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All We Can Eat
Posted at 07:00 AM ET, 03/16/2011

Chat Leftovers: Crying over produce

Happy Wednesday, all. As someone who is occasionally late for work because of a presidential motorcade (at least that’s what I tell my boss), I was interested in today’s story about how Washington restaurateurs react when the Obamas show up to eat. I mean, being immobilized in my car for 20 minutes is one thing; having POTUS and FLOTUS in your dining room for two hours is another. Do they get a special menu? Does a government agent taste their food? You’ll find out in David Hagedorn’s story.

Also in today’s Food section: A winemaker is about to unleash a $90 Virginia wine on what may be a skeptical market; an entrepreneur who loves Texas barbecue brings his hit NYC restaurant to the District; and Beer Madness 2011 continues with a narrowed-down field of 32 intrepid contenders.

So read, then join us at noon for the weekly Free Range chat, your chance to pepper us with culinary questions like this one, a leftover from last week’s chat:

I bought yellow onions and garlic that turned out to be less than stellar in the freshness realm. The onion, once I began to dice it, had that slimy, slightly mushy consistency, and the garlic already had little green shoots developing in most of the heads. Do you have any suggestions for what I can do to make sure that kind of produce isn’t already on its last legs? Other than developing x-ray vision, I’m at a loss.

As tightly wrapped up as they are, onions and garlic can be hard to assess until you cut them open. Even Wayne Mininger, an executive with the National Onion Association, says early signs of decay can be disguised so well that an onion could be deteriorating and “you’d never know it.”

But once an onion has reached a detectable level of decay, he says, there are reliable ways to know. First,an onion should feel hard, solid and heavy when you pick it up. If you squeeze the neck, or stalk end, a little, you shouldn’t see liquid oozing from it. And last, “take a sniff. If you sniff anything that’s off the normal smell of an onion, that could be a sign of cell degeneration.”

For garlic, the basic guidelines are similar. A head of garlic should feel hard, with no spongy areas. You should be able to give it a pretty good squeeze and encounter no give at all. You might be able to peek down through the stalk opening to see if green shoots are emerging. If you get home and find that the cloves do contain visible green sprouts inside, just cut them out (they might be bitter) and use the rest of the clove. FYI, in case you care where your garlic comes from, the base of the bulb can be a clue. Garlic grown in the United States still may have withered roots visible at the base; garlic from China, which is the source of most garlic in this country, often has the roots cut off.

I keep in mind that onions might have bad spots, and so when I need one, I never buy just one. I always have more than I need on hand, just in case. On a positive note, if I do get a clunker and take it back to the store, I am always given a replacement. Produce departments seem to be very good about that sort of thing, as long as you bought the onion recently.

By Jane Touzalin  |  07:00 AM ET, 03/16/2011

Categories:  All We Can Eat

 
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