• October 09, 2013 8:41 PM
    Message # 1408993
    Written for 'Eat Local Grown' blog:

    How to store and care for organic produce and techniques to make it last.

    Weekly trips to a local farmer’s market or the local market that showcases ‘local organic corn’ or ‘local berries’ is the best source to get fresh produce and are a good start to organizing a menu. Proteins are pretty constant; produce is best bought seasonally, best for price and the best for flavor.

    Do your produce shopping with what is in season in mind. What is in season will be in abundance at the farmer’s market and well advertised. If all the supermarket flyers are showing the same item at a featured price that will most likely be the item that is ‘in season’. If you live where snow is what is ‘in season’ for the winter, there are foods grown in green houses, both in dirt and hydroponically grown produce is being sold everywhere all the time. This still qualifies as locally grown and can be organic is some cases.

    Aside from being eaten the same day they’re picked from your garden or a farm stand, there are other ways to take full advantage of seasonal foods. Real organic foods begin to decay as soon as it’s picked and have about a 3-day-shelf-life before it begins to show that decay.

    First and foremost: organic produce is best washed just before being cooked, not cleaned and stored. To keep refrigerated: line the bottom of your produce drawers with paper towels to absorb any excess moisture. Moisture increases decay and mold. Moisture in the food? Good! Moisture outside of the food? Not good. ‘Green containers’ that claim to keep fresh produce longer really do work; they can add a week onto the shelf life of raw and cooked foods.

    Cooking organic produce within the first 3 days it’s brought home works best. Steam it, take all that isn’t going to be eaten immediately out of the steamer before it’s fully cooked and store it to be easily eaten later. Once it’s initially steamed it is quickly sautéed, sauced, baked or fried later on in the week. Steaming stops decay, kills all bacteria, retains bright color, nutrition, and can even be lightly cooked and retain crispness.

    To clean fresh produce just before cooking:

    • ·      Clean leafy greens in a colander submerged in a sink of cold water. Dip and swirl the greens and replace the water until the water running off them is clear. Usually about three sink-fulls of water. This applies to kale, Swiss char, and other large leaf lettuce and baby greens.
    • ·      Sprouts should be kept in a container that allows air to circulate. If you buy them from a local sprout bloomer and they’re in a plastic bag, knot the top of the bag but puncture a few holes to allow the sprouts to breath. No cleaning or cooking necessary, these are great nutritional value raw. Sprinkle micro greens on top of a salad. Sprouted beans can be added to salads or cooked in stock or water and garbanzo bean sprouts make amazing hummus.
    • ·      Tight cabbage leaves don’t need to be cleaned before they’re cooked, Napa cabbage will have dirt near the base, cut the base off and the head is ready to be cooked.
    • ·      Squash and root vegetables are best kept in a cool dry place, not in the refrigerator. Yellow vegetables should be washed with a vegetable brush. Most root vegetables can be peeled with a spoon once they’re steamed or boiled (potatoes, carrots, parsnips, turnips). Butternut squash can be peeled before being cooked or frozen and zucchini and summer squash have edible skins.
    • ·      Tough skins may be a deterrent to some cooks, no need to be intimidated. Use a cleaver and lean into it, the squash or mellon should split opened, if not some slamming it on a solid surface to release the clever does the trick. Tough squash skins can be kept on when baking and the flesh is easily scooped out.
    • ·      Broccoli and cauliflower should be stored in the refrigerator as bought. When ready to cook or eaten raw remove the core then continue to trim the stems to separate the flowerets and run them under cold water to clean. If steaming, immediately dip them into an ice bath when done and they will remain crisp and the color will stay bright.
    • ·      Berries are best if sprinkled with water running off your fingers in a single layer in a colander or sieve. Pat dry with a paper towel by gently rolling the berries between two layers of paper towels. Store in a single layer on a plate with paper towels. If you want to store them in the little green plastic basket they come in, line it with a paper towel and put a layer of paper towel between the layers of dried berries. This will add days to your berries.
    • ·      Keep shell beans in their shell in the bottom of your refrigerator until you’re ready to cook them.

    Best Kept at Room Temperature, with air circulation around them (basket or woven container):

    • ·      Apples, pears and other autumn fruits are best kept at room temperature.
    • ·      Citrus fruit is best at room temperature, once opened saved wrapped in the refrigerator.
    • ·      Potatoes should be kept in a cool dry and dark place.
    • ·      Onions should be kept outside the refrigerator, but if you put them in the freezer for about 10 minutes before you cut them you won’t cry.
    • ·      Avocados and tomatoes are also best kept outside the refrigerator until they are ripe, you will gain a few days once they are ripe keeping them chilled. These fruits are supporting a seed system and will continue to ripen when left out, once ripe the flesh of the fruit is supporting the seeds growth into a plant or tree chilling will retard that process.
    • ·      Stone fruit is best kept outside the refrigerator until ripe. This includes peaches, plumbs, apricots, mangos etc.
    • ·      Bananas are best stored suspended on a hanger, the skin will turn an unappealing black in the refrigerator. They can be frozen with the skin removed and used for baking or turned into a smoothie or ice cream with a blender or food processor.

    For long-term storage: steam large batches of produce and freeze it in serving sized containers or plastic bags for use when you don’t have time for a full-blown prep or when they’re out of season.

    There is a trick to freezing fresh produce:

    • ·      Partially cook vegetables, toss immediately into an ice bath to shock in the color and stop the cooking. Pat the vegetables dry and freeze in individual servings in plastic bags or with parchment paper between layers for serving portions in a solid container.
    • ·      If you’re freezing smaller items, like broccoli flowerets or berries, lay a sealed baggie on a flat surface in the freezer, being aware that if you’re putting it on a grid type shelf the produce will freeze between the slats and be impossible to take off of the shelf. Yep, did that once. Thought I wouldn’t be eating those strawberries until a power outage. Had to put hot water in a container on top of it to thaw it enough to get it untangled!

    The best benefit in buying at a local farmer’s market is that the seller is an expert and can not only tell you how to store the item but someone in the crowd will know how to cook it in a way you haven’t tried before once you start the discussion. It’s the social interaction, the support of your local community, the smaller footprint your food is creating, and the fresher products that all make you feel better when you eat local grown.

  • January 25, 2014 3:37 PM
    Reply # 1483038 on 1408993

    I cook steel cut oats for breakfast. What grain would you suggest that I combine to complement it as far as nutrition and which cooks in the same amount of time as the oats?

    thank you.

  • January 26, 2014 2:32 PM
    Reply # 1483502 on 1408993
    Thank you for you question Melinda, it's a great one. 
    Steel cut oats are a great way to start your day but to add another grain to the mix while cooking the steal cut oats is tricky. 

    Quinoa is the best to add because it doesn't use a lot of water or time. Add it in the final 3-5 minutes of cooking, stir it in and if it needs more water add it a little at a time. Of course, how thick you like your oatmeal is a personal choice (my father used to eat what I called oatmeal soup, I assume it was intentional but it was the only thing that he knew how to cook-and he did it in the microwave no less) 

    A better suggestion is to add any left over grain when the oats are finished cooking, it will help cool them down and add time to your full digestion. 
    For example:
    1. eft over millet or quinoa will add protein to the oats which will add time to your feeling full, just don't add more than half of the ratio of the cooked oatmeal.
    2. Brown or white rice is a little quicker to digest and will make you feel full faster, add after the oats are cooked ¼ of the amount of the oatmeal.

    If you want to cook a grain with the steal cut oats which take about 30 minutes to cook, look at the directions for cooking the grain you'll be using and deduct the time they need to cook from your start time with the oats. Add them with ⅔ of the amount of boiling water that they require, keep the kettle hot and ready and add more water to keep it from burping.

    A few great add-in ideas include adding a handful of nuts (best kept fresh in the freezer) or dried fruits like raisins or apricots, cranberries, dates or any dried fruit you have on hand. Dried fruits are loaded with natural sugar for quick energy but even more important is the iron that raisins contain, and the A and D that apricots offer, cranberries contain potassium. Dried fruit is loaded with immune boosters and the soft and chewy texture is a nice addition to the oatmeal as is the crunch of a small handful of nuts (protein adds time to your meal satisfaction). 

    Honey is a natural immune booster, especially locally sourced honey, a great add-in to oatmeal.

    Fresh fruits like bananas add potassium, berries are high in vitamin C and even frozen fruit is great added to the cooked cereal, not only do they cure a sweet tooth but all fresh, frozen or dried fruit add fiber to your diet. Don't forget that you're body wants 2 servings of fruit a day, one being citrus (like berries) and when you deny your body this essential need it craves sweets.

    This morning I added fresh apple to left over quinoa and raisins that I made last night for a Moroccan meal that I seasoned with Heroccan Herblends, I poured a little maple syrup into the mix this morning and added a new Herblends that I'm working on for breakfast and desserts. It has cardamon and cinnamon and ginger and vanilla in it. I'm looking for a name maybe Hergingermom? My mother was a redhead... 

    Hope this helps inspire you to try a few things in your oatmeal. By The Way steal cut oats are also a great thing to eat before boarding a flight, it calms your tummy and some of the add-ins that I will suggested will help you keep from being dehydrated which is what jet lag is really a symptom of. 

    Thanks again Melinda!

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