Baby Carrot Anyone?

Baby carrot anyone? What is a baby carrot? Seems like a simple enough question. Obviously, it’s a carrot that hasn’t yet reached maturity. Also obvious, if you give it some thought, baby carrots will vary in size and shape as do squash, eggplant, and green beans. A baby carrot won’t always be a 2 inch length of uniformly orange vegetable with perfectly rounded ends. So what are those things we buy in the bag?

Those easy-to-pop-in-your-mouth snacks are baby-cut carrots. According to the World Carrot Museum (who knew there was one), baby-cut carrots were the brainchild of Mike Yurosek of Newhall, California who got tired of having to cull 70% of his harvest because the roots were twisted or knobby or broken. He knew that some of his carrots were cut up by frozen vegetable processors so he wondered, why not cut them up ourselves and sell them fresh?

After hand cutting a trial, Yurosek bought an industrial green bean cutter from a frozen food company that was going out of business. That machinery cut 2-inch strips. He then sent the strips to a packager to load them into a potato peeler to remove the peel and smooth the edges. Eventually, he bagged a few and sent to one of his grocery store clients to try. The response was overwhelmingly positive.

According to the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center, there was an upsurge in the popularity of carrots following the 1986 introduction of baby-cut carrots. Consumption peaked in the US at 14.1 pounds of carrots per person per year in 1997. By 2015, average consumption settled at around 8.3 pounds per person per year. Baby-cut carrots now make up more than 50% of carrot sales.

Because of baby-cut carrots’ popularity, plant breeders began to create varieties that were longer and narrower. They also bred the carrots to be sweeter. These were interesting shifts from the previously preferred characteristic of sturdy green tops.

Carrots are edible from one end to the other, but I can’t name anyone off the top of my head who eats the tops. I can name two people who don’t peel carrots on a regular basis. I’m one of them. Most of the nutrition in a carrot lies just beneath the peel. If you take away the peel, it’s easy to take away lots of good stuff in the process.

I prefer baby carrots to baby-cut carrots. I like surprising shapes and slight variances in color and flavor. But again, I’m the oddball. I was eyeing the last tomato in a bushel basket at the Farmer’s Market a few years ago. It was slightly misshapen. The proprietor of the booth said I could have it. He’d never be able to sell it. It seems even when we’re purchasing directly from the farmer, we’ve come to expect uniformity.

I’ll never argue against something that encourages a vegetable snack over a doughnut and I’m happy when waste is reduced by using all the parts of a particular food. Baby-cut carrots tick those boxes. But I vastly prefer the full flavor of the food I grew up eating right out of the garden to uniformity.

So, when there’s an option, I’ll take a baby carrot over a baby-cut carrot. Anyone else want one?

Super Bowl Party Food That’s Good for Your Vision

As we count down the days to the big game, let’s explore some Super Bowl Party Food that’s good for your vision. If you saw the Rams/Saints game last week, you know how important vision can be.
eyes
When you think of food that’s good for your eyes, you probably think of carrots. I’m pretty sure that’s the only food my parents and grandparents touted as vision enhancing. Carrots are high in beta-carotene that your body turns into vitamin A that is essential for good vision.

Preformed vitamin A or provitamin A carotenoids can also be found in red bell peppers, broccoli, butternut squash, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, pistachios, cantaloupe, mangoes, grapefruit, kale, spinach, egg yolks, tuna, and beef liver. My grandmother thought I should eat liver, but she said it was for the iron.

Since you’ll want a clear view of the plays, calls, and commercials next week and next year, Super Bowl Sunday is the perfect time to create a menu high in vitamin A. Here are five items to consider adding to the menu:

Melon Kabobs
For a light touch, skewer cantaloupe, honeydew, and watermelon balls with fresh mint leaves in between. If you want something more substantial, add balls of fresh mozzarella and folded pieces of prosciutto and drizzle with basil vinaigrette. If you prefer no dressing, alternate leaves of basil and mint between the fruit, cheese, and meat on the skewer.

Greyhound or Salty Dog
If you can find good grapefruit in the winter, serving up vitamin A is no harder than shaking a cocktail. I always use fresh grapefruit and I rarely bother to squeeze them in advance. I just squeeze the fresh juice right into my martini glass. I prefer mixing with Grey Goose® Vodka, but you can use gin if you prefer. The addition of a salted rim turns these Greyhounds into Salty Dogs.

Deviled Eggs
Deviled eggs are already popular Super Bowl fare, so you can’t go wrong serving them. Everyone has a favorite version. Whatever yours is will provide vitamin A so there’s no need to vary.

Mango Salsa
The great thing about choosing mango salsa is that it can include red bell peppers to make it even higher in vitamin A. You can dip it with the same tortilla chips that are on the table to dip into cheese dip, guacamole, or layer dip.

Chocolate Pistachio Popcorn
Popcorn is fast, easy, and cheap. Add pistachios, dried apricot and/or dried pineapple pieces and a dark chocolate drizzle and you can add decadent to the description.

If you don’t like dark chocolate, use white chocolate. Just melt the chocolate and drizzle over the top of popped popcorn, dried fruit, and nuts that have been spread out on a parchment covered cookie sheet. Place in the freezer a few minutes to let the chocolate harden then break into chunks and serve.

Any of the five can be served along with the ever-popular chicken wings. No need to upset your party guests by eliminating a favorite before an emotionally charged game.

I can’t really predict who will win or even who will have the most effective commercial. I can predict that I’ll be having a good time and some good food! I hope you do as well!

https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminA-HealthProfessional/

https://www.cbssports.com/nfl/news/where-is-2019-super-bowl-location-date-time-tv-channel-streaming-everything-to-know-about-patriots-vs-rams/

https://www.therams.com/

https://www.patriots.com/

http://www.cooking2thrive.com/blog/finally-learned-pop-popcorn/

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

The Benefits of Cooking – Part 1: The Food

One of my kids recently asked why we’re called Cooking2Thrive rather than Eating2Thrive? Given how much all of us like to eat, it’s a valid question. Not only that, but say the word cook and lots of folks want to run for the hills ’cause it sounds time consuming and difficult so why would we want that in our name?

Since the question has been posed, I’m going to answer it with a series I’ll call The Benefits of Cooking.

So here goes – The Benefits of Cooking – Part 1

The Food

I like to focus on rewards, and one of the rewards of cooking is having great tasting food to eat. When I say cooking, I am referring to the act of preparing food using basic ingredients like meat, vegetables, fruits, nuts, rice, polenta, honey, herbs, spices, milk, cheese, and yogurt. If you grew up eating home-cooked meals, your mouth may start watering just thinking about Sunday dinner. It’s hard to argue that food made from fresh ingredients does not taste better than food that has been processed to stay consistent in appearance through weeks or months of transportation and shelf-life.

I grew up helping my grandmother in the garden. Every time I see a pale, hard, overly trucked tomato in the grocery store, I cringe as my memory plays the contrasting picture of a soft, dark red, full flavored tomato just plucked from the vine. You know, the kind that sends juice running down your chin when you take a bite! It’s the sort of memory that has many of us attempting to grow tomatoes on the porch when we don’t have a yard. I still miss my grandmother’s tomato juice canned in glass and sitting on a shelf in the basement. That tomato juice started with those vine-ripened tomatoes and ended up as a critical ingredient in my grandmother’s chili or sometimes disappeared as I gulped it thick and sweet from a glass when it was chilled.

tomatoes

The juiciness of a strawberry, the brightness of a sugar snap pea, the crispness of a golden delicious apple with tender skin – all are better when ripened before picking and prepared fresh. As a child, some of my favorite dishes were corn-on-the-cob, fried okra, baked sweet potatoes, green rice, and beef & noodles. Oh, and don’t forget the lemon meringue pie. I requested it for every birthday. My sister preferred cherry pie made with bing cherries from a tree in the yard. One year my mother discovered a fresh peach pie recipe. We bought local peaches in season, peeled them, sliced them, and placed them in a sweetened gelatin atop her flaky piecrust. Topped with whipped cream, this cold pie showcased the uncooked peaches perfectly.

These days I’m quite fond of boneless skinless chicken thighs seasoned with jerk spices, seared in coconut oil, and baked in a cast iron skillet with a little chicken broth, curried pork chops and polenta, mashed butternut squash, roasted cauliflower with a hint of crushed red pepper, steamed sugar snap peas, and my own version of my grandmother’s chili. Since cooking is the easiest way to consume my favorites often, I’m happy to spend some time in the kitchen.

Not only does freshly prepared food taste better, it makes it easier to avoid flavor enhancing chemicals, high sodium content, preservatives, and excess sugars. Even if you’re a great label reader, when you purchase processed food products, you may be consuming chemicals that are not required to be listed or specified on the label. Obviously, most of these won’t kill you on the spot or people would be dropping like flies, so there’s no need to be alarmist and say never ever buy prepared convenience foods from the store or eat what a friend is serving at a party, but it is naive to believe that these chemicals do not alter your body chemistry or affect your brain’s response to food.

And it may not take a large amount of an additive to change how you feel. A study cited in the April 2010 “Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise” reported that runners who rinsed their mouths with a carbohydrate solution right before and every 15 minutes during an hour-long treadmill session ran faster and further than those who rinsed with a placebo. The brain senses incoming energy “which may lower the perceived effort,” says Ian Rollo, PH.D. one of the study’s authors.1 Since it appears that a little dab will do it, here in a nation with increasing amounts of chronic disease, more studies of the potential negative effects of chemicals in our diet on long-term health are direly needed. In the meantime, it is up to you to decide how much risk you’re willing to take.

Cooking from fresh ingredients is also the easiest way to avoid allergens, gluten, and lactose or limit sodium, sugar, and starchy carbs. Of course, just because you cook the food doesn’t mean these items will magically be absent, but it does mean you have control over what’s included and it can eliminate the effort of reading and rereading labels.

If the word cooking scares you, remember that many fresh ingredients require little or no enhancement. Zucchini, yellow squash, tomatoes, carrots, mushrooms, lettuce, arugula, spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, onion, bell peppers, avocados, radishes, and snow peas for instance can be eaten with just a tiny sprinkle of salt or nothing at all. Fruit may only require peeling.

Even if you purchase water-packed tuna or smoked brisket from a BBQ restaurant and only “cook” a salad to go with it, you can add a tremendous amount of fresh flavor and nutrients to your diet. If that leads you to explore new combinations of flavors and preparations, then you’ll have captured the essence of being a cook. A little curiosity, a bit of practice, and a willingness to sometimes throw the whole thing in the trash are where most great cooks start.

And we all have near disasters or major failures along the way. Most of us burn ourselves, catch a dishtowel on fire, cover the floor in flour, burn cookies, leave out the baking powder, or put too much salt in something from time to time. Often it is from those failures that we learn the most.

I’m going to let this conclude Part 1. As you can see, the benefits of cooking include: Great tasting food and easy elimination of chemicals, allergens, inflammatory foods and lots of label reading. But wait, there’s more! Next up: The Benefits of Cooking – Part 2: The Fun. If you think I’ve forgotten about baking, think again. This is a series, remember, we’ll get to that in a bit.

You’ll find the rest of the series right here at Cooking2Thrive. Look forward to having you back!

Sincerely,
Cheri

1 Rollo, Ian, Matthew Cole, Richard Miller, and Clyde Williams. “Influence of Mouth Rinsing a Carbohydrate Solution on 1-h Running Performance.” Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: April 2010 – Volume 42 – Issue 4 – Pp 798-804. American College of Sports Medicine, Apr. 2010. Web. 26 Apr. 2012..