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Asparagus remains one of the true signs of spring and I hope no one discovers an economical way of growing it in a glasshouse or tunnel-house. When it first appears there's no better way of serving it than with a puddle of extra virgin olive oil and a bowl of freshly grated parmigiano reggiano to dunk it into, or a bowl of just-melted garlic butter. As the season moves on you need to be more inventive. You never want to take it for granted (if anyone says "not asparagus again", I'll clobber them). Rubbing the spears with a little olive oil and roasting them on high until the tips turn crispy and develop a caramelized flavor, is always worth doing. The asparagus plant, a perennial, is a member of the lily family and consists of a crown, which sends up shoots each spring. At the end of spring spears are left to grow into ferns, which then undergo photosynthesis. The root system is recharged with carbohydrates and these are stored in fat storage roots. In autumn the plants die off, and they remain dormant in winter, waiting for the ideal conditions of cool nights and mild daytime temperatures to start the process again. There are male and female plants. The male plants produce more spears and live longer, but the female plants produce the fattest juiciest spears.

Although some asparagus is grown in tunnel houses in New Zealand, providing an early crop, most of it is grown outdoors. The asparagus season peaks around late October in the southern hemisphere, so my recommendation is to scoff as much of it as you can while it is good and affordable.

How to store
Asparagus remains an expensive vegetable to buy because the yield from the plants is small and the spears are time consuming to harvest. It's also perishable. Buy only what you need and use it the day of purchase if it is possible because the flavor, texture and nutritional qualities quickly deteriorate. Choose asparagus with compact tips and taut spears. Some people like to peel the outer skin. It's probably only necessary if you have very large asparagus; I never bother. Keep asparagus away from fruit and vegetables such as bananas, apples, tomatoes, stone fruit, pears and avocados, or anything, which gives off ethylene gas, as it speeds up deterioration. Asparagus dries out quickly so keep it moist by storing it upright with the butt ends in a small amount of water, or wrap the butt ends in a damp cloth. Store asparagus in a cool place, or in the fridge.

What's the best way to cook asparagus?
Traditionally, asparagus was cooked in a tall pot by standing the spears on the butt end, tips facing up, the butt end immersed in boiling water leaving the tips to cook gently in the steam. But this was in the days when asparagus was cooked for 15-20 minutes. These days most cooks blanch the asparagus briefly, or cook it for less than 7 minutes, keeping the vegetable firm with a good crunch and vibrant color. However you cook it, choose spears of an even thickness to ensure they will cook uniformly.

Trim or snap the ends of the asparagus, wash well, then drop it into a saucepan of boiling, lightly salted water, tips pointing up. Cook with the lid off for 2-5 minutes. Drain and refresh with plenty of cold water. Plunging into boiling water sets the color. Cooking with the lid off lets vegetable acids escape in the steam; putting a lid on them makes them fall back onto the asparagus causing the asparagus to discolor.

Asparagus is a valuable vegetable to include in the diet. It contains a generous collection of vitamins from the A, B and C groups, along with plenty of potassium, good amounts of calcium, magnesium and phosphorous. It also has good quantities of folic acid and rutin. It has practically no fat, contains some fibre and is low in calories (The New Zealand Asparagus Council quotes 13 calories per 100g of cooked asparagus, but Mediterranean charts I consulted set it higher, at around 20-25 calories per 100g. There is variation, too, with all the minerals; the Mediterranean charts, in some cases, list more than double our rate. Is it something to do with our soils, I wonder?)

Wine Match
Much has been written about the perfect wine match for asparagus. My thoughts on the matter are why fight the asparagus flavor? Partner it with a Sauvignon Blanc, particularly one with a grassy or asparagusy character. A bunch of asparagus anointed with garlic butter served with a snappy Savvie eaten outside in the setting sun is one of life's pleasures, especially when you happen to quite like the person you are with and you don't have to worry about slurps and dribbles down the chin! Adding a little chopped raw garlic and a touch of freshly grated parmesan heightens the pleasure. The melted butter wraps itself around the delicate asparagus and tempers the pungent garlic, but the biting acid of the wine as it cuts through it all, is positively thrilling. I'm not joking!

When the season starts I like to gorge myself on asparagus (I know I'm not alone) and can quite happily make a meal of pump asparagus spears drizzled in butter, smothered in parmesan cheese, with plenty of black pepper, crunchy bread to accompany and a salad to follow. Oh, and a glass or two of Savvie.

Because, despite what some wine experts say, I reckon there is no point in trying to mute the asparagus-ness of asparagus. I prefer to build on it. It eats well with a gutsy, capsicum-asparagusy Sauvigon Blanc, and can cope with those that have an herbaceous and cut-grass character. Throw in some garlic, which Sauvignon Blanc likes anyway, and you've got the chance of striking palate perfection. The fact that the new-release Sauvignon Blancs and asparagus arrive on the shelves at the same time in New Zealand is another happy coincidence and reason to keep searching for the perfect match. Bob Dylan may have warbled "one more cup of coffee before I go", but my spring mantra is "one more fat asparagus spear dunked in garlic butter before I go, and one more glass of Savvie to go with it".

For pure self-indulgence, asparagus spears rolled while still warm in soft white bread slathered in garlic and parmesan cheese butter is just gorgeous, as is hot spears on toasted wholegrain bread drizzled with garlic butter. Once you've got over such treatments, which I reckon are better eaten on your own so you can slurp, dribble and lick your chops in private, you'll be ready to eat asparagus in public again. That's when asparagus with lemon and a little cream tossed through pasta tubes shines. And for a sophisticated fry-up, buy some good slices of ham off the bone, sizzle them in butter and serve with sliced hot new potatoes and asparagus spears. Serve an egg on the side and wolf it down - with plenty of Savvie of course.

There's something very sexy about the avocado, especially a Hass avocado. I don't know if it's the oval shape, the pale greeny yellow spring-like hues of the flesh, or whether it's the hollow left by the avocado stone which begs to be drizzled or filled with something exotic and delicious. Maybe it's the buttery flesh & the way it sort of melts in your mouth like butter and chocolate. Or the way it squishes down to a gorgeous green puree under gentle pressure from the tines of a fork.

The purpley-black pebble-like skin of the Hass is another intrigue. You cannot tell by looking at the avocado whether it is ripe to eat. You must give it the gentlest squeeze to check whether the flesh just moves under the skin. When you pick it up, it snuggles into the palm of your hand. It's as if it wants to be taken home to your place. When you hold a perfect specimen in your hand, it's hard to resist it.

Avocados are not things to be left lying around for too long. You need to keep an eye on them because one day too long in the fruit bowl in summer can see them end their lives on the compost heap. Oh, the waste!

When overripe, the avocado flesh turns to mush and is often dark in places. But unripe avocados are not pleasant to eat, either. Leaving them to ripen at room temperature is the way to do it, and you can speed this up by putting them in a brown paper bag with another piece of fruit which gives off ethylene gas, such as a ripening apple or banana. It is best not to refrigerate them until they are nearly ripe though, as chilling can inhibit ripening.

Half an avocado filled with vinaigrette made with avocado, walnut or extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice, sea salt and fresh pepper, served with good wholegrain bread, is a one-person lunch par excellence! You can slurp the dressing, or make a slush inside the avocado shell with the last of the flesh, or squidge it on bread. Of course, when you're in adult company this won't do and you might be persuaded to invest in avocado dishes which stop the avocados rolling around on the plate spilling their accompaniments, and natty little spoons with pointy tips to help you cut and scoop perfect bite-size mouthfuls.

Mashed avocado can take the place of butter in a sandwich - the mouth-feel is not dissimilar. A dollop of mashed avocado, or guacamole (chillied avocado dip), on top of a jacket-baked potato, is superb in place of butter.

I eat avocado, tomato and basil on wholegrain toast on a regular basis, with a crisp rasher of bacon thrown in for good measure on occasion.

Avocado is bland to taste, possessing a mild nuttiness, but this blandness is what makes it so good as a food. Citrus flavors give it a bit of a wake-up, as does salt, and its delicacy is a perfect match for seafood, especially prawns, crab, crayfish and scampi. Try it in mixed salads with cos or buttercrunch leaves and toasted nuts or crispy bits of bacon, or, team it with the sweet flavor of roasted red pepper, cos lettuce and basil. One last idea, which you must try if you love olives - make a tapenade of finely chopped black olives, garlic, anchovy if you will, parsley and a little oil, perhaps a slosh of the best white wine vinegar, and fill into the cavities of avocados. Very smart. And if you haven't got those ritzy little avocado bowls, slice a small sliver off the underside of each avocado half to make them sit flat on the plate!

Avocados blow apart any theory that food which feels smooth and velvety in the mouth must be wickedly rich and bad for you. While it's true that avocados contain about 20% fat, you can relax and gobble it up without too much guilt because it is monounsaturated. In short, that is good fat! And there's more good news -nutritional experts have labeled the avocado "nutrient-dense". To qualify, a food must provide at least four essential nutrients in the same percentage as the calories it supplies. Avocados provide five essential nutrients in this proportion: Vitamins A, B6, C, folic acid and the mineral copper. They are a good source of energy, are easily digested (and therefore suitable for babies), and their high protein content makes them a valuable food for vegetarians. Half an avocado provides about the same amount of calories as 25g butter (180 calories).

Avocado Oil

Emerald green, rich and luscious, extracted from quality New Zealand fruit, avocado oil has a lot going for it.

Avocados are rich in monounsaturated fatty acids, which help lower bad cholesterol, and beta-sitosterol, a plant sterol that occurs naturally in avocados, not only helps prevent absorption of bad cholesterol, but helps increase good cholesterol. A double whammy! And New Zealand avocados just happen to have the highest levels of beta-sitosterol of avocados grown anywhere in the world.

Avocados are also rich in Vitamin E, an antioxidant, which protects the cells in the body, and other nutrients which protect against eye diseases and cancers. The oil is extracted from the flesh by cold pressing and retains the health benefits intact.

I'm not going to suggest that from here on in you fry every onion in avocado oil, although you could, but rather that it has a place in the modern kitchen and can contribute much more in a culinary sense than most oils currently on supermarket shelves.

It has an unremarkable aroma, smelling as it does of avocados with hints of fresh cut celery, maybe even carrot. There's a definite trace of steamed or boiled globe artichokes, and a presence of wet bamboo - the smell you get from an Asian vegetable steamer. These aromas may not sound as appealing as the descriptors used for extra virgin olive oil, but the taste is right up there: nutty, slightly vegetabley, like artichoke leaves, with a wonderful avocado flavour which kicks in at the finish. There's no pepperiness, no acidity, no burning. It's a smooth and non-greasy oil and comparatively light in comparison with other new oils such as rice bran oil.

Avocado oil has an incredibly high smoke point - 255°C (it breaks up at around 268°C), the highest of any virgin oil, meaning you can flash-fry foods in very hot oil without fear of the oil smoking or becoming toxic (olive oil breaks down at around 225°C). Use it to sear meats, fry in the wok, or for quick-cooking seafood such as scallops.

The oil is the perfect companion to any dish containing avocado, enhancing the avocado flavour, but it also works superbly with seafood. Olives love it too, as does garlic, and most herbs and vegetables make great matches.

Ways to use it:

- Make a dressing of avocado oil, lemon juice, garlic and mint and drizzle over steamed artichokes
- Fry prawns or scampi in hot avocado oil, and finish with fresh herbs, garlic or chilli
- Make an avocado and tomato salad and dress with avocado oil, lime juice, sea salt and cracked pepper
- Drizzle over a fresh mozzarella salad with sliced tomatoes and green olives
- Marinate green olives in a little avocado oil with smashed cloves of garlic, a few strips of orange peel and a few fennel seeds or crushed coriander seeds
- Marinate seafood in avocado oil, lemon zest, sea salt and cracked pepper, before grilling, pan-frying or barbecuing, and finish off with a few squirts of lemon juice
- Drizzle a little avocado oil over salmon with crushed pink peppercorns before grilling
- Make a fruity salad with cubed red watermelon, goat's cheese and toasted pumpkin seeds and drizzle with avocado oil

The oil comes in dark green bottles to protect it from the light, but once you buy a bottle, use it rather than keeping it for a rainy day. Store it in a cool pantry; it will congeal in the refrigerator. If the oil congeals on a salad or dish you have dressed or cooked with avocado oil that you are storing in the refrigerator, simply bring the dish to room temperature before serving.


Avocados & Pawns with Lime & Tomato Salsa
Bruschetta with guacamole & crispy bacon
Always remove silver skin, and as much fat as possible from the meat. Bring the meat to room temperature before roasting. Cold meat taken straight from the refrigerator then roasted may take up to double the time to roast. It is better to cook the meat on conventional bake, rather than fan bake, which can be a little too fierce and can dry out the surface of the meat, especially cuts such as fillet which do not have much fat.

Slow roast meats at 160°-170°C (300°-325°F). Increase heat to 200°-220°C (400°-425°F) for suitable cuts of beef.

Chunky cuts of meat will take longer to cook than long thin cuts of the same weight. Roasts with bone in cook more quickly than boned and rolled roasts

Known as eye fillet and tenderloin. The most tender cut with fine-grained, juicy meat. Remove silverskin before cooking. Fillet can be fast roasted over a high temperature. Best rare.

Sometimes sold as scotch fillet. Tender, fine-grained meat, well marbled. Boneless. Suitable slow or fast roasting.

Tender, fine-grained meat, lean and marbled with exterior fat.

Standing Rib
An impressive joint of tender, fine-grained meat on the rib bone (4-6 ribs, prepared for slicing). Suitable slow or high temperature roasting.

Wing Rib
Tender fine-grained meat, maximum 3-4 bones. Suitable slow or high temperature roasting.

Medium textured meat, lean and boneless. Best slow roasted. Butchers in the know will be able to cut you smaller - seamed - out rump cuts, such as the centre rump, rump eye or rump cap, which are perfect for smaller roasts. Give them a rare roasting.
Bok Choy
Shanghai bok choy, a small cabbage with white ribs and green leaves, is easy to prepare and is wonderfully juicy. Bring a saucepan of water to the boil, salt lightly and add half a tablespoon of olive or seed oil, or a few splashes of sesame oil. Put in the bok choy and cook 2-4 minutes. Drain, (the oil coats the bok choy as it is drained) and serve immediately.
Now here's a polarizing vegetable. As a child I hated the sight of its crimson juices seeping into hamburger buns, or making violent puddles of color on plates. I refused salad, those old-fashioned layered jobs of chopped iceberg lettuce, cucumber, tomato and spring onion doused with enough malt vinegar to strip your teeth of enamel, if there was the merest blush of a beetroot in sight.

My progression to beetroot-a-holism has been a gradual process, one I didn't even notice. I started by touching them, digging them out of the soil for my mother. They've got beautiful leaves, deep green, glossy and veined. I read somewhere that you could eat small beetroot leaves raw in salads. At fourteen years-old I made a mean salad of beetroot leaves, peanuts, chopped cabbage (very peppery) and pineapple cubes. Don't laugh. I liked it.

My mother soon had me peeling cooked beetroot, I think to save her hands from getting stained. They are fantastic to play with. It's sort of sexy in some dumb way to slip off all that leathery skin and crunchy leaf-top to reveal the shiny unblemished ruby beauty of a cooked beetroot. They're slippery little devils, too, and their tails are cute, and well, I think that might be enough tactile talk.

More than any other vegetable they smell of the earth when they are cooked. It's a smell which doesn't appeal to everyone. I've got used to it now and secretly like it, but it pays to wash them very well before cooking to remove as much clinging earth as possible. This minimizes the smell imparting too strong an earthy flavor - another 'no-no' with the uninitiated. Of course, you need to pay attention when washing them because if you nick them they will bleed during cooking and you'll end up with stripes of white through pinky pale colored beetroot. The reverse action is called for if you intend to microwave beetroot (or bake a large one). You need to pierce them with a skewer of they may turn into exploding missiles.

The thing to remember with fresh beetroot is that they don't come already laced with vinegar as in canned beetroot; they come stacked with sugar. Unless you're making a cake, a sugary-sweet vegetable has little appeal. Hence the need to tame them somewhat with a whack of acid, usually in the form of vinegar, lemon juice, yoghurt, sour cream or crème fraiche. Tomato can also do the trick and fruits like green apple can balance the sweetness.

There is more to beetroot than opening a can of acid-laced sliced beets. They're nicely nutty-tasting when grated and used raw in salads. They can be added raw or cooked to soups. I like them baked whole dressed with a grainy mustard and yoghurt dressing alongside a hunky cut of roasted pork. And little baby beets can be cooked until tender then tossed with creamed horseradish, or browned butter, lemon juice and zest and plenty of black pepper. Raw beetroot can be sliced wafer thin, or into matchstick-shaped julienne, fried and used as a garnish.

It's worth growing a patch of baby beetroot, even if you don't harvest the beets because the leaves are very nutritious and, when young and sweet, they are very tender. Use the leaves raw in salads (try a mix of baby beetroot leaves, cos lettuce, orange segments and toasted, salted almonds with a lemon vinaigrette), or they can be quickly stirfried or chopped and used in stuffings.
Brussels Sprouts
Look for green compact Brussels Sprouts - soft yellowish ones are not worth buying. Like broccoli, Brussels Sprouts are packed with goodies - plenty of Vitamin C, some B vitamins and potassium, and, it's claimed, they help to prevent some cancers. Tight perky little buds, especially if they've had a fright of frost, are crisp and tender enough to slice finely and use as a salad; mix with orange segments, mustard, salt, pepper and extra virgin olive oil.

Some of the old methods of food preparation are a mystery to us, but others remain very practical. Cutting a cross on the bottom of Brussels sprouts, for instance, does serve a purpose. It allows the boiling water to enter the base of the sprouts, the densest part, ensuring it is cooked by the time the rest of the leaves are. It's particularly helpful with more mature sprouts, which can become soggy on the outside before the centre is tender.
My dad has grown carrots ever since I can remember and as a consequence we had them served to us by the bucketload while growing up. I can only blame this over-abundance for my temporary aversion to carrots which started in my teens (not carrots again!) but thankfully ended when I was seduced by baby carrots dripping a golden glaze some years later.

And I'm glad I was seduced, because carrots add color to our food, goodness to the diet of course, and variety - they're good in sweet and savory dishes and served as a hot vegetable or as a salad. And they're cheap.

I may have inherited my father's love of carrots, but not his skill in growing them. I seem to produce two legged woody things - and when I see those cute little bunches of baby carrots tied with rope and the greenery still attached, I think why bother? They're crisp and sweet-tasting and quite delicious simply boiled and served with just a swish of butter or slick of oil, along with a smattering of salt and pepper. But just in case you're looking for a few ideas:

Quick Ideas
  • Using a vegetable peeler, shave carrots into long thin ribbons. Stirfry in a hot pan with oil for several minutes, then season and finish off with fresh lime juice and chopped coriander. Serve with Asian dishes.
  • Make a mash with carrots and parsnips, adding a generous lump of butter (oh yes!), salt and pepper and freshly grated nutmeg - excellent with lamb.
  • Cook spring carrots in the frying pan with lemon as described, but finish off with small capers and crushed garlic. Great with fish.
  • Grate carrots and mix with plenty of lemon juice, garlic, salt, pepper and mint and a little extra virgin olive oil. Marinate several hours then serve with barbecued chicken or fish.
  • Using a vegetable peeler, shave carrots into long thin ribbons. Deep-fry in oil heated to 160°C until golden. Drain and dust with a little mixed salt and ground chilli.
  • Put baby carrots, chopped dill, a knob of butter, salt and pepper in the centre of a piece of double-thickness tin foil, fold the sides up and pour in half a glass of white wine. Screw the foil to close and cook in a very hot oven for 30-40 minutes.
Carrots are one of the best vegetables to roast because roasting intensifies their sweetness without turning them candy-sweet. Eat them up! The orange color in carrots comes from carotene. The body converts the beta-carotene in carrots to Vitamin A and a range of antioxidants. Cooked carrots contain up to three times more antioxidants than raw. (Antioxidants, a group of vitamins, minerals and plant substances, neutralize free radicals - the bad guys caused through stress, illness, pollution, bad diet, smoking etc. - and stop them damaging our bodies.)

Carrots, lettuces, spinach and celery usually contain the highest amount of residue from pesticides - a good reason to buy organic carrots. Carrots have one of the lowest GI ratings (glycaemic index) for vegetables - in the region of 31-42 for cooked carrots.

Chilli, often given a bum deal because it burns the mouth, has a cooling effect on the body. Initially a burst of hot chilli makes you feel like a dragon belching fire, and your body, sometimes embarrassingly, breaks out in an uncontrollable sweat. As the sweat dries on the skin, it gives a cooling sensation - then it leaves you in a state of cool tranquility. That's why people in hot countries eat such hot curries - it keeps them cool! Few spices can play the dual role of chilli: in hot weather it makes us sweat, which cools us down as it evaporates, and in winter it warms us up, right down to our toes, and if fiery enough, it even makes our ears tingle!

It's the capsaicin, mostly centered around the seeds, which determines how hot the chilli is, and which causes the blood vessels to dilate and increase circulation.

Everyone has their personal level of heat tolerance, and there are no prizes for being a hot-head and winning a chilli-eating competition. Not in my books anyway. But if you bite off more than you can chew, and suddenly feel as if you're head is going to explode, don't try and douse the fire with water because the capsaicin is insoluble in water. Instead, reach for yoghurt, or dairy products.

One of the most delicious things to drink with a curry is lassi, a yoghurt based drink. It's easy enough to make at home by mixing unsweetened yoghurt with half the amount of water and adding ice. It is sometimes flavored with salt (to counteract all that sweating), or with rose water or spices. My favorite is made with canned mango pureed with yoghurt, mixed with ice and a little water to thin. Serve it chilled in long glasses with straws (I warn you, it is addictive, especially with a few crushed cardamoms added!).

I like fresh chillies more than chilli powder because they can possess interesting flavors of their own, with fruity, jammy, woody or sweet notes, whereas chilli powder just tends to have the heat factor without much nuance of flavor. But when chilli powder is mixed with other spices it adds complexity.
Chick pea chatter
Chick peas are a valuable and relatively inexpensive source of protein and iron, making them a useful addition to a vegetarian diet. The seeds of most leguminous plants (pulses) are on average twice as rich in protein as grains. Chick peas specifically contain folate, Vit E, potassium, copper and magnesium.

Pulses such as chick peas can be toxic if not cooked properly. Discard the soaking water, boil them in fresh water for 10 minutes, drain, wipe out the pan, return them to the pan with fresh water and bring them back to the boil, then cook gently until tender.

Some chick peas will take longer to cook than others. Avoid heat-treated chick peas because they can take several hours’ cooking to become tender. Australian chick peas, which are smaller and darker in colour, also take an age to cook. Large creamy-coloured chick peas from USA and Turkey, called garbanzos, are the best, especially organically-grown chick peas.

Corn Information
If you want to check the degree of ripeness on growing corn, open a cob and prick the kernels. If the juice is clear, the cob is not yet ready to pick. If the juice is milky, don't hesitate - go back and put the water on to boil! If there is no liquid, the corn is past its best. Once picked, put the corn, still in its husk, in a plastic bag and refrigerate it. Remove the husks just prior to cooking.

Corn is a high carbohydrate food, with good quantities of Vitamin A and B, and some C. It contains potassium, moderate amounts of protein and hardly any fat - what a shame it taste so much better with fat, and lots of it!

In season mid-March to June

Early varieties of feijoas have just appeared in the shops, though many backyard trees are groaning with ripening fruit. While commercially grown crops are more perfect in shape and reliably good in texture and flavour, there’s nothing quite like gorging yourself on smaller, sweeter fruit gathered from underneath the backyard tree. Bliss.

The seductive and heady tropical fruit fragrance given off from a bowl of feijoas is distinctive. It’s one of those fragrances you either love or hate – not many are indifferent to it. It’s the exotic blend of pineapple, banana, guava, melon and pear, with a sharpish lemony tang and lingering ripe strawberry taste that sends feijoa lovers into raptures, along with the creamy coloured flesh, sometimes granular like a pear, in other varieties smoother, and the jellied seeds. The skin is not normally eaten but feijoa fans don’t mind a little of its astringency. It can also be grated and used like lemon rind, or used in preserves.

You can’t tell by looking at the outside skin of a feijoa whether it is ripe or past its best (unless it has telltale brown spots on the skin) as the fruit ripens from the inside. A ready-to-eat feijoa will yield a little when gently squeezed, like an avocado, although some varieties, such as Apollo, are considerably softer than others. When cut open the jellied sections will be clear and juicy. The fruit is unripe when the jellied sections are white, and past its best when the jellied sections are brown. The catch is to eat feijoas at the perfect moment, when they are ready. If feijoas are firm, keep them in the fruit bowl and they will ripen in a few days, although very hard fruit, picked too early, will probably never ripen. If they feel ready to eat, but you are not ready to use them, store them in the refrigerator and use within a few days. Ripe fruit left at room temperature will quickly develop off-flavours.

Most fruit is ‘touch picked’ to avoid bruising. Pickers look for an abscission, a natural separation between the fruit and the stalk, which indicates the fruit is ripe and about to fall. They give the feijoas a little nudge and safely collect the fruit avoiding internal bruising. Feijoas are best eaten soon after picking, which is when they have their highest concentration of vitamin C. Along with bags of vitamin C - an average feijoa contains around 9mg so three a day will see you right for your daily quota – feijoas contain minerals and fibres, New research has found that feijoas have comparatively high levels of compounds that enhance anti-inflammatory and antioxidant activity. That’s all good news.

Feijoas can be frozen and freeze well either as whole peeled fruit, chopped fruit or as a puree. For whole fruit, peel, put in a container and freeze for up to 6 months. Sprinkling the peeled or cut fruit with lemon juice will help slow down discolouration.

Feijoas are delicious on their own, but there’s plenty else you can do with them:
  • For a simple treat, cut a feijoa in half, squirt a little lime juice over cut surfaces and drizzle with a little honey.
  • They make great smoothies with milk or yoghurt. Blend milk, orange juice and feijoa pulp for a quick fruity drink.
  • Use them in a strudel made with filo pastry, put slivered almonds on the top and bake until golden.
  • Make a sponge pudding, but use feijoas in place of apple, or a mixture of both, and serve with hot custard.
  • Peel and slice feijoas thickly and make a tart tatin (upside down pastry and fruit tart).
  • Use feijoas in place of apple in Danish apple cakes or German sponge cakes.
  • Make a sambal (side dish) to go with curries, mixing sliced feijoas, ground cumin seeds, yoghurt and chopped coriander.
  • Make a fruity stuffing with sautéed onion and garlic, mashed feijoa pulp, breadcrumbs, cinnamon, salt and pepper and stuff into baby chickens before roasting.
  • Serve fresh feijoa chutney with cold roasted pork.
  • Add feijoas to chicken or pork casseroles, or roast them around joints of pork.
  • Add feijoas to winter fruit salads with oranges, apples and passion fruit pulp.
  • Use the mashed pulp in muffins with chopped glace ginger.
  • Feijoas poached in red wine are just sensational. Dissolve ¾ cup sugar in 1½ cups water, add peeled feijoas, quartered lengthwise. Bring to boil, lower heat, and simmer 5 minutes. Transfer feijoas to a bowl and reduce the red wine juices for 20 minutes until syrupy. Pour over feijoas.
  • Dry them in a dehydrator – they are delicious, chewy and tangy and great as a snack or in muesli.

Then there’s feijoa wine (Lothlorien), feijoa vodka (42 Below) and feijoa chocolate (Bennetts of Mangawhai). Yum!

Feijoas are a relatively new import into this country and a relatively new discovery. The feijoa was ‘discovered’ as recently as 1815 by a German explorer, Freidrich Sellow in Southern Brazil (hence the scientific name for feijoa, Acca sellowiana), although the feijoa takes its name from Joam da Silva Feijo, a Brazilian botanist. It was introduced into New Zealand in 1920 and over the ensuing decades feijoa trees became popular with home gardeners. Growing conditions here suited them and they were pretty well resistant to bugs and pests. When I grew up in the sixties and seventies, it was common for families to have a feijoa tree in their backyard. The fruit was turned into jam, pickles and preserves and used in baking. Unfortunately, a lot of it was also left to rot on the ground.

For more feijoa recipes, get hold of a copy of The Feijoa Recipe Book by Wyn Drabble, available from www.feijoa.co.nz
I use garlic in generous quantities twelve months of the year, but it's after Christmas that I really go to town - that's when the new season's garlic is on sale. What will become the papery wrapping around each clove is still supple and a little moist, and the fat white cloves are juicy and mild in flavour. There is no sign of the sprouting centre which is an indication of maturing garlic, and no hint of acridity. You could, if the fresh hot bite of garlic appeals, literally chomp your way through a whole raw clove. Garlic is much more accepted in cooking now than it was ten years ago and this is a good thing. Some of the claims about garlic may appear to be straight off the Adam's Family television show, but the belief in its antiseptic properties, its ability to destroy bacteria and how it aids digestion, not causes it, as many wrongly believe, have passed from folklore to fact. And, like most other members of the onion family to which it belongs, garlic protects against heart disease. Recent research claims it helps lower cholesterol levels too. *See end of article. The trouble is, you need to eat a lot of garlic to get the benefits from it. Well and good. I'm all for using several cloves of garlic a day. I never take garlic pills nor do I use ready-prepared garlic. One of the good things about preparing food, is actually preparing it, not squishing something out of a tube or undoing a jar and spooning out the contents. Unwrapping cloves of garlic is therapeutic to me. I know garlic is good for me and I know if I buy fresh garlic and prepare it, it's fresh. The cloves are like intact capsules of goodness, just waiting to be crushed to disgorge their life-giving properties. And like most fresh food, once it is processed and the cell structure changes (ready-prepared crushed garlic, for instance), the goodness seeps away. I'm not a scientist. I just know this. If you want all the goodness out of the food you eat, prepare it yourself. Prepare it fresh.

My only other comment about garlic products is that they tend to capture the least desirable attributes of garlic, the stinkiness in particular, all locked up in a jar or tube just waiting for you to release into the atmosphere and onto your palate. No thanks! Garlic is easy enough to grow. All you need is a handful of healthy bulbs - choose the plump outer cloves from the bulb. You can grow the cloves in deep pots or in an open plot. Plant the cloves upright, about 5cm deep and 20cm apart. Each clove produces a bulb. Generally, gardeners recommend growing it in a sunny well drained spot but it would appear that garlic grown in cooler climates is more pungent. Lots of rotted manure or compost is also recommended. It likes a limey soil and if grown by roses each will benefit the other. Someone told me that tying the leaves of the plants in a knot makes the cloves bigger. I can't vouch for it, but I'm willing to try it with my next batch.The time to plant is either in spring or late autumn, traditionally at the winter or summer solstice (the time at which the sun is farthest from the equator). An autumn planting is considered best because the colder start encourages the plants to put down a sturdy root system which will offer protection from hot weather later on. Keep the plants well watered during their growing period, but ease off on the watering as the leaves start to whither and dry, an indication that the garlic is ready for harvesting.

Chit Chat
  • If garlic is stored in a moist or warm place, it will start to sprout. The green sprout is strong tasting and is the culprit, I believe, for garlic 'repeating' on you later. It is easily removed by cutting the clove in half and picking out the sprout with the point of a sharp knife.
  • Avoid yellowing or old garlic. It is rank, sulphurous, smelly, imparts an off flavour to food and can cause digestive upsets.
  • Garlic, especially hotter varieties can increase the hotness of a dish. If you want a milder flavour, use it cooked.
  • Basically, the bulbs are leaves which have evolved as storage organs. As the garlic grows, the green leaves can be trimmed off and used as a fresh herb as you would use chives.
  • Gilroy, California, is known as the garlic capital of the world. According to Will Roger, author of The Garlic Lover's Cookbook, published by Celestial Arts in California, Gilroy at harvest time is the only town in America where you can marinate a steak just by hanging it out on the clothesline.
  • The best garlic read? Garlic Is Life - A Memoir With Recipes, written by Chester Aaron, Tandem Press,1996. An entertaining but poignant story about the author's life in the former Soviet Union and his late-developing passion for garlic.
A delicious way to enjoy young fresh garlic, especially organically grown garlic which is mild in flavour, is to crush as much of it as you dare and mix it with extra virgin olive oil and sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Use it to dress fresh picked lightly cooked green beans or steamed potatoes.


No recipe has been bastardised more than the simple combination of bread and oil, a slice of coarse textured bread used as a sponge for the first squeeze of virgin olive oil, eaten at the olive mills by the workers crushing the olives. Oh well, I can't be blamed for adding garlic and salt to it, the fore-runner of every compilation prepared globally under the name of bruschetta. It never fails to please - the smell of smoke, the fruitiness of the extra virgin olive oil, the biting pungency of the garlic, combined with the toasted crusts of dense bread that all comes together to make this version of bruschetta so mind-boggling, gum-tinglingly good. What ever other crime you commit, don't stint on quality or quantity of the ingredients with bruschetta. a loaf of decent bread - ciabatta, for instance top quality extra virgin olive oil - have a go with a New Zealand extra virgin olive oil, salt, fresh cloves garlic, peeled and halved - look for new seasons' organic garlic. Light the barbecue, slice the bread, toast it lightly on both sides, rub one side with a cut clove of garlic, drizzle generously with oil - and I mean generously Italian-style - season with salt and devour. And make no apologies for oil dribbling down your chin. Good with chilled beer, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon....actually, good with anything.

Fresh New Zealand Vegies, A User's Handbook, by Glenda Gourley, published 1996 by the New Zealand Vegetable and Potato Growers' Federation Inc. Page 34. "...recent research has reported that garlic has the ability to reduce levels of cholesterol in the blood, a property attributed to the sulphur containing substance allicin."

The Food Bible, by Judith Wills, Quadrille Publishing, 1998, Wills states that there is debate about whether the manufactured forms of garlic - tablets, capsules and so on - contain the protective properties. She believes it is fairly certain that the active allicin in these products will no longer be potent, especially if the product has been heat-treated or deodorised. She writes the following about the goodness of garlic on page 150, "Contains allicin, which is antibiotic and antifungal, and possibly antiviral. Also contains sulphides, which may help prevent cancers, and an antioxidant that lowers blood cholesterol and prevents clotting."

In Food For Healing, by Rachel Charles, Mandarin paperbacks,1995, on page 125 the author writes, "As a guide to prevention (of urinary tract infection) it is known that vegetarians who include garlic and ginger in their diets are less likely to suffer from them than omnivores. Indeed, garlic is toxic to many unwanted viruses, bacteria and funghi." On a lighter note, Charles writes on page 262, "Garlic has an organic chemical among its constituents that resembles one released by females when sexually aroused. As long as your passion isn't deflated by the fumes, it could be worth a try! In any case it has numerous health-giving properties and can only do you good."

Use garlic to keep the spooks away if you must, but by eating it regularly it seems a safe bet that you will build up resistance to infection. If you suffer from any of the following, whack up your daily intake of fresh garlic and hope for improvement:

baldness (hopefully ingesting it will do the trick - I hate to think of people walking around with smelly pates!); rheumatism (steep it in oil and massage it in to the sore bits); bronchitis and catarrh (make a syrup, hold your nose and swallow); wounds and cuts to prevent them turning septic (take a deep breath and apply cut cloves directly on the wound); corns (rub it on...cor blimey, real smelly feet!). Ingesting the cloves should also help prevent constipation, digestive upsets, keep the stomach lining in good condition, ward off thrush, expel worms, ease high blood pressure and keep colds away. Wow! It's certainly cheaper than the doctor!

My introduction to ginger came via the teatime treats of gingercrunch and gingerbread and the mysterious but delicious drink my brothers brewed in their shed, gingerbeer. It wasn't until I was working part-time in a Chinese restaurant that I discovered ginger was more than a sandy colored powder - the smell of ginger, garlic and chilli hitting a hot oiled wok took my breath away, and I just had to know what the smell was.

Ginger's had quite a history. It probably originated in India. It's undoubtedly been used for over 3000 years ago; Zingiber officinale, the botanical name for ginger, has its origin in the Sanskrit word singabera. India still produces most of the world's supply of ginger, although production in Australia is fast catching up. Jamaican ginger is known to be the finest.

Ginger, for the records, is a rhizome, but it is usually called 'root' ginger, especially in a culinary sense.

These days it is widely used as a culinary spice, but it has a proven track record as a bit of a cure-all, aiding circulation, easing digestive upsets, curing flatulence, relieving pressure on joints (especially useful with gout), and relieving sore throats and coughs. It's even an aphrodisiac (I'm not claiming this through personal experience!) Any woman who has suffered from morning sickness has for sure been advised to drink ginger ale, or to eat gingernuts or suck on crystallized ginger. Ginger definitely eases a queasy tummy, and is a good antidote to travel sickness.

Ginger when first cut has the freshness of lemon, followed by a spicy, nose-clearing aroma. The initial hot bite fills the chest with warmth, but it has a calming, anti-inflammatory effect and leaves the breath fresh and clean. However, it increases the hotness of other spices or hot foods it is eaten with.

When ginger is very young and fresh, it has the texture of a crisp apple and doesn't need peeling; it is milder in flavor and can be used liberally. The older it is, the stronger it is. Look for plump, firm clumps of ginger (called hands), avoiding any that are withered, as they will be pungent and coarsely textured.

I find the best way to store ginger is wrapped in kitchen paper in the vegetable crisper. This prevents it from getting moist and from rotting (it will eventually shrivel). It can be kept in the freezer in a zip-lock bag, and grated from the frozen state, and it can be immersed in a jar of sherry, providing an aromatic liquid to add to Chinese-inspired dishes.

Ground ginger is a different baby altogether and cannot be substituted for the fresh stuff. It is most commonly used in sweet preparations, but it is also useful in pepping up soups, vegetable and meat dishes and it is used in some curries. It doesn't keep fresh for long, only about three months, after which it loses its fresh spicy notes and becomes dull and musty. If you don't believe me, dig out the jar of ginger you've probably got lurking in the depth of your pantry somewhere (even good cooks are not immune from this!), buy a fresh jar of ginger from a supplier with a good turnaround of products, and compare the two. Your nostrils will tell you the story.

Try it sprinkled over fresh melon, or add a few pinches to a crumble topping to give it a bit of a lift. Or go the savoury route and add it to sizzling bacon, add crushed garlic and creamed corn, heat and finish off with chopped coriander. Great for a hot snack on toasted English muffins.

Glace ginger is made by preserving pieces of fresh ginger in sugar syrup. It's expensive, but has an exquisite taste of sweet, hot spice. It is used in desserts and cakes -don't discard the syrup - use it as the base of a fruit salad, diluting it with lemon juice, or drizzle over fresh fruit and ricotta (there are loads of other uses, too).

Crystallised ginger is made from fresh ginger which has been preserved in syrup then coated in sugar. While it's a delicious treat as it is, it can also be used in desserts and baking. I recently added it to my recipe for gingerbread loaf, several lumps thinly sliced, and it was fantastic, adding a hot bite and interesting texture.

Pickled ginger is something else - capturing all the spice and nose-tingling freshness of fresh ginger, with a hot bite like a mild wasabi. Wafer-thin slices of pickled pink ginger are used in sushi and sashimi and are at home in appetizers and salads and with seafood. Like most ginger products, it's addictive. Pickled red ginger is artificially colored and usually sweeter than pickled pink ginger.

One of my favorite kitchen tools is a small ceramic ginger grater. After grating ginger to a fine fiber-free paste, you clean the grater by holding it under running water to wash the fibers off. As simple as that.

There are more cases of allergic reactions to kiwifruit being reported these days. That's unfortunate because kiwifruit is a superfood. If you eat unripe green fruit, your mouth will pucker, and the more you eat, the worse it will get. I'm not sure if this qualifies as an allergic reaction. But your body is telling you that you are eating something that it doesn't want, so listen to it. Golden kiwifruit are milder, less acidic and may be the answer for those who find green kiwifruit a little too, shall we say, bracing.

Golden kiwifruit was developed in New Zealand. It has the same sunburst pattern as green kiwifruit, with a pale core around which dance a circle of tiny ruby- coloured seeds, and lemony yellow-coloured flesh. It doesn't have the nostril- clearing perfume or biting freshness of its green cousin. What it has is oodles of sweet tropical-fruit, melon and honey flavours, with a little ginger-beery zing. It's juicy and sweet but not cloying. And it's hairless.

Included in its riches a megadose of Vitamin C - one golden kiwifruit contains more than double the recommended daily intake of Vitamin C (Vitamin C is the first line of defence against cell-damaging free radicals). It is also rich in Vitamin E, which helps boost your immune system when you're stressed out or tired, and has no fats. And to ensure the old bod keeps on rejuvenating itself, the golden kiwifruit has a significant amount of folic acid. There's probably no better piece of fruit to consume the morning after a night on the tiles! Enjoy it as a fresh fruit by all means, and make a fruit salad of yellow and green kiwifruit if you can't resist it, but more importantly, try this salsa recipe - it's the best I've made in a long time.

It's stunning with avocado, either spooned into the hollows of halved avocados, or as a dressing on an avocado and chicken salad. It is also excellent as a salsa with whole baked or barbecued fish, fish kebabs or panfried or 'wokked' prawns. Spooned into tacos, on top of a refried bean mash (soften thickly sliced red onion in olive oil, mix in beans, cook till hot), shredded iceberg lettuce, sliced avocado and crisp hot bacon, it is a revelation.

In my opinion, and I'm sure I'm not alone, New Zealand lamb is the best in the world. The meat is particularly fine-grained and sweet-tasting, and the fat is not strong or rank-smelling. Maybe it's the breeds of sheep we have here, or their diet, or maybe it's the conditions they grow in, or maybe I just think this because I'm a Kiwi!

Actually, it's true and not that I want to make an issue of it, but English lamb, acclaimed as it is, is stronger in flavor, with redder meat and very white fat, and the meat is more textural to eat. Aussie lamb is different again, with a much longer grain visible to the meat (which means it is not as tender to eat) and it often has a strong fat flavor.

Do you know what I mean by a strong fat flavor? Instead of a leg of lamb smelling appetizing as it cooks, giving off wafts of savory juices caramelizing in the pan and the tempting smell as the edges of the roast turn crisp, it gives off a goaty smell like rancid butter, and at its worst, it doesn't taste much better.

Small cuts of lamb such as Frenched cutlets, strip loins and fillets, schnitzels and leg steaks, can be cooked more quickly than shoulder chops, neck chops, and the forequarter and shank. You'll pay a bit more for them, but there'll be less fat to trim away and you'll have the advantage of putting together a speedy meal.

And instead of a whole leg of lamb for a roast, consider a neat little nugget of lamb, a single muscle cut from the leg, quickly roasted to tender perfection in 25 minutes, with no wastage.

These small nuggets of lamb are a delight to eat, and they're no bother to prepare. You can play around with the seasonings, adding mustard or chopped black olives to the mix, or anchovies squished to a paste along with pine nuts, shallots softened in butter with fresh crumbs and parmesan cheese, lemon or orange zest with thyme - the combinations are endless, and you can produce a different meal every time.

If your children, having got through the usual ills and chills of winter, are complaining of constant tiredness, especially at school, and you feel worn to a frazzle, too, don't blame it on the weather. Have a look at your diet and check that you are getting sufficient iron. Iron helps carry oxygen to the whole body, including the brain. A lack of it lowers physical and mental performance, such as the ability to concentrate. Lamb is a rich source of iron, and B vitamins. And, here's a trick, serve the lamb with a grain, (choose from burghul, couscous, rice or bread), because the lamb helps better utilize the iron from the plant foods, so you get a double whack of goodness.
Many famous foodies list lemons as one of their indispensable ingredients. For me, they're right up there along with garlic and mint, something I always have on hand. I love the way the sharp fresh flavour of lemon cuts through desserts which would otherwise be cloying, and the way they give savoury dishes a lift. And they hold memories, too. We had an enormous lemon tree in our garden where I grew up and lemons were always on hand for cakes and icings and long cooling lemon drinks in summer. My mother would often ask me to fetch a lemon from the tree and I soon learnt to do this without damaging the tree or the fruit. To remove a lemon from the tree, twist the lemon until it pops free, rather than pulling it. If you pull it off the tree, a lump of peel can remain on the stalk left on the tree and this can rot and prevent lemons from growing in the future. If you have a surplus of lemons, just send them to me – along with a bottle of gin! No, seriously, squeeze and strain the juice, and pour into ice cube trays and freeze. Once frozen, pack into plastic bags, then thaw as required.

Lemon tips
Lemons are easier to squeeze when they're at room temperature, but they rot in a warm room, especially in a humid atmosphere so it is best to keep just one or two in the fruit bowl and the rest refrigerated, or leave them on the tree uuntil you need them. If they’re very cold, or not very juicy, roll them several times with the hand to help release the juice, or warm them in a microwave before squeezing. If lemons are very cold, or are not very juicy, roll them several times with the hand to help release the juice, or warm them in a microwave before squeezing. Use 'non-reactive' pots, pans and bowls made of glass, stainless steel, china or ceramic when cooking with lemons because the acid in lemons reacts with some metals. An average lemon will yield around 1 tablespoon of grated zest and 2 1/2 tablespoons of juice

Meyer versus Lisbon
The Meyer lemon is not a true lemon, it's a hybrid, but it's popular in New Zealand with gardener's because it is easy to grow and popular with cooks because it is easy to squeeze and provides plenty of juice – certainly more juice than other varieties. It is sweeter than a true lemon, providing a fresh mild lemony tang but some dishes call for a more concentrated lemon flavour, such as lemon tarts and cakes, and Asian dishes need a sharper acidic tang to keep their sweet, sour, salty and pungent flavours in balance. Meyer lemons are rounder in shape than true lemons, and have a thin skin which is often deep yellow, sometimes tinged with orange. Lisbon lemons are pale lemon in colour, oval shaped with pointy ends, and thin skinned with tight pale lemon flesh.
Mint Condition

Mint is at its best in spring when the leaves are young and tender and fresh-smelling. As summer progresses, mint becomes stronger in smell and flavor, often developing a 'cat's pee' aroma, and it easily turns rusty or withers up and dies. It likes a cool spot.

My mother used to grow mint in a shady, dampish part of the garden and after it had served its main December purpose - to flavor the fresh peas and new potatoes on Christmas day - she gave it a severe haircut which kept it under control during summer. It came away again in late summer then provided us with fresh mint through autumn and winter, and armfuls of it in spring.

I grow mint in an old double concrete washtub that had been taken out of the original washhouse before we bought our house. Someone kindly left it under the house for a fossicker like me to find (weighs a ton, so you can understand why it was left!). It's perfect for mint, installed on the cool side of the house, suspended on a couple of bricks because it is deep, allowing room for the roots to spread while containing them (mint roots take over the garden if they're not contained), keeps the soil and roots cool and doesn't rot or require any maintenance.

If I had to choose one herb I couldn't live without, mint would come pretty well top of the list. It's got so much going for it. There's something comforting about all those home-cooked dishes like peas and mint, baby potatoes and mint and lamb and mint sauce, but besides that, mint brings such a fresh, sweet breath to any dish it is added to. I adore mint and chilli together with either lemon or lime, with or without garlic. Mint in a salad lifts the flavor of the other ingredients. Added to thick Greek yoghurt pungent with garlic, it makes the most glorious sauce to drizzle over kebabs, chickpea pates, dolmades or the like. It can cut the strong lingering fishy flavor of some oily fish. It can help cut through the fat of lamb. Scattered over a salad of podded broad beans, white cheese and rough salami, drizzled with grassy olive oil and splashes of lemon, it is arresting. Added to sliced vine-ripened tomatoes drizzled with lemon oil and sea salt, you'll wonder why you've been hooked on the basil-tomato combination for so long. In short, mint has a life other than in breath fresheners and toothpastes, and beyond mum's home cooking.

It's that time of year, at least in cool climes, when radicchio is at its best.

Radicchio appears to be native to Italy, and the three types are named after the towns of their origin: Chioggia, Treviso and Castelfranco, all in the Veneto region. Chioggia is the most common radicchio found here, available pretty well throughout the year. It grows in a tight ball, resembling a small red cabbage and should feel weighty for its size. It has an agreeable bitterness and is excellent in salads on its own, mixed with other leaves, or with fennel. Treviso has long tapering red leaves with meaty white ribs, resembling a white witloof in appearance. It's milder in flavour and is excellent grilled, baked or roasted and in risotto (I used the Chioggia variety for the recipe above, as Treviso is not readily available, and found it quite successful). Castelfranco is more open, like a young butterhead lettuce, creamy in colour, tinged with pink and speckled with purpley-red. It's used in salads. The latter two are seasonal, appearing in late autumn.

The ripeness of a tomato used to be the litmus paper by which we judged our summers. Early in the season, when there was still a nip in the evening air, the tomatoes were pale, dusky pink with fading green patches. But as summer progressed, especially the ones full of endless hot sunny days (weren't they all?), the tomatoes deepened in color, developing a strong sunshine-on-tomato-leaf fragrance, swelling with sweet juice. They were gorgeous, you ate them like plums and dribbled juice down your chin.

But that was when we sat around formica tables with chrome legs, lino underfoot, and ate off Crown Lynn pottery. Times change, some things for the better, some for the worse. I still hunt out pick-your-own tomatoes, and at least once a summer, make the trek to the orchard and pick a stash of delicious sun-filled tomatoes which I turn into sauce and freeze. Just the smell of the sauce reheating on a wintry day seems to fill the kitchen with sunshine. And like most keen cook-gardeners, I have my little cache of cherry, plum and beefsteak tomatoes to look forward to each February. But the rest of the year I am perfectly happy to buy vine-ripened tomatoes. The quality is far superior to what we as consumers were subjected to in the name of progress a decade ago.

The range of tomatoes keeps growing, and now yellow, orange, green and red, small, fat, round and oval, all with distinct personalities, are available in good shops. Tomatoes contain loads of vitamin C, as well as other vitamins, and lycopene, an antioxidant phytochemical, which is effective in preventing cancers and heart disease. Canned and cooked tomato products contain more lycopene than fresh tomatoes, so include them in your diet on a regular basis along with fresh tomatoes.

   © 2010 Julie Biuso
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