Every wonder how to choose the best vegetables from the produce section? Here are a few suggestions to get you started.
Even though foods are available all year round these days, certain produce has the best flavor when it is harvested at its peak. Here are few fall favorites and what to look for when selecting them.
Pears: Pears bruise easily and should be handled with care. To check for ripeness, press the stem end. If it gives a little, the pear is ready. It is best to buy pears when they are still firm and ripen them at home. To ripen place them out of the sun in a bowl on the table or in a paper bag. I love them in salad!
Apples: Apples should smell fresh and have a vibrant color to them. Apples produce ethylene gas which will ripen other produce, so store them in their plastic bags in the refrigerator. Storing them at room temperature may cause them to become mealy.
Cranberries: This is truly a fall/winter fruit, as it is not available fresh year round. However, thankfully, they freeze wonderfully, so stock up on some now and store in your freezer for use throughout the year. Most cranberries come in a plastic pack, so it is hard to tell if you are getting all fresh cranberries. Once you get them home pick out any soft cranberries. (Fresh cranberries bounce on the counter.) If you plan to freeze them, simply freeze them in the bag for up to a year. You do not have to thaw the cranberries before using them in a recipe. You do want to wash them, however.
Winter Squash: Although available year-round, it is particularly delicious in the fall and winter. When choosing squash, look for squash that is free from soft spots and is heavy for its size. Store squash in a cool dry area, not the refrigerator, which may make them damp and soft. Winter squash keep for about 1 month in a cool dry area. Most winter squash are best baked. Cut them in half, scoop out the seeds, place in a baking dish cut side up, add 1/4-inch water to the dish and bake at 375 for 45 or more minutes until tender.
Carrots: Carrots can get dried out; however, you do not want them soaking wet either. Individually-sold carrots usually have a sprayer soaking them to keep them moist. Bagged carrots can accumulate too much water, so tilt the bag up and look to see how much water accumulates in the corner. Choose the bag with the least amount of water. Store carrots in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. Don’t store them near apples because the ethylene gas produced by the apples can give the carrots an off flavor. Glazing carrots brings out their sweetness.
Sweet Potatoes: Buy small or medium sweet potatoes, for they are the tenderest. They should be firm, heavy, and well-shaped, with no bruises or cuts. Store them in a cool, dry and well-ventilated area. They should last at least 2 weeks. Sweet potatoes are wonderful mashed, but my favorite way to eat them is baked. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees, pierce a clean sweet potato several times with the tines of a fork and place in the oven on a foil lined baking sheet. Bake for 40 or more minutes until tender. Season as desired.
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