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{Foodie Friday: Zucchini}

11 Jun

 

Last week I received a request for zucchini bread.  I’m not sure why; it’s not like I have infamous zucchini bread skills or anything.  In fact, I’ve never even eaten it, let alone made it.  This made it quite difficult.  When I finished baking it, I thought, well it tastes good, but does it taste right?  I’m guessing that all was well because it disappeared quite quickly. 

I’ve been wanting to try out a few zucchini recipes lately, so I’ve spent this week sleuthing zucchini. 

Description:

Zucchini is actually part of the “Summer Squash” family that includes a few different variety of squashes, like  Pattypan and Crookneck.  Zucchini skin can be green or yellow, and possibly speckled.  The flesh is white.

Etymology:

Pronounced zoo-keen-ee

It is also known as the courgette.  Zucchini is the more common name in North America, Australia, Germany and Italy, while courgette is more commonly used in Britain, New Zealand, Ireland, France, the Netherlands, Portugal and South Africa.

“Zucca” is the Italian word for squash, becoming “zucchine” in the plural. The alternate name courgette is from the French “courge”, French for squash.  Ironically, ‘Zucchini’ is plural in Italian whereas in English it is singular.

Random Facts:

Zucchini is incorrectly regarded as a vegetable, when in fact, it is a fruit.  It is the swollen ovary of the flower of the zucchini plant.

The flower of the zucchini plant is also edible, and apparently makes a great garnish for salads and side dishes.  Check  out the fried zucchini flower salad!

Where is it Grown?

Modern-day squash developed from the wild squash that originated in an area between Guatemala and Mexico, over 10,000 years ago.  As time progressed, squash cultivation spread throughout the Americas, and varieties with a greater quantity of sweeter-tasting flesh were developed. Christopher Columbus brought squash back to Europe from the New World, and like other native American foods, their cultivation was introduced throughout the world by Portuguese and Spanish explorers. Today, the largest commercial producers of squash include China, Japan, Romania, Turkey, Italy, Egypt, and Argentina. In the United States, California, of course, is the main grower.

Can I Grow Them at Home?

Absolutely!  Zucchini can be started anytime from when the danger of frost has passed, until mid-summer. For the “real” gardener, start with seeds.  Because the taproot of the plant is very easily damaged, most “experts” recommend starting with seeds.  Of course, hybrid and genetically modified plants that have made to be stronger do exist.

Plant seeds in 1″ deep, and about 2′ apart. Put 2-3 seeds in each hole, but after sprouting occurs, pull up 1-2 of the sprouts so that only one remains.  (Plant 2-3 to ensure you get at least one in case of rot, or other non-sprouting issues.) Seedlings can be started indoors before the planting season, or outdoors.

Water to a depth of 6″, and water 1-2 times per week to maintain.

It takes about 14 days for seeds to begin sprouting.  About 4 weeks later, plants will begin flowering. Then, zucchini grow rapidly; especially in hot weather and are usually ready to pick within 4 to 8 days after flowering. Be sure to pick zucchini that are 2 inches or less in diameter and 6 to 8 inches long.  The larger they get, the harder and tougher they are.

Zucchini plants produce both male and female blossoms.  They must have a little “bedroom action” to produce fruit.  If you’re worried that bees or other insects won’t get the pollination work done, you can hand pollinate.  This site has some great tips on hand pollination.  Just look at yourself as a little artificial inseminator.

Female zucchini flower - note the multi-part stigma in the center.             Male zucchini flower - note the single stamen in the center.       

Can you guess the male from the female?

I’ve also found that folks in apartments are having success growing zucchini in containers.  Of course, a larger pot is needed for success.  So, I guess I no logner have an excuse to let my lack of garden keep me from having a garden.

When is it in Season?

Though available year round due to mass production and cultivation, the peak times for organic zucchini is May-July.

Storage and Shelf-Life

When selecting zucchini from the store, choose ones that feel heavy, but are not too large.  Large zucchinis are too fibrous, yet at the same time, smaller ones will not have great flavor.  Their rinds should be shiny and have no blemishes or indentations.

Store them in the fridge for up to 7 days. Freezing isn’t really recommended, as they turn more to mush than anything tasty.

Umm…Why Should I Care?

Like all fruits, zucchini contains all sorts of good nutrients that help the body stay healthy.  Surprisingly, zucchini is high in beta carotene–that’s right, it doesn’t just come from orange carrots. Notably, squash has been shown to help men with enlarged prostate problems.  Also, with only 16 calories per cup of raw zucchini, it makes an excellent low calorie snack or addition to any meal.  The high water content and fiber will also leave you feeling fuller, for only the low, low price of 16 calories.

Recipes:

Zucchini Oven Chips–these look like a fun alternative to potato chips or oven baked fries.

Looking for an alternative to pasta?  Pasta can wreak severe habit on diets, for diabetics, and those who are trying to stay low on the glycemic index.  Enter zucchini pasta.  Fear not!  I was skeptical, but at a conference last Fall, vegetarian lasagna with zucchini pasta was served.  To everyone’s delight, it was delish!

Minus the onions, this stuffed zucchini recipe may make it onto my menu next week.

And of course, there is the famous zucchini bread recipe.

{Foodie Friday: Strawberries}

7 May

Mmmm.  Last night I made the most delicious strawberry cake.  Actually, I made a very, very delicious dinner overall, but that’s another story.  I was moseying around the grocery, when a strawberry display caught my attention.  I heard on the radio a few weeks back, that there was going to be a strawberry shortage this year due to the frosts in the South, and also that prices were going to be through the roof.  Nope.  These were $1.88.  Not too shabby. And they were very, very good.  Not too ripe, not overripe.  Not too sweet, not too tart.  Really, just perfect. 

First, I washed them.  I use a fruit wash—grapefruit and lemon extracts.  Then I topped and sliced about half of them, and put them in a shallow bowl.  Using a fork (no major tools required here), I pressed and stirred and prodded until they had pureed.  I did this while watching the opening of The Vampire Diaries…it really is that quick and simple.

Then I topped and cut the other half of the strawberries in quarters.

I arranged the sliced Angel foodcake on a plate. Yes, I walked around the store 3 times to choose the best pre-packaged cake that was low in sugar and calories.  NOTE: Those little packaged round cakes that they always meticulously display with strawberries are evil, evil things.  They are like Twinkies.  Had I not planned this at the last minute, I would have baked my own, which I highly recommend.  Otherwise, look for Angel foodcake, and READ THE LABELS.

I drizzled the pureed strawberries over the cake, topped it with a few more spoonfuls of quartered strawberries, and topped it with a quick squirt of “whipped cream.”  NOTE: I use almond whipped topping, or soy whipped topping, both of which can be found at Whole Foods.  I try to limit dairy, and these are both excellent options.  I love the taste, which is about the same as traditional Ready-Whip, but it doesn’t leave a super-sweet aftertaste.  I stuck one of the tops in the side of the whipped cream, and I must admit, it looked pretty professional. Even the hubby made a comment about how “cute” it was.  Yep, he called my cooking cute.

So, can something be so “cute”, tasty, and healthy? Yep!

Etymology:

Hmmm…no one seems to know.  It is claimed that the name came from having to put straw over the plant for it to survive, but that is not true.  Some believe it has to do with the yellow seeds sprouting out the sides, or because the plant’s tendrils can shoot out like straws. . .

Random Facts:

There are more than 600 varieties of strawberries that differ in flavor, size and texture.

Strawberries have been around since the dawn of time (not that anyone would REALLY know that…), but didn’t really gain favor until the Roman era. Yet, after the fall of Rome, they seemed to have lost their favor until they reemerged in Europe in the Middle Ages. During this time, they began to be prized again, more so for their medicinal qualities than for their culinary value.

If you really have an intent interest in strawberries, check out this blog that I stumbled upon.  Everything Strawberries, indeed.

Where is it Grown?

Currently, the United States, Canada, France, Italy, Japan, Australia and New Zealand are among the largest commercial producers of strawberries.

In the U.S., strawberries are grown year-round in California and other temperate climates.

Can I Grow Them at Home?

Yep.  Although, I haven’t.  I’m thinking I’ll try it out this year.  There are three different types of plants-June, ever-bearing, and day-neutral.  June grows, well, only in June.  Ever-bearing grows throughout the Summer and early Autumn, and day-neutral grows as long as the temperature is around 75 degrees.  Obviously, June is easier to grow at home, or for beginners, like yours truly.

Strawberries Hanging Over the Sides by Strata Chalup.

Plants can be potted in containers, or in ground soil.  However, they need excellent drainage as they are prone to rot. They should have full sun, with a slightly acidic soil.  Space plants about 12-24” apart.

Each plant requires about 1-1 ½” of water/week.  I’m not sure what this means, but other recommendations are to water lightly each day.  Water early in the day, so that the plant has time to dry out in the heat of the day.

Each plant will produce about a pint of strawberries, so a few plants may be necessary to have strawberries all summer.

Plants should be planted in early Spring for June berries.  I’m thinking now shouldn’t be a problem, right?  Nope, I googled it.  April 15-May 15 for Ohioans looking to plant.

When is it in Season?

While available year-round thanks to imports, peak season for home-grown goodies is April-July.

Storage and Shelf-Life

When purchasing strawberries:

Only buy them 1-2 days before you are planning on using them

Choose berries that are firm, plump, and have a shiny, deep red color. Avoid the dull in color ones or ones that have green or yellow patches since they are likely to be sour. They don’t ripen after being picked, so once green and sour, always green and sour.

The ones above are probably a bit tart…

Look for medium-sized strawberries, which usually more flavorful than the big ole’ ones—even though it is so tempting, I know.

 If you’re buying strawberries prepackaged, make sure that they are not packed too tightly and that the container has no stains or moisture, which is indication of possible spoilage.

Once home, immediately wash them, so that you can remove any less-than-fresh ones, and so that they don’t contaminate the other ones.  Pat them dry and put them back in the original container, or lay them on a plate with paper towels and cover with plastic wrap.  The latter helps with bruising.  NOTE: Definitely wash them well.  Strawberries are listed as one of the top 12 foods with pesticide residue.

Strawberries can be frozen for up to 1 year.  Wash and pat them completely dry, and place them on a flat cookie sheet in the freezer until just frozen.  Remove them, and place them in a tightly sealed plastic bag with a few squirts of lemon juice.  They can be frozen whole, topped, crushed, or sliced, but whole strawberries will retain more health benefits.

Umm…Why Should I Care?

Strawberries are a heart-protective fruit, an anti-cancer fruit, and an anti-inflammatory fruit, all rolled into one.

They have antioxidants that help protect cell structures in the body and to prevent oxygen damage in all of the body’s organ systems.

The anti-inflammatory properties of strawberry include the ability to lessen activity of the enzyme cyclo-oxygenase, or COX. Anti-inflammatory drugs like aspirin or ibuprofen block pain by blocking this enzyme, whose overactivity has been shown to contribute to unwanted inflammation, such as that which is involved in rheumatoid and osteoarthritis, asthma, atherosclerosis, and cancer. Unlike drugs that are COX-inhibitors, however, strawberries do not cause intestinal bleeding.  So…next time you feel the need to reach for an aspirin…reach for strawberries instead!

Of course, they are very high in Vitamin C, plus a good source of dietary fiber, B vitamins, and omega 3 fatty acids.

Also, eating three servings of fruit/day (at least), has shown to lower the risk of macular degeneration.

Recipes:

Of course, eating them whole and raw is the best choice, and quite a tasty choice at that!  For a bit more variety, cut, mash, or puree them to pour on top of other desserts, oatmeals, pancakes, or waffles.  I’m not usually one for mixing fruits and veggies together, but I do like strawberry slices with spinach salad.  Both flavors are understated enough that together, they taste divine.  The possibilities really are endless.  For even more inspiration, check out these recipes:

Strawberry Cake, fo real, yo.

And, in honor of Summer…a nice strawberry margarita. For all you alcoholics out there…

There’s always the crowd-pleasing Chocolate Covered Strawberries.  Not only are they easy, but they make wonderful gifts as well.  I was really inspired by these pics–proof that anything can be adapted for a theme or occassion!

{Foodie Friday: Shrimp on the Barbie}

12 Mar

Okay, I don’t have a grill, and I don’t like shrimp.  Actually, I don’t like seafood at all. (Even just looking at fish completely creeps me out.  Weird, I know.) But I married a Catholic (::gasp:: The horror!), and I’m running out of things to feed us on Fridays during Lent (otherwise known as abstaining-from-meat-except-fish-day).  A girl can only eat so many black bean salads, and Eric won’t eat the beans, so he’s starving.  Which, I think is the point…but, anyway.

I picked up a couple of bags of frozen shrimp as a last minute thought during my recent grocery trip.  After a seafood poisoning debacle on our honeymoon (Eric, not me), I wasn’t sure the best way to go about presenting him with seafood again.  However, he mentioned really wanting a McDonald’s fish sandwich (gross).  TANGENT ALERT: Now I can’t really blame him for wanting one-I mean the fish sandwich was started in Cincinnati, for Catholics, during Lent.  It’s like it’s in his blood or something.

Photo

(Lou Groen, Cincinnatian who invented the Filet-o-Fish)

So, needless to say, I promised a wonderful home-cooked Lenten meal tonight in exchange for him staying away McDonald’s.  And I have no idea what I’m going to make with this shrimp.  Enter Foodie Friday.

Etymology:

The term shrimp originated around the 14th century with the Middle English shrimpe, akin to the Middle Low German schrempen, and meaning to contract or wrinkle; and the Old Norse skorpna, meaning to shrivel up.

Random Facts:

The oft-quoted phrase “shrimp on the barbie” is a misnomer.  Shrimp are part of a classification that includes prawns.  Prawns and shrimp are similar, but different.  Throughout the rest of the world, folks refer to both shrimp and prawns as prawns; here, we refer to both as shrimp.  That line was changed to “shrimp on the barbie” so that Americans would understand, even though Aussies say “prawn”. 

Shrimp can swim both forwards and backwards.

After canned tuna, shrimp is the top seller of seafood in the U.S.

There are over 300 different species of shrimp eaten worldwide.

Where is it Grown?

Commercial shrimp farming began in the 1970’s, though sustainable practices can be dated back to Asia as far back the 1400’s.  The total worldwide production of farmed shrimp reached more than 1.6 million tons in 2003.  About 75% of farmed shrimp are produced in Asia, in particular in China and Thailand. The other 25% are produced mainly in Latin America, where Brazil is the largest producer. The largest exporting nation is Thailand.

Storage and Shelf-Life

Fresh shrimp should be bought as close as possible to the date planned for eating it, as it will last only a day or two.  It is very sensitive to temperature, and should be refrigerated immediately. However, the temperature of most refrigerators is slightly warmer than ideal for storing seafood, so place the shrimp, which should be well wrapped, in a baking dish filled with ice. The baking dish and shrimp should then be placed on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator, which is its coolest area. Replenish ice one or two times per day.

Fresh shrimp should have firm bodies that are still attached to their shells. They should be free of black spots on their shell since this indicates that the flesh has begun to break down. In addition, the shells should not appear yellow or “gritty” as this may be indicative that sodium bisulfate or another chemical has been used to bleach the shells. (Uh, no thank you?)

Smell is a good indicator of freshness; good quality shrimp have a slightly saltwater smell. (Hmmm…I’m not sure I would be able to pinpoint this smell, and if I did, I’m not sure that I would associate it with a “fresh” smell, ya know? One of the main reasons I don’t like seafood is I can’t stand the “fishy” smell. Blah…)

You can extend the shelf life of shrimp by freezing it. To do so, wrap it well in plastic and place it in the coldest part of the freezer where it will keep for about one month.

To defrost shrimp place it in a bowl of cold water or in the refrigerator. Do not thaw the shrimp at room temperature or in a microwave since this can lead to a loss of moisture and nutrients.

Oookay…I’m usually a big advocate for buying “fresh”, but this seems like too much work.  I’ll stick to my frozen package with  a nice little expiration date on it.  I was sure to read the package carefully and paid a little more for a bunch of mumbo-jumbo that made me feel better about eating something that swims around in toxic chemical water.

Umm, Why Should I Care?

Shrimp are an excellent source of protein– a four ounce serving of shrimp supplies 23.7 grams of protein (that’s 47.4% of the daily value for protein)–for a mere 112 calories, and less than a gram of fat.

Amazing source of selenium—which has been shown to induce DNA repair in damaged cells, and to inhibit the growth of cancer cells.

Good source of Vitamin D.

Good source of Vitamin B12–one of the nutrients needed to keep levels of homocysteine, a molecule that can directly damage blood vessel walls and is considered a significant risk factor for cardiovascular disease, low.

Also a good source of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, noted for their anti-inflammatory effects, ability to prevent the formation of blood clots, reduces the risk of Alzheimer’s, and plays a part in overall mood and function.

Omega 3’s also helps with lowering blood pressure, and keeping the heart pumping on a “regular cycle”.  In one study done in Greece, participants who ate fish/shrimp had a rate that was lower than those who did not eat fish regularly; that is, their hearts were beating stronger, therefore did not need as many beats per minute.

Shrimp is very high in cholesterol, and does raise LDL (bad cholesterol).  However, it also raises good cholesterol (HDL).  If you’re not opposed to eating two eggs (also high in cholesterol), then there is no problem with eating a serving of shrimp.

Concerns:

Mercury and other chemical-related poisoning. I mean these things are born, raised, and soaked in water that is the equivalent of a toxic waste dump.  How much does rinsing and cooking really help?

Shellfish allergy is one of the highest reported allergies.

“Baby” shrimp can rely on a natural product, their own yolk for survival. After that, shrimp feed on algae and plankton.   BUT! Leave it up to modern science to develop “artificial shrimp feed” to feed to farmed shrimp.  Come on, people.  You can’t get any more natural or simple than larva–>yolk–>algae.  Why, oh why, do we need “artificial shrimp feed”, and what is in it?

Recipes:

Shrimp can be cooked either shelled or unshelled depending how you will be using them in a recipe. There are various methods to removing the shell. One way is to first pinch off the head and the legs and then, holding the tail, peel the shell off from the body.

If shelling frozen shrimp, do not defrost them completely as they will be easier to shell when they are still slightly frozen.

Some people prefer to remove the shrimp’s intestines before cooking or eating. To do so, make a shallow incision along the back of the shrimp and pull out the dark vein that runs throughout by rinsing under cold water. (Oh, gross.  Seriously.  I’m now remembering why I have always refused to cook shrimp.)

Shrimp can be eaten cold or hot.  Serve with a cocktail sauce or salsa for dipping, or mix with a sauce to add on top of a salad.

For hot shrimp, try these:

Lemon-Garlic Shrimp

Shrimp Linguine

Shrimp on the Barbie

Looking at what I have in the cabinets, I think I’ll be whipping up a stir fry + pasta.

Linguine or Rice
Assorted Veggies (we have some red & green peppers, onion, squash, carrots, peas, broccoli and asparagus left from the week)
Frozen Shrimp
Marinara Sauce

Since I don’t eat pasta, and I’m probably not going to eat the shrimp (see below), it looks like I’m in for a tasty bowl of veggie stir-fry, which actually sounds quite delish!

And. Okay, I really thought that a little research and some good recipes would change my mind.  I just can’t do it.  I will never be a seafood person.  I’m more grossed out and against eating seafood than I was when I started.  Back to the black bean salad!   Or perhaps I’ll switch it up with an omelet.

{Foodie Friday: Cashews}

5 Mar

Have you ever bitten into a rancid cashew?  I have.  This morning.  Blahhhhh.  Obviously, I should double-check the shelf-life of cashews.  Enter Foodie Friday.

Etymology:

Comes from the Portuguese name for the fruit of the cashew tree, caju, which is derived from the indigenous Tupi (of northeastern Brazil) name, acajú.

Random Facts:

There such as thing called a “cashew apple”, aka marañón in Central America.  Some might mistake this as the fruit of the tree, but it actually develops from the receptacle of the flower, and then the actual fruit grows from this.  And we thought human beings were convoluted!  The cashew apple is edible, has a juicy flesh which is very sweet, and a delicate skin that makes it unstable for export. (I sense a future Jeopardy question here!)

 

The actual fruit houses the single seed–the cashew.  Yep, that means that cashews are technically fruits, and seeds.  The shell that makes it a “nut” has been removed, so we only eat the seed.

The cashew seed is well protected by many acids and resins and other toxins.  One common one is urushiol, which is better known as the oil that causes poison ivy rashes.  Hmmm…I’m severely allergic to poison ivy, but have no problems with cashews…

Where is it Grown?

While native to Brazil, the Portuguese took the cashew plant to India in 1560. From there it spread throughout Southeast Asia and eventually Africa. The first country to import the cashew nuts from India was the United States in 1905. The leading commercial producers of cashews are India, Brazil, Mozambique, Tanzania and Nigeria. The United States is the largest importer of cashew nuts.

Storage & Shelf-Life

Due to their high content of oleic acid, cashews are more stable than most other nuts but should still be stored in a tightly sealed container in the refrigerator, where they will keep for about six months, or in the freezer, where they will keep for about one year. Because of their high oil content, they spoil quickly at room temperature. Aha!  I really should implement a sniff test before hand, as rancid cashews will smell spoiled.

Ummm, Why Should I Care?

Source of protein-3.5 ounces provides 18g.

Also a significant source of Vitamin B1 and B6.  We know we need to get our B vitamins!

Heart-healthy-cashews contain oleic acid, which is an unsaturated fatty acid.  It has been shown to reduce triglycerides.

High antioxidant level-helps reduce free radicals wreaking havoc on the system.

Many studies have proven, to lower your risk of cardiovascular and coronary heart disease, enjoy a handful of cashews or other nuts, or a tablespoon of nut butter, at least 4 times a week.

High in copper-Copper is vital for our body’s functioning.  Numerous health problems can develop when copper intake is inadequate, including iron deficiency anemia, ruptured blood vessels, osteoporosis, joint problems such as rheumatoid arthritis, brain disturbances, elevated LDL (bad) cholesterol and reduced HDL (good) cholesterol levels, irregular heartbeat, and increased susceptibility to infections.

High in magnesium- Insufficient magnesium contributes to high blood pressure, muscle spasms (including spasms of the heart muscle or the spasms of the airways–asthma), and migraine headaches, as well as muscle cramps, tension, soreness, and fatigue. Given these effects, it is not surprising that studies have shown magnesium helps reduce the frequency of migraine attacks, lowers blood pressure, helps prevent heart attacks, promotes normal sleep patterns, and reduces the severity of asthma.

Because cashews are a higher calorie food (relatively, or course—compare it to a Twinkie!), and a good source of unsaturated fat, many still associate it with FAT and CALORIES and avoid them.  However, studies have shown the exact opposite to be true.  Those who eat nuts and seeds a few times a week actually lost weight and/or did not gain weight.

Other Uses

The bark of the cashew tree is scraped, soaked, boiled, and eaten as an anti-diarrheal. 

Cashew oil is used as an anti-fungal.

The cashew seed is ground and applied to snake bites to retract the venom.

In many places, the cashew apple is mixed with water and sugar and left to ferment to make an alcoholic drink.

It can also be ground to make cashew nut butter, to be used the same way as almond butter or peanut butter.

The wood of the cashew tree is prized for its beauty and sturdiness.

Cashews are never sold shelled because the interior of the shells contains a caustic resin, known as cashew balm, which must be carefully removed before the nuts are fit for consumption. This caustic resin is actually used in industry to make varnishes and insecticides. Umm, wait…what? Who ever figured that out, or who decided to try to get past the “bad stuff” to see if there was “good stuff”?  Diamond in the rough seeker or really bored caveman?

Recipes:

Again, roasting, salting, sugaring or chocolate-coating pretty much negates, or causes further distress, all of the good reasons to eat cashews in the first place.  The best way to eat cashews is raw (again, relative as it has been processed a bit to remove the toxic shell), as a snack.  They make an excellent in-between-meals snack. Try sprinkling them on top of salads, chicken, or pasta dishes.

Cashews have a rich buttery flavor, so they complement other foods well.  Specifically, they go well with fresh or dried fruits, most vegetables (add right after steaming or at the end of stir-frying as they’ll soften quickly),tofu, poultry, pork, soy sauce, ginger, oyster sauce, curry powder, coconut milk, ground coriander and cardamom.

Pork & Cashew Stir Fry

Caramel Cashew Cookies

Cashew Chicken

Asparagus and Cashew Chicken Stir-fry

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