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!
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.
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.
- 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?
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.
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.
By the time fall rolled around, I realized a couple of things:
- 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.
- 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.)
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.
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.
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!)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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:
- Wash the fruit, removing any dirt. Place on paper towels or cotton kitchen towels and pat dry, removing as much moisture as possible.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
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.
- 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.)
- 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.
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.
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!
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:
Plate for breading the patties
12-14″ frying pan (or use a 10″ frying pan and cook the patties in two batches)
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 patties
- Using a rubber spatula, combine the vegetable smoosh, rice, and breadcrumbs in a medium-size bowl.
- 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.
- 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.
- Pour the additional ½ cup of breadcrumbs onto a plate for coating the patties.
- Press both sides and the edges of each patty into the breadcrumbs, coating completely.
When all patties are coated in breadcrumbs, set aside while you heat the pan for frying.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Serve immediately.
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.
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)
Fork and/or spoon
Toaster or toaster oven
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)
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Keep smashing the cauliflower until the mixture resembles lumpy mashed potatoes.
- Add the olive oil, chives, and salt and pepper to taste. Mix to combine thoroughly.
- Drizzle each piece of toast with just enough olive oil to coat the top, but not soak through the bread.
- 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.
- 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.
- Finish with a small drizzle of olive oil and a twist of freshly ground black pepper.
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!)
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.
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
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
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
- 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.
- 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.
- In the other bowl or double-boiler insert, whisk the eggs until yolks and whites are well combined, adding the pinch of salt.
- 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.
- Whisk the sugar into the egg and juice mixture.
Use the same technique as you did to whisk in the juice.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
- Add the remaining dozen ice cubes to the prepared ice-water bath.
- 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.
- 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.
- Cover the curd with a piece of plastic wrap so that the curd doesn’t develop a “skin.”
- 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.
- Place the ice bath (with curd bowl) in the refrigerator and allow the curd to cool for 1-2 hours before serving.
- Store in a covered container in the refrigerator for about 3 weeks.
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 22, 2015 § Leave a comment
Broccoli is a staple in my house. Exciting? No. Reliable? Yes. When I’m too tired or uninspired to cook (yes, it happens sometimes), steamed broccoli is my standby. Seven minutes from refrigerator to table. No kidding. Broccoli is a substantial partner to quick-cooking brown rice or 4-minute soba noodles. Throw in some homemade peanut sauce and shredded carrots, or pair it up with olive oil, cheese and fresh tomatoes, and you’ve got yourself a decent, healthy, homemade meal.
“Broccoli” for me, like many people here in the US, has not meant the whole plant, but rather just the crown: the collection of florets — that flower-like, dark-green part. The stems? Unfortunately, not so much. While I’m doing my best to reduce food waste at home and practice a leaf-to-stem cooking approach, broccoli stems have had me stumped. Mostly I’ve been put off by the tough, fibrous outer layer and longer cooking times. It took some experimenting and kitchen creativity, but it turns out that broccoli stems are just as flavorful and versatile as the florets.
Once you get past the tough outer layer (unless you like that sort of thing), broccoli stems are tender, herbaceous, and slightly sweet. Not only are they tasty, they’re really versatile! You can enjoy them fresh or cooked. Toss them into salads, pastas, egg dishes, or turn them into a supporting side dish. Read on for some of the many ways to use the other broccoli.
Prepping the Stems
Start by washing and drying the stems. Cut away the dried area at the bottom of the stem (just a thin slice should do it). Then using a paring knife or peeler, peel away the thin, tough, outer layer of the stems. Once you get past that tough outer layer, you’ll see a light-green, moist layer. That’s the tender, sweet, delicious part! And don’t toss those peels or dried end bits — save them for making vegetable broth. Just pop them in a freezer bag and keep them in the freezer until the next time you make broth.
Raw, Grated Broccoli Stems
Grated stems are the most versatile way to use this part of the broccoli plant. Use grated stems much as you would shredded lettuce, cabbage, or even sprouts:
- Top a salad or sandwich
- Quick saute with onions and garlic for an omelette filling
- Combine with brown rice, olive oil, sea salt, tomato, and fresh mozzarella
- Toss with soba noodles, shredded carrots, tofu or chicken, sesame oil, crushed red pepper, and soy or tamari sauce
So many possibilities! If you have a food processor with a grating disk, you can make quick work of grating broccoli stems, although a box grater will do the trick, too (just watch your knuckles). Four medium-sized stems will yield about 1½ cups of shredded broccoli. Store in the refrigerator in a closed container.
Another way to use freshly grated broccoli stems? Combine ’em with olive oil, garlic, toasted pine nuts, a smidge of lemon juice, and cheese to make a broccoli pesto!
Need a recipe? Start with the Carrot-Top Pesto recipe and make these easy modifications:
- Substitute 1 heaping cup of grated broccoli stems for the carrot greens (or 1¼ cups if you prefer a thicker pesto)
- Squeeze out excess liquid from grated broccoli
- Add ½ teaspoon fresh lemon juice when you add the olive oil
- Optional: Substitute roasted garlic cloves for fresh for a less intense garlic flavor
Use the pesto as a sandwich spread, dip, or pasta sauce.
Oven-Roasted Broccoli Stems
Roasting vegetables is a great way to reduce food waste. When you oven-roast root vegetables or brassicas — broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, for example — that might be a bit old or limpy, the cooking process brings out their earthy sweetness while maintaining the flavor and nutritional value.
My favorite oven-roasting technique for dense vegetables like broccoli and carrots comes from The Stone Edge Farm Cookbook by John McReynolds. Rather than expose the vegetables directly to oven heat for the entire cooking process, you cook the vegetables covered for half the time, which prevents them from drying out. If using oven-roasted stems as a side dish, plan on one stem per person (assuming stems are 1-1½” in diameter), less if you have additional side dishes.
Ingredients for roasting:
2 – 4 cleaned and peeled broccoli stems
1 – 1½ teaspoons olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Optional: 4 garlic cloves
What you need:
Glass baking dish
For finishing oven-roasted stems:
½ teaspoon fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons crumbled feta cheese
¼ finely grated fresh lemon zest
½ – 1 tablespoon toasted pecans or sliced almonds
Optional: roasted garlic cloves
- Preheat the oven to 400°F. Meanwhile, prepare stems as described above in “Prepping the Stems.”
- Cut stems into quarters.
Each “spear” should measure about ½ inch across the base.
- Toss spears with olive oil in the baking dish, ensuring that spear is coated. Season with salt and pepper.
- Optional: You can roast several garlic cloves at the same time as roasting the broccoli stems. Pull 4 large cloves from a head of garlic. Do not remove the papery skin covering the cloves. Place the cloves in a piece of aluminum foil, drizzle them with olive oil, then fold the ends of the foil together. Place the packet of garlic cloves in the corner of the baking dish.
- Cover baking dish with aluminum foil and bake for 25 minutes.
- After 25 minutes, remove the foil and using tongs, turn each spear over. Return the baking dish to the oven.
- Continue baking for 20-25 minutes or until spears are fork tender.
- Remove garlic cloves from foil and allow to cool slightly before peeling skin away.
- Allow spears to cool slightly before plating, then top with a sprinkling of fresh lemon juice, feta cheese, lemon zest, toasted nuts, roasted garlic cloves, and salt and pepper to taste.
Do you eat broccoli stems? How do you prepare them? Share your tips in the comments below.