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Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Pumpkin

Pumpkin:

About:

A pumpkin is a cultivar of the squash plant that is round with smooth, slightly ribbed skin and deep yellow to orange coloration.   Pumpkins are grown around the world for a variety of reasons ranging from agricultural purposes such as animal feed to commercial and ornamental sales.   Pumpkins, like other squash are native to North America.   Botanically the pumplin is considered a fruit since it has seeds, about a cup. 

History:

The oldest evidence of pumpkins is pumpkin related seeds dating back to between 7000 and 5500 B.C. found in Mexico.  The word "pumpkin" is from the Greek "Pepon".   Indians introduced pumpkins and squashes to the Pilgrims.  The biggest international producers of pumpkins include the U.S., Canada, Mexico, India, and China.   The traditional American pumpkin used for jack-o'lanterns is the Connecticut Field variety.  

Uses:

Pumpkins are used agriculturally as feed.  Pumpkins are grown commercially for jack-o'lanterns  and also sugar pumpkins or pie pumpkins are grown for cooking.  While you can use the jack-o'lanatern pumpkin for cooking, they were developed to be oversized and thin walled with a large seed cavity and a relatively small proportion of flesh.  The smaller sugar pumpkins or pie pumpkins have more flesh for cooking and often have better flavor and texture.  Pumpkins are used in cookies, cakes, and pies. Pumpkin pancakes are another favorite.   They can be used to make a soup.  Jack-o'lanterns are carved for Halloween decorations or simply decorated.  A hollowed out pumpkin makes a striking tureen for pumpkin soup. 

Commercially canned pumpkin puree and pumpkin pie fillings are usually made from different kinds of winter squash rather than the pumpkins carved for jack-o'lanterns arounbd Halloween. 

Nutrition:

Pumpkins are low in calories, but high in fiber.  They are low in sdodium, but high in protein, iron, and B vitamins.  Pumpkins are very high in beta carotene, an antioxidant. 

One cup of cooked pumpkin flesh contains:

Calories - 49                                                      Potassiun - 564mg
Protein - 2 grams                                               Zinc - 1mg
Carbohydrates - 12grams                                  Selenium - 50mg
Dietary Fiber - 3grams                                      Vitamin C - 12mg
Calcium - 37mg                                                 Niacin - 1mg
Iron - 1.4mg                                                       Folate - 21mcg
Magnesium - 22mg                                           Vitamin A - 2650 I.U. 
                                                                          Vitaminj E - 3mg


Health Benefits:

Researchers believe a diet rich in beta-carotene may reduce the risk of heart disease and some cancers.  The further believe it helps to delay aging.

My Story:

What I remember most about pumpkins in the supermarket is receiving a delivery.  It would be in the evening, when I was alone in the department.  A tractor trailor would pull up to the rear receiving door, and the driver and myself would have to off-load the pumpkins.   Usually I would get few shopping carts and bring them to the back.  We would then load the pumpkins into the shopping carts and wheel them out to the sales floor and unload them to the floor at the base of the display cases.   It was backbreaking  work.  These were jack-o'lantern pumpkins and some of them were heavy.   The driver would load them from the truck to the carts and I would have to unload them from the shopping carts back to the floor.  As with most of what we did, we did it with "urgency".  It was tiring. 

Selecting:

Pumpkins are in season from October through December.  Select a pumpkin with no bruises, or soft spots.  A greenish pumpkin left whole in a cool place (not the refrigerator) will ripen and turn orange.

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

Simple but good:

Pumpkin Soup:

2 medium pumpkins
2 cups chicken broth
1 cup water
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt 
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1 cup half and half
toasted pumpkin seeds (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Cut 2 medium pumpkins in half and scoop out the seeds.  Place the skin side down on a baking sheet.  Bake 35 - 45 minutes until skin is soft.   Scoop out pumpkin flesh into food processor and puree until smooth.  Pur puree in saucepan and add chicken broth, water, maple syrup and spices.  Bring to a boil, then reduce and simmer for 30 minutes.  Serve garnished with toassted pumpkin seeds. 

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Rutabaga

Rutabaga:

About:

The rutabaga is a cruciferous root vegetable that originated as a cross between the cabbage and the turnip.  Also known as "Swede" or yellow turnip the roots are prepared for human food in a variety of ways, and the leaves can be eaten as a leaf vegetable.  The roots and tops are used as winter feed for livestock.   Raw or cooked the rutabaga has a flavor reminiscent of turnip but with a richer, slightly
more intense quality that hints of cabbage with a subtle sweetness and pleasant fragrance.   


History:

Turnips can be traced back to Asia Minor 4000 years ago.  The first printed reference was in 1620 as growing in Sweden.  It is often considered to have originated in Scandinavia or Russia.   People living in Ireland, Scotland, and England have long carved turnips and used them as lanterns to ward off harmful spirits.  In modern times turnips are often carved to look sinister and as threatening as possible and put in the window or on the doorstep of a house at Halloween  to ward off evil spirits.


Uses:

In Sweden and Norway rutabaga is cooked with potato and sometimes carrot and mashed with butter and either stock or sometimes milk or cream.  In Scotland potato and rutabaga are boiled and mashed separately to produce "tatties and neeps".  In England rutabaga is regularly eaten mashed as part of the traditional Sunday roast.  In the U.S. rutabaga is mostly eaten as paart of stews or casseroles, served mashed with carrots, or baked in a pasty.  Rutabaga can be eaten raw or cooked.  It should be peeled as many rutabagas are waxed.  Rutabagas can be baked, roasted, boiled, braised, steamed,  stir-fried, or microwaved. 

Nutrition:

The rutabaga is cholesterol free and low in sodium.  It is a very good source of vitamin C and potassium and a good source of fiber, thiamin, vitamin B6, calcium, mangnesium, and phosphorous.  It is also a source of manganese. 

Medicinal Uses:

This cruciferous vegetable is an excellent source of sulfur containing substances called glucosinolates.,  According to the Linus Pauling Institute glucosinolates may help eliminate carcinogens before they can damage DNA or alter certain cell signaling pathways.  

Selecting and Storing:

Choose rutabagas that are heavy for their size and firm without soft spots or cracks with smooth unblemished skin - preferably medium size.  Refrigerate rutabagas in a plastic bag for up to 3 weeks. 

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

Simple but good:

Roasted Rutabagas:


1 large rutabaga peeled and cubed
3 tablespoons of olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
Chopped parsley to taste

Toss peeled and cubed rutabaga in olive oil and salt and pepper on a baking sheet.  Roast at 425 degrees F. until golden brown and soft (about 40 minutes).  Remove from oven and toss with apple cider vinegar and chopped parsley.  





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Friday, November 7, 2014

Corn

Corn:

About:

Corn, also known as "maize" is a large grain plant domesticated by indigenous people of Mesoamerica in prehistoric times.  The leafy stalk produces ears which contain the grain, which are seeds called kernels and are protected with  silk-like threads called corn silk and encased in a husk.   Maize spread to the rest of the world because of its ability to grow in diverse climates.   Maize is the most widely grown grain crop in the Americas. 

History:

The first domestication of maize in Mesoamerica dates back to 9000 - 8000 BC.  The first corn plants only grew small, one inch long and only one per plant, but artificial selection by the indigenous people of the Americas made it to grow several cobs per plant, and usually several inches long each time.  Today corn grows to about 7 - 10 feet in height.  Each plant bears 2 - 6 long husked ears. 

Sugar-rich varieties called "sweet corn" are usually grown for human consumption as kernels .  White field corn varieties are used for animal feed, various corn based human food uses including grinding into corn meal or masa, pressing into corn oil, and fermentation and distillation into alcoholic beverages (bourbon and whiskey) and as chemical feedstock.  

Nutrition:

Maize and corn meal (ground, dried maize) constitute a staple food in many regions of the world.   At 86 calories per 100 g. sugar corn kernels are moderately high in calories compared to other vegetables.  Corn has a high-quality phyto-nutrition profile consisting of dietary fiber, vitamins, and antioxidants.  It also has moderate proportions of minerals.  Corn is a high glycemic index food item limiting its benefits to diabetics.   Corn is a good source of phenolic flavonoid antioxidant ferulic acid which may play a vital role in preventing  cancers, aging, and inflammation in humans.  Corn contains good levels if some valuable B-complex group vitamins such as thiamin, niacin, pantothenic acid, folates, riboflavin, and pyridoxine.  Corn contains  healthy amounts of some important minerals such as zinc, magnesium, copper, iron, and manganese.  Sweet corn is a gluten free food. 

Health Benefits:

You can get health supportive antioxidant benefits from all varieties of corn.   Some phytonutrients in corn may be able to inhibit angiotensin-1 converting enzyme (ACE) and help lower risk of high blood pressure.  The fiber contained in corn helps support the growth of friendly bacteria in the intestines and helps reduce the risk of intestinal problems including colon cancer.   The good fiber content in corn has the ability to provide many B-complex vitamins and its notable protein content would be expected to provide blood sugar benefits.  Consumption of corn in ordinary amounts of 1 - 2 cups has been shown to be associated with better sugar control in both type 1 and type 2 diabetes. 

Varieties:

Corn is available in the market in three color: Yellow, white, and bi-color, which is yellow and white in one ear.  People have their preferences but it is generally said that white is the sweetest.  Actually, the color of corn has little to do with its sweetness.  The main thing is how long it has been off the stalk.  If you can get it from a farm stand, that's your best bet.  The best season for sweet corn is middle to late summer. 


My Story:

In the supermarket we sold  the corn both loose and  packaged.   When we had it loose, I would use my trick I've mentioned before to use a bunch of parsley to sprinkle the loose corn with water to try to keep it from drying out too fast.  Packaging corn was a different story. Packaging corn is labor intensive.  First you have to cut down the husk and then on the top layer of the package we would strip away enough of the husk to expose 2 rows of kernels.  The putting of the corn into a package and wrapping the package was another separate operation.  So, during a sale it was a rush to get the corn ready.  One time to my surprise I found a dead snake in a crate of corn. It was thin and about 12 - 15 inches long.   It never moved so it didn't scare me, but it was unusual and a story to tell.

Selecting & Storing:

Select fresh looking, well formed ears that are firm with light green color and a tight husk. If you push your thumb into a kernel, it should spray out at you.  Once at home use as soon as possible.  Keep inside the refrigerator with husks still on to maintain flavor, taste, and moisture.  If necessary you can keep up to 2 or 3 days. 

Preparing:

To shuck the corn take the ear and with your thumb and forefinger separate about one third of the tassel and pull it with the shuck straight down to the base of the ear.  This will remove the shuck and the silk in one operation.  Do the other two thirds to finish the ear.  To boil the corn bring the water to a boil and drop in the shucked ears.  Bring the water back to a boil and boil for 3 - 4 minutes.  No longer! Overcooking will make the corn tough.  You can break the ears by hand to make them smaller but do not use a knife,.  A knife tends to crush the kernels.  

Using:

  • Farm fresh raw milky sweet corn can be eaten as It is without cooking
  • The whole corncob may be grilled and served with salt and pepper
  • The whole corn cob may be steamed or boiled in salt water and served with butter or oil
  • Boiled kernels are an excellent accompaniment in salads, pizza, pasta, risotto, stews, omelets and fried rice.
  • Sweet corn soup and chowder are favorite starters in almost all corners of the world
So, eat up. Enjoy! I'll show you how.......................

Simple but Good:                                           

Corn Fritters: 

1 cup grated fresh corn
1 egg, beaten 
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
pinch of freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup flour
1 tsp dried basil
1/4 cup unsalted butter or shortening 
confectioner's sugar for sprinkling

In a bowl thoroughly mix the corn, beaten egg, salt, sugar, pepper, flour and basil.

In a large skillet melt butter or shortening.  Drop the corn mixture by tablespoonfuls into the hot butter.  Fry on each side until golden brown.  Remove from skillet and sprinkle with confectioner's sugar.  Serve warm. 






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Friday, September 19, 2014

Tarragon

Tarragon:

About:

Tarragon (Artemisia dracunculis) is a perennial herb cultivated for use of the leaves as an aromatic culinary herb.  Tarragon is also know as "dragon wort".   The varieties of tarragon include French tarragon, which is best for culinary use; Russian tarragon which is more robust, but inferior in flavor.  Lastly, is wild tarragon which is inferior to Russian tarragon.  

Tarragon is one of the four fine herbs of French cooking, along with parsley, chives, and chervil.   It is particularly suited for chicken, fish, and egg dishes.  Tarragon is the main flavoring component in Bearnaise sauce.  Tarragon is thought to be originated in Central Asia, probably Siberia.  Tarragon is found natively in a number of areas in the Northern Hemisphere.  Tarragon has an aromatic property reminiscent of anise. 

Nutrition:

Tarragon is a rich source of vitamin C, vitamin A, and the B complex group such as folates, pyridoxine, niacin, riboflavin and others that function as antioxidants and co-factors in metabolism.  Tarragon is a notable excellent  source of minerals like calcium, manganese, iron, magnesium, copper. potassium, and zinc. 

Health Benefits:

Tarragon is one of the highest antioxidant food sources among  common herbs.   It is rich in numerous phytonutrients that are indispensable for optimum health.  Scientific studies suggest that poly phenolic compounds in the herb help lower blood glucose levels .  Laboratory studies show that compounds in tarragon extract inhibit platelet activation and adhesion to blood vessel walls  preventing clot formation which can cause heart attack and stroke. 

Medicinal Uses:

Tarragon herb has been used in traditional medicine for stimulating appetite and as a remedy for anorexia, dyspepsia, flatulence, and hiccups.  The essential oil (eugenol) has been in use in dentistry as a local anesthetic and antiseptic for tooth ache complaints.   Tarragon tea may help with insomnia. 

Availability:

Fresh field grown tarragon leaves are available during late spring and summer season.  Hot house grown is available at other times.   So, tarragon is available year round.  Of course, dried tarragon is available year round as well. 

Selecting ans Storing:

Fresh tarragon is one of the most perishable herbs.  Look for fragrant leaves with unwilted green leaves and stems.   Use immediately if possible.  Wash leaves in clean running water and pat dry with a paper towel.  Wrap in paper towel and store in the vegetable compartment of the refrigerator if necessary.  Dried tarragon should be stored in an airtight container in a cool dark place where it will stay for up to 6 months. 

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


Culinary Uses for Tarragon:

  • Use to flavor white wine vinegar
  • Excellent in salad dressings, vinaigrette, and marinades
  • Snip over fresh tomatoes or English peas
  • Add to chicken, fish, eggs, and sauces

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Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Cilantro

Cilantro (Coriander):

About:

Coriander (Coriandrum Sativum) , also known as cilantro, Chinese parsley, or dhanic, is an annual herb in the family Apiaieae.  Coriander is native to regions spanning from southern Europe and North Africa to southwest Asia.  Cilantro is the Spanish word for Coriander.  Coriander grows wild over a wide area of the Near East and southern Europe.  What we call "cilantro" is the leafy part of the plant that produces the coriander seeds on your spice rack.  Coriander roots have a deeper more intense flavor than the leaves.  They are used in a variety of Asian cuisines.  They are commonly used in Thai dishes including soups and curry pastes. 

History: 

Coriander can be traced back to 5000 BC when it was cultivated in ancient Egypt.  It was mentioned in the Old Testament.  Coriander was used as a spice in Greek and Roman cultures.  Early physicians, including Hippocrates, used coriander for its medicinal properties, including as an aromatic stimulant.

Uses:

All parts of the coriander plant are edible, but the fresh leaves and the dried seeds are the parts most traditionally used in cooking.  Coriander is common in South Asian, Southeast Asian, Indian, Middle Eastern, Caucasian, Central Asian, Mediterranean, Tex-Mex, Latin American, Portuguese,  Chinese, African, and Scandinavian cuisine.  

Coriander is considered as both an herb and a spice since both its leaves and seeds are used as seasoning condiments.  Cilantro should not be confused with culantro which has a distinctly different spiny appearance, much more potent volatile leaf oil, and a stronger smell.  The name coriander is from the Greek word "koris" which means "bug".  

My Story:

In one of the supermarket produce departments in which I worked the back room area opened to the sales floor.  Consequently, the customers could see everything that went on in the preparation area.   On one occaison I was called to the front of the store and the store director told me that a customer had complained that there was a "rancid" odor coming from the produce preparation area.  Come to figure it out, what the customer was smelling was the cilantro that we were soaking in the sink pror to putting it on display.  It was then that I came to realize that people either love or hate the smell of cilantro.  I personally love the smell of cilantro.  I think it gives a freshness to whatever it is added to. 

Nutrition:

The nutritional profile of coriander seeds differs from that of the fresh leaves and stems.   The leaves are particularly rich in vitamin A, vitamin C, and vitamin K, with a moderate amount of dietary minerals.    While the seeds have generally lower vitamin content, they provide significant amounts of dietary fiber, calcium, selenium, iron, manganese, and magnesium.  

Health Benefits:

Coriander contains phytochemicals which may delay or prevent the spoilage of food seasoned with it.    Chemicals derived from coriander leaves were found to have potential for antibacterial activity against Salmonella.  The essential oil produced from coriander has been shown to exhibit possible antimicrobial effects.    Recent animal studies have confirmed that coriander can stimulate the secretion of insulin and lower blood sugar.  In studies with rats coriander helped reduce the amount of damaged fats in their cell membranes and lowered  levels of LDL ("bad" cholesterol), while increasing HDL ("good" cholesterol).  Many of coriander's healing properties can be attributed to its phytonutrient properties. 

Selecting and Storing:

Cilantro is available all year long.   Select bunches of fresh cilantro  with leaves that look vibranatly fresh with deep green color.   They should be firm, crisp, and free from yellow or brown spots.   Fresh cilantro should be stored in the refrigerator.   Fresh cilantro leaves will last about 3 days.  Whole coriander will last up to week.  Cilantro may be frozen whole or chopped in airtight containers.  
Coriander seeds and powder should be kept in a dark, tightly sealed glass container stored in a cool dark and dry place.   Coriander seeds will last up to one year.  

Simple Ways to Enjoy Coriander:

  • Combine Vanilla soy milk with honey, coriander and cinnamon in a saucepan over low heat for a delicious beverage. 
  • Saute' spinach with fresh garlic and coriander seeds, mix in garbanzo beans and season with ginger and cumin.
  • Add coriander seeds to soups or broths.
  • Use coriander seeds in the poaching liquid for fish.
  • Add ground coriander to pancakes and waffles for a Middle Eastern flavor.
  • Put coriander seeds in a pepper mill to be used as a general seasoning. 
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Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Rosemary

Rosemary:

About:

Rosemary, Rosarinus officinalis, is a woody perennial herb with  fragrant evergreen, needle-like leaves and white, pink, purple, or blue flowers native to the Mediterranean region.  It is a member of the mint family, Labiatae.  Its leaves look like flat pine-tree needles deep green on top and silver white on the underside.  Rosemary has a unique pine-like fragrant flavor that is balanced by a rich pungency,  a combination that evokes both forest and sea. 


Uses:

Rosemary is used as a decorative plant in gardens and has many culinary and medicinal uses.   Rosemary leaves are used as a flavoring in foods such as stuffings, and roast lamb, pork, chicken, and turkey.  The leaves, both fresh and dried, are used in Italian cuisine..  Herbal tea can be made from the leaves.  Rosemary oil is used for purposes of fragrant bodily perfumes or to emit an aroma into a room.  It is also burned as incense and used in shampoos and cleaning products.  

History:

According to legend rosemary was draped around the Greek goddess Aphrodite when she rose from the sea.  The Virgin Mary is said to have spread her blue cloak over a white-blossomed rosemary bush when she was resting and the flowers turned blue. The shrub then became known as the "Rose of Mary".  Rosemary has a very old reputation for improving memory and has been used as a symbol of remembrance during weddings, war commemorations, and funerals in Europe and Australia.

Nutritional Content:

Rosemary is high in iron, calcium and vitamin B6.  It is also a good source of vitamin A.  Rosemary contains a number of potentially biologically active compounds including antioxidants.  Rosemary contains substances that are useful for stimulating the immune system, increasing circulation, and improving digestion.  It has been shown to increase blood flow to the head and brain, improving concentration. 

Medicinal Uses:

Rosemary is used for digestive problems including:
  • heartburn
  • intestinal gas 
  • liver complains
  • gall bladder complains
  • loss of appetite
It is also used for gout, cough, headache, high blood pressure, and age-related memory loss.
Rosemary is used topically for:
  • preventing and treating  baldness
  • treating circulation problems
  • toothache
  • eczema
  • joint or muscle pain such as sciatica, myalgia, & intercostal neuralgia
Rosemary is used as antiseptic and anticellulite, wound healing, in bath therapy and as an insect repellent.  

Selection and Storage:

Whenever possible choose fresh rosemary over dried for its superior flavor.  The sprigs should look vibrantly fresh and should be deep sage green, and free from yellow or dark spots.  Store fresh rosemary in the refrigerator wither in its original package or a slightly damp paper towel, where it will keep for several days.  Dried rosemary should be kept in a tightly sealed container in a cool, dark, and dry place, where it will keep fresh about 6 months.

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

Serving Ideals:

  • Add rosemary to omelets and frittatas
  • Use rosemary to flavor chicken and lamb dishes
  • Add rosemary to tomato sauces and soups
  • Puree rosemary with olive oil as a dipping sauce for bread
  • Add rosemary to just about any vegetable for roasting, especially potatoes
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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Parsley

Parsley:

About:

Parsley, known as Petroselinum crispum is in the family of Apiaceae with carrots, celery, and fennel.  Garden parsley is a bright green biennial plant in temperate climates or an annual herb in subtropical and tropical areas.   Parsley is widely used in Middle Easter, European, and American cooking.  Curly leaf parsley is often used as a garnish.  In central and eastern Europe and in western Asia many dishes are served with fresh green chopped parsley sprinkled on top.  Parsley is the world's most popular herb.  It is used as a garnish, condiment, food, and flavoring.  In manufacturing parsley seed oil is used as a fragrance, in soups, cosmetics, and perfumes.

Varieties:

There are 2 main groups of parsley used as herbs:

1. Curly leaf parsley - often used as garnish
2.  Italian flat leaf parsley - Moe fragrant and less bitter taste than curly.          

Root Parsley - grown as a root.
This type of parsley produces much thicker roots than types cultivated for their leaves.  Root parsley is common in central and eastern European cuisine, where it is used in soups and stews, or simply eaten raw as as a snack, similar to carrots.  


History:

Parsley is native to the Mediterranean region of Southern Europe.  It has been cultivated for more than 2000 years. Parsley was used medicinally prior to being consumed as a food.   Although lacking documentation, here is a list of purported medicinal uses:
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Gastrointestinal disorders
  • Constipation
  • Kidney stones
  • Jaundice
  • Intestinal gas
  • Indigestion
  • Colic 
  • Diabetes
  • Cough
  • Asthma
  • Fluid retention
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Anemia
  • High blood pressure
  • Prostate condition
  • Spleen conditions.
It is also used to start menstrual flow, to cause an abortion, as an aphrodisiac, and as a breathe freshener.

Nutrition:

Parsley is a nutririous food.  It is actually a storehouse of nutrients with a delicious and vibrant taste.   Parsley is an excellent source of vitamin K and vitamin C, as well as a good source of vitamin A, folate, and iron.  Parsaley's volatile oil components include myristicin, limonene, eugenol, and alpha-thujene.  Its flavonoid components include apirn, apigenin, erisocriol, and luteolin.  Parley is a good source of foic acid which plays a role in cardiovascular health. 

Health Benefits:

Parsley contains 2 types of unusual components that provide unique health benefits.  The first is volatile oil components, that have been shown to inhibit tumor formation in animal studies and particularly, atumor formation in the lungs.  Secondly, there are flavonoids in parsley that have been shown to function as antiooxidants that combine with highly reactive oxygen conmtaining molecules and help prevent oxygen based damage to cells. 

My Story: 

In my grandfather's grocery store one of the things we would do to help keep the produce at its best was to sprinkle  the vegetables that had a tendency to dry out with water at night.  This was done in the produce cooler,  and we would use a bunch of parsley, which we dipped into water and then sprinkled onto the produce.  It reminded me of the way the priest sprinkles the congregation with holy water at church.   Years later I would use that technique to sprinkle down off-refrigeration displays of fresh corn to keep them from drying out.  I'm sure people thought I was nuts.

Concerns:

Parsley is among a small number of foods that contain measurable amounts of oxalate, naturally occurring substances found in plants, animals, and human beings.  When oxalate's become too concentrated in body fluids it can crystallize and cause health problems.  For this reason individuals with already existing and untreated kidney oar gallbladder problems may want to avoid eating parsley.


Availability:

Parsley is available in the supermarket year round.  It can be found fresh and dried. 


Selecting and Storing:

While parsley is available dried, fresh parsley is superior in flavor. 

Choose parsley that is deep green in color and looks fresh and crisp.  Avoid bunches that have leaves that are wilted or yellow as this indicates they are over mature or damaged.
Fresh parsley should be kept in the refrigerator in a plastic bag.  If the parsley is slightly wilted, sprinkle it lightly with some water, or wash it out completely drying it before storing in the refrigerator.  
 Fresh parsley should be washed right before using since it is highly fragile.

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


Simple but Good:

  • Combine chopped parsley with Bulgar wheat, chopped green onions, chopped tomatoes, mint leaves, lemon juice, and olive oil to make the classic Middle Eastern dish, tabbouleh.
  • Add parsley to pesto sauce to add more texture.
  • Combine chopped parsley, garlic, and lemon zest and use as a rub for chicken, lamb, and beef.
  • Use parsley in soups and tomato sauce.
  • Serve a colorful salad of fennel, orange, cherry tomatoes, pumpkin seeds and parsley flakes.
  • Chopped parsley can be sprinkled on salads, vegetable sautes and grilled fish















































































Saturday, July 12, 2014

Celery

Celery:

About:

Celery is a plant variety in the family Apiaceae, commonly used as a vegetable.  It is the same family as carrots, parsley, fennel, and caraway. 

Varieties:

In North America commericial production of celery is dominated by the varieties called Pascal celery.  The stalks grow in tight straight parallel bunches and are typically marketed fresh that way, without the roots and just a little green leaf remaining,  Celery hearts are just the inner ribs of celery.  In Europe the most commonly available celery is Celeriac.  It is grown for its hypocotyl forming a large bulb (commonly , but incorrectly called celery root).  Another type is "leafy celery", which looks like parsley but tastes like celery.

Availability:

In the past celery was grown as a vegetable for winter and early spring., it was perceived as a cleansing tonic.  By the 19th century the season for celery had been extended to last from the beginning of September to late in April.  Today celery is available year round.  Harvesting occurs when the average size of the celery in a field is marketable.  Today over 1 billion pounds of celery are produced each year in the U.S.  with California, Michigan, and Florida accounting for 80% of the total. 

Usage:

Celery is used around the world for its crisp petiole (leaf stalk).  The leaves are strongly flavored and are used  less often as either a flavoring in soups and stews or as a dried herb.  On a worldwide basis celery is often served as a "major plate vegetable" rather than an additive to soups and salads.  In temperate countries celery is also grown for its seeds.  Celery, onions, and bell peppers are called the "holy trinity" of Louisiana Creole and Cajun cuisine.  Celery, onions, and carrots make up the French "mirepoix" often used as a base for sauces and soups. 

Health Benefits:

Recent research has increased our knowledge about celery's anti-inflammatory benefits including its protection against inaflammation of the digestive track itself.  Non starch, pectin based polysaccharides found in celery help improve the integrity of the stomach lining, decrease the risk of stomach ulcer, and better control the levels of stomach secretions.  There is evidence that pectin-based polysaccharides in celery decrease the risk of inflammation in the cardiovascular system.

In addition to vitamin C and flavonoids at least a dozen other types of antioxidant nutrients have been identified in celery.  The antioxidant benefits we get from celery are largely due to phenolic nutrients which help protect us against unwanted oxygen damage to our cells, blood vessels, and oxygen systems.  

Here are some Health Benefits from 1 - 2 stalks of celery:
  • Celery is a great choice when watching your weight - only 10 calories to a stalk
  • Celery reduces inflammation 
  • Celery calms you down - minerals in celery, esp. magnesium & essential oil soothe the nervous sys.
  • Celery regulates the body's alkaline balance
  • Celery aids digestion - high water content and insoluble fiber helps ease passage of stool
  • Celery contains "good" salt - organic, natural, and essential for health
  • Celery cares for your eyes - can deliver up to 10% daily need of vitamin A
  • Celery reduces "bad" cholesterol - 2 stalks a day can reduce LDL by up to 7 points
  • Celery lowers blood pressure - raw and whole
  • Celery can improve sex life - 2 pheromones boost arousal levels
  • Celery can combat cancer - a powerful flavonoid in celery can inhibit cancer cell growth

My Story:

Celery is always plentiful at a good price around Thanksgiving.  It would often come in a box ready to be processed.  That is trimmed and bagged.  People use celery in stuffing for their Thanksgiving turkey, so there was always plenty of celery to process.  The smell of celery reminds me of that.

One year we had celery at a particularly good price and it was selling very well.  In fact we were a little short on our order of celery.  When we realized this we put in an order for 50 cases, a large order for us.  Well the next day we had a vist from our districrt manager.  The part timer who closed the night before did not fill the celery display as instructed.  When the district manager arrived the first thing he saw in our department was the empty celery display.  He started to ask a bunch of questions and then called the warehouse and ordered us another 50 cases.  Well, when it arrived we had way too much celery, more than we could sell before it would spoil.  So, a transferred some of it to other stores in our chain in our area, but we still ended up throwing a bunch (no pun intended) of celery away.  It was a costly lesson.

Selecting and Storing:

Choose celery that looks crisp and snaps easily when pulled apart.  It should be relatively light and compact, and not have stalks that splay out.  The leaves should be pale to bright green in color with no yellow or brown patches. 

Celery can be stored in the plastic bag it came in from the store by squeezing out excess air and closing the bag tightly.  Place in the refrigerator for from 5 to 7 days.  Celery that is left at room temperature for longer than a couple of hours will begin to wilt.  Sprinkle it with water and place back in the refrigerator.  

Preparing:

To clean celery cut off the base and leaves, then wash the leaves and stalks under running water.  Cut the stalks to desired length.  If the outside of the celery stalk has fibrous strings, remove them by making a thin cut into one of the stalks, and peeling away athe fibers.  Be sure to use the leaves, which are rich in vitamin C, calcium, and potassium, within a day or two.  

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

Simple but Good:

  • Add chopped celery to your tuna fish or chicken salad.
  • Try eating peanut butter or cream cheese & olives on celery stalks.
  • Braised chopped celery, radicchio, and onions and serve with walnuts and you favorite soft cheese.
  • Use celery leaves in salads.
  • \Add celery leaves and sliced celery stalks to soups, stews, casseroles, and stir-fries.

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Sunday, June 22, 2014

Grapes Revisited

Grapes Revisited:

About:

A grape is a fruiting berry of the deciduous wood vines of the botanical genus "Vitus".   
Grapes grow in clusters of 15 to 300 grapes, and can be crimson, yellow, black, dark blue, green, orange, or pink.  What are referred to as "white" grapes are actually green.   Grapes can be eaten raw or used in making wine, jam, jelly, juice, grape seed extract, raisins, vinegar, and grape seed oil.

Commercially cultivated grapes are classified as table grapes or wine grapes.  Table grapes tend to be larger, seedless, and have thin skin.  Wine grapes are usually seeded (with seeds), smaller, and relatively thicker skinned.  Wine grapes also tend to have a higher sugar content.  The cultivation of grapes began 6000 to 8000 years ago in the Near East.  Yeast, one of the earliest domesticated microorganisms, occurs naturally on the skins of grapes, leading to the innovation of alcoholic drinks such as wine.   The earliest evidence of wine-making dates back 8000 years in Georgia.

My Story:  


Growing up I remember grapes being around, but usually they had seeds, so we didn't bother with them that much.  What I remember more was my grandfather on my mother's side having a jug of his home-made wine  on the floor by his foot under the dinner table.  My father would mix the wine with some ginger ale and give it to me.   My father used to tell the story of when his father had the grocery store and had one of the cousins working for him.  Well, Grandpa Schiera used to make wine in the cellar of the store. Back then soda was sold in glass bottles and a deposit for the bottle was charged.   After the bottle was empty you could return it to the store and get the deposit  back.  It was a great way for us kids to make some money by collecting up the empties and returning them to the store.   When the store received the bottles they would have to be separated and organized to return to the bottling company.   Well, this cousin seemed to love separating the bottles in the cellar.  He was constantly asking, "Uncle Joe, can I go down and work on the bottles?"  He did a good job but something just didn't seem right.  Finally, Grandpa followed him down to the cellar and stood in the shadows to watch, only to find out the kid was doing the bottles ok, but he was also drinking some of the wine.  He always seemed so happy when he came back up after doing the bottles.

Varieties of Grapes:


While there are no reliable statistics breaking down grape production  by variety, it is believed the most cultivated is the Sultana, also know as the Thompson Seedless.  Next is the Airen variety.  Others varieties include Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon blanc, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Grenache, Tempranillo, Reisling, and Chardonnay.
Juice is obtained from crushing and blending grapes into a liquid.  The juice is sold as such or fermented and made into wine, brandy, or vinegar.  The raisin is a dried grape.

Health Benefits:


Grapes contain phytochemicals that have been positively linked to inhibiting cancer, heart disease, degenerative nerve disease, viral infections, and mechanisms of Alzheimer's disease.  Grape seed  oil from crushed seeds is used in cosmeceuticals and skin care products.  Commercial juice products from Concord grapes show potential benefits against onset stage cancer, platelet aggregation and other risk factors of Atherosclerosis, loss of physical performance and mental acuity during aging.  Grapes have long been classified as a low glycemic index food.  Studies have connected grape intake to better blood sugar balance, better insulin regulation, and increased insulin sensitivity. 

Selecting and Storing:

Fully ripened grapes are plump and free from wrinkles.  They should be intact firmly attached to a healthy looking stem and not leaking juice.   The sweetness of grapes can be predicted by the color of the grapes.  Green grapes are medium sweet.  Red grapes are very sweet.  Blue- black grapes are the least sweet.  
Store unwashed grapes loosely wrapped in a paper towl in an airtight container or plastic bag.  They will keep fresh in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. 

Concerns:

Consumption of grapes and raisins are a potential health risk to dogs.  Toxicity can cause acute renal failure with anuria and may be fatal.  No grapes or raisins for your dog.

Enjoying Grapes:

Grapes retain their maximum amount of nutrientsand their maximum taste when the are enjoyed fresh and not prepared in a cooked recipe.  Cooking temperatures in baking can samage some of the unique and delicate phytonutrients found in grapes.

So..... Eat up!  Enjoy! I'll show you how.
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Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Turmeric


Turmeric:

About:

Turmeric (Curcuma longa) is a rhizomatous herbaceous perrenial plant of the ginger family. It is native to southeast India. When not used fresh the rhizomes are boiled for about 30 - 45 minutes and then dried in hot ovens.  They are then gound into a deep orange-yellow powder commomly used in Indian cuisine including curries, for dyeing, and to color mustard condiments.   The most important chemical component in turmeric is a group of compounds called curcuminold.   Its major active ingredient is cucumin. 

History:

Known as "manjal",  turmeric has been used in India for thousands of years, and is a major part of Siddha medicine.  Turmeric was originally called "Indian saffron" due to its similar yellow-orange color. Turmeric comes from the root "Curcuma longa" and has a tough brown skin and a deep orange flesh.  Its flavor is peppery warm and bitter,  while its fragrance is mild yet slightly reminiscent of orange and ginger, to which it is related. 

My Story:

My first exposure to turmeric was the first time I had curry.  Tumeric is a major ingredient of curry.  I was in my twenties and on vacation on the island of Bermuda.  I had recently been diagnosed with gall bladder disease and was trying not to eat spicy foods.  Well, we were in this restaurant and I didn't know what to order.  One item on the menu was "curried chicken".  I thought you can't go wrong with chicken, right?  Well, when the plate came to the table, it occurred to me that  this chicken  is full of some kind of spice I've never had.  I was hungry, so I ate it but just didn't finish.  Of course, it didn't bother me.  In fact the turmeric in the curry is a powerful anti-inflammatory. 

Health Benefits:

Turmeric has long beem used in the Chinese and Indian systems of medicine as an anti-inflammatory agent to treat a wide variety of conditions including flatulence, jaundice, menstrual difficulties, bloody urine, hemmorage, toothaches, bruises, chest pain and colic.  
Curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric,  may provide an inexpensive, well tolerated, and effective treatment for inflammatory bowel disease such as "Crohn's" and "ulcerative colitis".  As an antioxidant, cucumin is able to neutralize free radicals.  This is important in many diseases, such as arthritis, when free radicals are responsible for the painful joint inflammation and eventual damage to the joints.   Curcumin in turmeric and quercitin, an antioxidant in onions, reduced the size and number of precancerous lesions in the human intestinal tract. 
Prostate cancer, the second leading cause of cancer death in American men is a rare occurence among men in India,  attributed to a diet rich in cruciferous vegetables and turmeric.
Turmeric also has cholesterol lowering properties and helps protect against Alzheimer's disease. Curcumin has shown some promise in treating depression.  In a small study participants were placed in 3 groups.  One group was given "prozac" and another group was given curcumin, the third group was given prozac and curcumin.  After 6 weeks the cucumin group showed improvement similar to that of the prozac group.  The group that took both prozac and curcumin did the best.  So, according to this small study, curcumin is as effective as an antidepressant.  

Using Turmeric:

Turmeric is mostly used in savory dishes.  Outside South Asia turmeric is sometimes used as an agent to impart a rich custard like yellow color.  It is used in canned beverages and baked products, dairy products, ice cream, yogurt, yellow cake, orange juice, biscuits, popcorn color, sweets, cake icing, cereals, sauces, gelatins, etc.  Turmeric is a significant ingredient in most commercial curry powders.   

Here are some ways to enjoy turmeric;
  • Add turmeric to egg salad for a bolder color
  • Mix brown rice with raisins and cashews, and season with turmeric
  • Add turmeric to lentil recipes as a complement
  • Give salad dressings an orange-yellow tint by adding turmeric powder
  • Saute' cut cauliflower with a spoonful of turmeric for about 5 minutes and add olive oil and salt and pepper to taste
  • Be careful when using turmeric since its deep color can easily stain
So..... Eat up!  Enjoy!  I'll show you how.






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Friday, May 30, 2014

Raspberries

Raspberries:

About:

Raspberry is the edible fruit of the multitude of plant species in the genus "Rubus" of the rose family.  Raspberries are an important modern commercial fruit crop, widely grown in all temperate regions of the world.  Raspberries are grown for the fresh fruit market and for commercial processing into individual quick frozen fruit, pure'e, jams, juice or as dried fruit used in a variety of grocery products.  Scientists are not entirely sure about the origins of raspberries.  There is, however, evidence dating back 2,000 years of raspberry cultivation in Europe.   Raspberries are the third most popular berry after strawberries and blueberries. 

Varieties:

There are over 200 species of raspberries.  Many of the raspberry species that are grown commercially can be placed in one of 3 basic groups.
  • Red raspberries:  may veer towards the pinkish side. They are among the most commonly cultivated.
  • Black raspberries:  may be dark enough to be indistinguishable from blackberries.  They are sometimes referred to as "thimbleberries".
  • Purple raspberries:  are a hybird from combining red and black raspberries

Nutrition:

The aggregate fruit structure contributes to raspberries' nutritional value as it increases the proportion of dietary fiber, which is among the highest known in whole foods.  Raspberries are rich in vitamin C, manganese, and dietary fiber.  Raspberries have a moderate amount of vitamin K and are a low glycemic index food.  Raspberries contain anthocyamin pigments, ellagic acid, quercetin, cyanidins, pelargonidins, catechins, kaempferial and salicylic acid.

Health Benefits:

The health benefits of raspberries are obtained from the entire fruit including the seeds.  Raspberries contain natural plant chemicals that act as antioxidants to locate and destroy disease causing free radicals.  The components in raspberry seeds may help prevent infections (bacterial and viral), heart disease, and cancer.  Few commonly eaten foods are able to provide greater diversity of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory phytonutrients.  New research shows raspberries can help with the management of obesity amd type 2 diabetes.  Raspberry ketone (also called rheosmin) found in raspberries can increase metabolism in our fat cells making them less likely to deposit fat in the cells.  In persons with obesity and type 2 diabetes tiliroside in raspberries can help improve insulin balance, blood sugar balance, and blood fat balance.  The rich antioxidant and anti-inflammatory mixture in raspberries also show benefits in cancer prevention. 

My Story:

In the supermarket raspberries were not really a high volume item due to the cost.  I remember one time, when raspberries were on sale, they really flew out the door.  It seemed to be mainly senior citizens,  who were buying them.  When we ran out, I was perturbed, and commented to the other guys, "What, do they help you in the bedroom?"   Well, a few weeks after that I read in the newspaper that raspberries did help with potency.  I laughed at the time and that's my raspberry memory, but I didn't find anything about  raspberries and potency while researching this blog. 

Selecting and Storing:

Raspberries are extremely perishable and should only be purchased one or two days before use.  Choose berries that are firm, plump, and deep in color.  Avoid those that are soft, mushy, or moldy.  If buying in a package, make sure they are not too tightly packed  so as to crush and damage the berries.  Stains of moisture in the package indicate possible damage.  
If not using immediately examine the berries and remove any that are molded or spoiled.  Store unwashed in a sealed container in the refrigerator for one or two days.  Raspberries freeze very well.  Wash gently and pat dry with  paper towel.  Arrange in a single layer on a flat pan and freeze.  Once frozen transfer the raspberries to a heavy plastic bag.  Keep frozen for up to a year. 

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

Simple but good:

Fresh raspberries  or a combination of raspberries, strawberries and blueberries:

Just spoon the berries onto yogurt, breakfast cereal, granola, or even oatmeal.  For extra flavor enhance with some fresh mint.



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Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Kumquats

Kumquats:

About:

Kumquats are a group of small fruit-bearing trees in the flowering plant family Rutaceae.   The edible fruit closely resembles that of an orange, but is much smaller and ovular, being the size and shape of a large olive.  The plant is native to south Asia and the Asia-Pacific region.  The earliest historical reference to kumquats appears in the literature of China in the 12th century.   They have long been cultivated in India, Japan, Taiwan, the Philippines, and southeast Asia.  They were introduced to Europe in 1846 and shortly thereafter into North America.  Kumquats have been called "the little gold gems of the citrus family".

Varieties:

Kumquats are cultivated in China, South Korea, North Korea, Taiwan, Southeast Asia, Nepal, Japan, Middle East, Iran, Europe, southern Pakistan and the souther U.S. (notably Florida, Louisiana, Alabama) and California.  The main varieties are:
  • Round Kumquats (Fortunella  japonica): is an evergreen tree producing a golden-yellow fruit.  The fruit is small and usually round, but can be oval shaped.  The peel has a sweet flavor, but the fruit has a sour center.  The fruit can be eaten cooked, but is mainly used to make marmalades and jellies. 
  • Oval Kumquats (Fortunella margarita):The fruit is eaten whole, skin and all.  The inside is sour, but the skin has the sweetest flavor, when eaten together it produces an unusual fresh flavor. 
  • Jiangsu Kumquats (Fortunella obovata): bears edible fruit that can be eaten raw.  The fruit can be made into jelly and marmalade.  The fruit may be round or bell-shaped.  It is a bright orange when fully ripe.

My Story:

When I first started to work in supermarkets, I was not yet in the Produce Department.  I was in "Grocery" as a stock clerk.  I would occaisonally talk to the people in Produce.  There was this one guy who was a part-timer who had this sign in his car, probably pilfered from the store, that said "Kumquat".  When I asked about it,  he told me that it was his name for people of little intelligence or maturity.  You Kumquat!

Health Benefits:

Kumquats are a rich source of dietary fiber, minerals, vitamins and pigment anti-oxidants.  Poly-phenolic flavonoid anti-oxidants such as carotenes, luteins, and zea xanthins with the phytochemicals in kumquats help scavange harmful oxygen free radicals and thereby help protect us from cancers, diabetes, degenerative diseases, and infections.  Kumquats contain vitamins A, C, and E and also good levels of B-complex vitamins as well as modest amounts of minerals                                

Culinary Uses:

Culinary uses include candying and kumquat preserve, marmalade and jelly.  Kumquats can be sliced and added to sakads, and has been used as a garnish to cocktails.  Ways to eat kumquats:
  • Out of hand 
  • Add to a green salad halved, chopped, or thinly sliced.
  • Make into preserves
  • Toss in a fruit salad
  • Make chutney: chop kumquats and simmer with a bit of minced garlic, fresh grated ginger, and honey or brown sugar to taste until mixture slightly thickens.  Serve with fish chicken, or pork.
  • Make marmalade

Season:

Florida and California kumquats are usually on the market from October to April.  Imports ensure that kumquats are available year round.  The kumquat is celebrated annually in Dade City, Florida, U.S.A. with the Annual Kumquat Festival.

Choosing:

Kumquats must be allowed to fully ripen on the tree before they are picked.   Look for firm fruit with brightly colored rinds an no blemishes.   They are often sold in pint containers with the stems and leaves still attached.  Kumquats will keep 5-6 days at room temperature. or 2-3 weeks in the refrigerator.   Wash fresh fruit in cool water.  Gently pat dry with a soft cloth or tissue.   Kumquats taste best if they are gently rolled or squeezed between the fingers before eating as this unifies the ingredients in the rind and the tart flesh. 

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

Simple but good:

Orange - Kumquat Marmalade

1 large navel orange
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup kumquats sliced
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/4 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
2 tablespoons fresh orange juice

Use a knife to remove peel from orange.  Set aside orange.  Cut white pith from peel.  Place peel in a medium saucepan and add cold water to cover by 1 inch.  Bring to a boil and drain.  Repeat 2 more times.  Let cool slightly.
Finely chop peel and with reserved orange place in a medium saucepan and add kumquats, sugar, red pepper flakes, black pepper and 2 cups water.  Bring to boil, reduce heat, and simmer stirring occaisonally until citrus is soft and water is evaporated (35 - 45 minutes).  Let cool and mix in oranage juice. 


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Monday, May 12, 2014

Spinach


 Spinach:

About:

Spinach is an edible flowering plant in the family Amaranthaceae.  It is native to central  and southwest Asia.  It is an annual plant.  Spinach is sold loose, bunched, packaged fresh in bags, canned, and frozen.  While spinach is available year round, fresh spinaach is most plentiful in the spring and fall. 

History:

Spinach is thought to have originated in ancient Persia (modern Iran & neighboring countries).  Arab traders carried spinach into India and then the planat was introduced to ancient China (known as "Persian vegetable").  In A.D. 827 Saracens introduced spinach to Sicily.  Spinach became a popular vegetable in the Arab Mediterranean and arrived in Spain by the latter part of the 12th century.  In 1533 Catherine of Medici became queen of France.  She like spinach so much she insisted it be served at every meal.  Today dishes made with spinach are known as "Florentine" reflecting Catherine's birth in Florence.

Types of Spinach:

  • Savoy:  has dark green, crinkly and curly leaves.  It is the type sold in fresh bunches in most supermarkets in the U.S.
  • Flat (or smooth-leaf) spinach has broad, smooth leaves that are easier to clean than Savoy.  This type is often grown for canned and frozen spinach , as well as soups, baby foods, and processed foods.
  • Semi-savoy is a hybird variety with lightly crinkled leaves.  It has the same texture as Savoy, but is not as difficult to clean.

Nutrition:

Spinach has one of the highest nutritional values of all vegetable.  Here's a list of its nutrients:

Vitamin A                     magnesium                    Vitamin B2                 folic acid                 zinc
Vitamin C                     manganese                     calcium                      copper                   niacin
Vitamin K                     folate                             potassium                  protein                    selenium
Vitamin E                      betain                            Vitamin B6                phosphorus        Omega 3 fatty acids


Health Benefits:

Spinaach is extremely rich in anti oxidants especially when fresh, steamed, or quickly boiled.  Researchers have identified more than a dozen different flavonoid compounds in spinach that function as anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer agents.  Decreased risk of aggressive prostate canacer is one health benefit of spinach.  Most of the flavonoid and carotenoid nutrients found in spinach that provide anti-inflammatory benefits provide anti-oxidant benefits as well.

Selection and storage:

Choose spinach with deep green leaves and stems with no signs of yellowing.  The leaves should look fresh and tender and not be wilted or bruised.  Avoid leaves that have a slimy coating.   
Do not wash spinach before storing.  Place spinach in a plastic bag and squeeze out as much air as possible before sealing.  Wrapped spinach in the refrigerator will keep up to 5 days.  
It is important to wash spinach thoroughly before using, as in can be sandy.  Float the spinach in a sink of water, then remove, drain athe water and repeat the process.  That should get the sand out.  

Spinach is used raw in salads, as a hot vegetable, to make creamed soups, in souffle's and casseroles, and stuffed into ravioli.

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

Simple but good:

Spinach with Sesame

3 tablespoons dark sesame oil
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 lb. fresh spinach
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
Salt to taste

Toast sesame seeds by adding seeds to a medium hot stick-free skillet and stir until brown and fragrent.  Soak spinach in water, then drain, and squeeze out excess water.

Heat 2 tablespoons of sesame oil in skillet.  Add garlic and cook until it sizzles, then add spinach and cook stirring occasionally until the spinach is completely wilted.  Turn heat to low.

Stir in the sugar and soy sauce.  Remove from heat.  Add salt to taste.  Serve hot, warm, room temperature, or cold drizzled with the remaining sesame oil and sprinkled with the sesame seeds. 





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Thursday, May 8, 2014

Artichoke Season

It's Artichoke Season !

The peak season for artichokes is March, April, and May when California ships half of it's crop. They also show up in the fall but July and August are the worst time.  The weather is just too hot.

About:

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

My Story:

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

Health Benefits:

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

Selecting:

Look for heavy, firm artichokes with densely packed leaves and a uniform dusty green color.  Artichokes are quite perishable, so use immediately or cut off a thin slice of the stem and drop some water on it and store in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for no more than a week.

Preparing:

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

Eating:

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

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

Please enjoy and share .



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Monday, May 5, 2014

Sweet Potatoes

Sweet Potatoes:

Sweet potatoes and yams are completely different foods belonging to different plant families.   In most U.S. grocery stores you should assume you are purchasing  sweet potatoes, even if the sign says, "yams".  Government agencies have allowed the two terms to be used somewhat interchangeably on labeling.  The U.S.D.A.requires all sweet potatoes labeled as yams to be also labeled sweet potatoes.   

 Sweet potatoes and yams both come in a variety of colors.  It is possible to find sweet potatoes and yams that look reasonably alike in terms of size, skin color, and flesh color.  Sweet potatoes are much more available in the U.S. than yams.  Yams are not as sweet as sweet potatoes.  They are usually longer and have a very different nutritional profile including not being as concentrated in carotenoid phytonutrients.   The sweet potato is botanically very distinct from the genuine yam, which is native to Africa and Asia, and belongs to a different botanical family.  

The sweet potato's large starchy, sweet tasting tuberous roots are, of course, a root vegetable.  The young leaves and shoots are sometimes eaten as greens.  The origin and domestication of sweet potatoes is thought to be in either Central America or South America.  In Central America sweet potatoes were domesticated at least 5000 years ago.  In South America sweet potato remnants dating back as far as 8000 BC have been found.    Today sweet potatoes are cultivated throughout tropical and warm temperature regions, wherever there is sufficient water to support growth. Sweet potatoes have been an important part of the diet in the U.S. for most of its history, especially in the southeast.   The sweet potato is North Carolina's state vegetable.   

My father used to tell how, when he was a boy, he would make what he called a "Mickey" .  He would get an empty tin can and poke holes in it.  Then he would attach a wire handle to the top.  A lit piece of charcoal was then put in the can and then a sweet potato.  By swinging the can around by the handle he would fan the charcoal and cook the sweet potato.    It sounded fun, but the thing was I never cared for sweet potatoes as a kid.   I acquired the taste later in life.   My trick was when working in the supermarket in the evening by myself  I would use the hot plate on the wrapping machine to cook broken pieces of sweet potato that would otherwise be discarded. 

Besides simple starches, raw sweet potatoes are rich in complex carbohydrates, dietary fiber, and beta-carotene, while having moderate contents of other micronutrients including vitamins B5, B6, manganese and potassium.  When baked small changes in micronutrient contenmt occur to include higher content of vitamin C and increase in polyphenol levels.   Anthocyanins and other color related pigments in sweet potatoes are valuable for their anti-inflammatory health benefits.   Sweet potatoes have the ability to improve blood sugar regulation - even in persons with type 2 diabetes.   Boiled or steamed sweet potatoes can carry a very reasonable glycemic index.  Recent research has shown extracts from sweet potatoes can significantly increase blood levels of adiponectin, which is an important modifier of insulin metabolism.

Sweet potatoes  are availble year round in the store fresh and in cans.  Avoid fresh sweet potatoes in June and July as they have been in storage for almost a year.  Choose sweet potatoes that are firm and do not have cracks, bruises of soft spots.   Avoid those that are stored in the refrigerated case as cold negatively alters their flavor.  Sweet potatoes should be stored in a cool, dark and well ventilated place  where they will keep fresh for up to 20 days. 

Try sweet potatoes  boiled, roasted, pure'ed, steamed, baked or grilled.  Add to soups and stews or grill and place on top of leafy greens.  
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So...... Eat up!  Enjoy!  I'll show you how.

Simple but good:

Sweet and Spicy Sweet Potatoes

2 large sweet potatoes peeled and cubed
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons packed brown sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons paprika
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder 
1/2 teaspoon poultry seasoning
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1 pinch cayene pepper

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.  Place sweet potato chunks into a large mixing bowl.  Drizzle olive oil, then sprinkle other ingredients over the top.  Toss to coat.  Spread on a baking sheet.
Bake for 15 minutes, then turn over with a spatula and continue baking until golden and tender, 10 - 15 minutes more.



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