Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Fruity Favorites

I was going to post a recipe for vegetable stock, but decided to dedicate this to a smattering of fruits instead.


Pineapple

I woke up this morning with a craving for pineapple, which doesn't exactly go with cloves & cinnamon oatmeal, but for some reason was exactly what I wanted. Fresh pineapple is so sweet it's like someone poured sugar over it - yet it has this little bite at the end that makes it perfect (Boyfriend Javelin claims it burns the roof of his mouth if he eats too much of it). The fresh stuff has awesome texture too - a little crisp yet still soft at the same time. And shockingly enough, pineapple is really good health-wise too. It's chock-full of vitamins, minerals and fiber, enzymes to help with digestion and lots of Vitamin C.

For some reason, only a handful of people seem to eat fresh pineapple on a routine basis. I admit I used to be one of those people, mostly because I pictured faraway tropical islands covered in dense jungle. I just assumed fresh pineapple, being shipped halfway around the world, would be too costly to ever be anything more than a rare treat. Compared to something like apples, pineapple is a little pricey but I've found it for under $4 and I'm sure there are other more reasonable places to find it. But come on - $4 for something that's yellow and covered in prickly skin and wears a special crown. How many 70-cent apples can offer all that?

I also used to think pineapples were hard to cut (because of that fancy crown and the protective skin). They're not. It takes me under five minutes to break down a pineapple into into bite size pieces. Some of that is practice, but most of it is just technique (and the fact that pineapples really aren't that hard to break down). Here's how I do it:

  1. Get a long, sharp, relatively thin knife
  2. Cut off the crown (all those pointy flat leaves) where it meets the flesh of the pineapple
  3. Turn the pineapple around and cut off a thin slice to make the pineapple's bottom flat
  4. Sit the pineapple up on its bottom and cut in half (lengthwise)
  5. Cut each half in half again (lengthwise)
  6. Lie one quarter of pineapple on it's skin and slide the tip of knife between where the skin ends and where the fleshy fruit begins; cut all the way around until the fleshy fruit is separated from the skin. Repeat with other 3 quarters
  7. To remove the fibrous core from each quarter, stand each quarter on one end (lengthwise) and slice off the triangular edge that would have been part of the center of the pineapple (about 1/2 - 3/4 inch). Save for nibbling on!
  8. Cut each of the remaining quarters into desired eating size

So if that seemed complicated, it's really only because it's hard to describe in writing (I think I need video here), but trust me, it's fast enough to entice you to eat more pineapple.

Apples

Although I was dissing apples earlier, I still love them. I'm not a fan of mushy, overly sweet apples. I like the tart, crisp kind. My favorite is Honeycrisp and when that's not available I like Pink Lady or Fuji apples. On oatmeal (flavored like pie filling) I like Granny Smith. Plus, the crunchy apples give my gums a good workout and polish my teeth (without a chemical paste).

One of my favorite deserts is dutch apple pie made with a combination of Honeycrisp and Granny Smith. I used to peel and core all the apples using a paring knife until one winter's night when I saw my friend using two simple gadgets (which I now recommend to everyone): a hand-crank apple-peeler and a apple corer/dicer. Seriously, I believe you should put your heart, soul and plenty of time into baking - but if you make stuff with apples, BUY THESE GADGETS. (No one is paying or giving me anything to make this plug.)

If you haven't seen them advertised on one of the tv shopping networks, here's the basics. For the hand-crank apple-peeler, you just anchor any apple onto the pointy tines and turn the crank. The peeler does the rest. For the dicer/corer, just set any apple on it's bottom, position the dicer/corer over top and press down firmly. Peeled, diced, done.

Cranberries

Another fruit I love. I'm not talking about dried, sweetened cranberries (although I love those too), but the hard little red berries you can buy in bags during winter months, especially around the holidays. They're hard to eat by themselves (without adding a sweetener) because they're ridiculously tart, but they're also ridiculously good for you (antioxidant, urinary track benefits, anti-viral potential, etc.). So I've been experimenting with ways to cook with more fresh cranberries. Here are some of the ways I like them:
  • cranberries and butternut squash
  • cranberry squash orzo/risotto with saffron
  • cranberry apple pie (haven't made myself, but love it)
  • plumped cranberries (not too many) mixed into oatmeal
  • cranberry, apple, and walnut salad with lime vinaigrette
  • cranberry puree over crispy waffles topped with powdered sugar
Plumping cranberries is super easy:
  1. preheat oven to 375 degrees
  2. rinse berries well
  3. spread out berries evenly on baking sheet
  4. roast for 8 minutes, toss with a spoon and roast for another 8 or so minutes
  5. use immediately or store in fridge

Lemons & Limes

I love lemons and limes all by themselves and sometimes I just sit and suck on a wedge. But I also use these two all the time in all kinds of stuff. Either one is great in a vinaigrette over salads, in marinades for meats, in bean dishes to brighten the flavor, over virtually any seafood or as a flavoring in almost anything baked (muffins, scones, cakes, cookies, pies...). And like a lot of fruits, you can also actually eat the skins (especially if cooked or zested). But the key with lemons and limes is in using the real (fresh) thing, not the stuff out of a bottle. I know the bottled stuff is faster, easier and cheaper - but it's not the same thing and marketers should be ashamed for promoting it as such.

I feel like anything I say about lemons or limes has already been said, so I'll quit with this: if you can't find the right flavor, add some lemon or lime (juice or zest). Oh, and here's how I get the maximum amount of juice squeezed out of these stingy little fruits:

  1. if possible, I set out citrus in advance to bring to room temperature
  2. roll firmly and vigorously with my palm on a flat surface to get the juices primed
  3. pull out my handy-dandy hand juicer (jar bottom with twist on/off plastic top)
  4. slice citrus in half between two ends (widthwise, not lengthwise)
  5. push citrus half onto top of juicer and twist vigorously until all juice and pulp has been extracted; repeat
I'm suddenly feeling hungry for a lime wedge...



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