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Thursday, June 25, 2015

Shallots

Shallots:

About:

Shallots (Allium cepa) are members of the lily family along with more than 300 varieties of onion and onion-like vegetables. that include leeks, scallions, and garlic.  The shallot is a small bulb, roughly the size of a small head of garlic, that sometimes separates into 2 or 3 cloves when you remove the outer skin.
Shallots are favored for their mild onion flavor.  They can be used in the same manner as the onion.

Varieties:

There are 2 types of shallot:  The Jersey of "false" shallot, which is the larger of the two, and "true" shallots which have a more subtle flavor.  Fresh green shallots are available in the spring, and dry shallots, which have a dry skin and a moist flesh are available year round.   Shallots are graded by size into small, medium, and jumbo, which has the least flavor.
The most commonly cultivated shallot is the pink shallot, which has a pinkish papery skin and an oblong shape.  There is also a copper yellow shallot, which has a yellowish skin and a more elongated shape.  Top quality shallots are grown in the Brittany region of France, and in other European countries.  Canada, and  U.S. crops are also grown.

History: 

Shallots probably originated in Central or Southeastern Asia travelling from there to India and the Eastern  Mediterranean.  Some believe the word "shallot" derives from a Middle Eastern city named Ashkelon or Ascalon.  The ancient Greeks grew shallots and traded them to other countries, and the Romans prized them as a food and an aphrodisiac.  

Uses:

Shallots add a subtle flavor and aroma to casseroles, pasta dishes, stews, and soups.   Shallots are used whole, slivered, or minced.  Minced shallots can be added to a vinaigrette to dress tossed salad or avocado.  Shallots are excellent in sauces. 

Health Benefits:

Shallots appear to contain more flavonoids and phenols than other members of the onion genus. 

Season:

Shallots are available year round thanks to cold storage.  Like other onions, they have a more delicate flavor in the spring and a stronger flavor in the fall. 

Selecting and Storing:

Shallots should be firm with dry, papery skin.  Avoid shallots that show sprouts (green shoots) or dark spots.  Keep shallots in a cool, dry, and dark place.  They will keep for about a month.  In the refrigerator use then in 2 weeks.   Once they are peeled or cut wrap shallots in plastic and refrigerate, or place in a jar and cover with olive oil and refrigerate.  You can used the aromatic oil afterwards in a salad dressing.

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


Simple but Good:

Roasted Potatoes with Shallots



6 large shallots, peeled and halved lengthwise
3 TBS extra virgin olive oil, divided in half
1 1/2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and quartered
Salt and Pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.  with rack in lowest position
Toss halved shallots with 1 1/2 TBS olive oil, 1/2 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp pepper in a 13 by 9 inch baking pan
Roast stirring occaisionally until shallots are golden (about 30 minutes).
Toss potatoes with remaining 1 1/2 TBS of olive oil, 1/2 tsp salt, and 1/4 tsp pepper in a bowl, then add to the shallots.
Roast turning occasionally until vegetables are tender and potatoes are crusty (about 40 - 50 minutes).

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Sunday, June 21, 2015

Peaches Revisited

Peaches Revisited:

About:

The peach ( Prunus persica) is a deciduous tree native to Northwest China where it was first domesticated and cultivated. It bears an edible juicy fruit which is called a peach.  It is considered to be "the tree of life" and symbol of immortality and unity. It is a member of the rose family.   We call the peach a "stone fruit" due to its pit.   The peach is a climacteric fruit, which means it continues to ripen after being picked.   More than 80 chemical compounds contribute to the peach's aroma.

Variety:

Cultivated peaches are divided into clingstone and freestone depending on whether the flesh of the peach sticks to the stone (i.e. the pit).  There are hundreds of varieties.  Peaches with white flesh are typically very sweet with little acidity.  Yellow-fleshed peaches typically have an acid tang coupled with sweetness.   White fleshed are most popular in China, Japan, and neighboring Asian countries.  Europeans and North Americans historically favor the acidic yellow-fleshed peach.
Peaches and nectarines are actually the same species, but are regarded commercially as different fruits.  The nectarine has a smooth skin whereas the peach has a fuzzy skin. Many erroneously believe that the nectarine is a cross between a peach and a plum. This is just not correct.   The peach is a climacteric fruit, which means it continues to ripen after being picked.  

History:

 Peaches have been cultivated in China since 2000 BCE.  Alexander the Great introduced the peach into Europe.  Peaches were originally planted in St. Augustine, Florida, but were introduced by Franciscan monks into St. Simon and Cumberland islands along the Georgia coast in 1571.  Today China is the world's largest producer of peaches  followed by Italy, Spain and the U.S. .  California produces 50% of  the peaches in the U.S.  growing 175 varieties.  Peaches are also grown in Georgia and South Carolina.   The peach is the state fruit of South Carolina, and Georgia is nicknamed "The Peach State".

My Story:

When I was a kid,  I remember one time my Grandfather buried some peach pits in the yard to see if they would grow.  They did not grow in Brooklyn, New York, but it was fun to experiment.  Then I remember how we would have peaches in wine.  What a summer treat.  See below for how easy it is to make.


Using:

Peaches are great to eat out of hand.  Just wash thoroughly, and rub with a paper towel to remove the fuzz.  Sliced peaches  should tossed with lemon juice to retard browning.   Peaches are easy to use in smoothies, fruit salads, or soaked in red wine.  Peaches are used in jams, cakes and cobblers, and to add a tangy sweetness to poultry, pork, or veal dishes.  Cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, coriander, sherry, Marsala, and rum can be used to enhance peach dishes.  Peaches are great when grilled. 
To remove the skin of a peach score the bottom of the peach with an "X".   Place the scored peach in boiling water to blanch for 40 seconds.  Carefully remove from boiling water  and  place in an ice bath for one minute. Remove from the ice bath, let drain and pat dry.  The skin will then easily peel off the peach.

Health Benefits:

Peaches are most nutritious when eaten raw.  They are low calorie (38 calories for a medium peach) and cholesterol free.  Peaches are a good source of energy, carbohydrates, dietary fiber, iron, potassium, and Vitamins A, B, and C.  They are also a rich source of bioactive compounds including phenolic acid, anthrocyanins, flavonoids, and procyanidins.   A study in the "Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture" found that canned peaches are as loaded with nutrients as fresh peaches.


Season:


Peaches are available year round, but the season for fresh U.S. peaches is from May to October.  August is National Peach Month.

Selecting and Storing:

Look for peaches that are heavy for their size with a rich color and possibly a slight whitish bloom.   They should yield to slight pressure and have a sweet aroma.  Avoid peaches that are excessively soft or with cuts or bruises.  Store unripe peaches in a paper bag to ripen.  When ripe,  store at room temperature and use within a few days.


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

Simple but good:



Peaches soaked in wine:

2 or 3 fresh peaches
red wine of your choice
granulated sugar.

Place peeled and sliced fresh peaches in a jar or other coverable container.  Sprinkle the peaches with sugar.  Pour enough red wine to cover the peaches.  Cover the jar or container and put in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours, but the longer the better. Enjoy on a sultry summer evening.


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Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Chives:

About:

Chives (Allium schoenoprasum) are a perrenial plant widespread in nature accross much of Europe, Asia, and North America.  Like garlic and shallots, chives are in the onion family.  They have a mild onion like flavor but fresher and more delicate.   Chives are repulsive to insects in general.  Insects are turned off by the plant's sulfur compounds.  Chives are sometimes grown in gardens to protect flowers and other plants from insects. 


Using:

Chives flavor matches well with eggs, fish, potatoes, salads, shellfish, sole and soup.  Snip fresh chives directly onto baked or boiled potatoes, or into soup.  Chopped chives are good added to cooked carrots, cottage cheese or cream cheese, green salads, cold soups, omelettes, and scrambled eggs.


My Story:

My first remembrance of chives in the grocery store was in a little  3 inch container.  They were live and growing.  They looked like grass.  In later years they were packaged  already cut.  I always liked the idea of the growing chives.  You could make them last a long time.   It was almost like Martha's oil from the bible. 

Difference between Green Onions, Chives and Scallions:

Grocery stores label skinny, green topped onions that have white bottoms as scallions or green onions.  They are usually the same plant, Allium fistulosum.  Chives on the other hand are typically considered an herb since the plant stays pretty tiny yet has a strong pungent flavor that is good as a seasoning in smaller quantities.  It is a different plant, Allium schoenoprasum.


Health Benefits:

Romans used chives  to cure sunburn and soar throat.  Chives have anti-inflammatory properties as well as antibiotic properties.   Research  hints at anti-cancerous properties and shows that chives can fight prostate cancer.   Chives are also shown to be effective in fighting salmonella.   Chives are rich in flavonoids like organosulphides which have anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory effects.   The flavonoid content of chives also contributes to the reduction of high blood pressure and hypertension.
Chives are a good source of beta carotene, which helps to improve eyesight and clear acne.  Chives are high in vitamins C, and E, which have abundant antioxidant properties and help improve the immune system and help the elasticity of blood vessels and skin.  Chives are also rich in folic acid and potassium

Season:

Available year round.  They are easy to grow on a window sill or under a flourescent light.  Snip as needed down to a half inch.

Selecting and Storing:

Choose fresh colored leaves without dark edges or signs of rot.  Chives in good condition can last up to 3 weeks, when placed unwashed in an airtight jar and refrigerated. 


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


Simple but Good:

Corn and Zucchini Salad with Chives:


2 small zucchini, diced
1/2 - 1 tsp.  salt
1 TBS olive oil
1 TBS unsalted butter
4 ears seet corn, kernels shaved off
1 cup minced chives
1/2 cup chopped mint

Placed diced zucchini in a colander set over a bowl and sprinkle lightly with salt.  Set aside.
Heat deep skillet over medium heat and add olive oil and butter.  When butter foams add corn kernels and cook stirring frequently until tender (about 5 minutes).  Rinse zucchini and pat dry, then add to the skillet with chives and mint.  Saute' just until zucchini is tender (about 3 - 5 minutes).
Remove from heat, and season to taste with salt and pepper. 

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Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Peppers Revisited

Peppers:

About:

Peppers come in all different sizes and shapes.  They range in flavor from very sweet and mild to so hot they can actually burn the skin.  Bell peppers are known as sweet peppers.  The red bell pepper is actually a ripened green bell pepper.   The Italian sweet frying pepper, also called a Cubanelle, is not  a bell pepper or a chile pepper.  It is normally a light green color but can be orange to red.  As the name implies it is on the sweet side.  Then there are the chile peppers.  They contain capsaicin, a chemical that produces a strong burning sensation on the mucous membranes.  Generally speaking, the smaller the pepper the hotter the taste, but this can vary depending on local growing conditions.

History:

Peppers are native to Mexico, Central America, and northern South Africa.  Pepper seeds were carried to Spain in 1493 and spread to other European countries, Africa, and Asian countries.  Today China is the world's largest producer of peppers.

My Story:

The smell of peppers reminds me of my maternal grandmother's kitchen.  She and my grandfather had a fruit and vegetable store for a time before I was born.   She always had a variety of fruits and vegetables on hand.  As a kid I remember having salami and fried peppers on a roll at the beach on Coney Island.  Later in the supermarket in Florida there was a customer who would come in looking for damaged produce to buy at a discount.  Many times we sold her cracked or wrinkled peppers.  She would take them home, cook them, and bring them back with bread and cheese  for us to make sandwiches.   They were so delicious.  Her name was Ida and she was an Italian from New Jersey, but we called her "the grandma lady".  She just looked like a gandma.

Health Benefits:

All peppers are rich in vitamins A, C, and K , but red peppers are bursting with them.  Red peppers are a good source of lycopene.  Vitamins A asnd C are antioxidants and help prevent cell damage, cancer, diseases relating to aging, and support immune function.  Lycopene is earning a reputation for helping to prevent prostate cancer and cancer of the bladder, cervix, and pancreas.  Finally peppers are rich in phytochemicals with a decent amount of fiber.


Pepper Heat:

Hot peppers' fire comes from capsaicin which acts on the pain sensors rather than the taste buds.  Capsaicin has been shown to decrease blood cholesterol and triglycerides, boost immunity, and reduce the risk of stomach ulcers.

The hotness of peppers is measured according to the Scoville Heat Index. .  The mildest peppers are at the bottom.  Most of the heat in peppers is found in the seeds and rib membranes.  To reduce some heat remove the seeds and membranes.  Here is a short list of some peppers and their Scoville Units:

16 million                              - pure capsaicin
 5 million                               - Law enforcement pepper spray
100,000 - 350,000                 - Habanero pepper, Scotch bonnet pepper
 30,000 -  50,000                   - Cayene peppers
 10,000 -  25,000                   - Serrano pepper
  2,500 -    8,000                    - Jalapeno pepper, Paprika, Tabasco sauce
     500 -    2,500                    - Anaheim pepper, Poblano pepper
     100 -       500                    - Pimento, Banana pepper, Peperoncini
          -  0 -                             - Bell peppers

Handle hot chile peppers with care.  Wash your hands thoroughly after preparing them.  Not only will the residue burn your lips and eyes, it will transfer to other fruits and vegetable.

Season:

Supplies of bell peppers from California, Florida, and Mexico have overlapping growing seasons.  This ensures a year round supply with various peak times.  Chile peppers are also generally available year round.


Selecting and Storing:

Select peppers that have a glossy sheen and no shrivelling, cracks or soft spots. Store sweet peppers in a plastic bag in your refrigerator's crisper drawer. Green peppers stay firm for a week and other colors go soft in 3 or 4 days.  Hot peppers do better refrigerated in a perforated paper bag.


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



Simple but Good:

Fried Cubanelles:

Several cubanelle peppers
4 or 5 cloves of garlic, very thinly sliced
Extra virgin olive oil
garlic powder
salt and black pepper

Take the peppers and slice off the tops close to the stems.  Cut down one side of the pepper and open it up.  Remove the seeds and ribs.

Place about 1/8 inch of extra virgin olive oil in a pan and heat.  Put in the garlic and sautee for a couple of minutes until the garlic begins to brown.  Remove the garlic to a paper towel to drain.  Put peppers in pan and stir to cook.  When the peppers start to get soft add back the garlic and lower the heat to low medium.  Give a generous sprinkle of garlic powder and add salt and black pepper.  Cover and cook until peppers begin to brown.  Remove to shallow dish and let sit at room temperature to cool and marinate.

Enjoy with crusty bread by dipping the bread in the oil and eating it  with the peppers.


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Friday, June 5, 2015

Tamatillos

Tamarillos:


About:

The tamarillo is a small tree or shrub in the flowering plant family Solanaceae (the nightshade family).  It is best known as the species that bears the tamarillo, an egg shaped edible fruit.  It is also known as the "tree tomato".  The fruits are egg shaped and about 4 - 10 centimeters long.  The color varies from yellow and orange to red and almost purple.  The red fruits are more acidic, and the yellow and orange fruits are sweeter.  The flesh has a firm texture and contains more and larger seeds than a common tomato.


  

Uses:

Tamarillo fruit is eaten by scooping out the flesh from the halved fruit.  When lightly sugared and cooled, the flesh is used as a breakfast dish.  Some people scoop out the pulpy flesh and spread it on toast at breakfast. Tomarillos can be made into compotes, or added to stews, hollandaise, chutney, and curries.   Fruits harvested earlier in the season tend to be sweeter and less astringent.  The skin has a most unpleasant taste, and so, is not eaten. 

History:

Tamarillo is native to the Andes of Peru, Chile, Ecuador, Columbia, and Bolivia.  It is still cultivated in gardens and small orchards for local production, and is one of the most popular fruits in these regions.   Other regions of cultivation  are the subtropical areas throughout the world including the U.S. in California..  Tamarillos are listed among the lost foods of the Incas.  The commercial production of tamarillos began on a small scale in the 1930's.  During WWII demand grew for tamarillos as the supply of other fruits high in vitamin C was restricted.


Health Benefits:

Tamarillos are very high is vitamins and iron, and low in calories.   They are low in fat, carbohydrates, and sodium.  They are high in potassium, and contain other trace elements important  for health  including copper and manganese.   Tamarillos are  a source of fiber and also a source of vitamins A, B6, and C.  They contain vitamin E, and thiamine.   Tamarillos are said to be helpful in controlling hypertension and diabetes.

Season: 

Tamarillos are most frequently available from July until November.

Selecting and Storing:

Choose tamarillos with full coloration (red or gold) up to the stalk  with a slight loosening of the stalk. A slight softening of the fruit and a yellowing of the stalk are indication of ripeness.
Keep tamarillos at room temperature for a week or in the refrigerator for 2 weeks.  They can be easily frozen either whole (remove the skin first) or pureed.

Removing the Skin:

To remove the skin place the tamarillos in a bowl and cover with boiling water.  Leave for 3 - 4 minutes, then rinse with cold water.  Make a small cut in the skin with a knife and the skin will slip right off.


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

How to Enjoy Tamarillos:


  •  Peeled fruit can be sliced and added to stews or soups
  • Serve slices with a sprinkling of sugar and a scoop of vanilla ice cream
  • Peeled fruit diced with diced onions, breadcrumbs, butter, and appropriate seasonings  may be used as a stuffing for roast lamb
  • Slices alone or with apples cooked into a pie
  • Packed into a preserving jar with water or sugar syrup and cooked for 55 minutes
  • Peeled fruits can be pureed in a blender or cooked, strained to remove the seeds, then packed in plastic containers and frozen.   
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           

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Monday, June 1, 2015

Pomegranates Revisited

Pomegranates Revisited:

About:

The pomegranate, Punica granatum, is fruit-bearing deciduous shrub or small tree that grows between 16-26 feet tall.  It is native to present day Iran and Iraq.  Today it is widely cultivated throughout the Mediterranean region of southern Europe, the Middle East, northern Africa and tropical Africa, and the Indian Subcontinent.  It is also extensively grown in South China and the drier parts of Southeast Asia.  It was introduced into Latin America and California by Spanish settlers in 1769.  It is currently cultivated in parts of California and Arizona.  Thomas Jefferson planted pomegranates at Monticello in 1771.  The name "pomegranate" comes from the Latin for apple (pomum) and seeded (granatum)  There are over 500 varieties.

Uses:

 The edible fruit of the pomegranate is a berry and is between a lemon and a grapefruit in size with a rounded hexagonal shape with a thick reddish skin.  Pomegranates are used in cooking, baking, for juices, smoothies, and alcoholic beverages.  
The pomegranate is opened by scoring the skin with a knife and then breaking it open.  The arils (seed casings) are separated from the peel and internal white pulp membrane.  Separating the arils is easier in a bowl of water as the arils sink and the inedible pulp floats.  Freezing the whole fruit makes it easier to separate.  You can also cut the fruit in half and score the outside rind 4-6 times.  Hold the half over a bowl and smack the rind with a large spoon.  In any case  do not get the juice on your clothes.  It stains terribly.

Cultural Symbolism:

The pomegranate is ripe with cultural symbolism.  Ancient Egyptians regarded it as a symbol of prosperity and ambition.  The Greek myth of Persephone, the goddess of the Underworld, prominently features the pomegranate. The number of seeds she is said to have eaten determined the number of barren seasons.  Among the Greeks it is traditional for a house guest to bring a pomegranate as a first gift, which is placed under or near the home altar.  Pomegranates are also prominent at Greek weddings and funerals.  In ancient Israel scouts brought pomegranates to Moses to demonstrate the fertility of the "promised land".  In Christianity the fruit broken or bursting open is a symbol of the fullness of Jesus's suffering and resurrection.  In China in older times the pomegranate was considered an emblem of fertility and numerous progeny.

My Story:

Growing up I rarely ate a pomegranate, but I do remember we called them "Chinese Apples".  In the supermarket  we received pomegranates packed in a flat box with little indentations for the pomegranates to sit in.  This would protect them from bruising each other.  It was also a nice presentation to use to display the fruit.  Persimmons and kiwifruit were also packed that way. 

Health Benefits:

Research has found pomegranates may be effective in reducing heart disease factors.  They not only reduce cholesterol, but  lower blood pressure and increase the speed at which heart blockages melt away.  Pomegranates are loaded with antioxidants.  A glass of pomegranate juice has more antioxidants than red wine, green tea, blueberries, or cranberries.  Pomegranates have been shown to have potent anti-cancer and immune supporting effects.   They have been shown to promote reversal of atherosclerotic plaque in human studies.   Pomegranates may have benefits to relieve or protect against depression and osteoporosis. 

Season:

In the Northern Hemisphere pomegranates are typically in season from September to February.  In the Southern Hemisphere they are in season from March to May.

Selecting and Storing:

Choose pomegranates with unblemished skin that are heavy for their size.   The heavy pomegranate has lots of juice.  Store at room temperature for six to seven days.  Under refrigeration a pomegranate will last 3 months or more, if it is in good condition.

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

Simple but Good:



Pomegranate Gelatin:

2 cups pomegranate juice (not from concentrate)
2 envelopes unflavored gelatin
2 TBS sugar
1/2 cup pomegranate seeds

Place 1/2 pomegranate juice in medium mixing bowl and sprinkle gelatin on top.  Set aside.
Place remaining juice and sugar into small saucepan and place on high heat.  Bring just to a boil.  Remove from heat and add to juice and gelatin mixture.  Stir to combine.  Place the bowl in the refrigerator and chill just until mixture begins to set up (approx 301 - 40 minutes).  Remove from the refrigerator and stir in seeds.   Place into 2 cup mold or 4 1/2 cup molds and chill until set.

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