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Thursday, April 24, 2014

Blueberries


Blueberries:

Blueberries are perennial flowering plants that belong to the same genus as cranberries and bilberries.  The most common fruit sold as blueberries are native to North America.  The fruit is a berry that is at first pale greenish, then redish-purple, and finally dark purple when ripe. The berry is covered in a protective coating of powdery wax which is called "the bloom".   Blueberries are second only to strawberries in popularity of berries.

There are three main groups of blueberries: 1) Lowbush Blueberries, these are the cultivated forms of blueberries we see most often in the supermarket; 2) Lowbush Blueberries are commonly referred to as "wild blueberries; and 3) Rabbiteye Blueberries that are native to the Southern U.S.  and can grow up to 20 feet in their native state.  They are less frequently cultivated than the highbush blueberries.   There are several species including Alaskan, northern, New Jersey, northern highbush, hillside, evergreen, Elliot, southern and others as well.

Blueberries may be cultivated or picked from semiwild  or wild bushes.  In North America the most cultivated species is the Northern Highbush Blueberry.  Georgia has the longest harvest season in the U.S. lasting from late April through the end of July.  Maine produces 25% of all the lowbush blueberries in North America.  Wild Bluberry is the offical fruit of main.  Hammonton, New Jersey claims to be the "Bluberry Capital of the World".   Michigan is the leader of highbush production and accounts for 32% of blueberries eaten in the U.S.

The phytonutrients in blueberries function both as antioxidants and as anti-inflammatory compounds in the body.  Blueberriews have a wide range of micronutrients at moderate levels, including manganese, vitamin C, vitamin K, and dietary fiber.  Blueberries contain anthocyanins, anti-oxidants, and other pigments and various phytochemicals, which are in preliminary research for potential roles in reducing risks of diseases such as inflammation  and cancer.   Blueberry intake may cause increased production of vascular nitric oxide that influences blood pressure regulation.  Other preliminary studies found blueberry consumption lowered cholesterol and total blood lipid levels.  Berries in general are considered low in glycemic index.  They have low impacat  on our sugar level once consummed and digested.

U.S. grown bluberries are available from May through October.  Imported berries may be found at other times of the year. Choose blueberries that are firm and have a lively uniform hue colored with a whitish bloom.  Before storing berries go through them and remove any cushed or molded fruiit.  Do not wash until right before eating.   Store ripe bluyeberries in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.  If  left at room temperature for more than a day, the berries may spoil.   When using frozen bluyeberries in recipes  that do not require cooking thaw well and drain before using.

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

Simple but good:

Quinoa Cereal with Fresh Fruit

1/2 cup quinoa
1 cup water
Sea salt to taste
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup blueberries ( can substitute or combine with other berries and fruit)
2 tablespoons pumpkin seeds
2 tablespoons sliced almonds
1/2 cup almond or other non-dairy milk
1 te4aspoon honey

Place rinsed quinoa with water ans salt in a saucepan, cover and bring to a boil.   Turn heat to low and simmer covered for 15 minutes.

Divide cooked quinoa into 2 bowls.  add 1/2 the rolled oatas to each bowl.  Top each bowl with half the blueberries, pumpkin seeds and almonds.  Serve with almond milk and honey. 




Friday, April 18, 2014

Belgian Endive

Belgian Endive:

Belgian endive is also called whiteleaf  chickory or witloof chickory.  It is a salad "green" that is grown indoors away from light.  Belgian endive belongs to the chickory family  along with curly chickory, radicchio, and escarole.  There are two main varieties of cultivated endive: Curly endive or "frise'e with narrow green curly leaves; and  Escarole, which is broad leaved and has pale green leaves, and is less bitter that other varieties.  Belgian endive has been around for thousands of years, and was grown by the Greeks, Romans, and Egyptians.  

Belgian endive is rich in many vitamins, especially in folate, and vitamins A and K.  It is also high in fiber.   Belgian endive is available year round, but is best during cool spring weather between March and June.  

I remember Belgian endive from my days at my grandfather's store.  We called its cousin with the narrow, green, curly outer leaves, "chickory".  Later when I moved to Florida  in the supermarket they called chickory "endive" which was strange to me.  

Belgian endive can be prepared many different ways including steaming, boilng, baking or saute'ing.  The leaves can be stuffed, served in soups, added to stir-fried meals, or prepared raw and put into salads.   Normally, due to the bitter taste of raw Belgian endive when served in salads, it is balanced by some sort of sweet fruit , like apples, oranges, or raspberries.   The tender leaves add a distinctive bittersweet flavor when sliced and eaten raw in a salad.  It is also tender and delicate when lightly braised and served as a side vegetable.  

Select endive that is crisp with white and yellow leaves.  Any green will be bitter tasting.  The green indicates the plant is old.  Short fat heads are better than long thin ones.   The plant should be crisp looking with no brown spots or wilted edges.  Store in a cool dark place.  Wrap in paper towel and put in a plastic bag.  Do not wash until ready to use.  Do not submerge in water, but wipe with a damp cloth.   Use within 3 to 5 days.

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

Simple but good:

Roasted Belgian Endive

6 - 8 heads of Belgian endive (less if you like)
2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil 
Sea salt  and Cracked Black pepper to taste
2 tablesoons of balsamic vinegar 

Pre-heat oven to 425 degrees F.  Clean the heads of endive by wiping with a damp cloth.  Cut the heads in half lengthwise.  Toss the halves in the extra virgin olive oil and place on a baking sheet.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Roast in oven for 8 to 10 minutes.  Dress the roasted endives with the balsamic vinegar. 

                                                                                                                        

Monday, April 14, 2014

Carrots

Carrots:


I recently wrote about asparagus saying that I associate asparagus with Easter.  A couple of people said they associated carrots with Easter.  Well, I suspect that they associate the carrots with the Easter Bunny.  Actually, rabbits eat the green tops of the the carrot, while we eat the orange root.   Asparagus is a spring vegetable, while locally grown carrots are in season in the summer and fall.  Both vegetables are available year round.  Well, anyway, I've never written about carrots.  So, here goes.

The carrot is a root vegetable.  It is usually orange in color , though purple, red, white and yellow varieties exist.  The carrot has a crisp texture when fresh.  The most frequently eaten part of the carrot is the taproot., although the greens are eaten as well.

The carrot is native to Europe and southwestern Asia.  Today's carrot has been selectively bred for its enlarged and more palatable, less woody-textured edible taproot.   Carrots  get their characteristic orange color from beta-carotene.  Massive overconsumption of carrots can result in carotenosis, a benign condition in which the skin turns yellow.  In fact poultry producers use carrot extracts to alter the color of egg yolk.  Today the largest producer of carrots is China followed by Russia, and then a close third is the U.S.

There are two broad classes of carrot varieties, eastern carrots and western carrots.   Eastern carrots were domesticated in central Asia in the tenth century.  Specimens of eastern carrots that survive today are commonly purple or yellow and often have branched roots.  Western carrots emerged in the Netherlands in the seventeenth century.  They have the orange color from their abundance of carotene.  Today the city of Holtville, California promotes itself as the "Carrot Capital of the World".

Traditional medicine has used the carrot root to increase blood flow to the pelvic area and the uterus, to reduce flatulence, to treat digestive problems, intestinal parasites, and tonsillitus or constipation.   The beta-carotene along with other carotenes in carrots are partly metabolized into vitamin A.  Lack of vitamin A can cause poor vision including night vision, and this can be remedied by adding vitamin A to the diet.

When I started in the produce business carrots came mostly with the tops still attached.  We would give the tops a twist to remove the tops as the bunches were sold.  Today carrots mostly come in a plastic bag with the tops already removed.   We  always were told that carrots were good for your eyes.  My father would say, "You've never seen a rabbit wearing glasses, have you?"

All varieties of carrots contain valuable amounts of antioxidant nutrients.  In a recent study of fruit and vegetable intake by color orange/yellow were found to be most productive against cardiovascular disease, and carrots were found to be the single most risk reducing food.   The anticancer benefits of carrots have been best researched in the area of colon cancer.

Carrots can be chopped and boiled, fried, or steamed, and cooked in soups and stews as well as baby and pet foods.   So called baby carrots or mini carrots are just regular carrots cut down.  Together with onion and celery carrots are one of the primary vegetables used in a "mirepoix" to make various  broths.

Select carrots that are firm , smooth, relatively stright and bright in color. Avoid carrots that are excessively cracked or forked as well as those that are limp or rubbery.   The trick to storing carrots is to minimize the amount of moisture they loose.  Store them in a plastic bag or wrapped in paper towel in the coolest part of the refrigerator.  They should last a good two weeks.  Carrots should be stored away from apples, pears, potatoes, and other fruits and vegetables that produce ethylene gas, since it will cause them to become bitter.

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

Simple but good:

.Minted Carrots with Pumpkin Seeds:

6 medium sized carrots peeled and cut into turned pieces
1/2 tablespoon fresh chopped parsley
1 tablespoon fresh chopped mint
1 tablespoon chopped pumpkin seeds
2 tablespoons lemon juice
extra virgin olive oil to taste
salt and cracked black pepper to taste

Bring slightly salted water to a boil in a steamer.  Steam carrots until al dente'.   Combine rest of ingredients and toss with carrots. 
(Turned carrots: Peel and cut off ends of carrot. Make a diagonal cut1/2 inch from the tip of the carrot.  Turn the carrot so the diagonal cut is going in the opposite direction of you knife. Make another cut.)


Monday, April 7, 2014

Asparagus Revisited


 

ASPARAGUS:

When I was young, I always associated asparagus with Easter, because they would be available in the spring.   Now asparagus is available pretty much year round from various growing areas.   Still I always like to have asparagus around Easter.   So, with Easter just two weeks away, I will "re-visit" 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 never heard "grass" until 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.


Simple but good:


Roasted Asparagus

1 bunch thin asparagus
3 tablespoons of olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon lemon juice. 

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Trim the tough stalks off the bottom of the asparagus and place in a mixing bowl and drizzle on olive oil and toss to coat.    Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese, garlic, salt and pepper.  
Arrange asparagus onto a baking sheet in a single layer.  Bake until tender, about 12 to 15 minutes.  Sprinke with lemon juice just before serving.



Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Rhubarb


Rhubarb:

Rhubarb is a herbaceous perennial growing from  short thick rhizomes.  It has large leaves that are somewhat triangular with long fleshy petioles (leaf stalks).  In culinary use the fresh stalks are crisp with a strong tart taste.  The plant stalks are cooked in sugar and used in pies and other desserts.

Washington is the leading rhubarb producer in the U.S..  Oregon, Michigan, and California  are also rhubarb producers.  There are two types of rhubarb: hothouse rhubarb and field rhubarb.  Hothouse rhubarb, sometimes called strawberry rhubarb due to its pinkish hue, is general smaller and less stringy than field rhubarb.  It is also less coarsely textured and sweeter.  Fiels grown rhubarb has a more pronounced tart rhubarb flavor.  The stalks are darker red and thus this is called cherry rhubarb.

Rhubarb is usually considered a vegetable, but we most often use it as a fruit.  In 1947 a New York court ruled that since it was used as a fruit in the U.S. , rhubarb was counted as a fruit for purposes of regulations and duties thereby lowering tariffs on imported rhubarb.

Rhubarab contains glycosides, especially glucoheins and emodin which impart cathartic and laxative properties.  In traditional Chinese medicine rhubarb roots have been used as a laxative for several thousand years.  Rhubarb is 95% water and contains a fair amount of potassium.  It is rich in vitamin C, dietary fiber, and calcium.

Rhubarb leaves contain poisonous substances, including oxalic acid, which is a nephrotoxic and corrosive acid. It is important to cut all of the leave away from the stalk before using.

Hot house rhubarb is available from Januaray through April and field rhubarb begins in March and runs through August into early fall.  The peak period is April and May.  Choose firm crisp stalks with no spots or dark patches.  Today rhubarb is usually sold with the  leaves already cut off.  Avoid rhubarb that has wilted leaves or flabby stalks.   After removing any leaves store rhubarb unwashed in the refrigerator for up to a week.  In a sealed plastic bag  it will last even longer.

Rhubarb requires sweetening to minimize its extreme tartness.  It can be served as a sauce over ice cream, combined with fresh strawberries, or made into pies, tarts, puddings, bread, jellies, and beverages.  For cooking the stalks are usually cut into one inch pieces and stewed (boiled in water).  It is only necessary to barely cover the rhubarb with water since it contains a good deal of water of its own.   One half to three-quarters of a cup of sugar is added for each pound of rhubarb.  Spices such as cinnamon and/or nutmeg can be added to taste.  Sometimes  a tablespoon of lime or lemon juice is added.  The stalk pieces are then boiled until soft.

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

Simple but good:


Rhubarb Pie:

4 cups chopped rhubarb
1 1/3 cuos white sugar
6 tablespoons all purpose flour1 tablespoon butter butter
1 recipe pastry for 9 inch double crust pie

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.  Combine sugar and flour.  Sprinke 1/4 over pastry pie plate.  Heap rhubarb over the mixture.  Sprinke with the remaining sugar and flour.  Dot with small pieces of butter.  Cover with top crust.  Place pie on lowest rack of oven and bake for 15 minutes.  Reduce oven temp to 350 degrees F and continue baking for 40 to 45 minutes.  Serve hot or cold.