Lagniappe: Power Up Your Produce

Spring is here and it's the time of fantastic renewal and change and fresh starts and blah blah blah. I love it. I love having the doors to the balcony thrown wide open, feeling the fresh breeze waft in, and listening to my 21-year-old neighbours shout loudly to each other in the parking lot in an attempt to convince women to have sex with them. Magical. I really do love it.

Aaaaaaanyway the last six months of my life have been a rollercoaster to say the least, where the peaks are highs of incomparable thrill and the lows are basically just being catapulted through a literal storm of shit at 85 mph.

But now it's spring, the time of change and *upgrade*, and since that dumpster fire is now behind me I am super stoked about all the new and exciting things coming up.

In light of this concept of upgrading, I'm here today to talk to you about your fridge! That mechanical container of wonder that holds within itself a world of new possibilities. I love the fridge. I also love what's inside it. So let's get on to upgrading your fridge game, yo.

Just as a disclaimer, I haven't been paid by any of these companies to toot their horns. I never endorse stuff I don't personally love and it doesn't matter to me if I get paid for it or not. It would be sweet as ~hell~ if they DID decide to pay me, though. It's by the way. Just...just in case. (And if you think I *might* like your stuff, e-mail me and let's talk!)

If you’re used to buying the standard white-shelled cheapest-you-can-get orbs of sadness, I can’t stress enough how much BETTER the organic* free range** pastured*** varieties are.

I KNOW I KNOW dirt-worshipping-tree-hugger blah blah blah but seriously, listen to me for a second. The yolks of the fancy pants eggs are this incredibly deep, bright orange with so much flavour—not to mention more vitamins and minerals. When compared to the anemic and pitiful pale yellow yolks of the usual cage farmed eggs, you’ll realize pretty quickly it’s a no brainer. You’ll probably have the best shot at finding fresh pastured eggs at your local farmer’s market or CSA, but most grocery shops now carry at least organic free range varieties.

*In order to earn the USDA “organic” stamp, the chickens are to be fed only organic feed and are certified to be free of antibiotics.
**The term “free range” has a looser definition and generally indicates that the chickens are not caged and can move about "freely" with "access" to the outdoors, but it could be as a member of a horde of 5000 all try to squeeze out through a cat flap for as little as 5 minutes in the sun per day.
***Pastured/grass-fed is what you’re ideally going for; this means that the chickens have ample access to the outdoors where they can be their natural chicken-y selves. That means scratching in the dirt, eating insects, getting sunshine, and being an overall healthier chicken. Better chicken, better egg.

Did you know that carrots come in multiple colors like purple, yellow, and white? In fact, carrots were grown in these colors for hundreds of years before the standard orange we know was developed. If you’re making a salad or some roasted vegetables, the extra colors make it so much more visually interesting! Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods (and even Publix now, if you're in the south) often carry them, if you have one of those near you.

Standard cucumbers are boring. Their overly waxy peels never seem to get clean enough, and generally they’re just a sort of light green soggy mess with lots of bitter seeds. Enter: English cucumbers. Long (generally between 10-14 inches) and slim and usually shrinkwrapped, these bad boys are nothing like their boring cousins. With no seeds and a firm flesh they’ve got a fantastic crunch and snap to them, making them the perfect upgraded addition to your salads.

I get that there are a ton of varieties and it can be annoying to stand there in the produce aisle and try to decide, so you just grab the nearest red thing and get out of there. But if you’re making a tomato-heavy dish like Caprese salad, a tomato basil salad, or any salad really, spring for heirloom tomatoes. They come in tons of colors (orange, bright yellow, green, purple, white, striped, and polka dotted) and odd shapes for maximum visual appeal.

Stop being a sad sack with that iceberg bullshit. Yes it’s cheap and crunchy but it’s also colorless and useless from a nutritional standpoint. At least upgrade to Romaine lettuce, but also explore the spring mixes, the Boston lettuces (gorgeous, and BOMB on burgers and perfect for lettuce wraps), the Bibb lettuces, and the sweet & crunchy blends. It’s a big wide lettuce world out there, my friend. And most of them now come pre-chopped and pre-washed in bags, making it truly convenient for even the laziest among us.

Speaking of greens, if you enjoy a standard spinach salad on the reg or often stir it into soups for an extra nutritional boost, give arugula a try instead. Also known as rucola or rocket, this peppery green has a visually interesting shape and a sharper flavor than most lettuces. One of the simplest and most sophisticated salads you can throw together is a pile of arugula leaves sprinkled with pine nuts and freshly grated Parmesan, tossed with extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice, and salt and pepper. SEXY. (Also incredibly delicious tossed with a bit of Parma ham, burrata cheese, olive oil, and S & P.)

And while we’re at it, PLEASE for the love of god stop using that powdered stuff in the green canister for serious food. It’s fine for the childhood dish of buttered noodles but when it comes to chic salads, pastas, or basically anything else, buy a wedge of the good fresh stuff (the best comes from Italy of course) and grate or shave it fresh. You’ll be amazed at the difference, and it keeps in the fridge forever when wrapped tightly in clingfilm.

Since I’m on a roll here, who likes mozzarella? Everyone. If you don’t like mozz it’s probably because you’ve been eating the wrong kind, and by that I mean: cow’s milk. Did you know that mozzarella was (and still is, in Italy) originally made from the milk of water buffaloes? HOLY SHIT what a difference it makes.

Buffalo mozzarella (or mozzarella di bufala) is definitely harder to find than the bovine variety but I’ve found it in some Publixes in the south, Trader Joe’s up north, Whole Foods sporadically, Wegman’s regularly, and at Dean & Deluca. Most local private cheese shops will also special order it for you if you ask nicely.
(Sidenote: All that said, I'm going to ruin your life with some utterly bizarre buffalo mozzarella news. Click here.)

First of all, why is Vlasic’s spokes-animal a stork? What do storks have to do with pickles? Anyway it doesn’t matter because Vlasic pickles in all their gray-green glory are the absolute worst, and you should be eating Claussen pickles instead. Look for them in the refrigerated section, usually by the cold cuts because they’re cold cured and never heated so the cukes retain their INCREDIBLE crunch. No, I’m not being paid by Claussen to say this, so, ey-yooooo, if they felt like hooking me up with a lifetime supply I would be totally down with that, you’re welcome Claussen.

Oh, and pickles are fucking cucumbers, by the way. I recently had to explain that fact to a grown man. They are pickled cucumbers. Bye.

And now to round out the list, two of the absolute basics:

Nothing says “I am still a freshman in college” louder than a bag of spongey soft white nothing bread. As a grown ass adult you should know by now that it holds absolutely no nutritional value for you, but if you still refuse to go the multi or whole grain route at least switch it up with some other, more interesting white breads: sourdough, Tuscan pane, French baguette, ciabatta, and boule come to mind. Oh, and don’t keep bread in the fridge. I’ve never understood why people do this, but it dries it out more quickly.

If you’re a die-hard butter lover (as opposed to the chemical shitstorm known as margarine, which NO ONE should be eating), try upgrading from your usual sticks or tub to Kerrygold Irish Butter. Oh baby. Oh YEAH BABY. This stuff is GOLD, so I get the name. I swear it’s unlike any other butter I’ve ever tried. Sweet and salty and rich and creamy with no lardy or oily aftertaste it is my Achilles heel, and spread onto warm crusty French bread it is absolute nirvana.

This article has to end now because I’ve drooled all over my keyboard so much it’s starting to make weird sparking noises, but go forth you sexy and sophisticated ladies and gents! First the fridge, then the world.

This has been reprinted with permission from an article I wrote for the rad folks over at The Magnifier, a division of VaynerMedia.

Update 2018: Regrettably, The Magnifier no longer exists.

Posted on April 11, 2016 and filed under Lagniappe.