Apr 212015
 
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Vegetable Tray

Crudités

Raw Vegetables are the white knights of the snack-kingdom. Our Creator’s abundance has provided enough variety for everyone to find a few favorites. Even children will eat vegetables sticks with gusto if given half a chance. Be sure your kids see you eating raw vegetables and take the time to discover which varieties they enjoy the most.

If you’re worried your family won’t eat vegetables raw then try this idea. Place a selection of raw vegetable pieces on a plate in the middle of the table about an hour before supper. Add a little bowl or cup of ranch dressing. Now watch what happens. As people pass the veggies on their way to other parts of the house, they will begin nibbling. Before you know it, most of the vegetables will be gone, and you’ll begin to have an idea of which ones your family prefers.

The trick with raw vegetables is that they must be prepared before they can be eaten. You have to get the gumption to take your carrots, celery, broccoli and cucumbers out of the refrigerator and plunk them on the counter. Then the vegetables must be washed and peeled. Finally you have to slice them into finger-food sized pieces so they are easy to pick up, easy to bite, and easy to chew. This is called prep-work. If you find yourself avoiding this type of behavior, then set aside a specific block of time to get it done. It doesn’t take much time. Fifteen minutes is enough time to prepare veggies for 4 or 5 days of snacking.

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If you don’t take the time to prepare your veggies, then your family and you won’t eat them. That’s just the way life works. Have you ever been hungry for a snack and taken the time to dig out a stalk of broccoli, and biten into it raw? If you’re like most people, then you’ve probably never even considered it, much less actually done it. In this way, vegetables are like cake. You can buy them already prepared, for an enormous amount of money, or you can make them from scratch for significant savings and better quality. Cutting up vegetables at your own counter with your own knife is actually a lot easier than preparing a cake. Make up your mind. Take the time to slice and dice your favorite raw vegetables. You’ll save time, money and improve your family’s health in the bargain. I consider this an excellent return on a mere 15-minute investment twice a week.

Broccoli & Cauliflower

If Fresh Broccolithese are coming straight from the garden, then rinse and soak for about 30-minutes in a tub of cool water. This will dislodge any sneaky bugs that may have hidden themselves away in the florets. If you get your broccoli or cauliflower from the market, then you only need to rinse them off in cool water. Allow them to drip dry in a colander or in your dish drainer. Cut off the stalk and set it aside. You’ll be using it later. Break the head into florets. Some of them will be very big and you will have to halve, or quarter them with a good knife. Continue until you have a nice pile of finger-food sized florets. Place them in a plastic bag or a resealable container. Eat as desired.

Find the stalk you had set aside previously. Do not throw it away. You paid for it, so you might as well get your moneys worth out of it. Lot of people don’t eat the stalk because they don’t know what to do with it. The first thing to do is peel it. The peel is tough and what keeps most of us from eating it. Sometimes a common vegetable peeler will work just fine. If the skin is very tough you will need to use a paring knife. After removing the hard out skin, the inner stalk can be sliced or cut into fingers. It’s very sweet, easy to chew without the peel and quite good for dunking.

Beets

ISliced Beets use canned beets on my relish trays. They aren’t raw, but they are still good for dipping, and sometimes children will fall in love with them because they are red and sweet. Open up a can of sliced or small whole beets. Drain them well, and rinse them if desired. Drain again, for several minutes. Arrange the beets on your vegetable tray. No matter how long you’ve drained them,they will still bleed a little. That is the nature of beets, they are a bloody vegetable. I usually put them in their own bowl or section, to contain their friendly migration. After opening, canned beets will keep a couple of days in the fridge. Beets have an earthy sweet flavor, and since I use the canned version, they take very little prep-work.

Carrots

If Baby Carrotsyou can afford it, baby carrot sticks can usually be purchased in 2-pound bags. They cost about 4-times as much as making your own carrot sticks. Personally, I think store-bought carrot sticks have much lest flavor and are less sweet than homemade carrot sticks, but you may feel that the health benefits and time savings of baby carrots is worth it. That’s okay. The main thing is to get the carrots into hungry tummies, the way you get the to your own discretion.

To prepare carrots begin by purchasing them in a large bag. I find that 5-pound bags are almost always the cheapest. I don’t prepare the whole bag at once. Usually 1 to 1-1/2-pounds is enough for several days worth of snacking. Wash your carrots in cool water. I peel mine with a vegetable peeler, buy you don’t have to. Carrot skin is usually pretty clean, and it has fiber and vitamins as well. Bag of CarrotsMy kids however, do not like the flavor of carrot skins. It tastes to strongly of the garden for their taste buds. After peeling, or not, cut your prepared carrots shortways,  into 2 or 3 lengths . Cut each piece in half longways, and if necessary, in quarters, making long skinny strips. Thick carrots need to be cut into quarters to make them narrow enough for easy munching. Thinner carrots are fine cut in half longways. Store your carrot sticks in a bag or bowl in the fridge. Add a spoonful of water to the bag to keep your carrots crisp. Eat as desired.

Celery

I Celery Stalkfind celery one of the easiest vegetables to prepare. Take a full stalk of celery. Lay it on a cutting board. Use a sharp knife to trim ¼-inch or so off of the tip ends. Then cut off the base. Now, holding the stalk together, cut it into thirds or fourths, depending on how tall it is. Next separate the celery ribs and wash them well in cool water. As they drain, look them over. Wide celery ribs can be cut in half long-ways to make them easier to chew. I don’t remove celery leaves because my family eats them. Some people remove celery leaves because they have a slightly stronger taste than the ribs. Do it the way that is best for you and your family. Store the celery in a zipper bag with a spoonful of water to keep it crisp.

Cucumbers

Cucumber SlicesThese are my children’s favorites. Wash and peel the cucumbers to remove the hard waxy skin. Slice them into ¼-inch thick rounds. Only prepare enough for a day or two and store them in their own private container. Cucumbers perish quickly. They’re very popular though and usually don’t last long enough to go bad.

Green Onions

Also known as scallions, these can add a lot of interest to a relish tray. Trim the green portion of the onion so that only about 3 or 4 inches of it remains. Use the trimmings for soups, salads and stir-fries. Trim the root off of the onions and toss it into the compost pile. Wash them nicely and store wrapped in a paper towel, inside a plastic bag. They will keep for a few days this way.

Green Peppers

Bell PeppersI can’t often afford yellow or red bell peppers. If you find any on sale though, then prepare them the same as green peppers. Wash the pepper in cool water. Slice off the top and the bottom. Remove the white membranes and seeds from inside the pepper. Use a sharp knife to cut the pepper “tube” into tall thin strips. Now look at the top and the bottom that you are thinking about discarding. Remove the stem from the top and cut it into chip-shaped quarters. Do the same for the bottom piece. There, no waste. Store the peppers in a resealable container. Once prepared, green peppers will keep for about 3 or 4 days in the fridge.

Jicama

Officially, this is pronounced Hee-Kah-Muh, but at my house the kids say Jick-Uh-Muh and no matter how I correct them, they seem to think it’s pretentious to pronounce the Jick as a Hee. In the greater scheme of things it really doesn’t matter how they pronounce the food, as long as they eat the food. One of the nicest things about Jicama is how cheap it is. At my market they are often $1-per pound. A large one might weigh 3-pounds, so for $3 we get a week’s worth of veggie sticks. The flavor is mild and a little sweet.

JicamaThe hardest of preparing jicama is peeling it. I use a very sturdy potato peeler. It takes a little elbow grease, but less time than peeling an equal quantity of carrots. After peeling, remove the top and bottom ends. Slice the jicama a 1/2-inch to 3/4-inch thick. Cut each slice into sticks. Store dry in a resealable container. Jicama does not keep as long when stored in a moist bag, so I don’t store it with the celery and carrot sticks, which prefer moist storage. Jicama is especially tasty when dipped into mayonnaise that has been spiced with chipotle peppers.

Mushrooms

Whole MushroomsI dearly love mushrooms. Whole mushrooms are usually cheaper and fresher than sliced mushrooms. If they are dirty, then you can rinse them quickly under running water. They will be a tiny bit soggy, but that doesn’t bother me too much. If you are really worried about soggy mushrooms, then you can gently wipe each individual mushroom with a paper towel. Small mushrooms may be left whole. Medium mushrooms may be sliced in half. Large mushrooms are pretty cut into ¼-inch thick slices. Mushrooms will only keep a couple of days after slicing. Be prepared to eat them or cook them shortly thereafter.

Olives & Pickles

Bottled OlivesNot exactly raw, I know. Still, pickles are an excellent addition to the snack tray. I buy large jars of whole dill pickles. They are usually cheapest this way. Sweet pickles are delicious in slices or strips. Whole pickles are pretty when cut into quarters, long-ways. They lend a tangy quality to your crudité collection. Fancy pickles such as okra or pepperoncino peppers or asparagus are all tasty too. I sometimes find them at Big Lots for such a good price that they’re almost giving them away. When I do, they are a nice way to jazz up the vegetable tray.

Radishes

RadishesRosy and red, radishes give a vegetable platter just the right amount of bite and color. They are easy to prepare too. Trim the top and root end with a sharp knife. If the radishes are large then cut them in half. Otherwise, leave them whole. Store in a plastic bag in the refrigerator. Radishes keep a long time, so prepare as many as you like at once. Radishes are really easy to grown in a home garden. If you want a good science project for the kids, grow them in a flower pot or tray in a sunny window or deck. Kids are more likely to eat radishes if they’ve grown them themselves.

Tomatoes

Plum TomatoesBaby tomatoes only need to be rinsed off before eating. Plum tomatoes are good cut into slices like cucumbers and arranged on a plate. Only cut as many tomatoes as you plan to eat in a day or two. They don’t last long once they are cut. I don’t use any other types of tomatoes for snacking and dipping. Other tomatoes seem too fragile to stand up to the eating habits of my crew.

Turnips

I Turnipslove raw turnips. If you don’t like them as much as I do, then please lend me your ear. Turnips are cheap; very cheap. They are crunchy and sweet, with a gentle bite that keeps them from becoming insipid. Choose small to medium-sized turnips for the best flavor. Anything bigger than your husband’s fist will not be tender enough to eat raw. After you bring your turnips home from the market, wash them in cool water. Trim a thin slice from the top and the root of your turnip. Next peel the turnip using a paring knife or a potato-peeler. Cut the turnip into ½-inch thick slices. Cut each slice into French-fry shaped fingers. Store the turnip fingers in a bag in the fridge. They will keep at least as long as prepared carrots. Carrots and turnips may be stored together in the same container if you like. You don’t have to tell the family they are turnips if you think they will be prejudiced by the name. Simply tuck the turnip fingers in with your other vegetables and before you know it, you will have a crowd of turnip eating fools on your hands.

Yellow Squash or Zucchini

Yellow SquashDuring late summer and early fall, summer squash are cheap and abundant. I prepare them simply by cutting them into ¼-inch slices. The yellow and green skins are attractive arranged close to one another on your vegetable tray. My kids will only eat summer squash with ranch dip. If your family makes similar demands, then honor them as you see fit.

Dips

Some kids will eat veggie sticks without a dip. Mine won’t, so always provide a dip when I offer up a veggie tray. The most popular dip at my house is Dairy-free Ranch dressing. If you are not dairy-free them feel free to Vegetables and Dipuse store-brand bottled ranch dressing. It’s certainly convenient and affordable. Other options are plain mayonnaise, or mayonnaise that you’ve seasoned. Mrs. Dash salt-free seasonings can really spice up plain mayonnaise. I use 2 to 3-teaspoons of Mrs. Dash to 1/2-cup of mayonnaise.  Usually I add a few dribbles of dairy-free milk or Coffee Rich to thin the mayonnaise down to appropriate dipping thickness and stir it all up until it’s smooth. Garlic flavor, Onion flavor and Chipotle flavor are my favorites. I use light mayonnaise because it saves fat and calories, but you can use any type you prefer. Any thick salad dressing can be used for a dip, or even plain Togurt or dairy yogurt. You can spice it with Mrs. Dash if you want something more savory.

I recommend trying to offer veggies without a dip, but if no one eats them, add a dip an watch them disappear.

Vegetabe Tray

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