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Saturday, September 19, 2015

Blueberries Revisited

Blueberries Revisited:

About:

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.

Groups of Blueberries:

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.

Health Benefits:

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.

Season:

U.S. grown bluberries are available from May through October.  Imported berries may be found at other times of the year.

Selecting and Storing:

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. 
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Thursday, September 17, 2015

Sage

Sage:

About:

Sage (Salvia officinalis) is a small evergreen sub shrub of the mint family used as a culinary herb and also medicinally.  It is native to the Mediterranean.  There are over  500 varieties of sage, most are medicinally useful.  Sage leaves are grayish green in color with a silvery bloom color.  Sage has a savory slightly peppery flavor.  It appears in many European cuisines notably Italian, Balkan and Middle Eastern.  In Britain sage has been listed as one of the essential herbs along with parsley and thyme.   In 2001 sage was named "Herb of the Year" by the International Herb Association.

History:

The Greeks and Romans  were said to have highly prized the many healing properties of sage.  The Romans treated sage as sacred and created a special ceremony for gathering it.   Arab physicians in the 10th century believed that sage promoted immortality.  Europeans of the 14th century used sage to protect themselves from witchcraft.  In China in the 17th century sage was prized for the delicious tea that it makes.  Chinese were said to trade 3 cases of tea leaves for 1 case of sage leaves.


Uses:

Culinary:

Sage is traditionally used to flavor meats, poultry, and cheese dishes.  New potatoes are also excellent roasted with a handful of fresh sage leaves,  a little garlic and olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. 

Medicinal:

Analgesic,  Antibacterial,  Anti-cancer,  Anti fungal,  Antioxidant, Aromatic,  Astringent, Depurative,  Emmenagogue,  Nervine.

Season:

Sage is available year round. grown outside or in hothouses.  Sage is sold fresh, dried whole, or powdered

Selecting and Storing:

Sage is usually sold cut in bunches.  Look for fresh unwilted leaves that are on the green side, the older the leaf, the grayer it looks and the more likely it is to be bitter.  
Sage will keep a day or two if it is kept dry in an open plastic bag.

Quick Serving Ideas for Sage:

  • Mix cooked navy beans with olive oil , sage, and garlic and serve on bruschetta
  • Use sage as a seasoning for tomato sauce
  • Add fresh sage to omelets and frittatas
  • Sprinkle sage on top of pizza
  • Combine sage leaves with bell peppers, cucumber and sweet onions with plain yogurt as a salad

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

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Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Starfruit Revisited

Starfruit Revisited:

About:

Starfruit (Carambola), is a species of tree native to the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, India, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka.   Carambola has distinctive ridges (usually five) running down its sides and when cut cross-section resembles a star.   The skin is thin, smooth, and waxy, and turns light to dark yellow when ripe.   The entire fruit is edible, and usually eaten out of hand, but it may be used in cooking,  and can be made into relishes, preserves and juice drinks.  The taste of the starfruit has been likened to a mix of apples, pears and citrus family fruits.   Most starfruit comes from Malaysia, but it is also grown in Israel, tropical Africa, Taiwan,  the Caribbean, and throughout South America, as well as California and Florida.


Varieties:

There are two kinds of starfruit: sour and sweet.  The sour variety has narrowly spaced ribs and is used mainly for cooking to give a unique tart flavor to poultry meats, and seafood.   The sweet starfruit has thick fleshy ribs , and is used for eating out of hand or mixed with other fruits in fresh salads.


Health Benefits:

Carambola is rich in antioxidants, particularly potassium and vitamin C,  low in sugar, sodium, and acid.   It is also rich in flavonoids and soluble fiber.   Carambola also contains antimicrobial activities.  Extracts of the fruit proved to have antimicrobial activity against Bacillus cerlus, E. coli, Salmonella typhi, and Staphylococcus aureus. 


Season:

Starfruit are available  from January to May and then again from July to October. 

Selecting and Storing:

  Pick firm, shiny fruit with even color.  Avoid fruit that has brown shriveled ribs.  You may store ripe starfruit at room temperature for 2 or 3 days or refrigerate, unwashed, in a plastic bag for up to a week.  Ripening fruit should be turned frequently to allow all the ribs to turn bright yellow

Using:

When you are ready to use, wash thoroughly in cold water.  Pat dry.  Trim off the ends and any dry edges.  Cut fruit cross way in thin sections.  For a beautiful fruit platter arrange  bright green slices of kiwi, slices of golden starfruit and ripe red strawberries. 
Carambola are a nutritious, low calorie fruit, and are a great addition to many dishes.
Why not try them:

  • In fruit, vegetable, or chicken salad
  • In stir fry's
  • In desserts such as starfruit upside down cake, or added to creme' brulee, or dipped in chocolate
  • Blended and added to other juices
  • As a chutney combined with other fruit onions, raisins and spices
  • As a garnish

Personal Concerns:

Carambola contains oxalic acid which may be harmful to persons sufferings from kidney failure, kidney stones, or to those under kidney dialysis.   If your kidneys are healthy, though,  there is no concern, they filter out the oxalic acid. 

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

Simple but Good:


Carambola and Lettuce Salad
1 head of Romaine Lettuce, washed and dried 
2 large or 3 medium Carambolas sliced
2 TBS Balsamic Vinegar 
4 TBS olive oil 
2 TBS chopped mint 
Salt and pepper to taste 

 On a plate fan out the lettuce leaves, going all the way around making a ring and making a second layer if needed. Larger leaves first and smaller ones subsequently. Lay the carambola slices in the center. Combine the vinegar, olive oil, chopped mint, salt and pepper and drizzle over the salad. or drizzle a little bit over the carambola slices and serve the rest on the side so people can help themselves. This amount can serve four salads as starters or six small ones as a side dish.


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Friday, September 4, 2015

Dill

 

Dill:

About:

Dill (Anethum graveolens) is an annual herb in the celery family.   Fresh dill has tiny feathery, bright green leaves, a tangy aroma, and a flavor that is more delicate and less pungent than dill seed.  Dill is unique in that both its leaves and seeds are used in seasoning.  Dill leaves are wispy and fern like and have a soft sweet taste.  Dried dill seeds are light brown and oval in shape with one flat side and one convex ridged side.  The seeds are similar in taste to caraway with a flavor that is aromatic, sweet, and citrusy, but also slightly bitter. 

History:

Dill's name comes from the old Norse wo0rd "dilla" which means "to lull".  This name reflects dill's traditional uses as both a carminative stomach soother, and an insomnia reliever.   Dill is native to Southern Russia, western Africa, and the Mediterranean region.  It has been used for its culinary and medicinal properties for millenia.  Dill was mentioned in the Bible and Egyptian writings.  It was popular in ancient Greek and Roman cultures, where it was considered a sign of wealth and was revered for its many healing properties.  Dill was used by Hippocrates, the father of medicine in a recipe to clean out the mouth.  Ancient soldiers would apply burnt dill seeds to their wounds to promote healing.  Today dill is a noted herb in the cuisines of Scandinavia, Central Europe, North Africa and the Russian Federation.

Uses:

Fresh dill leaves are excellent snipped into cucumber salad, chicken salad, potato salad, and deviled eggs.  Scatter snipped sprigs over sliced tomatoes or tossed with boiled new potatoes.  Use dill in marinades, and sauces, as a seasoning for fish and in omelette's.  Along with dill seed the leaves are a primary ingredient in pickles. 

Health Benefits:

Dill's unique health benefits come from 2 types of healing components: monoterpenes and flavonoids.  The activities of dill'[s volatile oils qualify it as a "chemo protective" food (much like parsley) that can neutralize particular types of carcinogens.  The volatile oils also prevent bacterial overgrowth.  Dill is a very good source of calcium, which is important for reducing bone loss.  Dill is also a good source of dietary fiber, and a good source of the minerals manganese, iron, and magnesium. 

Season:

Dill is available year round.  It is grown throughout the year, and in hothouses.

Selecting and Storing:

Dill is usually sold cut and bundled.  The feathery leaves should be bright green and sprightly, not dark or wet.  Fresh dill will keep a day or two , if it is kept dry (unwashed) in an unsealed plastic bag in the refrigerator.

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

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Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Tomatoes Revisited

Tomatoes Revisited:

About:

The tomato is the fruit of the plant "Lycopersicon esculentum".  The tomato is the state vegetable of New Jersey, the state vegetable and the state fruit of Arkansas, and the official fruit of Ohio.  This member of the "nightshade family" originated in Mexico and spread around the world following the Spanish colonization of the Americas.  Today tomatoes are grown and eaten around the world.

The tomato is botanically a fruit, actually a berry, but is considered a vegetable for culinary purposes due to its savory flavor.   There are around 7500 tomato varieties grown for various purposes that vary in shape, size and color.   Tomatoes are often grown in greenhouses in cooler climates.  They are also grown hydroponically using nutrient solutions in water without soil.  Tomatoes are often  picked unripe (green) and ripened in storage with the hydrocarbon gas ethylene which acts as a molecular cue to start the ripening process.  "Tomatoes on the vine": are a variety that are ripened still connected to a piece of vine.  They tend to have more flavor than artificially ripened tomatoes.

Varieties:

Here are the major categories of tomatoes we see today:

* "Slicing" or "globe" tomatoes are the usual tomatoes of commerce.
* Beefsteak tomatoes are large and often used for sandwiches and other applications.
* Oxheart tomatoes range in size up to Beefsteak, but are shaped like strawberries.
*  Plum tomatoes are bred with a higher solids content and are used for sauces and paste.
* Pear tomatoes are obviously pear shaped and used for a richer gourmet paste.
* Cherry tomatoes are small and round often sweet and generally eaten whole in salads
* Grape tomatoes are  a small oblong variation on plum tomatoes used in salads.
* Campari tomatoes are sweet and juicy with low acidity, and lack of mealiness.  They're bigger than a cherry tomato, but smaller than a plum tomato.

Uses:

Tomatoes are used raw in salads and processed in ketchup or tomato soup.  Unripe green tomatoes can be breaded and fried, used to make salsa, or pickled.  Tomato juice is sold as a drink.  Tomatoes are used extensively in Mediterranean cooking most commonly in pasta sauces.

History:

Tomatoes are actually originally native to the western side of South America in the region occupied by Columbia, Ecuador, Peru, Chile and the western half of Bolivia.  Tomatoes were first cultivated, however, in Mexico.  They spread throughout Europe (including Italy) over the course of the 1500"s.  Today tomatoes are enjoyed worldwide, about130 million tons per year.  The largest tomato-producing country is China followed by the U.S., Turkey, India, and Italy.

My Story:

When I was growing up, my grandfather would send home over-ripe tomatoes to my grandmother to make tomato sauce for pasta.  She would cook the tomatoes and then put them through this cone shaped strainer using a wooden pestle.  That way she got the meat of the tomatoes without the skins.  She would also use the strainer to make cranberry sauce around the holidays.

Nutrition: 

Tomatoes are and excellent source of vitamin C, biotin, molybdenum, and vitamin K.  They are a very good source of copper, potassium, manganese, dietary fiber, vitamin A (in the form of beta-carotene), vitamin B6, folate, niacin, vitamin E, and phosphorus.  They are a good source of chromium, pantothenic acid, protein, choline, zinc, and iron.

Health Benefits:

Tomatoes are believed to benefit the heart among other organs.  They contain lycopene, one of the most powerful natural antioxidants.  Some studies found lycopene can prevent prostate cancer, however, other studies refute this claim.   

Season:

Tomatoes are available year round.


Selecting and Storing:

Choose tomatoes that are heavy for their size with rich color that are well shaped with smooth skin and no wrinkles, cracks, bruises, or soft spots.  Ripe tomatoes will yield to slight pressure and will have a noticeable sweet fragrance.   Keep unwashed tomatoes at room temperature and out of direct sunlight.  It is not recommended to refrigerate tomatoes as this can harm the flavor.   Unripe tomatoes can be kept in a paper bag until ripening.

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

 

Simple but good: 


Tomato Salad:

2 medium size tomatoes
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon oregano
salt and black pepper to taste
sliced crusty bread

Wash and pat dry tomatoes. Cut into wedges and mix with other ingredients.  Stir to coat tomatoes.   Enjoy tomatoes with pieces of bread dipped into the juice.  

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