Stupid pineapple tricks

Just because instructions are given for how to do something on the Internet, does that mean you should do it?

A couple of weeks back, in preparation for my Wisconsin Dells trip, I trawled the Internet for instructions on juicing pineapples. I wondered if you could somehow juice them without using a juicer.   We were going to have pineapple cocktails, and I thought that fresh pineapple juice would taste best.  

What distracted me were instructions I found for extracting pineapple juice from the rinds and core of the fruit.  Hmm, can you do such a thing?

The Curious Amy part of me was intrigued by this idea.  Undeterred by the opinions of family members and work colleagues who thought it was ridiculous to even attempt this (why would you want to do this???),  I decided to give it a go.  There were a couple of methods that I found. 

Some instructions from eHow suggested that you could extract juice by blending the rind and core in a blender with a little water and then straining the pulp. 

After dismembering the pineapple, I put the skin and hunks of core into my Kitchen Aid blender and pressed the Puree button.  No go.  Nothing happened, other than the high-pitched whir of blender blades failing to gain traction with any of the materials.

Not wanting to blow out my blender motor for this stupid pineapple trick, I had to switch to Plan B. 

Plan B, based on instructions from LiveStrong, involved steeping the skins to extract the juice.  Steps included putting the pineapple skins into a pan, covering them with water, bringing the liquid to a boil, then covering the pan, turning off the heat and letting the skins steep for 24 hours. 

The pineapple skins lurking underwater reminded me of alligators in a murky everglade.

The next day I strained the liquid, tasted it and practically spat it out. It was nasty, nasty stuff.  Like drinking old bark water with a faint hint of pineapple flavor and laced with a strange, chemical aftertaste.

It occurred to me that I hadn’t thought to wash the pineapple prior to proceeding with these mad kitchen experiments.  Then, I read this on Wikipedia:

Three quarters of pineapples sold in Europe are grown in Costa Rica, where pineapple production is highly industrialised. Growers typically use 20 kg of pesticides per hectare in each growing cycle, a process that may affect soil quality and biodiversity.

The pesticides – organophosphates, organochlorines and hormone disruptors – have potential to affect workers’ health and can contaminate local drinking water supplies.

Tasting the foul liquid that came from the steeped fruit, it certainly seemed plausible that the exterior had been doused with chemicals. That or pineapples have some naturally-occurring flavor defenses to discourage predators like me from consuming the fruit. 

On the Environmental Working Group‘s list of the Clean 15 produce items, pineapple is ranked #4 for lowest amount of pesticides; though I have to hazard a guess that EWG was mainly referencing the interior fruit and didn’t factor in idiots who try to extract juice from pineapple rinds in this manner.   

Stupid pineapple tricks.

I finally moved on to Plan C, extracting the juice from the fruit itself.  I never did come across any Internet instructions for juicing pineapple without a juicer (who can trust the Internet, anyway), but I remembered that we did in fact have a juicer on hand;  it had only been used once before, when we discovered that it took a hell of a lot of oranges to produce a mealy glass of juice.

A search and rescue operation ensued which required digging out the juicer from under a pile of boxes in the kitchen appliance mausoleum portion of our basement and finding the scattered parts.

After my previous pineapple trials, though, the juicing itself was a breeze.  A tropical breeze, in fact. 

I did a side-by side-tasting and confirmed that yes, the pineapple rind juice still tasted like crap; the Dole canned juice tasted a bit flat; and the fresh pineapple juice was creamy, vibrant and complex. 

Then I rewarded myself with a fresh pineapple cocktail. 

Stupid Pineapple Tricks, the cocktail

Ingredients:
1 1/2 oz. vanilla vodka
1 oz. pineapple juice
1/2 lime
1 oz. lemon sour
1 oz. club soda

Instructions:
Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice, shake vigorously and strain into a chilled martini glass. 

NOTES: The vanilla vodka lends a floral, tropical warmth to this drink and adds to the sweetness of the pineapple juice, while the lime juice tempers it. You may wish to adjust the lemon sour and club soda to taste depending on how sweet you like your cocktails.  

I didn’t want to buy a full bottle of vanilla vodka before deciding whether I liked this drink so I bought the little mini-bottles instead (each bottle is 1 oz).  You can pretend that you’re on an airplane flying to an exotic destination.

IN SEASON: Pineapple

I have something to confess to you all – you know that pineapple my son picked in our yard a couple of weeks ago?  It was actually from Costa Rica, not grown hydroponically in our snow.  (Try to contain your shock.)

Midwesterners and others in northern climates get a free pass on this next seasonal fruit – pineapple.  Aside from the person I know who is trying to grow pineapple here,  pineapple simply is not a local food.

But that’s OK.  At this point, having a bit of the tropics in your home can be a fresh food lifeline until other local seasonal delights become available. Though they can be found in stores year-round, pineapples are at their peak from March to May.

Pineapple is a fruit indigenous to South America.  Fresh pineapples found  in U.S. supermarkets are most likely from Costa Rica, Hawaii or possibly Florida.

Pineapples are certainly curious fruits, with their odd, reptilian-looking skin.  Some random facts from Wikipedia:

The pineapple is a herbaceous perennial. When creating its fruit, it usually produces up to 200 flowers. Once it flowers, the individual fruits of the flowers join together to create what is commonly referred to as a pineapple.

The ovaries develop into berries which coalesce into a large, compact, multiple accessory fruit. The fruit of a pineapple is arranged in two interlocking helices, eight in one direction, thirteen in the other, each being a Fibonacci number.

Pineapple’s sweet-sour taste is an exotic change from the winter’s storage apples and oranges, and the fruit’s flesh and juices are a welcome addition to salads, desserts and cocktails.  There’s even a special enzyme in fresh pineapple juice, bromelain, that breaks down proteins and acts as a tenderizer for meats. 
Don’t let the pineapple’s rugged exterior fool you – these are no root vegetables.

Pineapples are picked ripe and can spoil quickly, so try to consume them as soon after purchasing as possible.  Pineapples can be kept for up to 2 days at room temperature, or wrapped tightly in a plastic bag in the fridge for about 4 days.

They seem like they’d be fussy to prep, but really all you have to do is slice off the outer skin, then cut around the core to free the edible fruit.  You’ll save money buying a whole pineapple and cutting it up yourself- right now, whole pineapples cost less than $4, and cored fresh pineapple is more like $6.

One medium-sized pineapple yields about 3 cups of pineapple chunks or 2 cups of juice. 

Here are some recipe ideas to get you started with your own pineapple explorations:

Pineapple Red Quinoa Parfait (a breakfast yogurt parfait, Martha Stewart Show)
Pineapple Salsa (Steven Raichlen for Epicurious)
Pineapple Rice (a vegetarian main dish recipe, 101 Cookbooks)
Chicken and Pineapple Salad (Martha Stewart)
Jerk Pork Tenderloin with Fresh Pineapple Chutney (Cooking Light)
Pineapple Upside-Down Cake (Smitten Kitchen)
Bay Breeze cocktail with vodka, cranberry juice and pineapple juice
Blue Hawaiian cocktail with rum, pineapple juice, coconut cream and blue curacao

And finally, one quick and easy weeknight dinner I tried last week:
Broiled Sweet and Spicy Salmon with Pineapple (Everyday Food)

Go on, eat your pineapple.  I won’t tell Barbara Kingsolver.

Eating out, eating local: Brasa

Where to eat out in the Twin Cities if you care about where your food comes from but you don’t want to pay fine-dining prices?  Where to call for take-out if you just don’t have it in you to cook, but you want good food to eat at home?  Where to go if you’re a parent and want foods that you like to eat yourself but where your young kids are also welcome?

Well, Brasa, of course. 

James Beard-award winning chef Alex Roberts has a winning concept in his Brasa restaurants in Northeast Minneapolis and St. Paul.  Brasa’s website describes its cuisine as “comfort food inspired by the Creole cooking traditions of the Americas and Carribean” and “traditional foods”.

I would just describe it as “damn good”.

The menu is centered around premium rotisserie chicken, slow-roasted pork, braised beef, fried catfish and a constellation of side dishes, slow-cooked, all created from scratch.  The produce is fresh, the dairy is full-fat, the grains are organic.  No high fructose syrup or MSG in anything.

Roberts truly walks the talk, with ingredients sourced from local producers like Kadejan, Heritage Berkshire, Thousand Hills, Grass Run Farm, Larry Schultz, Hope Creamery, Cedar Summit Farm and Otter Creek Growers; a rotating local beer list which includes brews from Surly, Summit, Fulton, Rush River and Furthermore;  and environmentally-friendly operating practices like composting food waste, recycling packaging and double-filtering water to avoid bottled alternatives.

Heck, even the bathrooms have Mrs. Meyers soaps.

All of this is fine and good, but would be for naught if the food wasn’t tasty. Fortunately, it’s fabulous.  The quality of the ingredients is stellar, and the preparation is consistent.  I’ve been impressed on every visit I’ve made to each location since they opened.

Back in sleeveless times.  Mmmm…cold beer from Surly (MN) and Rush River (WI)

When the snow descended on us this past Wednesday, I decided I was going to tackle my snowstorm blues and mentally escape via some comfort food.  I immediately thought of Brasa for take-out.

The slow-cooked pork sandwich I ordered was piled high with meat, thin layers of pickled vegetables and ginger mayo, paired with my favorite,  fried sweet plantains, as a side dish. Washed down with Brasa’s house-made pineapple ginger ale, the meal made me forget about the miserable weather outside.

***
Brasa’s kids menu is not dumbed-down food, but rather, items from the main menu that would be most appealing to kids.   Kids get to pick four items – a main course, a side dish, a dessert and a beverage.  (Check it out – no soda suggested on the beverage list. ) At $7 for such a high quality meal, this is a great value.


You can feel good about your kids eating here. 

On Friday, I was off work, spending the day with the kids. We had to eat on the go, and since I couldn’t stand the thought of going to the zoo that is the McDonald’s near the children’s museum, I chose to take the kids to Brasa. 

Our high-backed booth was the perfect refuge for me to discreetly sit with my kids who appeared to have eaten a can of squirmy worms before arriving and couldn’t sit still. 

There was even a smooth ledge next to the booth that was perfect for a miniature car derby.

With Brasa being a rotisserie, you may think it’s not a place for vegetarians and vegans to eat.  But its interchangeable menu format makes it easy to eat meatless; the restaurant even has separate menus geared towards vegetarians / vegans and those who must eat gluten-free.

On my most recent visit with the kids, I put the vegetarian menu to the test and came away with a filling meal of black beans, yellow rice, guacamole and tortilla chips, a side salad with tender greens and apple slices, plus a house-made blood orange & cherry soda.  There was so much food, I had leftovers. 

In short, I’d say, if you haven’t been to Brasa, I’d highly recommend checking it out.

How local can you go?

If only you could click your heels and end up in the month of May.  “There’s no time like May, there’s no time like May…” 

Sometimes I feel like I’m conducting the world’s longest conversation-as-stall-tactic while we wait for local produce to be available again at the farmers markets and area co-ops.

National food magazines and farmer’s market shoppers in other parts of the country are starting to hype the early spring crops, tantalizing us with images and descriptions of artichokes, baby spinach, asparagus, morel mushrooms and ramps.

But not here.  We have a good 5-6 weeks before the greens will start to appear and each of the major farmer’s markets open. Rick Nelson from the StarTribune tweeted today that the main Minneapolis and St. Paul farmers markets will open on April 30th, and Mill City, Midtown and Richfield farmers markets will open on May 7th. 

Until then, what local food can be found at area stores?

***

I took a walk down to the nearest natural foods store, Mississippi Market, during a lunch break this week.

(BTW, Mississippi Market recently re-launched its website with a whole new look and expanded information.  I love the News, Events and Fresh Forecast and daily deli menu sections on the homepage; check it out if you shop at Mississippi Market or live nearby in St. Paul.)

First of all, there were the homely root vegetable suspects – purple top turnips, daikon radishes, beauty heart radishes, celeriac and sunchokes, mostly from the farm with which I used to have a CSA share, Harmony Valley Farm of Viroqua, WI. 

But there were also a number of produce items that are grown in Minnesota hydroponically and/or in greenhouses during the long winter and early spring months, like these lettuces, pak choy and watercress from LaBore Farms in Faribault, MN. 

Red and yellow tomatoes are grown hydroponically by Living Waters Farm of Wells, Minnesota.

Then there were an assortment of herbs, sprouts, and micro-greens available from other Minnesota and Wisconsin growers like Rock Spring Farm and Jack and the Green Sprout. 

You can find local produce at other area grocery stores too; Minnesota Monthly recently published an excellent list of local produce available during the winter months in Minnesota and where you can find them.  (Yes, technically it’s spring now, but in terms of local produce, it’s still the dead of winter here.)

***

When many people hear “local food”, they think of produce.  But the insider’s secret is that there are other types of local foods besides produce to be had here, if you look around.  

Meat, eggs and dairy products from local farms, plus packaged foods from Minnesota and Midwest companies are available year-round.  The best selection of these items can be found at area food co-ops, but there are some local products at the other major grocery store chains in the Twin Cities as well.

If you live in Minnesota and you’d like some ideas for which brands are local, peruse my posts from last August when I was hot and heavy into the Eat Local Challenge

During my visit this week, I stopped in the dairy section to pick up some local milk from Cedar Summit Farm and local eggs from Larry Schultz Farm, who received the highest ratings on an organic egg scorecard this past fall. 

When I went to grab some local butter, I saw this sign:

I don’t think I’ve ever heard of cows eating all the grass and needing to rest up before this.  I silently sent some positive energy to those exhausted Pastureland cows and grabbed a block of another local butter instead.
 
**

So, with a limited selection of fresh produce, what else do you eat?   Well, how about some hearty black bean soup made with dried beans from Whole Grain Milling, Co. of Welcome, MN. 

You can find these organic dried beans in the bulk section at area co-ops. (Or you can use any other brands of black beans that you can find at your local store.)

You’ll need to soak the black beans for about 8 hours, or overnight, prior to preparing the following slow cooker recipe. 

What’s nice about this recipe is that there are minimal items to chop in advance, and you can leave this to cook all day while you’re at work or occupied with the kids.  There’s nothing like coming home to a dinner that’s almost ready.

Black bean soup is not the prettiest soup on the planet, but you can glam it up a bit by chopping up some tomatoes, avocado, and cilantro, then topping the soup with some crispy tortilla strips, sour cream and chopped veggies.

You can omit the serrano chile seeds, if you like, but I wouldn’t recommend it; we made a black bean soup this way, and the end result was disappointingly dull.

I recommend partially pureeing the soup so that it has a thicker consistency, but still has some whole black beans in it.

My husband and I agreed that this meatless version of black bean soup was just as satisfying as the black bean soup with pork that we usually make.

Slow Cooker Black Bean Soup
Adapted from Cooking Light, Serves 6.

Ingredients:
1  lb.  dried black beans
4  cups  fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth or vegetable broth
1 cup water
2  cups  chopped onion
2-3 minced garlic cloves
1  T.  ground cumin
3  bay leaves
1  serrano chile, finely chopped, including seeds
2  T.  fresh lime juice
1  tsp.  kosher salt
1 diced avocado
1/2 cup grape tomatoes, sliced in half
Chopped cilantro
Sour cream (optional)
Crispy tortilla strips (optional)

Instructions:
Rinse the black beans, and cover with water to soak for 8 hours or overnight.  Then drain and rinse the beans and put them in the slow cooker.

Add the chicken broth, water, onion, garlic, cumin, bay leaves and chile, and cook in the slow cooker on LOW for 10 hours.

(OPTIONAL: To make crispy tortilla strips for a garnish, preheat oven to 450 degrees and slice corn tortillas into thin strips, then toss the strips in olive oil and bake them in a single layer just until golden brown, between 5 and 10 minutes.)

Discard bay leaves, then add the lime juice and salt.  Use an immersion blender to partially puree the soup, leaving some beans intact (or remove a couple of cups of soup and puree in blender, then return the puree to the soup).

Ladle into bowls and top with crispy tortilla strips, sour cream, tomatoes, avocado, cilantro – whatever your heart desires.  Crusty bread or tortilla chips are nice accompaniments to this soup.

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The following Perennial Plate video features the farmers of Whole Grain Milling Co. talking about organic farming. I thought you might like to see the place where these beans come from.