Kitchen efficiency + tips for reducing food waste

I think I’m pretty lucky to have grown up as part of a generation where recycling is considered second nature. “Reduce. Reuse. Recycle.” was a slogan used in commercials back in my Sesame Street and Nickelodeon days, and so now that we’re adults, it’s almost too easy to identify, separate, and properly dispose of recyclables. In fact, J and I only put out a little less than one trash can a week, and that’s because our recycling bin is full to bursting. Don’t even make me tell you about the chaos that happens when we occasionally miss trash day. Milk cartons and cardboard boxes – everywhere!

That being said, I’m not that hardcore about my recycling ways. Aside from the time that I would steal old newspapers from my college roommate’s regular trash can and slip them into the dorm’s recycling bins (they were right outside our door!), I’m not the kind of person who digs through people’s trash cans, snatches empty cans from their hands before they’re even finished, or lectures others on the morality of recycling and its impact on the environment. Of course I know (my brother is about to finish his Master’s in environmental science), but I never like being the morality police. Plus, sometimes I get a little … lazy. It’s only sometimes! But you know when you’ve been soaking the empty peanut butter jar all day to get rid of the leftover bits … and the stupid peanut butter just won’t wash away … and you don’t feel like getting peanut butter all over everything to properly scrub it out … and it’s Sunday night, and you need to get the last trash out before bed? Yeah, sometimes I just throw that jar away, and hope that the overflowing bin of other jars that are properly cleaned and ready to be recycled make up for it.

But anyway, moving on from the recycling confessional, another area of life that I’ve always wanted to do better with is composting, and being smarter with my food scraps. Recycling, composting … they’re both common sense solutions to the overwhelming amount of waste we tend to create in our lives, and they’re both relatively easy, and so why not? Well, while recycling has been easy, composting has not. For years, we lived in a tiny townhouse, with a tiny kitchen, so I didn’t have room for a counter-top composter. Plus, not going to lie, the idea of rotting food on my counter (even if there’s no smell!) grosses me out a little. And I just couldn’t decide on the right “patio composter” to purchase, because they were either too big (tiny patio), or too expensive (damn hipsters, driving up the prices of living well).

To be honest, I always assumed  that once we bought a house, I would build my own composter in the backyard, similar to the one at my parents’ house. Well, now we have the house, and a fairly good size backyard, but still no composter. You know, there’s just a lot of other things to do during your first year of home ownership, especially when both new homeowners are working graduate students. Projects happen … eventually.

This spring and summer is the time we’ve set aside to actually start building things in our yard (shed, flower garden, etc.), so I hope it’s the year of the composter. We’ll see. Until then, though, I thought these articles from the New York Times regarding ways to reduce food waste in general was highly relevant to my life as a guilty environmentalist, as well as supremely interesting.

In “Efficiency in the Kitchen to Reduce Food Waste“, the author mentions that the spirit behind radically reducing food waste in the kitchen harkens back to our grandparents’ generation, when food was precious and conservation was considered patriotic. A lot of that was lost in the buzz following the emergence of pre-packaged, industrial food products, and as young people grew up with shortcuts and easy meals, people forgot how to cook.

I’ve read this story before (The Omnivore’s Dilemma, anyone? Great book, by the way.), but it’s interesting to read how today’s young people are embracing more of this conservative, efficient ethos in the kitchen. Raised, as we were, to think broadly about world issues and care for the earth, as we get older, we’re turning away from waste, and finding ways to be smarter with our lives. Again, I’m not the poster child for this, but it’s really great.

Along those lines, The Times published another piece recently, “Tips to Reduce Food Waste“, which is a collection of crowd-sourced tips from readers and cooks across the country. Because I don’t have that online subscription to the The Times, and can’t really afford to revisit this article on my laptop more than once, I wanted to jot down some of my favorite tips:

Saute lettuce that has begun to wilt in olive oil and season with garlic or shallot.

Seriously, I hate when I have to toss out the wilted lettuce at the end of the week. Trying this today, hopefully it’s good.

Save orange rinds, especially from those juiced oranges. Dry them and use as fire kindling, where they release a delightful aroma against the wood smoke.

Good to know. I also throw my orange rinds into the garbage disposal, and use them to perk up brown sugar that’s getting stale and hard (though don’t forget about them for two weeks, like I did, because they will rot).

Make stock.

I’ve known this for a long time, but I just haven’t gotten around to learning how to/actually making chicken stock. I want to because I use chicken stock all the time, but for years now, I’ve been using dissolved boullion cubes in water in place of stock because it’s a) cheap, b) won’t go bad, and c) cheap. I’d want to make stock and freeze it, for sure. Although, it sure would be nice to have that stock pot I’ve always wanted first.

Save even small amounts of bacon grease and rendered pork fat from roasts. Use to roast potatoes and root vegetables, or with greens.

Really? Huh.

Peel citrus with potato peeler, freeze it, and use it as needed for zest.

OMG doing this. I feel like I always have to buy fruit to have the zest, but sometimes, you just don’t need a bag of lemons hanging around, amirite?

So many good tips. The article also recommends pulsing your dried bread in a food processor to make bread crumbs, but for a long time now, I’ve cut up the butt ends of my old bread loaves, and then roast them in a 350 degree over with olive oil for about 10-12 minutes. What you get: croutons that I actually want to eat (store-bought croutons: yucky).

read thisEfficiency in the Kitchen to Reduce Food Waste and Tips to Reduce Food Waste from The New York Times.

 

Advertisements

Favorite food: Homemade cinnamon doughnuts

photo 3

One of my favorite things is waking up on a lazy Saturday, when you have nothing planned, and nowhere to go. You have an entire day to spread out, stay in your PJ’s, get some chores and homework done, and actually…finally…relax after a long week. It really is the greatest.

Because I’m getting old and can’t sleep in as long as I used to, I tend to wake up pretty early on the weekends, even when we have nothing to do. J likes to sleep a little longer, which means I occasionally have an hour or more to myself. While I definitely fire up the coffeemaker during this time, and get cozy on the couch with some Pioneer Women re-runs, I occasionally will work up the motivation to make J and myself a nice, special weekend breakfast. J is normally the breakfast-maker in our house – he’s the king of bacon-frying, pancake-flipping, and waffle-making (especially the homemade kind) – but I know how to make one thing: homemade doughnuts.

Specifically, these baked cinnamon doughnuts from the Barefoot Contessa. I’ve made a few doughnut recipes over the years, including some made from fancy box mixes. But I love these because they’re relatively quick and easy, and require only basic baking ingredients I nearly always have on hand.  Plus, they’re baked, which means they’re slightly better for you, and I can make them with the fancy doughnut pan from our wedding registry (we had our priorities in the right place).

photo 1

Gather your tools:

  • 2 cups AP flour
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 1/4 cup milk
  • 2 tbl butter, melted
  • 2 tsp vanilla

photo 2

Making them is easy. Combine your dry ingredients in one bowl, your wet ingredients in another. Mix, stirring with a spoon or spatula (no mixer required!). I’d say the dough is slightly thicker than cake batter, and just as awesome. I use the “two spoons methods” of getting the dough into the doughnut pan, though there’s typically some (a lot of) spillage. Oh well! Oh, don’t forget to grease your doughnut pan with some baking spray or Crisco – if you forget, you’re likely to have trouble evicting your doughnuts from the pan (though after a few batches, any attempt at greasing the pan become fruitless and your doughnuts will inevitably be imperfect).

They bake for 17 minutes. Let them cool a few minutes in the pan before turning them out onto the cooling rack.

The original recipe tells you to melt some butter and dip your doughnuts there before dunking them into a cinnamon-sugar mixture. I find that this makes the topping super clumpy and way too buttery (J is a fan of eating straight-up butter, I am not). Instead, I dip the “messy” side of the doughnut (the side that was facing down in the pan) into the cinnamon and sugar – it sticks just fine.

photo 4

Enjoy your freshly baked doughnuts with a big cup of coffee while you watch the flakes fly. Side benefit: your house will smell AMAZING first thing in the morning, and when he does finally stumble out of bed and finds a heap of doughnuts in the kitchen, your husband will think you’re super cool.

Creating a kitchen chalkboard + my favorite pantry recipes

You know, sometimes I just amaze myself with what one can actually accomplish when one goes from simply staring at Pinterest projects, to actually doing them.

That was the short origin story of my latest, around-the-house, improvement-type project: a chalkboard for my kitchen pantry. And get this, guys: I was super creative and did all this using … you guessed it … chalkboard paint. I mean, no one has EVER thought of this before, right??

Wrong! But that’s OK, because even if this project was not highly creative or revolutionary, it did work! And I was able to complete the bulk of the work during an afternoon, followed by a week of waiting and touch-ups.

The time I had to find the painters tape. It was hard.

The time I had to find the painters tape. It was hard.

After The Painting, I carefully removed the painters tape, only to discover that I left the tape on too long, and it took away annoyingly large chunks of paint with it. Drat! Touch-ups were required.

After The Painting, I carefully removed the painters tape, only to discover that I left the tape on too long, and it took away annoyingly large chunks of paint with it. Drat! Touch-ups were required.

After four days of waiting for the chalkboard to set up, I was able to write on it. Success!

After four days of waiting for the chalkboard to set up, I was able to write on it. Success!

Inscribed on my new pantry chalkboard are two handy spots for us to write the food stuffs we need for the pantry + fridge, plus some of my most favorite, most frequently-used pantry recipes that I can never remember, and am thus left Googling “taco seasoning” every. time. I thought this board might be a good place keep track of those recipes, and they are! We made Asian Noodles the evening after completing this project, and hey! I didn’t have to find the recipe on Pinterest, I just looked over my shoulder into the pantry! A win for all!

I thought I’d share these lovely recipes, as they are a lifesaver. The taco seasoning and granola bar recipes are two of my favorite “staples” to make, not buy. They’re SO easy, and the ingredients are things I always have on hand, so it doesn’t make sense to buy them ever again. Plus, we eat a lot of Mexican food, and these granola bars are one of our favorite snacks to have on hand, so it’s good to have these recipes in a convenient spot.

Taco Seasoning (originally from AllRecipes.com)

  • 1 tbl chili powder
  • 1/4 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/4 tsp onion powder
  • 1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 1 tsp black pepper

Chewy Granola Bars (originally from My Kitchen Escapades)

  • 2 cups quick cooking oats
  • 1 cup crispy cereal
  • 1/4 cup shredded coconut
  • 1/4 butter
  • 1/4 honey
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla

Mix together oats, cereal, and coconut. Set a small saucepan over medium heat and melt the butter. Add the honey, brown sugar, and salt. Stir and leave it alone as it comes to a boil. Once it starts to boil, leave it for 2 minutes.

Add the vanilla off the heat, then pour the mixture over the oats. Mix the ingredients until the oats are completely coated. Mix in whatever goodies you want (our favorites are just peanut butter, or peanut butter and chocolate chips).

Finally, what we call “Asian Noodles” are actually the Pioneer Woman’s Simple Sesame Noodles, and this is probably the most-made, weeknight dinner at our house. It’s SO easy and delicious, and we love making this alongside these sweet and spicy tofu nuggets, though this is good all by itself, or as a side dish to whatever asian-inspired meat dishes you so desire. Now, I always remember the ingredients I need for this recipe, but I have the hardest time remembering proportions. Not anymore!

Asian Noodles

  • 12 oz thin noodles (cooked and drained) – we use two packages of ramen
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 2 tbl sugar
  • 4 cloves minced garlic
  • 2 tbl rice vinegar
  • 3 tbl pure sesame oil
  • 1/2 tsp hot chili oil
  • 4 tbl canola oil (though I sometimes just do 2-3 tbl, as this recipe always seem to make too much “juice” for our noodles)
  • Green onions for topping (optional)

Whisk all the ingredients together, dump in your cooked noodles, and eat. Top with siracha to make it extra delicious.

My new favorite way to spend the afternoon

photo 2

I never thought I would be the kind of person who would grow attached to an expensive, specialty kitchen appliance. I never thought I would be the kind of person that relied on “little luxuries.” And, to be honest, I’m not. I’m a simple person, with simple needs, and I don’t like the idea of owning a lot of stuff in order to meet those needs.

Until, J got me an espresso machine for my 28th birthday.

It was a complete surprise, and something I never thought I wanted. Neither of us has ever had any desire for a Keurig, mainly because we drink lots of coffee in the morning, and the little “one cup” at a time thing seemed…cute. We’re an 8 cups-a-morning household. Plus, an espresso machine just seemed so fancy, so European, so luxurious. We weren’t really those kind of people, were we?

photo 1

It took us a few weeks to figure out how to use our $100 machine (it wasn’t complicated, we’re just lazy). But now that we know, and now that we have a nice bag of Starbucks brand espresso ground coffee in the pantry, now…we’re hooked. Well, at least I am.

Did you know it takes less than a minute for this baby to preheat? And then, it’s only take a few seconds more to load it up, and then have a steaming hot mini cup of espresso?

Did you know that that mini cup of espresso is just divine with a small piece of dark chocolate, or some super-sweet cookies and cream fudge we bought in Frankenmeuth earlier this month?

Also, did you know that this little snack is just rich enough, and jam-packed with just enough caffeine, to satisfy those persistent late-afternoon, 4 pm, just-got-home-from-work snack cravings?

photo 3

Give me a book, and a couch, and half an hour, and I’m in heaven.

So I guess it’s true: I am one of those people.

 

Recent recipes I’ve pinned, tried, and now love

Like a lot of young women with free time and a pulse, I love me some Pinterest. While much of my Pinterest activity involves a lot of mindless scrolling and staring at pretty pictures (which is not a bad way to spend some downtime), I am known as an active pinner – particularly of recipes.

And while others have to make New Year’s resolutions to actually do the stuff they find on Pinterest, I have no trouble trying out a new Pinterest recipe whenever I can. In fact, I would say that 75 percent of my meal-planning comes from Pinterest. I really do like to cook, and given the fact that we make 90 percent our meals at home, I’m always looking for something new to mix up the nightly routine.

For the blog, I’m thinking it might be fun to highlight some of my more recent favorite recipes from Pinterest, so – ya know – you have a better idea of what’s cooking around here. I promise – it all tastes good. Here’s what we’ve been eating lately:

20-Minute Spicy Siracha Ramen Noodle Soup
(From Baker By Nature)

IMG_20241-682x1024

Photo Credit: Baker By Nature

Siracha soup may seem like a strange dish, but oh my goodness, so good. I will say: while making this, I told J that it was one of the weirdest soup-making experiences I’ve ever had (it included sauteing chopped onion, and a chopped roma tomato, in sesame oil). But in the end, it all works out, and it’s simply the perfect soup for the super cold days we’ve been having lately. We had this after shoveling our driveway while the temps were in the single digits, so we did not mind the heat. Because, did I mention, this soup can be hot. It’s not too terribly bad, though, and you could cut down the amount of Siracha you use to cool it down. But then, it’s Siracha? Why would you want less?

Crockpot Carne Asada Nachos
(From How Sweet It Is)

carneasada-3

Photo Credit: How Sweet It Is

Omg guys, but this is just one of those recipes where I feel compelled to say …erhmegerd. We actually made this a few months ago, but it’s still on my mind. The beef is SO EASY to make in the crockpot, and it tastes SO GOOD. I’d make this beef for any kind of Mexican dish, including beef tacos or beef enchiladas, but this recipe is tops: line a cookie sheet, or pizza pan, with a bunch of taco chips, top it with the beef, and then cheese, and then any other nacho goodness you love. OMG. J and I may have eaten an entire pan of this in one sitting. #notashamed

Sesame Chicken Egg Rolls
(From Carlsbad Cravings)

Sesame-Chicken-Egg-Rolls-main2

This recipe was a little bit more of a challenge, and a little messier at that, but it was also surprisingly easy (in its own way) and very delicious. I love egg rolls, and I love sesame chicken, and given how easy it would be for J and I to waste a lot of money on Chinese takeout, I’m always on the lookout  for ways to do Asian at home. I bought a “stir fry” sauce to make this recipe easier, though I’ve been known to improvise my own with the dozen of Asian ingredients we’ve accumulated over the years. Even given that investment, all you really need for this recipe is egg roll wrappers, some chicken, and some stir fry veggies (which you can buy frozen for, like, $1). Constructing them took time, and I got a little lazy at the end, PLUS mine were super huge (more like MEGA EGGROLLS!)….but they still tasted awesome.

Best homemade bread ever

I won’t lie: part of me wants to be this little urban homesteader. I want to can my own jams, and plant a vegetable garden every year, and, I don’t know, have bees (OK, maybe I don’t want bees…scary!). I admire women who lead these productive, homemade, very photo-worthy lives, and long to emulate them.

But then, I remember reality and am like, “Oh yeah, that’s probably not going to happen all at once.” Maybe it will happen in bits and pieces – NEXT year is garden year, I promise! – but not all at once. I used to think buying a house would motivate me to throw myself into various projects, and while I do feel somewhat motivated now that we have more space and I can finally see how these things might come to be, the fact remains that we’re busy people with limited funds. Some things are going to have to wait.

From Domestic Fits.

From Domestic Fits.

But that doesn’t mean I can’t bake bread! Baking your own sandwich bread has always been a point of homemaking pride, and for the longest time I’ve wanted to be one of those people who baked their own loaf every week. I still think that’s a good idea – it can help reduce our consumption of the store-bought bread we need for sandwiches every week. But because of LIFE, it doesn’t happen every week. Oh well.

Part of that problem in the past has been the lack of a really good bread recipe – something that was easy, quick, and didn’t involve an extra trip to the grocery store. I mean, if you’re going to make bread baking a routine, it has to fit into your life, right?

Right. And I think I’ve found the recipe that fits into mine. This recipe comes from Domestic Fits, and before that, it was the Classic Sandwich Bread recipe from the King Arthur Flour bag. The recipe is super simple: three cups of AP flour, two tablespoons of sugar, a packet of yeast, half a cup of milk, half a cup of water, a quarter cup of vegetable oil, and half a teaspoon of salt. See? I can remember it off the top of my head – THAT’S HOW EASY WE’RE TALKING.

Most of the kneading is done in your mixer, then you let it rise for an hour, knead it a little bit more and put it in your bread pan, let it rise one more time, and then bake at 350 degrees for 30-35 minutes. So, so easy. Seriously, if you’re at home, just mix it all up while you’re making lunch, let it rise during the afternoon, and then bake it so that the house smells AMAZING just as your husband comes home from work (although, since I’m not into stereotypes, I also encourage men to make this for their wives as well). I don’t consider myself to be suzy housewife, but I tell you what, there’s nothing like homemade bread to make your partner/friend/whatever go, “Wow, you really have this home thing down.” You could then feed them pizza rolls and still slightly frozen french fries for dinner and they’ll STILL think you’re Martha Stewart.

I made this bread yesterday, but because I’m lame and like to eat, I didn’t take any pictures, and now it’s halfway gone. WHOOPS. Just go make it yourself, and you’ll see.

PF Cooks: tomato and feta salad

I’m not a fan of raw onions. Or red wine vinegar (at least in amounts I can taste it). But I still wanted to try this recipe from Ina Garten’s Barefoot Contessa at Home.

It was really easy. And it turned out really tasty.

Sometimes I surprise myself. I made this as a side dish for our cheese/salami/crackers dinner last night, and Joel and I couldn’t stop eating it. We barely left any for lunch today.

  • 2 pints of cherry tomatoes, red or mixed colors
  • 3/4 cup small-diced red onion (or not, if you’re like me and don’t read directions clearly)
  • 2 tablespoons good white wine vinegar or champagne vinegar (it wouldn’t be an Ina recipe if there wasn’t a “good” modifer in there)
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 1/2 kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil leaves
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 3/4 pound feta cheese

Cut the tomatoes in half and place them in a large bowl. Add the onion, vinegar, olive oil, salt, pepper, basil and parsley and toss well. Dice the feta into 1/2-3/4 inch dice, crumbling it as little as possible. Gently gold it into the salad and serve at room temperature.

Nom and enjoy.

Speaking of recipes, I spent a lot of time this afternoon catching up on the Pioneer Woman and now I want to make this raspberry crisp and these tortillas rollups.