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Melissa's Everyday Cooking with Organic Produce

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Written by Peggy Fallon   
Thursday, 10 June 2010

ImageOnly a few years ago author Cathy Thomas wrote what I consider one of the most complete reference books on fresh fruits and vegetables. I keep it in my office, within arm's reach - and I reach for it often. I was delighted when I came across this new book and learned that Ms. Thomas has continued her collaboration with Melissa's World Variety Produce, which is the nation's leading distributor of specialty produce and the professional chef's go-to source for unusual fruits and vegetables. This time, however, Thomas concentrates on everything an informed home cook should know about seasonal cooking in the real world.

Instead of identifying esoteric (and often outrageously expensive) ingredients that appear only occasionally in big-city markets, Thomas devotes her considerable journalistic talents to the 56 most commonly available organic fruits and vegetables. With the proliferation of farmers' markets cropping up throughout the country and the selection of top-notch produce now available in so many supermarkets, this is a welcome, practical approach to incorporating organic foods into our diet.

So what's so different about cooking with organic produce? Well, it depends. If you're not yet convinced about the health benefits, a taste-test will usually win you over. While it might take a rather refined palate to detect the difference between a floret of organic broccoli and one grown conventionally, when summer rolls around the value of organic is pretty much a no-brainer. Stone fruits, berries, melons, tomatoes, corn - and even the common cucumber - benefit noticeably from the absence of flavor-robbing systemic pesticides and a few extra hours in the sun. These vibrant differences are often as obvious in texture as they are in taste, and this ultimately affects how to best showcase the produce in cooking.

Fruits and vegetables are organized alphabetically, making this book a handy companion for avid cooks as well as home gardeners. Along with a color photograph, each entry provides a thorough description of the ingredient; then describes how the organic growing process affects the quality of the mature fruit or veggie; and provides valuable tips for selection, storage, prep, and getting the most for your money. All of this information is followed by the most valuable bonus of all: 4 enticing, original recipes featuring that ingredient - everything from a Kiwi Martini to Grilled Portobello Burgers; Rotelli with Roasted Garlic, Goat Cheese, and Baby Greens; Garden Enchiladas; and Grape and Muscat Wine Cake. Healthy never tasted so good.

Cooking with organic fruits and vegetables is far more than a trend, and Cathy Thomas does a fine job of explaining the hows and whys.

Warm Plum-Plumcot Bleeding Heart "Pies"

From Melissa's Everyday Cooking with Organic Produce: A Guide to Easy-to-Make Dishes with Fresh Organic Fruits and Vegetables by Cathy Thomas. Wiley (2010).

yield: 8

These baked plums and plumcots are vibrantly flavored and delectably juicy. This simple presentation showcases small "pies" baked without bottom crusts. The fruit and heart-shaped top crusts bake separately. Once the filling is baked, each one is topped with a sugared crust and allowed to sit about twenty minutes before serving accompanied with sweetened whipped cream. To save time, prepared refrigerated crust can be substituted for the from-scratch dough.

Crust

  • 1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour, plus flour for dusting work surface
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
  • 1/4 cup ice water

Filling

  • 3/4 cup sugar plus 1 tablespoon, divided use
  • 2 tablespoons instant tapioca
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 3 pounds plums or plumcots, pitted, cut in 3/8-inch wedges

Egg wash

  • 1 tablespoon cream or 1 egg yolk beaten with 1 teaspoon water

For serving

  • cold sweetened whipped cream

1. Adjust oven rack to middle position. Preheat oven to 375°F.

2. Prepare crust: In food processor fitted with metal blade, pulse flour, salt, and sugar 2 or 3 times. Add butter and pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal. With motor running, add ice water through feed tube, processing until mixture just barely comes together. Pat into disk shape; place in plastic bag and refrigerate for 1 hour.

3. Prepare filling: Whisk to combine ¾ cup sugar, tapioca, cornstarch, cinnamon, and ginger in large bowl. Add plums or plumcots; toss. Arrange 8 (6- or 8-ounce) soufflé cups or ramekins on rimmed baking sheet. Divide plum mixture between cups, filling each even with top (wipe rims clean).

4. Lightly flour clean, dry work surface, as well as a rolling pin. Place dough in center and roll to ¼-inch thickness. Use small sharp knife to cut out 8 hearts large enough to sit atop filling without touching sides of soufflé cup or ramekin (or if preferred use a heart-shaped cookie cutter). Place hearts in single layer on parchment paper-lined baking sheet; dip pastry brush in wash (either cream or egg mixture) and brush lightly on tops of hearts. Bake until cooked through and nicely browned, about 15 minutes. Remove from oven and sprinkle with 1 tablespoon sugar; set aside. Increase oven temperature to 450°F.

5. Place plum-filled cups on rimmed baking sheet. Bake 25 minutes in 450°F oven, or until plums are soft. Remove from oven. If tops look dry, carefully stir hot mixture to bring some juicy portion to top. Place a baked crust heart on top of each; press down gently to surround edges of heart with juice. Allow to cool at least 20 minutes. Serve warm with whipped cream.

Nutritional information (per serving without whipped cream): Calories 350, fat calories 110; total fat 12 grams, sat fat 7 grams, cholesterol 30 milligrams; sodium 150 milligrams; total carbohydrates 59 grams, fiber 3 grams, sugars 38 grams; protein 3 grams; vitamin A IUs 20%; vitamin C 25%; calcium 2%; iron 8%.

Slushy Nectarine Margaritas

From Melissa's Everyday Cooking with Organic Produce: A Guide to Easy-to-Make Dishes with Fresh Organic Fruits and Vegetables by Cathy Thomas. Wiley (2010).

yield: about 8 servings

Frozen nectarine chunks create slushy paradise when whirled in a blender with margarita ingredients. If you have a large, heavy-duty blender, you can make the entire batch at one time. If using a standard blender, divide the ingredients in half and prepare two batches. The recipe suggests rimming the lip of each glass with sugar. If you prefer, you can skip the sugared edge and proceed to step 2.

  • Optional: about 1/3 cup sugar
  • Optional: 1 juicy lime, quartered
  • 6 medium nectarines, peeled, pitted, cut into 1-inch chunks, frozen
  • 1/4 cup tequila
  • 1/4 cup orange liqueur or sweet-and-sour mix (see Cook's Note)
  • 1/4 cup fresh lime juice
  • 3 cups crushed ice

1. To rim glasses with sugar: Place sugar on shallow dish or saucer (larger than the diameter of margarita glasses). Moisten rims of glasses with lime quarters. Dip rims of glasses in sugar to lightly coat.

2. Place remaining ingredients in large, heavy-duty blender. Puree until slushy. Pour into prepared glasses.

Nutritional information (per serving without sugared rims): Calories 100, fat calories 0; total fat 0 grams, sat fat 0 grams, cholesterol 0 milligrams; sodium 0 milligrams; total carbohydrates 17 grams, fiber 1 gram, sugars 13 grams; protein 1 gram; vitamin A IUs 6%; vitamin C 15%; calcium 0%; iron 2%.
Cook's Note: If you prefer margaritas that have a tart edge, use sweet-and-sour mix rather than orange liqueur. To make sweet-and-sour mix: Combine and heat 1 cup sugar with 1 cup water in a small saucepan until sugar is dissolved. Cool completely. Once cooled, add 1 cup each fresh lime juice and lemon juice. Stir well to combine. Refrigerate unused portions.

Disclosure: Review copies of books discussed in this post may have been provided to Project Foodie by publicists and/or publishers.

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Last Updated ( Wednesday, 09 June 2010 )
www.veggiebelly.com
Veggie Belly (Unregistered) 2010-06-14 16:28:59

the heart topping looks so cute!
peggy (Author) 2010-06-15 12:43:13

and tastes good, too!
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