Every so often I have a customer ask me for a chili pepper. This is never a fun moment for me. I'll ask what kind and get a blank, confused look back 100% of the time. "Chili peppers," they'll finally say, as if maybe I didn't hear the question. So, I'll turn around and show them my entire pepper section: jalapeños, pablanos, Italian peppers, Anaheim, and four colors of the sweet bell peppers. "Which ones are chili peppers?" The truth does not alleviate any confusion. "They're ALL chili peppers."
Confused too? A chili pepper is the fruit of a plant from the genus capsicum. Yes, I wrote FRUIT, as botanically speaking peppers are berries (but we call them vegetables when referring to them in a culinary sense). But the point isn't that they're berries. The point is that chili is the name for a wide family of different peppers; so there isn't just one kind.
So yes, those extra-large sweet bell peppers are indeed chili peppers. So are the ultra-hot and very tiny habaneros. If you have a recipe that simply calls for chili peppers with no other hint of what type, then you are forgiven. And your recipe is flawed. Instead, look for a recipe that properly names the pepper that it needs so you can get a better sense of what flavor, what heat index, what amount, etc., that is actually required for your dish.
A Year in Review
That excellent autumn/winter produce is among us: succulent northeastern pears, juicy citrus fruits like navels and blood oranges, butternut and other winter squashes, and of course apples, apples, and more apples! What great items to have for our winter holiday celebrations.
And speaking of celebrations, New Years is right around this corner. Another is year behind us and what a successful year it's been for The Market. Being responsible for most of the tech-related things here as well as the entire produce department, it's been a really BUSY year for me as well (the reason for fewer produce blogs). Besides fun things like setting up our new labeling system, updating web pages, etc., I was there to help open our sister store in Gladwyne. From setting up registers (and getting the products entered in), their web pages, labels, menus, printers, scales, The Gladwyne Market has kept us all busy indeed!
This had me thinking about what it is that separates us from other markets: convenience and attention to the details that make your lives easier. Some signature products are our soup mixes, green beans which have been snipped and washed for you in advance, shucked corn on the cob, asparagus with the bottoms trimmed off already, sliced melons... and this is just in produce. And of course, all of our catering and party platters.
I'm excited to see what the new year brings us!
It all started with the Quizzo question: "What is the only fruit that has seeds on the outside?" My first thought was pineapples: the small black seeds are in the rind. But, I wasn't sure if they were "outside" enough to be the correct answer. Everyone looked to me since I was the man with the secret inside information. I finally decided on strawberries before I spoke, and said it with such commitment that everyone was proud to have me on their team. It was a guess. I was right. We won the points. Still, I didn't like not knowing for sure. I mentioned pineapples too just to prove my mental gears were turning faster than everyone else's. I looked like an expert, but inwardly I was embarrassed that it took so long to find an answer I wasn't even 100% sure about.
Obvious to anyone who knew me, I jumped online the moment I got home to research this further. I couldn't believe there was only one fruit to fall under that category, if it even really did. I already knew that it would all depends on how we define fruits and how technical we want to be. I'm very much aware that there are plenty of "false fruits" out there; things that we call fruit that aren't technically defined as fruit. Botanically speaking, cucumbers, beans, corn, and peas are fruits (while of course, culinarily speaking, they are all vegetables). As it turns out, strawberries are not real fruits, botanically speaking. So, in an alternate world where I don't have a sense of pride, I'd admit that I (and the Quizzo master, for that matter) was technically wrong. But not in this universe!
Anyway, while researching, I came across a wonderfully-written article that does a better job than I could to explain things in more detail (but still in layman's terms). Check it out if you've been baited with the curiosity bug or want to stump your friends and Quizzo pals:
There's a lot more to the produce department than just fresh fruits and vegetables. Besides things like cut fruit and fruit salads, freshly sliced snacking vegetables, and other non-traditional supermarket items that we offer at the Market of Lafayette Hill, we also carry items you might not have suspected would be in the produce aisle at all.
For your salad needs, we carry a full line of seasoned croutons, including fat-free and organic varieties. You can also find other topping like sunflower seeds, flavored sliced almonds, and salad kits. What's more, we carry many brands of dressings, dips, and marinades for you; some you can only find in specialty markets like ours. Morgan's dressings, Ellen Rose All Natural, Garlic Expressions, and Walden Farms, are only a few examples. Because we are also a Gluten-Free product food source, I try to carry every item available to me by Walden Farms (who also specialize in sugar-free, calorie-free, fat-free, and carb-free products). This includes all of their salad dressings, chocolate or marshmallow fruit dips, chocolate syrup, peanut spread, mayo, BBQ sauce, veggie dips, and bruschetta.
At the bottom of the aisle you will find the widest variety of crushed, chopped, and minced jarred garlic, ginger, and other blends. Speaking of garlic, did you know we have peeled garlic every day for your convenience? You can find that in the refrigerated section next to the sundried tomatoes and fresh pesto.
So the next time you stroll down the produce aisle for your fresh fruits and market-quality vegetables, take a look around and you might find something new. Marinated mushrooms? Dried fruits? Yeah, we have those too!
Broccoli Rabe vs. Broccolini
Broccolini and Broccoli Rabe: two delicious greens, with deceptively similar origins due to their similar names and similar appearances. They look like broccoli, but do they taste like broccoli? Are they related? Were they made in a lab by mad broccoli scientists?
We're going to tackle broccoli rabe first. Broccoli rabe, also known as Broccoletti, Broccoli di Rape, Cime di Rapa, Rappi, Rapini, and Friarielli, only looks similar to broccoli, but is actually part of the brassica rapa family (related to turnips and mustard greens). Broccoli rabe has a bitter, sometimes pungent, nutty flavor that can take some getting used to. Its leaves, stalks, and flowers are all edible. You'll want to thoroughly wash all the dirt and sand out of them, and remove any yellow leaves before cooking.
First time eaters might not be ready for the strong flavor of broccoli rabe. Most people that I know that adore it do so because they are Italian and grew up eating it. You'll find it in a lot of Chinese dishes as well. It's commonly prepared by pan sautéing it in olive oil and seasonings which can then be served as a side dish. It's also great as a pizza topping or on hot sandwiches. The next time you have lunch next door at From the Boot, try their "Chicken Cutlet Italiano" sandwich with broccoli rabe for a delicious treat.
Broccolini (a registered trademark of the Mann Packaging Company), also known as Baby Broccoli, Asparation, Asparations, Bimi, and Tender Stem, is in fact related to the broccoli we know and love. Broccolini is not young broccoli; it's a natural hybrid vegetable, a cross between broccoli and a Chinese kale (called kai-lan). Sweeter and more tender than broccoli, common cooking methods include sautéing, steaming, boiling, and stir frying. You can eat the entire bunch - leaves, stalk, and occasional yellow flowers. Easy to prepare and completely delicious, Broccolini is one of my all-time favorite side dishes.
The Genus Allium
Evidence suggests that we've been enjoying onions with our meals since at least the time of the ancient Egyptians. These versatile treasures are known for enhancing dishes with either sweet or savory flavors, depending on the type of onion used. While the different types are mostly recognized by their color, onions are divided into two main categories: dry and green.
Green onions that are harvested while their shoots are still young and green and are usually chopped and used for toppings on salads, for soups, and on baked potatoes. The only green onions we really consume are what we call scallions. Also related to them are leeks and chives.
Dry onions are further broken down into two categories: spring/summer onions and fall/winter/storage onions. In the fall onion varieties you will find the familiar yellow, red, and white onions and also shallots. They are harvested once the shoots have died and the onions are left with a paper-like covering encasing the fleshy inside, making them ideal for storage. Storage onions are best used in savory dishes that require simmering or long cooking times.
Spring onions are usually sweeter than fall onions, but do not store as well. Among the spring onions are the Peruvian Sweets, Walla Wallas, and the Vidalias, named after their growing region in Vidalia Georgia. With their delicate taste, spring onions are an ideal choice for salads and other fresh and lightly-cooked dishes.
Of course, in a pinch you can probably get away with using whatever onion you have on hand. I almost always keep some Spanish yellow storage onions on hand in my kitchen. But when I know I have time to shop for specifics, I'll generally use:
white onions for Mexican dishes
red onions for grilling (and sometimes in salads just for color).
sweet spring onions for salads, or as raw toppings on hot dogs, burgers, and cheese steaks (I'll caramelize yellow onions if I don't plan to have raw toppings).
yellow onions for any soups, stews, roasts, or chili.
While I love them both, I generally only use shallots and scallions for dishes that specifically call for them. Otherwise I'll use whatever I have on hand at the time. Of course, onion usage is probably the one area where I'm not a martinet in the kitchen.
More for 2009!
Hello, faithful readers and produce lovers. You may have noticed that there have been no blogs yet this year. Please have my apologies with a promise that more is on the horizon. My "spare" time here has been loaded up with several projects; all aimed at providing customers a better total experience.
First up; I have been training a few new faces in the ways of produce. It is fun to work side by side with an apprentice, having their young brains soak up wisdom like a sponge. However, babysitting them while trying to get the aisle in order does take its toll on what I can get done in a day. The good news is that this will eventually mean more time to dedicate to projects.
And that first project is creating a backend system and database for the store website. This will be used for (among other things) a newsletter system, a user-submitted recipe system, and the ability to place orders online. I'm especially excited about the newsletter system as customers have repeatedly asked for a way to be contacted about our special events and sales (like our very successful Free Sample days).
And of course, there will always be the small projects that sap my time as well. Currently we are putting together a new labeling system. This means we'll be able to add special messages (a list of ingredients, for example) to anything we package ourselves.
So, stay tuned - we'll be slowly rolling out these changes over the next few months. I just love being proactive!
Oranges and Pears Abound
Chanukah is here, and Christmas is almost upon us. Winter solstice celebrations bring to mind two popular seasonal fruits: sweet oranges and enticing pears. We have a great selection of both this year.
First up, the citrus: it's Clementine season for sure. These sweet delights make perfect gifts since they are easy to peel and segment, and almost nearly seedless. Stop in and pick up a five-pounder for only $5.99 (sale price in effect until Christmas). A popular item for kids because of their size.
Kumquats are here too. If you are unfamiliar with these tiny citrus fruits, you might find the following strange: you eat the rind, not the sour flesh inside. The flesh and juices inside ARE edible (I eat kumquats whole), but most people don't like the flavor.
A new item for us this year is the Scarlett Navel orange. On the outside it looks just like a classic Navel Orange. Inside, Scarlet Navels have the deep red color of the Ruby Red Grapefruit. We picked these up from the distribution center while we were shopping for Moro Blood Oranges. Well, what a great find, because these are my new favorite citrus fruits. Like the more familiar Golden Navels, Scarlet Navel Oranges are seedless, thin-skinned and easy to peel and section.
I taste-tested the Scarlett Navel along with a traditional Florida Navel; the difference in flavor is difficult to describe. It was certainly just as sweet. However, I can only describe it as being slightly "different," but very delicious to be sure. You won't regret picking some up.
It's also pear season, and we have a strong variety of them. Bartlett season is usually over by now, but favorable growing conditions have allowed continued harvesting. They are here and are eating great. We also have the red-skinned Starkrimson, the spicy brown Bosc, the delicate Forelle, Chinese White Ya-Li pears, and, possibly the greatest tasting pear available, the chubby Comice pear.
Regular pear consumers know that they can sometimes be a little work. A pear will almost always be unripe when you find them on the counters. Because pears bruise easily, they are picked and shipped in an unripened state. But don't worry - they'll actually ripen better on your counter than in the store or even on the tree. Properly ripening pears at home is the most important thing you can do to improve their flavor.
Choose firm, fragrant fruit without soft spots. A blemish on the surface is okay; they are only skin-deep. Pierce a paper bag in several places and keep your pears inside. Fold the top over, and set aside outside of refrigeration for two to seven days. Make sure you check the pears often as their peak lasts only a couple of days. You may want to add an apple or banana as the release of ethylene gas will speed the ripening process. Press on the neck of the pear to check for ripeness. They should give slightly when ready. Don't wait until the pear is soft all over as they ripen from the inside first. Soft pears will be really mushy inside. Once ripe, you can refrigerate them for few days.
Pears may be a little more complicated than most fruits, but they are well worth it.
Variety in Aisle One
I was talking with one of our customers this morning while I was working a new apple onto our shelf (the new apple is an organic Winesap, for those who were curious). He remarked on the fact that The Market of Lafayette Hill's produce section has a stunning selection of apples.
And he was right; the big chains have produce departments three times the size of my aisle with only half the variety. We immediately took a walk and I counted off ten different apples and six different pears before we got halfway down. I turned 180 degrees and counted off eight different kinds of tomatoes off of the center table. Neat!
Now, I will occasionally go into other markets in the area and in the city (where I live) just to check out the produce departments. The first thing I look for is quality of product and neatness of the aisle in general, of which I am almost always unimpressed with. But I have to admit, I've never really noticed that there wasn't much in the way of choice either, despite the apparent enormity of the whole section.
Anyway, I was glad that I was able to impress someone with my selection and setup today. I also realized that having four different types of cabbage or seven kinds of citrus fruit available in a tiny produce section is a feat of amazing produce ingenuity. Of course I'm kidding, but impressive none the less.
Wow - what a success! The recent Jewish holidays here at the Market of Lafayette Hill really had us going full steam for over a week.
We started out on Rosh Hashanah with an avalanche of briskets (oh my, our customers sure know how to cook!). There certainly was an atmosphere of celebration here with everyone talking about old family recipes and bringing in their cooked briskets to be sliced. That also meant soup items were going non-stop. This included white turnips, parsnips, fresh baby dill, and of course the carrots, celery, and onions. Every time I turned around I had to put out more.
Finally, with Yom Kippur arriving, we were nearly overwhelmed with all of the beautiful trays that had to be prepared. Our freshly cut fruit salad and fresh squeezed orange juice were clear winners again. Fruit tray and fruit bowl orders continued to come in all week as well. But the main event was our Smoked Fish tray - over a hundred of these were prepped in one night by our Kitchen staff. What hectic fun indeed!
So, on behalf of the staff and owners of The Market of Lafayette Hill, thank you for letting us help make your holiday celebrations special.
And oh boy, we still have Thanksgiving, Chanukah, Christmas, and New Years to look forward to - remember to place your holiday tray orders early. Be seeing you soon!
Falling for Fall
Summer is a fun time for produce, with interesting melons, cherries, peaches, plums, and other drupes being available only at that time. But the truth is that I've been waiting for autumn to arrive the entire time.
Many fruits and vegetables need the full season of the sun and heat of summer to grow, and are only then harvested when we reach the end of the season. While expensive imports are very much an option these days with some produce, many items we just wont see until fall begins. Another reason why some foods are missed out on during the summer months is because most people are reluctant to turn on their ovens, opting instead to eat light or go out for meals.
So, fall produce is finally upon us! I was holding off on doing another blog until I was able to get my fall reset in place. Washington Apples are back with another season of wholesome, crisp, and juicy treats in an assortment of taste and colors. From the Red Delicious and the Granny Smith to the more striking Honey Crisps, Macouns, Royal Galas, and Fugis, the aisle is PACKED OUT with your all of your favorite apples!
We're only at the beginning, but aren't you already thinking of Thanksgiving, football, and buttery baked potatoes and yams? I know I am. Before you know it, we'll be deep into the winter holiday season, which is the prime time for most of the sweet citrus fruits. We should be switching from Valencia oranges to Navels any time, and that means mineolas, tangerines, and then Clementines are right around the corner. But for now, we already have a new assortment of winter squash, gourds, Indian corn, and painted-face pumpkins. And my very favorite - caramel apples! So come in and enjoy, and get as excited as I am over the forthcoming fall season!
Don't Be Mad at the Avocado
One item that I never have to promote is the avocado. They are mighty good eats alone, and great as guacamole. My brother even puts slices of avocado on his turkey burgers. At any rate, people buy them because avocados just taste great. So, why am I writing about avocados if people love them, everyone knows what they are, and I have no problems selling them? I am writing about avocados because I'm bothered by the common notion that they are full of fat and bad for you to eat. What a bad rap!
The truth is, avocados have nearly 20 vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients. Avocados are sodium-free, cholesterol-free and have only five grams of fat per serving, most which is monounsaturated fat (that's the "good" cholesterol-lowering fat). An article from The World's Healthiest Foods (whfoods.com) states, "In one study of people with moderately high cholesterol levels, individuals who ate a diet high in avocados showed clear health improvements. After seven days on the diet that included avocados, they had significant decreases in total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol, along with an 11% increase in health promoting HDL cholesterol."
If you are interested, more information regarding the super health benefits of avocados (including information in weight loss/maintenance, heart disease, and nutrient profiles) can be viewed at http://www.avocado.org/healthy-living/nutrition. For everyone else, you can trust me that they are darn good for you!
In lieu of a predictable recipe for guacamole, I'll leave you with a few interesting facts you may not have known about the wonderful avocado:
Brazilians add avocados to ice cream.
California avocados grow all year-round.
Avocados are also known as the Alligator Pear.
Avocado is a corruption of the Spanish word aguacate, which is in turn a corruption of the Aztec word ahuacatl, meaning testicle (I'm totally not kidding, by the way).
Avocados are a fruit, not a vegetable.
In one year, a single California avocado tree can absorb as much carbon as is produced by a car driven 26,000 miles.