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Archive for Fruits, Nuts & Seeds

TIP OF THE DAY: Winter Fruits & Vegetables

Here’s our final installment of seasonal fruits and vegetables. We began this series with spring produce, then summer produce, then fall produce.

With the winter season, our “year of produce” is complete. But don’t think of winter produce as bleak and limited. It’s time to revel in different types of citrus, try new fruits and winter squash varieties, and take a look at recipes for items you rarely buy: cherimoya and chestnuts, cardoons and collards.

Then, look online for interesting ways to prepare them.

If your main food market doesn’t have some of the more specialized items, check international markets that focus on Chinese, Indian, Latin American and other specialties. You can also check online purveyors like Melissas.com.

The list was created by the Produce for Better Health Foundation. Take a look at their website, FruitsAndVeggiesMoreMatters.org, for tips on better meal planning with fresh produce.

A final tip: Know where your produce comes from. While some imported produce is excellent, others are picked too early and have a long ocean voyage. If you buy something that’s lacking flavor, speak with the produce manager and get recommendations.

WINTER FRUITS

  • Cactus Pear
  • Cherimoya
  • Clementines
  • Date Plums*
  • Dates
  • Grapefruit
  • Kiwifruit
  • Mandarin Oranges
  • Maradol Papaya
  • Oranges
  • Passion Fruit
  • Pear
  • Persimmons
  • Pomegranate
  • Pummelo
  • Red Banana
  • Red Currants
  • Sharon Fruit*
  • Tangerines
  •    

    Persimmons

    When was the last time you had a persimmon? Persimmons can be eaten as hand fruit, made into tarts and sorbet, baked into muffins, sliced into salads, turned into mousse and more. Photo courtesy Foods From Spain.

     
    *The date plum, also known as the lotus persimmon, is the variety known to the ancient Greeks as “the fruit of the gods.” Its English name probably derives from the Persian khormaloo, literally “date-plum,” referring to its flavor, reminiscent of both dates and plums. Sharon fruit is an Israeli cultivar of persimmon, called Triumph. The fruit is named for the Sharon Plain where it is grown. Sharon fruit” has no core, is seedless and particularly sweet. It can be eaten whole. You may find still other varieties of date plums in your market.

     

    Cardoons

    Not a variety of celery, these stalks are
    cardoons, a member of the artichoke family.
    If you’re an artichoke lover, snap them up:
    They taste like artichokes without the bother
    of the thorns and the fur. Photo courtesy
    Johnnyseeds.com.

     

    WINTER VEGETABLES

  • Belgian Endive
  • Brussels Sprouts
  • Buttercup Squash
  • Cardoon
  • Chestnuts
  • Collard Greens
  • Delicata Squash
  • Kale
  • Leeks
  • Sweet Dumpling Squash
  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Turnips
  •  
    DON’T OVERLOOK FARMERS MARKETS

    Farmers markets are our go-to place for something different. If you don’t see what you’re looking for, ask the farmers if they know where you might find it, or to suggest other items in the market that you shouldn’t pass up.

     

    You can search the National Farmers Market Directory for locations near you.

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Berries In Champagne

    For an easy, light dessert to cap off your New Year’s Eve dinner, we nominate berries marinated in Champagne or other sparkling wine.

    Some sparkling wines are vinified to be sweet (see below). But if you can’t find one, or have dry sparkling wine on hand, you can mix it with a bit of agave (a great low-glycemic sweetener) or honey to sweeten the marinade.

    You can also use simple syrup if you have it on hand. It’s more difficult to dissolve sugar; but if that’s all you have, pulse it to a superfine consistency in a food processor.

    If you sweeten the marinade, note that agave is twice as sweet as honey and sugar, so you need less of it. Agave is like honey in sweetness and viscosity, but without the unique honey flavor.

    Final tip: Champagne is expensive, so for the marinade you can substitute a more affordable sweet wine like Moscato. It can be found for just $8 or $9 a bottle. Splurge on a sweet-style Champagne to serve with the berries; or continue on with the Moscato.

       
    /home/content/p3pnexwpnas01_data02/07/2891007/html/wp content/uploads/berries whipped cream truwhip 230

    Marinate berries for 30 minutes before serving. Photo courtesy TruWhip.

     

    RECIPE: CHAMPAGNE MARINATED BERRIES

    Ingredients For 8 Servings

  • 1/2 cup sweeter-style Champagne or other sparkling wine
  • Optional: agave or honey to taste
  • 2 pints berries—ideally assorted raspberries, sliced strawberries, and whatever else tastes good
    seasonally
  • 2 cups whipped cream (substitute 8 ounces mascarpone)
  • Optional garnish: 8 amaretti cookies, coarsely crumbled
  •  
    Preparation

    1. COMBINE the Champagne and agave in a large bowl. Add the berries; toss gently to combine. Cover and chill for 30 minutes or longer.

    2. PLACE 3/4 cup berry mixture in each of 8 bowls. Top each serving with 1/4 cup whipped cream or a dab of mascarpone. Divide the crushed amaretti cookies among servings.
     

     

    Brut Champagne

    Veuve Cliquot Demi Sec Champagne

    TOP PHOTO: Brut Champagne is the most
    commonly-purchased style, but it’s too dry
    and acidic to go well with desserts. BOTTOM
    PHOTO: Instead, look for a demi-sec
    Champagne, which has more residual sugar
    to match the sweetness of the dessert.

     

    THE SEVEN LEVELS OF SWEETNESS IN CHAMPAGNE

    Champagne is made in seven styles, or levels, of sweetness. The sweetness comes from a step in the secondary fermentation of Champagne, when the bubbles are created. The process is called dosage (doe-SAZH): a small amount of sugar is added into the wine bottles before they are corked. The sugar also reduces the tartness/acidity of the wine.

  • Primary fermentation of Champagne: In the classic méthode champenoise used to make Champagne, Cava and American sparkling wines, the primary, or alcoholic, fermentation of the wine transforms the grape must (the pressed juice of the grapes) into wine. Natural yeast consumes the natural grape sugars, producing alcohol and carbon dioxide.
  • Secondary fermentation of Champagne: To create a secondary fermentation, the dosage is added to the wine. The the added yeasts eat the added sugar, again creating alcohol and carbon dioxide.
  •  
    Based on the amount of sugar in the dosage, the seven levels of sweetness based on residual sugar (what’s left after the secondary fermentation) are:

  • Brut Nature/Brut Zero: 0-3 g/l* residual sugar
  • Extra Brut: 0-6 g/l residual sugar
  • Brut: 0-12 g/l residual sugar
  • Extra Dry†: 12-17 g/l residual sugar
  • Dry: 17-32 g/l RS residual sugar
  • Demi-Sec: 32-50 g/l residual sugar
  • Doux: 50+ g/l residual sugar
  •  
    ________________________________________
    *Grams per liter.

    †It’s a paradox in the Champagne industry that “dry” indicates a sweeter wine; as do sec (which means dry in French) and demi-sec. Doux, the sweetest style of Champagne, does mean sweet.

     

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Make Preserved Meyer Lemons

    In addition to other splendid winter citrus, it’s Meyer Lemon season, through March.

    Meyer lemons are much sweeter and more flavorful than the Bearss and Lisbon varieties commonly found in American grocery stores (here are the different types of lemons). They have much less acid, making the juice sweeter and brighter.

    Here’s the history of Meyer lemons, discovered as an ornamental houseplant in China; along with how to use them, how to grow your own and a delicious recipe for Meyer Lemon Sorbet.

    Today’s tip: Make preserved lemons, for yourself and as gifts. If you read this when Meyer lemons are not in season, grab any supermarket lemons.

    Preserved lemon is a condiment made of whole lemons that have been pickled in a brine of water, lemon juice, salt and sometimes, spices (essentially they’re pickled lemons, and the same treatment makes the pickled limes beloved of Amy March in Little Women).

    The lemons then ferment at room temperature for weeks, or even months. The result is a concentrated and earthy lemon flavor without too much tartness when made with regular lemons; and even sweeter when made with Meyer lemons.

       

    Meyer Lemon Tree

    Meyer lemons were discovered as house- plants in China. You can continue the tradition in your own home. This mini tree is from BrighterBlooms.com.

     
    Preserved Meyer lemons are an umami food that have been called an “amazingly tasty ingredient,” guaranteed to convert you to their allure.

    The salt mellows out the bitterness in the rind and pith, and punches up lemonness, which is often described as “sunny”—just what’s needed during gray winter days.

    WAYS TO USE PRESERVED LEMONS

    Preserved lemons are popular in Mediterranean, Middle Eastern and Moroccan cuisines. But you don’t have to make a tagine; you can use this bright condiment in Western cuisines, with anything from meatballs to tortellini.

    Preserved lemons can replace regular lemons—juice, slices or zest—in any savory recipe, from meat (beef, chicken, lamb, stews) and poultry to fish and seafood (a perfect pairing), grains (think beyond couscous to any cooked grains you enjoy), vegetarian stews, even salad dressing.

     

    Preserved Lemons

    /home/content/p3pnexwpnas01 data02/07/2891007/html/wp content/uploads/preserved meyer lemons in jar goodeggs 230

    It takes just 5 minutes to prepare preserved
    lemons. Then they sit for 3-4 weeks in the
    fridge until soft and succulent. Photos and
    recipe courtesy Good Eggs | San Francisco.

     

    PRESERVED LEMON RECIPES

    From TheNibble.com

  • Dips: Add a fine dice to guacamole, hummus and salsa. Try one teaspon per cup, and adjust to your preference.
  • Israeli Salad: Preserve lemon is added by North African Jews.
  • Garnish for Fried Green Tomatoes.
  • Grain salads and pilafs: Add a dice of preserved lemon to barley, farro, rice, quinoa and other grains.
  • Kebabs: Add them to the skewers of any meat, fish/seafood or vegetable kabobs. Try these Moroccan Potato Kebabs.
  • Moroccan Baked Chicken & Olives is a classic. You can substitute fish fillets for the chicken.
  • Pesto and other sauces: Start with a teaspoon or less. You want to add mystery rather than wallop.
  • Pasta: Toss any pasta with olive oil, sliced garlic and diced or sliced preserved lemon. Here’s a recipe for Tortellini With Bay Leaf & Preserved Lemon.
  • Soup Garnish: Slice and serve in ramekins along with chopped cilantro, croutons, green onions, chopped parsley and tomatoes, so people can customize their bowls of soup (here’s a recipe for Tunisian Chickpea Soup).
  • Stews of any kind: Add a tablespoon or more to taste, even if no lemon is specified in the original recipe.
  • Vinaigrette: Use a blender or food processor to combine diced preserved lemon with olive oil and vinegar or fresh lemon juice.
  •  
    Here are more recipes from Bon Appetit and the Huffington Post.

    What About Pizza?

    Of course! No recipe list would be complete without a pizza with preserved lemon.

    It can be as simple as fresh basil, smoked mozzarella and preserved lemon; or fresh ricotta, preserved lemon, basil and za’atar*. Trust us: These are well worth making.

     
     
    RECIPE: PRESERVED MEYER LEMONS

    It requires just 5 minutes of active time to make preserved lemons. Then, they sit and ferment for 3-4 weeks.

    Instead of making them in a quart jar, you can use two pint jars and give one as a gift.

    Ingredients For 1 Quart

  • 6 Meyer lemons, cut into quarters
  • ½ cup kosher salt
  • Juice of 3 Meyer lemons†*
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 dried chile
  •  
    Preparation

    1. COMBINE the lemons, chile and bay leaves and salt in a bowl, then pack them tightly into a sterilized quart jar with the back of a wooden spoon. Add the juice then seal the jar.

    2. LET sit at room temperature for three days, turning the jar over once or twice a day. After three days, place the jar in the refrigerator for 3 weeks, until the rind has softened. They’re then ready to use.

    If you want to give them as gifts before the three weeks are up, tie a ribbon around the jar with a tag that tells the date on which the lemons will be ready; and that they’ll keep for a year in the fridge.
     
    *Also spelled zahtar, za’atar is a spice blend that is very popular in Middle Eastern cuisines. It is actually the word for Lebanese oregano, a member of the mint family Lamiaceaea, and known since antiquity as hyssop. The za’atar blend includes spices well-known in European cuisines, with the unique components of Lebanese oregano and sumac berries, which impart a tart, fruity flavor that differentiates za’atar from other spice blends. Traditional ingredients include marjoram, oregano, thyme, toasted sesame seeds, savory and sumac. Za’atar is used to season meat and vegetables, mixed with olive oil and spread on pita wedges or flatbread, added to hummus, and for a modern touch, sprinkled on pizza, especially ones with feta cheese.

    †You can first zest the lemons and use the zest in anything else you make today, from grains and vegetables to hot tea or sparkling water.

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Cranberry Mimosa Cocktail

    Cranberry Mimosa Cocktail

    Make Cranberry Mimosa cocktails or mocktails. Photo courtesy Ocean Spray.

     

    There’s still time to create a signature drink for Christmas: a Cranberry Mimosa cocktail or mocktail. It combines cranberry juice with sparkling wine (or ginger ale), instead of the orange juice of a traditional Mimosa.

    Or use cranberry liqueur for a Cranberry Kir Royale, a.k.a. Kir Royale à la Canneberge (if you haven’t guessed, canneberge [can-BERZH] is French for cranberry). Note that using liqueur instead of juice creates a stronger drink.

    You can also serve a Mimosa mocktail with cranberry juice and ginger ale, and a diet version with diet cranberry juice and diet ginger ale.

     
    RECIPE: CHRISTMAS MIMOSA, CRANBERRY KIR ROYALE OR CRANBERRY MOCKTAIL

    Ingredients Per Drink

  • 2 ounces cranberry juice or cranberry liqueur
  • 4 ounces sparkling wine*, regular or rosé, chilled
  • Optional garnish: lemon curl, strawberry
  •  
    Preparation

    1. COMBINE the cranberry juice/liqueur and the sparkling wine in a Champagne flute or wine glass. Add the juice first. If you need to stir, do so gently, once, so as not to collapse the bubbles.

    2. GARNISH as desired and serve.
     
    *Well-priced sparkling wines include Asti Spumante and Prosecco from Italy, Cava from Spain, Crémant from France and our Top Pick Of The Week, Yellow Tail Bubbly.

     
    THE HISTORY OF THE MIMOSA COCKTAIL

    The Mimosa, a cocktail composed of equal parts of orange juice and Champagne or other dry, white sparkling wine, was invented circa 1925 in the Hôtel Ritz in Paris, by bartender Frank Meier. Served in a Champagne flute, it is believed to be named after the the mimosa evergreen shrub (Acacia dealbata), which bears flowers of a similar color to the drink.

    The optional addition of a small amount of orange liqueur like Grand Marnier complements the juice and gives the drink more complexity.

    Because of the juice component, the Mimosa is often served at brunch. A Grapefruit Mimosa with grapefruit juice is a popular variation. A related drink, the Buck’s Fizz†, has two parts Champagne to one part juice—and sometimes a splash of grenadine. Created at London’s Buck’s Club by bartender Pat McGarryhe, the Buck’s Fizz predates the Mimosa by about four years.

    If you’re making Mimosas, fresh-squeezed orange juice makes a huge difference. One expert recommends trying different types of orange juice: The sweeter Navel juice vs. the more acidic Valencia, for example. Blood oranges, with their rosy color and raspberry notes, will provide a different experience entirely (and a wonderful one!).

    [Source]
     
    †Buck and mule are old names for mixed drinks made with ginger ale or ginger beer, plus citrus juice. They can be made with any base liquor. Why buck? Why mule? That answer is lost to history, but here’s a detailed discussion.
     
      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Strawberry Wreath

    No matter how many pies, cakes and cookie platters were served at Christmas dinner, our mom always put out one more dessert: fresh fruit salad.

    It always had takers, from calorie counters to healthy eaters to people avoiding lactose, gluten, refined sugar, whatever, to people who were too full to eat something rich.

    But as much as we treasure memories of mom sectioning all types of citrus for her fruit salad, this strawberry wreath is an even better idea.

    Buy four or more pints of strawberries with fresh green crowns (your grocer may have jumbo value packages). Wash and pat dry, leaving the crowns intact. If the crowns are dried out, remove them and accent the berries with some green grapes instead.

    Lay the berries out in a wreath shape on a tray or cutting board. Cover with plastic wrap to keep in the moisture until you’re ready to serve the wreath.

    Provide a low-calorie yogurt dip, such as:

  • Nonfat plain Greek yogurt sweetened with agave and a pinch of cinnamon
  • Siggi’s Icelandic Style Strained Nonfat Vanilla Yogurt*
  •    

    Strawberry Wreath

    This is the easiest Christmas fruit dessert. Photo courtesy California Strawberries.

  • Dannon Oikos Nonfat Yogurt in Strawberry or Strawberry Banana
  •  

    Strawberry Heart

    For Valentine’s Day, make a strawberry
    heart. Photo courtesy WeHeartIt.com.

     

    You’ll get oohs and aahs plus voices of appreciation.

    If the berries aren’t sweet enough, provide a bowl of sugar and noncaloric sweetener, or a squeeze bottle of agave or honey.

    We actually sprinkle Splenda over the berries before plating them, which solves the problem. But not everyone likes the idea of artificial sweetener.

    We wish you a berry happy holiday!
     
     
    *You can use any vanilla yogurt, but Siggi’s is one of the lowest sugar vanilla yogurts on the market.

     

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Winter’s Seasonal Fruit, Citrus

    While many delightful fruits have gone “on hiatus” until next summer, winter is not without its comforts: citrus fruits. Get your fill of the winter citrus bounty, and especially seek out varieties you haven’t had before.

    All of the following are different species in the Citrus genus: order Sapindales, family Rutaceae.
     
    BLOOD ORANGES

    A good blood orange is our favorite citrus. Named for their deep pink or red-streaked flesh, blood oranges are smaller than other oranges and have slightly rougher skin. The skin often has a red blush.

    Once a rare European import, blood oranges from California are now in abundant supply in the U.S. from December through March. If you keep trying them, you may find the simply celestial ones with luscious, raspberry-orange-flavored flesh*. They are a variety of conventional orange, Citrus × sinensis. Here’s more about blood oranges.

     
    *Today, too much fruit is grown to look great on the shelf, to be durable for transport, to eliminate bothersome seeds, and just about every reason other than natural sweetness and deep flavor. The terroir—soil and microclimate—of the orchard also has a big impact on flavor.

     
    CARA CARA ORANGES

    Another citrus delight (when you get a good one), Cara Cara oranges are worth seeking out. A variety of navel orange, it has rosy pink, juicy, sweet flesh and low acidity. The taste is sweet with undertones of cherry.

    The variety was discovered in 1976 as a mutation at the Hacienda de Cara Cara in Valencia, Venezuela. They are also a variety of conventional orange, Citrus × sinensis. Here’s more about Cara Cara Oranges.
     
    GRAPEFRUITS

    Grapefruits, Citrus × paradisi, have been a seasonal staple in the East since the 1920s, when winter visitors to sunny Florida drove back with carloads of them for friends and family, along with oranges and jars of orange and grapefruit marmalade. Eventually, growers began shipping commercially to the north and then nationwide.

    While is was most commonly served at breakfast, halved and usually topped with honey or sugar, it is now used in many recipes, including our favorite, grapefruit sorbet.

    Pommelos/pummelos are a different fruit, Citrus maxima, also known Citrus grandis. They have a much thicker peel. a green-tinged skin and a slightly drier texture. They can be substituted for grapefruit in any recipe.

       

    Blood Oranges

    Cara Cara Oranges

    Ruby Red Grapefruit

    Similar colors, very different flavors! TOP PHOTO: Blood Oranges from Melissas.com. MIDDLE PHOTO: Cara Cara Oranges from Whiteflower Farm. BOTTOM PHOTO: Ruby Red Grapefrut from Good Eggs | San Francisco.

     
    KUMQUATS

    These wee fruits, looking like teeny oval oranges, are C. japonica, although the name comes from the Chinese gam gwat, meaning golden tangerine. (C. is the abbreviation for Citrus; in taxonomy, to shorten the genus and species, the genus is usually designated by the first letter of its name.)

    You eat them skin and all (except for the seeds), but some varieties can be tart. Halve them and toss them into green salads and fruit salads, chicken and shrimp salads.

     

    Kumquats

    Mandarin Orange

    Ugli Fruit

    TOP PHOTO: Kumquats from Good Eggs |
    San Francisco. MIDDLE PHOTO: Mandarins
    are easy to peel. Photo courtesy Noble Juice.
    BOTTOM PHOTO: Ugli Fruit from Melissa’s. Following careful breeding, these are less ugly—less lumpy and less green—than earlier ugli fruits.

     

    MANDARINS

    First note that it’s “mandarin,” not a “mandarin orange” or “satsuma orange”; the two are separate genuses (more about that below).

    There are many varieties of mandarins, Citrus reticulata, bred the world over. In the U.S. it’s easy to find clementines, satsumas, tangerines and tangelos. They are relatively similar size and appearance (as well as calories—50—and nutrition), and the lay person can confuse them.

  • Clementines are seedless and sweeter than tangerines and tangelos. They’re the most commonly grown mandarin in the world, with a thinner skin and a hint of apricot flavor. They are named after Father Clément, a priest who began cultivating them in Algeria around 1900, crossing a mandarin with an orange. Spain and Morocco are the biggest exporters.
  • Satsumas are mostly seedless, and tend to have more juice and less pulp between their membranes. This makes them the softest and most prone to shipping damage, which is why they can be less available than other varieties. They are usually the variety sold in cans as mandarin oranges. Satsuma was a former province of Japan.
  • Tangerines have seeds and are less sweet than the others. Tangerines came to Europe by way of North Africa in the 1800s. They were exported through the port of Tangier in Morocco, hence the name. Different varieties were exported, generically called tangerines. In earlier times, all mandarins in the U.S. were “tangerines.”
  • Tangelos are a cross between a grapefruit and a tangerine. They’re especially juicy and lack grapefruit’s acidity. Minneolas and Orlandos are types of tangelos. The Minneola, which has a distinctive knob at one end, are also marketed under the brand name Honeybells.
  • Ugli Fruit (C. reticulata × paradisi) is a type of tangelo cross between a tangerine, a grapefruit and an orange. It looks like a lumpy, ugly grapefruit. Here’s more about it, also sold as Uniq Fruit.
  •  
    MANDARINS & ORANGES: THE DIFFERENCE

    There are three basic citrus types—citron, mandarin and pomelo/pummelo—from which all other modern citrus varieties derive via hybrids or backcrosses.

     

    While they look like small oranges and are often called “mandarin oranges,” mandarins are a separate species that includes the clementine, mineola (red tangelo), murcott (also called honey tangerine), tangelo, temple and satsuma, among others.

  • Oranges are from the order Sapindales, family Rutaceae, genus Citrus and species C. × sinensis The orange is a hybrid cross between a pomelo (Citrus maxima) and a mandarin (Citrus reticulata), with genes that are about 25% pomelo and 75% mandarin.
  • Mandarins are from the order Sapindales, family Rutaceae, genus Citrus and seven different sub-groups (clementines are C. clementina). “Cuties” and “Sweeties” are brand names for clementines.
  •  
    More Confusion

    Mandarins are also called loose-skin oranges—a usage which is both unfortunate and confusing given the numerous, highly distinctive differences between the two genuses. According to the experts at U.C. Davis:

  • In the U.S., where the name tangerine first came into common usage, mandarin (or “mandarin orange”) and tangerine are used more or less interchangeably to designate the whole group. Since mandarin is the older and much more widely employed name, its use is clearly preferable.
  • The term “tangerine” was coined for brightly-colored sweet mandarins that were originally shipped out of the port of Tangiers, Morocco to Florida in the late 1800s; the term stuck.
  • Presumably because of the orange-red color of the Dancy variety, which originated in Florida and was introduced in the markets as the Dancy tangerine, horticulturists have tended to restrict the use of the term tangerine to the mandarins of similar deep color. However, this is a usage of convenience only and the tangerines do not comprise a group of natural significance.
  •  
    The mandarin probably originated in northeastern India, home of the Indian wild mandarin, Citrus indica Tan. As with all agricultural products, many hybrids followed.

    The mandarin reached the Mediterranean basin in the early 1800s, and arrived in Florida about 1825. Thanks to the University of California Davis for providing this information. You can read more here.

    Then, go out and gather some great citrus fruits.

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Cranberry “Mistletoe” Kissing Ball

    You don’t need to buy mistletoe to encourage people at holiday get-togethers to kiss. Instead, substitute this “holiday kissing ball” from Ocean Spray.

    First head to the crafts store, then pick up fresh whole cranberries. You can pick up an extra bag or two for a Valentine Kissing Ball (and if you prefer, a foam heart instead of a ball).

    DIY CRANBERRY KISSING BALL

    Ingredients

  • 5” styrofoam ball
  • Red acrylic craft paint
  • 24-gauge beading wire
  • Hot glue gun/glue sticks -or- wooden toothpicks
  • 1-2 12-ounce bag(s) Ocean Spray fresh cranberries
  • Optional: shellac spray
  • Trim of choice: ribbon, mistletoe, holly, ivy, bells
  •  
    Preparation

     

    Cranberry Kissing Ball

    A kissing ball, mistletoe optional. Photo courtesy Ocean Spray.

     
    1. PAINT the foam ball with red craft paint. Set aside to dry.

    2. CUT an 18″ piece of wire and fold it in half. Push the folded wire all the way through the center of the ball, leaving a 1″ wire loop extending at bottom of ball and 3″ of wire extending at top.

    3. ATTACH the cranberries to ball with a hot glue gun or toothpicks, covering the ball completely. Spray with shellac for longevity (otherwise, the berries soften after 5 days or so, and the appearance will diminish). NOTE: The glue gun is a better choice. If you don’t have one, you can pick one up when you buy the foam ball at the crafts store.

    4. TWIST the two wires at top of ball into a simple hook for hanging. Use ribbon to tie the desired holiday trim to wire above and below ball, and hang with a hook.

    5. FIND someone to kiss and guide him/her underneath the ball.

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Winter Fruit Compote

    First: What’s a compote?

    A popular medieval European dessert that faded out of style in the mid-20th century, compote (COM-poat), also referred to as poached or stewed fruit, is mix of fruits cooked in a syrup. Although a single fruit can be cooked in the same manner, a variety is more interesting.

    In fact, the name derives from the Latin compositus, mixture. Think of it as a cooked fruit salad. It was once so popular that people of means served it from a stemmed compote dish, designed to show off the fruits (see a photo below).

    The syrup is made from the cooking liquid—typically water or wine—plus sugar and spices.

    The syrup could be seasoned with the cook’s choice of cinnamon, cloves, lemon or orange peel, vanilla or other spices. The cooked fruit could be enhanced with candied fruit, grated coconut, ground almonds and/or raisins.

    In the absence of fresh fruit, compote could be made entirely with dried fruits, plumped in water that was optionally enhanced with kirsch, rum or sweet wine.
     
    HOW TO SERVE COMPOTE

    Thus, compote was especially popular in fall and winter, when fresh fruit was limited. Our Nana made it at least once a week during the season.

  • Compote can be served either warm or cold, with or without a dab of whipped cream or mascarpone. Except in Italy, the mascarpone is a modern touch. Nana and the rest of her generation had never heard of it.
  • You can use compote to garnish panna cotta or custard, in an ice cream parfait, even atop plain cake like angel food or pound cakes.
  • You can even serve compote with a cheese course, with or instead of fresh fruit.
  •  

    RECIPE: POACHED WINTER FRUIT COMPOTE

       

    Apple Cherry Compote

    TOP PHOTO: Apple and cherry compote on ice cream. BOTTOM PHOTO: Compote with a cheese course. Photos courtesy Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board.

     
    This recipe, from the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board, combines classic seasonal fruits—apples, pears, quince and dried fruits—with modern touches like star anise, another ingredient that wasn’t in American grocery stores in Nana’s time.

    For a holiday version, here’s another recipe: compote with cranberries, oranges and maple syrup.
     
    Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • Juice of one lemon
  • 2 cups water or juice
  • 1 cup dry or off dry white or rosé(juice may be substituted)
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 6 whole star anise*
  • 6 allspice berries
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 4 to 6 apples, pears or quince (2-3 pounds), peeled and quartered
  • 1/2 cup dried plums, apricots or cranberries
  •  
    *If you don’t have star anise and don’t want to buy it, for each star you can substitute: 3/4 teaspoon crushed anise seed, 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon anise extract, 1/2 teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder or 1 tablespoon anise liqueur or other licorice liqueur.
     
    Preparation

    1. PLACE the first nine ingredients (up to and including the bay leaves) into a pot and bring to a boil. Stir to dissolve the sugar; then reduce the heat to low and add the fruit.

    2. COVER the pot and simmer, removing the fruit with a slotted spoon as it softens.† Arrange the fruit in a glass bowl. (Nana mixed everything together like fruit salad, although you can layer the fruits if you wish.) Once all the fruit has been removed…

    3. BRING the poaching liquid to a boil and reduce it by half (it takes 5 to 10 minutes). Taste; if necessary add more lemon juice to balance the flavor. Strain the syrup and carefully ladle it over the poached fruit. The cooked fruit will keep in the refrigerator for about a week.
     
    †The fruit should be tender but not mushy. Cooking times vary for different fruits: 10 to 15 minutes for dried fruits, 20 to 30 minutes for pears, 30 to 45 minutes for apples and one hour for quince.
     

     

    Compote Dish

    A simple compote dish. They could be quite elaborate: etched crystal, garnished in gold, etc. Photo courtesy Abigails | Amazon.

     

    THE HISTORY OF COMPOTE

    No doubt, fruits have been stewed since the invention of clay pots, some 17,000 years ago in China. But the oldest known recipe we have, for a pear and fig kompot, dates to the early Byzantine Empire (330 C.E. to 1453 C.E.). Here’s the recipe for that ancient fruit compote, it’s made with dried fruit, date syrup and pomegranate molasses.

    Compote ultimately made its way to Europe. According to Wikipedia, in late medieval England the compote was served as one of the last courses of a feast. Later, during the Renaissance, it was served chilled at the end of a dinner, e.g., a predecessor of the modern dessert.‡

    Because it was easy to prepare, made from inexpensive ingredients and contained no dairy products, compote became a staple of Jewish households throughout Europe.

    Make it one of your household’s desserts!

     
    ‡Sugar was little known in Europe until the 12th century or later, when the it was brought back from the Crusades. Even then it was rare and costly; honey or dried fruits were the common sweeteners. In southeast Asia, where sugarcane originated, it has been in use for 1,000 years or so.

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Almost Apple Pie (Slow Cooker Apples)

    If an apple a day keeps the doctor away (see below), it stands to reason that an apple dessert helps, too.

    We have two slow-cooker apple recipes for you today. The second is like apple pie filling. Both are classic fall and winter desserts, suitable for weeknights or for company. They can be served warm, at room temperature or chilled.

    While you can prepare both recipes in an oven, a slow cooker with a liner saves you from scrubbing a pan—and leaves the cooked apples juicier, too.

    Both recipes were developed by Reynolds Kitchens.

    RECIPE #1: SLOW COOKER STUFFED “BAKED” APPLES
    WITH CINNAMON & BROWN SUGAR

    Prep time is 20 minutes, slow cooker time is 3 hours. You can make the recipe even healthier by replacing the brown sugar with half as much agave syrup*. While there’s not a lot of refined sugar in the recipe, every little save helps.
     
    Ingredients For 4 Servings

       

    Slow Cooker Baked Apples

    “Baked” apples from the slow cooker. Photo courtesy Reynolds Kitchens.

  • 4 medium tart baking apples (such as Braeburn, Granny Smith or Jonathan), cored
  • 1/4 cup regular rolled oats
  • 1/4 cup raisins
  • 2 tablespoons packed brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon butter, chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 2/3 cup apple juice
  •  
    *Want to cut back on sugar? A better choice than sugar is agave nectar, a low-glycemic natural sweetener from the agave plant. Agave nectar has a glycemic index (GI) of 32, half that of table sugar (GI 60-65). Honey has a GI of 58, pure maple syrup has a GI of 54. Here’s more information on agave.
     
    Preparation

    1. LINE a 5- to 6-quart slow cooker with a Reynolds Slow Cooker Liner. Place the sliced apples in the liner.

    2. COMBINE the oats, raisins, brown sugar, butter and cinnamon in a small bowl. Spoon the mixture into the centers of the apples, patting down with the back of a spoon or a narrow metal spatula. Mound any remaining oat mixture on top of the apples. Pour apple juice around the apples in the cooker.

    3. COVER and cook for 3 hours on low.

    4. TRANSFER the apples to serving bowls and drizzle with the cooking liquid.

     

    Slow Cooker Sauteed Apples

    More like apple pie: apple slices slow-cooked
    with cinnamon. Photo courtesy Reynolds
    Kitchens.

     

    RECIPE #2: SLOW COOKER GLAZED CINNAMON APPLES

    Prep time is 15 minutes, slow cooker time is 3 hours (low) or 2 hours (high).
     
    Ingredients For 8 Servings

  • 6 large Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and cut in eight wedges
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • Optional topping: vanilla ice cream or whipped cream
  • Optional cookies: gingersnap, oatmeal, shortbread or sugar cookies
  • Preparation

    1. LINE a 5-to-6 quart slow cooker with a Reynolds Slow Cooker Liner. Open a slow cooker liner and place it inside a slow cooker bowl. Fit the liner snugly against the bottom and sides of bowl; pull top of the liner over the rim of the bowl.

    2. PLACE the apples in the bowl and drizzle with lemon juice.

    3. MIX the granulated sugar, brown sugar, flour, cinnamon and nutmeg in a medium bowl. Sprinkle the mixture over the apples; stir gently with a rubber spatula to coat the apples. Drizzle with butter.

    4. PLACE the lid on the slow cooker and cook on the low-heat setting for 3 hours or on the high-heat setting for 2 hours, until the apples are done.

    5. CAREFULLY REMOVE the lid to allow the steam to escape. Transfer the apples to serving bowls and top with ice cream or whipped cream; or spoon the apples over a scoop of ice cream. Serve with cookies, if desired.

    6. COOL the slow cooker completely; remove the liner and toss. Do not lift or transport the liner with food inside.
     
     
     
    “AN APPLE A DAY” ORIGIN

    According to a website that tracks the origins of English phrases, the earliest known print reference dates to Wales in 1866:

    Eat an apple on going to bed, And you’ll keep the doctor from earning his bread.

    By the turn of the 20th century, a number of variants of the rhyme were in circulation, including the one popular in the U.S.

    Why were apples singled out to keep the doctor away? While they are healthful*, the answer is more complex. In Old English, “apple” was used to describe any round fruit that grew on a tree. Adam and Eve’s forbidden fruit is cited in English as an apple; but the word in the original Hebrew and the subsequent 1611 King James version of the Bible, it simply called “a fruit.”

    Most historians believe that the apple originated in the Dzungarian Alps, a mountain range separating China from Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan (far away from the Middle East/Garden of Eden). Scholars believe that the fruit tree in the Middle East, the designated home of the Garden Of Eden, may actually have been a pomegranate.

     
    *According to Phrases.org.uk and medical resources: Apples contain vitamin C, which aids the immune system, and phenols, which reduce cholesterol. Apples help to reduce tooth decay by killing bacteria that adhere to the teeth. Cornell University researchers believe that the quercetin in apples protects the brain cells against neuro-degenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s Disease.

      

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    RECIPE: Make & Bring Sweet & Savory Nut Clusters

    Homemade Nut Clusters

    Sweet and savory nut clusters, with pumpkin
    seeds added for the holidays. Photo courtesy
    QVC.

     

    If you’ve been invited to Thanksgiving but not asked to contribute, you may still want to bring a gift that isn’t a bottle of wine.

    Something like these Sweet & Savory Nut Clusters from QVC’s chef David Venable can be a gift to the hosts be enjoyed later. Package them in a decorative tin or jar.

    Or, they can be served with after-dinner coffee by those who are too stuffed for pie.

    For any occasion, they can be served with a slice of Gorgonzola as the cheese course, or as a garnish for a green salad along with crumbled Gorgonzola.
     
    RECIPE: SWEET & SAVORY NUT CLUSTERS WITH
    GORGONZOLA

    Ingredients For 8-10 Servings

  • 1-1/2 cups raw pecan halves
  • 1 cup whole raw almonds
  • 1-1/2 cups raw walnut halves
  • 1/2 cup raw pumpkin seeds
  • 1 egg white, lightly beaten with 1 tablespoon water
  • 1/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons fine sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon coarse-ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1-1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • Optional: Gorgonzola or other blue cheese
  • Optional: green salad with vinaigrette
  • Preparation

    1. PREHEAT the oven to 325°F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.

    2. TOSS the pecans, almonds, walnuts, and pumpkin seeds with the beaten egg white in a large bowl, until coated.

    3. COMBINE the brown sugar, sea salt, black pepper, cayenne pepper and rosemary in another bowl and toss with the nuts until evenly coated. Pour in the honey and fold until coated.

    4. SPREAD the mixture out on the prepared cookie sheet. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until toasted. Serve as desired.

     
      

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