Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Seasonal Fuel

I am a firm believer in seasonal and fresh ingredients, the challenge is to find the ones that are truly fresh.  Many of the items in your produce section may look pretty and shiny, and yet a bite or cut into it and you will see that this is not the case.  Many of our produce items have been specifically developed to be as resistant to the elements as possible, that way they can handle the cold storage for months at a time they might go through.  An apple you buy today, may have sat in a cold storage room for months.  I understand the economics of this, but the basic truth is food is the fuel our bodies require in order to live.  The way we create unique dishes, exciting tastes and eye pleasing plates, is the icing on the cake.  If we can for a minute just deal with the stripped down version of this and the fact that it is fuel for us, it will be clear that fresh and seasonal is in everyone's best interest. Once a fruit or vegetable is removed from its life source, its vitamin punch begins to degrade and of course the quality begins to degrade as well. If we are looking for the best case of fuel for us, then we would want to eat something that gives us the most nutrition as possible.  Use your computer to find out what fruits and veggies are being harvested in your local area and search them out, or ask your produce manager in the grocery store, although I am not certain you will get the help you really want because their job is to move product, not tell you that the apples you just put in your cart are a year old.

Now if you are lucky to find something fresh, but you can't use it right away, then, if this is a viable option, you should blanch it and freeze.  For instance, every year we plant English peas, a lot of them.  I harvest them about 3 or 4 times during the early spring and if I ate them all while they were fresh picked, I would turn into a giant pea.  What I do is I pick, shell, heat water to boiling and add a hand full of salt.  Throw the shelled peas into the boiling water, bring back to a boil and within a minute or two drain them and shock them in a bowl of ice water. Get a sheet tray and lightly spray with cooking spray and put the drained, cold peas on the sheet tray in a single layer.  Put it in the freezer overnight then the next day, put the frozen peas in a ziplock bag and throughout the year, you will have fresh peas.  AND the bonus point part of this is, the blanching process, then freezing helps to keep the enzymes from breaking down and allows it to keep more of its nutrients in tact. This is also a great thing to know when shopping for unseasonable fruit or veggies.  Buying frozen is typically a better way to be assured that the nutrients have been preserved.  Obviously not all items can be frozen, so be sure to not overbuy. It may mean better planning and more trips to the market, but your body will thank you for it!!