Smorgasbord Health 2017 – Cook From Scratch with Sally and Carol – Asparagus

You all know that I absolutely love learning about the foods we eat. I want to know about their history and where they fit into our system of botanical classification. I want to understand the nutritional roles they play in our diet, and to discover how people prepared these foods in the past. And of course, I love to eat and to try great recipes for healthy foods that my family will want to eat.

Well, my family LOVES asparagus!

Now, it’s out of season here in southern BC at the moment. (Sadly! I wish we could enjoy it year round…) But this fabulous post by my friend Carol Taylor and her collaborator Sally Cronin just blew me away with its wealth of nutritional information and history on asparagus. And the recipes! There are several really great ways to cook asparagus that you’ll want to check out.

So please click through to Sally and Carol’s post. And please, if you have comments, leave them on the original post. Comments will be turned off at 24 Carrot Diet to help maintain the flow of conversation on the original post.

Note: The reblog link somehow ended up going to a truncated version of the post. To see the whole post, please click on the graphic below or follow the “see the post now” link. Thanks!

Smorgasbord Health 2017 – Cook From Scratch with Sally and Carol – Asparagus
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Smorgasbord - Variety is the spice of life

Welcome to this week’s post where Carol Taylor and I combine forces and share not just the health benefits of foods but some recipes to showcase them in all their glory.

I appreciate that these posts are longer than the average but we hope that you feel that you are getting value for your time…My thanks to Carol for her hard work in the kitchen preparing these wonderful recipes.

HISTORY OF ASPARAGUS

Asparagus is a member of the lily family and the spears that we eat are shoots grown underground. The ancient Greeks used the word asparagus to describe any young tender shoots that were picked and eaten. It was cultivated over 2,000 years ago in that part of the Mediterranean and the Romans then picked up a liking for the delicacy eating fresh and dried out of season.

Source: Smorgasbord Health 2017 – Cook From Scratch with Sally and…

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Does Science Prove Alton Brown Right: Should You Stop Storing Tomatoes in the Fridge Forever?

Tomatoes are probably the most popular of all garden vegetables. Whether you pick up a flat of hybrid tomato plants at the local garden centre or shop online for heirloom tomato seeds in yellow, orange, green, purple, and red, you are probably growing at least one variety of tomato in your vegetable garden. And right about now, those tomatoes are ripening. Lots of tomatoes are ripening.

Do you find yourself scrambling to use them all up before they spoil? If you’re like most people, you’re up to your eyeballs in tomato sauce, stewed tomatoes, and BLT sandwiches right now. And you probably still have more ripe or almost-ripe tomato fruit that you don’t know what to do with. I bet you’ve been told you should never put those tomatoes in the fridge. I bet you’re also really tempted to do it!

So here’s the question: is it ever OK to refrigerate tomatoes? I know a lot of gardeners and cooks who are really serious about never storing tomatoes in the fridge. But does science bear out all the warnings about destroying the flavour of tomatoes if we keep them in the fridge? This week, I took some time to dig around a bit on the internet instead of in the garden. Let me share what I learned about storing tomatoes the best way to preserve their flavour.

 

Ripe cherry tomatoes (Photo: Meditations/Pixabay/CC0)

Traditional Advice for Storing Tomatoes

I love chef Alton Brown because he talks about the science of foods. He doesn’t just teach a traditional cooking method or offer a recipe and expect people like you and me to blindly follow it, simply because he’s a chef and that’s how he does it. In fact, sometimes he makes a point of talking about the traditional advice and then he recommends that you do exactly the opposite!

Alton talks about how different ingredients contribute to a recipe and he brings in experts who can explain the scientific phenomena in everyday language. So when Alton makes a recommendation about a particular food, I tend to sit up and take notice. And when it comes to those lovely red beauties from our gardens, he agrees with the conventional wisdom about storing tomatoes in the fridge.

This is what Alton Brown says about tomato storage:

Do me a favor: Never put tomatoes in the refrigerator.

If they drop below 50 degrees F, a flavor compound called (Z)‑3‑hexenal is just going to flip itself off like a chemical switch … permanently.

The Zed‑what? And what does he mean when he says it will switch itself off? What does that do to your tomatoes?

In order to answer that question, we first have to look at some of the components that contribute of tomato flavour. As we do this, you’ll see where this hexenal stuff fits into the bigger picture. Follow me for a quick tour of tomato taste!

 

Tomato flavour is influenced by sugar content, acidity, volatile compounds, and even texture (Photo: Colliefreund/Pixabay/CC0)

 

What Makes a Tomato Taste Good?

The flavour of a tomato is a complex question. In large part, it’s determined by the balance between the sugar content and the acidity of the fruit. Tomato flavour is also impacted by a group of volatile compounds which are associated with smell, taste, and even the colour of the fruit.

“Volatile” means these chemicals evaporate easily at room temperature. They are released when we brush up against the leaves of many plants, when we pull a ripe tomato off the vine, and when we slice or bite into a fruit. Essential oils used for aromatherapy and holistic medicine are also known as “volatile oils.” They are a kind of volatile aromatic compound that is extracted from plants. You could think of them as a bottled version of the many different compounds that occur naturally in the plant.

Volatile compounds in food plants help to ensure a plant’s survival by attracting pollinators or repelling insects that would cause damage. They also serve to attract our attention and signal us that a plant is good for food. Science is just beginning to understand the more than 400 volatile compounds in tomatoes. But we are already able to see that they play a key role in how we perceive the taste of a tomato, and in whether or not we are satisfied with that flavour.

 

Volatile compounds are associated with scent, taste, and even colour in tomatoes (Graphic made in Canva using a public domain photo by Pixabay user Meditations)

How Volatile Compounds Impact Tomato Taste

Volatile compounds are not themselves sweet or acidic, although some of them can change how we perceive the taste of a tomato. Everyone has personal preferences when it comes to tomato flavour, but most people tend to like tomatoes that taste sweet.

This can mean that the tomato has a high sugar content that can be measured in Brix – for example, a ‘Candyland Red‘ currant tomato or ‘Fantastico’ measured at 12 °Bx, or a Brandywine heirloom tomato with a whopping 14 °Bx, all of which are as sweet as any fruit. But a tomato may also have a lower actual sugar content and still be perceived as sweet because it also has low acidity. Certain volatile compounds like geranial can also make a tomato seem sweeter, regardless of the balance of sugar and acid in its fruit.

 

The Chemistry of Tomatoes
(Z)-3-hexenal and Geranial are Volatile Compounds that Contribute to the Tomato’s Flavour

Why Your Fridge isn’t the Best Place for Tomato Storage

So what does all this have to do with where you store your tomatoes? Was Alton right? And what is this hexenal stuff, anyway?

Let’s start with the volatile compound itself. What Alton calls (Z)‑3‑hexenal is also known as cis‑3‑Hexenal, or sometimes just 3‑hexenal. It belongs to a group of chemicals known as aldehydes, which you may be familiar with if you know a little something about perfumery. Aldehydes are strongly associated with Chanel No. 5, which relies on them to lift its floral foundation.

3‑Hexenal is an aldehyde with a sharp green scent that is associated with the smell of freshly cut grass. It can be found in many food plants, including apples, cucumbers, berries, and even black tea. It is also present in the leaves and fruit of the tomato plant. It also happens to be one of the most abundant volatile compounds in tomatoes, which may be why Alton Brown makes specific mention of it in his tomato storage advice.

The leaf aldehyde, as it is sometimes called when discussing it as an aroma compound, is actually just one of over 400 volatile components that have been identified in tomatoes. These compounds begin to develop when the fruit starts to ripen and we know that they contribute to the taste, smell, and texture of a ripe tomato – or what is sometimes just called the “flavour.” We don’t fully understand the role of all these 400 odd chemical components of the fruit. But it does seem that in cases where they are missing or only present in small amounts, the tomato’s flavour and even its appearance can suffer.

 

Heirloom tomatoes are preferred by many people because of their superior flavour (Photo: magdus/Pixabay/CC0)

 

And this is the reason we’re concerned about storing tomatoes in the fridge. You see, the volatile compounds in a tomato are reduced when that tomato is subjected to the cold – even though its sugar and acid content remain constant. So when we bite into that tomato, it doesn’t satisfy us the way it normally would. In fact, some scientists have found that if a tomato is held at temperatures below 12°C, the volatile compounds can actually be switched right off. This is what Alton is talking about.

If a tomato is not fully ripe, storing it in the cold can prevent it from ripening and developing its flavour. And if any tomato is kept too cold for too long, it can develop what’s called a chilling injury – the same sort of damage that occurs when plants in your vegetable garden are hit by frost. So we want to be sure to let unripe tomatoes sit out at room temperature in order for them to ripen properly. And once ripe, we want to be careful about how we store them. It’s best to eat ripe tomatoes within a couple of days, or to process them for later use. You can keep your tomatoes fresher for a bit longer if you flip them over and store them with the stem scar down.

 

How to store tomatoes in the fridge and how to recondition them afterwards (Photo: Meditations/Pixabay/CC0)

 

Is it Ever OK to Store Tomatoes in the Fridge?

If at all possible, store tomatoes in a cool spot out of direct sunlight. They fare best at temperatures between about 12°C to 20°C – that’s 55°F to 70°F, for those who still prefer the Fahrenheit scale. If your kitchen is much hotter than 20°C, you may want to store your tomatoes in a cool pantry or a wine fridge designed to keep the temperature cool rather than cold.

If there really isn’t anywhere in your home that is cool enough, you may just find that you have to store ripe tomatoes in the fridge. Leaving them out in a very warm kitchen only hastens the processes that lead to rotting. So if you aren’t able to eat or process them hast enough, you can extend their shelf life by a few days by putting them in the warmest part of your fridge – usually near the front of the top shelf.

Scientists have discovered that tomatoes stored in the fridge can be reconditioned. Remove them from the fridge 24 hours before eating and leave them on the kitchen counter to warm up. This restores some, but not all, of the volatile compounds that are lost when the tomato is refrigerated. This reconditioning process works on fully ripe tomatoes that were stored at 4°C for up to 6 days.

So if you can avoid refrigerating your tomatoes, follow Alton’s advice and keep your tomatoes at room temperature. Storing under-ripe tomatoes in the fridge may prevent them from ripening, and even ripe tomatoes can suffer from chilling damage that will turn their texture mealy and rob them of their full flavour. But if you’ve just brought in a huge harvest from your heirloom vegetable garden and you can’t possibly process all the tomatoes fast enough, it’s OK to put the fruit in your fridge to keep it from rotting. This will give you a few extra days to make your tomato sauce or slice your tomatoes for drying in your dehydrator.

 

How to store tomatoes from the garden – and where to do it| food storage | heirloom tomatoes | 24 Carrot Diet |
How to Properly Store Tomatoes – and Where to Do It
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Graphic made in Canva using a public domain photo by Pixabay user 2PDPics

 

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Original content © 2017 Kyla Matton Osborne, aka #RubyWriter

This article was published on my food blog, 24 Carrot Diet. If you are reading this content anywhere else, it has probably been stolen. Please report it to me so I can address any copyright infringements. Thank you!

Featuring public domain photos by Pixabay users magdus, Meditations, Colliefreund, ponce_photography and others

Why You Shouldn’t Ever Cook Broccoli in Your Slow Cooker Again

Broccoli is one of my favourite vegetables. At just 34 calories per 100 grams, it supplies 148% of the vitamin C we need for a whole day. Did you know that 100 g of oranges would supply only 88%? Broccoli also supplies vitamins A, E and K, folates and vitamin B6, and the carotenoids beta-carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin. Broccoli provides minerals such as potassium, calcium, magnesium, and iron. And like many vegetables, it is a good source of dietary fibre.

But please, don’t cook broccoli in your crockpot!

Broccoli in the Crockpot? Phew, What a Stench!

I have generally cooked broccoli two ways in my life: steamed (my preferred method) and in stir fries. But when my neighbour began talking about freezer to crockpot meals, I fell in love with my slow cooker all over again. The convenience of chopping all my vegetables in a single afternoon and having freezer meals for a week was great. So I started to do most of my cooking in our trusty crockpot.

Most of the recipes I tried during that first month of freezer to crockpot cooking were heavy on the root vegetables. Specifically, they had a lot of onions, carrots, and potatoes. But there were several recipes that incorporated nutrient-rich cruciferous vegetables like cabbage, cauliflower, and broccoli. I have to admit that I balked a bit at the idea of including these vegetables in recipes for the slow cooker, especially because cauliflower and broccoli become limp and tasteless if they’re overcooked. What I hadn’t expected was the stench.

Oh yes my friends, broccoli smells bad when you cook it in your crockpot!

The very first time we tried what was supposed to be a healthy beef and broccoli crock pot recipe, the whole house just reeked of sulfur. (Not to mention that the broccoli was mushy and lifeless, as I had feared it would be.) I tried tweaking my recipe by replacing the fresh broccoli I’d used at first with the commercially frozen stuff that was actually called for in the beef and broccoli recipe. I tried adding the broccoli during just the last hour. I tried tweaking the crockpot setting and the cooking time. But nothing really improved the situation all that much. It just stank. No matter what we tried, the smell was atrocious.

Using a crockpot to cook broccoli just seems to bring out the smell of sulfur more than other methods of cooking. I suspect it’s a combination of the longer, lower-temperature cooking and the contained moisture that is intended mainly for cooking hardier vegetables and less tender cuts of meat. While I have heard that some people are bothered by a bad smell when cooking boiled or steamed broccoli, I can’t remember it ever being an issue for me. It’s just trying to prepare broccoli in the slow cooker that stinks up my house.

Read more below…

Cooking broccoli the best way to boost sulforaphane and maximize health benefits | Fight cancer and improve your health | 24 Carrot Diet
Boost the sulforaphane content of your broccoli by steaming it
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Graphic made in Canva using a public domain image by Pixabay user Meditations

Steamed Broccoli Cooks in Minutes

One question I eventually had to ask myself when I was in this full-on freezer to crockpot cooking craze was, Why am I cooking this meal in a slow cooker? A crockpot is an amazing tool for a busy family. A crockpot is a blessing when you’re feeding a big family on a budget, because you can buy inexpensive cuts of meat that are less tender and more flavourful. The longer cooking time helps to tenderize the meat, so the result is just as nice as the more expensive cuts.

A slow cooker is a huge help when you have school-age kids. It’s a relief to know dinner is taking care of itself when the kids are all coming in from school, wanting to tell Mama about their day, needing help with their homework, or waving the latest stack of permission slips and newsletters in your face. I’m sure many of you can relate!

But does that mean we need to cook every single meal in that much beloved crockpot? Is there a faster, more efficient way to cook your dinner? If food doesn’t need to be cooked slowly for several hours, then the answer is probably yes.

In the case of broccoli, it takes just minutes to cook. You can make steamed broccoli on the stovetop in about 3-5 minutes. Blanching broccoli in boiling water takes only 1-1/2 minutes. Cooking broccoli in a stir fry or steaming it in the microwave takes under 5 minutes. And even oven roasting your broccoli takes only about 15-20 minutes from start to finish.

So no, you don’t need a crockpot to cook your broccoli. You can do it any number of other ways in just minutes. Plopping it in the crockpot just isn’t saving you much time or work. And by cooking broccoli in the slow cooker, you’re missing out on important nutritional benefits.

 

Keep going….

Cooking broccoli too long can destroy sulforaphane, a #superfood antioxidant that fights #cancer
Prolonged cooking robs broccoli of important cancer-fighting nutrients like sulforaphane
Graphic made in Canva using a public domain image by Pixabay user Pexels

Crockpot Cooking Diminishes Broccoli Nutrition

Remember that I mentioned broccoli smells like sulfur when it’s cooked in a crockpot? That’s because it, like other cruciferous vegetables, is high in sulfur content. I know that might be a turn-off for a lot of people. That rotten egg smell is not appetizing at all. So it’s understandable that you might not associate stinky food with nutrition.

But in fact, this sulfur is important to our bodies, being the third most abundant mineral by weight. Vegetables that contain large amounts of sulfur have a long list of health benefits. Organic sulfur compounds have the potential to prevent or treat a wide array of medical conditions, from heart disease and stroke to diabetes, arthritis, and even cancer. Brassicas like broccoli are very rich in sulfur. And one of its sulfur-containing components in particular, called sulforaphane, is thought to be “one of the most powerful anticarcinogens found in food.

Without getting too technical on you, sulfur is one of the key components of a class of chemicals called glucosinolates. They are what gives the pungent smell and strong taste to brassicas such as kale, mustard greens, cabbage, and of course, broccoli. When we chop, chew, and digest cruciferous vegetables, an enzyme is activated that breaks down the glucosinolates into antioxidants like sulforaphane and indoles (which have their own health benefits such as balancing hormones.)

 

There’s still more…

Health Benefits of Sulforaphane in Broccoli & Other Brassicas
Learn more about the health benefits of sulforaphane. Grab yourself a free copy of this cool infographic, courtesy of 24 Carrot Diet!
Graphic made in Canva

 

So here’s the problem with cooking broccoli in your slow cooker: the enzyme that makes sulfur-rich compounds like sulforaphane available to our bodies is destroyed by prolonged heating. Our bodies don’t do a great job of liberating that sulforaphane, so this is an issue.

Knowing that heat destroys the enzyme, the very best thing we can do when we make broccoli is to chop it up a bit before cooking, which starts the chemical breakdown. That should be followed by steaming for 3-4 minutes, or until it is “tough-tender.” This has actually been shown to increase the antioxidants, including sulforaphane. It has also been shown to improve the folate and carotenoid content of the broccoli, which means that you’re getting more of a whole bunch of nutrients when you steam your broccoli instead of tossing it into the crockpot.

So please, use fresh broccoli or blanch it at home and flash freeze it for later use. Your broccoli will be a nice, bright green. It will retain more of its crunch and flavour. And it will be more nutritious too!

 

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Original content © 2017 Kyla Matton Osborne, aka #RubyWriter

This article was published on my food blog, 24 Carrot Diet. If you are reading this content anywhere else, it has probably been stolen. Please report it to me so I can address any copyright infringements. Thank you!

Featured image made in Canva using a public domain image by Pixabay user allanlau2000