It's in the Bag, Gluten Free & The WoW Diet

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Fruit Basket

No, this is not about the party game where everyone is assigned to be a different fruit and some poor soul is trapped in the middle of the circle. A blog a few down from mine is discussing that. This post is literally about fruit...and a few veggies. I have spent an entire lifetime grocery shopping with The Bag Lady-- Riding in the cart, riding ON the cart, tipping over the cart, distractedly ramming The Bag Lady with the cart (this is always met with choice words and my "driving privileges" being revoked.) I never realized the great wealth of knowledge I gathered on these trips. I grew oblivious to the stares of our fellow shoppers. You see, The Bag Lady is an expert produce picker. Many times a lost and wobegotten soul has plucked up the courage and asked her advice on the perfect melon, pear, or rutabaga. Just as each fruit has it's own flavor, shape, and identity, the method of selecting a ripe specimen varies from fruit to fruit. Allow me to share The Bag Lady's knowledge--no cart collision required.


First off, we need to get over the idea that all melons can be thumped. The only melons you should be thumping are watermelons. They're still kind of touchy, but the ones with a slight indentation where the stem connects are usually sweeter.

Cantaloupe-Smell where the stem connects to the melon. It should be sweet and cantaloupy.

Honey Dew-You'll get stared at with this one, but it works. Shake the honey dew next to your ear (don't hit yourself in the head), you should hear the seeds rattle. This works for crenshaw melons as well.

Grapefruits, lemons, oranges, tangerines-Look for fruits with a thin, soft skin. If it's thin and hard, it's old.

Nothing is quite as lovely as a perfectly ripe pear. Lots of people complain that they don't like pears because they are mushy. Guess what, mushy pears are overripe. A ripe pear should be firm, yet giving and juicy, NOT woody. To pick a pear, hold it upright and gently press the flesh closest to the stem.
Like so:

If it gives slightly it is at the peak of ripeness.


Cucumbers should not be mushy. That's just gross. Gently squeeze the ends of the cuke, it should be firm. Cucumbers age from the ends to the center. If your tips are mushy it's only a matter of time before your core spoils.

Don't sniff the leaves of the cilantro! Instead, smell the cut ends. It should be strong and pungent.


If you go to the Dole plantation in Hawaii, they will tell you that you don't need to worry about selecting a ripe pineapple. All Dole pineapples are fresh and ripe on the shelf. However, should you have to buy a different brand of pineapple, smell the bottom. It ought to be sweet and pineapply. If it has even the slightest scent of mold or fermentation--drop it like it's hot. Well, unless you're planning on making pineapple liqueur. If your pineapple has uniform eyes, it indicates that it's had sufficient and even watering. Pulling out a leaf is a wives tale.

Happy shopping!

Oh and rutabagas should be firm. Just FYI. ;)

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Chinese New Year!!

Hello All! For those of you not so sweet on Valentine's Day, there's good news: It falls on Chinese New Year! Rwawr! It's the year of the tiger. It's going to be a good year, I'm a tiger. We tigers are brave, loyal, fierce, intelligent, charismatic, good looking, and apparently very humble...or so the Chinese zodiac says. I've been getting my Asian groove on for a few weeks now. It started with The Bag Lady's Szechuan Veggie Stir fry.

It's a sweet on impact, blend of crisp veggies, with an Asian chili after-burn. The rice neutralizes the chili nicely. Besides, I like eating food that makes my lips tingle.

I contributed with some delectable Vietnamese Spring Rolls.

The Vietnamese version is different from some of it's Asian cousins. Rather than being fried, it's wrapped in a soft rice wrapper. They can be a little sticky to work with, but they have a fun texture to eat, and are healthier than their fried friends. The only down side is that the left overs don't keep well. What a shame. ;)

My celebrations didn't stop there. My best friend makes the world's best egg rolls, hands down, no contest. So of course, we had to have an eggroll and steamed dumpling party. We've experimented over the years with baking our eggrolls. There was a short stint one semester when we were making them almost weekly and needed a "healthy alternative." We tried phyllo dough. That was a messy disaster, the details of which I do not care to repeat. We tried regular wrappers baked in various ways-brushed with egg, sprayed with Pam, plain, etc. After much scientific testing we've come to the conclusion: Eggrolls must be FRIED! You just don't mess with perfection

So, what does one have as a "healthy dish?" Steamed dumplings of course. Today I am of the opinion that along with a set of quality knives, every kitchen should have 2 things: a garlic press, and a bamboo steamer. If you've tried steaming dumplings before, you'll have noticed the ever constant problem of "stickage." "Stickage" is the technical term for when your beautiful, heavenly, perfect dumplings stick to the steamer and forcefully have their fillings ripped out of their wrappers when you try to remove them. It's a tragedy. Oiling your steamer yields a slight improvement, but it's not the ultimate remedy. We have found the answer. It's amazing how simple it is. If you remember nothing from this post, remember this: Line your steamer with lettuce leaves (napa cabbage works well too as long as you don't use the thick heavy bottom portion of the leaf). The lettuce is delicate enough to let the steam through, turns slick to release your dumplings, and doesn't flavor the food it's resting on! EUREKA!
In my dumplings I like:
Ground pork
Black pepper
Sesame oil
Crushed garlic
Asian Seasoning Sauce or soy sauce
Green onion
Napa cabbage
Water Chestnuts

Finely chop the veggies and mix with the ground pork. I add soy sauce and sesame oil until it smells good. Mix it up and fold your dumplings, sealing the edges with water. Steam for about 8 minutes in bamboo steamer.

You can also use
Spicy pork sausage (Jimmy Dean works well)
Green onion
Water chestnuts

This way you don't have to mess with seasoning and you get a zippy dumpling.

Chicken must be cooked before you use it.

If you're vegetarian, any veggie mix would work well.
Napa cabbage
Green onion
Water chestnuts
Crushed garlic
Soy sauce
Or anything else!

The combinations are endless! Forget Valentine's Day! Celebrate Chinese New Year! Grrrrrr! It's the YEAR OF THE TIGER!! (sing to "Eye of the Tiger tune)

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Wheat Berries

Now what exactly is a "wheat berry" you may ask? It is quite simply, an uncracked whole wheat kernel. I'm pondering what would happen if I put these little beauties in a popcorn popper, it probably wouldn't be pretty (besides, who wants to eat popped wheat at the movies? Or caramel pop-wheat-balls on Halloween?), here's a tried and true recipe instead.

Wheat Berry Cereal

2 cup wheat berries*
5 cup water
Selected toppings: nuts, dried fruit, brown sugar, honey, berries, milk, etc.
*yields 4-5 cups of cereal

Now comes the fun part...alternative cooking styles.

Option 1-The Pot Method (no, this is not derived from my time in Yellow Springs)
Combine wheat and water in a large pot with a tight lid, cook on medium heat, simmering for 30-45 minutes, until desired softness is reached(we like it chewy.) Garnish as desired.

Option 2-The Preferred Method
Before going to bed, combine wheat and water in crock pot. Set to low heat. Cereal will be ready in the morning. Garnish as desired.

Option 3-The "OH NO! I forgot to turn the crock pot on!" Method

Before going to bed, combine wheat and water in crock pot. The phone rings, your kids start crying, the house catches fire, your mother-in-law comes unannounced, or what have you. In the end, you forget to turn the crock pot on. Set to low heat when you get up in the morning. Cereal will be done in approximately 4 hours. Soaking it overnight cuts the crock time in half. Garnish as desired.

Options yet to be Fine Tuned
Stewing in a conch shell over a hot rock.
Boiling in a hubcap balanced on a radiator.
Wrapped in banana leaves and steamed in a volcano.
Vote for your preferred method, or feel free to add your own creative ways!

The cereal comes out chewy, yet tender. Being an unrefined wheat kernel, it still has plenty of fiber and really sticks to your ribs. We think it's heartier than oatmeal. It's happy! It's healthy! It's wheaty! Give it a try and let us know what you think!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Happy Groundhog's Day! In honor of the most important day of the year (according to some folks), we give you:

Rustic Stewed Groundhog and Wild Rice

3 groundhogs*, fresh or frozen (depending on how harsh the winter was)
2 cans stewed tomatoes
1 green bell pepper
1 sweet onion
3 TBL quality soil
1/2 tsp tumeric
1 tsp sage
3 TBL chili powder
3 cups melted snow

Place groundhogs in a large stock pot. If they poke their heads out and do not see their shadow, give them the rice and set them free. Spring is on it's way and they've done their job well. Cheers all you rodent weather predictors.

*Do NOT substitute road hogs, phone hogs, or bed hogs. If unable to procure your own groundhog, try the "Road Kill" section of your local butcher shop.