Waste-Less Wednesday: Whole Lemon Bars

February 8, 2017 § Leave a comment

If you live in The 650, then you know that citrus does very well here. Lemons, limes, grapefruits, all kinds of oranges… you see them in front yards, back yards, side yards, and along driveways throughout my neighborhood. The high point for the citrus harvest is usually December through February. However, with the “weird weather” (as my father calls it) we’ve had lately, my little back yard lemon tree has been producing non-stop since November. You know what that means: I’m up to my ass in lemons. To date I’ve probably harvested about 40 pounds of fruit.

In past years I’ve experimented with a variety of lemon-based recipes, here are just a few of my favorites:

However, with all of the travelling I’ve been doing, I haven’t had time for much cooking or food preservation projects, so I’ve been limited to juicing and zesting. Upside is that I can freeze both (juice and zest) for use later. I have a Cambro container in my freezer, filled with lemon juice cubes that I can just grab whenever I need lemon juice on the fly. A quick turn in the microwave on “Melt,” et voila!

lemon-cubes

Running low on frozen lemon juice cubes

As for the zest, I make little parchment-paper packets of approximately a teaspoon of zest, wrap them in plastic wrap, then store in a freezer bag. Again, when I need zest, all I have to do is reach into the freezer. The guts that are left over after juicing and zesting are destined for the compost bin, but it would be nice if I had another option for using the whole fruit.

I’m always on the lookout for “root-to-stem” recipes when it comes to produce, and recently I came across a keeper for Whole Lemon Bars from one of my favorite pastry chef/cookbook authors, David Lebovitz. Lebovitz earned his chops at Chez Panisse and other Bay Area restaurants before relocating to France to focus on writing cookbooks. I’ve been a fan since purchasing his first two books — Room for Dessert and Ripe for Dessert — both of which are still favorites in my collection. His techniques are easy to follow, and the recipes just work.

I’m reluctant to use the term “genius recipe,” for anything, but I think Lebovitz has nailed it with the Whole Lemon Bars. What’s so genius? You use a whole lemon, plus some added juice, minimizing waste. Using a whole lemon results in a sweet-tart bar that is very lemony. I made a minor modification to the crust (described below), but nothing that warrants an “adapted from” version here, so just follow the link above to view the recipe on David Lebovitz’ site.

one-lemon

From this…

bar-hero-2

…to this

If you’re following a gluten-free diet, you can easily make the crust gluten-free by substituting a “cup-for-cup,” gluten-free flour. I used Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free 1-to-1 Baking Flour, but feel free to use whatever works for you. I also baked the crust for 27 minutes (longer than Lebovitz’ suggestion of 25 minutes), but that might just be my oven. The result was a golden-brown, crispy crust that had the same taste and texture as the wheat-flour version.

A few additional observations and suggestions that I’d like to share:

  • For same-size squares, use a ruler to measure and a long, thin-blade knife to cut. I keep a metal ruler in my kitchen for just this sort of thing. knife-and-ruler
  • Store the cut bars in the refrigerator and bring to room temperature for service. Lebovitz says you can store the bars in an at room temperature in an airtight container for up to three days, but I found that they got a bit weepy on the second day (maybe my kitchen is too warm).
  • You can freeze these bars without worrying about texture change. Thaw frozen bars in the refrigerator, then bring to room temperature before serving.
  • Too much pith will add a bitter note to the bars, so use a lemon that has moderate rind (less than 1/2″).

Have you made Whole Lemon Bars? bar-hero-shot

Waste-Less Wednesday: Cleaning Out the Cobwebs

February 1, 2017 § Leave a comment

A few weeks ago, a travel blogger I know sent me an email. He was planning to put together a round-up of  “awesome food bloggers” and wanted to include 650Food (nice, right?), but then he got to the point: “I was going to include you but 650food seems to have cobwebs.” Cobwebs? Things might be a little dusty around here, but…cobwebs?! Huh.

It’s true that I haven’t posted in a while — in fact, we’re coming up on a year. So what happened? Simply: life happened. The upside to being The Boss of Me is that I can decide when and how to do this thing called Work (pros and cons, people…pros and cons). And 650Food, while a labor of love certainly, is quite a project. I spend an average of eight hours putting together a single post. Recipes can take closer to 16 hours, as I’ll test a recipe multiple times. For a non-recipe post, the process includes researching the topic at hand, visiting a food business (sometimes multiple times) or interviewing a maker, taking and editing photographs, writing and editing the post, creating keywords, and sharing the post to multiple social media channels. Don’t get me wrong; I love it. But 650Food happens in addition to all of the other things in my life. And this time last year, I needed a reset.

I decided to take a break, practice some necessary self-care to manage health issues, and catch up on long-overdue vacations. In fact, I planned a “year of travel” for myself that included local getaways (BottleRock Napa) and international trips (Spain, Jordan). It was my intention to keep posting to 650Food in between trips and “from the road.” I imagined myself writing posts on planes, in airports, or while drinking tea in some exotic cafe. I set up my laptop and iPad with Boingo, Gogoinflight, and VPN accounts.

puplo-tapas24

Pulpo at Tapas 24, Barcelona

Before heading off to Bottleneck Napa for Memorial Day weekend, I thought about hanging a “Gone Fishing” sign on 650Food for the summer. But then summer turned into fall. I went to Spain, then Jordan (both amazing food cultures, by the way) and came home with a some wonderful memories, great photographs, and flu that lasted into October. The remainder of 2016 was: more travel, more flu (seriously, planes and hotels are just petri dishes), and well, here we are. And yes, there’s still another big trip on the horizon.

jordan-breakfast

Middle Eastern Breakfast, Jordan

By the time fall rolled around, I realized a couple of things:

  1. It’s not so easy to write regular posts for a local food blog when you’re not home and therefore not cooking or eating much local food.
  2. The type of posts that are the foundation of 650Food — deep-dive, information-rich — required more time and resources than I could assemble while traveling, preparing to travel, or recovering from traveling.

What I can tell you after a year of travel, is that there are few places in the world quite like what we have here when it comes to food. We’re blessed with a climate that allows year-round growing, which means access to fresh, affordable fruits and vegetables. (If you’ve been to a grocery store in Ohio in the middle of winter, you know what I mean.)

plant starts and flowers

Fifth Crow Farm, Pescadero

We have community-supported small farms that practice organic growing methods that are better for the health of people and the environment, ranches that believe in grass-fed and humanely raised animals, local apiaries providing some of the best honey you’ll ever taste, and an ocean of fresh seafood, not more than 20 miles from my home. And then there’s the variety of local restaurants that offer just about any style of food you might crave. I’ve got my sushi spot, my Latin spots (can’t have just one), my gluten-free/allergy-aware/earthy-crunchy spot, my craft cocktail spot. I could go on, and I’m sure you’ve got your favorites. And by the way, I’m just talking about what we have here in The 650. Add in the South Bay, the city, Marin, Napa — and the Bay Area is pretty special when it comes to food culture.

tuna-tartare-truefood

Tuna Tartare at True Food Kitchen, Palo Alto

So, clearing out the cobwebs and (slowly) getting back on track, I’ll remind you that it’s Waste-Less Wednesday. Waste-Less Wednesday is all about finding and sharing ways to reduce food waste at home and in our community. If you need a refresher, just type waste-less wednesday in the search box to view previous posts.

This week I have to share a fun thing I learned from my friend Amy’s mom, Fran: did you know that you can regrow scallions, aka, green onions? I find that scallions are a lot like herbs in that you always end up with more than you can use. You buy a bunch because you need to chop up a tablespoon or two out of the bunch for a recipe, and then are left wondering what to do with the rest. I have ended up with bunches of slimy yellow-green, used-to-be scallions in my crisper drawer more times than I care to remember.

So, how to get better and longer life out of your scallions, while reducing waste? Put the white root-end in a glass of water. Place the glass near or on a windowsill. You’ll see the green part at the top sprout and “regrow” within a couple of days. (Make sure to change the water as it starts to get cloudy.) Fran said her scallions almost doubled in length over the course of five days. It’s almost like getting a second bunch for free! Continue to snip the green part as necessary for your cooking needs.

scallions

Fran’s Second-Growth Scallions

Yep, there’s more than one way to keep growing and get back on track.

Have you tried regrowing scallions? How long did you keep them going?

(P.S. Thanks Fran!)

Waste-Less Wednesday: Waste Free Kitchen Handbook Review

November 25, 2015 § Leave a comment

Thanksgiving kicks off the holiday season in the US this week, and for many of us that means the start of the eating season. Thanksgiving dinners this week will give way to December’s holiday parties, cookie exchanges, dinners out, and family gatherings. We’ll cook lots, eat lots, and yes, waste lots, too.

Cheesy baked mashed potatoes: a holiday tradition

Cheesy baked mashed potatoes: a holiday tradition

Who hasn’t prepared a holiday meal or hosted a holiday party and ended up with too much food? We fear running out or not having enough options for our guests, and so we overcompensate. Or maybe we make extra so that we don’t have to cook for a few days following the feast. And yet, inevitably, some of that food ends up in the garbage. When it comes to the T-Day bird, for example, the USDA estimates that we’ll toss out about one-third of it. Dollar-wise, that’s a collective $282 million going into the garbage this holiday season (despite our best efforts at eating turkey everything this coming weekend). Hard to swallow when there are so many food-insecure families who might be challenged to put even a small meal on the table this holiday season.

What if you had a handy-dandy kitchen reference to help you with portion planning for parties and holidays? Waste Free Kitchen Handbook by Dana Gunders can help you not only plan better for your holiday meals this year, but also provides guidance on how to get the most of what’s in your refrigerator year-round. Author Gunders, who is a staff scientist with the National Resources Defense Council, brought the food waste issue into the mainstream several years ago when the NRDC published her insightful report, Wasted: How America Is Losing 40 Percent of Its Food from Farm to Fork to Landfill.” Gunders knows food waste, and now she’s helping the rest of us do something about it.

A compendium of information for wasting less

A compendium of information for wasting less

Waste Free Kitchen Handbook is a colorful, easy-to-read, 200-page kitchen reference. Following a brief introduction, in which Gunders gives an overview of the food waste problem and contributing factors, the body of the guide is divided into three parts: Strategies for Everyday Life, Recipes, and Directory.

The first part — Strategies for Everyday Life — is comprised of six chapters that focus on how we can reduce food waste on a daily basis, from a grocery shopping strategy to meal planning to best practices for food storage. The book even includes sample meal-planning templates that you can copy and tape to your fridge! And there’s no expectation of perfection here, in fact, Gunders recommends scheduling a “lazy night” or two into weekly meal planning to accommodate those evenings when you just don’t want to cook dinner.meal-planning-template

The “Smarter Storage” chapter provides some colorful, useful graphics for effective food storage in your refrigerator and freezer — including demystification of the wilter crisper drawers. Yes, finally, a guide to what you should be storing in the crisper drawers and how those things really work! The “Kitchen Setup” chapter provides practical tips on how to organize your kitchen for efficient food storage, as well as giving a list of essential kitchen equipment. Regardless of whether you’re an experienced cook or a newbie to the kitchen, you’ll find useful information here.

Portion planning is something many of us struggle with, and Gunders covers that topic in two helpful charts: “How Much Should I Make?” for daily meal planning (adult and child portion sizes) and a larger “Party Portion Planning” chart that tells you how much to make for one person, 25 people, and a crowd of 50. And when it comes to leftovers, you’ll learn what’s safe to eat, how long can to keep it, and even a list of what you can share with your canine family members.

Part two, Recipes, is a collection of 20 “use it up” recipes for salvaging food on the brink. The recipe collection is nothing fancy, but rather focuses on practical, easy-to-manage, dinner-at-home dishes, such as chilaquiles, soups, and salads. Each recipe contains a brief summary of the ingredients you’ll use up, making the recipe section easily scannable and functional. If, for example, you know you need to use up vegetables, your options include the Free-for-All Frittata, Fried Rice, or Light Chicken Salad, to name a few.

Got leftover pasta, a protein, and some vegetables? There's a waste-less recipe for that!

Got leftover pasta, a protein, and some vegetables? There’s a waste-less recipe for that!

On first read, I thought this section was a bit simple and was hoping for more recipes (although the Sour Milk Pancakes have piqued my interest!). However, after a second read, I realized that Gunders has provided some solid recipes that can also provide the foundation for those who have the time or creativity to get fancier. More important, for the time-pressed, these recipes will get dinner on the table in a reasonable amount of time while reducing food waste. Win-win.

The final part, Directory, is my favorite. It’s an inclusive guide that answers those nagging questions about how to optimize the lifespan of the fresh ingredients and pantry staples that you buy regularly, including produce, proteins, dairy, and oils and condiments. For each item, Gunders summarizes optimal freshness details, where and how to store an item, and whether or not it can (or should) be frozen. No more wondering “can I freeze this?” “how long is it good?” or “should I store on the counter or in the refrigerator?” (Yes, Virginia, you can freeze herbs!) Even if you’ve got years of kitchen experience, this handy section collects all of this essential food info in one place.

Everything you need to know about reducing food waste, ingredient by ingredient

Everything you need to know about reducing food waste, ingredient by ingredient

Throughout the book, Gunders’ tone is knowledgable, yet reassuring. Her expertise comes through, and it’s clear that she’s done her research (see the Notes section for sources), but she also admits she’s as challenged as anyone when it comes to managing food waste at home. Gunders speaks of managing food waste as a journey and encourages the reader to think differently about what goes to waste and why.

Waste Free Kitchen Handbook is a guide for eaters and should be in every kitchen. It’s filled with useful information about food waste and what we can all do to reduce the problem in our own homes.

Waste-Less Wednesday: Sustainable Cider from AppleGarden Farm

November 18, 2015 § 2 Comments

When I’m looking for a peaceful getaway beyond the 650, I head north to West Marin county. Crossing the Golden Gate Bridge and turning onto Highway 1 brings a sigh of relief as you’re forced to slow down and enjoy the scenery — from the rugged coastal areas as you wind your way down to Stinson Beach, to the glassy beauty of Tomales Bay as you head north to Marshall, and finally to the peaceful, pastoral lands as you make your way east toward Petaluma.

Point Reyes Beach

Looking at Point Reyes Beach on the way to the lighthouse

If the natural beauty isn’t enough to entice you, West Marin is rife with history and a rich heritage when it comes to food production. Dairy and cattle ranches have populated Marin county since the 1860’s. Most of these are family-run farms (not “big ag” operations) that have passed from one generation to the next, or between families, as they keep Marin County’s agrarian heritage growing. Traditional, organic, and sustainable have become a way of life among West Marin’s food producers.

From grower to producer to chef, the local food system is thriving. Marin’s farmers provide the organic, sustainable, raw ingredients — dairy, produce, meat — that today’s artisan food crafters and chefs rely on to make their products.

next-door-cows-grazing

Cows graze near AppleGarden Farm in Tomales

The past two decades have seen the rise of award-winning cheese producers, with Cowgirl Creamery leading the way. (See also Tomales Farmstead Creamery and Point Reyes Farmstead Creamery, among others.) Farming isn’t limited to the land; shellfish is also a top local “crop.” Tomales Bay produces some of the finest west coast oysters you’ll ever try — not to mention mussels and clams. Restaurants like Stinson Beach’s Parkside Cafe and Osteria Stellina in Point Reyes Station rely on local ingredients to create satisfying, delicious dishes.

Unique among West Marin’s artisan producers are Jan Lee and her husband Lou, owners and farmers of AppleGarden Farm orchard in Tomales and makers of handcrafted AppleGarden Farm Hard Cider. A two-person operation, they have spent the past eight years planting, growing, and harvesting 40 varieties of apples on their 20-acre property in order to create Marin county’s only organic farmstead hard cider. Jan calls it their “retirement project.” (And if that weren’t enough, there’s also the AppleGarden Cottage bed and breakfast, which Jan started up while waiting for the apple trees to mature enough for the first bottling of cider.)

jan-in-the-orchard

Jan Lee in the orchard of AppleGarden Farm during harvest time

Hard cider, which seems to be on trend lately, isn’t new. In fact, hard cider was the colonists’ original tipple. Cider apples — which are more tart and tannic than the apples we see in the market today —  were cultivated by English settlers, and the drink enjoyed popularity until Prohibition. The Volstead Act not only outlawed alcoholic cider, but it also limited the production of cider apple orchards and even sweet cider, also known as apple juice. As a result of Prohibition, orchards of cider apple trees were replaced with trees producing the sweeter eating apples we know now. But Jan Lee is doing something about that.

After leaving behind stress-filled careers managing commercial construction projects up and down the West Coast, Jan and Lou purchased their property in Tomales in fall 2007. Their plan: grow their own apples and make a flavorful, traditional English-style cider using a natural fermentation process that required only fresh juice and yeast. Together they built a barn, which they lived in until their residence on the property was complete, and planted the first apple trees. The first harvest produced enough apples for Jan to make “lots of applesauce.” Harvesting for making cider started in 2010, with the first bottling in 2011.

Eight years on, Jan and Lou have a two-acre orchard of over 300 apple trees that provide the apples for their hard cider. In addition, the farm is home to approximately 30 pastured chickens (who Jan calls “the girls”).

girls-closeup

Two of “the girls” taking a stroll in the apple orchard

In previous years, when the drought wasn’t as severe, Lou has also indulged his passion for “growing things,” including Cinderella pumpkins, summer squashes, and strawberries. Aside from the apples for cider, whatever Jan and Lou don’t eat or put into cold storage goes to feed the chickens and livestock on neighboring properties.

next-door-cows1

Fruit from AppleGarden Farm: it’s what’s for dinner!

Biodiversity and sustainability were built into the plan for AppleGarden Farm. With a variety of 40 apples, some types, such as the crabapples, attract pollinators and add a tannic (dry) component to the cider blend. (In fact, Jan and Lou keep bee boxes on their property, although a beekeeper manages the bees.) Cider apples contribute tannins and tartness, while the sweeter apples, such as Elstar, Stayman Winesap, and Freedom allow Jan to play with the sweetness and flavor profile when blending the cider. The diversity of apples means a ripening season from late August through early November. Lou harvests the apples by hand when they’re ready, and nothing goes to waste or is left lingering on the tree. Fruit that falls from the tree on its own is left on the ground to become food for the chickens, who in turn, provide nitrogen-rich fertilizer (manure) throughout the orchard.girls-strolling2

Jan and Lou specifically chose trees that would thrive in their coastal region, accounting for foggy mornings and less-sunny summers than inland locations in Sonoma county, for example. Young trees, which take several years to produce apples, receive a small amount of drip irrigation as needed during the summer. Mature trees are dry farmed. Jan and Lou also use large amounts of local organic mulch to keep the soil moist following winter rains.

mulch-new-trees

Heavy mulch around less-mature trees at AppleGarden Farm

Apples are allowed to rest in picking boxes until Jan and Lou are ready to start pressing.

apples-picking-boxes

Freshly picked apples, waiting for the press

Using a new press that Lou built this year, they’re able to extract the maximum amount of juice from the apples. Leftover apple “smoosh” from the pressings becomes feed for neighbors’ livestock. Juice is combined with yeast and left to ferment in large barrels at room temperature for several weeks.

Jan uses commercial yeast for consistent results, but nothing else is added to the cider — no sugar, no flavorings, and no additional carbonation. She tests the cider for percentage of alcohol (maximum 7%) and sugar, acidity, and flavor. Adjustments are made by adding juice — more juice to reduce the percentage of alcohol, tannic juice to balance sweetness and so on. This is the art of blending, and Jan is very good at it.

ferment-collage

The cider as it goes through the first stage of the fermentation process

Two more stages of fermentation, which take the better part of a year in cold storage, happen before the cider can be bottled. Jan and Lou do the bottling on site themselves, using bottling equipment that Lou built. Labels are applied by hand, and Jan delivers the orders herself, driving up and down Marin county to deliver orders to wholesale accounts, of which there are now a dozen.

AppleGarden Farm’s Hard Cider has a moderate amount of alcohol, balance of tannins and sweetness, slight effervescence and sweet-tart apple flavor. Jan calls it a “casual drink, a picnic cider.”

jan-pouring

Jan Lee pouring a glass of her handcrafted farmstead cider

The flavor profile makes it a perfect pairing with Marin county-produced foods — especially full-flavored cheeses such as Cowgirl Creamery’s Mount Tam. Goat cheeses are also a good pairing, and I’m looking forward to trying the cider with Pescadero’s own Harley Goat Farms cheeses.

cheese-board

A selection of Marin county cheeses, charcuterie, marcona almonds, and olives to pair with AppleGarden Farm Hard Cider

Another excellent cider pairing? Tomales Bay oysters! In fact, it’s my new go-to choice of beverage to enjoy with our regional oysters, emphasizing the creaminess and balancing the briny notes.

oysters

Barbequed oysters with chorizo butter and AppleGarden Farm Hard Cider at The Marshall Store

Unfortunately AppleGarden Farm Hard Cider is not yet available in the 650. If you want to try this handmade, sustainable cider for yourself, you’ll have to head to points north and get some from these restaurants and specialty stores:

  • San Francisco: Upcider
  • Larkspur: Left Bank Brasserie
  • Fairfax: Taste Kitchen
  • Olema: Sir & Star Restaurant
  • Petaluma: Marin French Cheese Company
  • Point Reyes Station: Osteria Stellina, Tomales Bay Foods/Cowgirl Creamery
  • Inverness Park: Perry’s Deli
  • Inverness: Saltwater Oyster Depot
  • Marshall: Marshall Store and Oyster Bar, Nick’s Cove
  • Valley Ford: Rocker Oysterfeller’s

Better yet, plan a trip to West Marin when the farm is open and purchase some directly from Jan. Check the farm’s Facebook page for open days and times.

Waste-Less Wednesday: Down on the Farm

October 14, 2015 § 2 Comments

The issue of food waste has gone mainstream. Back in July, John Oliver covered the topic during an episode of “Last Week Tonight.” And last month, the USDA and EPA got in on the act, issuing a national Food Waste Challenge. The goal? To reduce food waste in the US by 50% by 2030. Already the challenge has received buy-in from major food retailers, as well as food industry and charitable organizations (although no formal program is in place yet).

Much of what’s reported and discussed in the media targets food waste at the consumer level: the food we buy and never eat, the science-experiment leftovers in our refrigerators, and the edible bits we toss out, like carrot greens and cauliflower leaves. But the consumer end is just one aspect of the food system in which food waste occurs. Food waste happens at all points in the system, literally from farm to table. According to the National Resource Defense Council (NRDC) report, “Wasted,” the total loss for fruits and vegetables at the production level is about 20%, (“production losses are greatest for fresh produce”) and from post-harvest to retail amounts to about 14%.

The type of waste that occurs on large, commercial farms often involves leaving behind fields of edible product to serve supermarket requirements for size and beauty. The amount of fresh food wasted in this way is staggering.

Just Eat It – Field Waste – Cauliflower (Deleted Scene) from Grant Baldwin on Vimeo.

But what about local farms in the 650, many of which are family owned and already focused on sustainability? How can a small farm — reliant on farmers’ markets, restaurants, and CSA subscribers for sales — manage and reduce food waste, while growing a business? I had a chance to ask John Vars, who is a partner-farmer of Fifth Crow Farm in Pescadero (along with co-partners Mike Irving and Teresa Kurtak) during FCF’s CSA Open House farm tour in August.

John Vars, one of Fifth Crow Farm's three partner-farmers, getting ready to lead a farm tour

John Vars, one of Fifth Crow Farm’s three partner-farmers, getting ready to lead a farm tour during the CSA Open House in August

You don’t see the kind of prettying-up waste that has happened on large, commercial farms. In terms of what Fifth Crow takes to market or provides to CSA subscribers, it’s the whole product harvested from the tree or bush or out of the ground. You’ll see the occasionally blemished or odd-sized fruit, extra-large heads of cauliflower, root vegetables with their greens still attached, and even roots-on basil.

Roots-on basil plant from Fifth Crow Farm: kept in water at room temperature, it lasted almost five weeks

Roots-on basil plant from Fifth Crow Farm: kept in water at room temperature, it lasted almost five weeks

Farmers’ markets are one of the less-predictable retail outlets for local farms. Market sales can be affected by weather, time of year, and customer tastes, just to name a few of the variables. Estimating market demand and producing “the right amount” is an on-going challenge for any growing food business.  You don’t want to disappoint customers by running out too quickly, but you also don’t want to end up with too much unsold product that you might have to take home with you.

One step in reducing food waste from farm to market then, is getting good at estimating your customers’ demands. Fifth Crow Farm currently participates in six Bay Area markets weekly, in addition to providing farm products to restaurants and CSA subscribers. With six years (now closing in on seven) of growing seasons behind them, the Fifth Crow folks have enough data and experience to better predict and plan what they take to farmers’ markets.

While they’ve gotten better at estimating what to take to market, inevitably there are items that don’t sell. In line with their sustainable, community-based approach to business, Fifth Crow handles leftover market products by:

  • Donating to community organizations that are able to pick up product directly from the market
  • Returning unsold produce to the farm and offering it to the employees, at no charge
  • Using it as food for the farm’s pasture-raised chickens (which produce some of the best eggs I’ve had recently)
No food waste: Fifth Crow Farm's pasture-raised chickens dine on greens, beets, kohlrabi, and fennel

No food waste: Fifth Crow Farm’s pasture-raised chickens dine on greens, beets, kohlrabi, and fennel

John mentioned that the partners especially like being able to offer the unsold products to their employees. In addition to paying a fair wage, it’s another way they support the employees’ hard work throughout the season.

So that’s how one local farm is doing it right: taking a multi-pronged approach that benefits the land, the community, and the farm as a business. Have you asked your local food producers and retailers how they’re reducing food waste? What did you learn? Share your experience in the comments below.

Waste-Less Wednesday: The Latest in Food Waste

September 30, 2015 § Leave a comment

Starting today, Waste-Less Wednesday is getting a bit of a change up. In addition to tips and recipes for reducing food waste at home, you’ll be seeing the occasional news roundup of food waste topics, near and far.

While I think about food waste at a micro level — i.e., my kitchen and local food system — recent conversations with friends have reminded me to look beyond the 650. Conversations about food waste are now happening with more frequency at the national and international levels, thanks to chefs, writers, and food activists. We’re learning more about the impact of food waste on hunger, loss of resources, and climate change — and how all of us can be a part of the food waste solution. Here’s a roundup of what you might have missed recently.

September 29, 2015
Book Release: Waste Free Kitchen Handbook: A guide to eating well and saving money by wasting less food by Dana Gunders

Photo via Amazon.com

Photo via Amazon.com

Dana Gunders, who authored the pivotal food-waste report “Wasted: How America Is Losing Up to 40 Percent of Its Food from Farm to Fork to Landfill,” is a Project Scientist with the National Resources Defense Council in San Francisco. I first heard her speak about food waste during a panel talk co-hosted by CUESA last year. During this educational and inspiring discussion, Gunders gave a most memorable description of consumer food waste: “It’s like going to the grocery store, buying five bags of groceries and dropping two of them in the parking lot — and leaving them there.”

As a scientist, Gunders wanted to understand what consumers needed to know to reduce food waste. Specifically, what did they need to know about buying, storing, and cooking food, including food that seems ready for the compost pile? For example: “When you’re standing in your kitchen with a wrinkled tomato, what do you need to know in order not to waste it?” In addition to practical information, the book also contains what Gunders calls “use-it-up recipes” for ingredients on the brink (or maybe just a little bit past).

Get the whole story in just 2 Minutes.
Read Dana Gunders’ blog post about the book release: Why I Wrote the Waste-Free Kitchen Handbook | Dana Gunders’s Blog | Switchboard, from NRDC

September 28, 2015
United Nations’ Food Waste Luncheon is All About the Leftovers

Photo via @UN_spokesperson (Twitter)

Photo via @UN_spokesperson (Twitter)

Blue Hill and wastED Chef Dan Barber and former White House Chef Sam Kass recently created a luncheon of repurposed food for 30 world leaders. The meal, which included dishes created for and served at Barber’s wastED pop-up restaurant brought attention to the issues of global food waste, loss of resources, and climate change. The printed menu included a description of each course, but also the source of each ingredient. The first course, “Landfill salad,” consisted of “vegetable scraps, rejected apples and pears, and chickpea water.”

Get the 2-Minute version of the UN Food Waste Luncheon:
“UN Serves ‘Landfill Salad’ to Highlight Food Waste”

September 25, 2015
More Than a Billion Pounds of Seafood Going to Waste Every Year

Fresh, wild Alaskan salmon fillets, purchased in the 650

Fresh, wild Alaskan salmon fillets, purchased in the 650

Food waste doesn’t occur just on the farm or in the food-manufacturing plants. According to a recent NPR article, almost half of the US seafood supply ends up wasted. While seafood waste happens throughout the system — from boat to processor to consumer — “consumers are far and away wasting more seafood than any other group,” tossing out 1.3 billion pounds of seafood annually. Some of this seafood is purchased and never eaten, and some is “plate waste” that ends up in pet food bowls or the garbage.

Consumers aren’t solely to blame for seafood waste. Processing plants discard the “less desirable” parts of fish (think: fish heads) in favor of supermarket-perfect pieces. Commercial fisheries contribute to waste as well, through bycatch. Bycatch are the unwanted fish and other marine life that are caught in addition to the target species. Efforts are being made in the industry to reduce bycatch, but it’s still a problem.

Want to know more? Check out this 3-minute read on the state of seafood waste in the US:
Via NPR | The Salt | “We Leave Half Of All Our Seafood On The Table (And In The Trash) by Alistair Bland

September 16, 2015
USDA and EPA Set National Food Waste Reduction Target
Food waste hits the big time — and that’s a good thing! The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have issued a nationwide food-waste challenge: a 50% reduction of food waste by 2030. A variety of big-name US food retailers, agriculture industry reps, and charitable organizations have already signed on with support (Albertsons, Wegmans Markets, and City Harvest, just to name a few.)

Read the press release in 2½ minutes or less:
Food Retailers, Agriculture Industry, and Charitable Organizations Support First National Goal to Reduce Food Waste by 50 Percent by 2030.”

Want more detail? Check out the Office of the Chief Economist’s web page on food waste.

What’s your food waste story? Share in the comments below.

Waste-Less Wednesday: Getting the Most from Summer Fruit

June 17, 2015 § Leave a comment

Ever feel like you’re in a race to keep ahead of food waste at home — particularly during the summer? Summer, for all of its wonderful bounty of fresh produce from CSA boxes, farmers’ markets, and home gardens, also presents a challenge: how to make the most of the fruits and vegetables that come into your home before they get too soft, wilty, or (ugh) moldy? With the drought continuing here in California, it seems more important than ever to use up what comes into the kitchen, rather than letting it any of it go to waste.

I seem to be managing the vegetables so far (salads — lots of salads with an array of lettuces — paired with roasted vegetables like fennel and carrots), but the fruit is another story. Between glossy, large, bright-red strawberries from Fifth Crow Farms and an abundance of quickly ripening backyard apricots and long-lingering lemons, I’ve got more than my fair share of fruit — and with it a small case of FOMO. I mean…What if I don’t make the most of that fresh, seasonal fruit while I can?

Santa Rosa Plums

Neighborhood plums in the 650

If you’re struggling with the idea of not enjoying all of that fruit while it’s fresh, ease up. The beauty of eating seasonally is that you get to look forward to that bounty and really appreciate it while the food is available — when it’s at the peak of flavor and freshness. But you also have the option to preserve that fruit for later enjoyment, too. So, here’s your cheat sheet for enjoying summer fruit now and later. From proper storage to freezing to (yes, you can!) making jams and preserves, here are some ways to reduce summer fruit waste at home.

Optimal Storage
I try to get as much life out of my fruit as possible, which starts with storing it appropriately. First thing to know: different summer fruits have different storage needs. More important is that not every piece of fruit has to (or should be) stored in the refrigerator. After many years of trial and error, here’s how I’m storing summer fruit.

  • Berries: Don’t wash until you’re ready to use them. To store, line a plastic or glass storage container with paper towel. Arrange the berries in a single layer on the paper towel, cover with a well-fitting lid, and store on the top shelf of the refrigerator. Soft berries (raspberries, blackberries, etc.) will last a few days at most. I’ve been able to keep strawberries and blueberries this way for up to 10 days, but typically have to replace the paper towel and wipe down the interior of the storage container to remove condensation every 3-4 days.
  • Stone Fruit: Again, I don’t wash stone fruit until I’m ready to use it. Store ripe fruit in a single layer in a dish or on a sheet pan at room temperature and use or freeze it within 2-3 days. Storing stone fruit in the refrigerator results in an unpleasant, mealy texture, so don’t do it. (Note: Cherries are the exception! Store cherries in a closed container or ziplock bag in the refrigerator to extend their lifespan.)
  • Citrus: Wash, dry, and store at room temperature in a dish or bowl if you’re going to use them within 2 days. Otherwise, store in a ziplock bag (with the air pressed out) in coldest part of the refrigerator (usually the bottom shelf or crisper drawer). I’ve kept citrus this way for up to three months.

Freezing
Already know that you’ve got too much fruit on hand and want to freeze some for later? There are three ways to prepare fruit for freezing:

  • Unsweetened Pack
  • Syrup Pack
  • Sugar Pack

I’ve tried all three methods and have found that the unsweetened approach is quickest, easiest, and leaves me the most flexibility for using the fruit when I thaw it. Here’s how:

  1. Wash the fruit, removing any dirt. Place on paper towels or cotton kitchen towels and pat dry, removing as much moisture as possible.
  2. Cut away any bruised, damaged, or moldy spots, then prepare the fruit as follows:
    Strawberries: Remove green tops and hull.
    Stone fruit: Slice in half and remove the pit.
    Blueberries and soft berries: Remove any stems.
  3. Arrange the fruit in a single layer on a parchment paper-lined sheet pan (don’t crowd or pieces might stick together when frozen), then place in the freezer for an hour or so — just until the fruit is frozen.

    Frozen apricots thawing

    Frozen apricots: washed, halved, pitted. Ready for bagging.

  4. Store fruit in a freezer bag with the air pressed out.

For more information about freezing fruit using the syrup and sugar pack methods, check out The National Center for Home Food Preservation’s web site.

Making Fruit Compotes
Compotes are my favorite way to use up berries that are past their prime for eating out of hand or not pretty enough for decorating a cake or tart. Berries, sugar, and lemon juice are all you need to make a quick berry compote, and you can tailor the amount of sugar and lemon juice to your taste.

Need a starting point? For every 6 ounces of berries, add 1 to 1½ ounces of sugar and a teaspoon of lemon juice. Cook in a saucepan over medium to medium-high heat for 10 minutes for a thinner, saucy compote, or as long as 15 minutes for a thicker, jammy compote. Try this Strawberry-Orange Compote (or substitute your favorite berries).

DIY fruit yogurt: swirl in your own homemade compote

650 Strawberry-Orange Compote with organic Greek yogurt

Preserving: Jams and Marmalades
I’ve been baby stepping my way into canning this year, but it’s turning out to be my new addiction! When I made my first batch of marmalade, and the canning seals didn’t bounce back when I tested them, I did the happy dance around my kitchen. After another successful batch of marmalade, I was ready to move on to making apricot butter, and then strawberry jam.

If you’ve been thinking about canning, but felt uncertain or afraid, don’t let that hold you back! It’s easier and less scary than you might think! Just take the time to learn a little about the process of canning and why it’s important to follow recipes and canning steps as written. Here are some resources that I’ve found informative and helpful.

  • Easy citrus marmalade: If you’re just starting out, this Blood-Orange Rosemary Marmalade from The Herbfarm Cookbook is an easy introduction to canning. Prep work is minimal, and there’s no water bath processing step to worry about (you will have to sterilize the jars and lids, though). I’ve substituted regular oranges and ruby grapefruits with success.

    Mmmmm, marmalade

    Blood Orange-Rosemary Maramalade (just as good with ruby grapefruit or navel oranges!)

  • Small-batch canning: If you’re short on kitchen storage space or don’t want to invest in making large batches of jam (seriously, what would I do with 10 pints of jam??), then small-batch canning is for you! What do I mean by small-batch canning? Think: 2—4 pints or half-pints at a time. Food in Jars blogger and author Marisa McClellan offers a wealth of information about the equipment for and process of canning on her website, not to mention some tasty recipes. (Use the site’s search box to locate small-batch jam recipes or scroll through the recipe index.)

    From left to right: Ruby Grapefruit and Rosemary Marmalade, Honey Strawberry Jam, Apricot Butter

    From left to right: Ruby Grapefruit and Rosemary Marmalade,
    Honey Strawberry Jam, Apricot Butter

  • Pectin-free, low-sugar fruit jams: While searching for small-batch, pectin-free, low-sugar recipes, I stumbled upon this post on Northwest Edible Life. Blogger Erica not only provides a detailed introduction to making jam the old-school way, but also offers up this fun chart for creating your own custom flavors.

Sharing Is Caring
And let’s not forget the simplest way to reduce food waste: share with family, neighbors, and friends. Every summer I trade apricots to my next-door neighbors for their home-grown tomatoes. They make apricot pie, and I make a batch of oven-dried tomatoes (some of which eventually make it into the freezer for longer preservation!).
Want a broader community for sharing your abundance of home-grown fruits and vegetables? Try offering it on neighborhood websites Freecycle.org or Nextdoor.com.

How are you preventing summer food waste at home? Share your ideas and thoughts in the comments below or on our Facebook page.

Wasteless Wednesday: Veggie Smoosh Burgers

May 27, 2015 § 5 Comments

Last year I posted a recipe for Spring Vegetable Broth, which in retrospect, should have been titled “Year-Round Vegetable Broth.” Although the vegetables called for hit that seasonal sweet spot between late winter and early spring, you’re likely to be able to find the ingredients (or flavorful substitutes) just about any time of year here in the 650.

Vegetables in the pot for broth

Vegetables in the pot for broth

I’ve been making this broth for years; it’s a staple in my kitchen. Healthful, low-fat, and fresh, it has been the basis for so many comforting soups, rice dishes, and pastas. Making broths and stocks are a great way to use up wilty and just-about-out-the-door vegetables and herbs, leftover peels, and a variety of vegetable bits and bobs. Spring Vegetable Broth is the kind of recipe that not only offers a simple and useful way to reduce food waste in the kitchen, but also encourages creative, to-your-taste cooking.

Truth be told, I never make this broth exactly the same way twice. I’ve substituted yellow carrots for orange, sweet potatoes for butternut squash, dried thyme for fresh… you get the idea. And yet, every time, I end up with a flavorful broth that is good its own or as the basis of a homemade soup.

The by-product of this tasty broth is what I’ve referred to as the vegetable “smoosh.” After boiling the vegetables, herbs, and spices in filtered water for an hour or so, you press everything through a strainer to extract all of that brothy goodness. What you’re left with is a small pile of smashed vegetables that look something like rough baby food. And what do you do with this smoosh? Well, for lack of a better idea, it’s likely to end up in the green bin or compost pile. But what if you could use it for another recipe? A two-for-one deal, if you will. That would be a big win in the weekly war on food waste at home!

Using a ladle to extract more broth

Vegetables getting the “smoosh” treatment to extract broth

That’s the question I’ve been considering for the past year or so: what if you could make something out of the leftovers of making broth? For starters, it’s not much to look at — boiled down, smashed vegetables. Then there’s the fact that some of the flavor has been extracted for the broth. And yet, it just seems like such a waste to toss out what amounts to about a pound of rough vegetable mash. It is, after all, still food. Making something out of it would not only reduce food waste, but let you benefit twice from the money spent on those vegetables in the first place.

With a little doctoring, it turns out that vegetable smoosh is a good base for homemade veggie burgers! The first step? Make sure you’ve strained as much liquid as possible out of the vegetable mash. Once you’ve got a fairly dry and chunky mixture of vegetable smoosh, adding brown rice and bread crumbs give some substance to the mix and absorb any remaining liquid. Adding an egg helps bind everything together and adds a little fat (not a bad thing). The vegetable flavors are muted, so you’ll need to add herbs and spices that accent the vegetables without overwhelming them. Finally, a two-step stove-top cooking method lets you get a crisp exterior on the burgers, while cooking them thoroughly.

Recipe: Veggie Smoosh Burgers
Yield: 4 small burgers (approximately 3″ patties)

You’ll need to make sure that you’ve extracted as much liquid as possible from the vegetable smoosh before making the burgers, which means putting some muscle into the straining part of making the broth. (Note that this recipe calls for 8 ounces of vegetable smoosh, although a full batch of Spring Vegetable Broth should produce about 1 pound of smoosh, enough for a double-batch of burgers.)

Serve these burgers on a bun with your favorite toppings, or bunless alongside a seasonal, fresh green salad. Mild tomato-based sauces, such as pico de gallo and homemade ketchup complement the delicate vegetable flavor of these burgers, as do carrot-top pesto or hummus.

What you need:

Medium-sized bowl
Rubber spatula
Plate for breading the patties
12-14″ frying pan (or use a 10″ frying pan and cook the patties in two batches)
Turner/spatula

Ingredients:

8 ounces organic vegetable smoosh, leftover from making Spring Vegetable Broth, with as much liquid as possible pressed out
3 ounces cooked organic brown rice
1 ounce dry breadcrumbs, plus 1/2 cup for coating the patties (I used homemade breadcrumbs from spelt bread)
1 tablespoon chopped or snipped fresh chives (1/4″ pieces)
1 large egg
½ teaspoon worcestershire sauce
⅛ teaspoon garlic powder
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil for frying the pattiesburger-ingredients

How to:

  1. Using a rubber spatula, combine the vegetable smoosh, rice, and breadcrumbs in a medium-size bowl.
  2. Add the egg, worcestershire sauce, spices, and chives and mix until thoroughly combined.
    The mixture should be sticky, but not stiff. You should be able to easily scoop the mixture and form it into a cohesive ball.combining-ingreds
  3. Divide the mixture into four equal-sized portions (approximately 3.5 ounces each). Roll each portion into a ball, then flatten it into a patty.
    The patties should be about ½” thick and about 3″ in diameter.patty-and-balls
  4. Pour the additional ½ cup of breadcrumbs onto a plate for coating the patties.
  5. Press both sides and the edges of each patty into the breadcrumbs, coating completely.
    breading-pattyWhen all patties are coated in breadcrumbs, set aside while you heat the pan for frying.
  6. Add 1 tablespoon olive oil to the frying pan and heat on high until the oil glistens but doesn’t smoke.
    Swirl the oil around the pan to coat the bottom completely.
  7. Place the patties in the pan and cook for 30-60 seconds to “sear” the outside, then turn the heat down to medium-high and cook for another 7 minutes.frying-patties-2
  8. Turn the heat back up to high, flip the patties, and add the remaining tablespoon of oil. Again, cook for 30-60 seconds to “sear” the outside, then turn the heat down to medium-high and cook for another 7 minutes.
  9. Serve immediately.

    Vegetable burger patty topped with tomato salsa and cultured sour cream

    Vegetable burger patty topped with tomato salsa and cultured sour cream

Waste-Less Wednesday: Smashed Cauliflower on Toast with Rocket and Radish

May 19, 2015 § Leave a comment

What’s up with our weather? The recent stretch of cloudy, cool days feels like more spring in Seattle, than spring in the Bay Area. We should be well into our second heat wave by now! (I joke.) Maybe it’s this pre-summer limbo or the grey days, but I’ve been craving comfort food. Nothing as solid as the roasted vegetables or heavy soups of fall and winter, but something warm-ish, fresh, and easy to make. Something on toast, perhaps.

I know, I know, toast is all the rage now. $4 toast. Avocado on toast. Soft egg on toast. (Really, I don’t think I can see one more “genius” toast recipe.) For me, lunch or dinner on toast is old school. I grew up in a household of “things on toast” — pretty typical for my transplanted Australian family. I’m not talking about a toasted sandwich or toast-n-jam. Nope, I mean a small, filling meal with toast as the foundation, topped with something savory and substantial.

Smashed cauliflower on toast with argula and radish matchsticks

Something like this, perhaps: An upgrade to the toast-based meals I grew up eating

Spaghetti on toast is an Australian classic and a typical mom-doesn’t-want-to-cook meal in my house when I was a kid. Often it was a Sunday dinner kind of thing. Saturday dinners were classic roasted beast with veg, but Sunday dinners were simple and casual. Occasionally spaghetti on toast was a mid-week meal: a quick way to use up the previous night’s leftovers of that iconic Australian dish, Spaghetti Bolognese. (Yes, believe it or not, Spaghetti Bolognese is an iconic Australian dish, thanks to a post-WWII influx of Italian immigrants.) If you didn’t have any “spag Bol” on hand, spaghetti-o’s were a quick-and-easy stand-in — and actually preferred by the kids for the sweet sauce and the fun o’s.

Sick-in-bed days meant scrambled or poached eggs on toast. As soon as I could reach the toaster, Vegemite and cheese on toast was a go-to, good for a solid breakfast or fast lunch. And then of course, there’s my father’s favorite: asparagus on toast. Did you just get an image of bright green, fresh (maybe grilled) stalks, drizzled with olive oil and a dash of sea salt. Yeah, no. Dad’s favorite on-toast meal calls for canned asparagus. Why? Because you can smoosh and spread it on toast with a fork. Of course. He still gets a little boyish when he makes it. “I’m having asparagus on toast,” he’ll announce to anyone within earshot of the kitchen. You go Dad.

Recently I found myself with a few leftover cauliflower florets and not nearly enough arugula (aka, rocket lettuce) to make a salad or even a small pasta dish. But hey, if I steamed the cauliflower past the al dente stage, couldn’t I smoosh it like mashed potatoes (or Dad’s canned asparagus), mix in some olive oil, mound it onto some toast and top it with the peppery arugula leaves? Yes, I could. Plus, I’ve been crushing hard on this nutty, dense spelt bread lately, so it would be the perfect delivery device for the smashed cauliflower.

How about that: from leftover bits of produce to a fast, healthy, vegetable-based meal that’s ready in 15-20 minutes. Warm, flavorful, and with enough textures and flavors to keep your mouth interested. Genius? Nah, just good ol’ Aussie-inspired comfort food.

What’s your favorite toast-based dish? Share in the comments below or on our Facebook page.

Recipe: Smashed Caulilflower on Toast with Rocket and Radish
Yield: 1 serving (or 2 small servings, if you’re willing to share)

This quick meal is a comforting, yet flavorful way to enjoy fresh-from-the-market produce or to use up any bits of older vegetables that are lingering in your refrigerator. Mixing the smashed cauliflower with salt and olive oil gives it a creamy texture and buttery flavor. The nutty taste and denseness of the toast adds substance, while the earthiness of the arugula and peppery flavor of the crunchy radishes balances the softness of the cauliflower. You can make this recipe vegan or non-dairy by 86-ing the cheese.

What you need:

Saucepan with lid and steamer insert (2-3 quart capacity)
Small bowl
Fork and/or spoon
Toaster or toaster oven

Ingredients:

6 ounces cauliflower (about 1½ heaping cups), cut into 1-1½-inch pieces
1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling on the toast
1 teaspoon chopped or snipped chives (no larger than ¼-inch pieces)
2 pieces of sturdy, nutty bread, such as spelt or sprouted grain
¼ cup chopped arugula (rocket lettuce)
1 small radish, sliced into matchstick-sized pieces
Salt and pepper to taste
Optional: Thin slices of sharp cheddar cheese (I used paper-thin slices of aged raw milk cheddar; you’ll need a sharp knife to cut thin slices)

A showcase of organic produce: Cauliflower, freshly ground black pepper, arugula, radishes, sea salt, olive oil, and spelt bread

A showcase of local, organic produce paired with olive oil, freshly ground black pepper and sea salt, complemented by a nutty, dense spelt bread

How to:

  1. Fill the saucepan with 1-2 inches of water (depending on where your steamer insert sits in the pan), place the steamer insert in the saucepan, cover with a lid, and bring the water to a boil.
  2. As soon as the water reaches a boil, turn the heat to medium-high to keep the water simmering, but not at a high boil. Place the cauliflower in the steamer insert and cover with the saucepan lid. Steam the cauliflower for 10 minutes.
    When the pieces are fully cooked, you should be able to easily smash them with a fork or spoon.
  3. Transfer the cauliflower pieces to a small bowl and smash them with a fork or the back of a spoon. Meanwhile, make the toast.
    When you start smashing the cauliflower, you’ll get something that looks like rice.

    At first you'll get cauliflower "rice," but keep smashing

    At first you’ll get cauliflower “rice,” but keep smashing


    Keep smashing the cauliflower until the mixture resembles lumpy mashed potatoes.

    That's more like it: smashed cauliflower

    That’s more like it: smashed cauliflower

  4. Add the olive oil, chives, and salt and pepper to taste. Mix to combine thoroughly.
  5. Drizzle each piece of toast with just enough olive oil to coat the top, but not soak through the bread.
  6. Optional: Add some umami by covering each piece of toast with a thin slice of cheese.
    Think of the cheese as a condiment here. The cauliflower is the star, so keep the cheese slices thin. Keeping things vegan or dairy-free? Skip this step.
  7. Divide the cauliflower mixture, mounding half on each piece of toast, then spreading it out to the edges of the bread. Top with radish matchsticks and chopped arugula.
  8. Finish with a small drizzle of olive oil and a twist of freshly ground black pepper.composite1_edited-1

Waste-Less Wednesday: Meyer Lemon Curd

May 13, 2015 § 2 Comments

So, let’s say you zest 10 or 12 Meyer lemons for Organic Meyer Lemon Limoncello, leaving you with a bunch of nekkid fruit. And then? Juice them, of course. And then? Then you have about a pint of Meyer lemon juice. And then? Exactly. Now you have to come up with a way to use up that lovely, fresh lemon juice. Sure, you can dip into that pint when making salad dressings, lemonade, lemon sorbet, and so on, but what about a recipe that really lets the fresh, unique flavor of Meyer lemons shine — and makes a serious dent in the amount of lemon juice taking up space in your refrigerator?

The answer to “And then?” is Meyer lemon curd! Having luscious, creamy, tangy-sweet lemon curd on hand means that you’re halfway to quick lemon tarts, lemon bars, or a sunny topping for pound cake or scones. Sweet! (Dude!)

Meyer lemon curd

Meyer lemon curd

Lemon curd is not a jam or a sauce, it’s actually a custard (although you can thin it with juice or cream to make it saucy). Other sweet treats that are custards? Crême brulée and ice cream, for example. A custard, by definition, is a combination of eggs, milk or cream, and sugar, typically cooked either on the stovetop or in the oven. Lemon curd substitutes lemon juice for the milk or cream and gets its creamy mouthfeel from the addition of butter at the end of the cooking process.

While Meyer lemon curd seemed like a good waste-less solution to too much lemon juice and some eggs that were teetering on being too old to keep around, finding the right recipe was a bit of a problem. My go-to lemon curd recipe calls for a small pile of zest and egg yolks (not whole eggs, just yolks). Not an ideal solution because I’d end up with leftover egg whites and more nekkid lemons, which meant more juice. Hmmm, this didn’t seem to sit right with the Waste-Less Wednesday mission to reduce waste. I was trying to reduce waste, not create more.

What I needed was a lemon curd recipe that met these criteria:

  • No zest required
  • Whole eggs or whole eggs plus one or two yolks (Why one or two? Because you can easily use up one or two egg whites making an egg-white omelette or Pisco Sours!)
  • Not too sweet
  • No straining necessary

So what about that last part — no straining? No, I’m not referring to the amount of physical effort required to make the curd! Depending on how you cook the lemon curd, you can end up with some cooked egg bits in the finished curd that you’ll need to strain out if you want a completely smooth lemon curd. Temperature is the culprit here. Egg whites cook more quickly than egg yolks, so it’s key that you whisk the egg whites and yolks together thoroughly before you start cooking the curd.

Cooking technique is also a factor. Recipes that call for cooking lemon curd directly over heat (as opposed to in a double-boiler setup) — or even boiling the curd — can result in uneven or too much heat too quickly, causing the eggs in the mixture to curdle. What you need to know about cooking custards is that you want to cook them low and slow — with evenly distributed heat. That’s why custards are often cooked in or over water baths. So, really all lemon curd needs is a double-boiler setup and your undivided attention for 10-15 minutes.

Ah, where to find this unicorn of lemon curd recipes? It was a quest — through a dozen cookbooks and magazines and half a dozen online recipe sites.

There are at least this many lemon curd recipes in the world

There are at least This Many lemon curd recipes in the world

Who knew there were so many different (and yet similar) lemon curd recipes in the world? After all of that research, I can’t say that I found one recipe that met my criteria for ingredients and technique together, but I had some reliable sources to draw on for inspiration in creating my own easy-to-make, rich lemon curd.

What did I learn?

  • You can make a flavorful lemon curd without zest (adding zest to the mix will amp up the flavor, no doubt, but it’s not required)
  • Egg yolks give the curd its vibrant yellow color and rich flavor, so use eggs with rich yolks
  • Balance between sweet and tart is essential, so the amount of sugar should be less than or equal to the amount of juice in the recipe
  • You can cut out the straining step by keeping the cooking temperature even and stirring the mixture continuously

Have you made lemon curd? With or without zest? Strained or not? Share your thoughts and experiences in the column below.

Recipe: Meyer Lemon Curd
Inspired by: The Culinary Institute of America and Ripe for Dessert by David Lebovitz
Yield: About 16 ounces

Here it is: a zest-free, no-strain, minimal-waste, creamy lemon curd with all the sweet tangy flavor of Meyer lemons. (Note that I do include an optional straining step, in case you need it.) Make sure that you can commit an uninterrupted 10-15 minutes to the cooking process. You need to stir the curd continuously during this time. Serve this luscious treat as a complement to plain baked goods, such as cakes or scones, as a topper for waffles, or with fresh berries.

What you need:

Double-boiler or 2-quart saucepan and Pyrex or stainless steel bowl that fits securely in the top of the saucepan
Whisk
Wooden spoon
Kitchen towel or hot pad
Medium-sized Pyrex or stainless steel bowl
9″ x 13″ metal baking pan for ice-water bath
2 dozen ice cubes
Optional: Instant read-thermometer
Optional: Fine-mesh strainer

Ingredients:

6 ounces freshly squeezed Meyer lemon juice
6 ounces fair trade organic sugar
2 large eggs
2 egg yolks, from large eggs (total weight of eggs plus yolks is about 5 ounces)
3 ounces sweet butter, cut into small pieces
Pinch of salt

Ingredients: Eggs, fresh Meyer lemon juice, sugar,  butter, and a pinch of salt

Ingredients: Eggs, fresh Meyer lemon juice, sugar, butter, and a pinch of salt

How to:

  1. Fill the saucepan with approximately 2 inches of water, cover with a lid, and bring to a simmer. Turn the heat to medium-high.
    You want to be sure that there’s enough water to keep the simmer going, but not so much that the insert or bowl will be immersed in water when you place it on top of the saucepan. Also, you shouldn’t see any steam coming from the saucepan. If, at any time during the cooking process, steam starts to come out of the saucepan, turn down the heat.
  2. Prepare the ice-water bath. Fill the baking pan with a dozen ice cubes and then add enough water to fill the pan about halfway. Place a clean, medium-sized bowl in the baking pan.

    Ice bath setup with clean bowl for finished lemon curd

    Ice bath setup with clean bowl for finished lemon curd

  3. In the other bowl or double-boiler insert, whisk the eggs until yolks and whites are well combined, adding the pinch of salt.
  4. Stabilize the bowl or insert by placing a rubber jar opener or folded wet kitchen towel underneath, then whisk in the juice.
    Pour the juice in slowly with one hand, while whisking to combine it with the eggs using the other hand. For example, if you’re right-handed, pour the juice into the eggs with your left hand, and whisk with the right.

    Whisking in the juice: make sure you stabilize the bowl with a rubber pad or wet towel underneath

    Whisking in the juice: make sure you stabilize the bowl with a rubber pad or wet towel underneath

  5. Whisk the sugar into the egg and juice mixture.
    Use the same technique as you did to whisk in the juice.
  6. Place the bowl or insert into the saucepan over the simmering water and, using the whisk, stir continuously for about 10 minutes, until the mixture starts to thicken.
    For the first five minutes, nothing will happen, but keep stirring at a slow-to-medium pace. Around the 8-minute mark you’ll notice a little thickening, barely. Don’t stop stirring. You’ll want to keep the mixture moving the entire time so it cooks evenly and doesn’t have a chance to curdle. I’m not kidding. Don’t stop. Don’t step away for a minute, or you might end up with lemon scrambled eggs.

    Keep stirring for even cooking

    Five minutes in and nothing yet, but keep stirring for even cooking

  7. After 10-12 minutes test for doneness and temperature. You want to cook the mixture until its thickened and an instant-read thermometer reads 175° F.
    If you don’t have an instant-read thermometer, try this old-school method of testing doneness: dip the back of a wooden spoon in the mixture. The curd should coat the back of the spoon. If not, keep stirring and cooking. If the spoon is coated, run your finger through the curd that sticks to the spoon. If the gap doesn’t close at all, the curd is ready to come off the heat.

    The spoon test (works when making ice cream custard, too!)

    The spoon test (works when making ice cream custard, too!)

  8. Turn off the heat, and remove the bowl or insert, placing it on a folded towel. Add half the butter cubes to the mixture and whisk until completely melted and combined. Then add the other half, again, whisking until completely combined.
    Whisking in the butter after taking curd off the heat

    Whisking in the butter after taking curd off the heat

    As the curd cools, it will continue to thicken, so don’t worry if doesn’t seem thick enough now. However, residual heat will continue to cook the curd, so it’s important to bring the temperature down as soon as possible, which is why you want to get the curd into an ice-water bath.

  9. Add the remaining dozen ice cubes to the prepared ice-water bath.
  10. Optional: Sometimes you’ll end up with a few bits of cooked egg whites in the curd. If you want a completely smooth curd, you can strain it through a fine-mesh sieve into the bowl in the ice bath. Use a rubber spatula to press the curd through the sieve.
    I had a few bits of egg white in my curd, but they’re so tiny that I could have skipped the straining.

    Those tiny white flecks are bits of egg white that cooked too quickly

    Those tiny white flecks are bits of egg white that cooked too quickly

  11. If you skipped step 10, use a rubber spatula to scrape the curd from the double-boiler insert or bowl into the clean bowl in the ice bath.
  12. Cover the curd with a piece of plastic wrap so that the curd doesn’t develop a “skin.”

    Keep your curd skin-free: place a piece of plastic wrap directly on top

    Keep your curd skin-free: place a piece of plastic wrap directly on top

  13. Top up the water in the baking pan so that it’s equal with or slightly above the level of the curd in the bowl.
  14. Place the ice bath (with curd bowl) in the refrigerator and allow the curd to cool for 1-2 hours before serving.
  15. Store in a covered container in the refrigerator for about 3 weeks.curd-hero_edited-1

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