Ingredient of the Month: Thyme

thyme

You might have thought that this month’s start ingredient would have been strawberries or rhubarb or something seasonal, and I thought about those. But, I decided on going with an ingredient that I’ve been using a lot lately and is wonderful for EVERY season!

Let’s talk about thyme.

It’s an herb that is crazy easy to grow and has lots of wonderful uses in sweet and savory dishes.

Tell me more:

Thyme is a green herb that consists of very small leaves on thin stems.  Once thyme starts growing, it can turn into quite a shrub. It is in the mint family and also related to oregano.

thyme

Where do I buy thyme:

If you don’t have some growing yet (you should definitely get some from your farmers market or grocery store and try it out), or you can buy fresh thyme from any grocery store. You can also buy dried thyme for use in many dishes.

How do I store thyme:

Once thyme is cut, it should be used immediately if possible. If you bought fresh thyme from the store, then keep it in its plastic container or a baggy in the fridge to use within a few weeks. Dried thyme can be stored in an airtight container in your pantry for a year or more.

How do I cook with thyme:

The most important thing to note about cooking with fresh thyme is that you need to gently pick the leaves off of the thin stems and discard the stems. I like to hold the stem at the top then run two fingers downward to easily collect the leaves. You can use the stems in some cases.

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Ingredient of the Month: Eggs

eggs

Today’s Ingredient of the Month is something that you all probably already have in your fridge. I mean, even lots of vegetarian people eat eggs because they’re such a good source of protein and are so incredibly versatile.

Eggs are made for frying, scrambling, poaching, baking and accompanying whatever you’re cooking with ease. They’re almost like the perfect package within a shell. You could even say they egg-cel at being egg-ceptionally tasty.

Tell me more:

The eggs that we most commonly eat come from chickens and contain a white and a yolk. They are a great source of protein with the orange yolk being the fat-containing part and the white containing more protein.

Where do I buy eggs:

Always buy eggs local if you can! There is a huge difference in taste and quality between fresh eggs and not. Thankfully these days, you don’t have to have a friend with chickens down the road (though, that’s the ideal situation) when stores like Whole Foods and local grocery stores carry eggs ra ised nearby.

I prefer the brown eggs because I like the look of them and it’s what I grew up eating. But, the color just depends on the breed of chicken and doesn’t necessarily affect the taste. There can also be blue, green and speckled eggs depending on the breed.

How do I store eggs:

Because of the way eggs are transported and sold in the US, eggs should always be refrigerated. (Unless you’re about to bake with them, then I suggest leaving out for an hour or so.)

How do I cook with eggs:

Egg dishes can range from incredibly simple (classic fried or scrambled) to eggs being one of many ingredients in a dish. I always like to have a carton of eggs in the fridge for baking and easy, tasty meals.

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Ingredient of the Month: Smoked Paprika

We’re delving into the world of a very unique and versatile spice today as our Ingredient of the Month for February.

It’s OK to be honest with ourselves that there just aren’t many new ingredients of types of produce that are coming on the scene in February. We’re still munching on our sweet potatoes, broccoli and greens, but what if there was something that you could put on those to jazz them up a bit. I’m talking about something with some smoke and spice that keeps your winter meals exciting!

I’m talking about something with some smoke and spice that keeps your winter meals exciting!

Smoked paprika to the rescue!

You might know it as Spanish paprika or paprika’s more dangerous and smoky cousin. Let’s learn a bit more about it and how best to use it!

Tell me more:

Smoked paprika is from Spain and differs from sweet Hungarian paprika (we’re talking about the red spice on your deviled eggs here). This variety is made from pimiento peppers that are dried and smoked over an oak fire. Smoke paprika is a fine powder with a rusty (red-orange) hue.

Where do you buy smoked paprika:

You can buy smoked paprika in most grocery or food stores in the spice aisle. I got my fancy container from my mom (which I think she brought back from Spain). It will be labeled as some variety of smoked paprika, Spanish paprika and/or pimenton.

How do you store smoked paprika:

You should store your smoked paprika with the rest of your spices in a cool, dry place. I keep mine in the front of my pantry (making it easy to grab and use).

How can you use smoked paprika:

It may sound crazy, but it’s hard to think of a savory dish that smoked paprika wouldn’t be good in! It kind of tastes like bacon, so you really can’t go wrong. It really brings out the flavor when you saute it in oil for a recipe, as well.

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Ingredient of the Month: Butternut Squash

butternut squash

I’m sitting here, looking out at patches of snow in my yard and thinking about cooking in the winter.

Winter cooking is comforting, warm and filling. You want it to be satisfying yet also healthful and colorful (even though the world is a little less colorful).

Winter ingredients are a little more tricky to seek out than spring and summer’s obvious bounty.

For me, a key winter ingredient is the butternut squash.

This flavorful and hearty squash makes a wonderful addition to any salad, soup or main dish. Its flavor goes so well with most other ingredients that you can add it in most anything to make it tasty. As long as you have a big knife to crack it open, you’re golden.

Tell me more:

Butternut squash is a winter squash that grows on a vine. It is shaped like a gourd with a beige outer skin (that needs to be peeled) and orange inside. This type of squash tastes sweet and nutty like a pumpkin.

butternut squash

Where do I buy butternut squash:

Butternut squash (and sweet potatoes) is a staple at your winter farmers market, if you have one. If not, you can find them at your normal grocery store in the produce section. Look for a squash that is firm with smooth skin.

How do I store butternut squash:

Another fabulous thing about this special squash is that it lasts for quite awhile in your pantry.  Keep it in a cool, dry area (like your pantry, maybe next to your potatoes), and it will last up to 6 months! This gives you a great reason to buy a butternut squash and then take your time figuring out how you want to use it.

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Ingredient of the Month: Pecans

pecans

A month or so ago when I was starting to plan my Thanksgiving menu, I saw that one of our nearby farm stands had “PECANS” listed on their sign. So, I immediately pulled over and decided in that moment that I was going local pecans vs. store-bought. Nothing against store-bought, but when you have local available, it’s usually a good idea to go for it!

So, I did and paid a bit more than I normally would… though buying a bag of nuts is usually a treat.

And then I opened up the ziploc baggie full of dark maple ridges of nutty goodness and snacked on a few. My brain was officially telling me that I had made a good decision. These pecans were so crisp with a depth of flavor that was both savory and sweet.

So, that is partly why our Ingredient of the Month for December is Pecans! They also play such an important role in our holiday menus, and I think they should be even more important.

pecans

Tell me more:

Pecans (I prefer the pick-AHN pronunciation) is a species of hickory tree that is typically grown in the Southern US and Mexico. If you have a pecan tree, please send me some!

As aforementioned, pecans grow on large trees, contained in a round brown pit or shell with the nuts inside. Typically you’ll just find the pecans unshelled, so the hard work is done for you. Pecans are full of antioxidants, fiber, vitamins, and they are a good source of energy!

Where do I buy pecans:

If you live in the South like I do, then you might be lucky enough to find bags of golden pecans at your farmers market or local shop, but you can also always find them at your grocery store in the baking or nut section. They are sold whole (or in halves) or chopped.

Where do I store pecans:

I like to just store mine in the pantry with my other nuts and baking supplies. But, pecans do not last forever, so either eat them within a month, refrigerate them for up to 9 months or freeze for up to 2 years.

pecans

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Ingredient of the Month: Clementines

clementines

I bet you would think that our November Ingredient of the Month would be a squash or maybe even pumpkin. And those are wonderful ingredients, of course. (If you haven’t eaten pumpkin ice cream or pumpkin bread in the past week, then you’re just not doing fall justice.)

Our IOTM is something sweet, tart and one of the few fruits that’s in season in the fall and winter. Clementines!

I’ve been all about the bags of these vitamin C wonders lately, and I even got to buy a few amazing ones from an outdoor market in France.

So, let’s dig in… or unwrap the peel, if you will.

Tell me more:

Clementines are a hybrid in between mandarin oranges and a sweet orange. They have a glossy orange outer peel that is easy to peel. The sweet taste and small size of a clementine makes it a fantastic, on-the-go snack.

clementines

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Ingredient of the Month: Apples

apples: ingredient of the month

By last week’s apple season post, you might have been able to guess the Ingredient of the Month.

There’s a reason why apples have been a staple in our diets for hundreds and hundreds of years. And I love how farmers and apple enthusiasts are doing all they can to keep the heirloom varieties alive. Because, ya’ll, those less-heard-of varieties are some of the best!

Check out this Gravy podcast for more heirloom apple info.

arkansas-black apples

I’m betting that you already know all about how to buy apples (go local!) and how to store them (put those babies in the fridge to keep them crisp and cool), so let’s talk unique varieties in apples. Put down those red delicious apples…and don’t ever buy them again. You’re about to be introduced to some of the most fun, delicious apples!

Pink Lady

You might have heard of this one, but have you tried it? I’m a HUGE fan of pink lady apples (and the cocktail). Cripps Pink apples are a great all-around eating, baking and well anything apple.

Why you’ll love them: Sweet, tart, beautifully pink

How to use them: Crisps, for snacking, baking

Senshu

senshu apples

This is a new variety to me (a relative of the Fuji) that’s available in these early days of apple season. It’s a refreshing apple with a light crisp and hint of sweetness.

Why you’ll love them: Balance of tart and sweet, light crunch, juicy

How to use them: For snacking, pies, baked goods Read more

Ingredient of the Month: Summer Squash

summer squash

Squish. Squash. That yellow stuff that is grown before pumpkin season.

Whatever you call it, you should be calling it delicious.

I feel like summer squash often gets overlooked. Like its buddy okra, it has the tendency to be overcooked and slimy. Also, because it’s so abundant in the summer, it’s possible to get sick of it.

I attempted to grow squash in my garden this year, and I have had beautiful squash blossoms and flowers and not much else but a bunch of evil ants. That’s how growing just goes sometimes.

squash blossom

But, thankfully I’ve been able to get my fill of summer squash from my local farm stand.

The really good news is that squash is cheap, versatile and good for you! It’s also a Southern staple, so you’ve got to get your fill of it.

Tell me more:

While there are many varieties of summer squash (green zucchini, yellow zucchini, yellow squash, pattypan squash), we’ll be focusing on the classic yellow squash today. It is full of antioxidants and comes in a variety of shapes (straight neck and crook neck) but is typically about half a foot long with a slimmer neck and fatter bottom. Pick squash that are free of blemishes or cuts and feel firm (not soft at all).

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Ingredient of the Month: Okra

okra

You may have heard it called slimy or weird or “only good when fried.”

But, today I’m here to give this little green, tasty Ingredient of the Month it’s day in the sun.

Although okra is tasty fried, there are so many other ways to enjoy it (grilled, sauteed, roasted, stewed). It’s the season for okra, so get some when you see some and feel inspired to use it with the ideas below!

Tell me more:

Okra (also known as gumbo or ladies’ fingers) is a traditionally southern plant that is thought to be of African origin and grows well in hot weather. It grows in little, long green pods that have seeds inside, and it is rich in vitamin K and antioxidants.

Where do I buy it:

You can find okra at most farmers markets this time of year (or perhaps your neighbor’s garden), as well as at Asian grocery stores (and maybe your normal grocery store). Look for brightly colored green pods that are no more than 4 inches long.

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Ingredient of the Month: Napa Cabbage

Napa cabbage

One of the best things that you can do to improve your culinary prowess is to go to the grocery store (or farmers market) and buy produce that you’ve never tried before. Then, give it a go or try it in a new recipe.

And boom!

You’ll be so proud of how you tried something new and hopefully discovered some new amazing flavors.

And I hope that this little Ingredient of the Month series helps you do just that. After all, it’s basically how I learn about new foods.

This month, it was the large, bright and beautiful Napa cabbage.

Napa cabbage

Napa Cabbage

Tell me more:

Napa cabbage is a member of the cabbage family and can also be called Chinese cabbage. It is typically used in many Asian dishes. These are very large (3-5 pound) cabbages that have both white to fair yellow to light green colors in their very layered leaves.

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