Saturday, September 8, 2012

Roasted Tomato Sauce-- the easy way!

This is a fragrant recipe with no peeling or seeding required! Use any shape or color of tomatoes.

10 pounds of tomatoes
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons dried mixed Italian herbsor 4 teaspoons chopped fresh herbs (basil, oregano and/or rosemary)
1 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon black pepper and/or 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tablespoon vinegar or lemon juice

1. Place oven rack high in the oven and preheat to 425 F.
2. Cut tomatoes into halves and spread in a single layer, skin sidedown in a shallow baking pan. If you use large, beef-steak types,cut into fourths instead of halves.
3. Drizzle on olive oil. Sprinkle on dried mixed Italian herbs orchopped fresh herbs. Sprinkle on salt sugar and black pepper and/orcrushed red pepper flakes. Spritz on three cloves of minced garlic.
4. Roast for about 90 minutes, until the slices have reduced downand the edges are slightly charred.
5. Scoop mixture into a blender or food processor (you may need to do this in batches) and process until somewhat smooth. Or if you have a food mill you can use that too. 
6. Add lemon juice or vinegar to mixture and reheat if necessary.Pour into hot (sterilized) pint canning jars, being sure to leave1/4-inch head space. Adjust lids and rings. Process in boiling waterbath for 35 minutes. Add time if you are at high altitude.

This is a recipe I got from a yahoo canning group (I apoligize as I don't remember the original posters name to give her credit) I use it often!  Don't alter the garlic amount in it as it will change the acid level making it unsafe to can in a waterbath canner.  You can add more upon opening the jar when you use it which is what I do.  This avoids all the cooking down of sauce that takes so long -- super easy!


Saturday, October 8, 2011

Eat your Greens!

Did you know that most americans don't eat nearly enough green vegetables? I never did until I made a more conscious effort to eat them. We all probably know they have massive amounts of vitamins and minerals in them, add much needed fiber, and iron, and are a super food. I try my very hardest to eat 2 servings of something deep green every day. The health benefits are amazing and once you acquire a taste for them-- they really grow on you. So I thought I'd share a few of my favorite ways of eating them. Like most changes in our diets- once you learn a few good ways of preparing something it's fairly easy to add them to the normal rotation. Most greens can be fairly easily interchangable.. don't have spinach, use chard, no chard, try kale! And keep in mind too that other dark green vegetables have many of the same benefits that the dark leafy greens have-- things like broccoli, asparagus, green beans, and all kinds of cabbage are all terrific add ins if you just can't quite make the leap to leafy greens yet.

Braised Chard

Braising is simply a method of cooking something:

The idea is that you start off with a small amount of oil ( I use olive oil), in a large flat plan (skillet), add your ingredients to be braised, cook them for a short period of time and then add a small amount of water and a lid and steam them to finish cooking. My favorite way of braising chard involves a bit of wine as the liquid (I use a white wine, cause that is usually what I have on hand), and some red onion. The wonderful thing about Braising when done properly is that it leaves some texture in the greens, so you aren't eating squishy, slimy greens-- they still have some crunch to them and a much nicer mouth feel. One other thing about braising is that it can be done lightning fast! You could do spinach or other greens this same way too.

Here is the basic recipe:
1 bunch of fresh chard, stems removed and discarded and leaves chopped coarsely (2 inch squares?)
2 slices of red onion thinly sliced, or diced, whichever you prefer
1 T. olive oil
2-3 Tablespoon of cooking liquid ( this can be bone broth, wine, water)
salt and pepper to taste

In a skillet cook the olive oil till hot then add the red onion on medium low heat, once onion is mostly softened add chard and stir while cooking for about 2-3 minutes, Add liquid and salt and pepper, then put a lid on the chard and cook on low for about another 2-3 minutes.

Creamed Spinach

This one is a food network recipe I've taken and made my own. This was my gateway dish to greens...It is one of the first ways I learned to make spinach that appealed to the family and while it's more work that I usually like to spend on a side dish it makes a large batch so I usually make it into a few smaller containers and then freeze what I don't use that night for the family. *for best results freeze without baking and without the crunchy onions and to reheat- thaw, top with onions and then bake.

And if the crunchy french fried onions don't make the nutritional cut for you-- originally when I made it they did, but now that I've looked at the ingredients-ick! Hydrogenated oils, nasty sugars, etc... It's really good with a carmelized onion on top or roasted onion rings on top. To save dishes and a bit of work-carmelize the onion for the top first in the same skillet you use to start the recipe in , then set those onions aside till the end.

Oh -- and I never use the amount of chili flakes she calls for I think that 1/4tsp to 1/2 tsp is just fine!

Pasta with Chard

The folks over at Earthbound Farms have several recipes on their website for Chard -- but I've tried this one and know it's good. When we made it we left off the pine nuts (allergies) and added a pound of cooked italian deer sausage.

Green Soup with Ginger

Heidi at 101 Cookbooks never fails to create something that is completely different and unique and yet tasty to boot!

I blended mine in the vitamix and I did remove some of the peices of ginger before doing so -- (In the past I've made soups using ginger chunks, they tasted fine when you ate them chunky, then once you blended that ginger up it was well-- nasty!) Allthough I don't think this one would be too strong if you left the ginger in it. I also made mine with beef bone broth instead of the vegetable broth as part of the bone broth challenge. I liked mine with a bit more lemon juice this morning and a drop or two of tamari. The ginger was soothing to my morning pregnant belly and I got my daily bone broth and my daily greens!!

Auryvedic Spinach with Red Onions, Shoyu and Balsamic Vinegar

A while ago in my boredom I checked out about a dozen cookbooks from the library and in one Auryvedic cookbook I found this great recipe for Spinach. It's nothing fancy the flavor combinations are so different and savory that I have to share it with you. It's so simple I didn't write down the recipe which is a shame because it was perfect.

Basically in a skillet you cook a handful of red onion, diced in a couple of T. of olive oil. Then add in as much spinach as will fill the large skillet, salt and pepper it lightly, and stir it until the spinach is lightly cooked but still has some decent texture. Then you add a tiny bit of shoyu or tamari or soy sauce if you don't have shoyu or tamari sauce, and the same amount of good balsamic vinegar, sprinkle with some coarse celtic sea salt and serve! It's truly one of my favorite ways of eating spinach.

speaking of Balsamic vinegar.... it pairs so nicely with spinach that I can't leave my favorite salad recipe out.

Spinach Salad with Balsamic Vinegar
The paragraph above the recipe for the Balsamic Vinagrette outlines my favorite spinach salad here:

And of course there is

Kickin' Coconut Chicken Soup

Green Chicken with Cheese

2 cups of cooked chicken ( I make huge batches of chopped, cooked chicken and keep them in the freezer for this and other recipes, so I always have them on hand.)

1 large bag of fresh spinach

1 1/2 cups of cheddar cheese

Grease a 9x13 baking dish with a little bit of olive oil, sprinkle the chicken on top, add the cheese to the top of that and bake in the oven at 350 degrees until the cheese is melted.

Green Smoothies

This isn't so much a recipe as it is one more way I get greens into my kids. I call them monster smoothies and at first when they are getting used to them I didn't use alot of spinach in them because to be honest I was a bit fearful of ruining a good thing! But I'm continually amazed at how much green stuff I can fit in these and still have them be palatable. If the color bothers you--get a dark colored cup and a lid so you or the kids don't see it-- you will never know the difference.

In mine I put whatever I can find in the fridge -veggie wise, zuchinni, cabbage, believe it or not lettuce works, carrots add sweet-but you need a pretty serious blender to really deal with them well, cucumbers, avacadoes-(good fats), a handful of spinach, kale, or chard, tomatoes and a peice of two of fruit- pears are great, berries are good, kiwi, banana, pineapple chunks, frozen or fresh, you get the idea. Then I add a little bit of liquid, usually coconut milk since I'm not currently eating dairy, you could add unsweetened plain yogurt or cows milk, or apple juice is usually what I have on hand. Then I add raw, fresh eggs- 1 or 2. Or some protien powder, a drop or three of stevia liquid, some Chia seeds, my vitamin D liquid, and some liquid trace minerals I have. Often times if I'm feeling super hungry that day I will add in some melted coconut oil too to this.
If you want to do just the veggies, fruit and juice or milk, that's fine too. The idea is to get the veggies into your body-- so I suggest start small, less veggies and work your way up as you get used to the idea of a green smoothie-- even though it normally doesn't taste like vegetables if you make it you know what is in it and I feel like when I first started doing it there was a bit of a learning curve with my mind telling me it didn't taste good -- or was weird, and really if I closed my eyes and forgot it had cabbage and spinach in it.. it tasted fine, it was a kind of a mind game. - sort of like eating liver-- I know I like it, when it's fixed in the many ways I like, but my brain still objects to eating something that is supposed to be yucky tasting.. weird what our cultural norms will do to our food tastes.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

More experiments in sugar free canning!

Summer Solstice Preserves - (my way)

Every year I have a friend who emails me when her sour cherries are ready for picking. It's a good trade really -- I email her when I have iris bulbs to share- which is often, and she calls me to get cherries! In the past years I've canned up goodies with sugar in them- danish cherry sauce, summer solstice jam, canned pie filling & cherry jam. Since going on a low carb diet and almost completely removing sugar from our diet I have been a bit stumped as to what to do with my beloved sour cherries this year so my pitted cherries have patiently been waiting for me in bags in the freezer.

So I finally pulled a bag or two out of the freezer and made a stab at a sugar free version of my old favorite summer solstice jam. The original recipe is from Ball's Complete Book of Home Preserving and it calls for both blueberries and sour cherries with a hint of lemon. While my end result was a bit more sour than the original recipe - I think it's still quite passable. Instead of sugar I used primarily stevia- (my usual sweetener of choice), some xylitol, which takes the bitterness off the stevia and in the end I felt I had to add some sugar to get a good tasting end product. You'll see it was about a cup in the end, which spreads out over 8 half pint jars, meaning there is around 1/8 cup of sugar per jar. Hardly enough to count really. You could easily make this with honey, or other sweeteners, but I find honey changes the flavor of the end product which I wasn't willing to give on on this one. I was using pomona pectin which is now the only pectin I use -- so I was easily able to make a double batch, (not something I recommend using any other kind of pectin). And of course since pomona doesn't contain sugar, and doesn't require sugar to jell it is very forgiving for those that want to use other sweeteners! And now for the recipes -- below is the original, and my version. Like I said before - -I would prefer it a bit more sweet.

the original recipe is as follows:

Summer Solstice Preserves
Makes about five 8 ounce jars (when using less sugar your yields will be lower due to the lower amount of bulk in the pot)
3 cups halved pitted red tart cherries
1 cup blueberries
4 1/2 cup sugar
2 T. lemon juice
1 pouch of liquid pectin
2T. kirsch or cherry brandy

Summer Solstice Preserves My Way

Makes eight 8 ounce jars

6 cups of pitted red tart cherries
2 cups of blueberries
1 cup of sugar
4T. lemon juice
1/4 cup xylitol
4 tsp calcium water (this is part of the pomona pectin)
4 tsp pomona pectin powder
8 1/2 tiny tsp of KAL brand powdered stevia

Mix together everything but the sugar, xylitol and pectin powder in your jelly pan or large stockpot.
In a separate bowl mix together the sugar, xylitol, and pectin powder well.
Heat the pan of fruit until it is hot through and add the sugar and pectin mix, turn heat up and stir often and well until the mixture starts to jell. If you do the traditional test with a spoonful of syrup in the freezer --this will give you a good idea of whether you have cooked it enough or not. If it jells when cold, it is fine to pour or ladle into your hot prepared jelly jars.

* Note that if you were to make the original batch a double batch you would use 8 1/2 cups of sugar compared to my one cup!!
**I didn't add the kirsch or brandy as I'm pregnant and we didn't have any on hand but if you wanted to, you absolutely could, In the past I've added amaretto with good results as well. Almonds and cherries -- mmm.. a marriage made in heaven.

This recipe was particularly easy to convert as it was for 4 cups total of fruit, when converting to use pomona pectin use the ratio as listed on the included charts- for the type of fruit you are using, for example I was using primarily sour cherries which have a ratio of four cups of fruit to 2tsp of calcium powder, and 2tsp of pectin. If I were using peaches or other berries the ratios are different. When doubled that meant that 8 cups of fruit would require 4 tsp pectin and 4 tsp of calcium water. (calcium water is made from the calcium powder that is included in the box of pomona pectin by simply mixing water with the powder in the correct ratio and I store this in a small jar in my fridge.)

Oh -- and lesson learned, (blush) don't mix the pomona pectin powder into a small amount of liquid directly or it will stiffen up like jello and become lumpy and then you will need to put it into the blender to get it thoroughly incorporated before adding to your fruit. By the way you can do this -- it's just easier to mix it into a powder at first. It's easier to mix it into a dry product like xylitol or sugar.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Liver- 2 ways!

While many people don't care for the flavor and texture of liver, it's something I grew up with and enjoyed greatly. Ours was always deer or elk liver harvested from the meat my father and brother hunted, and it was a treat we looked forward to every year after hunting season. Mom would mix it with sauteed onions or mushrooms and add a can of the quintessential kitchen standby, cream of mushroom soup. That was before we knew it had MSG and really wasn't nutritionally something we wanted to consume, but it was quick, easy and tasty, and it made me love liver! DH loves liver too-- but mostly chicken livers, (I"m so lucky to have such a willing eater) he used to grab the deli ones that are fried, in the grocery store. So-- that said, we are trying to get more liver into our diet, because as you might know organ meats are so nutriously dense that they are not to be missed! When prepared correctly they can be quite tasty and are incredibly affordable as organ meats go. Here are my two favorite ways to prepare them.

I recently found this recipe and it's terrific. The garlic and lemon make the perfect tasty flavor to contrast with the liver and when eaten with a side of sauteed onions or mushrooms they are really good. Cut up in smaller peices I think the texture is less noticable. So before serving to little ones I'd chop them up small. Follow the directions closely -- dry the liver on paper towels before you put it in the pan and do it dry like it says-- it works!

The other one is from one of my favorite regional cookbooks and includes the great creamy sauce I've grown to love, only without the toxicity of a can of Cream Of Mushroom soup. It's from the Colorado Cache Cookbook.

Chicken Livers in Sour Cream

1/2 cup butter
1/3 pound of fresh sliced mushrooms
1 large onion, sliced
1 pound of chicken livers
salt and pepper to taste
1/3 cup dry sherry
1 cup sour cream

3-4 servings.

Melt butter in skillet. Add mushrooms and onion and saute until onion is limp. Add chicken livers and saute for 1 minute. Cover and cook slowly for 15 minutes. Stir in sherry and sour cream and heat, but do not boil. Serve over rice or patty shells.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

A Few Of My Favorite Things

singing in a quiet little chorus..."Raindrops on roses, and whiskers on kittens.." I've been on a quest for the past 3 or so years to make our diets more healthy. To subract the things I know we shouldn't eat and replace them with things I know we should. When we eliminated soda we added sparkling water and grape juice or water and teas. Over the years I've changed alot, and much of what we eat now we never ate before! homemade yak jerky (in picture) As my husband and I are losing weight we've decided to do it by eliminating alot of the carbs we previously ate. I'm not following any specific plan-- mine is more of a Laura's version of Atkins. I've taken some of the things I liked about Atkins - full fat(good fats that is), high protein, low carb, and modified some of what I didn't like -extremely low carb induction, and artificial sweeteners and modified those things too. Sort of a real food, lower impact, version of Atkins. I must be doing something right cause I've lost two dress sizes and about 28 pounds since the end of January, and even more importantly I finally have energy and feel good, feel like going for daily walks - even if I don't most of the time, feel like getting up, feel like doing things!! I have more weight to lose of course, but like all things it is a proccess. And part of this proccess involves finding new foods to replace the ones we previously knew and loved. Breaded steaks, pasta, rice, fruit salads, potatoes, ww bread, tortillas, pb & J, biscuits, cornbread, muffins, pizza crust, well -- you get the idea. In order for this to be a lasting change we have to change the way we think about food, the recipes we use and we have to adapt. I thought I would share with you some of the things that help me, keep me sane and make me happy when I think a raised, glazed doughnut sounds good to me! Below I've listed some of my favorite snack ideas and recipes. I'll follow with more as I discover them but for now this is a peek into what I'm eating lately. *I'm using net carbs which are grams of carbs, then subract the fiber from the total (if using artificial sweeteners you also subtract the sugar alchohols cause they aren't digested.) For snacks: Nuts- They have crunch! and they are convienient- however because of the cost we are trying to limit them some. I have started soaking them to make crispy nuts ala sally fallon style, and found that if I put a spice mix on them before drying in the dehydrator they are fabo! And different -- which is good cause I am a girl who likes variety. Cashews have too many carbs for a regular snack but in a mixed nut variety they are ok.. here you have to watch out for the hydrogenated oils, dextrose, flavorings, etc.. but plain raw nuts that you soak and dehydrate ala sally fallon style are terrific for you!! Olives - Oh how I have fallen into deep love with good kalamata olives. 5 of them have 1 gram of net carbs! So I can eat 10, feel like a darn queen and not feel bad at all. Again, they have terrific fats, so they are more filling than you might think. MIM - Recipe is here: What you say is a MIM? it's a muffin in a minute. Seriously it takes a minute in the microwave to make it. Very cool thing and extremely versatile. I adapt the recipe to fit my rules and put a tiny scoop of KAL Brand Stevia in it. I also will add pecans or walnuts on top before putting it in the microwave and I put half the cinnamon it calls for in it. I've also made a savory version by subbing out savory spices like garlic for the cinnamon and leaving out the stevia. They are incredibly filling. Celery or thick sliced cucumbers and this awesome tuna salad- I used to eat it with crackers, but I haven't perfected making my own low carb crackers, yet. Again-- good fats, when made with whole fat cream cheese and lower mercury tuna -- like chunk light, and best yet--inexpensive. Makes a good lunch too. String cheese- or really any harder cheese like cheddar etc. - convienient again -- which is a real lifesaver. 1 gram of net carbs - I try to find the higher fat variety whenever possible. Jerky - any kind without alot of sugar and MSG or crap added to it is good. I made a boatload of Yak Jerky and we've been working on that now for a while. Deer or Elk would be fine too. Making your own isn't too hard really. Yogurt- Full Fat or at least 2% Greek is my favorite- plain. I add 2-3 drops of liquid stevia to the yogurt stirred in, and then a topping of my choice. Things I like are my own super low sugar apricot homecanned syrup, homemade strawberry syrup- made out of frozen, thawed, strawberries and a bit of stevia in the blender, or a handful of fresh or frozen blueberries or blackberries. Celery sticks and Peanut or Almond Butter- Unsweetened nut butter of course, the oil on the top kind, not the one with hydrogenated fats added in to make it stay together. Salted is my preference, chunky or smooth depending on my mood. Half an apple with or without nut butter - the apple alone is 8 grams of carbs so I don't have this very often. But it satisfies my crunchy and sweet cravings. Strawberries - 1/2 cup has about 4.1 net grams of carbs in it, meaning 1/4 cup will have about 2. Hard boiled eggs- mashed with butter and salt and pepper and microwaved for just a few seconds till warm. Quick, satisfying and good fats! Sometimes I make a batch of deviled eggs to snack on or even just peel and dip in salt and pepper to eat. Bacon- often I will simply fry up 2-3 peices of bacon - no carbs. I get the best kind our budget affords us- but I look for nitrate free, no MSG as a minimum standard when I can. 5 cherry tomatoes- 2.4 net grams of carbs nitrate free lunchmeat- with cream cheese spread on it and wrapped up - not entirely the best nutrition but, it has some fat and some protein to keep me till the next meal and it's quick and easy, and there is something to be said for that. 1/4 cup blueberries- 2 net grams of carbs Drinks - instead of eating something I will often times drink something. Here are just some of my favs:

  • water with a squeeze or slice of fresh lemon.

  • sparkling water (fav brand is la croix) with a squeeze of lime or lemon and some stevia. 1-2 drops of liquid.

  • HonestT's stevia sweetened tea. -- a yummy treat.

  • unsweetened almond milk- chocolate flavored with a tiny amount of stevia

  • hot unsweetened chai tea - add 1 T whipping cream and a drop or two of stevia you'll have a drink that reminds of a coffee house drink.

  • or for a measly 4g. net carbs this shake in the blender:

Blueberry Shake

1/4 cup blueberries 1/2 cup of unsweetened coconut milk 2 T. whey protein powder or other low in carb protein powder stevia to taste. about 2-3 drops of liquid or 1 tiny scoop of powder And on a rare occaision I will eat a Atkins PB cup, Diet Dr. Pepper, or a Dreyer's low carb ice cream bar. -- No, they don't really meet my qualifications for nourishing food - but I'm a realist and I understand that while in a perfect world everything I eat will nourish my body - sometimes that just isn't the case. Since I have yet to find a suitable substitute for those things - these will do for a few months. Considering I"ve never in my life (other than a short stint in high school) consumed any kind of artificial sweeteners of any kind -- I'm figuring a few months of occaisional use until I figure out good substitutes is ok. *** I've mentioned here about good fats and how fat is part of my "diet". I'm a firm believer that eating fat doesn't make you fat or raise your cholesterol or harm you in any way. The folks at Weston A. Price, Cheeseslave, Nourishing traditions etc.. can explain it far better than I can, but there is a reason fats are referred to as essential fatty acids.. it's because they are essential to our good health. They help regulate blood sugar, nourish our skin, keep us satiated after eating, and are essential to many systems of the body--one of which is the endocrine system and without them we would be well in poor health. By good fats I am talking about minimally proccessed animal fats, as close to raw as possible if we are talking about dairy fats like butter and cream, good coconut oil, high quality nut oils like walnut oil, avacado oil, olive oil, and I'm sure there are others I'm not thinking of right now. When "dieting" good fat is even more essential because it helps to regulate your blood sugars and also keeps you full. (When I say good fat I'm not talking about canola oil, corn oil, hydrogenated oils, others, those I don't feel are good for you at all.) Of course I'm not a professional and I"m not a doctor or anything like that-- but those are my beliefs and I would encourage you to research and look into what you are eating and how it affects your body.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Cleaning out the fridge 101

Ok, so I know what you're thinking? "I clean out my fridge - why do I need a lesson on that?" Open up the trash and dump, wash out the containers, clean it, put back any food we'll still use. "that's not hard... " But... Part of my strategy for using food and not wasting food involves rotating food and using it, reusing it, and remaking it. So I thought I would show you all what I do regularly (on a good week at least twice). Since most leftover food is only good for about 3-5 days, 7 days max I regularly go through and use up stuff in order to minimize what I throw away.

I do throw things away. My goal is to throw away very little, if any. You see -- I once read that people throw away over 25% of all the food they buy. Meaning if you spend around $400 a month on food you will most likely throw away $100 in food a month. That's $1,200 a year -- well in my world that's almost a vacation. And that's not even considering all the labor, transportation, water, etc.. that were used to get that food to you. Wasteful in my opinion and when I think of my Grandmother who lived during the depression and how careful they were with their food and money I'm certain she'd be rolling over in her grave and shaking' her head in disapproval. I resolved a long time ago to change my ways and cut our food budget and not wasting food is just one of the many things I've done.

Here is the basic process-

**To start with, when I clean I have a menu plan for the week previous and the coming week, a pen, and paper handy. I can check and see when we had the meatloaf so I know how old it is, or see do I need fresh celery for next week, also I can add anything to my shopping list or menu for next week easily.

1. Pull it all out and check it for condition. (notice I didn't say dates) condition is everything. Slimy, stinky and moldy all go away! I'm not wanting to make anyone sick. I do this shelf by shelf so I don't have everything out at once.

(Know what the dates mean and if you can stretch them)

For example: Cheese is an exception here. I will carefully cut away any mold and repackage chunks of cheese that has mold and mark it or remember it to use it quickly. I still have a block of asiago cheese with a sell by date of November 2010. We are still eating it and it's fine. Hard cheeses, and cultured milk products that are unopened last well past the sell by dates and we eat them regularly. Notice I said cultured milk products -- not plain milk. Cultured milk has good bacteria in it that protect it for longer - so things like sour cream, yogurt, buttermilk, even cottage cheese are usually good past the dates. The date on milk and most things in fact- is a sell by date. It is the date that the store must sell the product by. Food doesn't magically turn to poison once it reaches the sell by date. Milk should be good if stored properly for a week past the sell by date-but of course our senses are more accurate than any date stamped on a product. I tell you all this because I think it's important that people know. And let's please acknowledge that common sense is important here too..slimy, discolored, stinky and moldy are all bad. And obviously if someone in your house has a weakened immune system err on the side of caution and toss it.

On produce sometimes you can simply cut away a bad spot or two, or peel off a few layers of slimy lettuce then rinse the head well to make it edible. When using produce with a moldy spot on it - I carefully cut away the mold or the soggy or soft part back to the good part, then I rinse off my knife with hot water, and cut a small piece of it to taste- if it tastes fine it goes into whatever recipe or dish I'm using it in. I've saved a ton of produce this way and since we rarely buy processed food-- that is where most of the waste is- in fresh produce.

2. After assessing the condition of the food- decide, throw it out, compost it, preserve it in some other way, use it quickly, or save it for later.

Throw it out:

I throw away anything that is too old. Moldy food, something I cooked or prepared that is over 5 days old or questionable in any way. Anything that is a meat product or has oil or grease in it. Those things can't be composted. Things that no one liked and I can't think of any other way to use them up also get tossed.

Compost it:

All my veggie waste that can't be used or frozen in some way gets composted. This is the slimy, moldy or nasty looking veggie waste -- not the good stuff.

Preserve it in some way:

All these things can be cut up and frozen with no further blanching or other steps required, so if they are going bad or looking uglier -chop em up and freeze em:

  • Onions

  • Bell Peppers

  • Hot Chili Peppers-if I have lots sometimes I pull out the food processor and blend em all up into a minced pulp that I then lay out flat in baggies and freeze. When I want some kick to add to something I just pull it out of the freezer and break off a little chunk.

  • Peeled Garlic

  • Berries of all kinds

  • Fresh pineapple

  • Fresh melons

  • Rhubarb

  • Bananas in the peel or peeled

  • Tomatoes-when these thaw you can simply pull off the skins as they thaw under running water.No blanching off the peels. I freeze mine from my garden all summer long and then make tomato sauce in the slow winter months.

  • Celery

  • Stone fruits like peaches, nectarines, apricots and plums

  • Ginger - I store mine in the freezer whole and simply grate what I need as I use it.

All of these things when frozen can be used later in recipes where you will be cooking the items. Or in the case of berries and stone fruit you can make sauces, smoothies, whatever with them.

For example: once you've frozen celery you can't use it in your tuna salad -it won't be crunchy but it's fine for soup or stock, or other dishes.

I just make a pile of what needs to be cut up and dealt with as I sort. Then I chop and package everything at once. Mushrooms can be frozen if partially cooked (sauteed) and most other veggies only need a slight dip in boiling water so that you can freeze them. Google blanching vegetables and you can see how to do it.

Many leftovers freeze really well. I keep a shelf dedicated to leftovers in my freezer. I have a bin for little tidbits. Leftover scraps of meat-- even half a chicken breast gets saved in a baggy labeled chicken, once I get enough cooked meat (2 c.) I cut it up and use it to make chicken salad, or add onion, garlic and barbQ sauce and make barbQ sandwiches, or use it on a lunch salad for myself. You'd be surprised how quickly it gets full. Leftover sausage, bell peppers, herbs, tomatoes, etc... all make great additions to a morning omelet or a quick catchall egg dinner casserole or frittata.

Many casseroles and soups freeze well. I put them in individual serving sizes and put them in a bin. Hubby or my girls or even I can pick through and find quick lunches or dinners.

Leftover veggies and spaghetti sauce can go into a soup making bag in the freezer. No tidbit is too small to use. Corn, mixed vegetables, stir fry veg's, beans, mushrooms, carrots, zucchini, or others are all good choices.

* A trick I learned from my Aunts - take the leftover pickle juice and toss in some firm fresh veggies, baby carrots, cut up carrots, cucumber, cauliflower. Then leave them to soak and not only does the pickle juice preserve them but it transforms them into something really tasty.

** Keep a bag of trimmings in the freezer for when you make broth. Say I have a bag of carrots and two of them have those hairy roots growing on them-- well those go into my bag in the freezer of ends and tidbits for making broth or stock. Veggies and trimmings don't have to be pretty for stock just free of mold. My broth making bag has onion peels (they give a nice brown color to the stock), garlic peels, ends of celery, carrots, old soft green onions, old herbs and herb stems, ends of squashes, potato peels, carrot peels, parsnip ends, all sorts of things. I collect them all month while I'm cooking. I save carcasses and soup bones this way too. The only things veggie wise that I don't add are anything moldy or slimy, and strong tasting vegetables-(broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, radishes) because of their strong flavor. Asparagus and lettuce I also don't put in.. but most other things go in the bag.

Many things can also be dehydrated if you use the oven or a dehydrator. It doesn't take long to prep a few things and pull out the cookie trays or dehydrator. Even spinach and Kale dehydrate and freeze well and if you dehydrate it -it works great in eggs or you can sneak it into smoothies or sauces, spaghetti sauce whatever.

Use it quickly:

Some things just last longer than others and you can usually tell if something is on it's way to being nasty or useless. Soft veggies that were once hard and crisp, wrinkled things, squashes or peppers with soft spots, that lettuce that sat too long and has a couple of pieces in it that are looking kind of brown. These all still have some life left in them. I have learned a couple of ways of using those things up.

If you have alot -- make a veggie soup for lunches or dinner, you don't need a recipe, just toss an onion, some garlic, and some oil in a pan- brown it up and add broth, leftover tomato or spaghetti sauce or just water. Then add the veggies and some salt and pepper and other spices to suit you-- maybe a can of cooked dried beans or even some meat and you 'll have made something out of nothing!

Make a fruit crisp- Just about any fruit works, chop it all up and add a crumbly topping - any recipe works or fix smoothies for snack, breakfast whatever..

Cut up raw veggies and make some dip, hummus, or dressing and serve it up on a big tray with any other remnants from your fridge-the last two pickles or olives in the jars, whatever and serve it up after dinner or before dinner as a snack.. You'd be amazed at what a bit of presentation and good dressing will do to make kids or adults slurp up veggies and clean out your veggie drawers in a flash.

Plan something using whatever is getting old for dinner that night and make it happen. Coleslaw or green salads are another great way to use up a smorgasbord of veggies that might not match otherwise.

Declare a leftover smorgasbord night! Open up the fridge and pull out everything that might be use able. Everyone can fill their plates with whatever they want from the fridge or make themselves something from the freezer bin of leftovers. Or if lots of what is leftover would be good on top of potatoes --cook a bunch and have everybody make their own topped potato. A Potato bar is a great way to use up a whole bunch of cheese and veggies and taco meat or chili quickly.

Save it for later:

Add whatever didn't get used up to the menu plan for the next few days if it will last long enough. My leftovers that I save get put in the front of the shelves and I remind my girls or hubby to eat them up. They get taken to lunch, eaten as snacks, or turned into other things. For example:
Leftover meats make a great meat salad- add some mayo or mustard, chop the meat really fine, add grapes, red onion, celery, boiled egg, chopped cucumber, some dill or capers, or pickle. Whatever combination you like and you have a cheap nitrate free lunch spread made of wholesome food and have used up something you might have thrown away. Know how to make your fresh produce last longer. I've never invested in these bags but I've heard great things about them. Or Tupperware and other companies have some containers that are supposed to help preserve your fresh produce. If you use limited amounts --those might be a good investment for you. Some things I've learned about produce are: Many things store better outside of the plastic bags they come home in, the moisture from the bags makes them spoil faster:

  • cucumbers

  • squash

  • yellow squash

  • tomatoes

  • bell peppers

  • hot chili peppers

  • whole cabbage heads

  • kiwi fruit

  • stone fruit

  • apples

  • oranges and other citrus

  • onions

  • garlic

  • mushrooms
*I store my herbs and green onions and salad in zip lock style bags with a dry paper towel added to the bag and find they last much longer this way. The paper towels can be composted or reused. Romaine lettuce lasts much longer than any other kind of lettuce. I buy heads, wash them and keep them in plastic bags with paper towels and they last a really long time in the fridge. I rarely buy any other type of lettuce. And .. as a bonus, romaine is also more nutritious than say- iceberg lettuce! *celery stores for a long time when wrapped in aluminum foil! *mushrooms stored in a paper bag will last much longer-- get them home and take them out of their box and plastic wrap and put them in a paper bag in your produce door. (I just learned this trick and man does it work-thanks to a good friend) *fresh herbs like parsley and cilantro I store like I would flowers in a vase-- with the stems in clean water in a cup or other container upright in the fridge. Clean out the water every couple of days and replace with new and they will last a really long time. Also asparagus stems store really well this way too. Or consider only buying the produce you know you will use and stopping more often at the store. A menu plan can really help here. I used to think I always had to have on hand fresh celery, carrots, potatoes, onions and garlic. Then I realized there were entire weeks when I never used those things and I was throwing away lots of them. So I started only buying celery when I had planned to use it fresh in something like a chicken salad. Most grocers will let you buy half a head of broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, or single celery sticks. If all you need for a recipe is a small amount don't buy the whole thing. Less money spent and less food wasted. Since onions and celery and garlic all freeze so well for cooked applications consider buying some when they are on sale, chopping and freezing them. Then you always have them on hand (and chopped!) don't have to buy them unless you want a fresh crunchy one for some reason. I find peeled cloves of garlic freeze great- Put them in the door of your fridge with the onions and bell peppers or store with your meat and/or veggies so they won't flavor anything else -- you can store them in a glass container, or double bag them if the smell and lingering flavor in the freezer bothers you or you have problems with them. I once laid bags of catfish into the freezer next to some pineapple I'd frozen. Um.. that was not a good idea... the pineapple had a weird fishy aftertaste..icky! 3. Wipe Everything down if needed. This one is pretty self explanatory. I use my pampered chef stoneware scraping tool on any stubborn sticky blobs, and hot soapy water, and dry it with a clean towel. 4. Put all the food away. Put the food that needs to be used most recently in the front of your refrigerator as a mental note to you to use it quickly. New food goes to the back of the refrigerator. I hope you've all found some useful tip here that helps you and if you have other ideas I'd love to hear them! I am of course a work in progress!

*about the picture- this is my cheese/ meat drawer after I've cleaned it out. The asiago cheese is on top so I will use it faster. The hard boiled egg has been labeled in pencil with the date it was boiled on it so we know how old it is, and it's on top too. (I boil a dozen as needed and label them and put them in the meat drawer for snacks, etc..) Any tidbits of meat in baggies get placed into the drawer, also any bites of chopped up veggies get put in there and any fresh chopped red or green onion,especially when I've cut and not used the entire onion. Mostly I use this stuff in omelets in the morning. When they are in the meat/cheese drawer I use them up first and they don't get lost in the big produce drawer.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Corned Yak!

For the charcuterie challenge this month I made a corned Yak!

Yes, like corned beef only instead of beef I used Yak meat. I'm all about using what I have you know and yes.. I have Yak meat, so Yak it was.

The basic brining challenge for charcutepalooza this month was a chicken or pork, with the advanced challenge being a corned beef. In traditional form I broke rank and made mine Yak meat. As of writing this I have no idea how it was -- but it did smell good when I took it out of the brine and put it into a freezer bag.
:( sad face , sigh..
Yes freezer bag.

I know it's only three short days till the quintessential holiday intimately associated with corned critters of the beef kind. And in my delirium I mistakenly believed my adventurous family would be all about corned yak this year instead of corned beef. Alas.... I was mistaken.
Imagine my dismay as my family responded with sad sighs to my delightful cries that the Yak would be finished brining just in time for St. Patty's sad.
So tomorrow it's off to the grocery store I go to (gasp) purchase a commercially made "traditional" corned beef to serve for our St. Patty's Day.

Yes -- I have had my balloon deflated. My bubble has burst. I have no desire to photograph my beautiful piece of meat this month. I rinsed it, stuck it in the freezer bag and plunked it in the freezer. At a later date -- not perfectly suited for corned critters I will bring it out and wow them with it. They didn't reject it completely -- just insisted on eating boring old beef for St. Patty's Day. Horrified at the almost sacrilege of not serving beef, they insisted and I didn't want to not "ruin" the holiday meal, so I caved. If only I had known, I might have purchased a brisket a week and a half ago.

Here is how I did it in case you were wondering..

I dissolved 1 cup of kosher salt in 4 quarts of boiling water in a pan on the stove.

I stirred and waited for the salt to completely dissolve and then added all the spices.
I used my regular, usual homemade secret mix of pickling spices (3T.),

12 cloves of garlic, crushed,
and 8 bay leaves.
I also threw in a good sized sprig of fresh rosemary I had knocking around in my fridge and of course a lovely piece of about 3 pounds of Yak meat, all marbled and tasty looking.
Once the brine was cooled, I put everything in a 2 gallon Ziploc style bag inside my Kitchen Aid mixer bowl. (no problem that it won't be able to be used for about 2 weeks since the kitchen aid mixer is now a $300+ paperweight arranged decoratively on my counter top at the moment, we aren't talking about that.. ) and the bowl, bag and meat found a nice cool home in the extra garage fridge for about a week and a half.

Hmmm.. sounds easy doesn't it? -- yep it was!
No nitrates, No MSG, no mystery spices.. just my style!

Honestly, I was extremely happy when I found out the challenge was brining because it's something I've never tried. Despite hearing often about other's wonderful brined turkey, and the virtues of brining lovely little chickens and such. I had hoped to be truly ambitious and brine a chicken and a pork product of my choosing, but I simply didn't get around to it. So hopefully after reading all the other posts and getting back my steam I will finally try my hand at brining a bird-like critter too! Oh how I love the change of pace and all the new things I"m learning to do on my own.

***Oh, and a special thanks to my good buddy Laura who on her bi-annual trek to my house the other day gifted me with her presence and the beautiful Charcuterie book that started this whole business of Charcutepalooza! Ah.. such good friends should be treasured .. So now I can charcutepalooza the right way!