Did You Know?

Asparagus: The Life and Love of Asparagus!

Asparagus: The Life and Love of Asparagus! Asparagus, a slender spear like vegetable, that grows in both thick and thin stalks. The plant grows what is considered both male and female reeds. Male stalks are thought to grow thicker because they do not expend the energy to produce seeds and the thinner female stalks use up so much energy by producing their seeds that it does not build up the extra bulk.

Asparagus is one of the few vegetables grown perennially and has an approximate 10 year life span. Although considered a native food of the Mediterranean and Asian Minor area’s, it’s exact place of origin is unknown. Earliest written pieces with asparagus mentioned go back to around 1000 A.D. in English print.

However, in 200 B.C. Marcus Porcius Cato, (also known as Cato Minor) a Roman Statesman despite having a longtime conflict with Julius Caesar, gifted to Caesar knowledge of excellent growing instructions to teach his slaves after Caesar brought this vegetable to Rome from Egypt with plans to cultivate it.

Romans such as Caesar and Augustus came to prize a wild variety of asparagus that is thought to have been brought to Rome by Marc Anthony after one of his first trips to Egypt. A favorite Roman saying was, ” As quick as cooking Asparagus.” which became common in referencing anything being accomplished quickly just as the quick blanch cooking method of asparagus that they used.

Roman Emperor’s kept special fleets prepared whose sole purpose was to sail out and retrieve more asparagus plants should one of their ruler’s plants die.

John Gerard, an English herbalist of the 16th century mention asparagus in one of his first betony writings. Asparagus was next noted in 17th century French cookbooks. During the Renaissance period, beds of asparagus could be found in Northern Italy. It is thought that Pliny, the Elder may have brought asparagus to Italy after his time in Rome as these elegant spears were considered a delicacy that only the most wealthiest of citizens could afford.

Asparagus root was used by Ancient Chinese herbalists to treat many maladies from arthritis to infertility. The root contains steroidal compounds which may have had anti-inflammatory properties.

Today we know that 1/2 a cup of cooked asparagus contains significant amounts of folic acid, vitamin C, potassium and beta-carotene. Folic acid helps prevent birth defects, several types of cancer, and heart disease. Vitamin C protects against cancer and heart disease and also helps boost the immune system. Potassium helps regulate the electrolyte balance within cells, and helps maintain normal heart function and blood pressure. An Italian researcher reported in 1991 a compound had been found in asparagus that had shown some antiviral activity in test tube studies. Asparagus is a natural diuretic, and a heart-healthy food, containing no fat, cholesterol or sodium.

There are two popular varieties of asparagus in the United States. The Green Asparagus which is most popular. It is used fresh to add to salads or munch on as healthy snacks. The more commonly found way is to blanch or steamed to add to stir-fry dishes, creamed for soups or with melted butter or covered in a hollandaise sauce.

White Asparagus, which is actually just asparagus that has been sun deprived as it grows but tends to be a bit more delicate and milder in flavor. It is rarely sold in its fresh state, but instead sold in jars in juices.

There are two other lesser known varieties found mainly in Europe and Italy. The Violet Spear which is an extremely thick stalked variety, and the Wild Asparagus which is a thin, reedy variety which grows as it’s name suggests wild in unpopulated area’s of Italy and Southern France.

Asparagus is available year round, but Spring is considered it’s prime season of growth. Spring and Early Summer it is found at local markets fresh and reasonably priced.

To prepare to eat fresh or to cook, gently wash by sloshing the stalks around in a water filled sink or bowl to remove sand and silt from the fern like spear tip. Drain the water and repeat until the water remains clear.

If a crisp tender texture for adding to salad or stir fry is wanted a quick cook method is best. Blanch the stalks by filling a large saucepan 1/2 full of water and a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil, and set asparagus down inside. Cover and allow water to come to a boil again, then uncover and cook for 5 to 8 minutes then remove from heat and drain water off and pat with a towel dry.

For tender stalks for creaming or eating in melted butter or hollandaise sauce then a slower method of cooking is needed and removal of some of the lower thicker white section of stalk. Steam by letting covered asparagus stand in 3 to 4 inches of boiling water for about 8 to 10 minutes (or until tips are tender). By standing the asparagus in the water, the thicker stalk will cook while the tips tenderize from the steam. This method is best used on younger tender asparagus.

Regardless of the method used, it is usually easier to cook the asparagus stalks tied in 10 to 12 per bundle to make adding and removal of stalks from water quick and simple.

Asparagus has the best flavor when served warm or at room temperature as refrigeration will have the natural juices inside the stalk move to its inner most section of stalk which will lessen the flavor.

When trying to buy enough to serve for a meal, keep this in mind:

1/2 lb of asparagus per person satisfy most as a first course or accompaniment. There are 15 to 20 medium-size stalks in a pound. One pound of asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1- to 2-inch lengths, will measure about three cups.

Now we hope you enjoyed this lesson about the wonders and history of asparagus. Now it’s your turn. Tell us what you like or don’t like about asparagus below in the comment section and also be sure to share this with your friends and family!

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Spinach isn’t just for Popeye Anymore!

Spinach isn’t just for Popeye Anymore! Spinach, the leafy green vegetable best known in the United States and made popular by the cartoon character Popeye, originated in Persia, (modern day Iran). Earliest records of this vegetable go back at least 2,000 years. It was introduced to China in the 600’s and still to this day is referred to Persian Greens. It was next transported to Spain sometime in the 1100’s. By mid 16th century it was well established in Europe. The Spaniards are credited for bringing Spinach to America. Although the first real documentation of the use of spinach in the United States was not until 1806 in regions of California and Texas and are still considered the states with the majority growers for commercial use.

Spinach was the first vegetable frozen and sold commercially in Springfield, Massachusetts by Clarence Birdseye in 1930.

This dark leafy green vegetable has many nutritional benefits. It contains vitamins A, C,K, as well as folic acid, magnesium and potassium. Spinach is high in carotenoids, all considered essential to fight cancer and prevent other blood and heart conditions.

There are 2 main and mostly sold types of spinach.
Flat or Smooth-Leaf: is just as the name says,
Baby: a smaller Flat-Leaf version that is very tender and desirable for salads.

Choose spinach with crisp and vibrantly green leaves. Avoid specimens that are limp or discolored. Store it in the fridge in a bag for three days at best but never more than seven days. Spinach, due to being grown in sandy soil, can be very gritty and must be rinsed thoroughly, even the so-called “pre-washed” type sold in packages will still possible have some sand remain behind and should be well washed before being eaten or added to dishes being cooked.

Cooking spinach will give the greens a more acidic flavor, hence many recipes will call for butter or cream added to the recipe to counteract the spinach flavor. Spinach may be steamed, sautéed or braised. Please note that when cooked, spinach will shrink by 90%! Therefore use this formula when using spinach:

1 lb. fresh = 10 cups and becomes approximately 1 1/2 cups. cooked.

10 oz. frozen = 1 1/2 cups thawed and then becomes 1 cup when cooked and drained.

Spinach is excellent fresh in salads. Using younger spinach, which is smaller, will make for a more tender leaf.

Although the reason behind it is not completely known, spinach has long been linked to prosperity. Eat a large tablespoon of spinach on New Year’s Day will bring wealth and happiness to your life! Many will mix spinach with other greens such as kale, mustard leaves, and collard greens into a sauce pan and wilt them down and season them to bring prosperity and luck to them and their family for the next year.

The French term “a la florentine” in the name of recipes indicates that spinach is a main ingredient in the dish.

And best of all, spinach is considered low on calories and contains per serving 3 grams of protein. So next time your at the store buy some fresh, frozen or canned spinach and add it to your scrambled eggs, tomato sauces to pour over spaghetti or use in lasagna or any pasta dish, toss a few into your salad, onto a sandwich or even just into a bowl to munch on along with any other raw vegetable you like!

If you have any comments, questions or suggestions about spinach please let us know by commenting below! Also, be sure to share this with your friends and family. I am Stephen Rummey from http://HomeCookingSecrets.com and I would like to thank my partner and the COO, Pam Upton, for providing this amazing content.

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Kitchen Knives: What Kitchen Knife Are You Using?

No kitchen can work unless you have kitchen knives. These are essential and without a doubt one of the best things to go the extra dollar to buy good quality. These five kitchen knives are the best to have in your kitchen set up!

Serrated Knife

Serrated Knife

Serrated Knife (Seen Above) usuall…y has a 3 inch blade with ridges is used for slicing. Especially good to use when working with vegetables such a tomatoes which are firm on the outside but soft/juicy inside.

Paring Knife

Paring Knife

Paring Knife (Seen Above) usually has a 4 inch blade that is great for peeling and coring fruits and vegetables.

Bread Knife

Bread Knife

Bread Knife has a blade very similar to the Serrated Knife but is about 8 1/2 inches in length. This knife as the name suggests is used for slicing bread. However this is also one of the few knives whose blade can not be sharpened.

Carving Knife and Forks

Photo Attribution: David R. Ingham.

Carving Knife (Seen Above) has a 8 inch blade that is thin, flexible and is perfect, as the name states, to be used for carving meats especially if you are wanting nice thin slices. Usually is found sold with it’s partner the Carving Fork which is to be used to hold the meat as you use the knife for carving.

Chef's Knife

Chef’s Knife

Chef’s Knife (Seen Above) is to me the most important of knives to have in your kitchen and the one to be sure and spend extra money on. This knife has an 8 inch blade that should be kept razor sharp. It is the most versatile of all knives for slicing, dicing and chopping.

Sharpening Steel

Sharpening Steel

To go with the knives, a very important item to spend and get high quality on is the Knife Sharpener or a Sharpening Stone. There are a few different types. And while the knife sharpener that comes on the back of many can openers works great for your steak knives, to properly keep your cooking knives in the best condition. The best type in my opinion is the Sharpening Steel. It is a about 10 to 12 inches in length and is about 1/4 of an inch thick around, it also has a handle that fits easily into your hand. You simply draw the blade lightly down the steel at a small shallow angle repeating several times to the front and back of the blade.

Do you have any questions, comments or suggestions about Kitchen Knives you would like to share? Please post them below and also be sure to share this video with your friends and family. I am Stephen Rummey from http://HomeCookingSecrets.com and I would like to thank my partner and the COO, Pam Upton, for providing this great content!

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Garlic Acceptance, Garlic History and Garlic Uses.

Did You Know? Garlic was not an accepted spice/herb in America until the 1940’s? Surprisingly, until 1940, the use of garlic was frowned upon by the middle and upper class in the United States. It was used instead exclusively in ethnic dishes in the lower working-class neighborhoods. But in the 1940’s, America finally began to embrace garlic, recognizing its not only a minor seasoning, but as an actual ingredient in recipes.

Worldwide, Garlic mythology states garlic can repel vampires, protect it’s users against the Evil Eye, as well as scaring off jealous nymphs said to attack pregnant women or those about to be married. But garlic was also believed to have aphrodisiac like powers throughout the ages.

Native to Central Asia, garlic has long been a staple in the Mediterranean, as well as in Africa, and Europe dating as far back as 6,000 years ago.

Clay models of bulbs of garlic were found in the tomb of many Egyptians Kings and Queens, including King Tut. Garlic was worshiped and so prized that it was even used as currency.

In the 1920’s American’s used several quaint slang words in restaurants and diners to request garlic. Often referenced as Bronx Vanilla, Italian Perfume by those who enjoyed it’s addition to foods and then some not so nice terms by those who did not appreciate this seasoning for it’s aroma and taste.

One either loves the smell and taste of garlic or hates it. The aroma is released when the bloom has been broken down into cloves and is crushed, grated, minced, or pressed which releases oil enzymes resulting in that heady, pungent garlic smell which is a mainstay in kitchens all over. These oils can be absorbed by the human body which often stays with a person well after eating the dish.

And WOW! Can you believe this? One raw clove of garlic that has been minced or pressed can release more flavor than a dozen cooked whole cloves.

Garlic cloves if cooked whole, has a flavor that mellows into a sweet, almost nutty taste that barely resembles any form of pungency that garlic is so well known for. The nutty flavor makes a surprisingly nice addition to desserts, such as brownies or even ice cream. Can you imagine going into your local ice-cream parlor and asking for a scoop of garlic ice-cream?

Also, garlic cloves that are cooked whole and not pierced in any way have almost no aroma at all, while raw garlic is the strongest in flavor. So the smartest thing to remember when using garlic that the smaller you cut it, the stronger the flavor. Chopping finely and/or pressing a clove exposes the oils to the air, causing it to produce that strong aroma and potent flavor.

But the amount of cutting is not the only worry when it comes to the flavor. When you are sautéing garlic, be very careful not to burn it. The flavor turns terribly bitter and you’ll need to start the dish all over again.

If you have a good garlic press, you won’t even need to peel garlic cloves before pressing, which can be a wonderful time-saver. Just place the unpeeled clove in the tool cavity, press and discard the skins left in the cavity. Most stores sell at least one form of a garlic press as well as a grater.

Since the Middle Ages, garlic has been considered a medicinal food. Used by Monks, garlic was thought to protect people against the plague. Garlic vapors were used by the notable ancient healer, Hippocrates, in treat cervical cancer. Poultices were placed on wounds in World War II as an inexpensive, but very effective replacement for antibiotics which were so hard to come by during wartime.

Modern science after many studies finally accepted the proven fact of the medicinal properties of garlic that our ancestors took for granted. Some studies have proven that garlic can suppress the growth of tumors, and is an antioxidant that is good for the heart. Garlic has been found to also reduce LDLs (bad) cholesterol and is has excellent blood-thinning agents to avoid blood clots which could potentially lead to heart disease.

What’s even better is that 1 garlic clove only has 4 calories! Good taste, wonderful aroma, medically good for you and low in calories! What more can you ask for?

I hope you found this as interesting as we did and if you have any comments, questions or suggestions about garlic please let us know by commenting below! Also, be sure to share this with your friends and family and subscribe for more did you know segments by clicking the Subscribe Now button on your screen! I am Stephen Rummey from http://HomeCookingSecrets.com and I would like to thank my partner and the COO, Pam Upton, for providing this amazing content.

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Did You Know? Coriander is Both an Herb and a Spice.

Welcome to Did You Know Mondays! Did you know the term coriander is often used in reference to both cilantro leaves and seeds? In America, it generally refers to the dried cilantro seeds which are used as a spice both in whole seed form as well as ground and crushed form. Coriander seeds have a bit of a spicy, citrus flavor and are available in the spice aisle of any local store.

When preparing a recipe using coriander, you need to check carefully to determine which form is best to use.

One of the oldest herbs/spices on record, coriander was mentioned in the Bible. The seeds have been found in ruins dating as far back as 5000 B.C. The name is from the Greek word koris, meaning “a stinky bug.” This is no doubt a reference to the strong aroma given off by the cilantro plant leaves when they are bruised.

Although coriander comes from the Cilantro plant, cilantro leaves and coriander seeds are not interchangeable. They have completely different flavors and textures.

Coriander seeds are generally toasted before being ground to bring out their full flavor. It is a popular ingredient in Indian curries, particularly garam masala.

When adding fresh cilantro to a hot dish, add at the last minute to get full benefit of the flavor.

Recipes calling for whole coriander usually can use ground or crushed in its place. However, recipes calling for ground or crushed can not always have whole seeds used instead.

1 teaspoon coriander seeds = 1 teaspoon ground coriander

Do you have any comments you would like to add to this story? Please comment below and let us know! Also, join us again next week as we bring you another did you know segment.  We would like to thank my partner and the COO of Home Cooking Secrets, Pam Upton, for this great content!

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