Archives for category: Food spotlights

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You may have noticed varieties of squash appearing in your local grocery store or market. Here is a short guide for choosing, storing, and cooking this versatile vegetable.

Nutrition:

Winter squash is a very nutrient dense food. It is a good to excellent source of beta-carotene, fiber, and vitamin C (depending on the variety), and also contains folate and iron. It is low in calories and is fat free. For example, 1/2 cup of cooked butternut squash provides 40 calories, 225% of your daily recommended  intake of vitamin A and 26% of vitamin C.

Purchasing:

Look for a squash with a hard skin free of cuts or soft spots and a stem that is still attached. A squash that is heavy for it’s size means that there is plenty of edible flesh.

Varieties:

There are many varieties of winter squash available at the market. Here are a few examples:

Spaghetti: This unique squash is oval-shaped and yellow (and sometimes orange). The flesh is light yellow and stringy, like its namesake. Because of its mild flavour, spaghetti squash can easily be integrated into a variety of dishes. However, it tastes delicious simply tossed with butter or olive oil and salt and pepper, or topped with spaghetti sauce. Unlike other winter squash varieties, spaghetti squash is best if cooked al dente.

Acorn: This dark green, acorn-shaped squash has an orange, fibrous flesh. Popular for its small size, acorn squash is best for roasting with butter or oil and maybe a little brown sugar or real maple syrup for the sweet tooth.

Butternut: This tan-coloured, peanut-shaped squash is mild, solid, contains few seeds and is my favourite for soups.

 

Buttercup: A dark green squash with a rich orange flesh, buttercup squash has a bold sweet flavour and is excellent for roasting, mashing, and in soups.

Storage:

Raw squash (whole): Winter squash can be stored up to three months in a cool dry place. Leave part of the stem attached to help retain moisture.

Raw squash (cut open): Wrap in plastic wrap or place in a sealed container and store in the fridge up to five days.

Cooked squash: Store in an airtight container in the fridge up to five days or in the freezer for up to a year.

Cooking:

There is a very simple method for cooking winter squash that can be applied to all varieties.

  1. Carefully cut the squash in half vertically with a large knife (you will be cutting the stem in half). If it is a very large squash, you may need to cut it into smaller pieces.
  2. Scoop out the seeds (you can save the seeds for roasting).
  3. Spread the exposed flesh with olive or vegetable oil. Place cut side down on a baking sheet. Bake in a preheated oven at 400°F for about 30-45 minutes (depending on the size and variety) until the flesh is easily pierced with a fork.

Recipes using winter squash:

Butternut squash and apple soup

Quinoa pumpkin muffins

Butternut squash and mascarpone gnocchi

Roasted squash seeds

 

These seeds are cultivated from the plant, Salvia hispanica, a member of the mint family. Chia plants are native to Southern Mexico and Guatamala and there is evidence that they were grown as crops by the Aztec in pre-Columbian times. Chia seeds are well known for their use in the novelty gift, the Chia Pet, which was made popular in the early 1980’s (and apparently is still being sold today). Today, chia seeds are eaten for their nutritional benefits.

Nutrition:

Chia seeds are high in fibre, omega-3’s and are a source of protein and calcium. They are also gluten-free.

Nutrient Nutrient per 2 tbsp (20 g)
Calories 103
Carbohydrates (g) 9.2
Protein (g) 3.3
Total Fat(g)Saturated

Monounsaturated

Omega-3

Omega-6

6.20.7

0.4

3.7

1.2

Fibre (g) 7.9
Calcium (mg) 132 (13% DV)

DV= recommended daily value

How to use them:

Chia egg replacer:

When soaked in a liquid, chia seeds create a gel. For this reason, chia seeds can be used to replace eggs in baking. To replace one egg, soak 1 tbsp chia seeds in 3 tbsp of water and let sit 10 minutes (or grind the chia seeds for an instant gel).  I used chia instead of eggs in these carrot spelt and whole wheat berry muffins.

Chia gel or pudding:

The gelling property of chia seeds makes for a pudding-like texture in desserts. Mix 2-3 tbsp of chia seeds in 1 cup of juice or sweetened milk and let sit 10 minutes (to form a gel). Try blending chia seeds with banana and almond milk to make a chia pudding or mix them with toasted buckwheat groats and dried fruit for a nutritious breakfast cereal.

Chia greens:

Just like in the Chia Pet, chia seeds can be sprouted. Use them in the same manner as alfalfa sprouts; add chia sprouts to salads, sandwiches and smoothies. If you would like to try this, here are instructions for sprouting seeds in a jar.

Where to find them:

Chia seeds can be found in natural food stores and some grocery stores. They can be expensive, so shop around and look for sales. Often, chia seeds sell for about $20 per pound, however, one pound of chia seeds should last a long time. Sometimes Costco carries organic chia seeds ($10/kg).

This common, simple vegetable may seem unimpressive at first glance. However, the potato, with its humble appearance, is in fact incredibly impressive. It is surprisingly nutritious, has countless uses and in the past has sustained entire societies. So much is its importance that when a potato blight spread through Western Ireland in 1845 wiping out the potato crops, what resulted was the Great Irish Famine. Today the potato is the most consumed vegetable in the world.

VARIETIES AND USES

There are thousands of varieties of potatoes (of course, they are not all available at the grocery store). Different types of potatoes have different textures and therefore have different uses. Russet potatoes are starchy in texture and are great for baking, mashing, fries, and potato chips. Red and white potatoes (with a smooth skin) have a much waxier texture and are good for boiling, mashing, and in potato salad.

NUTRITION

Potatoes are fat free, sodium free and are an excellent source of vitamin C (45% DV) and a good source of potassium (18% DV). One medium potato also contains 8% of your daily intake of fibre, 10% of vitamin B6 and are a source of iron, thiamin, folate and magnesium. They are also slightly more nutritious with the skin on.

STORAGE

As I was looking into the proper home storage conditions for potatoes, I discovered that maximizing your potato storage potential is not as simple as you might think. In fact, the University of Idaho has devoted an entire research facility to this matter.

There are four things to consider when storing potatoes at home: temperature, light, humidity, and ventilation. If you are using the potatoes within a few days, it doesn’t matter as much where you store them. But if you are buying large quantities and intend to keep them for a long period of time, the storage location matters. Mature potatoes can be stored for months in the right conditions. New potatoes should be used within a week.

To maximize the length of your potato storage, follow these tips:

Temperature

Potatoes should be stored between 5-12°C (42-55°F). Colder than this (such as in the fridge) makes the potatoes taste sweet and encourages rotting, and warmer than this (room temperature) encourages sprouting and the growth of disease-causing microorganisms.

Light

Potatoes should be stored in the dark. Light causes the skins to turn green which tastes bitter and produces a toxic compound if eaten in large enough amounts. If your potatoes have some green skin, simply cut it off and use the rest of the potato.

Humidity

Potatoes are 80% water, therefore they need to be stored in a humid environment. If they are stored in a dry place, they will shrivel.

Ventilation

Potatoes are living organisms, even after they are harvested. This means that they use oxygen and give off carbon dioxide (like they are breathing). Therefore ventilation is important.

So where should potatoes be stored in the home?

The best place is a root cellar, but most people don’t have one, so instead they can be stored away from light in an unheated room, closet or cabinet in your home or garage. Place the potatoes in a brown paper, burlap, or perforated plastic bag to increase humidity and to prevent water loss. Do not completely seal the bag. Check the potatoes occasionally and remove those that have become soft or shriveled, as well as those that have sprouted. Do not wash potatoes prior to storage. Of course, to avoid the problem of storage, potatoes can be bought in small quantities or on an “as-needed” basis.

Quinoa is one of my favourite grains. It is nutrient dense, gluten-free, cooks quickly, has a nice flavour and can be incorporated into many different dishes. 

Nutrition:

Quinoa is an ancient whole grain high in protein, fibre and numerous vitamins and minerals. Below is a chart comparing the nutrient profiles of quinoa, brown rice and white rice (unenriched).

Nutrient             (per 1 cup, cooked) Quinoa Brown rice White rice
Amount %DV Amount %DV Amount %DV
Calories 222 ~ 216 ~ 205 ~
Carbohydrate 39 g ~ 45 g ~ 45 g ~
Protein 8 g ~ 5 g ~ 4 g ~
Fat 4 g ~ 2 g ~ 0 g ~
Fibre 5 g ~ 4 g ~ 1 g ~
Iron 2.8 mg 15% 0.8mg 5% 0.3 mg 2%
Calcium 31mg 3% 18.5 mg 2% 15.8 mg 2%
Zinc 2 mg 13% 1.2 mg 8% 0.8 mg 5%
Magnesium 118 mg 30% 84 mg 21% 19 mg 5%
Potassium 318 mg 9% 84 mg 2% 55 mg 2%
Phosphorus 281 mg 28% 162 mg 16% 68 mg 7%
Vitamin B6 0.2 mg 11% 0.3 mg 14% 0.1 mg 7%
Folate (B9) 78 mcg 19% 7.8 mcg 2% 4.7 mcg 1%
Thiamin (B1) 0.2 mg 13% 0.2 mg 13% 0.0 mg * 2%
Niacin (B3) 0.8 mg 4% 3 mg 15% 0.6 mg 3%

* Trace amounts, DV= daily value

How to cook it:

Rinse 1/2 cup of dry quinoa with cold water. Add the rinsed quinoa to 1 cup of water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer. Cover and cook 15 minutes. The grains will look translucent when fully cooked. Serves 2.

How to use it:

Breakfast: Prepare quinoa as a hot cereal. Stir in a bit of cinnamon and brown sugar. Top with milk and fresh fruit.

Lunch/Dinner: Add cooked quinoa to a salad or soup, use it anywhere you would use rice (stir fry, side dish), or try quinoa salmon patties

Dessert: Make a quinoa pudding:

Quinoa apple cranberry pudding

Use quinoa to make cookies, as in this creative recipe:

Quinoa peanut butter and chocolate chip cookies

Where to find it:

Quinoa can be found at any natural food store, as well as some grocery and corner stores. However, at some places it can be quite expensive (so shop around). I found that the cheapest place to get it by far is at Costco: $10.49 for a 4 lb bag (which makes 41 servings) of organic quinoa. This works out to be $2.62/lb or $0.58/100g or $0.25/serving.