Favourite Things: Low Season Produce Boosters

4 Apr

I’ve made a couple more recipes from my new Hungry Girl cookbook, but I thought I’d give you a bitIMG_0640 of a break today for another edition of my Favourite Things. The title may be a bit confusing, but once I explain further, I think you’ll get it. I try to eat seasonally and locally when I can. Let me emphasize again – try! I certainly do buy produce frown in other countries, but if there is something local available, that’s always my first choice. I love fresh, crisp apples in the fall, and happily eat squash all winter long. Of course, I love the wide variety of fresh fruit in the summer, and am eagerly awaiting the arrival of fresh, local asparagus. But right now, we’re in a bit of a lull. Apples and pears are getting old, citrus is past its peak, squash is now shipped in from Mexico (although I do still buy it), and asparagus and strawberries are a month away. Lest I (and you) get scurvy, I have a few tricks to get you through the produce doldrums…take heart, before you know it, we’ll be drowning in fresh asparagus and eating rhubarb crisp (drool, sigh)!

1. Canned Tomatoes I’ve written before about my love for this pantry staple. They are so inexpensive and you can use them in so many ways. Add them to a soup or cook them as a sauce (sauté garlic and chili flakes in olive oil, add tomatoes, season with salt and simmer). On the weekend, I even tried them in a salad. Since fresh tomatoes are expensive (and pretty tasteless) this time of year, canned just make sense. Plus, you don’t need to worry about peeling and chopping…just open a can and pour right in. Depending on your recipe/preferences, you can buy them whole, chopped or crushed. There are lots of varieties available with different seasonings too if you want to be different. Check out one of my favourite quick, easy and healthy recipes for eggs poached in tomato sauce from Smitten Kitchen (I haven’t made this one in forever – I need to get on it) – a great way to put those canned tomatoes to use.

IMG_0641 2. Frozen Berries (or any fruit) (if you’re wondering why this is such a strange and frosty-looking phot0, it’s because it’s right out of my freezer…I just went down to my basement and snapped away) I am blessed to live in a region where fresh fruit is widely grown in the summer. That means that it’s also inexpensive, especially if you pick it yourself. So every summer, I freeze lots of berries – strawberries, raspberries and blueberries. After I get over the sore back and sunburn that often accompanies the strawberry picking (I usually buy the other 2), I’m always glad to have my stash stored away in the freezer. Locally grown taste so much better than those imported from Florida or California, and you can’t argue with the price! To freeze the berries, I wash first (and hull, if using strawberries), then spread in a single layer on metal baking sheets. After they’re frozen, I transfer them to resealable plastic bags. Frozen aren’t the same as fresh (and I’ll admit, this time of year, I sometimes break down and buy the strawberries…who can say no when they’re 3 boxes for $5?!), but I manage to use them in a variety of ways. Smoothies are the most obvious route. I also like to thaw the berries and stir into yogurt or oatmeal at breakfast. You can bake them into muffins, or make a great sauce (just boil the berries down with a bit of the sweetener of your choice) for pancakes, French toast, or ice cream. I’m always motivated to use up my stash at this time of the year too, because I know that the fresh ones will be here in a few months, and I want to make room in my freezer!

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3. Frozen Spinach This stuff is one of the biggest bargains in the grocery store freezer! When you look at the amount of spinach you get, then think about how much fresh stuff you’d have to cook down to get that much…it’s a steal! And now you don’t have to just buy the one big block of frozen spinach (great if you need the whole thing for a big batch of tasty spinach dip, not-so-much if you just want to add a handful to your recipes), you can buy bags like the one pictured (brands vary depending on where you shop) of chopped spinach pieces/nuggets, so you can just take out as much spinach as you want then re-seal the bag. Just a tip when using this stuff, I like to take out the amount I want and pop it in the microwave for a minute before using. That way I can drain the excess water (I like to just dab with a paper towel), which can affect the flavour/texture of recipes. Once drained, I’ll add the spinach to pasta dishes, soups, or stir frys. I also like to add the drained spinach to a mushroom sauté and then sandwich it between bread with cheese (goat cheese tastes AMAZING)  and grill for a yummy panini. I will often add spinach to my own dip creations – some mix of cream cheese, sour cream and Miracle Whip (all fat free, of course), seasonings (like Epicure dip mixes, garlic salt or herbs) and then toss in the spinach for your own signature dip! Another great use for the green stuff? Add to an egg scramble for a tasty veggie omelette! In short, any where you see a recipe/meal that you think is a little shy on veggies or nutrients, break out the bag of frozen spinach and make Popeye proud!

Well, hopefully these tips have helped keep scurvy away and your teeth intact! Smile Do you have any other tips for incorporating fruits and veggies in your diet, even when the fresh selection leaves a lot to be desired? Do tell!

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2 Responses to “Favourite Things: Low Season Produce Boosters”

  1. ME April 4, 2011 at 10:59 am #

    Inspiring!!

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