Nectarines are pocket fruit. Wrap one in a paper towel and you've got nature's version of a hot pocket. Perfect for eating on the go and with a soft, red-yellow center.
The end of August is also traditionally the end of nectarine season, which means we better make the most of the next week or so. You want fruit that has a bit of give, but is not bruised. A nectarine should ripen after two to three days on the counter.
Watermelons snag your eye. It's got green racing stripes and a bright red pulp that has made it a picnic staple. But in August, cantaloupe is the fruit that you should fall under the spell of your melon baller.
Ripe melons are somewhere between beige and gray in color. If you run
your finger along the side, the netting pattern on the outside should
feel raised. Avoid melons with a strong odor or soft spots. Those are
too ripe or rotten. You'll know you've got it right if you cut into the
melon and find pale orange flesh that is consistent in color.
In an effort to address concerns over salt content, the H.J. Heinz Company announced at the end of last week that it will change its ketchup recipe (earlier this year, the ketchup packet got a makeover). Heinz will cut the amount of sodium by 15 percent -- the first change to its iconic, market-leading ketchup in 40 years.
This decision comes in the wake of last month's news that the Food and Drug Administration hopes to work with the food industry to cut the amount of salt in processed foods and eventually regulate the amount of salt allowed legally. Critics worry that with a different formula, the new ketchup will fail to live up to their expectations. Supporters suggest that Americans' salt intake is unsustainable and a number of health issues, including a rise in hypertension and heart attacks, require us to decrease our sodium intake. What do you think?
[Image via Flickr: Leonid Mamchenkov]
|Mackey's struck oil in Overland Park|
It's a sunny storefront at 7945 Santa Fe, owned by Jeanne Mackey. She says her mother never cooked with olive oil, but did use the historic liquid -- Homer called it "liquid gold" -- for curing earaches when Jeanne was a little girl.
Mackey's business focuses more on the culinary uses of extra-virgin olive oil, although her store does sell olive oil-based shampoos and conditioners, books with olive oil themes (The Healing Powers of Olive Oil is one of the featured paperbacks) and mixes, pan sauces, glazes and crackers. But the real reason to wander through the shop is to learn about and taste her array of oils and balsamic vinegars, including some startlingly fabulous flavors.
|Go ahead and be crabby today|
Winter is about root vegetables and one of the hidden gems is rutabagas. The cross between a cabbage and turnip -- also known as a Swedish turnip -- it's slightly sweeter than a turnip with less water (which means it can sometimes be woody if not cooked properly). The flesh is yellowy-orange, so it can add nice color to an entree or side dish.
Rutabaga season typically starts around October and lasts through the end of January. They're one of the heartiest vegetables in the garden -- meaning you can still get fresh-picked vegetables even this time of year. You want firm, racquet-ball sized rutabagas. If they're soft or spotted, don't take them. Use the same rule as lobsters: bigger usually means tougher.
Rutabagas are not hard to store -- they should be among your kitchen staples because they can easily last a month in the fridge if you wrap them in plastic.
Sally Calvin, the doyenne of Widgeonwood Farm in Columbia, Missouri (which she operates with her manly hunter husband David) is best known in Kansas City for her Saturday-only outdoor market, Widgeonwood in the Village, held in the courtyard of Prairie Village Shopping Center from early spring to mid-October. Last Saturday Sally hosted her annual holiday market, selling her jams, jellies, baking mixes, syrups, salsas and gift items -- and copies of 2004's Widgeonwood: Finally the Cookbook, which includes a recipe for sweet potatoes baked in cognac. "Do not let me catch you melting marshmallows on top of this wonderful creation!" Calvin warns.
The recipe follows.
Roasting pecans is like roasting pumpkin seeds: You never know how easy it is until you sit down and do it. And after you taste them, you'll want to open up a toasted nut cart to spread the joy.
Your first job is to procure local pecans. If you stop by the Bad Seed downtown farmer's market tonight between 4 and 8 p.m., you can can get foraged pecans from Grandview, or you can buy organic pecans online from Missouri Pecan Growers. A half-pound is a stocking stuffer; a full pound is a good starting point for gifts.
Squash is abundant, cheap, and a good base for a number of winter recipes. You can easily get a lot of squash and you'll likely be sick of it by the end of the season, so you might as well enjoy it now.
When picking out a squash, use the same criteria as a pumpkin. You want ones with an intact stem, if possible, and a firm skin. Mushy can mean rotten -- it's really the only thing to remember.
Right now you have three main varieties of squash to choose from: acorn, butternut and spaghetti.
The acorn is small and round with ribbed sides. It's easy to bake. Just slice it in half and dab generously with butter. Butternut is beige and shaped like a bell -- the flesh is orange and sweet, the right base for a soup. Both of these squashes are available year round, but butternut is likely to be best at this time of year.
Spaghetti squash is yellow and resembles a small watermelon. Bigger vegetables tend to have more flavor. With spaghetti squash, you'll need to core out the seeds and, after baking or grilling it, you can pull out the flesh, which will be stringy like spaghetti.
The cool rush of peppermint always accompanies the onset of winter, so be ready for the invasion of peppermint-flavored drinks and eats at fast food spots around the city.
Dunkin' Donuts, which just opened in Overland Park, has a chocolate mint donut and peppermint mocha latte. The chocolate mint donut is a chocolate-glazed, chocolate donut with crushed peppermint on top, spread out like sprinkles.
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