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With the start of June we celebrate National Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Month.  It’s perfect timing as the growing season is in full swing and there is an abundance of fresh produce available locally.  The goal of National Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Month is to increase daily consumption of fresh produce.

 

Nutrition is Key

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Fruit and vegetables provide a list of valuable nutrients your body needs including calcium, fiber, folate, iron, magnesium, potassium, sodium, Vitamin A and Vitamin C.  Fruits and Veggies–More Matters even has a list of which fruit and veggies are good sources for these specific nutrients.

 

Storing Fresh Produce

There is a simple rule of thumb that can be applied to all fruit and veggies–FIFO.  That is First In, First Out.  Of course, when it comes to fresh produce, you must be diligent as these fruit and vegetables will spoil faster than those that are frozen, canned or dried.  In addition, some fruit and veggies should be stored at room temperature (tomatoes, bananas, melons), while others should be kept in your refrigerator (grapes, broccoli, lettuce).  Fruits & Veggies–More Matters has a detailed storage sheet for fresh fruit and veggies as well as tips for cleaning fresh produce.

 

Adding more fruit and vegetables to your diet is easy right now with all the fresh selection at your local supermarket, roadside stand or farmer’s market.  Fruits & Veggies–More Matters has added two new healthy plate selections that go perfectly with the season, one as a lunch entrée and the second as a meatless dinner option.

 

Take these California Avocado Super Summer Wraps with you on your next picnic or beach outing.  They’re portable and a delicious, new twist on your usual chicken salad recipe.  You’ll love the addition of fresh blueberries and chopped, fresh arugula!

avocado wrap

 

Searching for something new to fix for your Meatless Monday entrée?  These Rainbow Bell Pepper Boats with Garbanzo Beans and Kale are filling and flavorful.  Peppers are coming into season and plentiful during summer so take advantage of them and their sweet flavor right now.  This recipe stuffs them with a blend of brown rice, garbanzo beans, chopped kale and walnuts, which makes for a variety of tastes and textures.

Stuffed Peppers

 

Need more reasons to add fresh fruit and veggies to your day?  Check out these Top 10 from Fruits & Veggies–More Matters.  I’ll be back next week with some ideas to spice up your meals naturally.

 

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May is National Strawberry Month and it’s perfect timing since these delicious berries are at their peak of flavor!  Strawberries are a great addition to your diet since they are fat free, cholesterol free, sodium free, high in Vitamin C and a great source of folate.  We typically think of using strawberries in dessert dishes, but they are also the perfect balance in a spicy or savory recipe.

 

Fun Fact: On average there are 200 tiny seeds on every strawberry!!

 

Since it may be habit for many people to think about using strawberries in the traditional way, I’ve collected a few non-traditional recipes that are simple to prepare and perfect for the season.  Strawberry Summer Bruschetta makes the most of fresh produce.  Strawberries, tomatoes and a plum are combined with a light dressing over mozzarella cheese on sliced French bread, making this a terrific appetizer.

 

strawberry bruschetta
Photo courtesy of momdot.com

 

Strawberry Balsamic Chicken makes for an excellent summer entrée.  This baked chicken is topped with a healthy strawberry caprese topping made from sliced strawberries, fresh basil, balsamic vinegar and fresh mozzarella.  If you want to avoid heating your kitchen, I’ll bet this is also great with grilled chicken breast.

 

Strawberry-Balsamic-Chicken-3
Photo courtesy of Gimme Some Oven

 

Light and healthy is how I would describe this Strawberry Quinoa Salad with Lemon Dressing.  Try it as a side dish or as a lunch entrée.  It’s filled with fiber and protein-rich quinoa, sliced strawberries and diced apple.

 

true-love-strawberry-quinoa-salad
Photo courtesy of Babble.com

 

Need some more ideas for using strawberries?  Michael Marks, Your Produce Man, shows you that the possibilities are endless in this short video.  Salads, salsas, chutney and everyone’s favorite–chocolate covered!

 

I’ll be back next week to celebrate Fresh Fruit and Veggie Month.

 

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Olive oil is a kitchen staple in my house.  So, when planning a day trip to Napa Valley while in the San Francisco area recently, I made it a point to visit Talcott Carneros Estate–Napa’s first large olive grove in the Carneros region.  I wanted to learn more about how this oil I so loved (and used daily) was made.  James Talcott, who with his wife Patricia, started their grove in 2004 with three thousand trees that include Tuscan varietals.  He took the morning to show me around his property, which was in full bloom with olive blossoms when I visited.

olive estate
Looking down one of the rows of olive trees on the Talcott Estate.

 

My visit was quite educational as James explained that it takes one ton of olives to produce 35 gallons of olive oil–it’s no wonder we call it liquid gold!  The olives are ready to be harvested in the fall and are hand picked on the Talcott Estate.  This is a tedious process, but better than some of the traditional ways such as beating the trees with sticks to make the olives drop to the ground.  Such rough treatment can cause damage to the trees and bruising to the fruit.  Once the olives are picked they are sent to the mill for pressing.

buds
Flower buds that will become olives.

 

Types of Olive Oil
The most important lesson James taught me was how not to get “schnookered” when buying olive oil.  Many times the olive oils you can find at your local supermarket have a generic label listing virgin or extra virgin olive oil, but lacks any further description on where or what kind of variety the oil is.  This is important because many times the manufacturers are processing the oil with other oils so that it’s not a pure product.  In addition, depending on where the variety comes from, depends on the level of health-promoting polyphenols (those phytochemicals that play a big part in protecting blood vessels and heart health).  Olive oil that is labeled as “extra virgin” is made from the first pressing of the olives, which removes about 90 percent of the olives’ juice. Chemicals and high heat are not permitted.  “Virgin” oil is closely ranked and the difference is the acidity, which is slightly higher.  The color of olive oil may be pale yellow to bright green and the rule of thumb is deeper the color, the more flavor.

mr talcott
I’m standing with James in front of one of the olive trees at the Talcott Estate

 

Storing and Cooking
I had heard that it was not recommended to cook using olive oil because it could not withstand higher temperatures.  I love the flavor it adds to my dishes, so I figured I was probably making a culinary “faux pas,” but I really didn’t care.  I asked James about this as he entertains frequently and as luck would have it our guide for the day was a sommelier who had extensive restaurant experience as well.  Both told me that this was not true–cooking with olive oil was perfectly fine.  Where it gets tricky is if you are going to do something with very high temps (like deep frying), then you’ll want to switch to a different oil.  In order to preserve the flavor of olive oil, keep it in a cool place and make sure it’s in a sealed container.  Light can also degrade oil, so keep it in your pantry or cupboard.

 

I like to cook with olive oil for almost all my dishes (except baking), but if you need ideas try it drizzled over a salad, in a marinade or substituted for butter with your bread at dinner.  James and Patricia have some healthy and simple recipes like Roasted Ratatouille.  Or try The Olive Bar where you can freshen up deli olives for your next party.

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I hope you’ve found this week’s blog informative and it encourages you to incorporate olive oil into your diet.   I’ll be back next week with some new ways to enjoy the sweet flavor of strawberries.

 

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