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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.  
.
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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