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Archive for May, 2011

TIP OF THE DAY: How To Find Seasonal Vegetables & Fruits

Asparagus: now in season, but not for long!
Photo courtesy California Asparagus Commission.

 

Like the idea of eating seasonal produce grown on local farms, but wonder what’s in season in your area?

Climates in the U.S. vary widely. What’s seasonal in California isn’t the same as what’s seasonal in New York or Indiana.

But there’s an easy search tool to find out exactly what’s in season in your locavore universe. Just head to SimpleSteps.org and select your state.

The website will also tell you where all your local farmers markets are, and even include directions by car, bike, walking and public transit.

SimpleSteps.org is a great resource that covers all smarter living topics, including household savings calculators and conservation tips for people who care about the planet. For example:

If a quarter of the households in the United States replaced one incandescent with one compact fluorescent light bulb (CFL), it would save as much carbon dioxide (a major greenhouse gas that impacts climate change) as planting 257,215 acres of forest. (All plants absorb carbon dioxide for photosynthesis; forests absorb a large amount of it.)

 

OK, we’ve been lazy about switching all of our light bulbs to CFL, but now we’re on it.

Don’t like the light from CFLs? The site advises looking for bulbs with a Kelvin temperature between 3,000k and 3,500k. They give off the familiar warm glow of incandescent bulbs.

We’re off to pick up seasonal produce and CFLs.

  

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RECIPE: Wendy’s Berry Almond Grilled Chicken Salad

When was the last time you added berries to your salad?

With a bounty of strawberries and blueberries now entering the market, Wendy’s has introduced its new seasonal Berry Almond Chicken Salad.

The salad is freshly prepared in-store with fresh blueberries, fresh California strawberries, California almonds roasted with sea salt, shaved Asiago cheese and a sliced warm grilled chicken breast, all over a bed of 11 different types of freshly chopped field greens. Topping it off is the restaurant’s fat-free raspberry vinaigrette dressing.

You can enjoy the salad at Wendy’s for lunch or a light, healthy dinner, or create it at home simply by purchasing the ingredients You can expand to other types of berries, including blackberries and raspberries, as well.

Don’t worry about the 11 different field greens.

 

Sprinkle your salad with fresh berries.
Photo courtesy Wendy’s.

 

“Field greens” salad mixes can include arugula, baby spinach, dandelion greens, endive, frisée, green chard and red chard, green and red mustard greens, green and red romaine lettuce, lollo rossa lettuce, mizuna, perella, radicchio, red leaf lettuce, Russian kale, tango and tatsoi.

That’s a much more interesting palette than a plain bed of iceberg or romaine lettuce.

A bit of digression on fat-free dressings: You may want to avoid sugar rather than fat.

As we noted in our recent post on healthy fats, monounsaturated fats (“good fats”) are an important part of a healthy diet. While all fats average 100 calories a tablespoon, monounsaturated fats are calories well spent. The refined sugar and corn syrup found in salad dressing have little nutritional value, and comprise liabilities rather than benefits.

Avocado oil, canola oil, olive oil and peanut oil are rich in monounsaturated fat and deliver many health benefits, including:

  • Decreased risk for breast cancer.
  • Reduced cholesterol levels. (The American Heart Association recommends the consumption of monounsaturated fats to improve one’s blood lipid profile.)
  • Lower risk for heart disease and stroke (The FDA recommends that .8 ounce daily—about 2 tablespoons—may “possibly prevent coronary disease.”)
  • Weight loss, when switching to monounsaturated fat from polyunsaturated fats (corn oil, safflower oil and soybean oil, among others) and saturated fats (largely from animal products: meat, dairy, eggs).
  • Less severe pain and less stiffness for sufferers of rheumatoid arthritis. Diet plays a role in reducing the pain and stiffness of those who already have rheumatoid arthritis.
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    Many people enjoy bottled dressings, but read the labels! You can enjoy a better dressing—and a less expensive one—by mixing three tablespoons of olive oil (or other monounsaturated oil) with a tablespoon of raspberry vinegar.

    It takes the same amount of time to whisk oil and vinegar together as it does to open the fridge, remove the bottle of salad dressing and take off the cap.

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: How To Avoid Pesticides On Vegetables & Fruit

    Consume fewer pesticides: download the
    pocket guide or app. Image courtesy
    FoodNews.org.

     

    We’ve previously written about the “Dirty Dozen” and the “Clean 15,” terms that refer to how much residual pesticide is left on produce, even after you wash and/or peel it.

    With tempting seasonal produce entering the market, it’s time to revisit when it pays to buy organic produce.

    Research has found that people who eat five fruits and vegetables a day from the Dirty Dozen list consume an average of 10 pesticides a day. Those who eat from the “Clean 15”—the 15 least contaminated conventionally-grown fruits and vegetables—ingest fewer than two pesticides daily.

    The Shopper’s Guide To Pesticides, from the Environmental Working Group (EWG), is a key resource for consumers aiming to eat healthier. It helps us make informed choices in order to lower our dietary pesticide load.

     

    There’s a downloadable pocket guide and iPhone app to help you avoid the Dirty Dozen—those conventional fruits and vegetables found to be highest in pesticides—and focus instead on the Clean Fifteen fruits and vegetables that are the lowest.

    Download the guide or app.

    The guide was developed based on data from nearly 89,000 tests for pesticide residues in produce examined between 2000 and 2008, collected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. You can find a detailed description of the criteria EWG used to develop these rankings and the complete list of tested fruits and vegetables at Foodnews.org.

    In order of the amount of pesticide residue:

  • The Dirty Dozen (it’s worth paying for organic): celery, peaches, strawberries, apples blueberries, nectarines, bell pepers, spinach, cherries, kale/collard greens, potatoes and imported grapes.
  • The Clean 15 (no need to buy organic): onions, avocado, sweet corn, pineapple, mangos, sweet peas, asparagus, kiwi, cabbage, eggplant, cantaloupe, watermelon, grapefruit, sweet potato and honeydew melon.
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    You’ve been eating pesticides all your life. Why should you care about them now?
    The growing consensus among scientists is that small doses of pesticides and other chemicals can cause lasting damage to human health, especially during fetal development and early childhood. Scientists now know enough about the long-term consequences of ingesting these powerful chemicals to advise that we minimize our consumption of pesticides.

    What about washing and peeling the produce?
    The data used by researchers is based on produce tested as it is typically eaten: washed, rinsed or peeled, depending on the type of produce. Rinsing reduces but does not eliminate pesticides. Peeling helps, but valuable nutrients often go down the drain with the skin. The best approach: eat a varied diet, rinse all produce and buy organic when possible.

      

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    RECIPE: Soft Shell Crab Sandwich

    How do you celebrate soft shell crab season?

    If you’re like us, you order soft shell crabs every time you see them on a menu.

    On weekends, we buy them, dredge them in cornmeal and sauté them, impressing family with our culinary skills (there’s nothing easier than sautéing—just don’t tell them).

    If you’re a professional chef, you make something memorable for your customers. Here’s a creation from The Redeye Grill (photo), located in New York City across the street from Carnegie Hall.

    The Redeye’s Maryland Soft Shell Crab Sandwich is a cornmeal-dusted Maryland jumbo soft shell crab on a freshly baked bun. The “red eyes” are dried cranberries.

     

    How fun am I? Soft shell crab sandwich
    photo courtesy The Redeye restaurant | NYC.

     

    The soft shell crab sandwich is served with aïoli tartar, lettuce and tomatoes and crispy French fries. It’s sure to become a favorite way of enjoying soft shell crabs.

    Soft shell crabs are in season in the Northern Hemisphere from April to mid-September, with a peak in June and July. In the U.S., these are typically blue crabs that have shed their hard shells.

    Soft shell crabs are not specific to any one species. They are a stage in a crab’s growth: just after molting, before the new shell has had time to harden. Its hard shell prevents a crab from growing; the only way it can grow larger is to throw off its old shell and grow a new one. The crab grows rapidly within a few days of casting off its shell, then the new shell grows over the larger body. Ideally, crabs must be eaten within four days of molting to enjoy the soft shell.


    RECIPE: SOFT SHELL CRAB SANDWICH

    Ingredients Per Serving

  • 1 soft shell crab, cleaned and patted dry
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Cornmeal (you can substitute regular flour)
  • 1 large roll (we prefer brioche)
  • Aïoli (garlic mayonnaise) or tartar sauce (you can mix mayonnaise with pickle relish)
  • Lettuce and tomato
  • 2 dried cranberries (optional)
  • Lemon wedge for garnish
  • French fries, cole slaw or other slaw (optional)
     
    Preparation
    1. Season crabs with salt and pepper and dredge in cornmeal, shaking off excess.
    2. In a large skillet over medium high heat, add olive oil and sauté the crabs until soft, about 2 minutes on each side.
    3. Slice roll in half. To make the eyes, use a chopstick or kitchen instrument to poke small holes in the top half of the roll. Insert the cranberry eyes.
    4. Spread top and bottom with aïoli or tartar sauce. (If you prefer, you can serve this condiment on the side.)
    5. Layer bottom half of roll with lettuce, tomato and soft shell crab. Add top half of roll and serve with a side of fries, slaw and a lemon wedge.

  • What’s the difference between a blue crab, jonah crab, Norwegian crab, rock crab and stone crab? Learn your crab types in our Crab Glossary.
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    TOP PICK OF THE WEEK: Bison Burgers

    A bison burger stuffed with gorgonzola
    cheese and sundried tomatoes. Photo
    courtesy WMMB.

     

    Planning a cookout for Memorial Day? Try bison burgers—a healthier alternative to beef. One burger has less fat than a skinless chicken breast.

    Yet despite the low fat level, the taste is sumptuous. We’ve grown to prefer bison to beef.

    Because bison has so little fat, it can’t be cooked to medium or well done. But lovers of medium rare will delight in the flavor.

    For our Top Pick Of The Week, we tried bison burgers from Allen Brothers and High Plains Bison, two purveyors of premium meat. Don’t look for bargain-basement bison meat. As with beef, you get what you pay for.

  • Read the full review, including bison nutrition and cooking instructions.
  • If you don’t know the difference between bison and buffalo, here it is. Summary: The wooly-headed animal that roamed America’s plains and is today ranched for meat is bison, not buffalo.
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