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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.