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Week of September 30, 2007

Pumpkin Perfect

There are all kind of great recipes for using fall pumpkins. The are wonderful in or pies, soups, muffins and breads. Ask your grocer for sugar pie pumpkins or other flavorful varieties which are small and sweet, with dark orange-colored flesh. (Do not use stringy field pumpkins; they are great for jack-o-lanterns but not eating).

A medium-sized (4-pound) sugar pumpkin should yield around 1½ cups of mashed pumpkin. This puree can be used in all your recipes calling for canned pumpkin.

There are three ways to cook pumplin and then turn into the puree to use in cooking and baking:

Baking

  • Cut the pumpkin in half and discard the stem section and stringy pulp. Save the seeds to dry and roast.
  • In a shallow baking dish, place the two halves face down and cover with foil and bake in a preheated 375 degrees F (190 degrees C) oven for about 1½ hours for a medium-sized sugar pumpkin, or until tender.
  • Once the baked pumpkin has cooled, scoop out the flesh and puree or mash it.
  • For silky smooth custards or soups, press the pumpkin puree through a sieve.

Boiling

  • Cut the pumpkin in half, discarding the stringy insides.
  • Peel the pumpkin and cut it into chunks.
  • Place in a saucepan and cover with water.
  • Bring to a boil and cook until the pumpkin chunks are tender.
  • Let the chunks cool, and then puree the flesh in a food processor or mash it with a potato masher or food mill.

Microwave

  • Cut the pumpkin in half, discarding the stringy insides.
  • Microwave on high power for seven minutes per pound, turning pieces every few minutes to promote even cooking. Process as above.
  • You can refrigerate your fresh pumpkin puree for up to three days, or store it in the freezer up to six months, enabling you to enjoy fall pumpkins for months to come.

Week of September 23, 2007

How to Tell if Fish is Fresh?

Always let your nose be the judge. Perfectly fresh fish and shellfish have virtually no odor. It’s only when seafood starts to decompose that it takes on a “fishy” aroma. Fresh fish will display these properties:

  • The eyes are clean and bulge a little.
  • Whole fish and fillets have firm and shiny flesh and bright, red gills free from slime.
  • The flesh springs back when pressed.
  • There is no darkening around the edges or brown or yellowish discoloration.
  • The fish smells fresh and mild, not “fishy” or ammonia-like.

Week of September 16, 2007

So what exactly is a tomatillo?

Tomatillos - pronounced [toh-MAH-tee-YO] is relative of the tomato and member of the nightshade (Solanaceae) family tomatillos provide that tart flavor in a host of Mexican green sauces. In Mexico the fruit is called tomates verdes, tomates de cascara as well as fresadillas.

The fruits average about 1 -2" wide and have a papery outer skin. The tomatillo is actually used when it is still green. If you see the photo below one of the tomatillos is just turning a light yellow and indicates that is ripe and past its prime for most uses. Tomatillos have a very tart flavor, not at all like a tomato.

Tomatillos are frequently available in large chain grocery stores as well as most Mexican markets. Select unblemished fruit that complete fill their papery outside skin.

To prepare, eemove and discard the papery husks from the tomatillo, rinse, dry and use per your recipe. Tomatillos are not usually seeded prior to use.

Try our Tomatillo Salsa.

Week of September 9, 2007

About Okra

Coming from the South, I was alway in anticipation of late summer's bounty of okra. Of course okra is one of those things that you either love or hate. And of course there is the slime factor...

Gumbo is Swahili for okra. The recent upsurge in the popularity of gumbo has also brought renewed attention to okra. Okra was brought to the new world by African slaves during the slave trade.

Okra is also very popular in Indian cuisine. A very popular dish is Bhindi Ki Subji (stir-fried okra) which uses okra or "lady's fingers" as they are called in India.

My mother, a fantastic Southern cook always diced the pods in 1/2 inch chunks and stir fried until lightly browned over high heat in a little olive oil with onions and salt and pepper with a little cider vinegar toward the end. Yes cider vinegar. It pretty much removes the slime or silkiness from the texture.

You can also soak okra in vinegar for for about 30 minutes, then rinse and drain and use in recipes like below.

Okra and Green Beans

This dish can also be oven-baked. Instead of simmering, lightly cover with aluminum foil and bake for 30 minutes at 350°F.

3/4 pound fresh okra, uncut
1 tablespoons olive oil
Vinegar (optional)
1 medium onion, diced
3/4 pound fresh green beans
2 large garlic cloves, crushed then chopped
1 cup water plus 2 tablespoonssalt and freshly ground pepper
1 - 6 ounce can tomato paste

Wash okra pods, trim stems, do not remove caps. If desired soak okra in vinegar for 30 minutes to remove some of the stickiness. Rinse well and drain. Wash beans and cut into 3 inch lengths. Combine water, tomato paste, olive oil, onion, garlic, salt and pepper in a sauce pan and mix well.

Heat, stirring frequently, until mixture comet to boil. Add okra and beans and additional water if necessary to almost cover vegetables.

Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer gently until vegetables are crisp-tender, 20 to 30 minutes.

Makes 6 servings

Week of September 2, 2007

Freezing Fresh Fruit

Freezing fruit can be an easy way to enjoy the bounty summer all year round. Compared with other preservation methods, freezing saves time and nutrients, and keeps fruit fresh-tasting and colorful.

Follow these guidelines for safe preparation and preservation of peak-of-the season fruit.

Freeze fruit in containers or bags designed for freezer storage to prevent freezer burn. Make sure they are freezer bags; regular storage bags are not thick enough. Rigid plastic containers also work well.

The cut surfaces of some fruits such as apples, apricots, peaches and pears darken quickly when exposed to air. You can prevent browning by sprinkling with a commercial ascorbic acid mixture such as FruitFresh®; dipping in a solution of vitamin C-prepared by crushing three 500 mg tablets of vitamin C per quart of water; or dipping in a solution of bottled lemon juice: three tablespoons per quart of water. Fruit must be drained before packing into a freezer container.

While you can freeze almost any fruit without sugar, most fruits will have better color, texture and flavor if frozen with some sugar. Fruits packed in syrup are best for dessert; those packed in dry sugar or unsweetened are best for cooking. Adjust cooking recipes for any sugar added in freezing. If freezing fruit to use in making jams or jellies, do not add sugar.

  • Dry, unsweetened fruit. Treat fruit to prevent browning, drain and pack fruit firmly into a freezer container with no added sugar. Alternately, spread small whole fruits or fruit pieces in a single layer on shallow trays (baking sheets) and freeze. Once frozen, remove fruit from the trays and pack into a freezer container.
  • Dry sugar pack. Treat fruit to prevent browning, drain and sprinkle fruit with sugar to suit your taste. Mix gently and pack in freezer containers.
  • Syrup pack. Dessert fruits can be packed in syrup. Thin syrup will not mask the taste of mild-flavored fruits. Medium syrup is recommended for whole fruits and those that tend to darken. Heavy syrup may be needed for sour fruits.

Blackberries, boysenberries, raspberries and strawberries can all be successfully frozen. Sort berries and wash gently. Drain well. For an unsweetened loose pack, place on trays in a single layer, freeze for one to two hours, then pack in freezer bags and return to the freezer. For sugar pack, sprinkle sugar on berries and gently mix until sugar is dissolved. Slice strawberries or crush other berries and mix with sugar. Pack in freezer containers. Syrup pack may be used; leave one-inch headspace.

Try a syrup pack for cherries (sour or sweet). Stem, sort and wash the cherries. Drain and pit. Sweet cherries lose color quickly, so add antioxidant to sugar or syrup pack. A sugar pack is recommended for all cherries to help maintain flavor and color. Pack crushed or pureed cherries with sugar and antioxidant. Syrup pack with antioxidant may also be used; leave one-inch headspace.

Freezing rhubarb. Wash, trim, and cut stalks into one- or two-inch lengths. Pack raw, or heat in boiling water for one minute and chill in ice water to retain better flavor and color. Pack raw rhubarb without sugar, especially if you will cook with the rhubarb later. Caution: Rhubarb leaves are poisonous. Use stalks only.

COOKS NOTE : Label and date all packages that are placed in the freezer. For best quality, use frozen fruits within one year


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