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Now that the spring season is upon us, you’ll begin to notice artichokes appearing more frequently in your supermarket’s produce section.  Not only will they be more abundant in supply, but they’ll be at some very budget-friendly prices.  Spring is “artichoke season” and it’s the time to enjoy these delicious veggies.  Artichokes are a good source of dietary fiber, vitamin C, folate and magnesium, so even more reason to indulge.

 

While I find that most people enjoy artichokes, many don’t purchase the fresh variety because they aren’t sure how to properly prepare them.  Growing up and being part Italian, artichokes were always part of our holiday celebrations.  Having watched my mom prepare them for so many years, I know that making them isn’t as difficult as many people think.  Fresh artichokes can be prepared in a number of different ways, but I’m going to focus on two that I know are the most popular.  To begin, there are Stuffed Artichokes.

 

stuffed artichokes

 

Everyone has their own version of this recipe.  I’ve seen artichokes stuffed with just some breadcrumbs and garlic, some people will add diced tomatoes and parmesan to the mix.  I’ve even seen chopped meat added as well.  The above link/recipe uses ricotta cheese, breadcrumbs, garlic, parmesan, lemon, parsley and olive oil for the mix, making it a substantial and flavorful filling.  The leaves are eaten, one by one and some filling is on each leaf.  Since stuffed artichokes tend to fill me up, I would serve this with a light side like a salad or broth-based soup.

 

Now, for my favorite way to enjoy fresh artichokes (and the way my mom always prepared them)–Steamed Artichokes.

 

steamed artichokes

 

This version is really simple, focusing on the flavor of the artichoke and whatever additional flavors you add such as garlic or lemon (like in the above recipe I’ve included).  After steaming the artichokes so that the leaves were tender, my mom put them in olive oil and a lot of garlic with some chopped parsley.  We would sit and eat leaf after leaf, working to get to the reward–the artichoke heart–at the center of the veggie.

 

Fruits & Veggies–More Matters has enlisted the help of Michael Marks, Your Produce Man, to help you learn how to Prepare an Artichoke in this quick “how-to video.”  In addition, Your Produce Man has more tips on how to stuff, steam and boil artichokes.  So, visit your local grocery store and take advantage of the in-season flavor and great prices of this spring veggie while they last!

 

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With St. Patrick’s Day right around the corner, I’m thinking shades of green.  While there are plenty of green veggies, I thought I’d feature one that is perfect for the spring season and a personal favorite–spinach.  There’s a reason this leafy green was touted by sailorman Popeye as his means of being big and strong.  Spinach is high in both Vitamins A, C and K.  It’s a good source of fiber, high in iron and folate, a good source of magnesium and it’s one of the few fruit and vegetables that is a source of calcium.  Quite an impressive resume for such a tiny leaf!

 

So now that you know how good spinach is for your body, let’s discuss how to add it to your diet.  There are really many ways–you can use frozen, chopped spinach and add it to soups, casseroles and stews.  This is really simple and, quite frankly, you will barely even notice that you’re eating it.  But I LOVE spinach so let’s explore some of the ways you can actually enjoy the flavor this veggie has to offer.  My favorite way to prepare spinach is by sauteeing it with a little olive oil and garlic.  It’s quick and very easy.  Simply chop garlic (I love garlic so I use a lot) and heat olive oil in a large non-stick pot.  Add the garlic, washed, fresh spinach leaves and cook, continuing to stir to prevent any burning.  You’ll start with the pot filled with leaves and see how quickly the spinach will cook down.  I will sometimes add a dash of crushed red pepper for a little “zing.”  To serve you can sprinkle a little parmesan cheese on top or add a squeeze of lemon over it.

 

sauteed spinach

 

 

Another popular way to enjoy spinach is raw, as in a salad.  You’ll find spinach salad on most restaurant menus, but beware—many versions are loaded with fat and calories.  Fruits & Veggies–More Matters has a great alternative, Spinach Salad w/Apples and Eggs.  This recipe omits high fat ingredients like bacon and adds apples, dried figs and uses a light honey mustard dressing.

 

spinach salad

 

Another great recipe from Fruits & Veggies–More Matters uses raw spinach, but with an interesting twist–Mango Berry Rotini Salad combines spinach with fresh fruit, pasta and feta cheese to create a blend of sweet and savory flavors.  An extra bonus is that mangoes are in season right now.

 

mango berry rotini salad

 

Over the next couple months you’ll find spinach to be in season, plentiful at the supermarket and at that means budget-friendly and at its peak of flavor.  Take advantage of this and experiment!

 

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March is National Frozen Food Month, so I thought it appropriate to bring to light the benefits of frozen fruit and vegetables.  Now, I know some of you are probably wrinkling your noses and protesting because you will only use fresh produce.  However, I’m here to tell you that frozen fruit and veggies are not only convenient, they are also a nutritionally sound alternative to fresh and they taste great–especially when prepared correctly!

 

To start, you have to get away from the old fashioned way of dumping a block of frozen veggies into a pot and heating them on the stove and serving them like that.  If it sounds boring, it’s because it is boring and it’s going to taste boring too. I like to use frozen fruit and veggies in specific recipes where they are best suited.  Think things like casseroles, soups and stews.  Frozen veggies hold up better than fresh–they tend to keep their form a bit better and they work best for these kind of dishes.  In other words, they won’t turn to mush!

 

vegetable soup

 

Let’s talk about frozen fruit.  Berries are super popular, but unfortunately they are only in season for a short period of time.  This is where frozen fruit comes in handy, especially when making treats like smoothies and shakes.  It doesn’t matter what time of year you’re making them, your favorite berry is always available in your grocer’s freezer section and it’s just as delicious as adding fresh.

 

I mentioned earlier how you prepare frozen veggies is very important.  Here is a simple, quick and delicious idea that incorporates fresh and frozen vegetables.  Let’s say you only have a small portion of fresh green beans on hand–not enough to make a full side dish for your family.  What you can do is add some mixed frozen veggies to the green beans and create a delicious side.  Boost the flavor with some herbs like dill or perhaps a little sauteed shallots in olive oil.

 

mixed vegetables

 

A few other quick favorite ways I like to use frozen veggies are adding peas to my salads or chopped spinach to quiches or soups.  Another simple way to use frozen fruit is adding it to oatmeal or your favorite hot breakfast cereal.  During the winter months, in particular, when fresh produce is hard to find in season, give frozen produce a try.  Fruits & Veggies–More Matters has a terrific section that feature some tasty recipes, which highlight frozen fruit and vegetables as their ingredients.  This is a great way to get you started!

 

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