Ingredient of the Week: Artichokes

posted Apr 12, 2012, 10:51 PM by Kim Janik

I find that many people I talk to don't use artichokes.  In fact, they're practically afraid of them.  "They're hard to make", "They're too fancy for me" and "I don't know what to do with them" are common complaints I hear.  Actually, they're pretty easy to make.  Give them a good wash, snip off their leaf tips (with their tiny spines) and steam the artichokes until tender.  The fun part comes when you go to eat them, peeling off the leaves one by one and dipping them in the sauce of your choice.  Last, you get to enjoy the tasty, tender heart before wistfully wishing you had made more artichokes.
Artichokes are full of nutrients but the interesting one is that it provides almost a quarter of your daily folate in one serving.  What is folate?  Folate is a water-soluble vitamin that helps the body form red blood cells.  So, if you're like me and donated blood this week, artichokes are a great choice for dinner!


Ingredient of the Week: Leeks

posted Dec 29, 2011, 9:33 PM by Kim Janik

chopped leeks
Leeks belong to the same basic family as onions and garlic.  The flavor is mild (less than green onions, even) and is hands-down my favorite vegetable in this family.  I grew up having this soup in a rich, creamy soup filled with bacon and potatoes.  You can find several healthier versions of this recipe here.

You can often find leeks in grocery stores and farmer's markets bundled into groups of 2-3 stalks.  Instead of an edible bulb, leeks have a thick stalk.  The leaves form around each other, resulting in rings when you slice into the vegetable.  Usually, you trim off the roots and use the light green portion of the leeks in recipes.  The dark green leaves are hard to clean and tough as well.   Leeks can be cooked until soft and still remain tasty, but don't let them become mushy or they will taste gross.

Leeks are touted as having a wide variety of healthful benefits, but not always proven.  However, the high amounts of vitamins (K, A and C) for a small number of calories makes it worth eating regardless.

Ingredient of the Week: Kale

posted Dec 8, 2011, 10:41 PM by Kim Janik

If you grew up anything like me, the only way you saw kale was underneath the Thanksgiving turkey or as a garnish under an orange wedge at the local home-style diner.  I was in my 20s before I realized this was actually a vegetable:

curly kaleThis is the common curly kale that you can easily find in the grocery store.  However, there are a lot of different varieties of kale, including:
  • plain leaf kale
  • curly leaf kale
  • rape kale
  • leaf and spear 
  • russian kale
  • dinosaur kale

It comes in wonderful colors like green, purple and white.  However, it's the nutrients that should really blow you away.  How can you turn down a vegetable that's high in iron, calcium, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin K and belongs to the cruciferous vegetable family that may help reduce your risk of cancer?

Kale has a stronger flavor than spinach.  If you're trying it for the first time, try pairing it with some lemon juice or, even better, some creamy goat cheese.

Ingredient of the Week: Kalamata Olives

posted Dec 2, 2011, 12:28 AM by Kim Janik   [ updated Dec 2, 2011, 9:20 PM ]

When I need to add a lot of flavor to a meal, kalamata olives are one of my go-to ingredients.  They store well so they can always be on hand and they're not too high in calories when used in reasonable quantities.  Some people can't see beyond the fat content of olives.  However, olives contain the monounsaturated fatty acids associated with a reduced risk of heart disease. 
sweet, salty kalamata olives
Need another reason to add kalamata olives to your meals?  They contain iron and may help prevent cancer, too.

Kalamata olives, sometimes called Greek olives, are named after the city of Kalamata in southern Greece.  The olives are picked ripe and packed in brine to reduce bitterness.  You can buy them whole or pitted in the grocery store.

Interesting Olive Fact:  Kalamata olives are well known for their deep purple color and they are that color (or darker) on the tree as well!


posted Nov 27, 2011, 10:05 PM by Kim Janik

Tasty, Tart Cranberries Remind me of Thanksgiving
I don't think any reader will be surprised to learn that our ingredient of this week last week was cranberries!  Short of turkey itself, what other ingredient could have been so closely tied with the Thanksgiving holiday?  Every year, we treat our dinner guests to homemade cranberry sauce.  Cranberries get huge points with us for their impressive Vitamin C content as well as their wonderful, tart flavor.

What flavors do you associate with Thanksgiving?  Comment below!

Fresh Fennel

posted Nov 14, 2011, 9:58 PM by Kim Janik

fresh fennel bulb
I'll admit that this week's ingredient may not be for everyone.  Fennel has a crisp texture similar to celery but a strong flavor reminiscent of black licorice.  Most of you are probably familiar with the dried seeds of the fennel plant (mmm, breakfast sausage) but may not have ever seen the unusual bulb portion.  The bulb you buy in the store is actually a special cultivar called "Florence Fennel".  Normal spring fennel does not create that large, delicious bulb.

Fennel can be used as either or a fresh or cooked vegetable.  Adding bulb slivers or fresh leaves to a salad yields intense flavor and texture.  Cooking the fennel results in a more mild flavor and soft texture.  One of my favorite methods is to braise the fennel in chicken stock.  Fennel is also a great addition to recipes because it's low in calories and high in Vitamin C.

Fun Fennel Fact:  Fennel is generally considered to be the only species in the genus Foeniculum, botanically speaking.


posted Nov 7, 2011, 10:05 PM by Kim Janik   [ updated Nov 7, 2011, 10:05 PM ]

rutabaga not a turnip not a parsnip
The rutabaga (root-uh-bay-guh) is a root vegetable that I believe to be underappreciated in today's world.  The rutabaga is not a native to North America, being introduced most likely in the early 19th century.  It was first found growing wild in Sweden and was designed by nature as a cross between a cabbage and turnip (another unloved root vegetable).

In general, the rutabaga can be used in many of the same ways that you would use a potato to yield different flavors.  I enjoy using them in soups and stews but will also add them to a pan of roasted vegetables for a nice change of pace. Rutabagas are low in calories and high in Vitamin C.

Acorn Squash

posted Oct 31, 2011, 11:05 PM by Kim Janik   [ updated Oct 31, 2011, 11:05 PM ]

Since today is Halloween, I decided to have a bit of fun with the ingredient-of-the-week photo.  Welcome to a first-hand view of one of the inhabitants of my haunted yard.  Maybe if he had eaten the squash in time then he wouldn't look so emaciated.  :)

When I was a child, acorn squash was the only winter squash I knew.  On rare occasions we would get halves of winter sausage stuffed with sausage - a very hearty winter meal. The squash's name is based simply on it's resemblance to the common acorn.  You can use them in a lot of different dishes, both savory and sweet, and get a healthy dose of beta-carotene as well.

I have found this, like many winter squash, to be incredibly versatile.  Over the years I have prepared acorn squash via steaming, roasting, sauteing and baking and enjoyed every last one of them.  Quite recently, my mother-in-law introduced me to a new recipe where the squash were stuffed with sweet cinnamon apples. 

Now whenever I see these squash I think of Fall and all of the warm, delicious meals that can be prepared.  You can find a few ideas for squash already on this site here and here, but we'll be adding more recipes later!

Sweet Peppers

posted Oct 19, 2011, 11:19 AM by Kim Janik   [ updated Oct 19, 2011, 11:19 AM ]

As summer comes to a close and early fall is upon us, our gardens contain that bounty that is delicious sweet peppers.

Sweet peppers
Peppers were first cultivated in South and Central American more than 9000 years ago but can now be found growing all throughout the world.  Our modern word "pepper" was given to the spicy plant when it was brought back to Europe, reportedly by Christopher Columbus.   Many cookbooks use the Australian term "capiscum" to mean peppers as well. 

Sweet bell peppers are missing the chemical capsaicin (also known as the main ingredient in bear deterrent pepper sprays) so they lack the firey taste of the their capsaicin-laden relatives.  Fear not, though, as the peppers still have much to add to your meals.  While red peppers are higher in nutrients than their green counterparts, all peppers are rich in Vitamin C, Vitamin A and a sprinkling of antioxidants.  That has to make you feel good about adding these to your meals.

Trivia fact for the day:  Did you know that, botanically speaking, bell peppers are actually a fruit?

Winter Squash

posted Oct 22, 2010, 9:43 PM by Kim Janik   [ updated Oct 24, 2010, 10:46 PM ]

Fall is a beautiful time of year, when the leaves turn to golds and oranges.  The days are still warm and not yet too short and the fields are still filled with lots of fresh produce.  I love the late season tomatoes, peppers, cabbages, corn, apples and pears.  However, one of the most versatile and colorful is the winter squash.

These squash can be used in so many different ways.  They can be baked, grilled, pureed in soups and used in both sweet and savory dishes.  We went and picked some local squash to enjoy in our kitchen.  To give you a better feel for the large variety of squash available, we cut open the squash prior to baking so you could see them.

The first squash we found was a lovely white one on the outside.  I've heard these called "ghost pumpkins" and this one was appropriately labeled "Casper".  The interior was a pale green with few seeds and flesh that was firm but tricky to scoop.

The next squash we found was a brightly colored, pumpkin-like squash.  This ridge-free Kuri squash was a warm, relucent orange color.  The seeds were easy to scoop out.

We actually had to look around to find this next squash.  One of the most fun vegetables to share with our children is spaghetti squash.  When cooked, you call pull the long, thin strands out and it will closely resemble spaghetti.  The flesh will be firm and pale yellow and it will take a little bit of effort to scoop out the guts.

Depending on your point of view, the aptly named turban squash is one of the prettiest or ugliest squash you will encounter.  The outside shell can include shades of orange, yellow, white and green in stripes and solid colors.  Normally, these are nice, thick squash that feel heavy for their size.  However, we picked up a very small one with light colored flesh.  Regardless, these are delectable squash.

Delicata are easy to distinguish from other varieties by their oblong shape, pale skin and lateral green stripes.  These squash are firm fleshed and great for stuffing with other ingredients.

I've saved my personal favorite for last.  With it's plain tan-orange skin, the butternut squash belies the it's rich, orange flesh inside.  The seeds are easy to scoop and roasting makes the flavor even better.  Ultimately sweet and luscious inside, the meat can be used in so many different recipes.


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