FRESH, FAST, AND HEALTHY If you’re looking to move away from heavily processed foods that rely on preservatives, salt, and sugar and to take advantage of nature’s bounty of flavor and nutrition, this is the book for you. We’ll show you how to easily combine fresh ingredients with fast cooking techniques to create delicious and healthy meals. Why focus on fresh? First, because fresh is.
healthy. The less time spent to move food from the farm to the table, the less time for important nutrients to be lost. When you buy local produce in season, chances are better that those vegetables and fruits have been left to ripen on the plant longer and are at their flavor peak. Fresh also can be economical. Building menus around in-season foods allows you to take advantage of the best buys on produce at your local markets. Foods that are easily available and plentiful cost less than produce that must be shipped halfway around the globe. Fresh food can be fast food, too. Fresh vegetables, fruits, and herbs inherently taste good, so you don’t need to spend a lot of time or add much to get
them ready for the table. In a few easy steps, you can prepare a nutritious, delicious meal every night of the week in less time than it takes to pick up takeout. In fact, most of the recipes in this book take less than 20 minutes to put together and less than 30 minutes to cook. If minimal prep for maximum flavor is your goal, you’ll find just what you’re looking for in our Go Fresh cookbook. Fresh also means flavorful. Compare the flavor of fresh green beans with that of canned cut beans, for example, and it may seem as if you’re eating two different vegetables. Canning involves processing and sterilization by heat, so although most essential nutrients remain, the taste and texture of vegetables them ready for the table. In a few easy steps, you can prepare a nutritious, delicious meal every night of the week in less time than it takes to pick up takeout. In fact, most of the recipes in this book take less than 20 minutes to put together and less than 30 minutes to cook. If minimal prep for maximum flavor is your goal, you’ll find just what you’re looking for in our Go Fresh cookbook. Fresh also means flavorful. Compare the flavor of fresh green beans with that of canned cut beans, for example, and it may seem as if you’re eating two different vegetables. Canning involves processing and sterilization by heat, so although most essential nutrients remain, the taste and texture of vegetables and fruits are altered along the way. If fresh choices aren’t always available, be sure to choose frozen or canned versions without added sauce, salt, or sugar. Our recipes particularly showcase fresh at its finest. Dishes such as Butternut Squash Pasta let the full flavors of winter squash and sugar snap peas come through, enhanced by a sprinkling of fresh sage. Soups made from simple ingredients—tomatoes, bell peppers, cucumber, and red onion in Garden-Fresh Gazpacho—impart both comfort and the clean flavor of vegetables grown in the sun. Family favorites such as Country Thyme Chicken Strips come alive when made with the freshest of herbs instead of dried, and interesting new pairings, such as Mustard-Crusted
Pork Medallions with Celery Root Purée, will show you how to use less-familiar ingredients with confidence. Food should be more than just sustenance. Fresh-tasting, home-cooked meals can please your palate, allow you to experience new flavor profiles, and bring your family together at the table. The foods you choose to eat become part of the habits and traditions that you establish at home. You can take advantage of all the goodness nature has to offer by making fresh, fast, and healthy meals part of your family culture.
SHOPPING FOR AND STORING FRESH FOODS When selecting from the array of produce and other fresh foods available, it pays to know how to pick the best of the bunch. It’s also important to be able to protect your purchases when you get home by properly storing them to maintain freshness and follow food safety guidelines. In general, heat and moisture encourage the growth of bacteria that destroy the quality of fresh food. Exposure to air and light also can deteriorate flavor, texture, and
it’s simple to throw together a tasty veggie dish in just a few minutes. (For information on timing for specific vegetables, see Appendix B: At-a-Glance Vegetable Cooking Times.) With so many options available, however, shopping can be confusing unless you know how to make the best choices. Shopping: To make the most of the fresh vegetables and herbs you buy, follow a few simple guidelines to maximize nutritional value, flavor, texture, and color. • Shop for different types of vegetables in a variety of colors. The deeper the color and the more variety you eat, the greater the range of nutritional benefits.
Look for locally grown vegetables for the best flavor and quality; they are more likely to be harvested recently. • Choose vegetables that look firm and appealing, not dried out or damaged. • Pass over vegetables that have browned, have started to sprout, or are dented, bruised, or moldy. Don’t buy leafy vegetables, such as spinach, that seem either dried out or slimy. • Select herbs that are vibrant-looking and robust. When buying delicate, leafy herbs such as basil, look
Prep vegetables by removing any damaged areas or leaves and packaging, such as rubber bands or plastic ties. • Because excess moisture causes spoiling, in most cases it’s best to wait and rinse vegetables just before you use them. If you do rinse before storing, be sure to dry the produce enough to leave it slightly moist but not wet. • To keep produce with a high water content (such as lettuce, celery, cucumber, and zucchini) from shriveling, store it in the refrigerator in the original packaging or plastic bags in your refrigerator’s crisper. Try to leave enough air in the bags to keep the plastic from directly touching the food in many areas; lack of air circulation can cause waterlogging and rotting at the surface. Reduce the humidity in your crisper by adjusting the vents to let in more cold air. • Some types of fresh produce, such as onions, garlic, shallots, and potatoes, are sensitive to cold. To prevent sprouting, keep these vegetables dry and at room temperature, preferably in the dark. • To extend the life of fragile fresh herbs, such as parsley, dill, and cilantro, cut the stems and place the herbs in a juice glass half filled with water, cover loosely with a plastic bag, and refrigerate. Just as you would for flowers in a vase, change the water every few days and remove spoiled leaves. This trick works for basil as well, but it is cold-sensitive and is best kept in water at room temperature. • For more sturdy herbs, such as oregano, rosemary, and thyme, trim away damaged leaves and remove rubber bands or ties. Rinse and spread the herbs on a paper towel or plate and let dry at room temperature. • If you refrigerate herbs in the plastic containers they came in, watch carefully for signs of mold or rot. FRUIT Chock-full of important nutrients and fiber, fruit is an important component of a
well-rounded diet. Almost all fruit tastes best when it’s been left on the plant long enough to develop the most flavor. Some fruits, such as peaches and bananas, continue to ripen after being harvested, but others, such as grapes and citrus fruit, don’t. Most fruit destined to be shipped for sale is picked before it can ripen so it will be less prone to damage and will keep longer without spoiling. The result is that finding ripe and truly delicious fruit can be challenging—unless you know what to look for when you shop and how to store fruit so it can reach its peak flavor potential. Shopping: When it’s not practical to buy fruit that has been allowed to ripen on the plant, such as local fruits in season and heirloom varieties, or if it is unavailable where you shop, use these general guidelines to find the best your market offers. • Choose fruit that is firm, bright, and “alive” looking. If a fruit appears artificially shiny, it may have been coated with wax to make it last longer on the shelf, and it may look fresher than it is. Most fruits do have some natural wax, which is less noticeable but will become shiny when gently rubbed. • Skip over fruit that is dented, bruised, or wrinkled or has become leathery or moldy. Especially check the berries in the bottoms of clear plastic baskets; without adequate air circulation, they can become moldy very quickly.
• Compare several fruit by weight and choose those that are heavier for their size. Select small- to medium-size fruit over the very large ones, which often taste bland and watery in comparison. • Take advantage if your store offers tasting samples of fresh fruit; it’s the best way to know exactly what you are buying. Storing and ripening: Even more than vegetables, different types of fruit do better in very different conditions. Depending on the fruit, proper storage both allows fruit to ripen and keeps the fruit from spoiling. Use the following guidelines for best results; Appendix A: At-a-Glance Food Storage Guide also
provides specific information for most common fruits
. • Be careful not to crush or damage fruit when you bring it home from the store.
• Take just-purchased fruit that is fully ripe out of bags and baskets to provide air and minimize moisture on the surface. Arrange the fruit in a single layer if possible.
• Fruits ripen when exposed to the gas ethylene, which they emit naturally. To speed up the process, seal unripe fruit in a paper bag, with a ripe piece of fruit if possible, and store in a warm place for several days. (Unless perforated, plastic bags will suffocate the fruit and cause it to spoil rather than ripen.)
This method is recommended for fruit such as apricots, avocados, bananas, kiwifruit, mangoes, pears, peaches, and nectarines.
• Don’t refrigerate fruits until they are fully ripe. After that point, to slow further ripening, put them in the produce compartment or plastic bags and refrigerate for another few days.
• Allow chilled fruit to warm up for several hours before eating it, for best flavor and aroma
. • You can freeze most raw fruit for long-term storage. Just wash and prepare as needed, place on a baking sheet, freeze until hard, and transfer to airtight freezer containers.
FISH AND SHELLFISH Fish, particularly those varieties rich in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon, trout, and herring, is a delicious source of protein and other important nutrients. An added bonus is that most fish cooks very quickly, so it’s a natural go-to for busy nights. Shopping: Unless you buy seafood straight from the fisherman, the term “fresh fish” can be confusing. Often the fish on display at the supermarket seafood counter was frozen right after it was caught, then transported and thawed for sale. Conventional wisdom has always been that you should choose fresh fish over frozen, but newer methods of immediately freezing fresh-caught fish have made it possible to retain the quality and texture of fresh fish. The best approach is to ask a lot of questions so you know exactly what you are buying.
• Check with the fishmonger to find the freshest catch of the day.
• Look for firm, clear flesh with no fishy smell. Fillets should have good color, and whole fish should also have clear eyes and gills that are bright red. • Look for fresh varieties, preferably those that are selected and prepared. Live crawfish should be prepared as soon as possible. Inspect crawfish before they are prepared and discard dead crawfish, bait, and other debris. Refrigerate live clams, mussels, and oysters for up to one or two days. Live clams, mussels, and oysters will close up when the shell is lightly tapped; if they do not close when tapped, discard them. Store mollusks on top of (not under) ice or wrapped in a damp cloth; be sure they are not immersed in water or wrapped in plastic, which will kill them. MEAT AND POULTRY Meat and poultry are often expensive, so it’s especially important to know what you’re buying and how to keep it fresh and delicious. If you, like many people, plan most of your meals around your meat and poultry purchases, protect your investment by buying and storing these foods carefully. Shopping: In general, the best way to choose meat and poultry is to judge by appearance: Beef should be bright red; the darker the color, the more flavor. Pork should appear pink, and chicken and turkey should have pale skin with whitish flesh.
• Choose heart-healthy lean cuts of meat (for example, sirloin, 95% lean ground beef, and pork tenderloin) and skinless poultry.
• Pick up meat and poultry at the end of your shopping trip to lessen the time they spend in transit from your cart to your refrigerator. Storing: As is true for fish, oxygen, light, and heat can deteriorate the quality of meat and poultry. The general information below and in Appendix A: At-a-Glance Food Storage Guide will give you specifics on how to keep these foods delicious and safe to eat.
• Store meat and poultry in the meat compartment or the coldest part of your refrigerator, which is usually at the back. Check to be sure the temperature registers 40°F or lower.
• Use most meat and poultry within a day or two of purchase. If you know that won’t be possible, freeze the food right away. (You can make an exception to this guideline for cuts of beef that improve with aging, such as steaks, chops, and roasts. Refrigerate them sealed in their original packaging for up to five days at home.) DAIRY PRODUCTS As a delicious and important part of a nutritious diet, fat-free, 1% fat, and low-fat dairy products should be chosen and stored with the same care as other types of fresh food.
Shopping: Most dairy foods are highly perishable and require correct handling from farm to market. Fresh dairy products especially need careful refrigeration to minimize the growth of bacteria, so it’s wise to follow some basic guidelines when you go shopping.
• Know the various types of milk available: Pasteurized means the milk has been heated to kill bacteria; homogenized means the fat content has been broken down into smaller particles so it stays suspended rather than rising to the top as cream; raw means the milk has been neither pasteurized nor homogenized.
• Always check the labels for sell-by dates and choose the product with the longest time to expiration. • Choose items from the coldest area of the display case or refrigerated section.
• Buy dairy foods packaged in opaque containers when possible because exposure to light can destroy flavor and nutrients.
• Shop for dairy products toward the end of your shopping trip to minimize the time they are unrefrigerated. Storing: Most dairy products are best kept in the coldest part of your refrigerator, at 40°F or lower.
Don’t be tempted to store milk in the door compartments for convenience; this area of the refrigerator is the warmest spot. For more tips on storing dairy, see Appendix A: At-a-Glance Food Storage Guide.
• Keep milk in the fridge as much as possible. Even a few minutes on the counter in warm room air can speed up the spoiling process.
• Smell dairy products before you use them and, if needed, taste them to be sure they have not soured.
• Freeze hard cheese to keep it fresh for months. Wrap tightly in several layers of plastic wrap to keep out air.
TAKING A FRESH APPROACH TO YOUR TIME IN THE KITCHEN Making meals with fresh ingredients rather than opening up cans or boxes does not mean taking extra time in the kitchen. With the 250 recipes in this book, we show you how to easily cook fresh food fast. With each recipe, you’ll find both prep and cooking times (rounded to the nearest five minutes), so you’ll know how to work a particular recipe into your schedule. Of course, each cook works at an individual rate, so use these times as estimates. Our prep time means you can be ready to cook in 20 minutes or less from the minute you grab the first ingredient to when you turn on the heat or the blender. Once your prep work is complete, your food will be finished cooking and ready to eat in 30 minutes or less. From start to finish, the two add up to no more than an hour—and in many cases much less—leaving you more time to enjoy your delicious, fresh-tasting meal.
QUICK PREP STEPS
for speed and efficiency
• Put a damp paper towel or dish towel under your cutting board to keep it from sliding.
• Use a food processor or mandoline to slice or chop
large amounts of vegetables easily and quickly
. • Try a garlic peeler (a rubber cylinder that rubs off the peel) or rubber jar opener to speed up this sometimes tedious step, or simply press garlic cloves with the flat side of a knife to break the skin.
• Grate cheese or lemon peel over wax paper or a bendable cutting mat so you can just pour what you need into a measuring cup or spoon.
• Put parsley, cilantro, and other herbs in a cup and snip them with kitchen scissors rather than using a knife to chop them.
• Cover pots to bring liquids to a faster boil.
• Measure dry ingredients before wet ones if the recipe allows so you can reuse measuring spoons and cups without having to wash them between steps.
• Lightly spray cups, measuring spoons, and other utensils with cooking spray before filling them with sticky ingredients such as honey or molasses. The ingredient will slide out and the utensil will be easier to clean.
• Put raw meat or poultry in the freezer for 10 to 15 minutes to harden it slightly—it will be much easier to slice. QUICK COOKING METHODS to keep things moving
• Broiling and grilling both require direct exposure of food to the heat source, browning the outside and leaving the inside moist and tender. Both allow fat to drip away and air to circulate, helping food to cook faster. For a quick and complete meal, cook vegetables and fruits right along with your meat, poultry, or seafood.
• Microwaving can cut cooking time to a third or even a quarter of the time allotted for a conventional recipe. Because this method requires no added oils and very little, if any, liquid to keep food from drying out, it is a healthy way to prepare food
. • Sautéing and stir-frying both involve quickly cooking food over direct heat, using a small amount
of hot oil. Vegetables quickly become tender-crisp in the high heat, and as the surface of meat, poultry, and seafood is seared, natural juices are sealed in. Stir-frying moves fast, so prepare ingredients and sauces before you begin cooking.
• Steaming food in a basket over simmering liquid helps retain flavor, color, and nutrients. In addition to vegetables, you can also prepare fish, chicken breasts, and any other foods that can be quickly cooked this way reduced to make a sauce after the food is removed. QUICK KITCHEN TIPS to save time
• Organize your pantry, freezer, and fridge so you can find what you need quickly. Group similar canned items together, such as vegetables, soups, and beans, for example. Reconsider your storage options to make the most of the space you have.
• Get rid of clutter but keep the items you use every day within easy reach. You should be able to find knives, measuring spoons, whisks, and other basic utensils without rooting through a crowded drawer
. • Group cooking equipment according to how it is
. • Poaching, or gently immersing foods in almost-simmering liquid, is especially good for delicate foods, such as fish and fruit. You can use any poaching liquid, such as wine, fat-free, low-sodium broth, or water; the liquid is often reduced to make a sauce after the food is removed.
QUICK KITCHEN TIPS
to save time
• Organize your pantry, freezer, and fridge so you can find what you need quickly. Group similar canned items together, such as vegetables, soups, and beans, for example. Reconsider your storage options to make the most of the space you have.
• Get rid of clutter but keep the items you use every day within easy reach. You should be able to find knives, measuring spoons, whisks, and other basic utensils without rooting through a crowded drawer.
• Group cooking equipment according to how it is used, and designate specific areas for certain tasks. • Keep tools and appliances clean and in good working order. • Read a recipe all the way through before you decide to make it! Nothing is more frustrating than discovering in the middle of prep time that you are out of an essential ingredient. For really efficient prep, use the classic technique of professional chefs called mise en place: Measure and put out every ingredient and tool needed for your recipe before you start cooking.
• Read a recipe all the way through before you decide to make it! Nothing is more frustrating than discovering in the middle of prep time that you are out of an essential ingredient. For really efficient prep, use the classic technique of professional chefs called mise en place: Measure and put out every ingredient and tool needed for your recipe before you start cooking.
CULTIVATING FRESH AND HEALTHY EATING HABITS
For good nutrition, it’s important to make it a habit to eat a wide variety of healthy foods. These choices will give your body the key nutrients it needs. At the same time, the more you focus on foods that promote better health, the less likely you are to eat the foods that can contribute to heart disease and stroke. WHY IS VARIETY SO IMPORTANT? Wholesome foods don’t come with a scorecard. Each has its own unique profile of important nutrients; some are rich in one or two specific vitamins, while others contain valuable combinations of minerals and vitamins that act together for the most benefit. To be sure you get the widest possible range of those benefits from all potential sources, it’s best to eat a variety of foods rather than to focus on just a few “superfoods.” You want to be sure you are getting enough of all the essentials, such as potassium, calcium, magnesium, vitamin C, folate, carotenoids, iron, and fiber. As you plan your meals, be sure to include foods from each of the following categories: Vegetables and fruits: Eating many different types of vegetables and fruits is a cornerstone of good health. The broad range of vitamins and minerals they provide, especially the deeply colored ones, is difficult to find in any other food. GOOD NUTRITION IN A NUTSHELL So, what should you eat? To judge how much of each type of food from each category you need, start by gauging how many daily calories you can eat to maintain a healthy weight. This differs for each individual, of course, depending on his or her level of physical activity and metabolic rate. If your daily calorie needs are higher or lower than 2,000 calories, the number of daily servings from each food group will vary
. • VEGETABLES: 4 to 5 servings each day
• FRUITS: 4 to 5 servings each day
• FAT-FREE, 1%, AND LOW-FAT DAIRY PRODUCTS: 2 to 3 servings each day • FIBER-RICH WHOLE GRAINS: 6 to 8 servings each day
• FISH RICH IN OMEGA-3 FATTY ACIDS: 2 servings each week
• LEAN MEATS AND SKINLESS POULTRY: less than 6 (cooked) ounces each day
• LEGUMES, NUTS, AND SEEDS: 4 to 5 servings each week
• HEALTHY OILS AND FATS: 2 to 3 servings each day Fat-free, 1% fat, and low-fat dairy products: Dairy-based foods, such as milk and cheese, contain many important nutrients, especially calcium and protein. Select fat-free or low-fat options as often as you can; the full-fat and 2% fat varieties are high in saturated fat and cholesterol. Fiber-rich whole grains: Grains provide an essential complex of nutrients as well as both soluble and insoluble fiber. The edible kernels of grains can be ground into flour for bread (wheat and corn, for example) or eaten whole (rice, barley, quinoa, and others) or in cereal. For the best nutrition, at least half of your grains should be whole; whole grains retain the germ and outer bran, where the greatest concentration of nutrients and fiber is found. Eating fiber from whole grains can help reduce blood cholesterol levels, and because grains help you feel more satisfied, they can help you control your weight as well. Fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids: Eating fish that contain high levels of healthy oils, called omega-3 fatty acids, can help reduce the risk of heart disease.