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Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Green Beans Revisited

Green Beans Revisited:

About:

Green beans are known as French beans, Fine beans, and string beans.  They are also known as "squeaky beans" for the noise they make on the teeth when eaten.  The name "string bean" derives from the fibrous string that once ran down the length of the seam of the pod.  In modern times the string has been mostly bred out.  There are two major groups of green beans, bush beans and pole beans. There are over 130 varieties known.

History:

Green beans and other shell beans such as pinto beans, black beans, and kidney beans belong to the same family and are referred to as "common beans" probably due to they all derived from a common bean ancestor that originated in Peru.  They were spread through South and Central America by migrating Indian tribes and introduced to Europe and spread around the 16th century by Spanish and Portuguese traders.

My Story:

The first thing I remember about green beans is that they come in a bushel basket.  We would save the baskets and then use them to display produce.  My grandfather's grocery store kept two rows of bushel baskets in front of the store in which produce was displayed.  We would build up the baskets with cardboard  so there was only a few inches of display space on top but it would look like a full basket.   There was a roll down awning above that could be used to keep the sun from cooking the product on warm days.  The display had to be built every morning and taken down every night.  It was a lot of work.

Uses:

Green beans are of nearly universal distribution.  Green beans can be steamed, boiled, stir fried, or baked in casseroles.   .  To prepare remove both ends of the pod and wash just before cooking.

Health Benefits:

Green beans have been  studied for anti-oxidant content.  In addition to vitamins C and K and beta-carotene green beans contain important amounts of the anti-oxidant mineral manganese.  In the area of phytonutrients green beans contain a wide variety of carotenoids and flavonoids.  The strong carotenoid and flavonoid content appears to provide potential anti-inflammatory benefits.  Green beans also contain high levels of lectins and may be harmful if consumed in excess when uncooked or improperly cooked.  Best to cook them.

Season:

 Fresh green beans are available year round, but are best in early winter, early summer, and early fall. 

Selecting and Storing:

Select green beans that have a smooth feel and a vibrant green color, and that are free from brown spots and bruises.  They should have a firm texture and "snap" when broken.  Store unwashed fresh bean pods in a plastic bag and keep in the refrigerator crisper for about 7 days.


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

Simple but good.

Potato and Green Bean Salad:

2 lbs. of potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 lb. of green beans
1/2 c. canola oil
1/4 c. red wine vinegar
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper

Boil potatoes until fork tender.  Drain and set aside to cool. Steam green beans until barely tender.  Drain and rinse under cold water. Set aside to cool.

In a large bowl combine potatoes, beans, oil, vinegar, garlic powder, salt, and pepper.  Mix well.  Add more oil and vinegar if needed.  Serve chilled or at room temperature.

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Thursday, July 16, 2015

Prickly Pear

Prickly Pear:

About:

The prickly pears (Opuntia) typically grow flat, rounded cladodes with two kinds of spines; large, smooth fixed spines, and small hairlike prickles called glochids, that easily penetrate the skin and detach from the plant.  Also called the cactus pear, this unusual plant is egg or pear shaped, and 3 - 45 inches long.
The large spines are removed before shipping, but the skin is still full of small fibrous ones, many practically invisible so they must be handled with care.   Depending on the variety and ripeness prickly pears may have green, yellow, orange, , pink, or crimson skins.  The thirst quenching skin which ranges in color from green to yellow to red tastes something like watermelon, but without the sweetness.

History:

Like all true cactus species, prickly pears are native to the Americas, but have been introduced to other parts of the globe.  Prickly pears are found in abundance in Mexico and the Caribbean Islands.  The first introduction of prickly pears into Australia is ascribed to Governor Philip and the early colonists in 1788 when they were brought from Brazil to Sydney.
Historically the prickly pear has been an important source of water to inhabitants of arid and semi-arid regions all over the world.  The cactus grows well without irrigation or pesticides and it grows everywhere in the Mediterranean countries, Asia, the U.S. and Central and South America.  Mexico is the largest producer, consumer and exporter of the edible prickly pear. 

Health Benefits:

Some studies have shown that the pectin contained in the prickly pear pulp lowers levels of bad cholesterol while leaving good cholesterol unchanged.  Another study found that the fibrous pectin in the fruit lower diabetics' need for insulin.  Both fruits and pads are  rich in slowly absorbed soluble fiber that helps keep blood sugar stable.  Prickly pear is also used for obesity, alcohol hangover, colitis, diarrhea, and benign hyperstatic hypertrophy (BPH).  It is also used to fight viral infection.

Preparing:

Because the numerous tiny fibrous , nearly invisible spines can become embedded in your fingers, a good strategy is to use gloves.  Peel a slice off the top and a slice off the bottom, then make a 1/8 inch deep cut from top to bottom.  Use two forks to peel off the skin.  Slice the fruit like a loaf of bread.  It contains small edible seeds that in moderation are good for digestion.  Discard any fruits that are dry inside.


Using:

Ripe prickly pears are best slightly chilled:
  •  They are usually eaten thinly sliced with a squeeze of lemon ore lime.  
  • They are a delicious garnish for chicken or shrimp salad. 
  •  They make a good marmalade or sorbet when you strain out the seeds. . 
  • For breakfast cut into small chunks and mix with yogurt and sweeten with honey.
  • For a drink peel 3 or 4 prickly pears and put in a blender with 1/2 cup orange juice, a squeeze of lemon, and a little honey
Prickly pears are widely cultivated and commercially used in juices, jellies, candies, teas, and alcoholic drinks.

Season:

Cactus pears from Argentina and Brazil are available year round.  Imports from Mexico come i9n between June and October.  Late August to December is the peak season for prickly pears from California and Arizona.

Selecting and Storing:

Always choose firm unblemished fruit.  Moldy spots are usually an indication of flesh that is too so0ft and unappetizing.  Very firm prickly pears can be ripened at home.  Let them sit out at room temperature until they have a good uniform color and just a little give. At that point refrigerate them right away.


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


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Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Bananas Revisited

Bananas Revisited:

About:

The banana is an edible fruit, botanically a berry, produced by several kinds of large herbaceous flowering plants in the genus "Musa".  Musa species are native to tropical Indomaylaya and Australia and are likely to have been first domesticated in Papua New Guinea.  They are grown in at least 107 countries primarily for their fruit and to a lesser extent , to make fiber, banana wine, and banana beer and as ornamental plants.The banana is the world's largest herbaceous flowering plant.
In America and Europe "banana" refers to the soft, sweet, dessert bananas of the Cavendish group.  The firmer starchier variety are called "plantains".  Plantains are often called "cooking bananas" and are cooked and served as a vegetable in Latin American countries.   Export bananas are picked green and ripened in special rooms upon arrival in their destination country.  These rooms are air-tight and filled with ethylene gas.  Bananas can be ordered "ungassed" and will never ripen. These bananas are suited for cooking.  Bananas are a staple starch for many tropical populations.  Dwarf Cavendish are named for the shortness of stem on which they grow.  They are also called "Petites".   The Monzano banana is also called the Apple banana because of its apple like flavor. It also contains some hints of strawberry flavor.  The light golden color turns totally black when ripe.  The Red banana is stubby and round with a dull red skin that turns to a reddish purple or maroon when fully ripe.  The Red banana is sweeter than the Cavendish with a heartier flavor with a softer pinkish orange flesh.

History:

Farmers in Southeast Asia and Papua New Guinea first domesticated bananas.  Bananas may have been present in isolated locations in thge Middle East on the eve os Islam.  Bananas were introduced to the Americas by Portuguese sailors who brought the fruits from West Africa in the 16th century.

My Story:

When I was growing up I remember bananas coming in a box packed with shredded newspaper.  They were whole hands of bananas.  You would have to cut the hand down to a smaller sizes as you put them on display. Today they come pre-cut and wrapped in cellophane.  In the store we would open up the box and cellophane to let out any gas to slow the  ripening process.   My dad use to tell  how, when he was a boy he had a friend whose father was a baker and baked Italian bread, which my father loved.  Well, the baker's son loved bananas, so my dad would trade him bananas from his dad's store for the Italian bread.  One time while in the supermarket  a produce manager was feeling sick.  He thought he had some kind of flu.  Well, he was getting worse so he went to the doctor to find out that he had been bitten by a banana spider.  He never felt it.  Because of the delay in treatment, the poison was able to grow.  At one time they even considered amputating the leg.  He was told it could take a year for the poison to get out of his system.  Something like that is very rare. Usually the gassing will eliminate  spiders.

Health Benefits:

Bananas have an impressive amount of potassium.  One large banana of about nine inches in length contains 602 mg of potassium with 140 calories.  It also contains 2 grams of protein and 4 grams of fiber with just 2 mgs of sodium.  It has abundant vitamins and minerals.  The high potassium and low sodium help with blood pressure.  Its high iron content can stimulate hemoglobin production to help in cases of anemia.   The high fiber can help with constipation.  Bananas contain tryptophan, a type of protein the body converts to serotonin , know to make you relax, improve your mood, and generally make you feel happier.  Research found that eating bananas as part of a regular diet can cut risk of death by strokes as much as 40%.  A piece of banana skin placed peel side out on a wart and secured is known to kill off the wart.

Uses:


Bananas are  peeled and eaten out of hand,  or sliced on cereal.  You can put a stick in a peeled banana and dip in in chocolate and then freeze it.  Try them sliced and then sautéed briefly in butter and brown sugar.  Put them over ice cream.   Overripe bananas are perfect for baking in bread, cake, or muffins.

Selecting and Storing:

Select bananas that are slightly green, firm, and without bruises.  Bananas with a gray tint and a dull appearance have been refrigerated and will not ripen properly.  Never store unripe bananas in the refrigerator.  Yellow-green bananas will ripen at room temperature to a sunny yellow in three days.   Bananas can be put in a paper bag with an apple or tomato overnight to speed ripening.  Once ripe bananas can be stored in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.  The skin will turn black, but the fruit will be fine.  The brown spotting on the banana is a sign of ripeness and sweetness.

Here is a banana ripeness chart.  The number 7, the ripest, is the most healthy banana.

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

Simple but Good.....

Banana and Peanut Butter Sandwich:

Cooking spray
2 tablespoons of peanut butter
2 slices of whole wheat bread
1 banana sliced

Heat skillet or griddle to medium heat.  Coat with cooking spray.  Spread 1 tablespoon of peanut butter on one side of each slice of bread.  Slice the banana on the peanut buttered side of one slice.  Top with the other slice and press firmly together.  Fry the sandwich until golden brown, about 2 minutes on each side.

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Friday, July 3, 2015

Summer Squash

Summer Squash:

About:

Summer squash are a subset of squashes that are harvested when immature, while the rind is still tender and edible.  Nearly all summer squashes are varieties of "Cucurbita pepo" though not all Cucurbita pepo are considered summer squashes.  Most summer squash have a bushy growth habit, unlike the rambling vines of many winter squashes.  The name "Summer Squash" refers to the short storage life of these squashes, unlike that of winter squash.  

Varieties:

Summer squashes include:
  • Cousa squash, a pale colored zucchini variety
  • Pattypan squash (Scallop squash)
  • Tromboncino or Zuchetta
  • Yellow crookneck squash
  • Yellow summer squash
  • Zucchini (courgette)
  • Immature Ridge gourd luffa
By contrast winter squashes include:
  • Acorn squash
  • Big Max
  • Butternut squash
  • Kabocha Red kuri squash
  • Spaghetti squash
  • Turban squash

History:

Scientists have found squash seeds (including summer squash seeds) preserved  in Mexican caves for more than 10,000 years.  Domestication of summer squash originated in Mexico and Central America.  Cultivation of squash (including summer squash) quickly became popular in North, Central, and South America.  Native Americans often referred to squashes as the "three sisters" alongside corn (maize) and beans.  Columbus brought back squash from North America to Spain.
Commercial production of squash now takes place worldwide..  The U.S., China, India, and Russia are among the largest producers.

Health Benefits:

As an excellent source of manganese and a very good source of vitamin C  summer squash provides us a great combination of conventional antioxidant nutrients.  Summer squash also contains an unusual amount of other antioxidant nutrients including the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanathin.  These antioxidants are especially helpful in protection of the eye including against macular degeneration and cataracts
The presence of B-complex vitamins in summer squash is related to healthy blood sugar regulation.  Included are the B-vitamins folate, B6, B1, B2, B3, and choline.  Also important in blood sugar metabolism are the minerals zinc and magnesium as well as omega-3 fatty acids, all provided by summer squash.  The presence of Omega-3 fats in the seeds of summer squash, the presence of anti-inflammatory carotenoids like lutein and zeaxanthin, and beta-carotene, and the presence of anti inflammatory polysaccharides like hemogalacturonan make summer squash a natural choice for protection against unwanted inflammation.
The combination of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory nutrients in summer squash is a very logical nutrient combination for providing anti-cancer benefits.

Selecting and Storage:

Choose summer squashes that are heavy for their size, and have shiny, unblemished rinds.  The rinds should not be very hard since this indicates the squash are over mature and will have hard seeds and stringy flesh.  Choose squash that are average in size as overly large may be fibrous and overly small may have inferior flavor.
Store unwashed squashes in an air-tight container in the refrigerator, where they will keep for about 7 days.


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

Simple but Good:

Zucchini, Mint, and Yogurt Spread

1 large zucchini sliced lengthwise  and cut into 1 inch half moons
2 TBS olive oil
1/2 cup Greek yogurt
3 TBS fresh mint, roughly chopped
zest of 1/2 lemon
salt and pepper 
green olives for garnish

Heat oil in skillet over medium heat.  Sprinkle zucchini with salt and pepper and add to pan.  Cook for about 5 minutes turning so both sides are browned.  Remove from heat.
Once zucchini is cooled to  room temperature place in food processor.  Add mint and lemon zest (reserving some of both for garnish), pinch of salt, pepper and yogurt.  Pulse until pureed.  
Spread dip onto serving plate and drizzle remaining olive oil and reserved lemon zest and lemon peel. Add olives if desired.  Serve with wedges of pita or sliced vegetables.

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