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Carrots: Versatile, economical winter veggie for Vail Valley

Sue BarhamVail, CO Colorado

VAIL, Colorado The hint of spring nudges the Vail Valley with warmer and longer days, but we know we are still months away from fresh produce at the local farmers markets. Mother Natures root vegetables make for hearty sustenance in the meantime.Turn to the common carrot, versatile, abundant, and storable in the refrigerator for weeks. Ideal for many uses, carrots are economical and delicious when cooked or eaten raw. The carrot plant has a thick, deep-orange colored root, which grows underground. Its feathery green leaves emerge above ground. If you are lucky enough to find carrots in the grocery store that still have their green tops attached, buy those, as that is an indication of their freshness. Once home, cut the greens off before storing the carrots in the refrigerator. When left attached, the greens will pull moisture from the roots causing the carrots to wilt. Instead, chop the greens and add them to a salad.As the name implies, carrots are brimming with beta carotene, which is the substance that is converted to Vitamin A in the human body. Natural Vitamin A from veggies is far more beneficial than what can be gained from supplements. Beta carotene is a powerful antioxidant effective in fighting against various cancers and cardiovascular disease. A 1/2 cup serving of cooked carrots contains four times the recommended daily intake of Vitamin A. So your mother was right when she said, Eat your carrots!Carrots lose very little nutritional value during cooking. In fact, slightly cooking carrots actually breaks down their tough cellular wall, making the nutrients more useable to the body. Since they grow in the soil, use a vegetable brush to clean them, and only peel if desired. Like other root veggies, many nutrients are contained in the outer skin.The sweet taste of raw carrots make them a staple on party crudit trays or a simple, but healthy snack. Allison Helfer, pastry chef at Restaurant Avondale recommends grating fresh, raw carrots to add to the batter of muffins. You can create a healthy breakfast or snack and barely realize the muffins are full of veggies, she said.Helfers colleague, Jeremy Kittelson, agreed. Raw carrots add color and flavor when grated into salads, he said. Or extract the juice from raw carrots and combine with soy milk and bananas for a nutritious smoothie.Cooking with carrots is a given in most kitchens, commercial or home. Carrots are essential in the stockpot, Kittelson said. They provide a base for soups and stews, and slowly release their flavor in braised dishes. They can stand on their own, too, as an easy side dish for a weeknight supper.

3/4 cup all-purpose flour1/2 cup whole wheat flour2/3 cup dark brown sugar2 teaspoon ground cinnamon1 teaspoon baking powder1/2 teaspoon baking soda1/4 teaspoon salt2 eggs, beaten1/3 cup vegetable oil1 Tablespoon pure vanilla extract4 medium carrots, grated (about 2 cups)1/2 cup canned crushed pineapple, squeezed dry1/3 cup raisinsPreheat the oven to 350 degrees. Whisk the flours with the brown sugar, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl. In another medium bowl, whisk together the egg, vegetable oil and vanilla extract.Mix the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients until just moistened. Stir in the carrots, raisins and pineapple. Spoon the batter evenly into a greased 12-count muffin pan. Bake until golden and a toothpick inserted in the centers comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Turn muffins out of the tins and cool on a rack. Serve warm.Yield: 12 muffins

1 pound sliced carrots1/4 cup orange juice3 tablespoons brown sugar2 tablespoons butter1 pinch saltPlace carrots in a shallow saucepan and cover with water. Boil until tender. Drain, and return carrots to pan.Pour orange juice over carrots, and mix well. Simmer over medium heat for about 5 minutes. Stir in brown sugar, butter and salt. Heat until butter and sugar melt. Serves 4.

2 medium carrots, chopped1 medium onion, chopped3 stalks celery, chopped1 tablespoon vegetable oil2 teaspoons thyme2 teaspoons salt1 teaspoon pepper2 bay leaves8 cups chicken stock1/2 cup elbow macaroni2 cups cooked chicken, choppedSaute carrots, onions, and celery in vegetable oil until onions are translucent. Add thyme, salt and pepper and cook another minute. Add stock and bring to a boil. Add bay leaves and macaroni. Allow to boil until macaroni is tender but still firm. Add chicken, heat through and remove from stove. Add additional salt and pepper to taste. Makes 3 quarts.Sue Barham is the marketing director for Restaurant Avondale and Larkspur Restaurant. Avondale recently opened in The Westin Riverfront Resort & Spa in Avon. The restaurant features a West Coast inspired, seasonal menu and the chefs use time-honored cooking methods, such as slow roasting and braising, to create simple dishes rich in flavor. The wine program focuses on small production wines to compliment the straightforward cuisine. For more information visit http://www.avondalerestaurant.com.


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