Here are a few tips about fruits and vegetables, taken from the Good Cooking Central website that may be helpful in your kitchen:
Strawberries contain the most vitamin C of the berry family. Strawberries should be a bright red shade when picked and the caps should be green and fresh looking. Fresh strawberries are usually available year round, but their peak period is from April to July. Green or yellow strawberries are unripe and will taste sour.
Strawberries are very perishable and should only be purchased a few days prior to use. Choose berries that are firm, plump, free of mold, and which have a shiny, deep red color and attached green caps. Medium-sized strawberries are often tastier than those that are excessively large. If buying strawberries in a prepackaged container, ensure that they are not packed too tightly which can cause them to become crushed and damaged, and that the container has no signs of stains or moisture which may indicate possible spoilage.
Before storing strawberries in the refrigerator, remove any that are moldy or damaged so that they will not contaminate others. Store berries unwashed and unhulled berries in their original container if possible, or spread them out on a plate covered with a paper towel, then cover with plastic wrap. Fresh strawberries will keep in the refrigerator only for one or two days. Strawberries stored at room temperature or exposed to sunlight for too long, will spoil easily.
To freeze strawberries, first gently wash them and pat them dry. Arrange strawberries in a single layer on a cookie sheet and place them in the freezer. Once frozen, transfer the berries to a sealed plastic bag and return them to the freezer. Frozen strawberries should keep for up to one year. Add a bit of lemon juice to the berries to help to preserve their color.
• SNAP BEANS:
With most beans, you eat only the seeds usually after they’ve been dried. Snap beans can be eaten pod and all. Until about a century ago, the pods had tough strings that one had to pull off before cooking but the snap beans you find in markets today are almost all stringless.
When buying green or yellow snap beans look for a fresh, bright appearance and good color. Choose young, tender beans with crisp, firm pods. Avoid buying beans that are wilted or have soft flabby bean pods, serious blemishes or decay.
• SWEET POTATOES:
Due to rapid spoilage, keep sweet potatoes fresh, by storing them in a dry, cool (55-60°) place at a temperature of about 55-60°. If stored in the refrigerator, they may develop a hard core and an “off” taste. Sweet potatoes will keep for a month or longer if stored at the proper temperature. At normal room temperature, they should be used within a week of purchase. Brush off any excess dirt before storing, but do not wash them until you are ready to cook them.
When preparing, wash sweet potatoes well. It is best to cook them whole whenever possible as most of the nutrients are next to the skin. Also, the skins are easier to remove after they have been cooked. Pierce the sweet potato skins with fork. Place potatoes in a pan and cook in an oven heated to 375° F for about 45 minutes or until tender. Cool potatoes slightly before removing skins. To cook sweet potatoes in a microwave, wash and pierce potatoes. Place them on a paper towel. For 2 medium sweet potatoes, cook on high for 5–9 minutes, or for 4 potatoes cook for 10–13 minutes.
Sweet potatoes are high in vitamins A and C, and are a good source of fiber.
• GRILLING FRUIT:
Apples: Core and peel 2 large apples and cut into quarters. Brush with melted butter and grill over indirect heat softened for approximately 45-55 minutes. Remove and sprinkle with brandy or rum and serve over ice cream for a special treat.
Bananas: Put whole ripe bananas, unpeeled, directly on your grill and cook turning occasionally until they are soft, about 15 minutes. Remove and peel carefully. Slice and serve over vanilla ice cream or frozen yogurt.
Melon: Cut a medium cantaloupe lengthwise and remove the seeds. Cut each half into six wedges. Peel and brush the melon with melted butter. Place on grill and cook until hot throughout and lightly marked, 3 to 5 minutes.
• ROMAINE LETTUCE:
Compared to Iceberg lettuce, Romaine is loaded with vitamins, having three times as much Vitamin C and six times as much Vitamin A.
• ROAST GARLIC:
For roasted garlic, sprinkle the garlic bulb with a little salt and pepper, olive oil and a little white wine. Wrap the garlic in tin foil and roast at 350 degrees for approximately one hour.
• BAKING POTATOES:
When baking potatoes, use a potato with a high starch content such as russets or Idaho potatoes. Look for potatoes that have a smooth skin and no sprouts. Potatoes that have wrinkly skin or soft spots should be avoided. Store your potatoes in a cool dark spot away from onions.
Plantains are a bland starchier variety of banana, and are most often cooked and eaten as a vegetable. Plantains are often used in many African and West Indian dishes and can be boiled, baked, fried, broiled, microwaved or mashed. They are rarely eaten raw, unless they have ripened to a point where the skins are completely black.
Pineapple can be purchased in many forms – fresh, canned, dried or crystallized. When selecting a fresh pineapple, choose one that feels heavy for its size with a rind that is dark green, yellow or reddish yellow, but that does not contain any bruises or brown spots. The leaves should appear fresh and green – avoid pineapples that appear withered and have leaves that are turning brown. The pineapple should have a fragrant scent.
Did you know that one cup of cooked beans can provide as much as 17 grams of protein? That is more than half of the 24 grams recommended for women daily. Beans may even help you lose weight because all the fibre creates a feeling of fullness which helps keep you satisfied longer.
Chefs often prefer using dried beans because their texture is firmer and the flavour of the finished dish is more easily controlled, especially the sodium level. Using dried beans, soaking and softening them, doesn’t have to be a difficult task.
To use dried beans, simply wash the beans and cover with cold water. The ratio of water to beans is about six times the amount of water to beans (e.g. 1 cup of beans to 6 cups of water). The beans will re-hydrate and almost double in size. Let stand overnight, then drain and rinse to get rid of the starch that can cause flatulence later.
To cook, place beans in a pot and cover with cold water. Cover pot, and then bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, and simmer, covered, for 45 minutes or until tender. Be careful not to let the water level go below the top of the beans. Simply add more water to cover them. While the beans are simmering, skim away any impurities that float to the surface. When tender, drain and rinse again before using.
• PEARL ONIONS:
To peel pearl onions, place them in a bowl and pour boiling water over them. Let sit for 2 minutes, drain, and pour cool water over them. Trim the root ends and easily slip the skins off before use.
If you are looking to use an avocado immediately, choose slightly soft avocados which yield when gently pressed on the skin. If you are going to use the avocado within a few days, buy firm fruits that do not yield when gently pressed and leave them at room temperature to ripen. If the avocado has irregular light-brown markings on the outside skin, these markings generally have no effect on the flesh of the avocado, but avoid avocados with dark sunken spots or cracked broken surfaces which indicate signs of decay. When preparing avocados, place the peeled fruit immediately in lemon juice to avoid browning of the fruit.
Avocados contain about 22% fat, and the average medium-sized avocado contains approximately 300 calories and 30 grams of fat.
Avocados are rich in nutrients such as dietary fibre, vitamin B6, vitamin C, vitamin E, potassium, magnesium, and folate. They are cholesterol-free and contain no sodium. They contain 60% more potassium per ounce than bananas and are an excellent source of mono-unsaturated fat.
If you would like to read more food tips and hints, and get some great recipes too, visit the Good Cooking Central website.