It’s Squash Season!

I love winter squash! It’s probably one of my favourite vegetables! Winter squashes come in all different shapes, sizes and colours. They are diverse in appearance but all are solid in nutritional quality. Due to its orange colour, squash is a superb source of the carotenoids beta-carotene and lutein. Carotenoids which ac as antioxidants, reducing free radical damage, and may prevent heart disease. Lutein may also help preserve eye health by decreasing the risk for macular degeneration. Squash is also a source of potassium which is an electrolyte involved in fluid and electrolyte balance for the body as well as heart health and blood pressure regulation. Like most fruits and vegetables squash also offers Vitamin C. Folacin, also found in squash, functions in the prevention of birth defects and reduces the risk of certain cancers and heart disease. Of course, if you’ve ever tasted the creamy, smooth and satisfying texture of a squash you will realize that it is also an excellent source of fibre, which helps regulate cholesterol levels and keep digestion regular. 1 cup of cooked acorn squash has 11 grams of fibre which is almost 50% of what you need in a day! Fibre is important for keeping your regular as well as Winter squash is also a low-fat source of Vitamin E.

Squash seeds are also very nutritious. They are a good source of iron, another important mineral involved with oxygen transportation in the book. Save the seeds from your squash, wash them and let them dry and then bake them in the oven at 275F for about 15 min until they are crispy and crunchy.

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Squash starts to become available towards the end of August. They are a harvest vegetable and once harvested and stored properly you can find local squash available until about March. It’s an great ingredient for many fall and winter dishes because of it’s heartiness and time of availability.

When buying a squash pick one that has a hard surface free of soft spots and bruises. You can buy a squash and keep it stored in a cool dry place with good air circulation for a couple of weeks.  Be sure to turn it over every once in a while to make sure that there are no mushy spots hiding underneath!

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There are so many things you can do with squash. It’s amazing! But due to its hard flesh winter squash will have to be cooked before it is eaten. Most often you will hear of roasting squash. This is an easy way to cook it. Cubes of squash can also be added to soups, stews and chilies. Squash soup gives a creamy consistency when it is pureed which is one of the beauties of squash soups. It’s also used in sauces to give that same creaminess – without the cream and extra fat and calories.

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Become Unbeatable … with Beets!

There is something stunning about the deep ruby red beet that creates a dramatic effect wherever and whenever it is presented. Beets don’t have to be red though, although that is probably the most common conceptualization of this vegetable; they also can be yellow or striped. Did you know that not only can the roots be eaten but you can also eat the leaves?

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So, what are the benefits of beets? With their deep colour it’s understandable why beets are a stellar source of many vitamins and minerals that are essential for good health and nutrition. As with other fruits and vegetables beets provide Vitamin C, a vitamin that also acts as an antioxidant. Folacin, a powerful B-vitamin with preventative effects for birth defects, cancer and heart disease. Potassium found in beets may contribute to reducing the risk of heart disease and stroke. Iron is another important mineral found in beets.

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When buying beets try and get ones that are equal in size so that they will cook evenly. Make sure your beets are firm and their skin is dry and there are no mushy parts. Keep your beets in a cool dry place, like the refrigerator, loosely wrapped in a paper towel. If you are not going to eat the beet leaves you can chop off the stalks for easier storage.

Before cooking your beets scrub them well under running water to remove the dirt. Then dry them well with paper towels.

Beets have many different uses. You can roast them, boil them, steam them. They can be pickled (I’ve always have a thing for the little pickled salad beets!). You can shave them and add them to salads raw. Beets can be added to smoothies or beet root juice is also very popular. And of course they are the signature ingredient in Borscht – a traditional Eastern European soup.

If you can, try not to peel the beets before you cook them. Leaving the skins on preserves valuable nutrients, as well as the colour of the beets. It’s okay to leave the beet tops on and remove them after cooking.

A big question in preparing beets is “what to do about the red stains”? Beets will stain your hands if you handle them either raw or cooked. The simple solution is to wear gloves. Just get a thin pair of plastic gloves. Beets will also stain surfaces. Wood and marble are especially difficult to get stains out of. You can remove the skins of cooked beets with paper towels. Cover surfaces with parchment paper to prevent beet staining.

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Beets and Athletic Performance

One area of interest for beets in research is for their effects on athletic performance. Beets have been found to improve endurance and athletic performance. Beet root and beet root juice have been tested in various studies, such as this one in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, which  found that consuming whole beetroots improved performance with increased running velocity and decreased ratings of perceived exertion. Beets provide these effects because they are a natural source of nitrates which increases nitric oxide bioavaiability which is important to exercise performance.

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FYI – Beets are red because of the red pigment “betacyanin”. Some people cannot properly metabolize betacyanin and it will pass through the digestion process unchanged and then be excreted. This is not something to be worried about.

Peas Pack a Powerful Nutritional Punch!

Small and delicate but not to be underestimated, peas are a signature food for springtime. Don’t be deceived by their small size. Peas offer a powerful nutrition punch!

In Ancient Egypt peas were stored in the tombs of pharaohs and mummies because the Egyptians thought them valuable for sustain them on their journey through the afterlife.

There are a few different varieties of fresh peas. These include green peas, snow peas and sugar snap peas

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Peas are low in fat and high in fibre. They offer a good amount of protein and some valuable nutrients including Vitamin A, Vitamin B1, Vitamin B6, Vitamin C, and Vitamin K. Vitamin K is particularly important although often found in green leafy vegetables it is involved in wound healing and maintaining blood vessels as well as contributing to bone health by assisting with bone formation thus strengthening bones which may help prevent fractures and the risks associated with osteoporosis. Different varieties have slightly different nutritional compositions. Green peas provide more riboflavin, niacin and zinc than snow peas but snow peas offer more Vitamin C, Vitamin E, folate, lutein and zinc.

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Fresh peas are available from June to July. Always refrigerate your fresh peas to preserve their freshness. Wash peas well. You may have to shell your peas before using if eating green peas. Snow peas and Sugar snap peas do not need to be shelled but you should remove their tips at both ends before you eat them.

Meal Ideas for Fresh Peas

There are so many ways you can use peas to power-up your diet and make your meals more interesting! They are easy to add into many different recipes like soups, salads, pasta sauces or served on their own as a side dish. You don’t need much – one serving of peas is only 1/2 cup (125 mL).

  • Fresh sugar snap peas or snow peas make great healthy portable snack foods. Serve with hummus for extra flavour.
  • Make snow peas part of the vegetable mix for a stir-fry.
  • Steam fresh peas for 1-2 minutes. They make a simple but satisfying side to meats and fish. Be careful not to overcook your peas or else you will have mushy peas.

 

Note: Fresh is best where peas are concerned. Frozen peas are better than canned peas though because the retain more of their flavour and nutrients than canned peas. You can substitute frozen peas for fresh.

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Why are Strawberries Red?

Petite, plump and juicy … that’s the making of a perfect strawberry. Strawberries are one of the most popular fruits in North America, with over 70 varieties being grown. There is nothing quite like local fresh strawberries in season. Strawberries are available from June to July, on the edge between spring and summer. Looking for a fun activity and an excuse to enjoy some beautiful weather? Go strawberry picking!

Rich in nutritional benefits, strawberries offer a good amount of dietary fibre and potassium. What’s more, they actually offer more Vitamin C than any other berry! They are low in calories and make one of the best snack foods not only because of their nutritional value but also because how easy they are to transport and consume.

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Generally, the first thing that draws us to pick one strawberry over another is its deep red ruby colour. Strawberries should also be firm, plump and well-shaped with fresh—looking green leafy caps. Give the strawberries a “sniff-test” to see if they have a nice sweet smell to them, that’s another factor to determine which strawberries to buy. Size is not a key determining factor when choosing strawberries. Always check your strawberries carefully before buying them. Examine the package from all angles, not just picking one up and taking it because the berries on top look good; you want to see if you can that none of the fruit hiding below the surface or at the bottom has gone bad. If you get home and find there are some mashed or bad berries discard them immediately.

Store your strawberries intact (with caps on), unwashed, in the refrigerator until you are ready to eat them. Rinse gently, drain, and remove the stems before you use them.

You can make use of your strawberries in so many simple and different ways: enjoy them as they are, cook with them, bake with them, make jam with them, add them to muffins, make yogurt parfaits and smoothies. They make a great addition to a spring-themed salad, to say nothing of all the strawberry deserts that are out there! One of my favourite uses has to be chocolate covered strawberries. The possibilities are endless!

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So what does make a strawberry red? Strawberries contain a molecule called anthocyanidin which is the anthocyanin precursor. Anthocyanins are an important kind of antioxidant, and they are also responsible for giving red fruits their colour. Anthocyanidin however is colourless. When the anthocyadin reacts with a sugar molecule to become anthocyanin, the antioxidant, it becomes red. This explains why unripe strawberries are unsweet and colourless and the riper the strawberries the redder in colour it will be. The ripening process is key to the colour change. We infer that to find the best berries look for the deepest, darkest red berry to get optimum taste and nutrition.

Enjoy strawberry season!

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Feature Food of the Week – Asparagus

There’s always a sigh of relief when the first crop of Asparagus comes in because that means spring really is here!

Asparagus is certainly a unique looking vegetable with it’s long thin stalks and fgreen-asparagus-1331460_1920unny spiky leaves. it’s been called the “aristocrat of the vegetable” for it’s regal appearance as well as its popularity with the nobility, from Roman emperors to King Louis XIV to name a few.

Asparagus is available in three colours: green, purple and white. The season for asparagus is brilliant and brief – it’s only available May and June – so make sure you try some while it’s here!

Nutritionally, asparagus is low in calories and offers high amount of fibre, iron, vitamin C, vitamin A and B vitamins. Folate in particular is a very important B vitamin found in asparagus.

When buying asparagus, look for stalks that are straight and crisp with tips that are tight and green/purple.

You should eat your asparagus as soon as you can but you can store for up to three days in the refrigerator if you have to. To preserve freshness, wrap the ends of the asparagus in a wet paper towel and cover with plastic warp or place stalks in a glass of water.

Quick Tip: Make sure you snap off the woody end of your asparagus before you cook it! Just hold it at the end and bend until it breaks off.

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Roasting and steaming are two great ways to cook asparagus. Steam asparagus for about 5 to 10 minutes. The time will depend on how thick the asparagus is. Roast asparagus for 12 – 15 minutes in at 425 F . I love how with roasted asparagus the tips become just a little bit crispy. Blanching is another method where you cook asparagus for 3-4 min in boiling water, then drain and run the asparagus under cold water to stop the cooking process.

Roasted asparagus goes really well as a simple side to meats such as chicken, turkey and steak. Asparagus pairs well with other vegetables in medleys. You can make it an addition to pasta dishes or in a stir-fry.

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Feature Food of the Week – Rhubarb

Spring is here and so begins the arrival of an array of fresh local fruits afile6971278531027nd vegetables. It’s an exciting time!

Rhubarb is an interesting one of those. Rhubarb is technically a vegetable but it is used as a fruit for the most part. It’s pretty, pink and perky stalks make it the perfect spring feature. Originally from China, rhubarb was used medicinally for thousands of years. It only became popular as a food ingredient in North America in the 19th century.

Nutritionally, rhubarb is low in calories (approximately 27 calories/cup) and is a source of Vitamin C, calcium, potassium, magnesium as well as a good amount of soluble fibre.

You can find rhubarb in season locally from January to June. It’s grown in two crops: the hothouse variety, available from January to June, and the field-grown variety, available April, June and July.

In the market, rhubarb is often sold loose with leaves still intact. Look for firm, well-colored, straight stalk and healthy looking leaves (if still intact). When you get home, you should remove and dispose of the leaves immediately because they are toxic!!! Keep rhubarb-2267993_1920the trimmed stalks in a plastic bag in the refrigerator until you are ready to use them.

Please note: rhubarb leaves are toxic owing to their high oxalic acid content. So, remove them as soon as you can and don’t eat them!

Got too much? After removing the leaves, wash the rhubarb stalks, chop them up and store them in the freezer in sealed plastic bags for up to six months. Because you will be cooking them anyways you don’t have to worry about losing texture from freezing.

Since rhubarb stalks are tough and far too tart to be eaten raw you will have to cook your rhubarb before you eat it. Often, a sweetener is needed to cut the sour taste of rhubarb, however you can minimize the sugar content by using natural sweeteners or combining rhubarb with other fruits, such as strawberries, or fruit juices. Pairing rhubarb with other fruits is one reason why you rarely see rhubarb featured on it’s own.

One of the most common uses for rhubarb is in pies. Here are some others of my favourite ways to use rhubarb:

  • Rhubarb Compote – made by cooking rhubarb down to a saucy or syrupy consistency. This is a great addition to a bowl of oatmeal, or topping to yogurt or frozen yogurt!
  • Rhubarb Crisp
  • Add chopped rhubarb to muffins
  • Use rhubarb in sauces, jams and chutneys

If you are looking for a dish to impress you can make a rhubarb tart. This rhubarb and almond tart is simple to make, looks rather elegant and would be just the perfect way to finish dinner on a spring evening!

For more on rhubarb visit: https://www.ontario.ca/foodland/food/rhubarb