Up and Moving

by | May 30, 2009
Moving

Moving

I’m moving into a new apartment this weekend so there will be no Farmers Market Update. (Trust me, it hurts me more than it hurts you.) I hate moving but it will be fun to learn to work in a new kitchen. Shopping for it will also be awesome.

Here’s a shot of a very small fraction of my packed pantry. I love my pantry :)

This also explains why I’ll be eating grilled veggie burritos for the next couple days. Boooo.

Since I’m missing my own farmers market I’m going to live vicariously through all of you. So please tell me in the comments what you found today!

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For The Love of Food

by | May 29, 2009
For The Love of Food

For The Love of Food

Welcome to Friday’s For The Love of Food, Summer Tomato’s weekly link roundup.

I’m pleased to announce that I did another guest post, this time over at TwiTip about Twitter and the value of food tweets. I also found some divine homemade pizza recipes, great advice for choosing (and not choosing) smart seafood and an urban legend debunking session. Oh, and I call B.S. on Men’s Health for pretending slightly-less-fattening fast food is “healthy.”

If you would like to see more of my favorite articles each week or just don’t want to wait until Friday, be sure to follow me on Twitter (@summertomato) or the Summer Tomato Facebook fan page.

Submissions of your own best food and health articles are also welcome, just drop me an email using the contact form.

For The Love of Food

What links did I miss? Share your faves of the week in the comments.

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Simple Gourmet: Roasted Beets With Fresh Mint and Chèvre

by | May 27, 2009
Roasted Beets With Fresh Mint and Chevre

Roasted Beets With Fresh Mint and Chèvre

I am very proud to share this recipe with you since it came by special request from my dad–a self-professed beet hater. I won him over with these beets several years ago and he is still talking about them! The same recipe stole my heart back when I thought I hated beets too.

Are you convinced?

Roasted Beets with fresh mint and chèvre is an elegant, impressive dish that hardly requires any cooking skills. If you are still worried you will not like the flavor of beets, you can look for the milder and less messy golden or candy-striped beets. Whenever possible I like to use a few different beet varieties to mix up the colors and flavors, but today I’m sticking with the common red garden beet.

Mint Leaves

Mint Leaves

To begin you must eliminate all thoughts of substituting canned beets for the fresh ones in this recipe. Fresh roasted beets have a rich, sweet and earthy flavor that is completely unlike the flaccid purple slivers that come in a can.

You will also need fresh mint leaves. Most grocery stores and farmers markets will have fresh mint this time of year. Dried leaves really don’t cut it in this recipe.

Chèvre is a soft goat cheese that a close friend of mine describes as “like cream cheese only better.” A little bit goes a very long way, so I always buy the smallest amount possible (this time it cost me $2.89).

Chevre

Chèvre

Be careful not to add the cheese directly to hot beets or it will melt and form an unattractive pink slime. It still tastes good, but it’s better to avoid this problem by cooling the beets beforehand. An hour in the refrigerator works well, but if you are in a hurry you can get away with 10-15 minutes in the freezer.

This dish is very easy to scale for large batches, making it ideal for parties and potlucks.

Roasted Beets With Fresh Mint and Chèvre

Ingredients:

  • 1 bunch of beets (3 large), any garden variety
  • 1/2 cup fresh mint leaves, loosely packed
  • 1/4 oz. chèvre, crumbled
  • Olive oil
  • Sea salt or kosher salt

Preheat oven to 375.

If the leaves are still on your beets, twist them off leaving enough stem to use as a handle for peeling. If your beet greens are still fresh and springy I recommend cleaning them and cooking them up with some onions and garlic (cook them like spinach). Beet greens are so full of potassium that they are salty to the taste, so be careful with your seasonings because they are easy to over-salt. Both beets and beet greens are extremely good for people with high blood pressure.

Peel your beets using a vegetable peeler (I recommend this one) and chop evenly into bite-sized cubes. Discard stems. Cubes should be approximately 3/4 to 1 inch on each side. Keep in mind that the larger your pieces the longer they will take to cook.

Add 1-2 tbsp olive oil to beets and toss to coat. Sprinkle beets with salt and place in a single layer in a large Pyrex baking pan. Place in oven on middle rack and roast until beets are tender and have a glazed-like appearance, stirring every 8-10 minutes. Roasting takes approximately 35 minutes.

When beets are finished roasting, transfer them to a large bowl, cover with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator. Chill for at least 30 min, but 45 min to 1 hr is preferable.

5 minutes before the beets are done chilling, stack mint leaves on top of each other and chiffonade them by rolling lengthwise like a cigarette and slicing into thin ribbons. I like to cut the ribbons in half once by making a single cut through the middle of the pile along the vein of the leaves. Discard the stems.

Using a fork, crumble a small amount of chèvre into a small bowl or plate and set aside.

Sprinkle mint onto the beets and stir, leaving a few ribbons for garnish. Adjust salt to taste. Transfer beets and mint to a serving bowl and sprinkle with chèvre and remaining mint. Serve immediately.

Do you love beets? Hate beets? Interested in having pink urine?

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Farmers Market Update: Cheapest Produce Ever

by | May 24, 2009
Avocado

Avocado

And now for something completely different.

In a break from my usual elitist glory San Francisco farmers market adventure, I took a field trip this weekend to sunny Southern California where I discovered the cheapest produce I have ever seen in this state. Seriously, it was crazy.

Normally I prefer to hit up either the Irvine or Santa Monica markets when I’m in the OC. But this Saturday wasn’t amenable to a drive across town so instead I visited the Orange County Marketplace at the fairgrounds in Costa Mesa on Sunday. It is open 7am to 4pm Saturdays and Sundays, admission $2.

The OC Marketplace is really more of a swap meet than a farmers market, but there is a whole section for fresh produce. At the vegetable stands I found what I consider typical Southern California fare–tomatoes, avocados, citrus, squash and peppers–with a few seasonal items mixed in. I saw nothing particularly exotic, and the quality of produce ranged from not-so-hot to pretty good.

What is truly remarkable about this place is the prices.

Cheap Berries

Cheap Berries

Cheap Asparagus

Cheap Asparagus

Asparagus is typically $3-7 dollars per bunch at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market. At the OC Marketplace it was $0.99. Berries, typically $3-6 per basket (even at the supermarket), dropped in price while we waited in line from (I kid you not) a ridiculously cheap 3 baskets for $2, to a mind-bogglingly cheap 4 baskets for $2. And from what I could tell they were perfectly ripe and in excellent condition.

Have you ever seen 7 white peaches for $1? I have.

Cheap Apricots

Cheap Apricots

Cheap Peaches

Cheap Peaches

Honestly, I don’t get it. If any of you can explain to me how this market can practically give away groceries I would love to know the reason.

My best guess is these are simply whole sale prices. In other words, these are the same goods grocery stores buy and sell to you for a higher price. The quality of produce was certainly more on par with grocery stores than what I have seen at other Southern California markets. And I doubt much of it was organic, though few items were clearly marked.

Alternatively these vendors could be offering a mix of whole sale and local fare. It wasn’t clear to me if/how any of the offerings were locally grown. This being California, however, it seems logical that at least some of the goods come from the area. When I asked someone where the food was from the answer I got was “the L.A. market,” which obviously is not a farm.

My worst fear is that much of this produce comes from the horrible slave farms that are starting to be exposed. Hopefully that isn’t true.

The source of this produce may be a little dubious, but I cannot imagine you finding a better deal anywhere in Orange County. If organic and local are less important to you than simply affording fresh healthy food, a trip to the OC Marketplace is easily worth the price of admission.

For you Bay Area readers, I’ve seen similar deals at the Ashby market in Berkeley (no admission fee).

Do you know anything about these swap meet style produce vendors?

Note: Since it is Memorial Day there will not be a new post on Monday. We’ll be back Wednesday–same Tomato time, same Tomato channel.

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For The Love of Food

by | May 22, 2009
For The Love of Food

For The Love of Food

Welcome back to For The Love of Food. We’ve got some great stuff for you here this week, including my guest post at the renowned MizFitOnline and the first ever “B.S. of the week.”

If you would like to see more of my favorite articles each week or just don’t want to wait until Friday, be sure to follow me on Twitter (@summertomato) or the Summer Tomato Facebook fan page.

Submissions of your own best food and health articles are also welcome, just drop me an email using the contact form.

For The Love of Food

What great articles did you read this week?

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Quick Fix: Mexican-style Quinoa Salad

by | May 18, 2009
Mexican-style Quinoa Salad

Mexican-style Quinoa Salad

Cinco de Mayo is one of my absolute favorite holidays. Half my family is Mexican, so I have memories of tacos and Coronas by the pool while basking in the first hints of summer sun. Good times!

Unfortunately this year I was too busy to even go out with friends for some real Mexican food (or at least San Francisco’s version of it). Instead I made a quick, healthy quinoa salad using Mexican herbs and spices to help me feel like I didn’t completely neglect my heritage.

You can find all these ingredients at your regular grocery store. I used arugula, but you can substitute spinach if you prefer. I also recommend being creative with your spices (jalepeño or cumin come to mind). If you have fresh salsa or pico de gallo around you can stir in a spoonful or two at the end to accentuate the Mexican flavor.

I recommend making extra so you have leftovers for lunch the next day!

Mexican-style Quinoa Salad

(serves 2-3)

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup dry quinoa
  • Half bag of arugula or baby spinach
  • 1 avocado, diced
  • 1/2 cup grape tomatoes, halved
  • 1/2 cup chopped red pepper
  • 1 spring onion or shallot
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup cilantro leaves, stems removed
  • Cayenne pepper
  • Lime
  • Tapatio or favorite Mexican hot sauce

Rinse and cook quinoa. Crush and mince your garlic. While your quinoa is boiling, halve your tomatoes and dice your onion and pepper. If using a spring onion, save some of the green onion slices for garnish. Remove the stems from your cilantro. Dice your avocado and sprinkle it with salt.

When your quinoa is finished cooking, heat a frying pan on medium high heat and add 2 tbsp olive oil. Add onions and red peppers and cook on medium high heat until caramelized, about 10 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Turn off heat and add quinoa, stirring to mix. Fold in arugula or spinach and season with salt and cayenne pepper to taste.

Transfer quinoa mixture to a large serving bowl and add avocado, tomatoes and cilantro. Squeeze in juice of half a lime and add a few dashes of Tapatio or Tabasco to taste. Gently stir, being careful not to mash the avocado chunks.

Adjust salt and spices. Garnish with green onion slices, extra cilantro leaves and a wedge of lime.

Do you try to recreate nostalgic moments with certain spices and flavors?

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Farmers Market Update: BYOB (video post)

by | May 17, 2009

Bring your own bags is the new message from the San Francisco Ferry Plaza Farmers Market. As of next weekend, the Saturday farmers market at the Ferry Building will no longer be providing free plastic bags to shoppers. Instead they encourage you to bring your own bags or purchase the reusable or biodegradable BioBags they will be selling at the information booth. Their goal is to help the environment by cutting down plastic bag waste generated by the market.

The Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture (CUESA) that runs the farmers market is leaving it up to individual vendors to decide how to deal with the change. Most of the vendors I spoke to will offer BioBags–some will provide them for free while others are charging $0.20 – 0.25 per bag. For your convenience you should plan on bringing a large tote bag to carry your items. For things like lettuces and berries, you should consider bringing your own small bags or expect to purchase environmentally friendly bags at the market.

Apricots and Strawberries

Apricots and Strawberries

Blueberries

Blueberries

The farmers market is a completely different place than it was just 4 weeks ago. You can still find delicate greens and spring garlic, but we now have all kinds of berries, cherries and other stone fruits that make it feel more like summer every day. Do yourself a favor and go find some blueberries from Triple Delight!

Also this week was the first appearance of my favorite frying peppers in the world, Pimientos de Padrón! I bought some and they were AMAZING. I love them early in the season because the spiciness level is perfect for me.

Bagged Padrones

Bagged Padrones

Colorful Heirloom Tomatoes

Colorful Heirloom Tomatoes

Maybe the best news of all is that the tomatoes are finally sweet! The heirloom I bought this week from Bruin Farms was the first of the season where I actually had trouble getting it from the cutting board to a serving bowl without eating it all first. I didn’t even need salt. That’s how you know it’s good ;)

Organic Artichokes

Organic Artichokes

Squash and Dandelion Greens

Squash and Dandelion Greens

Let me know how you guys like my second attempt at video. I didn’t have a camera man this time, so I limited the filming to my kitchen after I got home with all my goodies. Feedback welcome!!

Today’s purchases:

What did you find at the market?

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For The Love of Food

by | May 15, 2009
For The Love of Food

For The Love of Food

Welcome back to For The Love of Food. Thanks to everyone who sent me articles this week, I couldn’t have done it without you. We have a ton of great stuff here. I particularly love the Cheerios story, the fake “local” food from Frito-Lay and the video clip of Michael Pollan on The Colbert Report.

If you would like to see more of my favorite articles each week or just don’t want to wait until Friday, be sure to follow me on Twitter (@summertomato) or the Summer Tomato Facebook fan page.

Submissions of your own best food and health articles are also welcome, just drop me an email using the contact form.

For The Love of Food

  • When ‘Local’ Makes It Big << OH SNAP! New York Times calls out Frito-Lay and other food industry giants for pretending to sell local food. But I know you guys won’t be fooled. I love this movement because it supports the exact opposite of selling out. Big Ag would love to package, cheapen and sell “local” like they have with organic, but this time they can’t do it without looking like fools. Funny to watch them try though.
  • It really does help <<Great advice on how to stay inspired to cook yourself dinner when you lack motivation, from Orangette.
  • Michael Pollan on The Colbert Report


.The Colbert Report Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
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Let us know what you think!


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Antioxidant Supplements May Block Some Benefits of Exercise

by | May 13, 2009
Romanesco Broccoli In A Beaker

Romanesco Broccoli in a Beaker

One of the most consistent themes of nutrition science is that vitamin supplements (pills, powders, liquids, etc.) are almost never able to mimic the beneficial effects of foods that contain the same vitamins. Now new evidence suggests that high doses of these antioxidant supplements–but not whole foods containing them–may actually block the beneficial effects of exercise on insulin sensitivity and metabolism.

Exercise has countless benefits for people of all levels of fitness. One of the most important of these is its ability to improve insulin sensitivity and increase metabolism. For this reason, exercise is considered among the most effective ways to protect against type 2 diabetes.

One of the byproducts of exercise, however, is the production of free radicals that results from the breakdown of oxygen in the muscles. These reactive oxygen molecules can damage cells and DNA, and are implicated in many chronic diseases. Since antioxidants can easily neutralize these reactive oxygen molecules, it has been assumed that antioxidants such as vitamins C and E could only benefit the body.

A new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests that rather than help protect against oxidative damage from exercise, high doses of antioxidant supplements may actually hinder the body’s natural protection against oxidative damage and block exercise-induced metabolic benefits.

In the study, human subjects were given either placebo or 500 mg vitamin C twice per day and 400 IU vitamin E. They were then trained in both cardio and strength training workouts at the gym for 5 consecutive weekdays, 4 weeks in a row. This trial was performed on both previously trained and untrained individuals.

Metabolic rates were tested by blood sample both before the trial and after 1 and 4 weeks of training. Muscle biopsies were taken both before and after the trial for all participants. Several measures of metabolism and insulin sensitivity were measured including plasma glucose concentrations, plasma insulin concentrations, maximal oxygen uptake (VO2 max), as well as several molecular markers in muscle that are linked to insulin sensitivity and are known to promote the body’s natural defense against oxidative damage.

The researchers found that exercise improved measures of insulin sensitivity in all individuals except those given antioxidant supplements. Also, molecules that protect against oxidative damage are upregulated in response to training, but not when antioxidants are administered.

Previous studies suggest that the body’s natural defenses against oxidative damage require activation by a small amount of reactive oxygen chemicals in the body. These same chemicals have been shown to mediate insulin sensitivity in muscles, and in this study both were shown to be blocked by high antioxidant administration.

The researchers suggest that small doses of reactive oxygen molecules such as the amounts produced by exercise are necessary to induce the body’s natural defense against oxidative damage, and that this process is essential for mediating exercise-induced insulin sensitivity. If this is true it could mean that some (but not all) of the metabolic benefits of exercise could be limited by taking high doses of vitamin supplements. This may be particularly important to individuals at high risk for type 2 diabetes.

Interestingly, foods that contain high levels of these antioxidants have previously been shown to be protective against type 2 diabetes. Although the reason for this is still unknown, the authors suggest the benefit is unlikely due to the antioxidant content of the foods and may depend on other factors.

Even if we do not understand the reason vegetables and fruits are the best source of nutrition, we can still enjoy all their benefits. If you choose to continue taking vitamin supplements, it is advisable to stick to a basic multivitamin that does not contain megadoses of one particular nutrient.

Do you take vitamin supplements? Why? How much do you take?

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What’s For Dinner? Ask Your iPhone

by | May 11, 2009

locavore-app

Healthy eating can sometimes seem like a daunting task. You know you should be eating local, seasonal ingredients and lots of vegetables, but how do you know what to get? Once you have it, how do you cook it?

Enter iPhone. I can confidently say that my iPhone has made my life more convenient than any single electronic device since my first laptop. Sure plain cell phones are great, but honestly text messages annoy me more than they improve my quality of life.

An iPhone offers so much more than calls and texts, especially when you delve into the world of applications or “apps.” Apps are third party software programs that can be downloaded to your phone to perform specific (usually awesome) functions. Apps are what set iPhone apart from all other phones. Today I’m going to tell you about two apps in particular–Locavore and Epicurious–that can be used together to help you decide what to do for dinner.

Locavore ($3) is an app that finds all the farmers markets near you along with the produce in season in your area. It does this according to your physical location on earth using the built in iPhone GPS. Isn’t that brilliant? (Yes, I’m totally jealous that I didn’t make this app myself.)

I get questions every week about how to find a good farmers market in a given area. Honestly I had never had an answer much better than “Google it.” With Locavore’s “Markets” feature, you get a list of farmers markets in your area ranked by their distance to you. If you click on the market you want to visit it gives you all the essential information, such as what time of year it runs and its hours of operation. Locavore also allows you to browse by region (U.S. only) or specific food to find seasonal availability.

The farmers market information used by Locavore is from a website called Local Harvest. Even if you do not have an iPhone Local Harvest is a fantastic resource for finding farms, markets and CSAs near you. When you have located the market you would like to go to be sure to check near the bottom of the information paragraph for the last time the site was updated. In my experience farmers are not particularly tech savvy and often forget to update their websites. I always recommend calling before you go, just to confirm the market still exists and hasn’t changed its hours.

In the Locavore app, once you have found your market you can check the “In Season” feature. This will give you a list of items that are supposed to be in season in your area (information gathered from the Natural Resources Defense Council website).

Unfortunately, the list is more an approximation of reality than a true market browse through. I’ve been following my own market on Locavore since I first downloaded the app several weeks ago, and I’d say it is about 90% accurate. Definitely I have seen the list include some items that are not available and I would not expect to be available this time of year in my area (e.g. boysenberries). Also, my market is large and specialized enough that there are always unique finds that the NRDC does not know about.

You can, however, get an idea of items that should be easy to find. To avoid hunting down ingredients that may not be available, be sure to check the pie graph icons to the left of each item. These represent the number of months left until that specific vegetable or fruit goes out of season (again, this is approximate and depends substantially on the weather). If there is less than one month left, you probably shouldn’t plan your entire meal around that one ingredient since there is a good chance it won’t be there. If the pie is full (green), that means you can find the item year round in your area. In general, the Locavore produce list is fairly thorough and accurate and can be used to create a seasonal dinner menu.

One of the coolest features of Locavore is its connection to the recipe website Epicurious. If you find a seasonal ingredient you would like to try but need ideas on how to prepare it, simply click the item and a page will open to show you all the states it is available along with the its Wikipedia listing (in case you aren’t sure exactly what it is) and a link to Epicurious. If you follow the Epicurious link it takes you to a list of recipes using your ingredient. Click the dish that sounds the most delicious and get a complete recipe and shepicurious-appopping list. Use this to make sure you get all the ingredients you need at the market.

Conveniently Epicurious has its own app (free) if you already know the ingredient you want to use and do not need to find a farmers market. You can search by meal, event or specific ingredient, and create shopping lists for your favorite recipes. As you can imagine, I’m particularly fond of the “Healthy Lunches” option. Another bonus is the Epicurious app contains the entire contents of the Big Yellow Cookbook by Gourmet.

Overall Locavore and Epicurious are both fantastic apps for anyone interested in cooking local, seasonal meals. Together they are a powerful resource for finding ingredients and cooking the best seasonal meals possible.

Have you used either the Locavore or Epicurious iPhone apps?

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