Organic Picks of the Week 11/18/13

Best if Used By 12/02/13

Organic Produce Geek’s Thanksgiving 2013 Guide to Certified Organic Produce

Want to make this year’s dinner a hit? Committed to buying seasonal organic fruits and vegetables for your celebrations? Here’s what you need to know before doing your Thanksgiving food shopping at your natural foods store, organic market or food co-op.

What are good seasonal organic veggies to use for side dishes this year?

Organic Green Beans are in season from Florida and Mexico and the weather has cooperated so far this November. Expect nice quality and reasonable prices. Select beans that feel snappy, and are free from sunken areas and black spots.

Organic Fennel features distinct licorice flavor when crunchy-raw, smooth and flavorful when cooked or roasted. Wow. Prices are fair and quality has been nice!

Organic Parsnips are like a savory, white-flesh carrots and it is their peak season. News flash: Parsnips are being featured in more than just stews these days. Roasted and mashed Parsnips are becoming popular!

Organic Rutabagas are an excellent addition to soup and roasted vegetable blends, plus they’re in season right now!

Organic Butternut Squash remains the most popular of all hard squashes and this orange-flesh veggie is showing up in holiday recipes everywhere! Soups, casseroles, roasts and braises. Nutty, smooth, bright. Most regionally-grown Organic Butternut has ended for the season, but new harvests in California and other growing areas are here to supply stores for Thanksgiving at affordable prices.

Organic Broccoli from California won’t be cheap, but it will be available if you need an easy, versatile side.

Organic Greens like Kale, Collards and Chards are good, healthy choices for braising, sautéing and soups this Thanksgiving since growers in Florida and California are harvesting fine quality product.

What organic veggies are trickier choices this year as Thanksgiving sides? And why?

Organic Spaghetti Squash supplies depleted from early fall harvests. There is very little Organic Spaghetti Squash available and what product is around will be pricier than other organic hard squashes.

Organic Brussels Sprouts to roast or sauté will be available for Thanksgiving from California. However, growers are having to raise prices to slow down demand to match their harvests, so expect to pay quite a pretty-penny at the register for this popular cruciferous veggie.

Organic Asparagus is coming to the end of its season in Mexico here in late November. There will be fresh Organic Asparagus available, but the price per pound will likely be $5.00 or higher.

Organic Lettuces are somewhat out of season as growers finish picking in their California fields and try to get started in their Arizona winter fields. Prices will be high, shelves may occasionally be empty on Organic Red Leaf and Green Leaf Lettuce. Organic Romaine is in slightly better supply.

Organic Cauliflower will be priced higher this November due to light harvests in California growing regions.

Must-haves. These are the building-block items of a classic holiday meal:

Organic Celery is a key structural flavor for Stuffing, Bread Filling, flavoring stocks and gravy. Celery sticks also make a crisp and refreshing pallet cleanser between courses. This November Organic Celery and Celery Hearts will be available from California with average, to slightly-high pricing.

Organic Yellow Onions are another building-block ingredient for lots of Thanksgiving classics. Yellow Onions for full flavor

Organic Carrots are the third component of Mirepoix and are also a colorful vegetable for Roasting, Sauteing, Steaming and more. Expect plentiful supplies of Organic Whole and Baby Cut & Peeled Carrots from California at fair prices.

Organic Sweet Potatoes must be served in some way for Thanksgiving to be complete, right?  Good news!  Orange-flesh varieties of Organic Sweet Potatoes (aka Yams) like Jewels, Garnets and Covingtons are in peak season from California and North Carolina. Keep an eye out for sale pricing.

Organic Russet Potatoes are the all-purpose choice for mashed and baked potato recipes. And since they are in peak season supply, prices are affordable.

Which flavorful organic fruits can add seasonal flare to your holiday dishes?

Organic Cranberries from Wisconsin, Canada and other regions have mostly all been harvested. They’ll be in stock for homemade Cranberry Sauce and Stuffing plus other holiday cooking through early December.

Organic Chestnuts are a true rustic flavor to pair with your Green Bean, Bread Filling and Roasting dishes. Fresh California Organic Chestnuts, while pricey, are available in select natural food stores and food co-ops this month.

Organic Pomegranates feature a bold and sweet flavor. Pomegranate arils are fantastic on top of salads, roasted vegetables and on creamy-sweet desserts.  Peak season is winding down for fresh Organic Pomegranates from California so enjoy this seasonal fruit while you can!

Organic Medjool Dates are delightfully rich and sweet like caramel. Medjool Dates make a great appetizer or dessert. And you can cook with them too since they pair well with savory meats like pork.

Organic Persimmons are they’re in peak season! The sweet, autumn-spiced flavor of Persimmons can make fruit salad or dessert memorable. NOTE: Flat Fuyu Persimmons can be eaten when hard like an apple, while cone-shaped Hachiya Persimmons must be juicy, soft-ripe like a water balloon.

Ingredient upgrades. Take your dishes from good to whoa!

Organic FRESH Herbs will really make your holiday dishes shine! This holiday leave the dried herbs in the cabinet and use fresh, full-flavored Organic Herbs for the ultimate fresh-factor. Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, oh yeah!

Organic Gold Potatoes are luxurious upgrade to white-fleshed Russet Potatoes. Yukon Gold Potatoes are buttery, smooth and moist.

Organic White-flesh Sweet Potatoes like the golden-skinned Hannah Sweet and purple-skinned Oriental Sweet (aka Japanese Sweets) are in peak season from California. Their delicious flesh bakes up drier than orange-fleshed Sweet Potatoes, and they are perfect for pan-fried Sweet Potato recipes.

Organic Brown Mushrooms like Portabellas, Baby Bella (aka Crimini Mushrooms) and Shiitake’s can bring bold, earthy flavor to your favorite Mushroom recipes.

Organic Sweet Onions are gaining in popularity because of their mellow flavor that caramelizes easily.

Here are some seasonal recipes to try this Thanksgiving:

Sour Cream Mashed Parsnips & Potatoes

Mashed Potatoes recipes are a favorite for just about everyone at Thanksgiving. But if you want to impress your guests with some extra flavor, below is a delicious, creamy, homespun recipe my wife made that features the savory flavor of Parsnips whipped with fluffy Russet Potatoes and Sour Cream.

RECIPE: Sour Cream Mashed Parsnips & Potatoes

  • 4 Large Russet Potatoes, peeled and cut into 2 inch cubes
  • 4 Parsnips, peeled and cut into 2 inch pieces
  • Boil for 30 – 35 min
  • Drain, then add to large mixing bowl
  • Add 4 tbsp butter, 1 cup of sour cream, salt and pepper to taste
  • Whip the contents of the bowl with a mixer
  • NOTE: whipping may take slightly longer than regular mashed potatoes

A simple, sweet and savory fall dish – Roasted Green Beans and Bosc Pears.

Want to make something besides casserole with those fresh Organic Green Beans? Try this easy roasting recipe that combines fall spices with sweet pears, crunchy walnuts and tender green beans.

RECIPE: Roasted Green Beans and Bosc Pears

  • Pre-heat oven to 450F
  • Wash and trim ends of 1lb fresh Green Beans
  • Core 2 Bosc Pears
  • Slice Pears length-wise with skin on, similar thickness to the Beans
  • Toss Beans and Pears with 3 tbsp Olive Oil, 1 tbsp Balsamic Vinegar
  • Season with 1 tsp Coarse Salt, 1/2 tsp Black Pepper, 1/2 tsp Ground Ginger
  • Re-Toss to coat evenly
  • Spread Beans and Pears out on a large baking tray
  • Roast at 450F for 8-10 minutes
  • Stir and flip with a spatula
  • Add 1/2 cup chopped Walnuts
  • Roast an additional 8 minutes until beans are tender

A side dish that’s like a healthy dessert: Sweet Potatoes with Medjool Dates and Pecans.

Extra sweetness doesn’t only have to come from Marshmallows for your Thanksgiving Sweet Potato Side. Try Organic Medjool Dates! More delicious Date Recipes can be found here.

RECIPE: Sweet Potato, Date and Pecan Bake

  • Preheat the oven to 450F
  • Peel and chop 3lb of Sweet Potatoes into even 1″ chunks
  • Toss them in 2 tablespoons of olive oil to coat in a mixing bowl
  • Season them with cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, coarse salt and cracked black pepper – retoss
  • Bake seasoned Sweet Potatoes in a 8″x8″ casserole dish, covered with foil at 450 degrees for 20 minutes
  • While they cook, pit and dice 10 Medjool Dates and chop 1/2 a cup of Pecans (or Walnuts)
  • Add Dates and Nut pieces across the top, then roast for about 10 more minutes uncovered (or until the Sweet Potatoes could be easily pierced with a fork)

Spiced Butternut Squash, Apples and Kale.

This recipe featuring moist Butternut Squash, sweet Apples and tender Kale Greens will please the health-conscious and the flavor seekers at your table.

RECIPE: Spiced Butternut, Apples and Kale

  • Boil 1 peeled and cubed Butternut Squash (about 2 cups or 20oz) for 4-5 minutes
  • Drain the water then add 2 large apples, peeled and cubed to the cooking pot
  • Add 3 tbsp Olive Oil and 3 tbsp Apple Cider Vinegar
  • Add 1 bunch Kale, de-stemmed and roughly chopped
  • Cover cooking pot tightly with lid and allow to simmer over medium heat for 3 minutes
  • Remove lid and season with
  • ½ tsp Coarse Sale
  • ¼ tsp each: Cracked Black Pepper, Cinnamon, Ground Ginger, Ground Cloves
  • Re-cover and simmer for another 3 minutes
  • Stir gently and serve

Fresh Cranberry Sauce is easier to make than you think! Plus, it tastes more like dried cranberries than artificially flavored Jell-O.

You gotta have Cranberries at Thanksgiving right? But that doesn’t mean your sauce has to come from a can. Try this basic sauce recipe to serve as a side or with dessert.

RECIPE: Fresh Cranberry Sauce

  • Homemade Whole Cranberry Sauce is way easier than you may have thought. If you want to skip the canned stuff this season
  • Boil a cup of water and a cup of sugar
  • Add roughly 12-14oz of rinsed Fresh Cranberries (most organic cranberries come in 7-8oz packs, so just over a pack and a half will do, depending on how sweet or tart you prefer it)
  • Simmer for about 10 minutes stirring often
  • Pour it into a bowl to cool at room temperature and you’ve done it!

Cinnamon-Balsamic Glazed Carrots – pleasingly sweet and flavorful!

Impress your guests with this super-easy roasted carrot recipe.

RECIPE: Cinnamon-Balsamic Glazed Carrots

  • Pre-heat oven to 450F
  • 1 lb whole Carrots, ends and tips trimmed
  • Peel the Carrots the slice in half length-wise
  • Stir 2 tbsp Olive Oil, 1 tbsp Balsamic Vinegar, ½ tsp Cinnamon
  • Pour over Carrots in a Mixing Bowl, toss to coat
  • Arrange Carrots on a baking tray without touching each other
  • Roast at 450F for 20 min. flat side down
  • Flip Carrots, Roast for 7-10 more min.
  • Carrots are done when showing caramelization and can be easily pierced with a fork

Easy to make, Roasted Brussels Sprouts will be a hit with more of your friends and family than you’d expect.

Yes, Organic Brussels Sprouts are pricey this November, but it can be fun to splurge on flavorful, environmentally responsible food. More Brussels Sprouts recipe ideas can be found here. Here’s an easy way to bring out the best in Brussels Sprouts: roasting!

RECIPE: Roasted Brussels Sprouts

  • Preheat oven to 450 F
  • Trim ends, remove loose leaves of about 10-16oz of fresh Brussels Sprouts
  • Slice biggest Sprouts in half to get an even size
  • Toss Sprouts in a mixing bowl to coat with 2 tbsp Olive Oil
  • Add 2-3 whole peeled Garlic Cloves
  • Season with about 1 tsp Coarse Salt and Cracked Black Pepper
  • Spread Brussels Sprouts evenly on a cookie sheet or baking pan
  • Roast for 15 min, remove to flip/shuffle, Roast for 10-15 min more until tender (Yes, they’ll get black on the outside, and Yes, it’ll taste good)

What is Organic Produce?

Certified Organic Produce meets a set of standards for growing, handling and labeling that is governed by the USDA’s National Organic Program. Organic fruits and vegetables are grown without the use synthetic chemicals, pesticides and fertilizers. The terms “Natural” and “Local” are not the same as “Organic.” Learn more about Organic.

Eat in season. Choose organic. Enjoy good food.

The Produce Geek, Jonathan K. Steffy