Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Easy, Cheesy Holiday Apps

by Maria Noel Groves, Co-op Wellness Educator
with Heidi Pope, Cheese Buyer

The holidays bring out my inner Martha Stewart... and my inner psycho. Grand plans of fancy spreads can become a harried reality - honestly, who has the time? Fortunately, cheese is easy to please. Even your basic cheese-and-cracker platter can go from mundane to gourmet with barely any extra effort - just a change in perspective. These tasty appetizers multitask as elegant edible decorations for your table as well.

Here are some simple cheese spreads. An attractive platter and cute cheese knives go a long way to dress things up, but even well-placed porcelain white plates and bowls, baskets covered in cloth napkins, or wooden/bamboo cutting boards will do the trick. Don't forget the herbs and fruit! Whether or not people eat them, they'll make your platters pop.
  • Surround a log of seasoned goat cheese with an arrangement of nice crackers, using dried cranberries or fresh grapes as accents.
  • Snip sprigs of fresh herbs (ie: sage, thyme, rosemary) to place atop cheese blocks or spreads. You can also use larger bunches of herbs and hardy kale tucked around and under the cheese blocks for flare.
  • Surround a large bowl of grapes or other fruits (ie: strawberries, an opened pomegranate) with a stylish arrangement of cheese and crackers on a large platter.
  • Serve baked, wrapped brie on a board with slices of crusty baguette, accented with fresh strawberries or glistening cranberries.
  • Small bowls of paté and hummus (decorated with a sprinkle of paprika and some snipped herbs) will keep the dairy-free folks happy. Also check out Daiya brand dairy-free "cheese."
For crackers, choose a mix of gourmet and tried-and-true styles. Locally made Craquelins crisps are always amazingly delicious and gorgeous on the table. Standard fare crackers help fill the gaps - Kashi and Back to Nature have a wide range of great options, and sometimes you can catch them on sale this time of year. My personal faves include the Harvest Whole Wheat Crackers and the Sesame Tarragon, which are fancy without offending bland taste buds.

Not being a fancy cheese expert, I turned Co-op cheese buyer (and fellow foodie) Heidi Pope for tips on how to branch out of my cheddar-jack rut. Here are some of her recommended easy cheesy canapés that are sure to amaze your dinner guests without sending you into breakdown mode preparing them.
  • Bellaviva dried pear slices topped with a slice of Courrone Brie, a bit of La Quercia Prosciutto Americano, and a tiny drop of Modenaceti Balsamic Glaze.
  • Classic Lazzaroni Bruschette topped with a slice of Olli Toscano salami and a piece of Manchego. Top with finely-chopped herbs.
  • Original Sea Salt Mediterranean cracker topped with Vermont Creamery Quark, finely-chopped ham, and a dollop of Bonnie’s Red Pepper jelly.
After you put out your spread, give yourself a treat! Heidi recommends her favorite holiday treat: Drinking Moonlight Meadery's Kurt's Apple Pie with some Grafton Cellars Naked Cheddar.


Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Put Your Iron in the Fire: Cooking with Cast Iron

By Maria Noël Groves, RH (AHG), Registered Clinical Herbalist & Co-op Wellness Educator

My two fave pans.
I grew up in a cast-iron family. My mom always had one on the stove or in the oven, and my grandmother regularly whipped hers out to fry up potatoes to go with my grandpa's steaks. One of the very first kitchen supplies I ever purchased was my own set of big and little cast iron pans (this was before they came pre-seasoned, and I was surprised to learn they start out grey!), which I still use daily. And I bought my husband a set of cast iron pans on our first Valentine's together as a couple. It's not unusual for us to have three of them going at a time - on the stove, in the oven - they're such versitile, classic cookware! So, I forget that most people consider cast iron a foreign concept. Half of those who have the pans love them, but the other half regard them as a sort of nebulous kitchen decoration. I'm here to help you get over that confusion and fear and put your iron in the fire...

Why Cast Iron?

Cast iron pans are the ultimate indestructible cook pan (they will literally outlive you), and they're made with an all-natural material that actually benefits your health when it leaches into your food. When you cook in a cast-iron pan, the food you eat will have increased iron content, particularly if it's acidic and/or cooked for a longer period of time. How much more iron? This varies widely, but according to one study, the increase ranged from about .5 to 5 mg more iron per serving. Applesauce jumped from .35 to 7.38 mg, but I don't know anyone who actually makes applesauce in a cast-iron pan. Most adults need just 8 to 15 mg of iron in the diet daily (menstruating and pregnant women need much more than men). While it is possible to overload on iron - particularly with dietary supplements - and people who have excess iron in the blood should avoid cast iron, most Americans would do well to cook more with these durable pans. Adequate iron levels help build the blood and make us feel more energized. Other benefits of cast iron? A well-seasoned pan surpasses any other pan for sauteing and roasting. It's much less apt to stick than stainless steel and aluminum and doesn't pose the dangerous leaching carcinogen tendencies of nonstick pans like Teflon (though I do keep my Ecolution pans from the Co-op on hand for crepes and omelets). Cast iron also gives an unsurpassed browning effect to food and is a lot easier to clean, IMHO.

Purchasing & Cleaning Basics

If you don't already have a cast-iron pan and are considering purchasing one, you have the option of buying pre-seasoned or unseasoned pans. They are available at most stores that sell kitchen products - you'll spend more at a fancy kitchen store and less at hardware stores for the exact same thing.

Purists may prefer the unseasoned pan. You season it by washing it then coating it with vegetable oil (Crisco is classic, but I prefer the organic palm oil shortening from the Co-op and unsalted butter works well, too... you can use any vegetable oil that doesn't oxidize easily and can take some heat - saturated fats that are solid at room temp are best), then heat it for several hours in the oven. Unfortunately, this process - which bakes the oil seasoning into the pan, darkening it over time - also oxidizes the oil on the pan, making a nasty smoky mess in your house. You may want to do it outside on the grill, or just buy the pre-seasoned pans.

For regular maintenance, want to wash the pan with a stiff bristle brush and dry the pan immediately after use, then coat it with a thin layer of oil (shiny but not sticky, explain the experts at Lodge Cast Iron). I like to reheat the clean, dry pan on the stove to fully dry it, then rub the oil in the hot pan (carefully!) with a paper towel. Soap is generally not recommended or necessary because it will eat away the seasoning you've worked so hard to build. But if you must, use mild soapy water and be sure to dry and oil it right away.

Avoid the urge to leave pans soaking or filled with food for hours - they will eventually rust. If this happens, you can reclaim your pan by scrubbing away the rust with steel wool and then do a thorough re-seasoning.

If your cast iron has been sitting for a long time (months? years?), you may find that the finish has a sticky consistency and rancid oil smell - it's worth giving it a thorough scrubbing - possibly with soap - and re-seasoning before cooking in it or that off taste may get into your food.

Don't let all these instructions freak you out. Cast iron takes no more time to keep clean and in good condition than any other set of pans. Regularly used pans just need a quick scrub, dry, oil - maybe two minutes of work, tops!
Multitasking an autumnal dinner of roast squash and chicken.

What Can You Cook In Cast Iron?

Technically, anything, but cast iron really shines for sauteing and roasting of any sort, on the stove top or in the oven. You can buy cast iron lids if you want to cook things covered in the oven. If you want a lid for stove-top work, you can just re-purpose whatever other pan lids you have on hand. I have a flat-bottomed dutch oven that is *awesome* for roasting free-range chickens from the Co-op. I cook it covered for about 20 minutes at 550 degrees, then turn the temp down to 350, take the lid off, and cook for another 30 minutes or so until my thermometer tells me it's done, the skin is browned, and the juices run clear. Consider regular shallow-bottomed cast-iron pans for baking quiche, too. Another thing that lidded cast-iron dutch oven pans have become famous for are making no-knead round loaves of homemade bread that rival those of fancy brick ovens. Here's a short list of my favorite things to cook in cast iron:
Enameled cast iron is great for soups and stews
  • Scrambled and fried eggs
  • Roasted potatoes (in the oven) and pan fries (on the stove top with a lid). Ditto for match-sticked or tiny cubes of beets or sweet potatoes.
  • Roasting chunks of winter squash or a whole winter squash that has been cut in half
  • Roasting Brussels sprouts after a quick steam with water or wine
  • Sauteing kale, arugula, or other greens and making kale chips
  • Baking quiche and cornbread that looks very fancy on the dinner table served in the pan
  • Roasting chicken
  • Making soups that start with sauteed ingredients (though I prefer enameled cast iron for this, regular cast iron sometimes lends an off flavor)
  • Baking bread, with or without a lid (enameled pans smoke less at high bread temps)
  • Sauteing rice pilaf, corn dishes, and other grain dishes, stir fries, etc.
  • Making skillet "baked" beans on the stovetop
  • Poaching eggs in hashbrowns or greens
  • Pan-frying (particularly in butter) choice cuts of wild game or grass-fed meats, fish, etc. for a special night's dinner. Yes, it's also great for seasoned cubes of tofu, too!
  • Pan-frying seasoned eggplant, veggie burgers, croquettes, etc.

Happy Cookin'!

How do YOU like to use your cast-iron pans? 

Let us know in the "comments" section!

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Zero-Waste Squash: The Amazing Delicata

By Maria Noël Groves, Clinical Herbalist & Co-op Wellness Educator

Some squash, like butternuts, can be enjoyed long into the season. Even in March, they still taste pretty darn good. But there's a whole other group of lesser-known squash that are amazingly delicious, but they just don't keep quite as well. Come December, they're already becoming bland and mealy. So, take advantage of the fresh harvest, and check out one of my favorite winter squashes: The Delicata. These small, long, white-green-yellow-orange striped squash (and the closely related dumpling squash that have similar skin but are more round in shape) are  among my favorites because you can eat *everything* and they are super easy to prepare (and super delicious to eat).

Delicatas and dumplings really call to be roasted, and please don't bother peeling them. Once roasted, the skins are completely edible and surprisingly pleasant. Roasting also brings out the innate buttery sweetness of the squash. Delicata has a nice texture, fantastic flavor, and almost a hint of the taste of farm-fresh corn. (Perhaps I'm not alone in thinking it tastes like something other than winter squash... other common names for delicatas are "sweet potato squash" and "peanut squash.") I almost always cut my delicata into cubes and roast them, but they're also fantastic stuffed, holding their shape much better than, ah hem, some *other* winter squash, and also being more appropriately sized for single servings.

Be sure your delicatas are farm-fresh - like they are at the Co-op right now or straight from the farm stand. When delicatas start to turn, they don't look any worse, they just taste terrible. Beware grocery stores stocked with squash from who knows where who knows how long ago. As pretty as the delicatas look on the shelves in  your kitchen, don't wait too long to cook them, either. It's because of this short shelf life that delicatas aren't more common in stores; they're actually relatively easy to grow in NH. Now is the time to cook it!

Roasted Squash Recipe

This is a super easy side for autumn. You can add other seasonings if you'd like (rosemary, cinnamon, or Cajun seasonings are popular). As mentioned, you can also leave it cut in half and stuff it with goodies. (Pre-bake the squash til it's almost tender, then fill it with mostly-cooked ingredients, then bake them all together a tad longer.)

Preheat the oven to 420F. Chop the squash in half and gently pull the seeds out of the middle. Feel free to leave any remaining pulp. Chop the whole squash into 1-inch chunks. Drizzle with a good heat-safe oil (tea seed, canola...), sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake in a single layer on a sheet for approximately 15 minutes. Flip them around, then bake for another 10 minutes or until it's golden and tender. Enjoy!

Toasted Squash Seeds

Don't throw the seeds away! All winter squash and pumpkin seeds can be toasted, but delicatas may well be the best of the squash seeds. Small, plump, tender, and delicious. They're the perfect yummy, healthy snack or appetizer. I often enjoy them alongside dehydrated apple chips.

Rinse off the seeds in a strainer. Pull off any big chunks of pulp, but you don't need to be obsessive about it. Put them in a single layer on a small baking sheet (I like to make mine in the toaster). No Oil! Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and anything else you'd like (rosemary, cayenne, Cajun seasoning...). Bake at approximately 350F, flipping occasionally, until they are golden and begin to pop (15-20 minutes). They seem to be easier/faster to cook in a toaster oven, but you can play around with a regular oven, too. These don't last long in our house, but if you find yourself with a surplus, they last for weeks to months in an air-tight container in the pantry.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Yum! Fresh, All-Natural Sushi Now at the Co-op!

by Maria Noël Groves, Clinical Herbalist & Co-op Wellness Educator

If you haven't seen the Co-op's new Shizen sushi department, I highly recommend swinging by for an easy, healthy, fast lunch or dinner! Sushi is a classic healthy restaurant choice where even people on special diets can usually eat freely. Of course, the Co-op's sushi isn't just made fresh each day, but it's also totally all-natural. I had no idea until recently that most sushi ISN'T all-natural. I got the first inkling this summer when my husband and I picked up a box of sushi in the prepared section of a grocery store while on a road trip (to his dismay, I picked up the vegetarian California roll, explaining that I wasn't sure I trusted raw fish from a supermarket). In the checkout line, I took a gander at the ingredients list. Wow, a lot of long words and ingredients I know not to be desirable!

As it turns out, flavorful sushi sauces and dressings are usually loaded with high fructose corn syrup, artificial colors and flavors, trans fats, disodium guanylate, MSG, and other sketchy ingredients. The ginger and wasabi served with sushi is often dyed pink and green.

By contrast, everything in the Co-op's sushi is clean and delicious. In Japanese, “shizen” conveys the idea of “natural” or “leave it alone.” The Co-op is one of the only places you can even find all-natural sushi, but I suspect they've started a trend!

The Co-op partnered with the folks from Shizen to provide delicious all-natural sushi made fresh every day of the week, during all Co-op store hours. If you happen to catch the expert sushi master behind the counter, he’s happy to make you custom sushi rolls to order, too.

You'll find many of the traditional raw fish options, but if that doesn't float  your boat, know that only 30 percent of the Shizen menu features raw fish. Check out cooked and vegetarian rolls and inari. These inari pockets (sort of like a mini pita pocket made fried tofu) are marinated in a sesame soy sauce, which gives them a sweet, nutty taste, and then they're topped with spicy avocado salad, spicy shrimp salad, or purple sweet potato tempura. Yum! Party platters are available by special order, and some rolls are made with brown sushi rice rather than white.

The chef starts very early prepping for his sushi by making our exclusive recipe for sushi rice. He will then slice the vegetables, make the sauces, and get things rolling for the day. You can taste the difference, knowing everything is made fresh the same day you buy it. The sushi chef purchases the seafood, along with all the other products used in the sushi, exclusively from an approved sushi supplier, chosen by Shizen's executive sushi chef. Sushi is available during all normal hours that the Co-op is open.

In the past few weeks since it opened, the sushi section has been my go-to for quick lunches and lazy dinners when I don't have time to cook. The prices are very reasonable, ranging from $6.49 to $9.99 depending on the size and type of sushi. My husband is psyched, and I even brought home some raw fish sushi for him to try (knowing I could trust the fresh-made stuff at the Co-op)! I can report back that all the ones I've tried thus far (which is most of them) have been delicious, and I specifically recommend the Spicy Tuna, Spider Roll, Spicy Nama, and the California Roll. Word on the street is that the Vegetable Roll and the Inari are also fantastic.

Now, I just have to convince them to get some authentic, all-natural miso soup on tap... Wouldn't that be perfect for the cold, dark nights looming in the not-so-distant future?

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Worldly Basil: Expand Your Ocimum

by Maria Noël Groves, Clinical Herbalist & Co-op Wellness Educator

We're always thrilled when "Father Esau" swings by with some of his fresh local  herbs. Esau calls both NH and Jamaica "home" and grows some of of the Co-op's most creative local produce at M&E Farm in Northwood. Sometimes he brings us hibiscus or nutmeg from Jamaica, but often it's a weird species of onion or delicious (and otherwise very hard to find) fresh Thai basil. And this got me thinking... so few people know what to do with any basil that's not the traditional Genovese. I'm half Sicilian, I love Italian basil. But there's a world (literally!) of other varieties, species, and flavors out there, and they grow just fine here in NH. So, let's take a gander and wake up your taste buds...

Thai Basil (a variety of Ocimum basilicum) is popular throughout Southeast Asia and is a critical secret ingredient for soups, stir fries, and other dishes. While you *could* use "regular" basil as a stand-in, Thai basil infuses special magic into your dish with its hint of sweet spice and cinnamon. Thai basil has smaller, tender leaves, purple stems, purple flowers, and vivid green leaves. It's often confused with cinnamon basil in garden centers, but Thai basil is a more tender, smaller plant, whereas cinnamon basil grows more robustly (so much so it's good in flower arrangements and infused in ice cream) and has a sharper cinnamon flavor and scent. Personally, I prefer the Thai. Here are two recipe variations on a theme: Thai Basil Stir Fry. One is more authentically Thai, and the other is more NH-harvest-themed. Maybe you even want to grow your own this year?? :)

Thai Basil Fried Rice with Chicken
Thai basil is hard to find in stores, but it’s a crucial ingredient. It’s great to grow in the garden. Otherwise, look for it fresh in Asian markets. If you don’t have pre-cooked chicken, you can cook it with the onions. Leftovers are good for breakfast, heated in the skillet with some oil and a new egg scrambled in.
  • 1-2 cups fresh Thai basil leaves
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons Canola oil
  • Onion, sliced in long, thin strips
  • Hot and medium-hot peppers, sliced thin
  • Vegetables of choice, sliced thin: green beans, broccoli, carrots, zucchini, red/yellow/green peppers…
  • Jasmine rice, cooked, cold
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons oyster sauce
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 1 teaspoon soy sauce
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 to 4 eggs, beaten
Cooked chicken, in small pieces (of course, you could used seared tofu as a substitute)
Heat pan on high, add oil, fry basil leaves. Remove leaves.
Sauté onions, chicken (if uncooked), vegetables, then garlic until slightly cooked. Meanwhile combine the oyster, fish, and soy sauce. Add one tablespoon of the sauce and some sugar to the vegetables and remove from the pan. Add more oil and fry the rice. When nearly done, add the chicken, Thai basil, and the rest of the sauce. Make a well in the rice and add the eggs, scramble into the rice. Shut off the heat. Add the rest of the sugar to the rice, then stir in the vegetables.

Spicy Sausage & Wild Rice Stir Fry with Thai Basil & Veggies
For a more traditional Harvest Rice dish, omit the 5 Spice and replace Thai basil with oregano (fresh or dry) and/or sage. Add sautéed mushrooms, white beans, and/or lentils (with or without meat). Add finely chopped Genovese basil, and chives and crumbled feta near the end.
  • Olive or other cooking oil
  • 1 package hot Italian sausage
  • Lots of Thai basil leaves, divided
  • 1 large onion, sliced thin
  • 1 large fennel bulb, sliced thin
  • 4 carrots, sliced into thin rounds
  • 1 broccoli crown, sliced into long, thin florettes
  • 1 zucchini, sliced into quartered rounds
  • 1 bunch green beans, trimmed
  • 1 or more jalapeno peppers, diced
  • 1 tablespoon rosemary needles
  • Cooked, cold wild rice blend
  • Optional/to taste dry spices: salt, black pepper, Chinese 5 Spice, fennel seeds, red pepper or cayenne, coriander

In a large wok, cast iron, or fry pan heat just a little oil over medium heat, sizzle a handful of Thai basil leaves for 30 seconds, then add the ground sausage. Brown meat and cook through. Remove and set aside. Add more oil to the pan, sautee onions and fennel until translucent and slightly brown, add carrots and continue to sautee until tender and slightly browned. Add a few Thai basil leaves, sprinkle with seasonings as desired and cook 30 seconds more. Remove and set aside with meat. Add more oil, sauté broccoli, zucchini, and green beans until brightly colored and almost tender-crisp. Add hot peppers, rosemary, more Thai basil, seasonings. Cook for a minute more, remove and set aside with the rest. Add more oil, fry the rest of the basil leaves (keep a couple for garnish) for 30 seconds, then add and fry rice until slightly golden. Add the removed ingredients back to the pan, stir together. Taste, add seasonings as desired. Remove from heat and serve.

Purple Basil encompasses a handful of varieties of basil that grow with a deep purple hue. Use them just like traditional basil for some extra color and pop for a dish. Purple basil dries more nicely and is more flavorful than Genovese basil, but it's not recommended for pesto (unless gray-purple pesto is your thing). When infused in a good quality white vinegar, it makes a gorgeous and delicious magenta vinegar. (How do you make an herbal vinegar? So easy! Basically, shove the chopped herb in a jar, cover with vinegar, put on a PLASTIC cap, shake regularly, and strain out after 2-4 weeks. It should keep in the pantry for 1-2 years.)

Holy Basil (Ocimum sanctum), sometimes called Tulsi or Sacred Basil, is highly aromatic and planted around the temples of India. The flavor is quite different from culinary basils, with hints of cinnamon, mint, clove, and bubble gum. It makes a divine tea and medicinal remedy for stress, relaxation, energy, blood sugar balance, immune health, and more. I grow about a dozen plants each year for personal use, but you can also find this herb in the Co-op's supplement department as well as in the line of Organic India Tulsi Teas in grocery.

Learn more about growing and using Thai and Holy Basil here.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Corn! Glorious Corn!

by Maria Noël Groves, Clinical Herbalist & Co-op Wellness Educator

Once upon a time, I only liked a handful of vegetables, and corn on the cob was at the top of the list. Even though my taste buds have expanded to include a kaleidoscope of veggies, fresh-picked corn still holds a special place in my culinary repertoire. Though much maligned (and tinkered with), good corn is a fantastic whole food, locally obtainable carb to accompany your summer meals. Here are some ways to expand your use of this seasonal gem...

The Classic

Instead of drowning your corn on the cob in water and boiling it to death, try steaming it in just an inch or two of water. It saves time - you'll go from cold water to perfect corn in just about 10 minutes - and your corn is more apt to come out perfectly crisp.  I have my resourceful Aunt Suki to thank for this tip. It's always best to use corn picked that day; it gets starchier as time goes on. Whether you're making one or two dozen ears, this technique works perfectly. I like my corn on the cob rubbed with pastured butter and ample salt, but you can certainly experiment. South of the border, a squeeze of lime is popular. I often steam veggies right in with the corn - cauliflower, green beans, broccoli, and kale are all favorites in our house - and serve it alongside a grilled or pan-fried veggie burger, steak, or fish (or, when I'm starving and weak, an all-natural hot dog). Dinner is ready in just 15 minutes! Sit down on the back porch table, pour a glass of wine, and enjoy the last of summer's beautiful nights.

The Sauté

This adapts as well to breakfast as it does to dinner or lunch. Simply husk the corn from the cob (you can freeze the cobs for later use in soup stocks), and saute the kernels over medium heat with olive oil in a skillet. Toss in whatever is on hand or floats your boat: onions, beans, leftover meat, greens, zucchini, herbs, eggs, canned salmon, cheese... This is another super fast dish. Here's one of my favorite breakfast blends to get you started. This recipe is great with fresh corn, but it's still great if your corn is a few days old (or even pre-cooked, if you were over-eager in your corn count at the weekend's BBQ).

Herbed Corn Breakfast
Serves one, but easily multiplied.
  • 1 ear of corn, shucked
  • Small diced shallot 
  • 2 tablespoons beans
  • 3 cherry tomatoes
  • 1 egg 
  • 1 tablespoon cheese (cheddar, motz, goat cheese... whatever you like)
  • 1 handful herbs: basil, bee balm blossoms, oregano, tarragon, chives
  • Bed of lettuce
  • Olive oil
  • Salt & pepper
In a medium skillet over medium heat, add oil and toss corn and shallot. After 1-2 minutes, toss again and add beans. Meanwhile, mix the egg in a bowl with cheese, half the herbs, and some salt and pepper. As the corn mix begins to get golden, add salt, pepper, tomatoes, and the rest of the herbs. After about 30 seconds, add the egg, and scramble it until the egg is cooked through. Remove from heat and serve on a bed of lettuce.

Those Leftover Cobs

As the summer nights get cooler, chowders enter our dinner repertoire, with leftovers making their way into lunch box thermoses. Use your leftover husked corn cobs to simmer into soup stock for 30 minutes or more. It gives a pleasant corn flavor to the soup.

Healthier Fish Chowder
Most chowder enthusiasts insist that it must be made with tons of heavy cream and consist of no more vegetables than potatoes, onions, and maybe corn. This chowder breaks many of those rules but still has a great, creamy flavor that classic chowder fans enjoy. You can easily add or substitute chopped clams or skip the seafood all together. This recipe makes 1 to 1 1/2 gallons. It keeps about a week in the fridge and freezes ok.
  • 4-6 ears of corn, separated into cobs and kernels (or leftover cobs plus 1 bag frozen corn)
  • 2 yellow onions, chopped small
  • 2-6 tablespoons of butter and/or olive oil
  • 6 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 colored bell peppers (not green), chopped
  • 2 medium sweet potatoes, cubed
  • 2 medium white potatoes, cubed
  • 2 bags of frozen corn, carrots, and peas mix
  • 2-3 pounds of white fish fillets
  • Salt, pepper, crushed red pepper, paprika, dried dill weed, and celery seed powder to taste.
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1/4 cup cold water
  • 1 to 2 cups of heavy cream.
  • 1 to 1.5 quarts of whole milk
Simmer corn cobs (without the kernels) for 30 minutes four cups of salted water. Meanwhile, saute onions in butter/olive oil until mostly cooked. Then add garlic, bell peppers. Sauté a little more. Remove the corn cobs from the water, add your sauteed mix plus the potatoes, sweet potatoes, spices. Add more water if needed, but only just barely cover the vegetables. Simmer until vegetables are cooked, about 20 minutes. Add frozen vegetables and the white fish fillets. Bring back to a gentle simmer until the fish is opaque and flakes easily. In a small bowl, combine cornstarch and cold water, stir until well-mixed, then pour into soup pot. Let simmer until cornstarch sets. Stir in milk and cream. Check spices and add more if necessary.

What's YOUR favorite corn recipe? Let us know in the comments section of this blog!

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Grill Happy, Grill Healthy

by Maria Noël Groves, Clinical Herbalist & Co-op Wellness Educator

The summer heat is on, and if you can't take the heat, it's time to get out of the kitchen. This is when most of us pull a cold one out of the fridge, head outside, and fire up the grill. Unfortunately, grilled goodies have a less-than-healthy reputation. That taste-tantalizing browning effect ups our cancer risk with some of our favorite grilled foods. Carb delights like potatoes and bread form acrylamides.  The protein in meat, poultry, and fish create heterocyclic amines (HCAs). Fat drippings plus protein form advanced glycation ends (AGES) when they come in contact with high heat. All of these compounds are known carcinogens... and don't even get me started on the nasty nasty chemicals in the conventional processed foods that most Americans grill! (If you must eat hot dogs, check out the Co-op's all-natural selection.) Fortunately you can enjoy your grill marks without sacrificing flavor or your health, you just need to follow a couple simple tips...

Marinade Wisely: Put the pre-bottled barbecue sauce down and let your marinade really work for you. A more watery, antioxidant-rich marinade will cut your HCA and AGE (incidentally, oxidants) exposure dramatically while enhancing flavor. The Cancer Research Center of Hawaii found that using a liquid marinade 10 minutes before cooking significantly reduced HCAs. The thin marinade more easily penetrates the food, counteracting the chemical effects of grilling. And according to Tea Magazine, making a strong tea marinade with green or black tea helps detoxify HCAs and reduce the overall levels to keep you out of the danger zone. But tea isn't your only option. According to other studies, using olive oil as a marinade before grilling or browning lowers carcinogens by 90%, honey by 30%, herbs 30%, wine and herbs 73%, just wine 40%, and beer 26%. That's not so bad, is it? It’s best to marinate for four hours or overnight... although the Hawaii study found benefit in just 10 minutes, so if you're working last-minute, it's still worth it. Particularly high-antioxidant herbs include rosemary, thyme, oregano, ginger, garlic, and cayenne. And they just happen to be delicious!

Go Veg: Although the most notrious grilling carcinogens happen to be associated with American's favorite grilling foods, it's worth traveling out of your comfort zone and experimenting with more vegetable-based offerings. These foods don't form the troublesome chemicals and are downright tasty (and you can use up some extra marinade on them, too). Try grilling halved heads of romaine, chunks of radicchio,  sliced or whole eggplant (mmm... baba ganoush!), zucchini, summer squash, veggie burgers, tofu, green beans, portobellos, kabobs of cherry tomatoes, onions, peppers, mushrooms... Bonus: You get out of the kitchen for the *whole* meal.

Click here for some great EatingWell recipes to get you thinking.

Happy Summer!

What are some of YOUR favorite healthy grilled goods or secret stash marinades? Tell us in the Comments below!

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Adventures in Parmesan Country

by Maria Noël Groves, Clinical Herbalist & Co-op Wellness Educator

I recently had the luxury of taking a two-week vacation in Italy with my husband to visit friends and sight see. It was our first "real" vacation as couple (which means that we didn't pitch a tent or carry our kayaks along logging roads for any part of it). Once I realized that the food mecca of Parma was located between our destinations of Venice and Cinque Terre, I knew we had to take a detour and sign up for one of the region's famous food tours.

It was a cold and drizzly morning on March 25 as we deftly maneuvered our rented Fiat 500 along the Autostrada to our first stop on the tour: an authentic Parmesan cheese factory.

Parmesan cheese is serious business in Italy, where it is one of of several traditional foods regulated and marketed as "DOP" (Denominazione di Origine Protetta, or Protected Destination of Origin). The DOP sets standards for the creation of a product to ensure that 100% off the ingredients come from a specific region and that they are made in a very specific way with very specific ingredients. Other Italian DOP products include Modena Balsamic Vinegar, Chianti Classico Olive Oil, Gorgonzola Cheese, and Procuitto di Parma. Our guide explained to us that in a divided country, food is one of the few things everyone can agree on and it seemed important to preserve its identity and quality. We were lucky enough to visit prosciutto and balsamic vinegar makers on our tour as well, but for the purposes of this blog, I'll stick to cheese.

The cheese factory we visited works in small batches. Four vats make eight rounds of cheese daily in a relatively small space. It's truly a family business, with the family living on the premises and just a few workers. Cheesemaking is hard work. The cows don't stop making milk on weekends, and so the staff have to keep on working! Seven days is a typical workweek with just one day off per year. For this reason, it's getting harder and harder to find new people to work in the factories as the original owners get older - this is a similar problem our own farmers face in New Hampshire.

Cheesemaking begins with milk from Parma cows that have been fed a grass and alfalfa diet. Parma has the reputation for some of the best dairy because of its terrior and ability to grow nutrient-rich forage, which imparts a special flavor to the cheese. Milk is heated to a certain temperature and rennet is added. The heat and rennet cause the curds to separate from the whey. Each vat makes one large chunk of cheese which is cut in half. Each half is hung to strain off excess liquid. The excess liquid whey is fed to local pigs, which is why Parma is best known for its Parmesan cheese and prosciutto ham. Some whey is left in the vat for the next batch. It naturally contains beneficial bacterial that impart a special quality to the cheese. You might be surprised to know that no salt is added at this stage of the game. That comes later.

At this point the Parmesan is semi-soft. It's pressed in a variety of containers to create the traditional wheel shape and press in a label that indicates that it is Parmigiano Romano, the DOP label, the date, and a code for the cheese factory.

The wheels then go into vats of refrigerated salt water, which help to preserve the cheese during this step of the aging process and impart a salty flavor to the wheel.

 Finally, the wheels are ready for dry aging. They are laid out on wooden shelves and rotated periodically (they weigh about 80 pounds each!). The cheese reacts with naturally occurring microbes on the wooden shelves to create true Parmesan as it ages.

Cheese must age for 12 months minimum before it can be sold. 

Some cheeses are kept for 24 or 36 months, though it's possible to age Parmesan wheels for much longer. Older Parmesan is more expensive and harder to come by in the market. It will taste stronger and saltier with a drier, crunchier consistency. It will also keep longer when cut and refrigerated than a younger Parm. As the wheel ages, the colors on the rind deepen. See the difference between the pictures of 2013 and 2011 cheese above and below.

Remember that the rind is pure cheese that has only been changed by the aging process, marked by pressing it and labeling with food-grade ink, and approved with a brand. That's why it's ok to use Parmesan cheese rinds in soups and sauces to add great flavor to a recipe.

Then it's time for the inspectors to come and test the quality of the cheese. They need to do this without opening the wheel and ruining it. They put each wheel on a stool and knock it with a hammer, listening for what should be a uniform sound. If the sound is not uniform, then there might be extra cracks and air pockets in the cheese, which means it's an inferior grade. If serious quality concerns are at play, they may take a very tiny sample from the wheel to examine. Approved Parmesan gets a stamp and can now be sold. (The quality test for prosciutto ham is to insert a horse bone needle and sniff it. It struck me that in a world of science and regulation that the quality tests remained very traditional and non-scientific. That was very refreshing!)

All this cheese is ready to be sold. See the wheel in the lower left corner in the picture below? The lines marked on the wheel indicate that it is second grade Parmesan - it didn't pass the tests well enough to be top grade; however, it can still be sold. Our tour guide told us that an inferior grade is not a huge loss to the cheese maker because it is still in good demand. Restaurants like it because it is less expensive but still tastes great and adheres to DOP standards. (On the other hand, if prosciutto doesn't pass quality tests, it can't be sold for human consumption.)

 This was technically the end of our cheese tour; however, our guide Davide at Parma Golosa Food Tours (and an international food writer of traditional Italian cuisine) saw our enthusiasm for food and local products and decided to take us on an unexpected detour. We stopped by a small shop to visit and old-time Parmesan cheesemaker that Davide had recently featured in an article. The cheesemaker has since become a broker of fine cheese and food products; however, he is among one of the few people in existence who still knows how to make authentic Parmesan by wood heat. This is an impressive feat when you consider that changing the vat temp by just one degree Celsius during the initial cheesemaking process changes the cheese completely and prevents it from being sold as Parmigiano Romano. This cheese aficionado keeps his own special aging room with cheeses as old as 20 years! See the difference in coloration on the wheels. They're also a bit smaller than regular wheels because of the moisture that has evaporated in the aging process.

This enthusiastic cheesemonger didn't share one of the 20-year-old Parms with us, but he did cut us some 5-year-old cheese, which was quite tasty and very different from younger cheeses. We came home with blocks of young, 3-year-old, and 5-year-old cheeses, and the adults tended to prefer the longer-aged cheese while the kids liked the milder flavor and softer texture of the young cheese.

 Parmesan cheese is of course delicious in a variety of dishes, grated over pasta, simmered in tomato sauces, etc. However, we learned on our tour that you can also serve slices of Parmesan with different types of honey, marmalade, or authentic balsamic vinegar (which is thick and sweet and very expensive due to 30 years of aging... but that's a whole other story) to dip it in. Yum!

The Co-op sells authentic Parmigiano Romano in our cheese department. Although Parmesan does tend to be a bit pricier than other types of cheese, hopefully you'll now understand how much effort, authenticity, quality control, and years of aging go into each block of cheese. Buon appetito!

Also, if you happen to travel to Italy, my husband and I highly recommend a food tour with Parma Golosa Gourmet Food Tours - and if you can, ask for Davide. We also recommend staying at the lovely Opera 11 R&B conveniently located in the heart of the city and walking around scenic downtown Parma, which is loaded with gorgeous lesser-known Italian architecture and the historic Teatro Regio opera house (a favorite of the composer Verdi - it was unfortunately closed while we were there, otherwise we would've tried to catch a show!). Although truth be told, our absolute favorite part of Italy was Manarola, Cinque Terre, land of seafood, olive groves, vineyards, lemon trees, hiking trails, rugged coastline, and some of the most scenic vistas on the planet.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Revitalize Your Diet in 6 Simple Steps

by Maria Noël Groves, Clinical Herbalist & Co-op Wellness Educator

What you eat can have a huge impact on your health, for better or for worse. Overhauling your diet sounds insurmountable and depressing, not to mention confusing with all the conflicting information out there! Let’s break it down into six simple steps and share ways to learn to love food *even more* while also making better decisions.

1. Fall in Love with Fruit & Vegetables:
Aim for five servings a day minimum and nine servings for optimal health. They’re low-calorie and loaded with important vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, anti-inflammatory compounds, and other amazing phytonutrients. This is the single most important thing you can do for your health with your diet, yet only a quarter of Americans even eat three servings daily (and that’s counting lettuce and tomato on a burger as “a serving”). It CAN be done! Salads, soups, fresh-made mostly vegetable juices, and produce-loaded stir fries can easily incorporate several servings in one dish. Turn to produce for snacks. The deeper and greater variety of color the better. When using vegetables in a recipe, use the whole bunch and polish it off – fill at least half your plate with ‘em!

2. Focus on Whole Foods: Packaged foods (even “healthy” packaged foods) are usually expensive and devoid of nutrient content. Discover truly whole foods – besides produce, this includes whole grains, beans, mushrooms, seeds, nuts, olive oil. Visit the bulk section and take home a small amount of a new item each week to try out in a recipe and learn what you like. This kind of diet is generally low-glycemic and rich in good fats – perfect for blood sugar, heart health, and mood. It’s also all-natural and even better if it’s organic. If you must have something packaged, look for whole foods ingredients and ONLY natural ingredients – hydrogenated oils, preservatives, flavorings, artificial sweeteners etc. are usually carcinogenic, bad for heart health, and can negatively effect pain, inflammation, and mood.

3. Opt for Animals that Live & Eat Well (& Eat them in Moderation): Meat, dairy, fish, and eggs are indeed whole foods and good sources of protein, fats (great source of omega 3s!), and nutrients (B vitamins, vitamin D…) IF they are raised properly. We are what the animals eat and how they live. Choose wild or grass-fed, sustainably farmed, free-range, and/or organic options. If it comes from a local farm that allows the animals to pasture and feeds them clean food, that’s best. It’s significantly more expensive than the factory farmed counterparts, so offset this by focusing on steps #1 and 2 – increase your vegetarian options and use smaller cuts of meat. Eggs are a great and economical protein source if you tolerate them. Want proof that quality matters? Compared to a factory farmed egg, a pasture egg has up to 4 times the vitamin D, 2/3 more vitamin A, 7 times more beta carotene, 3 times more vitamin E, 2 times more omega 3s, 1/3 less cholesterol, and 1/4 less saturated fat. Eating 3 servings of grass-fed meat per week upped blood levels of omega 3s to levels comparable to someone taking a fish oil supplement.

4. Drink Wisely: Many beverages are just a delivery mechanism for sugar, fat, calories, and not much else. Stick to water, tea (with green tea offering tremendous health benefits), and seltzer with natural flavors – your wallet will thank you, too. In moderation, wine/beer, fresh juices, smoothies, milk, coffee, and quality cocoa also have health benefits, but the calories add up quickly, and they are expensive.

5. Balance Your Meals: We need carbs, fat, and protein, what’s called macronutrients (even though we usually get too much of them and too few of micronutrients like vitamins, minerals, antioxidants). Get the most of out your meals and curb cravings by being sure to have some quality carbs, fat, and protein at every meal and snack. This helps keep blood sugar stable and maintains a better mood.

6. Listen to Your Body:
Are you eating too much (stuffed!) or too little (starving!)? Are you sensitive to gluten, dairy, eggs, or soy? Get in the habit of checking in with your body after you eat and day to day. We’re not talking about taste and cravings. How do you REALLY feel? Some effects are immediate, others will take place over several days. Try switching things up in your diet and see how you feel again. Give your body a few days to a week to adjust to new things, especially cutting sugar/carbs, increasing fiber with whole foods, and eating lots more produce.

Ok, so maybe I have a few more things to say about this…
Stay Positive & Get Inspired by Good Food: We need to eat to live, but we can still enjoy it! Healthy food is delicious, too! See my Get Inspired blog post for tips, recipe resources, great cookbooks, and more. Don’t let the Food Guilt Police get to you! We don’t need to fear our food choices.

Localvore Mindset: There is no guilt in an avocado or some fresh citrus from Florida, but eating local, in-season food is generally fresher, better tasting, more nutritious, sometimes less expensive, and of course supports local farmers that you can actually meet and see how the farm is run. Seek out farmers markets, CSAs (you prebuy a share and get regular deliveries), and farm stands (just beware those whoopie pies! Well maybe once in a while they’re not so bad…). However, you can't beat the convenience of the Co-op's selection of thousands of local and regional products available all day, seven days a week. Even in the depths of winter I can stock up on local potatoes, carrots, onions, and more. Click here for a bunch of resources.

Make Your Own Meals:
This is the easiest, cheapest way to eat healthy, and it’s really enjoyable once you get the hang of it. The meals can be as complicated or simple as you want. Need recipes? and its corresponding email list, magazine, and cookbooks (I love them all!) is a great place to start. Pay attention to star ratings and ease/time frame for prep. Another latest favorite is the Sprouted Kitchen blog and cookbook.

Healthier Convenience:
When you want something a little healthier on the go, you do have some good options. The Concord Co-op is one of the best and very reasonably priced (I'll admit, I'm biased, but they really are great!), Spoon Revolution has well-priced vegan and gluten-free fare. Republic in Manchester, Lemon Grass in Moultonborough, and Libby’s Bistro/Saalt Pub are some more extravagant choices for a nice night out.

Won’t This Cost a Lot?
Packaged food and eating out is expensive. Eating healthy doesn’t have to be. Focus on whole foods like grains and beans, vegetables (especially greens), vegetarian and meat-light meals, and in-season produce. Seek out pick-your-own farms, CSAs, meat shares, and other opportunities to buy direct from farmers. I can supply my family of two with almost all of our meals for just $60-100 each week, serving up almost 100% local, natural, and organic fare, mostly from the Co-op. If organic seems too expensive, it’s ok. Pesticides aren’t good for us (in fact, they’re pretty terrible, and in combination with other chemicals in our food become a daily low-dose synergistically toxic soup), but it’s better to eat conventional strawberries than to not eat them at all or to eat processed food instead. That's not just my opinion; there’s research to prove it! Click here for more info on what's best organic.

What about Supplements? Supplements are handy, and it’s true that we have depleted the nutrients in our soil so that our food is actually not as nutritious as it once was. (Even more reason to support local, organic, sustainable, and biodynamic farmers who build the soil back up!) But, supplements can’t replace a good diet and are expensive. I’d rather you spend your money on good food! Micronutrients work better with biodiversity, which food and a varied healthy diet will give you. For example, in one study lycopene reduced tumors by 18%, powdered tomato (34%), powdered broccoli (42%), combined tomato and broccoli (52%). Let the synergy of real food work for you and think of supplements as back up and to address specific concerns.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Earthly Roots, Fresh from the Farm

by Maria Noël Groves, Clinical Herbalist & Co-op Wellness Educator

In the depths of winter, it seems like fresh, local produce is a distant memory. Not so! With the help of hoop houses and root cellars, we can munch on the fruits of our neighboring farmers' labor right through February. We're still getting regular deliveries of carrots, parsnips, cabbage, potatoes, rutabagas, celeriac, onions, garlic, beets, and - when we're really lucky - fresh greens from some of our favorite farms including the Vegetable Ranch, Brookford Farm, and Snow Dragon Mountain Farm. For this blog, I hope to inspire you to bring home some of the lesser-known root veggies.

We all know and love potatoes. They are, indeed, the most abundantly consumed vegetable in the country. We eat about one potato per person per day, and fried potatoes make up nearly 50 percent of the total vegetable intake for children alone (yikes!). My blog on The Humble and Amazing Potato remains the most-read post on the Co-op Buzz Blog thus far. Certainly there are more healthy and less healthy ways of eating your 'taters, so I'll give our Co-op community the benefit of the doubt here.

Sweet Potatoes: Sweet potatoes are the easy-pick "gateway" vegetable for finicky eaters. You can use them almost like a regular potato, but they're sweeter and more colorful. Dr. Sam Sanzone - a big fan of sweet potatoes - recently ran some comparisons during our Kitchen on a Mission cooking series. Both types of potatoes have similar calorie and macronutrient content, but sweet potatoes are lower on the glycemic index, deliver a whopping 380% of your daily value of vitamin A, and offer more than double the vitamin C content of a white potato. Dr. Sam roasts up a few pounds of sweet potatoes each week and then uses the leftovers as a quick breakfast or lunch side dish. Mmmm. They're also great in soups, casseroles, and you can even add the puree to muffins and hummus. Store them for a week or more in a cool, dark, dry spot - not in the refrigerator. While it is possible to grow sweet potatoes in New Hampshire, it's not easy. So, sweet potatoes are rarely a local option in produce, but they're still a good starting point to enter into the diverse world of root vegetables.

Rutabagas & Turnips: This broccoli-family roots should be next on a potato-lovers list to try. They both offer mild, potato-y flavor and texture with a hint of cabbage undertones (but try not to think about that). The two roots are relatively interchangeable, with rutabagas being a bit larger, more orange when cooked, and having that cabbage quality (it's a cross between a turnip and cabbage). Turnips tend to be smaller, with purple tops and white flesh (but this can vary) and sometimes a mild radish flavor undertone. Start off by mashing them with potatoes. They're a classic choice for boiled dinner, perfect for soups and stews, casseroles, tarts, and roasting. People with more sensitive tastebuds might still find them too bitter, so if that's the case, move along to...

Celeriac (Celery Root): This thing looks a bit like a goblin baby and certainly not like something you'd want to eat. But you'll be surprised! It has a mild, smooth flavor with a hint of celery and creams up nicely with a texture that surpasses potatoes. You won't even recognize it in a soup, but you can really show it off as a mash or puree with a fancy cut of meat on top and some gourmet greens to the side. Also try it roasted and in other standard root vegetable-type recipes. You'll want to peel it first, possibly with a knife. Whole roots store well in the fridge for at least a week.

Parsnips: These white, carrot-y veggies really don't jump out at you from the shelf. But, I strongly recommend giving them a try. They're a tad sweeter than carrots with a more pronounced flavor that begs to be combined  with fresh-grated nutmeg. One of my most memorable recipes is of fresh, spring-harvested parsnips braised in a bit of water with brown sugar and butter til they're just starting to get tender, then remove the lid and let the sauce cook down into a glaze and finish with the aforementioned nutmeg. Heaven! Opt for smaller parsnips, which have better flavor, and remove the woody core if it seems necessary. Parsnips also do nicely roasted, pureed, in soups, the usual.

Beets: When I first began working in natural food stores in college, I only ate a few vegetables: carrots, corn, potatoes, and iceberg lettuce. I remember one of my fellow cashiers coming through my line with a bag loaded with beets. "How do you cook them?" I asked. "Any way! I just LOVE beets!" My memory of beets was pickled at Sunday dinner on my grandparents farm (next to the gray green beans and pitcher of "chocolate" milk made with one spoonful of Quick). I'm happy to say that over the past decade+, beets have become one of my favorite vegetables. Try cutting them into quarter-inch matchsticks and roasting them at 420 degrees in a bit of oil until they reach the perfect stage of crispy and flavorful (but before they reach that unfortunate state of burnt). No salt, pepper, or other seasonings needed. It's a great accompaniment hearty autumn/winter dishes or placed atop greens with goat cheese and a squeeze of fresh citrus. You can also roast beets whole, let them cook slightly, then peel and slice them - they store well this way to toss with salad or other dishes. Also try grating fresh beets (solo or along with a bit of carrots and radish or daikon root) for a colorful salad; dress it with sweet citrus juice or maple syrup and toasted sesame oil, topped with toasted sesame seeds. I prefer red beets for their insanely gorgeous hue, but golden beets work better in dishes that you don't want everything stained red. Beets will store for weeks, if not months, in the fridge, but they will lose flavor and sweetness over time.

Radishes & Diakon Root: These are some of the few vegetables that I have still not learned to love (even though radishes are sooo pretty, and that usually counts for something my my book). But, for those who like veggies that bite back, they are definitely worth trying. Consider them thinly shaved into ribbons or grated into raw dishes and salads, or very lightly cooked in a stir fry, to perk things up. Radish lovers enjoy them nibbled whole or dipped into dressing. They also pair well with beef and are mellowed with mayo and cream much like horseradish would. Their peppery flavor mellows a bit when combined with sweets and sesame as in the aforementioned beet salad. I will never forget the produce code for diakon root, which was turned into a jingle by 20-somethings in the produce department at one of my old jobs: "94258, diakon root's long hard and straight!" (Sorry, couldn't help it!)

General Root Vegetable Tips
  • If your root veggies come home with the greens still attached, it's a great sign that they're fresh, but you'll want to remove the greens before storing the roots. They'll keep and taste better. Save the greens for cooking, too! Beet greens are like chard, turnip greens like mustard greens, and celery, well... you can probably figure that one out.
  • Store your root vegetables as dry as possible.
    • In the fridge in a loosely sealed plastic bag: turnips, rutabegas, celeriac, parsnips, beets, carrots
    • In the pantry in mesh bags/baskets or loose: potatoes, sweet potatoes, onions, garlic
  • Almost any root vegetable can be roasted. Toss it in an oil that will withstand high temps (like organic canola or grapeseed), lay them out on a baking sheet with adequate spacing, season as desired, and cook at 420 degrees, tossing occasionally, until caramelized and tender (about 20 minutes).

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Bring Home Sunshine: Citrus Primer

by Maria Noël Groves, Clinical Herbalist & Co-op Wellness Educator

Local fruit may be scarce this time of year, but seasonal citrus from warmer climates offers fresh flavor to help us refresh and slim down after the heaviness of holiday fare. Most citrus is at its peak *right now,* so stock up and enjoy!

Did you know that most of the citrus we eat – oranges, grapefruit, lemon, and limes – are actually varieties of the same species, Citrus sinensis? All citrus is loaded with the antioxidant powerhouse vitamin C as well as complementary bioflavanoids that help vitamin C work better in the body. Citrus lends a “degreasing” property to meals, helping you better digest fats. Freshly squeezed citrus – whether tart or sweet – immediately livens up the flavors in a dish with few calories added. Grate the zest (always use organic!) from the outer peel to flavor soups, dressings, marinades, and desserts. The bitterness of the peel primarily comes from the white pith, which is easily removed for recipes even though it’s loaded with healthy bioflavanoids.

The Co-op's exact selection of citrus varies day to day depending on what's available, prices, and quality; however, here's a primer on some of the common and specialty citrus you might find at the Co-op on a given day. Be sure to keep an eye out for good deals on bagged citrus!

Navel Oranges are the “gateway” citrus for most of us. Affordable, sweet, tasty, seedless, and usually easy-to-peel, navels are a simple snack or salad ingredient. They’re easily identified by their telltale navel belly buttons. Look for fruits that feel heavy (they’re juicier) and are completely orange without any greening of the skin, which indicates that they’re not fully ripe. Smaller navels generally taste better.

Valencia Oranges are prized by juicers. They’re loaded with seeds and are more difficult to peel, but they’re usually sweeter, more flavorful, and less expensive than navels. Use a good hand-juicer or throw them into a standard juicer after slicing off the peel: cut the ends off, then slowly slice down the strips off the side. Valencia peels may turn greenish in warm weather. Unlike navels, this usually indicates a sweeter, riper fruit.

Satsumas are one of the most delightful types of citrus, and the small fruits are worth the extra cost. Much like their relative mandarin oranges and clementines, satsumas are easy-to-peel, usually seedless, and super sweet. The flesh has a delightful a candy-like floral undertone. They’re delicious as a simple dessert of sections served alongside dark chocolate. Save some of your peels to dry and add to potpourri and tea. Look for fresh fruits with bright orange, plump peels that hasn’t gotten too mushy or hard – sure signs that they’ve been sitting on the shelf too long. Get a bunch. Even though they have a shorter shelf life, you can easily eat two to four in a sitting!

Clementines come in the big box, a classic for a quick snack. Easy-to-peel, seedless, sweet, and perfect for kids! Watch out for mushy and moldy fruits, though.

Blood Oranges are rich in anthocyanins, the red pigment that gives them their bloody hue and enhanced antioxidant properties. Blood oranges may have orange or red-tinged skin; red skin usually indicates redder flesh. The flesh can range from deep red throughout to tie-dyed orange and red. They’re slightly bitter and tend to be harder to peel. Serve them as slices or segments with the pith removed to show off their color in gourmet salads like arugula with manchego cheese, or as a dessert sprinkled with cinnamon. Try freshly squeezed blood orange juice as dressing for roasted beets and chèvre on mesclun greens. The blood orange season can extend all the way into May.

Tangelos are a hybrid, usually of tangerine and grapefruit, and they have vivid orange flesh with a knob on the end. They’re a bit larger, somewhat sweeter, and have just a few seeds.
Tangerines are smaller, deliciously sweet citrus that are usually easy to peel but may have a lot of seeds. The flavor tends to be brighter and less tart than other oranges.

Red Grapefruit is sweeter, pinker, and much more common than white grapefruit nowadays. The flesh is tart and somewhat sweet, but the white pith is very bitter. Squeeze some into seltzer water for a refreshing beverage (for a hint of bitterness, toss in the whole wedge). Slice it up as a snack after meals. If they’re too tart for you, drizzle with honey, or warm a bit and try maple syrup. Toss the fresh fruit or juice into avocado, salmon, chicken, and shrimp dishes or marinades.

Lemons provide classic tang for salad dressings and Italian dishes, especially when added just before serving. Bakers love to add the fresh juice and zest to recipes, too. Seek out Meyer lemons when available, which were made famous by gourmand Alice Waters and Chez Panisse. Meyers are a cross of lemon with  orange or mandarin. They’re sweeter with none of the bitterness of a standard lemon, and their tender, bright yellow peels can be eaten straight or candied. I enjoy eating fresh slices and also throw wedges of any kind of lemon into ginger tea with honey on cold, dreary days.

Limes, with their unique sour flavor and aromatic oils, are crucial for Mexican, Caribbean, and south Asian cuisine. The zest and fresh juice are used in meat marinades or added at the end of cooking to curries and soups for fresh flavor. They marry well with spearmint, cilantro, and coconut. Wedges are essential for mojitos and Mexican beer.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

What Do I Do with Leftover Herbs?

by Maria Noël Groves, Clinical Herbalist & Co-op Wellness Educator

So, you're trying to eat more healthy foods. You've got some new cookbooks or are looking on websites for recipes, which inevitably brings you to purchase one of those bunches or clam shells of fresh herbs from the produce section. You chop your fresh tablespoon or so of herbs for the recipe (and, wow, it really does taste better!)... but, now, what do you do with all the leftover herbs?

Rosemary: This is one of the most versatile of culinary herbs! Toss whole sprigs into soups and stews, removing the woody stems before serving. Toss needles or whole sprigs with winter squash, potatoes, or other roasted vegetables. Tossing something on the grill? Use rosemary twigs as skewers to infuse flavor into vegetables, lamb, chicken, or other meats. I particularly like to toss rosemary needles and ground turmeric, salt, pepper, crushed red pepper, and olive oil with roasted chickpeas (great snack!), scrambled into eggs, or pan-fried with whole grains and veggies for a side dish. Tuck sprigs under the skin of chicken before roasting. Adventurous taste buds will enjoy steeping thinly sliced ginger, a lemon wedge, and a rosemary sprig, sweetened with honey, as tea. Still have leftovers? Lay the sprigs on your counter to air dry, then remove the needles and store for future use.

Parsley: Add fresh, finely chopped parsley to almost any savory dish (just at the end of cooking) to perk up the flavor. Add a handful to juices and smoothies, hummus and pesto. Still have leftovers? Puree parsley leaves with enough olive oil to make a paste, and store it in the freezer. Pull out a hunk to add to future recipes.

Thyme: You can use this herb almost exactly as you would rosemary (above), though the flavor is of course different. It offers a more hearty provincial flavor for peasant soups, classic vegetable and poultry dishes, and beans (especially white beans). Thyme is particularly nice with the ginger-lemon-honey tea.

Fennel: After you use the bulb in the recipe, save some of the stems and fronds. They made a fantastic herbal soda. Simply place a few stalks in a one-liter bottle and cover with plain seltzer water. Let sit for about 30 minutes or more, and enjoy within 24 hours. It's wonderful alongside Italian dinners and helps with digestion as well. You can also simmer the stems and fronds in the cooking liquid for fish and shellfish (especially alongside lemon and/or garlic), carrots, and other veggies that benefit from a sweet anise flavor.

Basil: One word: eggs. Scramble your eggs with basil and (another word:) mozzarella. Of course, you can also use excess basil to make pesto - feel free to add other herbs, spinach, kale, etc. along with it - to use immediately or freeze for later use. Toss basil or pesto with pasta, tomatoes, vegetables, chicken, mozzarella, etc. Still have leftovers?  Puree basil leaves with enough olive oil to make a paste, and store it in the freezer. Pull out a hunk to add to future recipes.

Mint: The mint you find in stores is generally spearmint or a similar variety. This is perfect for herbal sodas.  Simply place a few sprigs in a one-liter bottle and cover with plain seltzer water. Let sit for about 30 minutes or more, and enjoy within 24 hours. This goes great with Mexican, African, and Middle Eastern/Mediterranean fare and, like fennel, is great for digestion. This type of mint pairs very well with lime. Combine them for a mojito or "mockito" (sans booze). Put your mint leaves in a class with ice, shake together to release the flavor, add seltzer or soda, a wedge of lime, and light rum (optional). Try a leaf or two in your favorite spring roll, too.

What's YOUR favorite way to use up extra herbs? Let us know by leaving a comment.