May 2008: A Family Outing With No Admission Fee…And Free Parking

Save Money At The Market And Time In The Kitchen

By Barbara Price

Looking for a family outing? How about going to the Farmer’s Market on a Saturday morning for an hour to pick up fresh produce for the week? Your kids might be surprised to find out what food looks like without packaging. It can save you money and time, your family gets some fresh air, and you get a break from the supermarket. You can even get something to eat at many of these markets.

Every week is like a new season and there is a large variety of fruits and vegetables. Besides produce, you can buy fresh eggs and honey. Some markets have a variety of meats to choose from, along with cold cuts, and fresh baked bread and a broad range of cheeses.

Having taken the time to buy fresh produce, you should clean, trim and store the items as soon as possible to get the longest possible shelf life. Here are a few examples of how you can keep vegetables fresh in your refrigerator. Celery, green onions, and green peppers can be washed and stored in vegetable bags. As you decide how to use these vegetables, you can chop and save them in small containers that you fill when needed. Just keep track of how long they’ve been in the fridge. One good way to do that is to write the date on the container with a washable marker you can get at your local office supply store.

On busy nights, you’ll save time by having these prepared vegetables on hand. With these ingredients ready, you can start a stir-fry or an egg dish with very little thought while you figure out the rest of the evening’s menu.

New potatoes are always available from early summer. They make great potato salad. Often, you don’t even need to peel them. Just cut and add the celery, green onion, and green peppers that you’ve already prepared, along with any other ingredients your favorite recipe calls for. Later in the summer the potatoes are larger but still with thin skins. Try red-skinned potatoes for a different look and taste.

Unlike packaged foods, vegetables can be purchased at the farmers market in either small or large quantities. If you don’t know what they are or how to cook them, just ask the people at the stall. They’re very friendly and as long as they’re not busy, they’ll give you many helpful hints.

You can slice fresh red tomatoes and sprinkle them with basil, oregano or savory. Let them sit for an hour so the flavours will blend.

Can’t get your kids to eat spinach? Try this. Use fresh spinach instead of lettuce in a salad with mushrooms, eggs, sliced tomatoes and other chopped vegetables. You can prepare spinach ahead of time, too. Trim and wash, then place in a vegetable storage bag. It will stay fresh for up to a week.

Fresh strawberries are still available through the last half of August. Wash and remove the stems and cores, then slice. Add icing sugar if you prefer your berries a bit sweeter, and store in the fridge. Let your family know about this treat and watch it disappear.

You’ll find an abundance of fresh fruit late in August; plums, nectarines, cherries, grapes, blueberries, cantaloupe, and pears are available in baskets of all sizes of. This is a great way to fill your kids’ lunch boxes. Blackberries and thimbleberries are two similar berries that are usually only at the market for the last two weeks of August. Blackberries are sweeter.

Basil, sage or oregano and other herbs add flavour to all your meat and vegetable dishes. Start with one or two and experiment. You can buy fresh herbs by the bunch, or if you have a moderately green thumb, you can grow your own. Basil is easy to grow even on a balcony. Plant in the early spring and watch your crop grown like crazy. Just pluck, wash and use in your favorite dishes. Dry herbs in the microwave and store them in jars to use all winter. It’s not a difficult task. Just place your herbs between two pieces of paper towel on a pie plate. Microwave on high for a minute at a time, until the herbs are dry and will break if bent. Be sure to label your storage jars!

Cooking with fresh produce is a great habit to get into. We have such a short season, and every thing tastes so much better when you start with fresh ingredients. Once you know what to do with your produce, it isn’t a long process. Now when you have your weekend barbeque, you can include a variety of tasty side dishes. Of course, you’re also supporting local farmers, who'll appreciate your business.

Hope you picked up a few new ideas. Call me or email me to learn how you can save time and money in the kitchen.

Barbara Price
The Pantry Manager