Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Anna's Top 5 Food-Shopping Tips

5. Keep a master list of favorite foods and ingredients.

You then check this list against what you have on hand. 

4. Try to avoid shopping on the weekends. 

The less my family enjoys grocery shopping, the more likely we are to spend on eating out. The best times to shop where we are include Wednesday or Thursday evenings and Friday mornings. 

3. Know what's in season.

Which is why you read this blog, right?

2. Use cash.

It is a foolproof way of sticking to a grocery budget.

(And my #1 tip for buying food is...)

1. Clean out the fridge before shopping.

Not only does this avoid duplicate purchases, but it may just yield an idea or two for dinner. This task can be done with minimal supervision by a child aged nine or ten.

Copyright (c) 2018 Anna Bendiksen

Thursday, January 11, 2018

The Fruit Plate: Citrus

(c) Anna Bendiksen 2018
Ah, January. The keen scent of remorse is in the air. For my money, the best remedy to overindulgence is concentration on seasonal fruits and vegetables. Since at this time of year there is no such thing as local Connecticut fruit (unless one goes in for mealy apples, in storage since October), I rely on the products of warmer climes, such as citrus.

This can be a hazardous business. In 2015, for example, unruly weather hit the the citrus crop hard, raising the cost and making the question of how to choose them even more pressing than usual. The lessons are timeless: Citrus should be heavy for its size, indicating that it's full of juice, and the skin should be relatively free of blemishes. Many people choose citrus by the color, which is a mistake. An orange with a green spot or two may look unripe but actually be quite sweet. So forgo the color prejudice, but do assess the fruits for weight.

Navel oranges were once a great luxury, the stuff of Laura Ingalls Wilder's Christmas dreams. If you're like me, you may find yourself skipping them out of boredom. One great way to enjoy them is to sprinkle a bit of rosewater over the peeled and sliced fruit; this Middle Eastern standby is a fine end to any spicy dinner. For a variation, try topping with pomegranate seeds.

Blood oranges have rich, red, meaty flesh. You may see them marketed as "Moro" oranges as a concession to squeamish palates. When I've managed to convince skeptical friends to try blood oranges, the intense flavor, which I can only compare to oranges on steroids, has won them over.

Cara Cara oranges have pale pink flesh, like that of a grapefruit, but when ripe are sweet like navel oranges. This visual advantage is fun to use in fruit salad or plates. I like to peel and slice navel, blood, and Cara Cara oranges, then lay them in overlapping circles on a plate. (Do this as soon as possible before eating or the blood-orange juice will stain the other fruits.)

Tangerines have fantastic flavor, tons of juice, and large and annoying seeds. This makes them good candidates for use in fruit salad, since you'll be removing the seeds anyway. The Southern holiday treat of ambrosia, prepared with oranges, coconut, and bananas, is unforgettable when made with tangerines. Traditionally, ambrosia demands complete removal of any trace of white pith from the citrus. You have been warned.

Clementines have many charms: they are seedless, very sweet, easy to peel, and small enough to appeal to kids and anyone else who may be reluctant to eat fruit. They are usually sold in boxes or mesh bags, which is a shame; the quality of the packaged fruits varies from exceptional to dessicated. If you can find them sold loose, that's the way to go---choosing them, as I mentioned above, by weight and not color.

Grapefruit, the flesh of which comes in colors such as white and pink, is, of course, a wholesome breakfast treat. If you have a leftover half, turn it upside down in a bowl and place in the fridge. For ease of eating, loosen the grapefruit segments beforehand with a sharp knife and use the handy, serrated spoons called "grapefruit" or "fruit" spoons for this very purpose. They are good for digging out bits of the sweet flesh and then receiving juice squeezed from the grapefruit. I love to make broiled grapefruit for breakfast on special occasions: mix butter and brown sugar with a touch of pumpkin-pie spice or curry powder, then spread a bit of this mixture atop each prepared grapefruit and put under the broiler until just browned.

Although they're not for the fruit plate, I should also mention Meyer lemons. Smaller, smoother, sweeter, and deeper in color than the regular variety, they have a delightful and intensely floral fragrance that perks up everything from fish to pound cake to a cup of hot water. (Heat water, pour into a cup, then squeeze a Meyer lemon wedge into it---a simple, delicious infusion, with almost-zero calories and zero caffeine, for any time of day. Actually, a slice of any citrus fruit will work just as well. I find that this trick keeps me happily drinking water.)

For years I've enjoyed Meyer lemons sent by a kind relative whose garden produces so many that she actually has to resort to making lemon curd out of them. During winters here in the Northeast, Meyer lemons may or may not deign to make an appearance in the grocery store. When they do, grab them.

Copyright (c) 2018 Anna Bendiksen