Archive for the ‘Cooking’ Category

Food waste? Thoughts for the New Year

January 1, 2014
It's what's for dinner

It’s what’s for dinner

 

I read somewhere along the way that Americans waste approximately 40% the food they bring into their homes (I’m not sure if the statistic is true but it brought home a point).  How much to we ‘over buy’ at the grocery if we have the luxury? One of my lame-ass New Year’s Day traditions is to clean out my refrigerator.  I was shocked to see what I tossed:  odds and ends of cheeses, a few science experiments, long ago expired milk (in defense, I did buy the smallest container available for one item and I just don’t drink the stuff).  I made a quasi-resolution.  I’m going to eat what is in my freezer, pantry, fridge before heading to the farmers market.  Yes, there will be some things that I need to buy but I was stunned what I had versus what I thought I needed to go buy.  Dinner/lunch for the reset of the week is above:  a pork roast done in the crock pot with balsamic vinegar, onions and honey.  Mashed potatoes.  I do need to pick up salad stuff (but trust me when I say that will wait until the snow has past!).  Also cooked for the week ahead? A chard/corn/cheese frittata for breakfast.  And with the exception of the cheese and balsamic vinegar? All locally sourced.

 

I have no idea how long this experiment will last: fresh vegetables are hard to find in New England this time of year.  It will be an interesting, creative experiment.  If anything, it might help me learn what I actually eat versus buy because “it was a great price”.  But right now I’m mourning the mac and cheese I could have made had I only been paying attention!

Ringing in 2014 with a Different Philosophy

January 1, 2014

From the onset 2014 looks to be shaping up as a challenging year.  Some is personal, some is professional some is just the fact that adulthood has more valleys than childhood (hey, let’s face it, even playing with Soviet Russian sharp edged cubes beats trying remember you are allowed to take 10 minutes for yourself).  A college friend of mine over at Mockingbird’s Nest did something in December that I thought was slightly insane: something new each day (including  the couch to 5K plan).  While I think the idea is GREAT, doing it in December is slightly insane.  But she is slightly insane plus her kids are 4-legged so she didn’t have to worry about the damn elf on the shelf drama but had the normal host of holiday insanity.

I’m not throwing down the gauntlet of insane challenges for 2014 (plus after the 5K turned into a half-marathon issue of 2013, I distinctly lack common sense).  My plans for 2014: work less, experiment more from the kitchen to pampering activities, write more, read more, pay down some of the damn student loan debt and walk a few road ‘races’, and figure out what is important and let everything else just go.  But the number one goal? Working less.  I’d be happy with a 45 hours week!  Oh, and Iceland.  I want to go to Iceland this year.

Dear #kale, I’m sorry.

June 22, 2013

I hate admitting when I’m wrong.  And by hate, I mean hate.  Being wrong is something that doesn’t sit well with me.  For a few years, I’ve spent confounded at the ‘love of kale’ that a few friends have touted.  Me? I found the stuff disgusting.  I was flipping through a few food blogs looking for ideas for the impeding CSA season and noticed a key tidbit.  Kale, especially the dino kale, needs to be deveined.  Really? I texted a kale lover who I’ve known for years.  And pretty much got back the response of a-duh otherwise it tastes bitter.  (Yeah, I can tell you ALL about bitter kale).  Armed with this piece of knowledge, I jumped off the cliff kale cliff.

The results? Kale and avocado pesto has made it into my summer cooking schedule.

2c of roughly chopped kale (offending stems and veins removed)

2 avocados

4T minced garlic

2T olive oil

1/4c sliced almonds

 

add kale, olive oil to food processor, blend.  add in avo and almonds.

Serve over pasta (I made my sure pasta was cold before adding in) or shockingly as a spread in a sandwich.

Sigh.  I can’t believe what I’ve been missing.

The (mostly) organic, completely #glutenfree banana nut bread

May 15, 2013

For Christmas, a friend gave me a 5 pound bag of Jules Gluten Free Flour. She swore by it. I’ve had enough total failures in trying to find the “correct” gluten free flour for baking simple things like banana bread that I’ve all but given up. I’ve had that once in a blue moon craving for banana bread and thought, why not. I mean, worse case? I toss it after making it. This is a modified recipe from Simply Recipes.

4 medium slightly overripe bananas

1/3 (5T) melted Cabot unsalted organic butter

3/4 c of raw sugar (it’s a bit ‘less’ refined than the normal white sugar). Making it again, I’d debate about dropping it to between 1/2 cup and 3/4 cup

1 medium egg beaten

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 1/2 c all-purpose flour

1/2 c walnuts

The original recipe says your don’t have to use a mixer. For me? Meh. I’ll use a mixer the next time just for the simplicity of not have 3 kitchen tools, a bowl and a measuring cup to clean up.

Mash the bananas, stir in the butter. Add the sugar, egg and vanilla. Blend. Sprinkle in baking soda. Mix in flour.

Pour into a greased loaf pan and bake in a 350 degree oven for an hour. Mine turned out moist and a bit browner than normal because of the use of the raw sugar.

This recipe is a keeper for the foodie files.

 

 

#Chopped. It’s what for dinner (adventures in cooking).

May 9, 2013

A few weeks ago, I spent a day helping a friend traitor to the cause pack her kitchen for her move to Austin.  Since I’m one winged, the most I could do was clean out her fridge.  We started talking about all those parts of/left over items that you use a few times and they get shoved to the back.  We both can, shop farmers markets and generally try to minimize our carbon foot print (her husband makes a wicked beer by the way).  Fast forward to a get well soon gift from a college friend who knows of my love of canning and quirky gifts.  The result ? 2 jars of beer jelly (you read that right, beer jelly) from a Brooklyn company called Anarchy In a Jar.  I have to admit, I was a bit perplexed.  I like beer, I like jam/jelly.  But along  the lines of I like chicken and I like peanut butter cups, I’m not seeing how they work together.

The only thing saving me at the moment is the Food Network.  I’m sick of daytime television as I am recovering from this Bankart repair.  On a whim In a moment of insanity, I decided to do my very own Chopped challenge.  Mostly to alleviate the fear of opening the jar of beer jelly.  For the record, beer jelly has a heavy beer taste with a sweet undercurrent along the lines of apple juice (which makes sense since they are the top 2 ingredients). I didn’t know any of this before deciding to use what was in my fridge to make dinner using the beer jelly as the gotcha.

Beer jelly, walnuts, spinach, horseradish sauce, pork chops, soy sauce

Beer jelly, walnuts, spinach, horseradish sauce, pork chops, soy sauce

So there are my mandatory items: all selected before the opening of the jelly (or reading the label).  Knowing that jelly can be a bit sweet, I went with something salty to try to balance it.  I prefer a bit of a kick so went with the horseradish sauce.  The meat is from the absolutely fantastic 8 O’clock Ranch  (really, if you are in their delivery area and don’t buy from them?).  The walnuts and spinach are from Wegman’s.  The horseradish was rescued from my friend. I used the gluten-free soy in my fridge but needed the smaller one for the pic.

I created a marinade of the jelly, 2 tablespoons of horseradish and a tad too much soy (I had to cut it with 2 tablespoons of local honey).  It probably should have been a jar of jelly and 2 tablespoons each of the horseradish and soy.  I had to use the honey to kill a bit of the salt.

I seared the pork on both sides on a very hot grill pan  turning 4 times (these were completely thawed boneless chops).  In what would cause the Chopped judges to take off points for creativity, I opted for a variation of a spinach salad.

Local honey, madeira vinegar, hard boiled egg, pancetta, Dijon mustard

Local honey, madeira vinegar, hard boiled egg, pancetta, Dijon mustard

With the meat resting, I chopped the egg and added it to the spinach and walnuts.  I cooked the pancetta (points off, it was a bit saltier than I expected).  Then deglazed the pan with the vinegar (around 2T and 1T of Dijon mustard).

Frying pancetta

Frying pancetta

Deglazing with mustard and vinegar

Deglazing with mustard and vinegar

I tossed the warm pancetta into the salad to get a bit of a wilt, tossed in the dressing platted  I’m sure I would have been axed (I forgot a starch; you know how those judges are).  But a ton of fun when trying to figure out how to use beer jelly.  And yup.  I contacted Anarchy in a Jar to see where I could get a few more bottles.  I’m really not in the mood to start making beer jelly.  But it is a great base for fun cooking.

May 012

Really glad I was kicked off before the dessert round.  :)

It’s all about the Piecaken

November 25, 2012

Looking for a strange new challenge to go after for a Thanksgiving potluck and a few hours of conference calls to do reasearch, I found an interesting concept: the piecaken.  Apparently, this trend has come out of the missionary community: I’m not sure what to say on that one either theologically or politically so I’ll let each of my 12 readers decide independently.  What I found was a decided lack of directions except for a list of “nots” and the idea to use pre-made cakes.  Look, if I’m going to bake a pie in a cake, the pie is going to be from scratch.

The concept is pretty self-explanatory: bake a pie into a cake; a perfect dessert for Thanksgiving.  After scouring the blogs, I decided that the one aspect made-from-scratch piecaken creators all lamented was a berry pie.  After playing with flavor profiles, I decided to do a coconut pie and chocolate cake.

The coconut pie was a breeze to make: the recipe didn’t say but I poured into an unbaked pie crust.   I made the pie the day before (tip from another blog) and cooled completely.

The next day, I made the cake.  I’ve made exactly one cake from scratch so I went with the tried and true Betty Crocker cake.  The only modification I made was to swap the 1/2c oil for 1/2c of water.  I figured the oil wouldn’t be needed based on the cake recipe and would help to figure out the baking time.  I poured roughly 1/3 of the cake batter into a well greased spring form pan (10”).  And then the tricky part: transferring the pie from the pie plate to the cake.    I removed the outer edges of the crust, flipped the pie onto a cookie sheet and flipped back.

Mine broke a bit but I was able to piece back together.  Pour the remaining cake batter over the pie and cooked until knife clean (70 minutes at 350 degrees).

I let the piecaken rest overnight (I didn’t want the cake to ball up when I frosted it).  I frosted with a simple butter cream frosting.

I hauled a cake weighing more than a newborn to a foodie potluck and viola, a piecaken for the ages.

Now, on to the next culinary adventure!

The Piecaken Adventure. . . Part I

November 11, 2012

I have no clue how many parts will be in this story.  Think of it as some free form epic poem.  I’m on a quest to make a piecaken for a post-thanksgiving potluck.  A few minor details:

1) I don’t bake.  Cook yes, bake no.

2) I have a torn rotator cuff on my non-dominant hand (that is for sympathy).

3) I don’t like pre-made mixes.  I mean, if you are going to make a piecaken, seriously? Mrs. Smith meets Betty Crocker?

4) I’m not wild about apples or spice cakes which hinders flavor profiles.

5) There seems to be a lack of information on how to make a piecaken compared to what not to do and how it is a bad idea to make a piecaken because how it points towards American excess.

Lucky for me, I have to make 2 pies for work this week for a going away party (I figure it’s a good way to test textures).  Right now, I’m searching for good cake receipes.  And really? Why is it the only information I can find on the piecaken how to is from people who use cake mixes?

 

Stewing Over Some Ideas

January 8, 2012

I freely admit, I have an ongoing love affair with my crock pot.  The I only have one huge thing to wash (no dishwasher here!) is a major selling factor.  It’s probably energy efficient (which makes up for my unhealthy love affair with my iPhone but that is a different tangent!).  This weekend I spent some time on the prowl at local thrift/resale/consignment shops trying to come up with some fun ideas for decorating my condo.  I know this will be an ongoing project this year … but it will be fun.  My goal is to only by the couch new (unless I can find a killer one at one of the few consignment places I found) and try to re-do the entire place for under $2,000: mostly using finds from other places and spaces.  Who knows? It will give me something to do . . .

Anyway, back to my unhealthy crock pot obsession: this week for my SOLE challenge I made some beef stew.  I have enough leftover for a few lunches which is EXACTLY what I need!

2 lb beef spare ribs

1 quart canned whole tomatoes

2 lb carrots

1/2 c dry sherry

1 c water

2T herbs de provance

Slow cooked beef stew

Slow cooked beef stew

The bread is from the Mass Local Food and was made from local ingredients as well.  Although we’ve had an insanely mild winter to date, there is still a certain amount of self-satisfaction when I open an ingredient I canned over the summer!

Soup that’s good for the SOLE

January 1, 2012

As usual, I goofed on the deadline for the publishing dates for the Dark Days Challenge (maybe I should use the calendar that I was given for Christmas?).  I was reading the re-caps of the others participating and came upon a fantastic article the at explains (for me anyway) one of the reasons the entire SOLE “trend” is very important.  Barbara at the Crowing Hen posted a wonderful article about the conditions in the meat industry in the US.  For me, it’s that PLUS the insane amount of energy we expend getting items from the farm to the grocery store.

As the writers over at EmptyWheel noted regarding a complex cotton subsidy program:

“In WTO language, Brazil was allowed to suspend its obligations to  U.S. companies under the Trade-related Aspects of Intellectual Property  Rights (TRIPS) agreement. This constituted a major threat to the profits  of U.S. agribusiness giants Monsanto and Pioneer, since Brazil is the  second largest grower of biotech crops in the world. Fifty percent of  Brazil’s corn harvest is engineered to produce the pesticide Bt, and  Monsanto’s YieldGard VT Pro is a popular product among Brazilian corn  farmers. By targeting the profits of major U.S. corporations, the  Brazilian government put the U.S. in a tough spot: either let the  subsidies stand and allow Brazilian farmers to plant Monsanto and  Pioneer seeds without paying royalties, or substantially reform the  cotton program. In essence, Brazil was pitting the interests of Big  Agribusiness against those of Big Cotton, and the U.S. government was  caught in the middle.

The two governments, however, managed to come up with a creative  solution. In a 2009 WTO “framework agreement,” the U.S. created the  Commodity Conservation Corporation (CCC), and Brazil created the  Brazilian Cotton Institute (BCI). Rather than eliminating or  substantially reforming cotton subsidies, the CCC pays the BCI $147  million dollars a year in “technical assistance,” which happens to be  the same amount the WTO authorized for trade retaliation specifically  for cotton payments. In essence, then, the U.S. government pays a  subsidy to Brazilian cotton farmers every year to protect the U.S.  cotton program—and the profits of companies like Monsanto and Pioneer.”

How many sustainable jobs would $147 million dollars create for local economies?  Yes, I live on a dry bones budget: there are 2 things I simply cannot avoid buying from big time producers: cat food and cat litter.  I have a 14-year-old cat: I’m not switching his brands, he’s too old.  Part of my resolution for this years is to buy as much as I can from SOLE providers, then local merchants and local chains last.  Will it do anything to help revive the economy of my community: doubtful.  Is it a teaspoon in bucket? Yes.

Any way, for my blogged about SOLE meal of the week, I made a huge pot of Cuban inspired black bean soup.

2 lb black beans from Baer’s Best Beans (soaked overnight, drained, rinsed)

2 quarts canned whole tomatoes from Old Nourse Farm (summer CSA), with juices

3 medium onions chopped from Shared Harvest

3 medium jalapeno peppers, seeds removed, chopped (from Mass Local Food)

4 cloves garlic also from Shared harvest

2 quarts cold water (you may need to add more while cooking the beans).

For me, it was simple, dump everything into a big stock pot cook until beans are soft.  Blend with an immersion blender.  Add hot sauce/salt as needed.  I garnish with a local cheese.

 

Resolutions and other nonsense

December 29, 2011

I’m not into New Year’s Resolutions – mostly because there seems to be a lack of creativity “I’m going to go to the gym every day” or “I’m going to quit smoking”.  A blog post circulated today about the UU church working on a wider justice, spiritual formation, more inclusive in its cohesiveness in the discipline of discussion.  Look, if I go to the gym every day, maybe it will help other members of my health insurance company (I mean, I’d probably be healthier and not spend as many health care dollars and all).  And no, I don’t smoke.  But, for me, many of the New Year’s Resolutions (like giving up things for Lent) have a self-serving motive.

The past year has, to me anyway, seemed to further create an us versus them divide.  99% vs 1%, Congress versus each other versus the American people, a complete and total increase in rising tensions: if you have a job, the insane competitiveness to prove why you should keep it, over and over.  It’s draining.  Maybe that has always been adulthood (how the hell would I know? I do know we have an amazing ability to glamorize and romanticize the past).

I think somewhere in the back of my head, I’ve always had this notion that people create resolutions on New Year’s Day after making a promise their higher power to never do anything like that again as long as they live.  Ok, that is probably my twisted humor after spending a few too many semesters at the overly politically correct institute of graduate theological education.  That and I’m a jackass.

This year, I decided to make a bucket list of some strange goals, some normal goals and a few I really have little control over.  If it happens, it happens. If it doesn’t and I tried, well, ok.  I’m not going to involve going to the gym in this list.

1) Purchase as many items as I can from locally sourced suppliers.  Some things are out: cat food! Jackson only eats one type and I’m not about to go through changing the food of a 14-year-old fur beast.

2) Less trash tv; more books.  Ideally, I’d like to read 3 books a week.  Some fun, some more thought-provoking.

3) Have a job with benefits.  While I’m grateful for my temp job for the past 7 months, I’d really like to drop the 100% payment of my health insurance.

4) Write actual letters to my friends.  You know, the types with stamps.

5) Be more creative in my cooking.  I can make a killer potato soup but maybe expand out my culinary skills.

6) Give up on the fact that on opening day, I am 100% convinced the Cubs will not make the World Series.  I’m trying reverse karmic psychology on this: work with me.

7) Plug my ears and shout la-la-la-la when anybody equates my dislike of President Obama as being racist.  I don’t like how he has governed: I’m sure he’s a nice guy for a south sider but I’ve not been impressed with his presidency.  I think he was set up from the start as many thought he was the second coming of Kennedy or Christ depending on who you spoke to about the topic.  I didn’t like him in the primary, still don’t.  Of course, my standard for POTUS is either LBJ or Andrew Jackson depending on my mood.

8) Make the decision to redo the condo or sell.

9) Buy new storm windows.

10) Buy a hair dryer. It’s been on my to do list for 5 years. I only remember it the first really cold snap.

11) Go to NOLA this year.

12) Resist all temptations to dress up Laffite as clown for Halloween.