The colour of carrots

Did you know carrots weren’t always orange? I didn’t.

Carrots used to be a variety of colours – yellow, red, purple, white and even black.

In the 1500’s, Dutch growers bred carrots to make them less bitter. The result was an orange-coloured carrot that was claimed as the Royal vegetable in honour of the Dutch Royal Family, who were of the House of Orange.

You can read more about the history of the carrot by visiting the online Carrot Museum.

Who knew there was a Carrot Museum?? I didn’t!

The things you learn every day…..

A simple supper salad made with fridge finds

Sassy salad greens with poached egg and balsamic vinaigrette-sauteed mushrooms and grape tomatoes

Salad greens with fried egg and balsamic vinaigrette-sauteed mushrooms and grape tomatoes

I get paid to say nice things about eggs. As the Food and Nutrition Specialist for Egg Farmers of Ontario, it’s my job to promote the nutritional goodness of eggs and the many different ways they can be prepared.

Before I signed on for this gig, I was already an egg lover, readily extolling the virtues of eggs. One of the reasons I was – and still am – a fan of this nutritious and economical food is that it’s quick to cook, so versatile and always available.

The other night I came home late from work, tired and hungry. There wasn’t much in the fridge except for some mushrooms, eggs and salad greens. Within minutes I had put together a simple supper salad and was sitting down to eat.

To make the salad I sauteed sliced mushrooms in a little balsamic salad dressing, tossing in a few halved grape tomatoes partway through cooking. Before the mushrooms and tomatoes were completely cooked, I cleared a space among them in the middle of the pan and cracked an egg into it. I covered the pan with a lid and within a few minutes had a steam-basted sunny side up egg that resembled a poached egg. (I cooked the yolk so that it was still runny but it could also be cooked thoroughly if desired. And, instead of “frying”, the egg could have been soft- or hard-poached in simmering water.) The mushroom/tomato mixture and egg were then spooned over a plate of salad greens, and dinner was served!

Easy, fast and very good!

Warm up winter with Maple Parsnip Soup

Maple Parsnip Soup

Maple Parsnip Soup - garnished with a drizzle of maple syrup

This Maple and Parsnip Soup earned a 9 out of 10 on the Murray-meter. That’s surprising considering it contains onions and dijon mustard – two things my spouse hates. No, make that despises! The recipe also calls for garlic, another ingredient on his “I don’t eat these foods because they taste or smell bad, or worse – taste AND smell bad!” list. I figured the soup would survive just fine sans garlic, so for his sake (and the sake of our marriage!), the garlic was omitted. However – the onions and mustard stayed. And the soup still got a 9 out of 10.

I have to agree with Murray’s rating. Maple Parsnip Soup really is good. In fact, very good! Parsnips give it its unique ‘sweet’ root vegetable taste. Maple syrup also adds sweetness while mustard provides some balance with its tangy flavour. You could proudly serve this soup as a “take the chill off winter” dinner starter, or for lunch or a light supper along with a sandwich or salad.

Maple Parsnip Soup

(Makes 6 servings)

3 tablespoons (45 mL) olive oil
1 lb (500 g) parsnips, chopped (2 to 3 parsnips)
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
6 cups (1.5 L) vegetable or chicken broth
1/4 teaspoon (1 mL) ground nutmeg
1/2 cup (125 mL) evaporated milk
1/3 cup (75 mL) maple syrup
1-1/2 to 2 tablespoons (22 to 30 mL) Dijon mustard
Salt, to taste (optional)
Optional garnishes: maple syrup, croutons or toasted pine nuts

Heat oil in a large saucepan. Add parsnips, onions and garlic; saute until onions are translucent, but not browned. Add broth and nutmeg. Bring to a simmer; cook until parsnips are soft, about 40 minutes.

Remove from heat; stir in evaporated milk. Process in a blender or food processor (in batches, if necessary) until smooth. Add maple syrup and mustard; stir until thoroughly blended. Add salt, if desired. Reheat gently.

Serve with a drizzle of maple syrup, or croutons or toasted pine nuts.

* Substitute whipping cream for the evaporated milk, if desired.
* Adjust the amount of Dijon mustard to your liking.
* Parsnips don’t need to be peeled. Wash well and trim any bruised or brown spots.

Recipe Source: Adapted from Simply in Season by Mary Beth Lind and Cathleen Hockman-Wert, Herald Press, 2005

Baby carrots the latest food to suffer from “myth-information”

Likely you’ve received the email that’s been circulating recently about baby carrots and chlorine. I’ve reprinted the one I received below. Before you read it, please remember that, unfortunately, not everything you read is 100% accurate – including the email text that follows:

Did you know that the small baby carrots you buy in small plastic bags are made using large crooked or deformed carrots which are put through a machine that cuts and shapes them into baby carrots?

And, did you also know that once the carrots are cut and shaped, they are dipped in a solution of water and chlorine (the same chlorine used in swimming pools) in order to preserve them since, once peeled, they don’t have their skin or natural protective covering?

If you keep these carrots in your refrigerator for a few days, a white covering will form on the carrots. This is the chlorine which resurfaces.

At what cost do we put our health at risk to have aesthetically pleasing vegetables which are practically plastic?

if you care about your family and friends, please pass this information on to them to let them know where baby carrots come from and how they are processed. Chlorine is a well known carcinogen.

If you like to munch on baby carrots and you’ve wondered about the validity of the information in this email, consider these facts.

Yes, baby carrots may indeed be formed by a machine. They may also be carrots grown and harvested at a small size.

And yes, they are dipped in a diluted solution of chlorine and water. This is an ACCEPTABLE PRACTICE done to ensure the water the carrots are washed in remains sanitary, and to prevent the growth of spoilage microorganisms on the carrots. There is no evidence that the amount of chlorine used is harmful.

The white discolouration that sometimes forms on carrots is NOT chlorine residue. If it was chlorine, you would be able to smell and taste it.

The white discolouration is a result of moisture loss from the surface of the carrots. This will naturally occur on the surface of any peeled carrot as it dries.

Chlorine is not harmful if used appropriately. Our drinking water contains chlorine. Chlorine is often used to sanitize dishes, cutting boards and cooking surfaces.

For additional information about baby carrots and chlorine, please check the following sources:

* – This web site is a great place to visit if you hear a claim (food-related or otherwise) you’re not sure about. The site is well known for its debunking of false claims, including the one about baby carrots and chlorine.

* Joe Schwarcz’s article about baby carrots written for the Montreal Gazette in April. Schwarcz is the director of McGill University’s Office for Science and Society.

Poutine – classic Canadian fare?

Every September I spend time promoting the goodness of eggs in the Egg Farmers of Ontario’s (EFO) booth at the Western Fair in London, Ontario and at the Plowing Match in ‘wherever’, Ontario.

The location of the Plowing Match (an outdoor agricultural show) changes every year. This year it was held in Teeswater. The only constant about the location is that the site will be a farmer’s field somewhere in the province. Oh yeah, and it will likely rain before or during the Plowing Match, turning that farmer’s field into a muddy mess and making it mandatory to have a vehicle with four-wheel drive to get on and off the site, and rubber boots to tramp around the site. This year was no exception, at least at the start of the week!

I’ve been going to the Western Fair and the Plowing Match for more years than I’d care to acknowledge. Thankfully, food choices have improved over the years. Where once you could just eat typical fair food like burgers, fries, pizza and chicken fingers, a selection of more wholesome choices are now options. This year in the Western Fair’s International Food and Travel Building, you could dine on pad thai, spring rolls, samosas, stir-fried vegetables, cabbage rolls, stuffed peppers, butter chicken and rice, and more.

At both events, however, the most popular choice still seemed to be fries. I’ll confess I also indulged – fish and chips at the Western Fair, and poutine (pronounced poo-TIN) at the Plowing Match.

Poutine - fries, cheese and gravy!

Poutine is a much-loved messy, mushy combination of french fries and cheddar cheese curds smothered in gravy. The dish had its origins in Quebec, although there is not unanimous agreement as to exactly where, when, why and how poutine became a diner’s delight. Similar dishes exist in other countries.

Some people consider poutine quintessential Canadian fare. Others go so far as to hail it as our national dish! Personally, I doubt that the majority of Canadians outside of Quebec have even eaten this triple combination, let alone would rank it as classic Canadian food.

I had only eaten poutine once before last week when I chose it for my lunch one day at the Plowing Match – in the name of research for this blog, of course. And, because as I stood in line at the Chez Guy food tent pondering what to order for lunch, it looked darn tasty! So I succumbed to temptation.

I had to stifle a gasp when the cashier asked for $6 for my potentially heart attack-inducing lunch. With my overflowing tub of fries, cheese and gravy and cheese in hand, I scurried off, head down, so as not to meet the gaze of anyone who might recognize me as the EFO nutritionist – the same person who had cautioned them (probably minutes earlier at the EFO booth!) that a diet high in saturated and trans fats could cause elevated blood cholesterol.

I headed for a quiet corner of the Plowing Match to sit and eat my ‘triple threat’ lunch. I first took a few pictures, then forked a mouthful of the gooey mess into my mouth. Sadly, the gravy and fries were no longer hot. I still managed to down about a third of the generous portion, then decided it was probably wise to consider my research complete. I did conclude that although lukewarm and rather salty, poutine was a tasty combo. I could understand how it could be an addictive indulgence.

Tip/Warning/Alert/All-Points Bulletin/Advice……whatever you want to call it! Please note: For the sake of your waistline and overall health, don’t become a poutine addict. I highly recommend not indulging too often. Why not? Consider the following example of the nutritional value of poutine when compared to what’s recommended for an adult consuming a 2,000 calorie diet.

The regular size portion (320 g) of poutine at New York Fries contains the following:
* 950 calories
* 50 g Fat (77% of the recommended daily intake)
* 13 g Saturated and 1 g Trans Fats (70% of the recommended daily intake)
* 1320 mg Sodium (55% of the recommended daily intake)

If you are curious to learn more about poutine, check out this CBC video. It first aired in 1991, but it’s still an interesting clip. There are also websites devoted to poutine recipes including variations of the original combination of gravy, cheese and fries. Here are a couple:

* Montreal Poutine
* National Post – poutine recipes from Bonnie Stern

Tabbouli-style Salad a quick meal when life is busy

This recipe is one of my fallback favourites. (Rather fitting, given the season.) It’s one of those treasured recipes or meal solutions I turn to when in need of (make that desperate for!) something quick and easy and I’m too rushed for time or lacking energy to be super creative about what’s going on my plate. September is an exceptionally busy time of year for me so I’m always on the look-out for ways to save precious minutes in the kitchen. This salad is one of those time and energy savers for me.

Tabbouli-style Egg and Vegetable Salad is made by cooking beaten eggs in broth, then adding couscous. While the couscous cooks for a few minutes, I chop up whatever vegetables I have on hand and whip up a simple dressing. Everything then gets combined along with fresh herbs, if I have some on hand.

This salad can be served as a main dish or a side, and either warm or chilled. I make it frequently, especially when life is busy (like these days!), or when I need a fast, easy contribution to a potluck. It’s simple and it tastes good, and after making it so often, the method and ingredient proportions are etched in my brain.

Tabbouli-style Egg and Vegetable Salad

Tabbouli-style Egg and Vegetable Salad

Tabbouli-style Egg and Vegetable Salad
(Makes 4 to 6 servings)

1-1/4 cups (300 mL) chicken OR vegetable broth
4 eggs, lightly beaten
1-1/4 cups (300 mL) couscous
2/3 cup (150 mL) regular OR low-fat Italian salad dressing
2 tablespoons (30 mL) fresh lemon OR lime juice
1 teaspoon (5 mL) chili powder
2 cups (500 mL) diced fresh vegetables (e.g. cucumber, carrot, sweet pepper, celery, zucchini or seeded tomato)
2 tablespoons (30 mL) chopped fresh cilantro, mint OR parsley
Salt and pepper, to taste

In a large saucepan, bring broth to a boil. Slowly add eggs in a steady stream, whisking constantly. Cook for a minute or two, whisking constantly, just until eggs are set. (They will look curdled.) Remove saucepan from heat and stir in couscous. Cover and let stand for 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl or cup, combine salad dressing, lemon juice and chili powder, stirring well to break up any lumps of chili powder.

When couscous has stood for 5 minutes, stir it to separate grains and break up any clumps. Stir in vegetables and cilantro. Pour dressing over couscous mixture; toss until well combined. Season with salt and pepper.

Serve warm or cover and chill until ready to serve.

* Try substituting another vinaigrette-style dressing for the Italian dressing.
* Couscous can be found in most grocery stores and bulk food stores. If desired, instant rice can be substituted.

Crazy about corn

Menu planning purists might shudder at the thought, but corn on the cob is one of those foods you could make a meal of – all by itself! Just a plate of sweet golden steaming cobs of corn.

OK, so you’ll probably add a little – or a lot – of melted butter. And a sprinkling of salt. Maybe you’ll even get rather messy eating ‘gobs of cobs’.

But while your plate might lack the recommended variety of colors, shapes, textures and flavors a perfectly planned meal is supposed to contain, it has the edge where it really counts. In flavor!

A simple meal of corn on the cob is more than acceptable, especially if it’s drizzled with a butter, or better yet – flavored butter. Flavored butters are easily made by combining seasonings like herbs and lemon or lime juice with softened or melted butter. Let these simple examples stimulate your creative juices so you can come up with your own favourite flavoured butters.

Flavoured Butters for Corn on the Cob
(Makes about 1/2 cup/125 mL)

To 1/2 cup (125 mL) softened butter, add any of the following combinations:
* Juice of 1 lime, 3 tablespoons (45 mL) snipped fresh cilantro
* 1 minced garlic clove, 2 tablespoons (30 mL) finely chopped fresh marjoram
* 1 tablespoon (15 mL) tomato paste, 1 teaspoon (5 mL) lemon juice
* 2 tablespoons (30 mL) chili sauce, 1/2 teaspoon (2 mL) lemon juice
* 2 tablespoons (30 mL) snipped fresh dill, 1 teaspoon (5 mL) lemon juice, a couple of drops of hot pepper sauce
* 1-1/2 tablespoons (22 mL) horseradish
* 1 tablespoon (15 mL) Dijon mustard, 1 tablespoon (15 mL) lemon juice

Tips for buying, storing and cooking corn:

* Choose ears with bright green color and tight fitting husks. The silk should be golden brown. You should be able to feel the kernels through the husks without having to pull back the husk to check for the quality of the ear. The kernels should feel plump and juicy and the rows should be tightly spaced. Avoid corn with soft spots or signs of decay.

* As soon as corn is picked, its sugars begin to turn to starch. Fresh sweet corn should be eaten as soon as possible after buying. It will stay fresh for a couple of days, unhusked, in the refrigerator, preferably wrapped in damp paper towel in a plastic bag. For best quality, husk the corn just before cooking.

* Husking corn or removing its outer leaves and inner silk is also known as shucking. The silk inside the husk can be difficult to remove. Try running a wet paper towel down the ear to grab some of the silky strands.

* Corn can be prepared by boiling, steaming, oven roasting or grilling, or microwaving.

  • To boil, fill a large pot with enough water to cover the corn. Don’t add salt to the water as it will toughen the corn. A teaspoon (5 mL) of sugar per quart (litre) of water will help to sweeten the corn although today’s sweet varieties of corn tend to be sugary enough for my tastes. Carefully slip the husked ears into the boiling water. Bring the water back to a boil and cook for 4 to 8 minutes depending on the age of the corn. Younger corn will take less time to cook. I tend to use aroma as a sign that the corn is cooked. When the kitchen smells like corn, it’s time to remove the ears from the water.
  • Corn can be steamed over boiling water for 7 or 8 minutes, depending on the size of the ears.
  • To oven roast or grill corn on the cob, peel back the husks but leave them attached at the base. Remove the silk; re-wrap the ears in their husks and tie with string or a piece of husk to hold the husks in place. Soak the ears in cold water for at least 30 minutes to increase the moisture and create some steam when the ears are roasted or grilled. Roast at 375F (190C) for about 15 minutes. Or grill the corn over medium heat or about 4 inches (10 cm) from hot coals, turning occasionally, until tender, about 15 minutes. You can also wrap husked corn in aluminum foil and roast or grill it for the same length of time.
  • Cook corn in the microwave by placing four husked ears in a microwaveable baking dish; add 1/4 cup (60 mL) water. Cover with plastic wrap and cook on High power until tender, about 8 to 12 minutes. Let stand a minute or two before unwrapping.

Corny Trivia:
* One medium ear of corn will yield about 1 cup (250 mL) of corn.

* If you want to remove the kernels from the an ear of cooked or uncooked corn, first cut a small piece off the tip of the ear so it is flat. Stand the ear upright on the flat end. Using a sharp knife, cut down a few rows of kernels at a time, close to the cob. If you wish, cut down about half way all around the cob, then turn it upside down and cut the kernels off the other half. Use the back of the knife’s blade to scrape down the cob to get all the juice. (I like to stand the ear in a large bowl while cutting. This keeps at least some of the kernels from scattering all over the counter. I once saw a chef cut the kernels cleanly off a cob by standing a ear of corn, pointed end down, in the centre section of an angel food cake pan, then slicing off the kernels. The kernels dropped neatly into the pan.)

* Raw corn kernels can be cooked or stir fried, and raw or cooked kernels can be used to make muffins, bread, soup, salad, pancakes or pudding.

* Kernels from leftover cooked corn can be removed from the ears and used in salads, soups, muffins or pancakes.

* For a delicious base for soups or stews, create a corn broth by simmering leftover fresh or cooked cobs in milk or milk and water for 30 minutes. Discard the cobs.

Beyond Corn on the Cob
For corn purists, corn on the cob is the only way to enjoy fresh corn, but if you are looking for some simple recipes for using corn kernels, here are a few suggestions.

Easy Spicy Grilled Vegetables
(Makes 4 servings)

1/4 cup (60 mL) margarine or butter
2 tablespoons (30 mL) taco seasoning mix or Tex-Mex seasoning blend
4 ears corn, husked
1 large potato, cut into 1/2 inch (1 cm) slices
2 medium zucchini, cut lengthwise in half
1 large bell pepper, cut into quarters
1 medium onion, cut into quarters

In a small bowl, combine margarine and taco seasoning. Brush some of the mixture on corn, potato, zucchini, pepper and onion. Grill corn over medium heat for 5 minutes. Add remaining vegetables to grill. Grill until tender, 10 to 20 minutes, turning frequently. As vegetables are cooked, remove from grill and keep warm.

Corn and Tomatoes in Basil Butter
(Makes 6 to 8 servings)

3 tablespoons (45 mL) unsalted butter
2 shallots, finely chopped
1 tablespoon (15 mL) balsamic vinegar
6 ears of corn, husked and kernels removed (about 6 cups/1.5 L)
1/4 cup (60 mL) finely chopped fresh basil
18 to 20 cherry or grape tomatoes, cut in half

Melt butter in a large skillet or medium saucepan over medium heat; add shallots and balsamic vinegar. Cook for 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Add corn and sauté for 4 or 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Add cherry tomatoes and basil. Sauté just until tomatoes are warmed through but not mushy, about 2 minutes.