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What's in Season in SC This Summer
Lauren Wright | 06/20/2016
Summer officially arrives on June 20, and with it comes bountiful summer produce!
This week marks the first day of summer. Summer officially arrives on June 20, and with it comes bountiful summer produce!
Juicy peaches and perfectly ripe tomatoes are a great reason shop at your local farmers’ market or produce stand this summer. (You can find your nearest farm stand or market here!) Seasonal, local produce is picked at peak ripeness and has the best flavor and highest nutritional quality. Not only that, fresh produce bought locally can also cost less than conventional produce in the store, and you’re supporting a local farmer! With so many fruits and veggies in season during summer months, it’s easy to meet the recommended 5 servings a day.
According to the South Carolina Department of Agriculture, here’s what’s in season this summer:
- Beans- snap, pole, butter bean
- Yellow Squash
My personal summer favorites are watermelon and squash. I like to add chopped watermelon on top of salads with feta cheese and vinaigrette dressing. It’s an unlikely combo, but sweet watermelon with tangy feta is a summertime winner! For squash, I like to slice zucchini and yellow squash into medallions and sauté them in olive oil with red onion, garlic, and fresh dill. It’s a simple but tasty dish that I cook regularly throughout the summer.
The South Carolina Department of Agriculture has a great app to help you keep track of what’s in season. First, select the season to view what produce is available that time of year. Then, click on an item to view all of the local farms and markets selling that produce. Certified SC Grown also has a Pinterest page full of recipe ideas for all the different types of produce.
Use #LetsGoSC to share your own recipes and healthy living ideas on Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, and Facebook.
7 Healthy Picnic Ideas
Lauren Wright | 06/16/2016
Nothing says summer like a picnic!
Nothing says summer like a picnic! In honor of National Picnic Day on June 18, it’s time to pack a cooler and a blanket and head outside. Here are some light, healthy ideas for you to serve at your next picnic.
For a quick and easy picnic, some fresh finger-foods are the perfect snack. They’re easy to prep ahead of time so you can simply pack them in a cooler.
- Fruity guacamole and chips: Avocados offer heart-healthy fats in addition to great taste! Stir in chopped pineapple or mango into guacamole for a sweet twist using the recipe below.
- Fresh veggies and hummus: Baby carrots, celery sticks, and cucumber rounds pair great with hummus. This combo is packed with protein and takes care of one serving of vegetables for the day.
If you’re looking to fire up the grill, there are many healthier alternatives to the traditional hotdogs and hamburgers for your main course.
- Shrimp: Shrimp are naturally low in calories and are great summer fare. It’s easy to make peeled shrimp into kebabs with veggies and pineapple, or you can wrap unpeeled shrimp in an aluminum foil packet to throw on the grill.
- Grilled chicken: Grilled chicken breasts are much lower in saturated fat than hamburgers. Marinate the chicken in a sealable, plastic bag with your favorite vinaigrette dressing. Once cooked, serve the meat as a sandwich on a whole wheat bun with all the traditional toppings.
- Quinoa salad: Quinoa is an ancient grain that cooks in a flash and is full of protein, vitamins, and minerals. Toss cooked quinoa with feta cheese, chopped cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, and vinaigrette dressing. Serve this cool, healthy salad as side with your grilled picnic meal. (Unfamiliar with quinoa? Read more about it here.)
Every picnic deserves something sweet! Instead of cupcakes or cookies, try these dessert ideas instead.
- Fruit kebabs: Skewer your favorite summer fruits for a healthy, sweet treat. Watermelon, grapes, pineapple, and strawberries all make great kebab options. Serve with yogurt as a dip.
- Refreshing fruit popsicles: Blend fresh (or frozen) fruits with a splash of juice, yogurt, or milk. Pour into popsicle molds or small cups and freeze. Berries are always a great choice for popsicles, but get adventurous with your flavor combos, like strawberries and mint or mangos and coconut water.
With your menu planned, you’re ready to pack up some lawn games and bug spray and head outdoors. Enjoy your healthy picnic with family and friends!
Fruity Guacamole Recipe
yield: 1 batch
Juice of one lime
¼ tsp salt, or to taste
dash of pepper, or to taste
2 tbsp cilantro, chopped
¼ cup red onion, chopped
½ cup mango or pineapple, chopped
1. Remove skin and pit from avocados. Place avocado in bowl.
2. Mash avocado together with lime juice, salt, and pepper until smooth, using a fork.
3. Mix in cilantro, red onion, and fruit. Serve with tortilla chips or chopped veggies.
Container Gardening in 4 Easy Steps
Lauren Wright | 06/13/2016
Maximize small, outdoor spaces with a container garden.
I love the idea of having a vegetable garden. I like to imagine picking fresh tomatoes for my salads, getting exercise from working in the yard, and then sitting back to enjoy the greenery. Unfortunately, my small apartment doesn’t allow me to have the garden of my dreams. Luckily I do have a patio, and that’s all the space I need to start my own container vegetable garden.
A container garden can be a great alternative to its large, traditional cousin because it takes up little space and can be grown on a windowsill, doorstep, or patio. It can add a pop of color to outdoor spaces while being less time consuming to maintain. Not to mention a container garden can produce fruits and veggies for you all season long. Even if it’s only composed of a few pots, a container garden can still produce a lot of food for cheap; for every $1 invested starting a garden, you can get back around $25 in produce.
If you’re like me and don’t have the space or materials for a large garden, here are a few simple steps to follow when creating your container garden.
- Pick your planters. Garden stores have many options for planters- from pots, to window boxes, to rail planters. Think about where you want to locate your container garden, and choose which planter will work best. It is important to select containers that drain well in order to let extra water out and keep from overwatering your plants. Always check the underside of your pots to make sure there are drainage holes. If you don’t want to buy new planters, you can recycle old buckets after punching some drainage holes in the bottom. Once you’ve gathered your planters, fill them up with moist potting soil.
- Select your plants. Plants that don’t sprawl and produce continuous fruit are best for container gardens, but all plants require differing amounts of light for optimal growth. Some container plants, like tomatoes, peppers, and squash, grow best in full sun. Others, like lettuce, cabbage, greens, and herbs, will grow in partial sun. Consider where you want to place your container garden, and then choose plants that are suited to that environment. You can start your garden from seed, or you can use starter plants from the store. SNAP benefits are even eligible for purchasing seeds and edible plants to help get a garden started.
- Start planting. Follow the directions on the seed or starter package to determine the depth and spacing of your plants. Fill up your containers, and then give them a gentle watering. Check back regularly on your garden to water and weed as needed. Gardening is a great way to get children excited about the foods they eat, so let your kids get their hands a little dirty in the planting and maintenance of your garden.
- Get cooking. Allow your fruits and veggies to grow and ripen before harvesting them. Then research recipe ideas and experiment with new ways to eat your favorite veggies. Consider hosting a sampling party with your family or friends to share your garden’s bounty.
3 Great Ways to Use Herbs and Spices
Lauren Wright | 06/10/2016
Fragrant, fresh, and tasty, herbs and spices are also great for health!
It’s hard to beat fresh basil on top of pizza and cinnamon in oatmeal. But did you know that, besides adding wonderful flavor to foods, herbs and spices are great for your health, too? That’s right, herbs and spices are excellent sources of powerful antioxidants.
Antioxidants are essential tools in fighting cell damage in our bodies and are believed to be useful in fighting memory loss, aging, and some chronic diseases. Oregano, turmeric, cinnamon, and peppermint are just some of the many herbs and spices packed with antioxidants.
Herbs and spices are a great way to ramp up the color, aroma, and flavor of the foods you cook. So where can you find them? Fresh herbs are the most fragrant, and it’s easy to find pre-cut fresh herbs in your local grocery store’s produce section. Small herb plants are also sometimes available in grocery stores. These plants are perfect for growing in window planters or hanging baskets for easy, herbal goodness all year round.
- Preserve herbs in the freezer.
Fresh herbs can be a bit pricey, so don’t let any go to waste. One handy way to preserve extra fresh herbs is to chop them up, distribute the herbs in an ice cube tray, and then fill the remaining space with water. Pop the tray in the freezer, and you have single portions of herbs ready to be mixed into whatever you’re cooking.
- Dried herbs & spices pack a punch.
Dried herbs and spices are convenient options when fresh products are not available. When substituting dried herbs for fresh herbs in a recipe, use only a third of the listed fresh amount because dried herbs are more concentrated in flavor. Dried herbs do last much longer than fresh, but even they should only be stored for a few years to ensure the best flavor.
- Add them to your drinks.
Herbs aren’t just limited to cooking- you can also add them to your drinks. Consider drinking an herbal tea or try adding peppermint or basil to your ice water for a refreshing, nutritious beverage. Get more ideas on how to create flavored waters here.
- Preserve herbs in the freezer.
Nothing says summer like vibrant, refreshing watermelon.
Nothing says summer like vibrant, refreshing watermelon: Outrageously colorful, yielding and sweet at the center and crisper and mild towards the rind, and packed with cooling, hydrating juice.
It’s hard to beat wedges of chilled melon fresh from the fridge, but watermelon’s generous size and seasonal abundance are compelling reasons to get creative with it. Experimenting with bold flavor combinations and an expanded roster of techniques and recipes can transform your summer eating.
Here are the basics on choosing and using watermelon, followed by a selection of creative recipes to expand your summer repertoire.
- Choose melons with deeply colored, unblemished skin. It’s fine if one side is paler than the rest; this indicates the part of the melon that rested on the ground while it was ripening on the vine.
- A fresh, lightly sweet aroma is a sign of ripe watermelon. When tapped, it should sound taut and hollow if ripe.
- Seedless varieties are popular in today’s market, but seeds are so easy to remove that you should let ripeness be your guide when selecting a melon.
- If you purchase a piece of a cut watermelon, look for firm, solid flesh with deep color and no cracks.
- Before storing or cutting whole watermelon, rinse the exterior well under cold running water.
- Whole watermelon will keep at room temperature 7 to 10 days. Once cut, watermelon is best eaten as soon as possible but can be refrigerated for 2 to 3 days.
- Watermelons flavor goes particularly well with lime, mint, basil, red onion, fresh cheeses, chiles, strawberries and neutral spirits such as vodka and light rum.
- Use watermelon in just about any recipe you would cantaloupe or honeydew, or try substituting it for other recipe with high-water vegetables like cucumber or tomatoes.
Watermelon consists of an awesome 90 percent water, so it’s no surprise that it makes an ideal base for drinks. Refreshing Watermelon Agua Fresca is light and delicious and packs pure summer flavor. Incredibly popular, gorgeously hued Watermelon Lemonade is terrific for a crowd; you can even make it do service through cocktail hour by adding a shot of vodka to each glass. And you can enjoy two of summer’s favorite fruits in these Strawberry Watermelon Coolers, packed with flavor and lightened by lots of ice and sparkling water.
Sides and Salads
Mix up your grilling routine with Grilled Watermelon with Olive Oil and Sea Salt; heat caramelizes the outside of the melon, resulting in a particularly complex flavor heightened by a hit of coarse salt. It makes a surprising side dish for spicy meats, as do Watermelon and Strawberry Salad with Chile Vinaigrette and Watermelon and Arugula Salad, both which are filled with fabulous seasonal flavors. Either salad makes an ideal dish for picnics or potlucks.
Watermelon shares the stage with a favorite summer catch, halibut, in Halibut with Watermelon Salsa, a brilliant recipe that uses watermelon both as a marinade and as a topping. Seafood is also the star in Shrimp, Watermelon and Goat Cheese Salad, an easy choice for cookouts. (This recipe also works wonderfully with boneless skinless chicken breast.) And healthful, awesomely colorful Black Bean, Corn and Watermelon Salsa will turn any simple grilled item from tofu to burgers to steaks into a celebration of watermelon.
Snacks and Desserts
Watermelon is the key to a bevy of satisfying, almost effortless summer treats. Watermelon Granita is one of the easiest, iciest refreshers around, perfect for an intermezzo between courses or as a light dessert. Grape and Watermelon Freezer Pops are a fabulous alternative to commercial popsicles and low in added sweetener.
…Don’t Forget the Rind!
Want the satisfaction of using all your melon? Try watermelon rind in this mildly flavored Strawberry-Watermelon Water with Basil, a terrific way to boost your water intake, or make a version of a southern favorite with the recipe for Pickled Watermelon Rind with Radishes.
Quinoa is a popular new grain, and it's healthy! We put quinoa to the taste test!
I’m not one to branch out and try new things. I like to stay in my comfort zone and not waste money on new things that I may not like. But, I haven’t been able to ignore this thing called Quinoa. It’s plastered all over Pinterest and Facebook, and the pictures look scrumptious! I thought, “hmm…I may as well give it a shot.”
First, I did my research, because I knew absolutely nothing about it. Here’s what I found out:
- It’s pronounced keen-wha.
- All of the experts say quinoa is packed with protein and full of nutrients like amino acids, iron, magnesium, vitamin E, potassium, and fiber.
- Quinoa comes in different colors. The most common is white, but there‘s also red and black.
- Tired of rice? Substitute rice for quinoa.
- Quinoa must be soaked before cooking because of a natural coating that tastes bitter. Packaged quinoa from the grocery store probably doesn’t need to be soaked, but check the packaging first.
How to Cook and Serve Quinoa
Cooking quinoa is quick, easy, and similar to cooking rice. If your quinoa has not been pre-soaked, then soak 1 cup quinoa in 2 cups water for 5-10 minutes. Drain, rinse and pour the quinoa into a pot. Add 1 1/2 cups of water and a half teaspoon of salt. Bring it to a boil, cover, and simmer for 15 minutes. Remove from heat and let sit for 5 minutes, covered. Fluff with a fork and serve.
Quinoa can be eaten on its own as a side dish, with a bit of butter or oil, salt, and pepper, or other seasonings. You can also make a breakfast dish by mixing your cooked quinoa with dried fruit, cinnamon, milk, and maple syrup or honey. I’ve read that you can serve quinoa with chili, stir-fries, beans, or curries. Quinoa is a good source of protein for vegetarians, and can be used as a main course in meat-free burgers, stews, or salads. Some people even bake with it! You can easily find a quinoa recipe on Pinterest or by doing a search on the Internet.
My Quinoa Experiment
Before I tried quinoa, I asked my health-nut friends about it. I wanted to know about the taste and texture. They told me it tastes nutty and reminds them of grits. They said the magic word – grits!
Rather than searching Pinterest for an elaborate recipe, I decided to take the simple route and purchase a box of quinoa and use the recipe on the box. You usually can’t go wrong with box recipes, right?
It didn’t take long to cook, and it smelled quite tasty. I couldn’t believe I was looking forward to trying it! This Southern girl likes her rice, but lima beans over quinoa wasn’t bad at all. My friends were right about the texture – it’s very close to grits. I’ll definitely cook quinoa again, and I encourage you to give it a shot, too.
Wildly Good CSAs
Linda Watson | 05/06/2016
Community Supported Agriculture is a great way to support local farmers.
I’ve long supported local farmers by shopping at farmers’ markets and choosing local at the grocery store, but joining a CSA took my support to a whole new level. CSA means food subscription group, even if it officially stands for Community Supported Agriculture. When you join a CSA program, you support a farm with a micro-loan, which helps pay for seeds, feeds, salaries, and more. In return, you get utterly fresh food direct from the farmer. You may share the risk and reward of farming, too, getting a smaller bunch of collards after a cold snap or bonus tomatoes during a peak harvest. Usually you pick up the week’s bounty at a certain time and place, but some CSAs deliver.
We’re lucky in the Carolinas to have a wide variety of CSAs. I joined Edible Earthscape’s CSA to research my book Fifty Weeks of Green. Jason and Haruka Oastis were running about the only winter CSA that was still taking members. I enjoyed it so much I joined again the next year with a friend.
Why I love belonging to a CSA:
- Plentiful, top-quality produce. Every week feels like Christmas as Jason opens the week’s box and describes each bundle before handing it to me to put in a cloth bag. Farmers tend to fill their CSA boxes first and then offer the rest for sale at the market. No worries about getting to the market too late for carrots or sugar snaps.
- Unusual and beautiful vegetables. Jason and Haruka started farming in Japan, so they grow taro roots, burdock, and a host of Asian greens. Sometimes their salad mix includes flowers.
- The weekly email. Learn what’s in each week’s share and mull over any choices. (Which salad green: arugula, mizuna, or wasabina?). Get recipes and farm news.
- Fewer decisions. My grocery list shrunk and menu planning was easier because I just cooked what I received. It nearly eliminated the label reading that can go with eating 10%-plus local diet.
- The parties! I love going to potlucks at the Edible Earthscapes and coming early to help plant. Some members host other potlucks. Most dishes include food from that week’s share. We go from being supporters to being friends.
Questions to ask before joining:
- Does this CSA offer food I will eat? Find out what will be in a typical box and, if possible, what variety is ahead for the season. Look for a selection that looks tasty and that you will actually cook. You can find CSAs for vegetables, fruit, flour, eggs, dairy, meat, fish, or a mix. Local should be a given, but look for other key words such as organic, pesticide-free, non-GMO, or pastured.
- When will it run? Most CSA sessions range from 8 to 30 weeks. Some farms run multiple sessions, so you could sign up for the spring, spend summer at the beach, and sign up again in the fall if you enjoyed being a member.
- How much food will you get? Some CSAs offer full shares or half shares. Wild Onion Farms offers a free-choice or market-style CSA, where you prepay an amount and use your credit within a year.
- What does it cost? Home cooking with local ingredients is wildly affordable compared to eating out, but the upfront cost of a CSA can take a bite out of your budget. You might pay $200, $500, or even $1000 depending on the type of food and length of the session.
- Where will you pick it up? Common choices include at farmers’ markets, restaurants that the farms supply, and even grocery stores or co-ops with a local focus. For busy people, paying a little extra for home delivery may be a good investment.
- How is the delivery handled? With some CSAs, you swap an empty box for a full one every week. With others, you bring your own box or bags. CSAs that offer highly perishable food may provide coolers and chill packs.
- Are any bonuses included? Will there be community events such as potlucks, farm tours, or farm work days? Harland’s Creek Farm offers a CSA cookbook and menu plans. Some CSAs offer cooking classes.
- What happens if you go on vacation or move? Some CSAs build in a few skipped weeks. In general, expect to have someone else pick up your box or to have it donated to a food bank. One year, I split a share a friend, which gave us flexibility.
When you join a CSA, you get fresh, local food while creating a stronger community and more resilient foodshed. I hope you will try supporting agriculture in your community in this direct and convenient way.
Get more great tips from Linda to help you eat well and wildly affordably at cookforgood.com. Her monthly newsletters are awesome or buy her fabulous book, Wildly Affordable Organic!
The Picky Eater's Healthy Grocery List
Anjali Shah | 05/05/2016
One of the most common questions I get asked is what to buy at the grocery store. I’ve found that having a list is SUPE...
One of the most common questions I get asked is what to buy at the grocery store. I’ve found that having a list is SUPER important when grocery shopping, because it helps me to stay focused and not be tempted by all of the unhealthy treats in the store!
I’ve also found that one of the biggest challenges to healthy cooking is not having the right ingredients on hand. Because by the time you’re ready to cook, you’re already hungry, you realize that your fridge is empty, and the last thing you want to do at that time is grocery shop.
But with a little bit of planning, and my handy, healthy grocery store list – you can just get what’s on the list and that’s it! Then you’ll have all of the ingredients you need to make any of my tasty, good-for-you recipes, and you won’t waste time wandering the grocery store aisles either. Stocking up on balanced, healthy foods is key to not being tempted to get takeout when those dinner-time-hunger-pangs come calling. And, since I use a lot of the same ingredients for most of my recipes, these items won’t ever go to waste.