Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Sneaux Day Meals

While working from home and not leaving the house (or my pajamas) for two days, I'm cooking up some interesting things. Yesterday I heated up a can of Bush's Baked Beans that I bought on clearance awhile back, but spruced up the meal a little by pairing the beans with cheese and spring onion quesadillas. I'm not a fan of onions, but these are okay in my book. They're very mild and very sweet, recommended to me by my favorite farmer, Nancy. I heated up two tortillas in a frying pan and lay slices of sheep cheese on top of the tortillas. After the tortillas got crispy and just before I folded them over, I sprinkled the chopped onion sprouts onto the cheese. The result was a crispy little pocket of cheese and sweet onion, which I then dipped in the baked beans and ate with fresh cherry tomatoes on the side. It was a really yummy little lunch.

Today, I decided against using the second half of the can of beans. It'll be a quick dinner tomorrow night, perhaps. Instead, I heated up two more tortillas and evaluated my pantry. A week ago, I tried to make yogurt and wound up with thick milk and cream cheese on the bottom of the pot. I had the last of it in my fridge, along with the spring onions, and a couple sweet potatoes in my fruit bowl. (Also - is that comma after onions an example of the Oxford comma?) I roasted one of the small sweet potatoes in my microwave and mashed it with the cream cheese, chopped spring onions, and a sprinkle of dried oregano. Then I spooned the paste into a crispy tortilla like a little taco.

It was creamy and savory, with a little burst of sweetness here and there. The crunch of the tortilla was also great. 

What do you like to eat during cold weather? 

Happy munching! 

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Re-purposing Gifts and Leftovers

Remember that Snickerdoodle almond butter I said I bought at Hollygrove Market? I didn't like the taste so instead of trying to eat it on matzo for 20 days I searched "almond butter cookies" in Google. I found a very simple, 5-ingredient recipe from Sally's Baking Addiction and whipped them up. 

I added the rest of the cinnamon spicing pecans from my pantry.  I loved how gooey the dough was, forming into a tight ball in the bowl.

After 10 minutes, the cookies were crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside. But, they still taste like Snickerdoodle almond butter - go figure! I put them in the one and half dozen cookies in the freezer thinking I would share them with friends. Instead I ate two for dessert. 

When my dear friend Jess left New Orleans, she gave me some of her pantry goods including dried black beans, canned black beans, ziti, and oatmeal. She also gave me a box of Zatarain's jambalaya. This was definitely better than the jambalaya I made in Philadelphia at a Mardi Gras party last year. (But oh my God the sodium content! I added black beans and the sodium from the albeit low-sodium Zatarain's and the two together took care of a third of my daily sodium intake.)  

Look at that steam! 

One of my New Year's resolutions was to take better food photos, so I was pretty happy that these looked okay. Because of the overhead lighting, though, I have to make sure my shadow stays out of the shot! 

I sauteed spring onions and vinegar-soaked garlic cloves in olive oil. Oh, the smell! I can't even begin to describe the smell but it was delicious. So good. 

Then I added tatsoi, a beautiful Japanese spinach that I started buying from one of my favorite farmers at the Thursday market. It cooks up a lot like spinach and can also be used in smoothies.


Yum! Then I had two of those almond butter cookies for dessert... I still don't quite like the taste but how can anyone resist cookies?

Happy munching!

Friday, January 24, 2014

I Made Cream Cheese!

I guess it's been too long since I made yogurt because the other day when I tried to, instead of getting a pot full of yogurt in the morning I found thick milk with a layer of very thick something at the bottom. I used the thick milk for smoothies and drained the stuff at the bottom in cheesecloth. I wasn't sure what it would turn into, but when I tasted it, I found it was cream cheese - or tasted just like it.

I don't have a picture of it when I first made it, but it looked like cream cheese in a watery liquid. I probably couldn't make it again if I wanted to, but I'm trying to get bagels so that I can really enjoy it! 

Now if I could only make bagels... in the meantime I just have matzo. The other spread is Snickerdoodle almond butter that I bought at Hollygrove Market. The only issue with it was the taste, which is why I made cookies. Read on for more, and happy munching!

Saturday, January 11, 2014

60% is enjoyed!

In this week's blog I want to wax philosophical a little and talk about a problem I just read about in We Hate to Waste. America throws away 40% of its food; almost half. Okay, you say you don't throw away that much. But think about the food that spoils, the peels and cuttings that aren't re-purposed either in compost, or other edible things like candied orange peels or stock for soup, the leftovers at restaurants (even the butter packets that you don't use - they get thrown out with everything else on the table), and you get my point.

Then there's the food that you don't have control over, like the "expired" food at grocery stores that is thrown out when it's at or near the stamped date. Some food does need to be consumed before a certain time, but others are still perfectly good when they're chucked. (There have been multiple occasions where I had to remove myself from grocery stores when a freezer broke and all. the. ice cream. thawed or not, had to be thrown out. All of it. blijdibiejbhdlkdj Or when I worked at Rite Aid and the milk that had expired the day before was zeroed out and poured down the drain, when it was still drinkable.)

With all this food going to waste, we also have 1 in 6 people who are food insecure in this country. Being food insecure means you're not sure where your next meal is going to come from - picture a pantry that has so little food in it that you can't make a healthy meal for you or your family. Or having no pantry at all.

Shouldn't we be able to divert the still-edible food that goes to waste to those who need it? Ah, but for fear...

A few years ago I was dating a guy who worked at one of the restaurants in a senior center. Each night after the buffet they would throw away trays and trays of leftover food. They always made too much and never tried to donate it. It drove me up the walls knowing how much they were wasting. At the time I was the secretary for the board of a food pantry and tried to work with my boyfriend to get the restaurant to donate the leftover food to the pantry. I know they would have served it the next day or froze it or something to give to the many (many, many, many, and increasing every day) families that needed it. But we were told that the food couldn't be donated - even if my boyfriend drove it over to the center himself - because of the liability. The risk of one person getting sick and suing was enough to throw away all of that food each and every day.

This drives me crazy.

So what do I do?

1) I hardly keep anything in my fridge. When my mom was here to visit for Christmas she looked at my fridge and said, "Wow, what a sparse life." I don't want a stocked fridge. I cook for one person and don't want or need a fridge overflowing with food that's just going to spoil.

2) I keep things in my pantry that I can whip up quickly but I try to restrain myself from buying things just because they're on sale and might be useful "sometime."

3) When I eat out, I take home EVERYTHING. I take the bread, the butter packets if I didn't use them already, the oyster crackers... But I have to be careful of what happened to Dana Frasz in the post from We Hate to Waste, linked above: she said when she started eating her friends' pizza crusts to discourage waste she wound up gaining 25 pounds.

So my suggestion is to only get one basket of bread if you're only going to be able to eat one basket-full at dinner. Or if you know you want to save room for your entree, ask the server not to bring the bread at all.

4) When I cook, I put leftovers either in the freezer or fridge and eat them for a couple days. I might have two entrees in my fridge at a time and alternate them, one for lunch and one for dinner. But if I know I have leftovers in the fridge I won't cook anything else until they're eaten so that they don't go bad.

5) I try to mindful of my schedule for the week. If I know I won't have time to eat at home in between work and meetings or will be eating out a lot, I don't buy or cook a lot of food because I know won't eat it! Or, if possible, I take extra food to eat for lunch and dinner.

6) I go to a lot of potlucks because I like eating with friends. There's usually something in my fridge or pantry that I can whip up and it's a wonderful feeling to bring a dish and know you used something of yours in a fun way. I also try to invite friends to have dinner with me when I make something big, like a pot of chili. I hope I can brighten someone's day by inviting them on the fly.

7) Although I like to read or watch movies while eating, I do try to eat mindfully so that I get the most out of my food. I know that the faster you eat, the less likely you are to feel satisfied. The slower you eat, the more you taste your food and the more time your stomach has to tell your mouth, "OK, I'm good, you can stop now." So I try to listen to my tummy and not be afraid to put food back into the fridge if I just can't eat that whole bowl of spaghetti or whatever.

8) I store foods properly and am not afraid of expiration dates! I go to the Internet before I throw things out mindlessly. I cut the moldy bit off the block of cheese instead of throwing out the entire hunk of cheese. (That's largely thanks to my grandmother, who lived on a farm in Minnesota during the Depression.) Although I didn't make it, I'm intrigued by this recipe for wilted lettuce soup that I found through Google. I love to use my 3-T method of cooking to get creative with what I have in the fridge.

You've got to eat three (ish) times a day - you must as well have fun while you're doing it!

For more information about how you can get involved with Food Shift, please click here.

How do you creatively re-use food scraps?

Happy munching!

Saturday, January 4, 2014

That Deceptively Complex Staple: Pumpkin Pie

There's nothing quite like a kitchen scented by pumpkin pie, is there? It's a seemingly simple holiday favorite but I'm having fun finding out how just how complex pumpkin pie can be. Evaporated milk or condensed milk? Coconut milk or goat's milk? Pumpkin pie spice or nutmeg and cinnamon? Canned pumpkin or fresh? In the past week I've made two pies (one of which is in the oven) and started baking my own pies last year. My dad loves baking and eating pumpkin pie but I've never been a big fan. So why have I been making it so much?

Well, you can answer that question with sales. In November I was at Canseco's, a local chain grocery, and noticed that they had organic canned pumpkin on sale. It was something like $3 off and I knew I'd be baking pies so I picked up two cans. Then I went and looked at the sell-by date and realized that it was this month. Luckily cans last a lot longer than their sell-by dates, but nonetheless I had a "womp womp" moment where I realized why they were so cheap. Oh well - into the pantry they went. Then during the week of Christmas I saw ready-to-use graham cracker crusts on sale for 2 for something so I bought a pair. I also happened to buy two boxes of coconut milk, on sale, to have on hand. I was stocked.

On New Year's Eve I was invited to the party of a mutual friend and I wanted to bring something other than booze. This crowd doesn't really eat at parties; they just drink and dance. I need to eat when I drink so I was nervous about whether or not there'd be food. So I made a pie. Although initially freaked out because I didn't have evaporated milk, I was soon soothed by Google and all the alternatives for evaporated milk. I used the coconut milk in my pantry, although it was boxed, not canned, and unsweetened, unlike what the recipe called for. (You can also use eggnog if you have any leftover!)

Here is my adaptation for the first pie from Chocolate Covered Katie's Healthy Pumpkin Pie:

1 can (15 oz) organic pumpkin puree
about 13 oz of coconut milk (I fudged the measurement by using a Mason jar with pint markings on the side; I filled up the jar to just above 3/4 pint, which is 12 ounces)
1/4 cup rolled oats (loved this addition! I'd never seen oats in pumpkin pie before!)
2 tbsp ground flax
1/3 cup, plus 2 tbsp, brown sugar
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp vanilla (using an amazing vanilla extract that a friend brought me from Mexico - it'll knock your socks off)
1 9" prepared graham cracker crust
a handful of cinnamon spicing pecans, for garnish

Preheat over to 400. Blend all ingredients in a blender until smooth, then pour into prepared pie crust. Sprinkle cinnamon spicing pecans on top, if desired. Bake 27 minutes, let cool, then refrigerate for as long as possible, preferably a couple hours.

I didn't have a whole lot of time so I don't think the pie set up as much as it could have. The small slice that I had was pretty good, but also very mushy. I like my pies a little firmer. Fortunately everyone at the New Year's Eve party that had a slice said it was very good. I'd like to think they had it for brunch when they picked themselves up off the floor the next day.

The second pie was a little more adventurous. At the store, I was looking at all the evaporated milks trying to figure out which would be the most humane. There didn't seem to be organic evaporated milk but then a can caught my eye - evaporated goat's milk. I was intrigued. The label assured me that the farmers in CA were not cruel to their goats so I thought, sure, I'll give it a try. Although I like to get the best bang for my buck, when I see the Pet or Nestle cans I hear agonized moo's and see cows hooked up to milking machines... you get the picture. So I try to spend my money elsewhere.

I mixed the dry and wet ingredients and was ready to put in the goat's milk and thought, maybe I should try it first. Oh my goodness it is AWFUL on its own! Yuck! This is of course coming from a girl who stopped liking the taste of milk when she became an adolescent, but still. It tasted almost rancid. I didn't think it could possibly be bad already - I just bought it! So I decided to mix a little of the pumpkin filling with the milk to see how the two would taste together. I'm so glad I did - together it's delicious! It's really amazing how gross the milk can taste on its own and how good it tastes with everything else. I am reminded that cooking and baking are chemical processes where this kind of thing can happen.

So here is the recipe I used, adapted from LIBBY's Famous Pumpkin Pie recipe:

3/4 cup organic granulated sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract (the amazing Mexican extract)
1 can (15 oz) pumpkin puree
1 can (12 oz) evaporated goat's milk
1 9" prepared pie crust
cinnamon spicing pecans, for garnish

Preheat oven to 425. Mix dry ingredients (sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt) into a small bowl. Beat eggs in a large bowl. Beat the pumpkin into the eggs with the vanilla. Stir in dry ingredients. Slowly add the evaporated milk and beat until smooth. Pour into the prepared pie crust. Bake at 425 for 15 minutes; reduce heat to 350 and bake for 50 minutes or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. The top will be crispy. Let cool for an hour (ish). Serve immediately.

I will be leaving for another event soon after the pie comes out of the oven, so I won't have much time to cool it. Hopefully it'll cool a little while it's en route.

The first pie was mushy but tasted very good. The second pie looks and smells amazing and the filling was delicious while it was liquid. I also put the leftover filling into a glass bowl in the freezer and I'm hoping it will become a sort of ice cream - I'll let you know when it freezes! Stay tuned to see how the second pie came out - I hope I get a piece at this buffet I'm taking it to!

What is your favorite pumpkin pie recipe?

Happy munching!