Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Super Spinach

I'm Popeye the Sailor Man
I'm Popeye the Sailor Man
I'm strong to the "Finich"
'Cause I eats me spinach
I'm Popeye the Sailor Man

(I hope you sang this out of the side of your mouth)

Spinach is one of those foods as a child I always detested. I do not know if I tried it (although knowing my mom I did try it), or if it was one of those foods you just don't like - lima beans, brussels sprouts, spinach. But somewhere through the years, I have learned to love it. It is a great vegetable either raw or cooked. Spinach salads are very much common place in restaurants today. It is great to eat on pizza, in pasta, or wilted with garlic and olive oil.

Spinach is a super food. Super foods are readily available whole foods that are nutritionally dense. Spinach is packed with at least 13 different types of flavonoid compounds, which act as antioxidants and in studies have reduced cancer cell growth in several types of cancer (stomach, breast, skin and prostate). Spinach has more than 100% of the daily recommended allowance for Vitamin K (bone health) and vitamin A (helps vision and helps the body absorb calcium). Spinach is great source for folate, magnesium, vitamin E and iron. And probably some of the best news, spinach has been shown in studies to reduce the effects of age-related decline in brain function. A study in the journal Neurology found that eating just three servings of green leafy, yellow and cruciferous vegetables each day can slow the decline in age-related brain function by 40%.

Thought to have originated in ancient Persia (Iran today) and was called aspanakh, Spinach only made its way to Europe in the 11th century. It grew well in Europe, since it is not grown well in hot, arid climates and flourished in Spain and Italy and has been incorporated into what we now know as the Mediterranean diet.

There are three types of spinach: flat (or smooth) leaf, savory and semi-savory. The flat leaf has an unwrinkled, spade shaped leaf. This is most commonly found in processed spinach (canned, soups, baby food, etc), frozen spinach and as baby spinach. Savory spinach has a wrinkled leaf and is often found tied in bunches in the produce section. Semi-savory spinach has slightly curly leaves and has gained popularity recently. All three varieties taste the same.

Fun spinach facts:
* Spinach was the first frozen vegetable to be sold.
* Three towns in the U.S. claim to be the spinach capital of the world and hold Spinach Festivals. They are Lenexa, Kansas (Saturday, September 7, 2007); Crystal City, Texas (November 10, 2007); and Alma, Arkansas (April 19, 2008).
* Scientists are using the way spinach converts sunlight into energy to possibly power laptops and cell phones. Read more

Spinach grows best in sandy soil, so it should always be well washed before using it. Flavors that compliment spinach include bacon, butter, lemon, nutmeg, olive oil, Parmesan cheese and red wine vinegar.

527 Recipes at Epicurious.com
82 Recipes at LoveToKnow.com
10 Recipes at SpinachRecipes.org

Bon appétit!

Monday, May 21, 2007

Plentiful Peas

As promised … peas!

Peas do not fair well in the hot summer sun – the best time is spring! There are more than a thousand varieties of peas. We mainly enjoy three types: the Snow Pea in which the pea itself does not get very big, so you can enjoy the pod and all; the Snap or Sugar Pea which also can be enjoyed whole, but you need to zip the strings off; and the English or Garden Pea which has a tough pod so you shuck the peas out.

The English word for pea was originally pease. People thought that this was the plural form and began dropping the –se, forming the word we use today. Peas are one of the earliest food crops cultivated. Archeologists have found evidence near the border of Burma and Thailand that dates back to 9750 BC .

In Chinese history, an emperor in 5000 BC is said to have discovered peas. He wandered across the land looking for plants for food or medicine. Possible plants were given to first a dog, then a servant to see if they would survive. If both survived, the plant was deemed edible. Lucky dog and servant (that time)!

Peas are part of the legume family, making them high in protein and fiber and low in fat. They also are a good source of antioxidants and calcium, and can help lower your cholesterol. However, peas are a starchy vegetable with a high glycemic index meaning that your body absorbs them quickly, raising your blood sugar levels. So remember, everything in moderation.

Peas are grown in North America, Europe, India, Australia and Russia. If you are thinking of growing your own, it is said it is good luck to plant your peas on St. Patrick’s Day. Peas grow in two forms, dwarf (or small plants) and vines. Vines make a great climber to add a trellis in front of a fence or on a patio.

In the 1920’s, frozen vegetables were introduced into the market. This was a huge advantage for pea farmers. They could harvest the peas and freeze them almost immediately. This prevents the sugars in the peas from turning into starch, giving us the flavor of freshly-picked peas.

Frozen peas are a staple in my freezer. I love adding them at the last minute to rice, pasta, soup and stew dishes. I add them at the very end still frozen, allowing them just enough time to defrost but without losing their crispness (about 3-5 minutes). I love the feel of the peas popping in my mouth.

Another great way to enjoy peas is sauté with butter and chopped fresh mint. You could add some finely diced shallots, mushrooms or ham or bacon to the peas as well.


Creamed Peas

Elixir of Fresh Peas (soup) "This pale green froth of a soup is the essence of fresh peas."

Sweet Pea Soup with Lemon-Pepper Cream

Link to list of several dozen Garden Pea Recipes

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Produce Availablility

When I opened up the blog this morning, I really had no idea what I was going to write about. I thought about continuing on with my spring produce list, but wasn't sure which item to showcase. So I was doing some searching and ran across a Produce Availability Chart for a farm in Pennsylvania. It is a very interesting chart and think that Michigan's produce has to be similar. I think my next blog will be about peas.
Since the farmer's markets are opening now, I will be showcasing the local farmers markets in upcoming blogs - my plan is to visit them and let you know what each offers. I know of at least a half dozen in the area. I am very excited about being able to purchase locally grown produce. You can find a farmers market in your area. Sunday I had the opportunity to visit the Old Town Farmers Market. It is a newly started market and there were very few vendors - none yet with produce. I did meet some extremely knowledgeable and kind people from Hannewald Lamb Company. They raise grass and grain feed, hormone free lamb in Stockbridge. I have never cooked lamb, so I bought a couple of steaks. I received some great tips. I will let you know how that turns out.
And on another completely unrelated rambling note, I attended a composting seminar last night. This is something I have wanted to do for several years now, but have not taken the time to educate myself on how to get started. An extremely patient and educated man from the City of Lansing basically gave me a private lesson on how to start composting. I learned that the City of East Lansing sells a composting bin for $35 at the Public Works Department. map Moisture is the key to composting (keep it as damp as a wrung out sponge). And by attending a $15 four-week class and doing 20 hours of community service, I can become a Master Composter. Things are too crazy right now, but next spring it may be in my future. :-)
Today's blog ended up being unrelated, oddities. Sorry! But I promise to follow up on these topics and bring you more information.