SNACKS: Adventures in Food, Aisle by Aisle
An excerpt from Aisle One: Produce
Why Should You Take a Bath with Your Strawberries?
Nothing is better than fresh strawberries, and nothing is more disappointing than finding them moldy a day later.
Air-drying them on paper towels and storing them so they don’t press against each other is helpful. Putting them in the refrigerator is important, because cold temperatures impede mold growth.
Guess what? Hot water suppresses mold growth too.
Harold McGee studied the effects of hot-water treatments on strawberries. He reported in The Curious Cook that if you immerse them in water at 125˚F for 30 seconds, you can delay the dreaded moldiness. I tried Mr. McGee’s thermotherapy experiment at home. The batch of farm-stand strawberries that I bathed lasted two days longer than those I merely refrigerated. A bath in water at 125˚F is too hot for us mere mortals, but strawberries love it!
Breakfast Berry Brûlée
When my kids were little, I was always looking to supersize the nutritional value of meals anywhere I could. Oatmeal was always a hard sell, but once I made it into a brulee with strawberries, it was a big hit!
Oatmeal, any unsweetened variety (I prefer McCann’s Quick and Easy Steel Cut Irish)
Blueberries, if desired
- Preheat the oven to broil.
- Prepare the oatmeal according to the package directions, depending on how many servings you are making. Place it in a shallow ovenproof bowl or ramekin for an individual serving. For a larger serving, use an 8-inch x 8-inch dish, but do not use glass, because it’s unsafe under the broiler. Lay the berries on top of the oatmeal, covering completely. Sprinkle brown sugar over the berries.
- Place the bowls on a sheet pan for easier handling. Cook under the broiler until brown sugar melts and caramelizes. The length of time will vary (usually 3 to 4 minutes), depending on how close the oatmeal is to the broiler. Watch carefully, as this will happen quickly. Burning will happen quickly too, so don’t step away from the oven.
- You can also achieve a restaurant-perfect result using one of the fancy torches sold at culinary stores.
- Serve with care. The dish will be very hot. And delicious.
What fruit family do bananas belong to? I’ll warn you in advance, it’s easy to slip up on this one.
Despite being a tropical fruit, bananas are closer botanically to berries than they are to mangoes.
Bananas are harvested when they are green. They are different from many fruits in that they ripen after they have been picked. If all your bananas ripen at once, you don’t have to make banana bread if you’re not up for it. Put them in the refrigerator instead. Even though the peel will turn an unsightly brown, the flesh inside will be the familiar white color and fine to eat for several days.
And just to drive you nuts, mangoes are distant relatives of pistachio and cashew trees.
Arthur Pulled the Sword from the Stone. Can You Pull the Leaf from the Crown of a Pineapple?
You can. But neither ripeness nor quality can be positively determined that way.
The best ripe-o-meter is the presence of fresh (intact) green leaves, a pleasing pineapple aroma at the base, and a fruit that is plump and firm. If the pineapple is yellow all over and soft, reject it. It’s probably overripe, and the fruit may be fermented.
If only green pineapples are available, don’t assume they are unripe. They may be “green-shell ripe” and purposely grown to be green, not yellow.
Either way, pineapples do not ripen after they are picked. Pineapples should be stored in the refrigerator and will last two to four days.
Cooking with fresh pineapples can be tricky. They contain the enzyme bromelin, which breaks down protein. Be cautious when marinating meat with fresh pineapple or fresh pineapple juice—it can quickly turn from tender to totally tattered. Since the enzyme is destroyed by heat, canned pineapple or pineapple juice is fine to use in marinades.
Good news for Arthur after a long day of dueling with the other knights, bromelin is touted for its anti-inflammatory benefits.
What Do Limes and Lemons Have in Common?
Besides the fact that they are both citrus fruits. That’s too easy. The answer is that they are both yellow.
But limes are green!
Yes, limes are green as they are developing. However, when they are fully ripe, their skins are yellow. Just like lemons. This is true for most common varieties in America: Persian, Tahiti, and Bearss.
Limes are tart when green and become sweeter as they age. It’s easy to mix up lemons and ripe limes judging by their yellow skins, so I keep them in separate bowls.