  Sulphuric compounds in onions are released when the onion is cut bringing tears to your eyes.  To reduce this effect you can chill the onions beforehand and cut the root end last.  Another strategy is to cut the onions under running water.   Eating parsley helps to reduce onion breath.

One of the first jobs I did in the grocery store was separating the onions from their loose skins.   The onions came loose in fifty pound bags and there were always a lot of loose skins in the bag .  I would dump the bag into a box and then take each onion separately, remove any loose skin,  and put it in another box, so they were ready to go on display.  It always amazed me how dirty my hands would get from dirt and yellow staining.   Many years later one supermarket chain I worked for  insisted that we peel the onion "down to the shine" , so it would look better on display.   They cut that out, though , when they figured out it was making the onions deteriorate faster.

Onions can be baked, boiled, braised, fried, roasted, sautéed, or eaten raw in salads.  They are an integral part of many recipes.   Onions are available fresh, frozen, canned, caramelized, pickled, and chopped.  Onions are high in vitamin C, B6, folic acid, and are a good source of dietary fiber.   Onions contain phenols and flavonoids that have potential anti-inflammatory, anti-cholesterol, anti-cancer, and antioxidant properties.  They vary in antioxidant content by variety with shallots having the highest amount and Vidalia the lowest.   Flavonoids in onions tend to be more concentrated in the outer layers of flesh.  Peel off as little as possible of the edible portion.   Most onion varieties are 89% water.

Choose onions that are clean, well shaped, have no opening at the neck, and feature crisp dry outer skin.  Avoid those that are sprouting or have signs of mold.  Cooking onions and sweet onions are better stored at room temperature.   Cooking onions have a shelf life of 3 - 4 weeks.  For sweet onions it is 1 - 2 weeks.   Sweet onions have a greater water and sugar content that reduces their shelf life.  Sweet onions can be stored in the refrigerator for about a month.  Scallions or green onions should also be refrigerated.        

So...... Don't cry! (Couldn't help it!)     Eat up, Enjoy!  I'll show you how.

 

Simple but good:      

Onion Rings:

Canola oil for frying
1 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 tsp. dried basil
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
1/4 tsp. salt
1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup cornmeal
3 large yellow onions sliced into thin rounds

Heat oil in a deep frying pan (350 degrees).  Mix together garlic powder, basil, oregano, black pepper, and salt in a small bowl.   Whisk together flour and cornmeal in a medium bowl.  Toss onion rings in flour to coat.  Deep fry onions in two batches until crispy and lightly golden.  Drain on paper towel.  Add a large pinch of spice mix and toss.


                                                                               

Friday, August 9, 2013

Cherries

Cherries:

The cherry is the fruit of many plants of the genus "Prunus", and is a fleshy "drupe" also known as a stone fruit.   Cherries originated in the Middle East and have been cultivated in Europe and the Orient for centuries.   The geographical range for the sweet cherry extends through most of Europe, western Asia, and parts of northern Africa. Cherries have been consumed in this area since prehistoric times.  Irrigation, spraying, labor , and propensity to damage from rain and hail make cherries relatively expensive.  Cherries are harvested using a mechanized "shaker" or are hand picked to minimize damage to the fruit and trees.

Cherries have a very short growing season but can grow in most temperate latitudes.  Cherry trees require exposure to cold to germinate.  Because of this requirement , none of the "Prunus" family can grow in tropical climates  The peak season for cherries is summer.   There are two main species of cherries, sweet cherries, which include the most varieties and peak in June, and tart (also called "sour") cherries, which are used for cooking and peak in July.

The U. S. is the world's  biggest producer, consumer, and exporter of cherries.  Most sweet cherries are grown in Washington, California, Oregon, Wisconsin, and  Michigan.  Important varieties of sweet cherries include Bing, Brooks, Tulare, King, Sweetheart, and Rainier.   Most tart cherries are grown in Michigan, followed by Utah, New York, and  Washington.   Varieties of  tart cherries include Montmorecy and Morello. 

When I was in college, I had a part time job in a supermarket in the downtown area.   Next door to the supermarket was a large bakery.  At night when I would leave work the smell of the baking would make me hungry.  One night when I got home from work my father had baked a big batch of cherry turnovers.  Well, with my appetite whetted by the smells from the bakery, I really went to town on the cherry turnovers.  So much so that they made me sick.  I ended up with a belly ache.  Well, after that each night when I came out of work to the smells  of the bakery, they reminded me of that belly ache. 

Sweet cherries are rich in beta carotene, vitamin C, anthocyanin, and quercetin which may work together to fight cancer.  Cherry anthocyanin, a class of phytochemical  was shown in preliminary research to possibly affect pain and inflammation mechanisms.   Sweet cherries are also loaded with potassium, which is a natural blood pressure reducer.    Tart cherries contain melatonin which lowers body temperature and helps make us sleepy.    Subjects in a study who were given one ounce of cherry juice concentrate in the morning and then again at night found that they slept more soundly.   Melatonin may also help protect against post workout pain. 

Choose cherries that are shiny and plump with fresh green stems and dark coloring, which are heavy for their size.  Test taste them if you can.  Keep cherries in the refrigerator unwashed with stems attached in a loosely covered container or a loosely closed plastic bag.  Rinse the cherries right before you eat them.   To pit cherries rinse them with cool water,  pat dry,  and remove stems.  Use  a toothpick or unbent paper clip and insert into the stem end of the cherry.  Feel it hit the pit.  Twist your toothpick or paper clip around the pit and pop it out. 

Sweet cherries are delicious eaten out of hand.  Cinnamon and nutmeg are two prime cherry seasonings.  So are almonds and almond flavorings such as extract and almond liqueur.  Cherries are used in recipes and also for pies, cobblers, and tarts.

So.......Eat up!  Enjoy!  I'll show you how.

 

Simple but good:

Brandied Cherries

1 lb. sweet cherries, pitted
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
2 tsps. lemon juice
1 stick cinnamon
pinch of nutmeg
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup brandy

Wash and pit cherries.   In a saucepan combine all ingredients except cherries and brandy and bring to a rolling boil.  When liquid begins to boil, reduce the heat to medium.  Add cherries and simmer for 5 - 7 minutes.  Remove from heat, add brandy and let cool. Transfer to clean jars and refrigerate uncovered until cherries are cool to the touch.  Cover tightly and refrigerate for up to two weeks.  

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Peas

Peas:


The pea is usually the small seed or the seed pod of the pod fruit Pisum sativum.   The peapod is botanically a fruit since it contains seeds developed from the ovary of a pea flower.  Peas are used as a vegetable.   Peas are a cool season crop, but are available in your grocery store year round.  

In the Middle Ages field peas are constantly mentioned as a staple that kept famine at bay.  In the mid 19th century Austrian monk Gregor Mendel's observations of pea pods led to the principles of Mendelian genetics, the foundation of modern day genetics.   Green "garden" peas, eaten immature and fresh, were an innovative luxury of  Early Modern Europe.  Thomas Jefferson grew more than thirty varieties of peas on this estate.

Peas are most commonly green, but occasionally  purple or golden yellow.  Generally there are three types of peas; green peas, snow peas, and snap pears.   Canada currently is the world's largest producer of peas.  France, China, Russia, and India are also large scale producers of peas. 

When I was growing up my mother bought peas in a can.  It was not until I began working in the store that I first saw peas in a pod.   I remember them being displayed in a bushel basket  with the bottom dummied up so that with only about two inches of product  it looked like a big bushel of peas.  My mother used to tell the story about when she was a little girl and she stuck a pea up he nose and could not get it out.  Everyone tried unsuccessfully to help .  Finally, her father was able to dislodge the pea using a pair of tweezers.  She never did that again.

Today peas are usually boiled or steamed which breaks down the cell walls and makes them taste sweeter and the nutrients more bioavailable.   Peas are grown throughout the world .  Only about 5% of the peas grown are sold fresh.  The rest are frozen or canned.  Peas are one of the few members of the legume family that are commonly sold and cooked as fresh vegetables.

 Peas are starchy but high in fiber, protein, vitamins, minerals, and lutein.   Peas are a very good source of manganese, vitamins C, K, B1 and folate.  They are a good source of vitamins B2, B3, and B6.  Peas contain a unique assortment of phytonutrients.  One of the phytonutrients, polyphenol, is being researched in connection  with stomach cancer protection.  The phytonutrients also provide us with key antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits.  Intake of green peas is also associated with lower risk of type 2 diabetes

If purchasing fresh peas select firm pods that are velvety and smooth.  The color should be medium green.  Avoid ones with light or dark color, or that are yellow, whitish, or speckled with gray.   Frozen peas are better able to retain texture, color, and flavor than the canned.  Both frozen and canned peas tend to be high in sodium, but you can remove some sodium by thoroughly rinsing the peas with water.   Neither frozen nor canned peas have an unlimited shelf life.  It is recommended that you consume frozen peas within 6 - 12 months of the packing date.   Snow peas should be flat and without blemish.  The small ones tend to be sweeter.  Snap peas can be snapped open to see if they are fresh.  Snap peas should be bright green, firm, and plump.

Peas are not just a vegetable side.  They can be added to green salads, or used in recipes.

So...... Eat up!  Enjoy!  I'll show you how.  

 

Simple but good


Pasta with Peas:

1 pkg. of frozen peas, thoroughly rinsed.
1  can (14.5 ounces) chicken or vegetable broth
1/2 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic
1lb of medium shell pasta
2 tablespoons of olive oil
salt, pepper and parmesan to taste

Cook pasta according to directions on box
In a skillet sauté onion and garlic in olive oil until soft, add rinsed peas, salt and pepper to taste and continue to sauté for about 2 - 3 minutes.
Add broth to onion, garlic and peas mixture, cover and simmer about 5 minutes
Add cook drained pasta to the skillet mixture, sprinkle with parmesan and serve.


 


Sunday, July 21, 2013

Plums:

The plum is a "drupe fruit" (stone fruit) of the subgenus "Prunus".  Plums may have been one of the first fruits domesticated by humans.  Plum remains have been found in Neolithic age archaeological sites along with olives, grapes and figs.  Commercially grown plum trees are of medium height (5 - 6 meters) with medium hardiness.  They blossom in different months in different parts of the world, for example in about January in Taiwan and about April in the U.S.  The fruit is usually medium in size (1 - 3 inches in diameter) and  globose to oval in shape.  The flesh is firm, juicy, and mealy.  The peel is smooth with a natural waxy surface.  The fruit has a single large pit. 

Plums are produced around the world, but China is the word's largest producers of plums.  The U.S. is second with California producing 95% of U.S. plums.  The Japanese variety of plum  is the most familiar and widely sold fresh eating plum.   Plums come in a wide variety of colors and sizes.   There are six varieties of plums in cultivation today.   They are 1. Japanese; 2. American; 3. Ornamental; 4. Damson; 5. Wild; and 6. European.   Over 2000 plum varieties exist with over 100 available in the U.S.

The taste of the plum ranges from sweet  to tart.  The skin itself may be particularly tart.   It is juicy and can be eaten fresh out of hand, or used in jam making or other recipes.  Plum juice can be fermented into plum wine.  Dried plums, called prunes, are also sweet . 

Plums and prunes are known for their laxative effect which is attributed to various compounds present in the fruit such as dietary fiber, sorbitol, and isatin.  Plums and prune juice are often used to regulate the digestive system.  Plums provide significant antioxidant protection from phenols.  Plums are a good source of vitamin C,  vitamin  A, vitamin  K, potassium, and dietary fiber. 

Choose plums that yield to gentle pressure and are soft at the tip.   You can also choose plums that are firm (not excessively hard) and ripen them in a paper bag at room temperature.   Once they are ripe, though,  refrigerate them.  Good quality plums have rich color and are free from punctures, bruises, or any kind of decay.  You may see the occasional white spot.  This is not bad and indicates the plum has not been over handled.

So...... Eat up!  Enjoy!  I'll show you how.


Simple but good: 

Plum Crisp  (from Pillsbury)

Fruit Mixture:

  4   cups sliced fresh plums (6 to 8 medium)
1/2  cup sugar
1/4  cup all-purpose flour
1/4  teaspoon cinnamon

Topping:

1/3  cup all-purpose flour
1/3  cup rolled oats
1/3 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/4  cup margarine or butter, cut into pieces

1.  Heat oven to 375degrees F.  In a large bowl combine plums, sugar, 1/4 cup flour and cinnamon; t
     toss to mix.  Spoon into ungreased 8-inch square pan.

2.  In medium bowl combine 1/3 cup flour, oats and brown sugar; mix well.  Using fork or pastry       
     blender, cut in margarine until mixture resembles coarse crumbs.  Spoon evenly over plum mix-     ture.

3.  Bake at 375 degrees F. for 35 to 45 minutes or until golden brown  Serve warm or cool.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Cucumbers

 

Cucumbers:


Next to the tomato, cabbage, and onions, cucumbers are the fourth most cultivated vegetable in the world.  Originally from the Indian subcontinent, cucumbers have spread throughout the world.  They have been cultivated for 3000 years.  China produced 60% of global output of cucumbers in 2005 followed at a distance by Iran, Turkey, Russia, and the United States. 

The cucumber is a creeping vine which bears a cylindrical fruit when ripe.  The cucumber belongs to the same botanical family as melons and squashes.  Having an enclosed seed and developing from a flower, botanically speaking cucumbers are classified as accessory fruits.  Much like tomatoes and squash they are perceived, prepared, and eaten as a vegetable.   The majority of people describe a mild almost watery flavor or a light melon taste.  Cucumbers are 90 - 95% water. 

My first memory of eating cucumbers was with my paternal grandmother.  One of the benefits of having the fruit and vegetable store was that they had a truck.  It was a box truck.  It had a cab and then a fully enclosed "box" in the back.  It was about the size of a medium U-haul.  My grandfather used it to transport fruits and vegetable from the market back to the store.  He sometimes used it to deliver orders.   On rare occasions he used it to move things.  This was such an occasion.  He was helping some cousins move furniture.  Grandma and me went along and we stayed in the cab while he loaded up.  Well, Grandma brought some cucumbers and was cutting them up and we were eating them.  So now the smell of cucumbers brings me back to the truck.. I loved that truck!  I would sit in it and eat lunch in the early days I worked at the store.  Then I would pretend to drive till lunch was over.  I never became a truck driver, but one of my sons did.

There are three types of cucumbers: Slicing cucumbers,  Pickling cucumbers and Burp-less cucumbers.  Slicing cucumbers are grown to be eaten fresh.  Slicers grown for North America area generally longer, smoother, more uniform in color and have much tougher skin.  Pickling cucumbers are pickled for flavor and longer shelf-life.   Picklers tend to be shorter,  thicker, and less regularly shaped, and have bumpy skin with tiny white or black dotted spines.  Burp-less cucumbers are sweeter and have thinner skin than other varieties.  They are also much longer than the others They are reputed to be easier to digest with a pleasant taste.

Fresh extracts from cucumbers are shown to contain antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
Cucumbers contain unique polyphenols called "lignans" which have a strong history of research in connection with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and several cancers including breast, uterine, ovarian, and prostate.   Cucumber juice contains a hormone needed by the pancreas to produce insulin and so is beneficial for diabetics.  Compounds called "sterols" in cucumbers may help to reduce cholesterol levels.  Cucumbers are a good source of vitamin B and so are a good "pick-me-up".  Cucumbers contain lots of potassium, magnesium, and fiber which work effectively in regulating blood pressure, both high and low.  Cucumbers are an excellent source of silica which is known to promote joint health by strengthening connective tissue.  Cucumber skin can be applied to irritations of the skin and for sunburn like aloe.  Slices of cucumber over the eyes help to reduce puffiness.  The silicon and sulfur in cucumbers can help to stimulate hair growth.  A slice of cucumber pressed to the roof of the mouth by the tongue for 30 seconds relieves bad breath. 

The states of Florida and California provide U.S. consumers with fresh cucumbers for most of the year (March through November).  Cucumbers from Mexico are commonly found in grocery store during December, January, and February. 

Choose cucumbers that are firm and rounded at their edges with a bright medium   to dark green color.  Avoid cucumbers that are yellow, puffy, have sunken water-soaked areas  or are wrinkled at the tips.  Thin skinned cucumbers generally have less seeds than those that are thick skinned.  Cucumbers can be very heat sensitive.  Prefer cucumbers that are in refrigerated cases.   Store cucumbers in the refrigerator for up to several days.  For maximum quality, though,  consume within one to two days. 

The skin and seeds of the cucumber are both richer in nutrients than the flesh.  Cucumbers, however,  are often waxed.  Organically grown cucumbers must be waxed with non-synthetic waxes free from all chemical contaminants.  Conventionally grown cucumbers may be waxed with synthetic waxes that contain unwanted contaminants.  You'll probably want to remove their skins.  If you want to remove the seeds, cut the cucumber lengthwise, and use the tip of a spoon to scrape out the seeds.

Cucumber slices are great to eat out of hand and in all types of salads. 

So...... Eat up!  Enjoy!  I'll show you how.

 

 Simple but good:

Tzatziki Sauce:  traditional sauce for Greek gyro sandwich, but good on any grilled meat or as an appetizer with pieces of pita bread or pita chips.

1 cup  (8 oz.) Greek style yogurt
1 cucumber  peeled, seeded, and diced
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon dried dill
1 1/2 teaspoons garlic powder
salt and pepper to taste

Place all ingredients in a blender and blend until well combined.  Remove to a separate dish and cover.  Refrigerate for at least an hour.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Peaches

 

Peaches:


The peach is a deciduous tree native to China and South Asia.  It is considered to be "the tree of life" and symbol of immortality and unity. It is a member of the rose family.   Peaches have been cultivated in China since 2000 BCE.  Alexander the Great introduced the peach into Europe.  Peaches were originally planted in St. Augustine, Florida, but were introduced by Franciscan monks into St. Simon and Cumberland islands along the Georgia coast in 1571.  Today China is the world's largest producer of peaches  followed by Italy.  California produces 50% of  the peaches in the U.S.  growing 175 varieties.  Peaches are also grown in Georgia and South Carolina.   The peach is the state fruit of South Carolina, and Georgia is nicknamed "The Peach State".

Peaches and nectarines are actually the same species, but are regarded commercially as different fruits.  The nectarine has a smooth skin whereas the peach has a fuzzy skin. Many erroneously believe that the nectarine is a cross between a peach and a plum. This is just not correct.   The peach is a climacteric fruit, which means it continues to ripen after being picked.   More than 80 chemical compounds contribute to the peach's aroma.

Cultivated peaches are divided into clingstone and freestone depending on whether the flesh of the peach sticks to the stone (i.e. the pit).  There are hundreds of varieties.  Peaches with white flesh are typically very sweet with little acidity.  Yellow-fleshed peaches typically have an acid tang coupled with sweetness.   White fleshed are most popular in China, Japan, and neighboring Asian countries.  Europeans and North Americans historically favor the acidic yellow-fleshed peach.

When I was a kid,  I remember one time my Grandfather buried some peach pits in the yard to see if they would grow.  They did not grow in Brooklyn, New York, but it was fun to experiment.  Then I remember how we would have peaches in wine.  What a summer treat.  See below for how easy it is to make..

Peaches are available year round, but the season for fresh U.S. peaches is from May to October.  August is National Peach Month.  Peaches are most nutritious when eaten raw.  They are low calorie (38 calories for a medium peach) and cholesterol free.  Peaches are a good source of energy, carbohydrates, dietary fiber, iron, potassium, and Vitamins A, B, and C.  They are also a rich source of bioactive compounds including phenolic acid, anthrocyanins, flavonoids, and procyanidins.

Look for peaches that are heavy for their size with a rich color and possibly a slight whitish bloom.   They should yield to slight pressure and have a sweet aroma.  Avoid peaches that are excessively soft or with cuts or bruises.  Store unripe peaches in a paper bag to ripen.  When ripe,  store at room temperature and use within a few days.   Incidentally,  a study in the "Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture" found that canned peaches are as loaded with nutrients as fresh peaches.

Peaches are great to eat out of hand.  Just wash thoroughly and rub with a paper towel to remove the fuzz.  Sliced peaches  should tossed with lemon juice to retard browning.   Peaches are easy to use in smoothies, fruit salads, or soaked in red wine.  Peaches are used in jams, cakes and cobblers, and to add a tangy sweetness to poultry, pork, or veal dishes.  Cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, coriander, sherry, marsala, and rum can be used to enhance peach dishes.  Peaches are great when grilled. 

To remove the skin of a peach score the bottom of the peach with an "X".   Placed the scored peach in boiling water to blanch for 40 seconds.  Carefully remove from boiling water  and  place in an ice bath for one minute. Remove from the ice bath, let drain and pat dry.  The skin will then easily peel off the peach.

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

Simple but good:

Peaches soaked in wine:

2 or 3 fresh peaches
red wine of your choice
granulated sugar.

Place peeled and sliced fresh peaches in a jar or other coverable container.  Sprinkle the peaches with sugar.  Pour enough red wine to cover the peaches.  Cover the jar or container and put in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours, but he longer the better. Enjoy on a sultry summer evening.



Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Tomato:

The tomato is the state vegetable of New Jersey, the state vegetable and the state fruit of Arkansas, and the official fruit of Ohio.  This member of the "nightshade family" originated in Mexico and spread around the world following the Spanish colonization of the Americas.  Today tomatoes are grown and eaten around the world.

The tomato is botanically a fruit, actually a berry, but is considered a vegetable for culinary purposes due to its savory flavor.   There are around 7500 tomato varieties grown for various purposes.   Tomatoes are often grown in greenhouses in cooler climates.  They are also grown hydroponically using nutrient solutions in water without soil.  Tomatoes are often  picked unripe (green) and ripened in storage with the hydrocarbon gas ethylene which acts as a molecular cue to start the ripening process.  "Tomatoes on the vine": are a variety that are ripened still connected to a piece of vine.  They tend to have more flavor than artificially ripened tomatoes.

Here are the major categories of tomatoes we see today:

* "Slicing" or "globe" tomatoes are the usual tomatoes of commerce.
* Beefsteak tomatoes are large and often used for sandwiches and other applications.
* Oxheart tomatoes range in size up to Beefsteak, but are shaped like strawberries.
*  Plum tomatoes are bred with a higher solids content and are used for sauces and paste.
* Pear tomatoes are obviously pear shaped and used for a richer gourmet paste.
* Cherry tomatoes are small and round often sweet and generally eaten whole in salads
* Grape tomatoes are  a small oblong variation on plum tomatoes used in salads.
* Campari tomatoes are sweet and juicy with low acidity, and lack of mealiness.  They're bigger than a cherry tomato, but smaller than a plum tomato.

When I was growing up, my grandfather would send home over-ripe tomatoes to my grandmother to make tomato sauce for pasta.  She would cook the tomatoes and then put them through this cone shaped strainer using a wooden pestle.  That way she got the meat of the tomatoes without the skins.  She would also use the strainer to make cranberry sauce around the holidays. 

Tomatoes are believed to benefit the heart among other organs.  They contain lycopene, one of the most powerful natural antioxidants.  Some studies found lycopene can prevent prostate cancer, however, other studies refute this claim.  Tomatoes are an excellent source of vitamins C, A, K, and beta-carotene. 

Tomatoes are used raw in salads and processed in ketchup or tomato soup.  Unripe green tomatoes can be breaded and fried, used to make salsa, or pickled.  Tomato juice is sold as a drink.  Tomatoes are used extensively in Mediterranean cooking most commonly in pasta sauces.

Choose tomatoes that are heavy for their size with rich color that are well shaped with smooth skin and no wrinkles, cracks, bruises, or soft spots.  Ripe tomatoes will yield to slight pressure and will have a noticeable sweet fragrance.   Keep unwashed tomatoes at room temperature and out of direct sunlight.  It is not recommended to refrigerate tomatoes as this can harm the flavor.   Unripe tomatoes can be kept in a paper bag until ripening.

So........ Eat up!  Enjoy!  I'll show you how.

 

Simple but good: 


Tomato Salad:

2 medium size tomatoes
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon oregano
salt and black pepper to taste
sliced crusty bread

Wash and pat dry tomatoes. Cut into wedges and mix with other ingredients.  Stir to coat tomatoes.   Enjoy tomatoes with pieces of bread dipped into the juice.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Green Beans:

Green beans are known as French beans, Fine beans, and string beans.  They are also known as "squeaky beans" for the noise they make on the teeth when eaten.  The name "string bean" derives from the fibrous string that once ran down the length of the seam of the pod.  In modern times the string has been mostly bred out.  Green beans and other shell beans such as pinto beans, black beans, and kidney beans belong to the same family and are referred to as "common beans" probably due to they all derived from a common bean ancestor that originated in Peru.  They were spread through South and Central America by migrating Indian tribes and introduced to Europe and spread around the 16th century by Spanish and Portuguese traders.  There are two major groups of green beans, bush beans and pole beans. There are over 130 varieties known.

The first thing I remember about green beans is that they come in a bushel basket.  We would save the baskets and then use them to display produce.  My grandfather's grocery store kept two rows of bushel baskets in front of the store in which produce was displayed.  We would build up the baskets with cardboard  so there was only a few inches of display space on top but it would look like a full basket.   There was a roll down awning above that could be used to keep the sun from cooking the product on warm days.  The display had to be built every morning and taken down every night.  It was a lot of work.

Green beans have been  studied for anti-oxidant content.  In addition to vitamins C and K and beta-carotene green beans contain important amounts of the anti-oxidant mineral manganese.  In the area of phytonutrients green beans contain a wide variety of carotenoids and flavonoids.  The strong carotenoid and flavonoid content appears to provide potential anti-inflammatory benefits.  Green beans also contain high levels of lectins and may be harmful if consumed in excess when uncooked or improperly cooked.  Best to cook them.

Green beans are of nearly universal distribution. Fresh green beans are available year round, but are best in early winter, early summer, and early fall. Green beans can be steamed, boiled, stir fried, or baked in casseroles.

Select green beans that have a smooth feel and a vibrant green color, and that are free from brown spots and bruises.  They should have a firm texture and "snap" when broken.  Store unwashed fresh bean pods in a plastic bag and keep in the refrigerator crisper for about 7 days.  To prepare remove both ends of the pod and wash just before cooking.

So....Eat up!  Enjoy!  I'll show you how.

Simple but good.

Potato and Green Bean Salad:

2 lbs. of potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 lb. of green beans
1/2 c. canola oil
1/4 c. red wine vinegar
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper

Boil potatoes until fork tender.  Drain and set aside to cool. Steam green beans until barely tender.  Drain and rinse under cold water. Set aside to cool.

In a large bowl combine potatoes, beans, oil, vinegar, garlic powder, salt, and pepper.  Mix well.  Add more oil and vinegar if needed.  Serve chilled or at room temperature.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Bananas

 

 

Bananas:



The banana is the world's largest herbaceous flowering plant.  Southeast Asian farmers were the first to domesticate the banana.  It is now grown in 107 countries.  Although we may refer to a "banana tree", the banana plant is not a tree, but the world's largest herb. 

In America and Europe "banana" refers to the soft, sweet, dessert bananas of the Cavendish group.  The firmer starchier variety are called "plantains".  Plantains are often called "cooking bananas" and are cooked and served as a vegetable in Latin American countries.   Export bananas are picked green and ripened in special rooms upon arrival in their destination country.  These rooms are air-tight and filled with ethylene gas.  Bananas can be ordered "ungassed" and will never ripen. These bananas are suited for cooking.  Bananas are a staple starch for many tropical populations.  Dwarf Cavendish are named for the shortness of stem on which they grow.  They are also called "Petites".   The Monzano banana is also called the Apple banana because of its apple like flavor. It also contains some hints of strawberry flavor.  The light golden color turns totally black when ripe.  The Red banana is stubby and round with a dull red skin that turns to a reddish purple or maroon when fully ripe.  The Red banana is sweeter than the Cavendish with a heartier flavor with a softer pinkish orange flesh.

When I was growing up I remember bananas coming in a box packed with shredded newspaper.  They were whole hands of bananas.  You would have to cut the hand down to a smaller sizes as you put them on display. Today they come pre-cut and wrapped in cellophane.  In the store we would open up the box and cellophane to let out any gas to slow the  ripening process.   My dad use to tell  how, when he was a boy he had a friend whose father was a baker and baked Italian bread, which my father loved.  Well, the baker's son loved bananas, so my dad would trade him bananas from his dad's store for the Italian bread.  One time while in the supermarket  a produce manager was feeling sick.  He thought he had some kind of flu.  Well, he was getting worse so he went to the doctor to find out that he had been bitten by a banana spider.  He never felt it.  Because of the delay in treatment, the poison was able to grow.  At one time they even considered amputating the leg.  He was told it could take a year for the poison to get out of his system.  Something like that is very rare. Usually the gassing will eliminate  spiders.

Bananas have an impressive amount of potassium.  One large banana of about nine inches in length contains 602 mg of potassium with 140 calories.  It also contains 2 grams of protein and 4 grams of fiber with just 2 mgs of sodium.  It has abundant vitamins and minerals.  The high potassium and low sodium help with blood pressure.  Its high iron content can stimulate hemoglobin production to help in cases of anemia.   The high fiber can help with constipation.  Bananas contain tryptophan, a type of protein the body converts to serotonin , know to make you relax, improve your mood, and generally make you feel happier.  Research found that eating bananas as part of a regular diet can cut risk of death by strokes as much as 40%.  A piece of banana skin placed peel side out on a wart and secured is known to kill off the wart.

Select bananas that are slightly green, firm, and without bruises.  Bananas with a gray tint and a dull appearance have been refrigerated and will not ripen properly.  Never store unripe bananas in the refrigerator.  Yellow-green bananas will ripen at room temperature to a sunny yellow in three days.   Bananas can be put in a paper bag with an apple or tomato overnight to speed ripening.  Once ripe bananas can be stored in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.  The skin will turn black, but the fruit will be fine.  The brown spotting on the banana is a sign of ripeness and sweetness.

Bananas are peeled and eaten or sliced on cereal.  You can put a stick in a peeled banana and dip in in chocolate and then freeze it.  Try them sliced and then sautéed briefly in butter and brown sugar.  Put them over ice cream.   Overripe bananas are perfect for baking in bread, cake, or muffins.

So......Eat up !  Enjoy !  I'll show you how.

Simple but Good.....

Banana and Peanut Butter Sandwich:

Cooking spray
2 tablespoons of peanut butter
2 slices of whole wheat bread
1 banana sliced

Heat skillet or griddle to medium heat.  Coat with cooking spray.  Spread 1 tablespoon of peanut butter on one side of each slice of bread.  Slice the banana on the peanut buttered side of one slice.  Top with the other slice and press firmly together.  Fry the sandwich until golden brown, about 2 minutes on each side.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Peppers:


Peppers are native to Mexico, Central America, and northern South Africa.  Pepper seeds were carried to Spain in 1493 and spread to other European countries, Africa, and Asian counties.  Today China is the world's largest producer of peppers.

Peppers come in all different sizes and shapes.  They range in flavor from very sweet and mild to so hot they can actually burn the skin.  Bell peppers are known as sweet peppers.  The red bell pepper is actually a ripened green bell pepper.   The Italian sweet frying pepper, also called a Cubanelle, is not  a bell pepper or a chile pepper.  It is normally a light green color but can be orange to red.  As the name implies it is on the sweet side.  Then there are the chile peppers.  They contain capsaicin, a chemical that produces a strong burning sensation on the mucous membranes.  Generally speaking, the smaller the pepper the hotter the taste, but this can vary depending on local growing conditions.

Supplies of bell peppers from California, Florida, and Mexico have overlapping growing seasons.  This ensures a year round supply with various peak times.  Chile peppers are also generally available year round.

The smell of peppers reminds me of my maternal grandmother's kitchen.  She and my grandfather had a fruit and vegetable store for a time before I was born.   She always had a variety of fruits and vegetables on hand.  As a kid I remember having salami and fried peppers on a roll at the beach on Coney Island.  Later in the supermarket in Florida there was a customer who would come in looking for damaged produce to buy at a discount.  Many times we sold her cracked or wrinkled peppers.  She would take them home, cook them, and bring them back with bread and cheese  for us to make sandwiches.   They were so delicious.  Her name was Ida and she was an Italian from New Jersey, but we called her "the grandma lady".  She just looked like a gandma.

All peppers are rich in vitamins A, C, and K , but red peppers are bursting with them.  Red peppers are a good source of lycopene.  Vitamins A asnd C are antioxidants and help prevent cell damage, cancer, diseases relating to aging, and support immune function.  Lycopene is earning a reputation for helping to prevent prostate cancer and cancer of the bladder, cervix, and pancreas.  Finally peppers are rich in phytochemicals with a decent amount of fiber.

Select peppers that have a glossy sheen and no shrivelling, cracks or soft spots. Store sweet peppers in a plastic bag in your refrigerator's crisper drawer. Green peppers stay firm for a week and other colors go soft in 3 or 4 days.  Hot peppers do better refrigerated in a perforated paper bag.

Hot peppers' fire comes from capsaicin which acts on the pain sensors rather than the taste buds.  Capsaicin has been shown to decrease blood cholesterol and triglycerides, boost immunity, and reduce the risk of stomach ulcers.

The hotness of peppers is measured according to the Scoville Heat Index. .  The mildest peppers are at the bottom.  Most of the heat in peppers is found in the seeds and rib membranes.  To reduce some heat remove the seeds and membranes.  Here is a short list of some peppers and their Scoville Units:

16 million                              - pure capsaicin
 5 million                               - Law enforcement pepper spray
100,000 - 350,000                 - Habanero pepper, Scotch bonnet pepper
 30,000 -  50,000                   - Cayene peppers
 10,000 -  25,000                   - Serrano pepper
  2,500 -    8,000                    - Jalapeno pepper, Paprika, Tabasco sauce
     500 -    2,500                    - Anaheim pepper, Poblano pepper
     100 -       500                    - Pimento, Banana pepper, Peperoncini
          -  0 -                             - Bell peppers

Handle hot chile peppers with care.  Wash your hands thoroughly after preparing them.  Not only will the residue burn your lips and eyes, it will transfer to other fruits and vegetable.

So......... Eat up !  Enjoy !  I'll show you how.

Simple but Good:

Fried Cubanelles:

Several cubanelle peppers
4 or 5 cloves of garlic, very thinly sliced
Extra virgin olive oil
garlic powder
salt and black pepper

Take the peppers and slice off the tops close to the stems.  Cut down one side of the pepper and open it up.  Remove the seeds and ribs.

Place about 1/8 inch of extra virgin olive oil in a pan and heat.  Put in the garlic and sautee for a couple of minutes until the garlic begins to brown.  Remove the garlic to a paper towel to drain.  Put peppers in pan and stir to cook.  When the peppers start to get soft add back the garlic and lower the heat to low medium.  Give a generous sprinkle of garlic powder and add salt and black pepper.  Cover and cook until peppers begin to brown.  Remove to shallow dish and let sit at room temperature to cool and marinate.

Enjoy with crusty bread by dipping the bread in the oil and eating it  with the peppers.


Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Kiwifruit

Kiwifruit:


The kiwifruit is a native of southern China where it was grown over 700 years ago.  It was formerly known as the Chinese gooseberry.   In about 1962 when the fruit was making its U.S. debut it was suggested that more might be sold if the name was changed to that of the flightless New Zealand bird whose fuzzy brown coat resembled the kiwifruit skin.  The rest, as they say, is history.

The kiwifruit is oval in shape about the size of a hen's egg with fibrous dull green-brown skin and bright green or golden flesh with rows of tiny black edible seeds.  The most common variety of kiwifruit sold in the U.S. is the "Hayward" which was developed in New Zealand around 1924.  The taste resembles a combination of banana, strawberry, and pineapple.

The kiwifruit is a rich source of vitamin C and potassium, and also a very good source of fiber and vitamin E.  The kiwifruit has a low glycemic index and also provides zinc  which promotes healthy skin, hair, teeth, and nails.  Kiwifruit is an excellent source of  antioxidants which are important in reducing the risk of cancer, heart disease and stroke.   Eating just a couple of kiwis each day may significantly reduce the risk of blood clots and the amount of triglycerides in our blood.

In my early years in the produce business kiwifruit were not popular in the U.S.  I first remember kiwifruit during my supermarket days.  They were new and exotic with their fuzzy brown-green skin.  Back then as now they came in a flat box with each kiwifruit it its own little  pocket. 

California grown kiwis are available November through May. New Zealand kiwis are available June through October making kiwis available year round.  Select kiwis that give to gentle pressure from the thumb and forefinger.  They are the sweetest.  To hasten the ripening process put your kiwis in a paper back with an apple or banana.  A ripe kiwi will stay in your fruitbowl at room temperature for several days.  In the refrigerator it will keep as long as four weeks. 

Although most people prefer to peel the kiwi, it is not necessary.  The skin is edible.  Just give it a wash.  You can rub it a little to reduce the fuzz.   The skin does not have a bitter taste and is good for holding the fruit together for eating out of hand.  If you prefer to peel, just cut off the two ends and use a sharp paring knife to remove the skin.

The bright green color  of the kiwi looks great when combined with other fruits in a salad.  Pureed kiwi is good drizzled over strawberries or raspberries.  It's great on ice cream.   Kiwi can also be used as a tenderizer on meats.  Just place slices of kiwi or peels with some flesh directly on meat and let tenderize for 30 minutes for each inch of meat thickness.

So...... Eat up!   Enjoy!  I'll show you how.