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Questions I Have About Food And Cooking

post #1 of 8
Thread Starter 

Hi,

 

I'm still new to cooking and I have some questions I would love cleared up. (please don't laugh at me) 

 

1. I don't quite understand how food seasons work. Does the list of in season foods apply always? another words, if a vegetable I bought is imported does it matter that it's out of season? or is it in season there where it came from? like garlic or onions for example.  

 

2. I've seen people always say: "know where your food comes from" is there that big a difference? another words if I buy garlic and onions from say Sam's Club vs a farmers Market or a specialty organic store, would I notice a difference in flavor? or is the freshness more important?

 

3. When reducing sauces or stocks, do they always intensify in flavor with reduction? or is there some that don't?

 

4. When I make something like a pot roast, the sauce always ends up greasy, even after I strain it. Should I try cheesecloth or some other method?

 

I would really appreciate getting this cleared up. Thanks.. 

post #2 of 8

1) Yes, it matters. But you have to start questioning WHY you're buying foods that are in season? If it's for taste, then keep in mind that many imported foods are picked before maturity and matured on boats or "fake" matured with gasses. If it's to save the earth, then .... well importing food from the other side of the planet isn't exactly green. If you want to eat good food and save the earth, ideally you should strive to eat foods that are both local and in season. 

 

2) Can you make the difference between Olive Garden and a really nice fancy Italian restaurant? If yes, then you'll also make the difference between produce from a good farmer's market and the crap they sell in most supermarkets. But you have to trust your palate, always, and not anyone's advice (including mine). I'm a big advocate of shopping at farmer's market but recently bought some Granny smith apples from Costco which tasted better than the ones I got from the farmer's market. Keep those tastebuds awake when shopping. But garlic and onions? Those aren't the best example, I mean I'm honestly not sure I can make the difference between garlic and onions from the farmer's market and garlic from the supermarket ESPECIALLY if I cook them. But tomatoes? Fruits? Salads? Herbs? Carrots? Heck yeah I can make a HUGE difference. BTW most garlic and onions we consume is rarely fresh, so freshness isn't a big deal for those two. 

 

3) Yes: reducing = taking out water. You're left with more concentrated flavors. 

 

4) No straining method is going to defat a stock. You need to defat it with a laddle, skimming its surface (fat is lighter than water so it will rise to the surface) or even easier: put it in the fridge overnight and in the morning you'll get a solid layer of fat at the surface, very easy to remove. 

 

Hope that helps. 

post #3 of 8

No further explanation needed :-)
 

post #4 of 8
Quote:
Originally Posted by mrdecoy1 View Post

Hi,

 

I'm still new to cooking and I have some questions I would love cleared up. (please don't laugh at me) 

 

1. I don't quite understand how food seasons work. Does the list of in season foods apply always? another words, if a vegetable I bought is imported does it matter that it's out of season? or is it in season there where it came from? like garlic or onions for example.  

 

2. I've seen people always say: "know where your food comes from" is there that big a difference? another words if I buy garlic and onions from say Sam's Club vs a farmers Market or a specialty organic store, would I notice a difference in flavor? or is the freshness more important?

 

3. When reducing sauces or stocks, do they always intensify in flavor with reduction? or is there some that don't?

 

4. When I make something like a pot roast, the sauce always ends up greasy, even after I strain it. Should I try cheesecloth or some other method?

 

I would really appreciate getting this cleared up. Thanks.. 

 

1. Nowadays buying local seasonal food is in vogue but there are many benefits to taking steps to ensure this.  Just because we can get tomatoes from Chile all through the winter months doesn't mean we should.  Yes globalization is a wonderful thing!  How else would all Americans be able to taste french wines, italian cheeses, and and Russian vodka if not by the ease of transport and exchange?  But lets face it, these items travel easily.  A tomato does not.  Like FF says, it has to be harvested before it is truly ripe, often when it is still green.  Then it needs to be transported over here in a mad dash which burns up quite a lot of fuel, and then it has to be sprayed with ethylene when it arrives to promote ripening.  Essentially all it does is turn the tomato red, there's no real substitute for letting that tomato hang on the vine to ripen naturally.  But if the tomato was picked when it was ripe it would never make it over to our stores in time.  That's why I rarely buy fresh tomatoes outside the summer months.  And while the tomatoes are fresh in summer I buy a lot of them and process them and freeze them in batches so I have them all year round.  I also buy canned tomatoes. 

 

2. Knowing where your food comes from is very hard to do in a big city, but it also doesn't always garner the best results.  Unlike FF I've never found good produce at Costco but I have found that buying certain foods in grocery stores can sometimes be better than farmers markets.  I've spent good money at farmers markets and been disappointed.  Luckily within walking distance from me there are several small produce markets and I visit them all before I buy anything just to make sure I'm getting the best product. 

"You are what you eat, so don't be fast, cheap, easy, or fake."

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"You are what you eat, so don't be fast, cheap, easy, or fake."

Reply
post #5 of 8
Thread Starter 

I'm wondering if you could give a general guide of what should be bought local and in season and what can be bought at big box stores anytime. Like the poster above said garlic and onions don't really matter but yet tomatoes really do. Thank you.  

post #6 of 8

It 's definitely nice to be able to eat locally and seasonally, but if you live in the Northern US or Canada, there are going to be slim pickings 6 months out of the year. My idea of "in season" is not strictly local. I live in the midwest but I also buy crops from California, Washington State, Idaho, Georgia, which have definite "seasons" in the US.

 

Onions and garlic, I wouldn't stress about. You need them all year round, anyway, and the "local" season is a few weeks at best, no matter where you live.

 

Most of the garlic you buy these days in the supermarket or fruit market is coming from China. The onions you buy could very well be US grown--they're grown in over 20 states and store well, (but also in Mexico.)  How "local" they are to you will depend on the time of year, where you live and the cost to the seller.

 

Actually, the "local" season for just about any fruit or vegetable is only a few weeks. Outside of that, you're doing the best you can to expand your definition of "in season" to include other parts of the country. Unless you live in California, you'd be produce-starved if you depended only on what is in season locally all year round.

 

Right now, citrus is in season, but unless you live in Florida or California, it's not exactly local. Still, now is the time to buy and eat citrus in the US. Not in the middle of summer, when it is coming from farther afield. That said, I buy lemons and limes year round because I need them and in the out of season months, I'm not picky about where they are coming from as long as they look good. 

 

Apples and pears are probably still from this fall's crop but have been in storage. Same with potatoes, hard squashes and other root vegetables. Apples and pears in the spring and summer are usually old or from further afield.

 

Broccoli, cabbage, carrots, green beans, zucchini, and lettuces are grown in California year round, so they are domestic crops, and probably about as fresh as you're going to get most of the year--except for the few weeks you will find them fresher at your farmer's market.

 

Florida starts producing tomatoes and strawberries in January --so, nominally "seasonal" but because of how they are grown and harvested there, they are not worth eating. In my opinion, the only tomatoes worth eating come from the farmer's market from late July-August through the first frost. (I do buy the little grape tomatoes during the other months of the year. They always seem to have decent flavor. Often they come from Mexico.)  I'll admit to happily eating California strawberries when they show up later in the spring. The season in the Midwest, where I am, is June/July but I start buying strawberries from California much earlier. The local berries, though, are far superior.

 

Asparagus is a spring and early summer vegetable in the US. Asparagus right now in the stores is coming from S, America.

 

Most berries and stone fruits have short seasons during the summer months in the US. You will find them locally at farmer's markets for a few weeks but if you are not being a strict localvore there will be a couple of weeks both before and after your local season where you can find US grown fruits and berries from California, the Midwest and the South. In the winter, they are coming from S. America.

 

Michigan and Washington state grow most of the world's cherries and apples--and I don't hesitate to buy either when they show up in my local fruit market, but you may find cherries locally for a couple of weeks in the summer at your farmer's market. This time of year they are coming from S. America.

 

California grapes are available from May-January. Sometimes, though, I see grapes from Chile in my local market. I tend to only buy grapes when good berries and stone fruits are no longer available and when they are relatively inexpensive. 

 

Melons are a late summer/early fall crop in most of the US. Outside of that window, any melon you see is probably coming from S. America or Mexico.

That said, I bought a melon last week --totally out of season for where I live, but it was on sale for $.99 and smelled good--and it was wonderful. Not sure where it came from. The lesson there is "trust your nose."

 

A lot of the peppers I see year round are grown in Mexico. I'm sure there are some grown in California, too, but there are strong ties between Chicago and Mexico--and my local fruit market is Mexican, so I see a lot of produce from there. (and buy it, too, when it looks good. Which it usually does.) 

 

If you have a fruit market --not a grocery store, but a fruit market--in your area, you will get a good idea of what is in season by paying attention to what is on sale for the best prices and what smells and looks good.  Read the tiny writing on the POS look-up stickers--it will tell you where something was grown. But, above all, trust your eyes and your nose.


Edited by ChicagoTerry - 1/18/13 at 4:56pm
post #7 of 8
Quote:
Originally Posted by mrdecoy1 View Post

I'm wondering if you could give a general guide of what should be bought local and in season and what can be bought at big box stores anytime. Like the poster above said garlic and onions don't really matter but yet tomatoes really do. Thank you.  

 

It depends on where you live.  The general guidelines are vastly different if you live on the west coast, and I live on the east coast.

"You are what you eat, so don't be fast, cheap, easy, or fake."

Reply

"You are what you eat, so don't be fast, cheap, easy, or fake."

Reply
post #8 of 8

I would add that it also matters what you are using the fruit or vegetable for.  If it is going to be the star of a dish, like tomatoes in a Caprese salad, anything less than perfectly ripe, in season tomatoes are going to fall flat.  However, I have made a roasted tomato soup in the winter months that is fantastic.  By oven-roasting plum tomatoes, the flavor intensifies and it is great cold-weather food.

I have had some amazing, fresh garlic from my farmers' market that is quite expensive.  It's great for garlic bread or pasta, but if I just need to use a clove in guacamole, the regular garlic from the grocery works just fine.

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