Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Prepping veggies ahead, vitamins, and other questions

One of my blog readers has recently asked me a few questions by e-mail. I have heard some of them before in my classes and thought others might be interested in these questions too.

Question: I read in some blogs that if you clean and slice everything when you first get home after shopping you don’t have to constantly clean the cutting board, knives, and colander, and the fresh fruits and vegetables are easier to snack since they are ready to eat! I cut fruit before eating. I like it that way. But my question is regarding vegetables. If I cut them in advance, will they loose nutrition? For example : If I cut spinach in advance I'm sure it won't loose Iron but my concern is Vitamins. Will they get oxidized?

Answer:  According to what I found on about.com, produce can lose 10-25% of vitamin C in 5-6 days after cutting.  10-25% is not much and 5-6 days is awfully long.  Who wants to eat something that was cut up that long ago?  But I'd like to approach this question from a different side.

People don't eat vitamins, they eat food.  Focusing on vitamins instead of taste is the same as focusing on grades instead of learning.  I never buy pre-cut anything because it's hard to tell when it was pre-cut and rarely tastes fresh.  Some veggies and fruit will last best if you don't wash them, and some will last best if you do.  When I bring my produce home, I clean all the leafy greens right away (video on leafy green storage).

I found that some root veggies can be pre-cut and stored in zip lock bags for a few days before cooking (beets, carrots, parsnips, turnips).  Broccoli and cauliflower don't seem to suffer at all from being pre-cut and stored in zip lock bags.  I can't imagine storing them for the whole week, but 2-3 days is not a problem.  I wouldn't pre-chop any leafy greens because the cut parts start spoiling quickly.  Cutting up onions or garlic in advance is a recipe for a very smelly fridge, but sweating or caramelizing a whole bunch of onions to use in different recipes is a great idea.  I can't imagine pre-cutting peaches, but I often cut up the watermelon and other types of melon into cubes and store in the fridge to be used for a couple of days.


Question: Do you meal plan for the week?

Answer:  Yes, but my plan involves a lot of flexibility.  For example:
  • Monday: scallops and veggies
  • Tuesday: fish and veggies
  • Wed: fish and veggies
  • Thu: steak and veggies
  • Fri: porc braise and veggies
I never specify which veggies -- whatever looks good in the market.  I also don't try to match a protein to the vegetable.  In my house, every vegetable goes with ever protein.  I do specify the type of protein so that I know whether to stop by the fish monger, the butcher, etc.  But if pork shops looked better than the steak, I won't hesitate to buy them instead.  Often, I need to run out a couple of times a week for my proteins since they are quite perishable, but all the vegetable shopping happens only once a week and I use the more perishable stuff first.  Of course, this is every-day cooking and for special occasions, I get much more specific and elaborate.


Question: Do you give Vitamin supplements to your kids if you feel they are not eating enough veggies?

Answer: I am probably not the right person to ask.  I am not a doctor or a nutritionist.  It depends on the child and their health issues.  Giving kids vitamins never hurts, so as long as they are easily willing to eat them, why not?  We offer vitamin supplements to our daughter, age 6.  Sometimes she likes them, sometimes she doesn't.  We don't worry much about whether she eats them or not.  Our 3 year old son is a completely different story.  He has allergies and medical conditions that make us much more proactive.  Unfortunately, the multivitamins that he loves don't do much in his case, so he gets 6 different supplements mixed into smoothies, apple sauce, etc.  These were prescribed by a doctor and are a bit of a pain to deal with.  Some need to be given with a protein, some without a protein, and none of them are available in kid-friendly form.  But they do seem to help him, so we make sure he gets them.  None of these have anything to do with how many vegetables he eats.  They have to do with his body function.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Monday, September 9, 2013

How to shape ravioli

YouTube Link: Shaping Ravioli
More Videos: Helen's Kitchen Channel

  • Making and Kneading Dough Video -- note that this video demonstrates a water based dough.  The procedure for egg based dough is the same, but you'll need the ingredients from the above link.
  • Rolling out the Dough Video -- for filled pasta, you need to roll to the 6th setting on your pasta machine.
The filling I am using in the video is leeks and ricotta, but you are welcome to improvise.  Here are a few tips on creating a good filling:
  • Use cooked ingredients
  • Cook the filling completely before using (otherwise the steam will get trapped in the ravioli and the dough will get soggy)
  • Taste the filling before using and adjust salt and acidity.  Filling should be very flavorful.
  • Filling should be thick and dense.  Soupy purees don't work for pasta fillings.
Leek Ricotta Filling 
2 cups whole-milk ricotta (Calabro is a good brand) 
1 large leek, white and pale green parts only
2 Tbsp butter 
Olive oil as needed
Salt and pepper to taste 

Find a 10-12 inch cast iron skillet to use as a weight. If none is available, stack a few Calculus books and place into a plastic shopping bag so that you don’t mess them up. Place a triple layer of paper towels on a rimmed baking sheet (12x17 of whatever size will fit a square piece of paper towel). Spread ricotta on paper towels into a shape that is slightly smaller than your cast iron skillet (or books). Cover with a triple layer of paper towels and a piece of plastic wrap or foil. Place the weight on top and let sit at room temperature for 1 hour.

Cut the leeks in half lengthwise, rinse the grit between the layers. Cut crosswise into 1/4 inch wide slices. Place in a bowl of cold water, agitate with your hands, and let sit for a minute to allow sand to settle. Carefully remove with a slotted spoon without disturbing the sand on the bottom. Melt butter in a 10 inch skillet over medium heat. Add leeks and a generous pinch of salt. Cook stirring occasionally until tender and all the liquid evaporates. It's ok for the leeks to get golden, but not brown.  Add olive oil as necessary to keep them well lubricated.  Take off heat and cool. Combine with ricotta, season to taste with salt and pepper.  Chill for at least 2 hours and up to 3 days before using.

Herb Cream Sauce
Put 1/2 cup heavy cream into a 2 cup pyrex measuring cup.  Add 2 Tbsp finely chopped fresh herbs (any combination of chives, basil, parsley, mint).  Puree with an immersion blender until cream foams up and gets thick (it should feel like slightly over-whipped cream).  Season to taste with salt and lemon juice.  Can be made a few hours ahead and stored chilled.