How To: Pick & Store Winter Produce

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As 2013 begins, many people will begin to implement their New Years resolutions.  Some of the most popular resolutions include weight loss, increased physical activity, healthier eating, and dropping soda and cigarettes.  Although these goals are all great, you have to be prepared and educate yourself on how to go about achieving your goals.  So I thought, for those of you wanting to eat healthier or incorporate more fruits and veggies into your diet, a little how-to guide on picking out and storing your produce would be helpful.  It’s important to pick ripe, great tasting produce at the market and store it properly so you get the best tasting food at home.

Buying produce in season can help ensure top quality and taste in addition to slightly cheaper prices – always a good thing to keep in mind when you’re grocery shopping.  But considering it’s January, I’m going to review a few winter fruits and veggies and give a couple of tips on some of the most popular choices and some more unconventional (yet tasty) ones too.

Winter Vegetables:

  • Beets.  Always buy beets with the stems and leaves attached – it helps them stay fresh longer.  The bulbs should be firm and bright and free of any bruises, dark spots or cuts.  Buying beets that are all about the same size helps with even cooking times.  Beets stay fresh for a decent amount of time – after you’ve cleaned and washed them, and stick them in a plastic bag for up to 10 days in the fridge.
  • Celeriac.  A very ugly relative of the carrot family, celeriac is a root vegetable with a mild celery like flavor and the texture similar to a potato.  Celeriac is tan in color and generally very bumpy with a brown-tan colored skin.  Select ones that are about the size of a baseball (big ones aren’t as good), that feel firm and heavy for their size.  Once you get it home, trim off the stems and celeriac will stay good in a cold spot in the fridge for about 10 days.
  • Parsnips.  This root vegetable looks just like a white carrot – but with a flavor more closely resembling celery.  This vegetable is never sold with the stems – so don’t look for those.  Choose parsnips that are a creamy white color, free of bruises or other blemishes, feel firm to the touch and should be very hard – like a carrot.  These carrot cousins will stay fresh in the fridge for about 1 week.
  • Broccoli.  A frequent flier in my house!  Most people do not realize broccoli is actually a winter crop – as its sold year round in stores.  But nevertheless, when selecting broccoli, choose heads that are a bright, deep green, have tightly compact heads, show no brown or black spots and have firm stalks.  Sometimes you’ll see broccoli with yellow flowers on the heads – that’s just over-ripened – skip these guys.  Store broccoli in your fridge for only 3-4 days at the most!
  • Arugula.  A spicy and peppery lettuce, you may not find arugula in all stores year round, so watch for it in the colder months.  If you find it, choose leaves that are dry and show no yellowing or browning.  Arugula is very finicky and needs to be eaten quickly, so only keep it in your fridge for 1-2 days.
  • Mushrooms.  A great meat substitute for vegetarians or vegans!  There are tons of varieties of mushrooms – but across the board look for unblemished ‘shrooms with no bruises, mushy spots, dried out edges or cuts.  Its best if you can buy them with the stems still attached.  Mushrooms do the absolute best in a paper bag in the fridge – but for only about 3 days.
  • Brussel Sprouts.  My favorite vegetable!  Brussel sprouts may come on the stalk or already shaved off the stalk in bags.  Either way, select brussel sprouts that are bright green and show no blemishes or bruises on the outside.  When you get them home, wash and dry them and store the brussel sprouts in a plastic vegetable ziplock bag in the fridge for up to 3 days.
  • Green cabbage.  Not known as the most exciting of vegetables, but a still a great winter choice!  Cabbages come in all shapes, sizes and colors, so make sure you know exactly which one you need.  All should be firm, heavy for their size and not too bruised or cut on the outside.  Also, pick cabbages that are smaller – they are easier to handle with cooking in addition to being a bit sweeter in flavor.  Green and purple cabbage will stay fresh in the fridge for about 1 week.
  • Winter Squash.  All varieties – butternut, acorn, kabocha, spaghetti, etc are all winter squashes.  Most winter squash have a thick and tough outer skin that you do not eat.  However, when you’re picking one out, slightly blemishes are OK, but any soft or mushy spots are a no-no.  Also, squash should be heavy for their size.  Winter squash, uncut, can stay fresh for several months in a cool dark place (with the potatoes and onions).  Once cut and cleaned, squash will stay fresh in the fridge for about 2-3 days.

Winter Fruits:

  • Grapefruit.  White, pink or ruby grapefruits should be heavy for their size, no soft or mushy spots and without any deep bruises.  Grapefruit does best in the fruit bowl – not the fridge, so store it on the counter.  However, if you don’t plan on eating them within a week, grapefruit do stay fresh for about 3 weeks in the fridge.
  • Kumquat.  A teeny tiny citrus fruit, the kumquat is becoming more popular in grocery stores.  These guys look like tiny little oval-shaped oranges.  Look for boxes of them without any spots or soft areas – also check the bottom fruit as they are tender and can get smashed easily.  Like grapefruit, they taste best at room temperature and will stay fresh on the counter for about 5-6 days, however can be stored in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.
  • Blood Oranges.  Grab them while you can – an “always-seasonal” fruit, you will not find these oranges in any other season.  Blood oranges should have a magenta and orange tie-dye skin.  Like other oranges, these should be free from soft spots, blemishes and should be heavy for their size.  Again, as with the previous citrus fruits, blood oranges taste best at room temp and will keep for about 3 days.  If you want to keep them around a bit longer, stick them in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.
  • Apples.  A very traditional and common fruit!  Many people enjoy cold apples right from the fridge.  But apples actually lose flavor and juiciness if stored in the fridge.  So try to keep them in the fruit bowl on the table if they will be eaten within a week.  Apples will stay fresh (albeit losing some good qualities) in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.  When purchasing, pick apples that are firm, smooth with absolutely not blemishes, soft spots or bruises.
  • Pears.  All pears should be free of blemishes and soft spots.  If buying from a farmers market, pears will stay fresh a shorter amount of time (as they have been allowed to ripen more on the trees).  Store for maximum 3 days on the counter or otherwise the flesh turns mealy and yucky.  If you buy pears from the grocery store, these will stay fresh longer at room temperature.  Pears are ripe with the are slightly soft (not rock hard) and some may smell slightly fruity.
  • Quince.  Intensely fragrant, the quince is a unique fruit that requires patient cooking in order to be eaten.  If you come across this fruit, look for very hard, unblemished fruits.  The skin should be bright yellow or gold.  They will usually stay fresh at a cool room temp for up to 2 weeks, but can stay fresh longer, 3 weeks, in the fridge.
  • Dates.  Typically seen dried, dates are also a winter fruit and can be found fresh during this season.  Choose dates that are packed loose – that way you’re able to inspect each specimen.  Look for plump fruits with slightly wrinkled skin.  Dates will stay fresh for 1 year in a sealed container in the fridge.

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