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Martha Stewart: Fresh vegetables best choice for flavor, nutrients

SHARE Martha Stewart: Fresh vegetables best choice for flavor, nutrients
Even-spaced indentations along the edge of a santoku knife prevent food particles from sticking to it. The knife cuts effortlessly.

Even-spaced indentations along the edge of a santoku knife prevent food particles from sticking to it. The knife cuts effortlessly.

Erwan Frotin

Dear Martha:Which are better for you, canned or frozen vegetables?

Answer: If given a choice, fresh vegetables, which are superior to packaged varieties in taste, texture and nutritional value, should always be your first pick. When fresh vegetables are not in season, or if you like to ensure that you have vegetables at the ready, canned and frozen products can be convenient. (And some veggies, such as peas and corn, freeze very well.)

In either case, it's important that the vegetables are packaged immediately after harvesting. Those left for a period of time before freezing or canning lose nutrients and flavor; the same is true of fresh veggies that are not eaten soon after picking. Many good-quality brands aim to harvest and process vegetables in a way that is most conducive to good health. Their methods are often indicated on the package. To find out more, contact the company using the toll-free number on the label or go to its Web site.

If purchasing canned vegetables, check the ingredients list. Manufacturers frequently add sodium — and sometimes sugar — to these products for flavoring, which affects their health benefits.

How you prepare vegetables, whether fresh, frozen or canned, also affects how good they are for you. Steaming them over a small amount of water is best. (Canned veggies need only be heated.) Do not boil them on the stove or in the microwave as the water draws out the nutrients.

Dear Martha: I found some old rolled-up photos. When I tried to uncurl them, they began to crack. What can I do?

Answer: Over time, the paper and emulsion, or top coating, that make up a photograph can become dry and brittle. If the photo has been rolled, attempting to flatten it can cause irreversible damage to the emulsion and crack the paper.

To preserve such pictures, your best bet is to enlist the help of a conservator, says Shelly Smith, head of conservation treatment at the Barbara Goldsmith Preservation Division at the New York Public Library. These professionals treat rolled-up photographs with a humidification process that relaxes the emulsion and paper so they can be safely uncurled.

A conservator will examine the items and provide a written report for you (free of charge or for a fee, depending on the individual) stating the condition of the photographs and the estimated time it will take to repair them. Humidification treatments range from $80 to $150 per hour and generally take no more than a couple of hours, Smith says. You can visit the American Institute for Conservation of Historic & Artistic Works Web site (aic.stanford.edu) to find an expert.

In the future, safeguard your photos by laying them flat inside folders or albums made from acid-free and nonalkaline materials. Keep them in a dark room or closet that has a consistent temperature and moderate humidity level; avoid attics and basements. If you would like to frame or display the pictures, have reproductions made and protect the originals by storing them appropriately.

Dear Martha: I've been hearing a lot about the santoku knife. What is this?

Answer: Before World War II, home cooks in Japan used different knives for different tasks: nakiri bocho for vegetables, deba bocho for filleting fish, yanagiba bocho for sashimi, and so on, says Hiroko Shimbo, an award-winning cookbook author and authority on Japanese cuisine. With the innovation of prepackaged, frozen and instant food products in the 1940s, cooks needed an all-purpose knife that could cut vegetables, fish and chicken, as well as red meat, which was becoming increasingly popular. It was then that the santoku bocho was invented.

While many of the knives used previously in Japan were sharpened on only one side, both sides of the santoku are sharp, creating a V-shaped cutting edge like that on the knives we are accustomed to in the West, Shimbo says. The santoku is similar to a traditional chef's knife, except it has a shorter length and a broader blade that is thinner in width, so it cuts effortlessly through dense vegetables that often get stuck on thicker blades. It has a straight cutting edge like a cleaver but curves up slightly at the tip.

Some versions have a granton edge, or evenly spaced indentations along the blade that keep particles from sticking and reduce friction, enabling faster chopping. The santoku has become a favorite among Western chefs and is produced by many manufacturers in the United States.

Questions should be addressed to Ask Martha, care of Letters Department, Martha Stewart Living, 11 W. 42nd Street, New York, NY 10036. Questions may also be sent by electronic mail to: mslletters@marthastewart.com. Please include your name, address and daytime telephone number. Questions of general interest will be answered in this column; Martha Stewart regrets that unpublished letters cannot be answered individually.

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