Spring is officially here and I want to eat all the spring things. Don’t get me wrong, I love hearty fall/winter produce like squash, but once it starts getting warmer I want some lighter fare. Continue reading
Weather & My Favorite Spring Vegetables
From the title you can probably gather, I don’t have a recipe for you today. That isn’t to say I don’t have recipes, oh do I have recipes, they just aren’t quite ready for you yet.
But I didn’t want to leave you with nothing this fine Friday so I thought I would highlight some of my favorite spring vegetables that are starting to make their way to the produce section. First, can we just talk about the weather?
In the span of about oh… an hour and a half, there has been rain, snow, rain/snow (or wintry mix if you like that better) and full on sun. Now don’t get me wrong, I understand it’s spring in Chicago so I fully expect bi-polar weather but this is getting a little ridiculous. I would like to wear my cute spring clothes now. I would like to put my boots away for good. I would like to not need five different coats for the weather in ONE DAY.
I mean, come on! I married a meteorologist! Shouldn’t he be able to fix this stuff? But noooooo. He gets all technical and scientific and tells me, “That’s not how this works Katie.” Whatever. I think he’s just being lazy. With all his fancy degrees he should be able to make spring weather be better. Especially for his loving and adoring wife who cooks him delicious meals and tries to make dessert for him most nights… I’m just sayin’
Ok, weather rant over on to my favorite veggies!
I know that most produce is available year-round so we’ve kind of lost the touch for eating seasonally. But just because something is available year-round doesn’t mean we should eat it year-round. Fruit and vegetables just taste so much better when they’re in season and they’re also cheaper. Cheap tasty food is always going to be better than expensive bland food in my book.
If you haven’t noticed lately, I’ve been kind of having a thing with cauliflower. I turn it into rice, stuff taquitos with it, make mac n’ cheese with it, roast it, turn it into a creamy sauce…. It’s like a magic vegetable that can be anything and do anything. It’s in peak season now, so pick up a few heads and make whatever you want. Seriously.
These are technically in season from fall to the beginning of spring but during the winter months, they can be kind of puny and woody tasting. I like spring parsnips cause they’re sweet and they taste amazing roasted. You can also puree them and make a delicious mash or soup. If you like carrots you’ll probably love parsnips.
Give me green things!!! After winter, I’m always grabbing the greenest fresh produce I can. Spinach (the ones in bunches that are covered with dirt, not in the plastic bags) start hitting the shelves and I can’t help but always grab a bunch. I eat them raw in salads or wilt them a bit for soup or turn them into pesto or make lasagna with them. No matter how you prepare them, a little salt, pepper, and lemon juice go a long way.
Leeks and Onions
While I might not take a big bite out of a raw leek or onion, they enhance pretty much the flavor of anything you make. Leeks are great in soup or stews and onions go in everything. The spring varieties are a little sweeter and they are great caramelized.
Yes, your pee might smell funny but it’s worth it when you have roasted asparagus with a lemony cream sauce and pasta. Even just roasted asparagus on its own is delicious. And if you’re a meat-eater, my mom wraps two or three asparagus stalks with some prosciutto and roasts it and everyone goes nuts for it.
Ok, so I have never tried watercress (that I know of) but it is like one of the top healthiest foods out there and it starts showing up in the spring. I haven’t seen it on the shelves just yet, but I’m going to try some when I do find it. It’s always good to try new fruits or vegetables that way you never get bored of your food!
So those are some of my top picks for spring plus one newbie that I want to try. What are some of your favorite spring vegetables?
I hope you have an awesome weekend and that the weather by you isn’t as crazy as it is here!
My Shopping Cart: Jewel Edition
For the next three weeks I am going to share my grocery shopping with you. I think it’s important to know how to grocery shop because that’s where healthy eating starts. I also think that many people have misconceptions about how and where they have to grocery shop if they want to eat better. You don’t have to go to specialty stores and you don’t have to buy all organic all the time. If you have the ability and the means to do that, awesome! But you can have a healthy lifestyle without those things too.
I have four main places that I grocery shop for our household. Jewel, Whole Foods, Walmart, and Aldi. I go to these places at least once sometimes twice a week. I do one big shopping trip on Friday morning and then supplement throughout the week with a few other trips. This helps me save money and find the best deal on food.
I’m starting with Jewel because that is where I do the bulk of my shopping. Not only are they on my block but they also have a good selection. Before I get into what I buy here are a few quick tips on making the most of any grocery shopping trip:
- MAKE A LIST! A list will keep you from just wandering the aisles and throwing whatever catches your eye into your cart. Know exactly what you need for your meals and what you need to restock and stick to your list!
- Shop early. I know not everyone can go to the store first thing in the morning, but if you can do it. There aren’t that many people there, the shelves are usually fully stocked, and it’s quicker to get done when there aren’t tons of people around. Nothing makes grocery shopping worse than doing it with 500 other people all trying to get the exact same bunch of kale.
- Don’t be afraid to ask. In my experience people who work in grocery stores know A LOT about groceries. They know all the deals, the best time to shop produce, and a few have even given me some great tips on preparing the food I buy. If you have a question just ask!
Onto the shopping! I buy all of my fresh produce at Jewel because they have a good selection and they also tend to have really good seasonal offerings. No matter what the season though I usually always buy:
- fresh herbs
- oranges/pears/plums/whatever other fruit is on sale or in season
Then depending on season I sometimes have squash, summer squash, beets, parsnips, asparagus, leafy greens, or whatever else catches my eye.
I try to stay in season and choose produce that is on sale to get the most bang for my buck. I also don’t buy the organic versions of these. At this point in time I just don’t have the financial resources to buy all organic and that is totally fine! Regular broccoli is better than no broccoli at all. I do however make sure that I wash all of my produce well before I eat it.
Jewel is also where I get canned goods, eggs, and frozen vegetables. I always make sure to have canned tomatoes and tomato paste/sauce on hand and I get the Jewel brand of these. The ingredient list is short and simple which is always important and it’s the cheapest brand, also important! I buy a lot of eggs, at least 24 perhaps more a week, but again I can’t afford to buy organic or cage free at this time so I just get the best that I can afford.
Finally frozen vegetables. Jewel has a really big and inexpensive selection of frozen vegetables that I love. Frozen vegetables sometimes get a bad rap as not being as good as fresh but that is totally wrong. They are just as nutritious and are sometimes more convenient than fresh. I keep a good variety on hand to throw into stir frys, soups, stews, salads, or as a quick side. Some of my favorites right now are:
- green beans
- shelled edamame
- sugar snap peas
- 3 pepper blend (red, green, and yellow peppers)
- california blend (cauliflower, broccoli, carrots)
- chopped spinach or kale
That’s my Jewel shopping trip. My Jewel also has a really good natural food market, a part of the store that has food you would normally find at say Whole Foods but for less money. I’ll sometimes get tea, gluten free pasta, and chickpea flour here.
Next Wednesday I will talk about what I get at Walmart and Aldi. Yes, you can find healthy food at Walmart and Aldi and save a lot of money. Have a great Wednesday everyone!
Where do you shop? What is the hardest part of grocery shopping for you?
How To Shop A Farmer’s Market
Summer time normally brings with it not just warm weather and trips to the beach, but the opening of the farmer’s market. Farmer’s markets are great ways to buy fresh produce, support your local farms, and find some delicious new foods to try! In this post, I thought that I would share a few tips on how to get the most out of your farmer’s market. I’ve been to a few of the many markets open here in Chicago and even talked to a few of the farmers to find out how to make the most of your trip.
Walk the market. Before you even buy anything, walk the whole market. Many stands will sell the same fruits and vegetables but they might have different prices. You don’t want to buy a pint of strawberries for $6 and then walk to the next stall and see they were only $4 there. Also take your first walk through to inspect the quality of the produce. Make sure that the produce being sold doesn’t look old, withered, or too beat up. A little dirt is fine (these things grow in the ground after all!) but you don’t want it to look like it has been run over by a truck. So make note of the stands selling good produce at good prices and make note of them. Then come back after your walk through.
Ask questions. The people running these stands have a wealth of knowledge of the products they are selling. A lot of them have planted, watered, weeded, and harvested these fruits and vegetables themselves and know pretty much everything there is to know about them. Don’t be afraid to ask how to prepare a certain vegetable or how to best store their fruit. The farmers that I talked to were very excited and passionate about their foods and love to share their knowledge with the people buying their goods. It’s nice to know exactly where your food comes from and exactly who is taking care of your food. On the flip side, if the people at the stand know little to nothing about the things they are selling, maybe get your food at the next stand. Also, if it is super busy at the stand that might not be the best time to ask for the history of radishes. They are trying to sell their products and if they have to spend 30 minutes with each customer that won’t happen.
Try to use cash. I know that barely anyone carries cash with them on a regular basis, me included. Most stands will accept debit/credit cards, but the process goes a lot quicker if you can pay in cash. This is also a great way to budget yourself at the market. If you set a limit of $20 and only bring that much with you, then you won’t over spend. Again, if you forget to bring cash with you it’s not a huge deal. Most places will gladly accept your debit/credit card.
Be creative. Farmer’s markets are great in the way that they will usually sell fruits and vegetables that you might not find at your grocery store. Try something new! Ever heard of kohlrabi, daikon, or patty pan squash? The market is a great place to find one new to you produce item and learn how to prepare it. Soon you will be an aficionado at unique produce and have a lot of tasty go to recipes in your arsenal. And remember, if you aren’t quite sure how to prepare a certain food, the farmer is a great resource.
Still read the labels. Most markets sell more than just fruit and vegetables. There are bakery stands, jam stands, honey stands, butcher stands, and I’ve even seen a tamale stand. Just because something is sold at a farmer’s market doesn’t automatically mean it’s organic or good for you. Some stands sell products that have just as many chemicals and preservatives as the store bought kind. Read your labels and ask if there is an ingredient you don’t know. That being said, a lot of the stuff sold at the market are a much better choice than their grocery store counterpart. Remember though, a cookie is still a cookie whether it’s organic and sold at the farmer’s market or not.
These are just a few tips to make your next trip to the farmer’s market a successful one. I love being able to actually talk to the people who grow my food as well as learn from them. Most of the time their passion for good food is contagious and I can’t wait to get home and make something with my purchases. Find out where there is a market closest to you and check out all of the delicious and healthy food they have to offer!