May 6, 2015 § 1 Comment
When was the last time you took a good look inside your freezer? Do you know what’s living in there, under the frozen peas and ice cream? For many of us, the freezer is like a hall closet for food. We just keep shoving stuff in there until one day it all comes tumbling out, and we finally have to decide to pitch or keep that frozen mass of … what was that again? And how long has it been in there?
One way to keep a handle on what’s going into your freezer — and how long it lives there — is to label freezer items with the “date in.” All you need is a Sharpie and some freezer tape. For each item that goes into the freezer, take a minute and write the current date on a piece of freezer tape. (Add the name of the item, too, if it’s packaged in an opaque or unlabeled container, freezer bag, or layers of foil. ) Affix the tape to the item, and voilà. No more guessing games about how long that foil-wrapped thing has been wedged behind last week’s ice cream and under last year’s frozen pizza.
I’ve been a labeler since culinary school. All good, right? Yes and no. The followup to labelling is, that you have to — every few months — take a look at what’s actually living in the freezer. If you focus on a mostly fresh-food diet, then you might not be digging into the freezer that often. I use my freezer as a place to preserve foods — breads, summer fruit that I want to enjoy later in the year, stocks and broths, and vegetable scraps for said stocks and broths. In short, it’s place to store food until I get around to doing something with it. Problem is, often out of sight, out of mind. Hence the need to check in every few months.
Given that we’re into the first week of May already, summer garden vegetables and u-pick fruit are on their way. Unfortunately, I still have last year’s overages of backyard apricots and Swanton Berry Farm strawberries taking up most of my freezer. Sheesh. (Ok, so I’m not so good at the every-few-months check-in.) So while most Waste-Less Wednesdays have focused on ways to reduce waste by rescuing or repurposing what’s in front of you — in the refrigerator or on the countertop — let’s not forget about what’s going on in the freezer.
So, let’s say you’ve got an excess of freezer fruit. What to do? While freezing fruit often maintains most of the flavor, the texture is another story. Soft fruits like berries and apricots don’t bounce back so well when thawed, which means they’re ideal for smoothies or cooked fruit dishes. A simple way to enjoy previously frozen fruit? Make a compote. While it might sound fancy, the making part is easy. A compote is fruit cooked in liquid with sugar added for sweetness. Perfectly delicious on their own, compotes can also dress up Greek yogurt, elevate waffles and pancakes, or add a touch of decadence to your favorite ice cream.
So, start digging through your freezer. If you’ve got last year’s frozen berries — or store-bought frozen berries will do in a pinch — you can have a tasty, homemade fruit compote in about 15 minutes.
Recipe: Strawberry-Orange Compote
Yield: About 8 ounces
This recipe omits the water to produce a chunkier compote, and (bonus!) is a great way to use up one of those packets of orange zest you might have lingering in your refrigerator. Delicious warm or cold, you can enjoy this compote on its own (or with a dollop of vanilla whipped cream) or as a complement to a variety of other treats. Serve it warm or at room temperature with cakes, waffles, rice pudding, or pancakes. Serve cool over ice cream or yogurt.
12 ounces frozen strawberries (previously washed, dried, and hulled)
1½ – 2 ounces organic sugar (to your taste)
1 heaping teaspoon fresh orange zest
What You Need:
Small glass or ceramic bowl or dish (to hold up to 10 ounces)
- Combine the sugar and berries in the saucepan and place it on the stovetop over medium-high heat. Stir occasionally so that the berries cook evenly and don’t stick to the pan.
After about five minutes, the berries will begin to soften and release their juices, combining with the sugar to make a syrup.
- Use the tip of the spatula to break the berries into smaller, bite-size pieces.
Don’t worry about creating even-size pieces.
- Continue cooking until the syrup thickens and berries are soft and in pieces, about 10 minutes.
- Check the consistency of the compote by taking a small spoonful of the syrup from the saucepan and putting it on the plate. Place the plate in the freezer for about 20 seconds, just enough to bring the temperature down.
- Retrieve the plate from the freezer and run your finger or the tip of the spatula through the syrup. If the gap closes quickly, continue cooking the compote for a minute or two, testing it again for doneness. If the gap closes slowly, the compote is ready.
- Taste the small sample from the plate and adjust the amount of sugar, if neccessary.
If you’d prefer a sweeter compote, stir another teaspoon of sugar into the hot compote until fully combined. Taste a cooled sample of the compote to determine whether you need to add any more sugar.
- Remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in the orange zest.
- Transfer the compote to the glass or ceramic dish (Pyrex is a good choice), cover with plastic or parchment paper, and place in the refrigerator to cool.
- Serve cold or rewarm gently in the microwave before serving.
- Store in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.
April 8, 2015 § 3 Comments
Waste-Less Wednesday posts are all about ways to reduce or eliminate food waste, particularly at home. Most of the posts to date have focused on creative ideas for using more of the food that comes into your kitchen, especially fruits and vegetables. We’ve looked at ways to repurpose carrot greens, enjoy a glut of backyard citrus, and even a savory way to use up too much homemade peanut butter.
Reducing food waste at home means getting creative and thinking outside our standard diet choices. Whether you simply love food, consider yourself a food geek, or are even just a tiny bit adventurous when it comes to trying new recipes, the experience can be a lot of fun!
But there are other points in the food chain where we, as consumers — as eaters — can help reduce food waste in our local food system. Again, it goes back to rethinking what and how we eat. If you shop farmers’ markets or get a weekly CSA box, these are great sources for test-driving new foods. I’m seeing some creative ways that farmers are reducing food waste from field to market by selling whole plants (e.g., carrots with greens attached) or assorted greens that extend beyond a few kinds of lettuce. Case in point: fava leaves from Happy Boy Farms, available by the bag at the Saturday San Mateo Farmer’s Market.
Fava leaves grow at the top of a fava bean plant, are 2½-3 inches long with pointed ends, dark-green in color, and velvety soft to the touch. Available mid-to-late spring, they’re not only edible, but are a surprising delight.
Texture-wise, fava leaves are a bit sturdier than spinach, and yet they seem more delicate. Inhaling their scent is like smelling a stash of freshly picked beans from a grassy field. And the flavor? Fresh, uncooked leaves taste sweet and herbaceous, with a slight hint of bitterness. Cooking the greens brings out their sweetness, along with a delicately nutty flavor component.
So once you get your bag of fresh fava leaves home, what can you do with them? Just about anything that you would do with spinach: create a salad, add to egg dishes and pastas, top bruschettas and pizzas. Where to start when pairing fava leaves with other flavors? Think Mediterranean. Some suggestions to mix and match:
- Citrus: Lemon, grapefruit, or orange
- Olive oil
- Herbs: Mint, Thyme, or Dill
- Pepper: Black pepper, Crushed red pepper
- Soft or crumbly white cheeses: ricotta, goat, feta
- Hard cheeses: aged manchego, pecorino, parmesan
Following are some suggested dishes for fava leaves. Hopefully they’ll inspire you with ideas for creating your own dishes, made to your taste. As always, feel free to make adjustments for your diet and palate. If you want to 86 the cheese, replace oranges with grapefruits, or add some sriracha, do it!
Salad: Fava Leaf and Spinach Salad with Orange, Smoked Mozzarella, and Toasted Pecans
For a little leaf variety in your salad, consider pairing fava leaves and spinach. The textures are just different enough to create interest, and the leaf flavors work well together. Dress the leaves with olive oil and a squeeze of Meyer lemon juice, then season lightly with sea salt and fresh ground pepper.
Top with orange segments, toasted pecan pieces, and ½-inch chunks of smoked mozzarella. (Want to make it vegan? Substitute smoked tofu for the mozzarella.) The combo of herbaceous leaves with the sweetness of the orange and slight smokiness of the cheese is craveable. Toasted pecans add just the right amount of crunch to balance the soft cheese and leaves.
Switch it up: Substitute ruby grapefruit pieces for oranges, toasted cashews or pepitas for pecans, and goat cheese for smoked mozzarella.
Pasta: Soba Noodles with Fava Leaves, Hot-Smoked Salmon, and Preserved Lemon
Soba noodles are so versatile; they’re my go-to pasta! (Plus, the cooking time is super short: 4 minutes.) They’re sturdy enough to stand up to most “toppings,” and the flavorful earthiness dances well with so many partners — from sweet to salty to smokey, with a dash of umami thrown in.
For each serving of this dish, toss soba noodles with chiffonade fava leaves, olive oil, salt, and pepper, and matchsticks of perserved lemon rind (thinly slice the rind of approximately 1 preserved lemon wedge). Top with about 2 ounces of hot-smoked salmon. Finish it off with a sprinkling of fresh thyme and a grating of hard cheese, such as aged manchego or asiago.
Note: Serve this dish should at room temperature or slightly cool. I assembled it by pulling all ingredients from the refrigerator — including leftover soba noodles. If you’re making the noodles the same day that you make this dish, be sure to rinse the noodles in cold water until cool.
Switch it up: Substitute fresh, grilled salmon for the hot-smoked salmon — or try cold-smoked salmon. Make it vegan by substituting tofu or roasted cauliflower for the salmon (and 86 the cheese). Substitute goat cheese for hard, grated cheese.
Brunch: Poached Egg and Sautéed Fava Greens on Toast with Feta
Sauteing fava greens softens them a bit, accents the sweetness, and brings out a slightly nutty flavor component. Because fava leaves are sturdier than spinach, they don’t wilt as much when heated, providing a nice nest for your poached egg.
To prepare this quick-and-easy dish, chiffonade 1½ cups of fava leaves and saute them in 2 teaspoons of olive oil over medium-high heat for several minutes until wilted (seriously, 2-3 minutes oughta do it). Season with salt and pepper. Meanwhile, make the poached egg and toast a sturdy piece of bread (go for a rustic sourdough or spelt bread). Brush the toast with olive oil, then top with the sautéed fava leaves, then the poached egg. Garnish with crumbled feta cheese, crushed red pepper, and a sprinkling of fresh thyme.
Switch it up: Substitute sriracha for the crushed red pepper (squeeze small dollops on the plate or the egg). Replace feta with goat cheese.
Have you tried fava leaves? How do you prepare them? Share your ideas in the comments below or on our Facebook page.