Back to Basics: Clean Up Your Spices

Back to Basics: Clean Up Your Spices

New month, new season and it’s time to get back to basics! One of the places where we all need a good look-see on the basics is your spices.

I am going to bet you that some of those spices in your cabinet have lasted longer than some of your marriages! Those old icky spices are about as useful for flavor as grass clippings. Toss ’em!

Fresh dried herbs and spices have become surprisingly inexpensive. Good sources for $1 per jar spices or even 2 for $1 are dollar-type stores (not always, but sometimes), Wal-Mart and drugstores.

Health food stores are also great resources. They sell the spices and herbs in bulk jars. They are a quality product, very fresh and quite inexpensive, and mostly organic, too. To spice up your cooking (and your life, too), you need good ingredients. Inferior ingredients will give you a lackluster product every time.

If you’ve never learned how to use the mountain of spices available, copy this list and stick it to your fridge. This spice primer is guaranteed to get you cooking in a more flavorful way in no time!

Bay Leaf

Used in stews, soups and great with pot roast. Go easy. Bay leaves are strong, especially California bay leaves, which are the kind most grocery stores stock. I use half a leaf in my stews.

 

Basil

Ah, the taste of summer. Who can resist fresh basil and tomatoes from the garden tossed with olive oil and garlic on a plate full of pasta? Dried, it’s wonderful in soups, pasta dishes and chicken.

 

Dill

It’s not just for pickles. Try some dill sprinkled on fish, chicken or even in a light cream soup.

 

Garlic

Nectar of the gods, well, bulb of the gods, anyway. Garlic has a way of making the most ordinary food gourmet. Try sprinkling garlic powder (not garlic salt) into a prepared box of white cheddar macaroni and cheese. Surprise! It’s pretty good. Fresh, though, is best. Squeeze it from a press into almost anything.

 

Ginger

Sprinkle it in your stir-fry, try it on baked chicken breasts with a little soy sauce or coconut aminos and garlic. For fun, get it fresh (it’s that alien-looking root mass in the produce department) and freeze it. It will keep almost indefinitely when frozen. To use, hack off a piece, no need to peel it and grate into your recipe.

 

Nutmeg

I love nutmeg. If you can find nutmeg nuts and the itty, bitty grater that comes with it, buy it. Once you’ve had freshly grated nutmeg, the powdered stuff in the jar is beneath you. Obviously an ingredient in baking, it’s also good grated on sauteed squash, green beans and carrots.

 

Oregano

A staple in Italian cooking, it’s also good in stews and salad dressings.

 

Rosemary

This beautiful evergreen plant grows wild in my garden and provides an intoxicating aroma to meats, stews and root veggies. Try some crumbled in your carrots.

 

Tarragon

An almost licorice flavor, this delicate herb takes front and center in vinaigrettes, as a delicious sprinkle on the top of baked or poached poultry and fish.

 

Thyme

Make time for thyme! It’s strong and adds a hint of character to an otherwise pretty standard dish. Use it with chicken, soups and beef.

 

This is a short list of spices, but good basics stand the test of thyme (time). 😉 By understanding how to cook with spices, you will keep your palate interested and you family begging for your cooking–and that’s the way it should be!


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School Night Supper Shortcuts

School Night Supper Shortcuts

During the summer, meals tend to be a lot more relaxed than they are during the school year. That just tends to be the nature of the beast.

With autumn comes routine, as those school days tend to add a lot of activities to the family calendar. Not only do you have to do all of the planning, grocery shopping, chopping, peeling, roasting, boiling, eating, and cleaning related to the evening meal, but you also have to make sure that everyone gets to where they need to go. Not to mention homework.

You’re pulled in hundred directions at once on any given day—wouldn’t it be nice to have a little house elf to take care of dinner?

Now, don’t get all excited. I haven’t found any colonies of house elves. But I do have a secret weapon that helps make meals magically appear on the table. And guess what? You have one, too. It’s called the freezer.

Freezer meals can save you a ton of time in the kitchen on those chaotic school nights. Really. You will not believe how much easier your life can be. All you need is a plan.

 

Plan around what’s on sale

When you happen upon a fabulous deal on meat, buy a bunch of it. Chicken, pork, beef—whatever’s on sale, buy as much of it as your budget allows. Prep the meat into a variety of meals to pop into the freezer (meatballs, chicken strips, marinated drumsticks, or pork tenderloin). How easy will that be when the time comes to thaw something out for dinner? Exponentially easier than dealing with a frozen stiff chunk of ground chuck, I’ll tell you that much!

Each week, do a meal plan. I find Sundays a good day for this—before the hectic week gets going—, but pick a day that works for you! Identify which nights are going to be too busy to worry about cooking. Make a note on the calendar to pull out one of your freezer meals that morning to thaw. Then, when supper time comes, just cook it! Easy peasy.

 

Freezer safety

You don’t want anyone to get sick, so there are some safety considerations when freezing/thawing/cooking meals like this. I’ve shared these before, but they’re worth sharing again.

  •  Always wash your hands before and after handling raw food.
  • Thaw your food in the fridge and never at room temperature. To quickly defrost your meal, put it in a water tight bag and place the bag in a bowl of cold water, changing the water every 30 minutes. Changing the water ensures that your meal stays cold, prohibiting any bacterial growth.
  • Don’t use the microwave to thaw food. This may be a fast method of defrosting food, but microwave oven power levels vary between different makes and models. This can lead to foods not actually being thawed within safe temperature zones.
  • Always use the bottom shelf of your fridge to thaw raw meat, poultry, and fish/seafood. This will prevent juices from dripping down onto other foods. If you can put the item on a plate, even better.
  • Always keep raw meat, poultry, and fish away from other foods.
  • Use separate cutting boards for raw meat, fish, and poultry.
  • Store cooked foods in your fridge below 40 degrees F.
  • Foods that are stored in the fridge are safe for up to four days if stored below the recommended temperature. Foods containing seafood can be stored in the fridge up to two days.
  • Foods stored in the freezer are best used within two to four months but can be stored longer. Please keep in mind that food quality will suffer greatly the longer the item is kept in the freezer.
  • All foods should be heated to an internal temp of 165F.
  • Allow cooked foods to cool completely before putting them in the freezer.
  • Don’t put glass containers directly from the freezer into the oven.

Don’t forget to look into our freezer menus. You won’t regret it!

 

7 Tips For Grilling Produce

7 Tips For Grilling Produce

I shared some tips with you a couple weeks ago about grilling but there’s more to barbecue season than burgers and steaks!

Why turn on the stove to cook your veggies when you have a perfectly good hot grill already prepped? Never mind the fact that grilled veggies and fruits taste like something out of Heaven — if you know how to cook them properly!

Here are 7 of my best produce grilling tips:

1. Don’t use your veggie peeler.

Don’t peel your vegetables before you grill them. Another reason why you need to buy organic produce! You’ll lose the nutrients and much of the flavor if you peel your veggies before they hit the grill. You’ll also get a smokier flavor if you leave the peels on. Remember the clean fifteen list and the dirty dozen when you’re trying to decide where to invest in organic produce.

 

2. Precook.

Some hardier veggies need a bit of precooking to shorten the time they must spend on the grill. These types of vegetables would include: asparagus, broccoli, beets, artichokes, parsnips, carrots, winter squash and potatoes. Steam them or blanch them until they are only slightly tender, then pat them dry and cook them on the grill. That extra step will make sure the outside and inside of those sturdy veggies are cooked evenly. Vegetables like peppers, onions, eggplant, fennel, tomatoes and summer squash can be grilled raw.

 

3. Oil them.

Rub a tiny little bit of olive oil (not extra virgin) or coconut oil on your veggies before you grill them. This will help prevent them from sticking to the grill, and it will also help keep them from drying out. Just a little bit because if there’s oil dripping from the food, you’ll experience flare ups.

 

4. Soak your fruits.

Before grilling fruits, try drizzling them with honey or maple syrup, or soaking them in liquor. Talk about a flavor burst! Especially if you’ll be serving grilled pineapple or pears for dessert. Yes you can grill pears! You can also grill apples, watermelon and peaches. Reach for fruit that is firm and just barely ripe for your best options in fruit grilling.

 

5. Indirect heat.

When grilling fruits and veggies, you want moderately hot coals or indirect heat. You may need to move them around throughout the cooking process to make sure they cook evenly.

 

6. Stick it to them.

Skewers are great tools for grilling veggies. It’s tempting to make beautiful kabobs out of meat and veggies but if you want to ensure even cooking, skewer all the same type of veggie per skewer. Cherry tomatoes, mushrooms, chunks of onion and pineapple are all wonderful cooked on skewers.

 

7. Use packets.

Some veggies don’t lend themselves well to skewers or grill baskets. Peas, beans, sliced peppers, etc. For these lovely foods, try making a packet out of tin foil and cook them that way. This is also a good way to cook potatoes, or to cook other veggies with a sauce or topping of some sort.

There you have it!

 

Farmers Market Guide – 52 In Season for September

Farmers Market Guide – 52 In Season for September

Have you been to the market lately? There is a bounty of fresh local goodness to be found at the Farmers Market in September, straight from the field!

If you’re wondering what’s in season right now, check out our list below.

We’ve listed the most popular fruits and veggies you can find right now, depending on where you live, of course. We’ve also included the top health benefits of these foods, a guide to checking for freshness, and a bonus tip!

 

APPLES

Health benefits: Vitamins A and C, beta-carotene, fiber (apples are well-reputed for keeping doctors away)

What to look for: I could tell you to buy apples that are firm and free from bruises, but you already knew that. Give your apple a sniff. A good fresh apple will smell like a good fresh apple.

Tip: Yes, apples are available all year long, but they are at their absolute best when you get ‘em fresh off the trees. Buy organic apples when possible because of how heavily sprayed this tree fruit is.

Click here to read more about apples.

 

ARTICHOKES

Health benefits: Cancer prevention, antioxidants, fiber, liver health, digestive aid, and hangover cure

What to look for: Squeeze the leaves. Fresh artichokes have squeaky leaves. Choose small artichokes for the sweetest hearts.

Tip: Best enjoyed steamed for 15 or 20 minutes

Click here to read more about artichokes.

 

BEETS

Health benefits: Magnesium, Vitamin C, fiber, folate

What to look for: Choose beets that are heavy for their size, with no surface cuts or nicks.

Tip: Enjoy beets raw in juice or salads, or you can cook them in a variety of ways: steamed, stir fried, or roasted. (They are best cooked with a squeeze of lemon juice and some butter.)

 

BEET GREENS

Health benefits: Vitamins A and K

What to look for: Select beet greens that are a bright, deep green and fresh looking. They should not be wilted and limp.

Tip: When you get your beet greens home, give them a good rinse before chopping them into bite-sized pieces. I like them steamed with a squirt of vinegar. They are delicious with a serving of fresh fish.

 

BLACKBERRIES

Health benefits: Antioxidants, fiber, folate, anti-inflammatory, vitamins C, K, and E

What to look for: Choose blackberries that are black in color, which is an indication that they’re fully ripe. Sniff the berries. If they are too sweet smelling, they’re overripe. If they don’t smell like berries, they are underripe. They should smell slightly sweet.

Tips: When storing blackberries, don’t use containers more than 5 inches deep because the berries at the bottom will be bruised. A 9×13 inch pan does the trick!

 

BLUEBERRIES

Health benefits: Fiber, Vitamin C, manganese, antioxidants

What to look for: Look for blueberries with a deep blue or purple black color and a nice silvery sheen.

Tip: Do not wash your blueberries before you store them. For easy freezing, spread blueberries onto a cookie sheet and pop in the freezer. Store them in containers after they’re frozen.

 

BOK CHOY

Health benefits: Vitamins A, C, and K, calcium, antioxidants

What to look for: Baby bok choy is better in my opinion than the bigger bok choy, so get the little ones if you can. Leaves should be nice and crisp.

Tip: The green leaves should be separated from the big white stalks—the leaves take very little time to cook and the white takes a little longer, so cook the chopped stalks first, and add the leaves at the end of cooking.

 

BROCCOLI

Health benefits: Fiber, folate, calcium, potassium, phosphorus, manganese, phytochemicals, vitamins A, C, K, B-6, and E

What to look for: Choose heads with tight green and brightly colored buds. Yellowing is a sign of broccoli past its prime. Stalks should seem young and tender. Look for moisture where the broccoli was cut at the stem (that’s a sign it was just picked).

Tip: Enjoy broccoli in stir fries, eaten raw with other veggies, or added to soups and salads.

 

BRUSSELS SPROUTS

Health benefits: Lower cholesterol, fiber, folate, vitamins C and K, cancer preventing

What to look for: I prefer to purchase brussels sprouts right from the stalk at the market. These tiny cabbages should be smooth and free of blemishes.

Tip: Undercook. Undercook. Undercook.

Click here to read more about Brussels sprouts.

 

CABBAGE

Health benefits: Vitamin C, fiber, folate, manganese, omega 3 fatty acids

What to look for: Cabbage should be brightly colored and firm to the touch.

Tip: Cut your cabbage in quarters before cutting up to use (unless you’re making cabbage rolls!). Having the cabbage quartered makes it easier to slice. Store by wrapping plastic wrap around the cut pieces. Use up within a few days to prevent too much Vitamin C loss.

 

CANTALOUPE

Health benefits: Vitamins A, B, C, and K, copper, potassium, folate, fiber

What to look for: To choose a ripe cantaloupe, start by picking cantaloupes that are heavier than they look. When you have a good heavy one for its size, tap it and listen for a deep, dull sound to indicate that it’s ripe. If the sound is hollow and high, it’s probably not quite ready to be eaten yet.

When you press the stem end of a ripe cantaloupe with your thumb, it should give away a little bit. If it feels squishy, it’s probably overripe.

Smell the bottom end of the cantaloupe, and if it smells like a cantaloupe, it’s probably ripe. If it smells extremely sweet, it’s past its prime. No scent at all? It’s not ready.

Tip: If you purchase an underripe cantaloupe, you can keep it on the counter at room temperature for a day or two, but only if it’s whole and intact.

 

CARROTS

Health benefits: Vitamin A, beta carotene, fiber

What to look for: Choose stiff and unbending carrots. If carrots are limp, they’re not fresh. If the tops are attached, they should be fresh and bright green.

Tip: Remove the greens when storing carrots. Keep carrots wrapped loosely in plastic in your refrigerator’s crisper drawer. New carrots need only a good scrubbing before eaten raw or steamed until tender.

 

CAULIFLOWER

Health benefits: Cancer-fighting abilities, digestive aid, antioxidants, anti-inflammatory, B vitamins, Vitamin K

What to look for: Choose cauliflower with creamy white curds and firmly attached, bright green leaves. Avoid cauliflower with loose sections or brown spots.

Tip: Take the stem off your cauliflower, and keep the cauliflower in an opened plastic bag in the fridge. It will last a good week or longer. Best enjoyed raw or lightly steamed.

 

CELERY

Health benefits: Fiber, Vitamin K, antioxidants

What to look for: Choose celery that is bright and crisp. Its stalks should be bunched closely together.

Tip: Because of its high water content, celery can wilt quickly if not stored in the crisper drawer of your refrigerator. If you end up with wilted celery on your hands, sprinkle it with water and put it in the fridge for a couple of hours—it’ll get a bit of life back in it this way!

 

COLLARD GREENS

Health benefits: Lowers cholesterol, prevents cancer, vitamins C and E, manganese, beta-carotene, detox, anti-inflammatory, fiber

What to look for: Choose nicely colored green leaves with no dark spots or blemishes. There should be no wilting.

Tip: Do not overcook.

 

CORN

Health benefits: Manganese, B vitamins, fiber, antioxidants

What to look for: Choose ears that feel plump. The silk coming from the top of the husk should be pale golden yellow and slightly sticky.

Tip: Only buy corn if you can find it organic. You’ll notice farmers bragging about their organic, pesticide-free grown corn. Organic=GMO free, fyi.

Click here to read more about corn.

 

CRANBERRIES

Health benefits: Manganese, Vitamin C, fiber, antioxidants, protection against urinary tract infections

What to look for: Fresh cranberries should be firm and deep red in color. Discard shriveled and soft cranberries.

Tip: You can keep frozen cranberries for years! Just spread cranberries on baking sheets and freeze in flat layers. Put the frozen berries in freezer bags. Date the bag and freeze. Use as needed!

 

CUCUMBERS

Health benefits: Anti-inflammatory, magnesium, manganese, silica, cancer prevention, vitamins C, K, and B5

What to look for: Choose firm cucumbers with no soft spots.

Tip: Enjoy sliced into salad or chopped up and served alongside spicy curry dishes.

Click here to read more about cucumbers.

 

DAIKON RADISH

Health benefits: Vitamins C and B, anti-inflammatory, potassium, calcium, fiber, copper, phosphorous

What to look for: Your daikon radish should be firm, not floppy. For highest nutritional content, buy younger radish, which are smaller than the older roots.

Tip: Radish skin should be peeled for those who don’t like it hot!

 

EGGPLANT

Health benefits: Folate, fiber, potassium, magnesium, phosphorous, calcium, B vitamins, Vitamin A

What to look for: Don’t purchase eggplants with bruises or tan patches. A ripe eggplant will be smooth with shiny skin. It will be heavy for its size, and when you gently press its skin, your finger should leave an imprint.

Tip: Sprinkle your cut eggplant with salt and let it sit for an hour, to cut bitterness. Of course rinse the salt off before using. The skin of an eggplant is edible, but it may also be removed.

 

GRAPES

Health benefits: Vitamins B2 and K, copper, antioxidants

What to look for: Ripe grapes are nice and plump. They should be firmly attached to their stems.

Tip: Give your grapes a rinse and freeze them for a nice summer treat.

 

GRAPEFRUIT

Health benefits: Fiber, potassium, B vitamins, vitamin A and C

What to look for: When shopping for grapefruit, choose unblemished fruits that feel heavy for their size.

Tip: Even though you’re not eating its peel, you should always rinse grapefruit under clean water before cutting into it. Cutting into fruit that hasn’t been washed can transfer dirt, chemicals, and bacteria from the surface of the peel to the part you’re about to eat.

 

GREEN BEANS

Health benefits: Vitamin A, Vitamin C, folate, potassium, manganese, fiber

What to look for: When shopping for green beans, to make sure they’re fresh, snap one in half. If it breaks when bent, the bean is fresh. If it bends along with you, it’s old!

Tip: Don’t boil green beans for more than seven minutes or they will turn a brownish color on you. Four or five minutes in the boiling water should be enough to cook fresh young green beans.

 

HONEY DEW MELON

Health benefits: Vitamins B6 and C, potassium

What to look for: When you’re shopping for honeydews, they ought to have a smooth, almost velvety surface and feel heavy in weight. And don’t forget the sniff test—a ripe melon will tell you it’s ready to refrigerate by its smell!

Tip: Honeydew is a great snack to include in your diet if you’re trying to lose weight. Add a little string cheese and you’ve got salt and sweet together—very complimentary and satisfying.

 

KALE

Health benefits: Fiber, iron, vitamins C and K, antioxidants, anti-inflammatory, liver health, calcium, sulfur, digestive aid

What to look for: Leaves should be brightly colored and crisp with no signs of wilting.

Tip: Toss kale leaves into salads, stir fries, and soups. Juice it, braise it, and make it into chips. Kale=love.

Click here to read more about kale.

 

LIMA BEANS (BUTTER BEANS)

Health benefits: Vitamins B1 and B6, fiber, copper, manganese, folate, phosphorus, protein, potassium, iron, magnesium

What to look for: It’s not easy to come by fresh lima beans, so if you find them at the market, buy them! Look for firm, dark green beans that are free of blemishes.

Tip: Because they’re so hardy, lima beans make a perfect soup bean.

 

NECTARINES

Health benefits: Vitamins A and C, antioxidants, fiber

What to look for: A ripe nectarine will smell good enough to eat! Gently press the fruit with your thumb and if there’s some give to it, the fruit is ripe.

Tip: Enjoy nectarines raw in salads or grilled for a delicious treat when served with Greek yogurt.

 

OKRA

Health benefits: Vitamins A, C and K

What to look for: Choose small, bright green and unblemished pods that are crisp and firm to the touch.

Tip: Okra is normally prepared by cutting away the crown and tip first, and then cutting the rest of the pod into circular bite-size pieces.

 

ONIONS

Health benefits: Vitamins B1, B6 and C, manganese, copper, fiber, phosphorus, potassium, folate

What to look for: Buy onions that have crisp, dry outer skins. They should not have sprouting or dark patches.

Tip: Cut onions should be stored in a sealed container and used within a couple of days, before they start losing their nutritional benefits.

 

PEACHES

Health benefits: Fiber, vitamins C and A

What to look for: Use your whole hand to gently check if the flesh of the peach has some give to it (the pressure of your fingertips might leave bruises). The skin of a ripe peach will look creamy yellow or golden in color.

Tip: Peaches are good for sweet or savory dishes. They can be eaten out of hand, chopped into salads, or served atop pork chops.

 

PEARS

Health benefits: Vitamins C and K, fiber, copper, antioxidants

What to look for: Pears should not be hard, but they should be slightly firm to the touch. Look for smooth skin that’s free of bruises. And don’t buy pears with puncture wounds.

Tip: Sliced pears are perfection on top of a salad.

Click here to read more about pears.

 

PEANUTS

Health benefits: Biotin, copper, manganese, folate, protein, B vitamins

What to look for: Check that insects haven’t been nibbling on the peanut shells before you buy them! There should also be no sign of moisture. Give the peanuts a sniff. If they smell musty, don’t buy them.

Tip: Toss peanuts in your stir fries for a yummy crunch.

 

PEAS

Health benefits: Anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, manganese, protein, fiber, folate, phosphorous, magnesium, copper, iron, potassium, zinc, omega 3, blood sugar regulator, vitamins A, B1, B2, B3, B6, C, and K

What to look for: Choose peas with velvety pods that are smooth and firm. Avoid peas with pods that are yellowish or light green in color. You can tell how full the pods are by shaking them. If there’s a rattling sound, there’s probably too much empty room in that pod.

Tip: I enjoy peas raw, but they are also delicious in soups or steamed and served as a side dish.

 

PEPPERS

Health benefits: Vitamin C, beta-carotene

What to look for: Choose firm peppers that sound hollow and are free of wrinkles.

Tip: As the pepper gets more ripe, it not only has a better taste, but it also gets more nutritious. Enjoy peppers raw, roasted, or in a stir fry.

 

PERSIMMONS

Health benefits: Fiber, Vitamin C, betacarotene, B vitamins, potassium, manganese, copper

What to look for: Persimmons are ripe when they are deep orange in color and when the flesh of the fruit gives a little bit when it’s pressed.

Tip: Persimmons are sweet and can be enjoyed right out of the palm of your hand, but they’re also tasty in savory dishes (they’re fabulous in soup) and in desserts.

 

PLUMS

Health benefits: Vitamins A and C, fiber

What to look for: Look for smooth-skinned plums without discoloration.

Tip: Eat them while they are at their ripest because not only will they be as sweet as can be, but they’ll also be at their max for antioxidants. Also, refrigerate your ripe plums. The coolness will be refreshing in the heat, and they’re juicier when cold.

Click here to read more about plums.

 

POTATOES

Health benefits: Vitamin B6 and C, potassium, fiber, antioxidants

What to look for: Look for clean, smooth potatoes that are firm to the touch with no cuts, bruises, or discolorations.

Tip: Because of how heavily sprayed potatoes are, you should only buy organic.

 

PUMPKINS

Health benefits: Carotenoids, vitamins C and A, magnesium, zinc, potassium, fiber, L-tryptophans, phosphorous, copper, iron, zinc

What to look for: Ripe pumpkins will have consistent coloring, and they will be firm and heavy for their size. The stem should be firmly attached. If you press on the bottom of the pumpkin with your thumb, it should not flex or have any give to it.

Tip: Use pumpkin puree in place of oil in your baking recipes or even put some in your soups and chillis. The velvety texture is lovely but the taste is very mild.

Click here to read more about pumpkins.

 

RADISHES

Health benefits: Fiber, vitamins C and K, cancer prevention, folate, B vitamins, manganese, potassium, iron, magnesium, calcium, copper, zinc, sodium

What to look for: Choose radishes with medium-sized firm, crisp roots. Smaller is better when it comes to choosing radishes. Leaves should look crisp, be in tact, and be of good color. Radishes should not be soft or wilted.

Tip: Radishes are delicious sliced into salads and eaten raw, but they also add a nice spice to a pot of vegetable soup. You can roast radishes for another unique spin. Radish sprouts are amazing in a salad, giving it a nice peppery heat. Store your radishes in the crisper drawer of the fridge for no more than one week.

Click here to read more about radishes.

 

RASPBERRIES

Health benefits: Cancer fighter, fiber, potassium, calcium, lutein, zeaxanthin, folate

What to look for: Choose fully ripe raspberries—those that are slightly soft, plump, and deep in color. Avoid overripe raspberries that are very soft or mushy.

Tip: Raspberries go moldy quickly, so you should eat them the day they’ve been picked. Important: Do not wash raspberries until you’re just ready to use them. You can also freeze them to enjoy later.

Click here to read more about raspberries.

 

RUTABAGA

Health benefits: Fiber, potassium, magnesium, phosphorous, Vitamin C, cancer prevention.

What to look for: Choose rutabaga with purplish skin. Avoid bruised or blemished rutabagas. If there are green shoots coming from the rutabaga, it’s overripe.

Tip: Enjoy rutabagas in soups, baked (rutabaga fries!), or mashed with sweet potatoes.

 

SCALLIONS

Health benefits: Fiber, Vitamin K

What to look for: Scallions should be firm with uncurled leaves. If the scallions have wilted leaves and yellowing stems, leave them behind.

Tip: Scallions should be wrapped in damp paper towel and stored in a plastic bag in the fridge.

 

SNOW PEAS

Health benefits: Vitamins A, B6, C, and K, fiber, iron, folic acid, niacin, thiamin

What to look for: Buy snow peas that are bright green, fresh looking, and crisp.

Tip: Double up on the snow peas next time you make a stir fry. Eat them hot for dinner one night, refrigerate overnight, and recycle them into a salad for lunch the following day. They’ll have a completely different feel and you’ll get a two-fer—cooked once, eaten twice in two different ways!

 

SUMMER SQUASH (yellow squash and zucchini)

Health benefits: Vitamins A and C, folate, fiber, magnesium, potassium

What to look for: Choose zucchini or yellow squash that are less than eight inches long and firm, with bright skin. Organic is important for yellow squash!

Tip: Enjoy summer squashes grilled, steamed, roasted, or raw. Fabulous chopped up in stir fries, or try them grated as well—raw and cooked.

 

SWEET POTATOES

Health benefits: Beta-carotene, antioxidants, fiber, calcium, copper, folate, protein, manganese, potassium

What to look for: Buy sweet potatoes that have smooth skin and no soft spots.

Tip: Adding 3-5 grams of fat to your sweet potato helps the body make better use of all that beta-carotene. So, go ahead and add some olive oil or butter to your mashed sweet potato!

 

SWISS CHARD

Health benefits: Blood sugar regulation, anti-inflammatory, calcium, vitamins C, A and K

What to look for: Choose chard with brightly colored stems and dark green leaves.

Tip: Steam your chard a wee bit before eating it, just enough to bring out its sweet flavor. And do not eat the liquid that’s released through the cooking process. The cooking process releases some acid from the chard leaves.

 

TOMATILLOS

Health benefits: Vitamin C, fiber, niacin

What to look for: Choose tomatillos that are dry, firm, hard, and attached nice and tightly to their husks.

Tip: Chop some tomatillos into your next batch of salsa or guacamole. Yum!

 

TOMATOES

Health benefits: Cancer fighter, lycopene

What to look for: Choose deeply colored tomatoes that are firm and free of wrinkles. Tomatoes should smell sweet.

Tip: Tomatoes can be eaten raw, roasted, grilled, or sauteed. Freeze these summer beauties for later cooking use in the middle of winter.

 

TURNIPS

Health benefits: Fiber, calcium, potassium, digestive aid, anti-inflammatory, manganese, antioxidants, vitamins A, C, and E

What to look for: Choose turnips free of scars or soft spots. Choose small turnips that are firm to the touch with fresh leafy green tops.

Tip: Add chopped turnips to almost all of your different salads: chicken salad, tuna salad, apple fruit salad, etc. They can also be easily added to most stews and soups.

 

VIDALIA ONIONS

Health benefits: Vitamin C, chromium

What to look for: Choose onions that are firm with no visible signs of decay. Skins should be dry, and the onions should not be sprouting.

Tip: Vidalia onions should not be eaten raw.

 

WATERMELON

Health benefits: Potassium, Vitamin C

What to look for: Choose a blemish-free specimen with a creamy yellow underside (this is the side it was growing on). The melon should feel heavy—remember, it’s about 90% water.

Tip: Cut leftover watermelon into chunks (removing seeds and rind), place in a blender, and blend till pureed and smooth. Freeze the juice in ice cube trays and add to lemonade for a refreshing and colorful drink!

 

ZUCCHINI

Health benefits: Fiber, vitamins A and C, potassium, folate

What to look for: Buy zucchini that is small in size, firm, and free of cuts. If you see zucchini with bristly tiny hairs on it, that means it’s very fresh.

Tip: Try this versatile veggie in frittatas, soups, salads, and pasta!

Click here to read more about zucchini.

5 Simple Suppers for Sweltering Days

5 Simple Suppers for Sweltering Days

Sometimes it’s just too darn hot to be in front of the stove-am I wrong?

On those hot summer nights when you can’t stand the thought of turning on the oven or standing in front of a hot grill, it’s important to have a good arsenal of simple supper recipes so that you don’t resort to either starving or ordering takeout.

Today, I’m going to share five of my favorite, easy-peasy, go-to ideas for summer suppers. And none of them involve heating up the house!

Five Easy Warm Weather Dinners from Saving Dinner

Crockpot Roast Chicken

If you have a chicken all ready to go in the oven, but you can’t stand the thought of turning on those elements and roasting your entire family along with the bird, enlist the help of your trusty crockpot. Recent information tells us that cooking a whole chicken in the crockpot is unsafe because it’s difficult for the entire bird to completely cook through with this cooking method. To be safe, cut the chicken into pieces and slow cook it that way.

Remember: You can also use your crockpot to prepare baked potatoes and other veggies without having to turn on the oven.

 

Cobb Salad

Get some nice fresh romaine lettuce, spinach or whatever other greens you like. Cook up some bacon and chop into bite-sized pieces, cut up some left-over chicken, boil a couple of eggs, chop up some tomato and ripe avocado, and you’re basically done. Put the greens in a salad bowl and dress them in a homemade vinaigrette. Then, compose the other ingredients nicely on top of the greens or separately on a pretty plate, along with some bleu cheese (or other cheese of your choice). Enjoy!

 

Stir Fry

Grab whatever veggies happen to look good to you and make a tasty stir-fry. If you have some thawed-out protein, all the better! A stir-fry can easily be catered to your personal tastes depending on the meat, veg or sauce you use. Plus, you’re done in roughly 20 minutes, using only the stovetop. If you have the energy to cook a pot of quinoa to serve the stir-fry with, have at ‘er! If not, it tastes fine on its own or with a big ol’ salad.

 

Omelet

Everyone loves breakfast for dinner, and the easiest way to use up leftovers and get dinner on the table is by whipping up a nice fluffy omelet. Heat some butter or coconut oil in your pan, add onions, peppers, potatoes, cooked ham or bacon—whatever you like—and, when the veggies and meat is warmed up, add your beaten eggs. Served with a salad with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar and a crumble of goat cheese, this is a very yummy meal and it’s ready in no time!

 

Gazpacho

All you need to make a raw vegetable soup is a blender . . . and some vegetables! Chop whatever veggies you like (try tomatoes, cucumber, onion, garlic and bell peppers) and put them in the blender. Add some tomato juice and puree the whole works. When the veggies are blended, add a bit of red wine vinegar and some olive oil. Top with salt and pepper. Serve and enjoy this refreshing cold soup.

 

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Why Buy Organic

Why Buy Organic

Not that long ago organic products were hard to find on the shelves of most grocery stores or supermarkets.

Small “health food” stores started popping up with a variety of products, mostly supplements and herbs or natural remedies and were generally viewed as remnants of the hippies and tree-huggers from the 60s and 70s.  Fresh produce was almost unheard of and maybe the local farmer’s market had one or two growers that claimed to be organic, but had no way of proving that they were.

How things have changed!

It is now impossible to walk into any supermarket that doesn’t carry at least some organic products.  From fresh produce to the largest brand named goods, organic products are plentiful and normal.

Being called organic is not just a frivolous claim, it is guaranteed by the USDA and labelled as such.  Even organic farmers at the roadside stands and farmer’s markets can only claim they are organic if they can prove it, and the demand for organic products has exploded along with the product offerings.

 

What exactly is USDA certified organic?

Food qualifies for the USDA Certified Organic label if it has been grown or raised according to USDA organic standards.  Those standards mean that the food is free of pesticides and other synthetic additives, dyes, chemical fertilizers, and have not been processed with industrial solvents.

Organic meat requires the animals to be pasture raised (not chemically treated grasses) or fed 100% organic feed and not given antibiotics or hormones.

There are slightly different requirements for other organic products like baked goods, but the idea is still to keep the food free of artificial chemical additives and genetically modified contents.

 

Why does eating organic matter?

Let’s begin with health and safety.

Organic foods are cleaner, minimizing your exposure to environmental toxins and potential serious health issues that come from non-organic foods.  It seems like common sense that the more natural a food is, the easier the body will recognize and accept it. If you swallow a marble, a stone, or a piece of plastic you might do nothing to your body and pass it through without any changes to it, and you will certainly not gain any nutritional value in the process.

However, as you ingest chemicals that are foreign to the body, there may be consequences, whether a slight allergic reaction, irritation, possibly sickness or even cancer as it builds up in your system.

The incidence of cancer around the globe seems to be in direct proportion to the amount of chemicals, pesticides, and fertilizers used in the production of food. While there may certainly be other factors like pollution (chemicals breathed in or swallowed in water) or just the fact of living in a more stressful world (body chemistry), the correlation between chemicals in our food supply and the rise in cancer cannot be ignored

Some of the most common carcinogens (cancer causing agents) are still commonly found in foods we eat every day.  Any processed meat that is preserved by chemical preservatives carry a risk, so although they can be generally consumed without fear, they should be limited to no more than a few ounces 3-4 times a week.

Salami, sausage, ham, and hot dogs are the worst because of all the salt, chemicals and other possible additives used in processing them, so eating organic meat or grass-fed beef is going to be better for you in the long run. When choosing bacon or sausage or other such products, make sure you get nitrate/nitrite free.

 

Healthier Environment

Organic food production is also better for the environment.

Whether grown or raised, food production on a massive scale usually leaves the soil in worse condition when not done organically.  Fertilizers and pesticides artificially add nutrients into the soil and cannot replace a soil that is enriched naturally. The result is that mass produced food with chemical enhancements are less nutritious and less flavorful too.

It used to be common practice to let fields lie fallow, letting them sit for a season without crops so they could restore the fertility naturally.  With the growth of corporate farming that aims to maximize profits, such practices disappeared, and chemicals are added yearly to keep the nutrient levels up artificially.

Those chemicals are in the water supply, the soil, and eventually in the food and our digestive systems.

Pesticides are also killing off the good insects along with the bad ones.  Those killing chemicals are added into the mix when you eat food grown conventionally so it is another foreign matter added to your system that the body cannot recognize, properly digest, or even eliminate, causing sickness or disease.

Conventional dairy products are also suspected in the occurrence of early puberty in girls since BGH (bovine growth hormone) is a synthetic hormone used to increase milk production.

Organic farming uses natural means instead of artificial and damaging methods to raise crops and animals.

Soil is improved by leaving plant waste (green manure) or livestock manure in the fields.  Instead of planting the same crop year after year, plant rotation preserves soil quality and interrupts cycles of pests and disease.  Predatory insects or pest traps are used to control the bad ones, and mulch controls the weeds instead of chemicals. Cover crops preserve the soil and are plowed under to add nutrients naturally, improving soil quality.

 

The Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen

When it comes to eating organically, some will say that it is not available or too expensive compared to conventionally raised foods.  While those reasons may be perfectly valid for many, there are certain foods that are notoriously high in pesticides and should be avoided as much as possible.

Currently, the worst offenders are:  strawberries, spinach, kale, nectarines, apples, grapes, peaches, cherries, pears, tomatoes, celery, and potatoes.  Try to avoid any non-organic food that comes out of the soil itself, the root vegetables like radishes, beets, etc.

You can find the latest lists from the Environmental Working Group by going to their website.

If you are eating conventionally grown foods, the ones that seem to have the lowest levels of pesticides and chemical residue are:  avocados, sweet corn, pineapples, frozen sweet peas, onions, papayas, eggplants, asparagus, kiwis, cabbages, cauliflower, cantaloupes, broccoli, mushrooms, and honeydew melons.

It seems like the foods with protective outer layers or the more hearty structures  are less likely to have the bad stuff, so use that as a general rule of thumb too.

The bottom line in health and nutrition is the standard rule of eating more fruits and vegetables.  The benefits of eating them outweigh the risks of eating conventionally grown foods with potential pesticides, but try and eat organically whenever possible and stay healthy!

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