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Saturday, March 30, 2013

Cauliflower

Cauliflower:


The cauliflower is known as the "Queen of Garden Vegetables".  The name "cauliflower" comes from the Latin "caulis", meaning "stem" or "cabbage", and "floris" meaning "flower".  Cauliflower is a "cruciferous" vegetable in the same plant family as broccoli, kale, cabbage, and collards.   It has been an important vegetable in Turkey and Italy since at least 600 B.C.

There are four major groups of cauliflower: 1.  Italian; 2. Nortwest European (developed in France); 3. Northern European (used in Europe and North America but developed in Germany); and  4. Asian (used in China and India).   There are four major colors of cauliflower:  1. White, the most commonly used; 2. Orange, which has 25 times more vitamin A than white; 3. Green, also know as "brocoflower"; and  4. Purple, which has the same antioxidants found in red cabbage and red wine.

I remember cauliflower as mostly coming to the market pre-wrapped, probably right from the field.  It was easy to handle.  Just move from box to display.  In the supermarket we used to like to package a head of cauliflower with a bunch of broccoli.  They made an attractive presentation and a nice ring at the cash register.

Cauliflower is an excellent source of vitamins C and K and a very good source of manganese and fiber.  Several studies link cauliflower to cancer prevention in the bladder, breast, colon, prostate, and ovaries.  Steaming or microwaving cauliflower preserves the anti-cancer properties better than boiling.

Cauliflower can be roasted, boiled, fried, steamed, or eaten raw.   To cut the head remove the outer leaves and cut the floret at the base where it meets the stalk.

Select clean, creamy white compact heads in which the bud clusters are not separated.  Lots of green leaves protect the head and keep it fresh.   Store uncooked heads in the refrigerator in a paper or plastic bag for up to a week.

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


Simple but Good:


Roasted Cauliflower

1 head of cauliflower
2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
lemon juice from half a lemon
olive oil
coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
Parmesan cheese

Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees F.  Cut cauliflower into florets and put in a single layer into a baking dish.  Toss in garlic.  Sprinkle with lemon juice and drizzle olive oil over the florets.   Sprinkle with coarse salt and pepper.

Place in 400 degree F oven for 25-30 minutes or until tops are slightly brown.  Test with fork for desired tenderness.  Remove from oven and generously sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Cantaloupe:

The cantaloupe is the most popular variety of melon in the U.S.    The North American cantaloupe is actually a muskmelon  with its net-like (reticulated) skin covering.  The European cantaloupe is lightly ribbed with a green gray skin.  The name "cantaloupe" comes to us via French from the Italian "Cantalupo", which was a papal county near Rome.  The cantaloupe melon originated in Iran, India, and Africa.  It was first cultivated in Greece 5000 years ago and in Egypt 4000 years ago.

Growing up and helping in the grocery store, what I remember most about cantaloupes is the  box they came in.  It was a wooden crate that consisted of  two inch slats that were placed about two inches apart.  It allowed for good air circulation and you could see the fruit.  To open it we used a crate hammer which had a double head at one end and a claw at the other, so you could remove a couple of slats.   Today you don't see the wooden crates very often.   It is mostly cardboard boxes but with  large cut-outs to allow ventilation.  As a kid with a vivid imagination, I would think of all the things I could build with enough cantaloupe crates.

Cantaloupe is an excellent source of vitamins A and C and a very good source of potassium and fiber.  Cantaloupes contain a wide variety of anti-oxidants and phytonutrients.  The surface skin of the cantaloupe, however, can contain harmful bacteria particularly Salmonella.  It is important to thoroughly wash and scrub the outside of the cantaloupe before cutting.   In 1941 in a market in Peoria, Illinois cantaloupe was found to contain the best and highest quality penicillin, after a worldwide search.

Select cantaloupe that are heavy for their size.  On the stem end where it was connected to the vine the cantaloupe should give slightly to pressure from the thumb.   The other end, the blossom end, can be smelled for its aroma, another sign of ripeness.   You can set out your cantaloupe on the counter  at home for a couple of days to let it ripen some more.   Once you are ready to cut the melon wash it thoroughly and cut in half  from end to end.   Using a spoon carefully remove the seeds.   Don't dig into the flesh and scrape it.   You'll remove the sweetest part of the melon.  It's OK to leave a couple of seeds.  They're edible.   You can then cut the melon some more and remove the skin with a sharp knife.  Refrigerate cut cantaloupe for less that 3 days. 

Cantaloupe is usually eaten as fresh fruit, as a salad, or as a dessert with ice cream or custard.

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


Simple but good:

Cantaloupe with prosciutto


1 ripe cantaloupe
16 thin slices of prosciutto (Italian ham)

Wash your cantaloupe thoroughly and cut in half end to end.  Carefully remove the seeds.  Cut each half in half, and then each quarter in half to yield 16 slices.  Remove the skin from each piece and wrap the middle of the slice with a piece of prosciutto.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Cabbage:


The cabbage is a leafy green biennial grown as an annual vegetable for its dense leaved heads.  It is closely related to broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts.  The main varieties of cabbage are Savoy, Spring Greens, Green, Red, and White.  Cabbage is a cool season crop, but is available year round in the market.

Cabbage was probably domesticated in Europe before 1000 BC.  The Greeks and Romans claimed medicinal uses for cabbage including relief from gout, headaches, and symptoms of poisonous mushroom ingestion.   During the 16th century German gardeners developed Savoy cabbage with its curly leaves, mild flavor, and tender texture.  Today's cabbage is selectively bred for head weight and morphological characteristics (form and structure including outward appearance).  Cabbage is widely cultivated around the world. 

When I was in my early twenties I went out with a girl who was the daughter of a produce manager for a supermarket chain.   We just went out a couple of times, but this one evening we drove past a cabbage field.   I didn't know it was there and when the smell of cabbage started to enter the car I was so embarrassed.   I didn't know what the smell was.  Did she think it was me? Well, I didn't say anything and neither did she, but I never forgot it.  It was one of life's embarrassing moments.

Cabbage is a good source of beta-carotene, vitamins C and K, and fiber.  It is a cruciferous vegetable  loaded with phyto-chemicals and has been shown to reduce the risk of some cancers  including colorectal, breast, and prostate.  Steamed cabbage is especially helpful in lowering cholesterol.

Cabbage can be eaten raw or steamed, pickled (sauerkraut, kim chee), sauteed or braised.  Cooked cabbage can sometimes have an unpleasant odor.  This is a result of over-cooking.  Choose medium size heads that are firm, compact, and heavy for their size with crisp colorful leaves free from cracks, bruises, or blemishes.  Avoid precut cabbage (halved or shredded).  Once cut it begins to lose vitamin C.  Put the whole head in a plastic bag in the crisper of your refrigerator.  Red and green will keep about two weeks.  Savoy will keep about one  week.

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

Simple but Good:

Sauteed Cabbage

1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 small yellow onion, finely sliced
1/4 medium head of cabbage, cored and sliced into strips
1/4 cup chicken or vegetable stock
1/4 cup frozen mixed vegetables
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat skillet to medium and add olive oil.  Add onion and sautee till soft about 2 to 3 minutes.  Add cabbage and continue to sautee about another three minutes.   Add mixed vegetables and stock  and cover.  Cook about 5 to 10 minutes.  Stir and add salt and pepper to taste.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

 

Pineapple:

The pineapple is native to southern Brazil and Paraguay and spread throughout South America.  Eventually it reached the Caribbean and was discovered by Columbus in 1493 and brought to Europe.  The Spanish introduced the pineapple into the Philippines and Hawaii. John Kidwell is credited with introducing the Pineapple industry to Hawaii.  The pineapple is named for its resemblance to the pine cone.

Today the pineapple ranks second only to the banana as America's favorite tropical fruit.  This member of the bromeliad family is called a multiple fruit.  One pineapple is actually dozens of individual flowers that grow together to form the entire fruit.   Pineapple season runs from March to June, but they are available in the market all year.

When I was in college a friend's father, who had been stationed in Hawaii during W.W.II, used to tell a story about a pineapple.  He and a buddy were frequently on guard duty manning a large anti-aircraft gun.  One day they got to talking to a native who offered to show them how to make a good drink.   The Hawaiian took a pineapple, chopped off the top, and scooped out the insides.  He then filled the hollow pineapple with water and replaced the top with the instructons to taste the water in about three days.   Well,  the soldiers didn't think too much about it.  Then after a few days in the middle of the night they were bored and went looking for the pineapple.  They took a taste and it was indeed very good.  After consuming the contents of the pineapple they were so drunk they managed to set off the gun they were guarding, which launched a full scale response.   When they were finally brought before their commanding officer, his question was if they knew how much money they had cost the government. 

Raw pineapple is an excellent source of manganese and vitamin C.   Manganese is a mineral critical to the development of strong bones and connective tissue.  Bromelian found in pineapples helps to break down protein and so the pineapple is considered an aid to digestion. It is also considered an effective anti-inflammatory.  At least a half cup of pineapple a day is said to relieve painful joints common to osteoarthritis.  An old folk remedy for morning sickness is fresh pineapple juice.

The pineapple symbolizes hospitality.  Pineapple shapes are often put in entrance ways.  During Colonial times a fresh pineapple was used as a centerpiece at a festive meal.  The fruit would be served as a dessert at the end of the meal.

Select pineapples that are heavy for their size and free of soft spots, bruises, and darkened "eyes".   The pineapple does not ripen after it is picked. Smell the pineapple for a sweet fuity smell.  The more scales on the pineapple the sweeter and juicier the taste.  Your pineapple can be left at room temperature for one to two days.  This will actually help it become softer and juicier.  After two days you can wrap it in a plastic bag and store in the refrigerator for three to five days. .

To peel cut off the top and base of the pineapple, so it will stand.    Carefully peel off the skin with a sharp knife, then quarter the pineapple long way and remove the core if you wish.   You can also plant the pineapple's top.  Remove the top with no part of the fruit attached.  Peel off about an inch of the leaves from the base and plant the top in potting soil.

The pineapple can be consumed fresh and cooked, canned, or juiced.  Pineapple is found in various cuisines and is used in desserts, fruit salad, jam, yogurt, ice cream, and candy, and as a complement to meat.

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

Monday, March 4, 2013

 

Asparagus:


Asparagus is a spring vegetable.  This member of the lily family has been used over the years  as both a vegetable and a medicine.   In ancient times it was known in Syria and Spain.  Greeks and Romans ate it fresh and dried it for use in the winter.  A recipe for cooking asparagus is in the oldest surviving book of recipes. 

 Asparagus basically comes in three colors: green, white and purple.  Most of the  asparagus we eat is green.  White asparagus is green asparagus that has been  covered with soil to bleach out the color.  It tastes about the same but tends to have a more tender texture.  Purple asparagus is purple at the tip and at leaf points and tends to have a pale stalk.  Asparagus has a delicate flavor.  Only young asparagus shoots are eaten.  Once the buds start to open the shoots quickly turn woody.

I remember my dad always called asparagus "grass".    Years later working in Florida I met a New York transplant produce guy who also called it "grass".  I don't know.  May it is a New York thing.   Asparagus is usually displayed in bunches held together by two rubber bands.  I remember one time we displayed the asparagus standing up loose in pans of water.  Some of the customers  were breaking off the bottoms of the stems, which is usually done at home.   I thought this was completely lacking in class and a way to pay less.  I was informed by a senior citizen that we invited people to do this by displaying the asparagus  loose.  Needless to say we always bundled them after that.

 Asparagus is prepared and served around the world typically as an appetizer or vegetable side dish .  Asparagus is generally thought of as a spring vegetable and the North American peak of season is April to June.  Today however asparagus is available year round from various growing areas.

Asparagus are loaded with nutrients, fiber, folate, vitamins A, C, E, and K  and also chromium.  They are a rich source of glutathione, a detoxifying compound that helps break down carcinogens and other harmful compounds like free radicals.  Asparagus is packed with antioxidants and contains folate which works with vitamin B12 to help prevent cognitive impairment.

Select asparagus with smooth skin, bright green color, compact heads, and freshly cut ends.  Fresh asparagus should have no odor.   Stem thickness indicates age of the plants.  Thicker stems from older plants can be woody.

To prepare asparagus hold  both ends and bend until the stalk breaks.  Then roast, grill or stir-fry.  These waterless methods help preserve nutritional content  and antioxidant power.  You can also boil or steam for 5-8 minutes.  Asparagus can be eaten raw  just thoroughly wash with warm water to remove any sand.  Asparagus can also be marinated. 

Lastly, eating asparagus gives the eater's urine a disagreeable odor.  This smell is due to the product formed as a derivative during the digestion and subsequent breakdown of beneficial amino acids that occur naturally in asparagus.   It's normal.

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