Wednesday, December 01, 2010
Turnips come in a variety of forms, the most widely available being the squashed globe shape with creamy coloured skin and a purple crown (where the turnip grew above the surface of the ground and was exposed to sunlight). They have a rounded flavour - sweet and slightly peppery - and are nutritionally rich.
Although available pretty much year-round we think there are two optimum times for turnip eating. The first is in early summer when fresh, tender, baby turnips are available. The second is towards the end of the year when the more mature specimens make a tasty, healthy and economical contribution to a warming winter diet.
Turnips are thought to have originated in N. Europe around 2,000 BC and were one of the first vegetables to have been cultivated. They were a very important food for the Romans and a staple across Europe before the potato.
Turnips seem to have something of an image problem in Britain, perhaps as a result of them being grown primarily for cattle fodder in the nineteenth century. Other nationalities view this vegetable much more positively and have put it to many imaginative uses. The French braise or sauté them, and serve glazed turnips with duck; Italians use them in risottos; the Chinese have long enjoyed sweet roasted turnip and in Japan and the Middle East many forms of pickled turnips are very popular.
The turnip (Brassica rapa) is a cruciferous vegetable (a member of the mustard family) that thrives in cool climates.
Turnips are rich in vitamin C, phosphorus and fibre. They also contain vitamin B6, calcium, manganese, potassium and indoles - compounds that helps the body generate a number of beneficial enzymes.
Turnips should be firm and heavy for their size (indicating a good moisture content) with a smooth undamaged surface. Smaller turnips are sweeter and more tender. Young turnips are sometimes sold with their leaves attached, in which case they should be crisp and green (and are excellent when rinsed and briefly steamed).
Remove the leaves (if present) and keep in the fridge, or other cool, dry place. Baby turnips should be used within 2 or 3 days, larger winter turnips will keep for a week or so.
Wash and trim before use. Baby turnips can be used whole (they're good grated raw in salads), larger ones should be peeled.
To bake, cut into slices or cubes and place in a baking dish with a sprinkling of water. Cover and bake at around 200°C until tender (30 to 45 minutes). Larger chunks can be roasted like potatoes alongside meat or poultry and can also be boiled or steamed. The flavour intensifies during cooking so avoid cooking for too long or the taste can be a bit overpowering.
Wednesday, November 24, 2010
Brussels sprouts are a somewhat divisive food, although most people who claim to hate them have probably been scarred by encounters with horrible overcooked monstrosities in their formative years.
When prepared with a little care, sprouts are a wonderfully satisfying vegetable with a delicious, fresh, green flavour and just the right amount of crunch. They can be served simply as a side vegetable (perhaps with some chopped chestnuts or a sprinkling of sesame seeds), added to casseroles or sliced and stir-fried (try them with beef and oyster sauce).
Some sources trace sprouts back to ancient China whilst others claim they originated much later and were grown in the area around Brussels in the thirteenth century. It is known that they were not introduced to France and England until late in the eighteenth century.
Today they are eaten in N. America and Australia but remain a much more common sight on dining tables in N. Europe, and Britain in particular.
Brussels sprouts belong to the Gemmifera group of the cabbage family (Brassica oleracea). The sprouts grow as head buds around a central stem.
Cruciferous vegetables - such as sprouts, broccoli and cabbage - are linked with a wide range of health benefits. Brussels are a good source of vitamins A and C, iron, potassium and fibre.
Look for firm, compact sprouts with green unwithered leaves. The base end discolours quickly after harvesting and will often be slightly yellow-brown but should not be dark. Fresh sprouts have no odour or a delicate smell. Those sold on the stalk are likely to stay in better condition for longer. Choose small, evenly-sized sprouts for ease of cooking.
Sprouts should be kept cool at all times and eaten before the leaves discolour or they develop a strong smell.
Soak in lukewarm water for 10 minutes to draw out any insects in the leaves, then rinse under running water. Trim the ends but not right up to the base or the leaves will fall off during cooking. Remove any tired looking outer leaves. Some recommend cutting crosses in the bases but this seems unnecessary.
Simmer uncovered in an equal volume of salted water (alternatively steam or slice and stir-fry). Overcooked and undercooked sprouts are unpleasant so it's important to check for doneness by inserting a knife tip into the stem end and removing the sprouts when they're just tender (typically between 6 and 12 minutes when simmering; the off-putting sulphurous cabbagey smell is a sign of overcooking). Drain, return to the hot pan and shake for a few seconds to remove excess water. Serve immediately (the flavour suffers if sprouts are kept warm for long).
Tuesday, November 23, 2010
It's been done to death by this site. Every 2nd sparkblog post, and every 3rd new article is all about Thanksgiving!
Why make such a big deal?! That just makes things more stressful that they need to be. And stress cause you to gain weight!!
Plus there are a good many users on this site, for whom it is not Thanksgiving.
I realise that this is an american site, but still, why alienate the non-Americans by bleating on and on about Thanksgiving for a whole month.
I expect that next month, they'll kill Christmas.
Maybe it's time for me to take a break from Spark People. . . a hibernation. As I already shudder to think what January will be like when the rest of the world suddenly thinks about health and fitness, and there's bound to be increased interest in this site as a result of New Year's resolutions.
Wednesday, November 17, 2010
Chestnuts are shiny brown nuts whose thick casing has long, sharp, needle-like spikes (burrs). There are usually two to four nuts per casing. Unlike other nuts, chestnuts have a high starch and water content but low protein and fat levels. They've never been as popular in British kitchens as in Continental ones, but they're a versatile and flavourful storecupboard ingredient. Chestnuts are available fresh, ground, dried, puréed or vacuum-packed.
Chestnuts trees have grown across China and Japan since ancient times. The Greeks brought them to Europe from Asia Minor and later they spread across the continent with the Romans.
For many Europeans in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries chestnuts were an important staple food and Italians used them to make polenta before the introduction of maize from the New World.
Many varieties of chestnut tree exist. The trees take 20 years to fruit but remain productive for centuries.
Chestnuts are higher in carbohydrates and lower in fat and protein than other nuts. They contain fiber, potassium, iron, zinc and manganese.
After picking, chestnuts slowly dry out and shrivel. Choose nuts that are heavy for their size with shiny, smooth shells. Give a squeeze to check that the nut inside is plump and full.
Freshly picked chestnuts start off quite crisp and become more tender and chewy over the following days or weeks before deteriorating to a dry and floury texture. Storage at a cool temperature (e.g. the fridge) slows the ageing process.
Peeling chestnuts is a task to plan for when there's something good on the radio for an hour or so; attempting the job when you're in a hurry is likely to result in swearing and a long-standing hatred of a very fine nut.
Cut slits (or crosses) in the shells and part-cook the nuts either by roasting for 15 minutes or boiling for 20 minutes. The shells will now be fairly simple to break open. Removing the brown membrane on the nut is a fiddlier task (easier performed while the nuts are warm) and you will need to break open some nuts to get at the skin in the crevices.
Shelled and peeled, chestnuts can then be cooked according to recipe requirements (for mashing or pureeing they should have the consistency of cooked potatoes - test with a skewer).
Ham from pigs reared on a diet rich in chestnuts is highly valued in many areas of France, Spain, Italy and particularly Corsica (home to an annual chestnut festival in December).
Thursday, November 11, 2010
The quality of scallops from UK waters is frequently excellent: mild, sweet flavoured morsels with a satisfyingly firm, yet fine, texture are widely sold by quality fishmongers.
European cuisine often matches scallops with robust ingredients such as bacon or watercress. We love them with Oriental flavours such as ginger, chilli or lemongrass.
Archaeological findings show that scallops have been eaten by humans for thousands of years, although until the advent of modern fishing techniques (scallops are usually found on seabeds) they formed a small part of the diet of opportunistic seaside foragers.
Today a number of species are found in waters around the world and scallops are esteemed in seafood-eating cultures everywhere. UK waters are a source of very fine scallops and some of the best are found off the coast of western Scotland, where commercial scallop fishery took off in the 1930's.
Throughout Europe scallops are mostly harvested by dredging. Aquaculture production (scallop farming - common in China and Japan) is increasing as techniques and yields improve and wild stocks decline. There is also a growing market for hand-dived specimens.
Scallops (like mussels and oysters) are bivalve molluscs. The 'great scallop' familiar to Europeans is Pecten maximus. It is found on sandy or muddy sea beds and feeds by filtering microscopic organisms from the surrounding sea water. Most scallops are hermaphrodites and spawn twice a year.
The edible part of the scallop is the pale adductor muscle and orange roe (coral). The muscle is used to rapidly open and close the scallop's two beautiful fan-shaped shells enabling it to propel itself by expelling water.
Scallops are rich in vitamin B12, calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, zinc and copper. They are also an excellent source of protein, phosphorus and selenium.
Scallops are usually sold removed from their shells as, unlike mussels or oysters, only part of the scallop is eaten. Look for plump, firm, moist scallops with a sweet aroma. Some scallops are soaked in water; this increases their weight but impairs flavour and texture. Unsoaked scallops should be creamy or slightly off-white; soaking tends to produce overtly white scallops.
Choose (pricier) hand-dived scallops if you want to support a more environmentally-friendly and sustainable fishing method; dredging tends to damage the sea bed.
Scallops are highly perishable and should be refrigerated as soon as possible after purchase in an airtight container. They are best enjoyed the same day but will keep for a couple of days. Scallops freeze fairly well - this causes some loss of moisture and flavour but previously frozen scallops are still excellent in soups or stews.
Cooking scallops to perfection takes some skill (or luck) as over-cooking can quickly result in tough scallops. Scallops are cooked when the the flesh is opaque and just firm. Slicing scallops into two thinner discs can help by aiding uniform cooking and is recommended for particularly big scallops.
Scallop shells feature concentric rings. One ring forms each year, so the number of rings on the shell indicates the age of the scallop.
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