It’s Time To Fix Home Kitchen Food Waste

As much as we love Thanksgiving, there’s a problem there, one that we’ve tried to address as an enduring theme here – managing and avoiding food waste. Huge amounts of it, and frankly, it’s not just the holidays. It’s every day, in our home kitchens. Massive waste. It’s time to address that.

Consider this shocker, courtesy of the Natural Resources Defense Council, “Over this Thanksgiving week, Americans will throw out almost 200 million pounds of turkey alone.” That’s one weekend, gang. They go on to state that, “The average household of four is wasting about $1,800 annually on food that they buy and then never wind up eating.” And there’s more – “A recent survey in three U.S. cities found that the average American tosses out 2.5 pounds of perfectly edible food each week. At the top of the list: produce and leftovers.” And the coup de grace, “Households are actually the biggest contributor to the amount of food going to waste across the country — more than grocery stores or restaurants or any other sector.” All that food is the primary thing sent to dumps and landfills in this county, and that leads directly to the production of a hell of a lot of methane as all that stuff decomposes. Methane is a serious greenhouse gas – Not good in a world that’s rapidly heating up.

Now if you doubt those household waste figures, let me share something with you – As the General Manager of a cafe that does well north of 4 million bucks in sales annually, I have a few real concerns to deal with – I need to keep my folks happy, my guests safe and happy, and make money for my company. That’s it, in a nutshell. Do those things, and everything else will fall in place. Now, we certainly have waste, but let me put it into perspective for you – Our waste, our total waste, from a full time bakery and a kitchen putting out those kind of numbers, is around 3%. That’s roughly 1.5% from both sides, café and bakery. Now, compare that to the figures from the NRDC above and tell me – Do y’all think you’re anywhere near that efficient? The answer is a resounding NO – Not even close. That’s what we need to fix, because friends and neighbors? Your concerns are not any different than mine are, truth be told – You have to keep your crew happy, safe, and fed, and you cannot afford to waste the kind of money those figures up there reflect – None of us can.

There’s your post holiday bummer for you. So, as I always like to ask when somebody brings me gratuitous doom and gloom – What are we gonna do about it? Well, again, what we’re going to do is go back to talking about planning, and about thorough use of the food we buy. Why? Because we must, without fail.

That concept I mentioned, thorough use of what we buy, starts with shopping. So let me ask – When you shop, you make a list, right? If not, (and I know there are some of you who just wing it, so stop fibbing), you’ve got to start planning, carefully, if you’re going to avoid the kind of food waste we’re guilty of here. That means going through your pantry, cupboards, freezer, and fridge, and seeing what you’ve got and what you might need.

The idea here is to change a critical aspect of the way most of us shop – Instead of thinking about what might be fun or nice to buy, we need to look at what’s already in your kitchen with a couple of perspectives – First, what do I already got that’d be great to cook with, and secondly, what do I got that needs to be dealt with right now – before it turns to waste?

When you do that, you find the things that are maybe on the verge of going bad, and you use them, convert them, make them into something you’ll cook with, rather than let them go to waste. Got tomatoes about to become long in the tooth? Put them in an airtight container and freeze them. You can make sauce, soup, or stew later, when you’re ready. In fact, any and every vegetable or fruit you’ve got that is ‘getting there’ should be treated this way – You don’t really think folks buy bananas intending to make banana bread, do you?

Case in point – M and I invented a Chicago Dog Pizza the other night, because, one – we wanted pizza, and two – We didn’t have any of the proteins we’d normally put on pizza, (No ham, pepperoni, mozzarella, etc) – What we did have was two very good locally made hot dogs that needed to get eaten, some sport peppers, and a couple tomatoes that needed to get used as well. I made some dough, and a sauce tinged with a little zing of yellow mustard and celery salt. We used cheddar cheese, and a little sweet onion, and it was actually fantastic – I’d go back to a place that makes that and order it again.

When I say ‘go through your freezer and fridge,’ I mean it! Touch everything there – EVERYTHING! We do this daily in restaurant work, and you should do it at least weekly at home – That’s the number one way to find stuff that needs to get used and get it in play before its too far gone, (And conversely, not doing so is the number one reason we waste so much food). I’ve seen a lot of fridges and freezers in my day, and many are downright terrifying. Don’t let yours get there – Police it regularly, and practice FIFO at home, (First In, First Out), combined with dating things in there, and you’ll be well on your way to running a tighter ship.

When you do make that list, think in much broader terms than one meal at a time. A chicken, one nice, fat fresh chicken, can easily make three meals – Roasted chicken, chicken tacos, chicken noodle soup. Turns that $15 bird into a much more efficient protein, doesn’t it? We talked pretty extensively about this in a couple of posts, one on Meal Planning, and one on Planning for Leftovers – Check those out.

And then, when you’re ready to go to the store, do yourselves a favor – Abide by the old adage, ‘Don’t shop hungry.’ Seriously – It’s why we shop on Sundays, our mutual day off, and go out to eat beforehand. Hungry shopping leads to binge shopping, and that’s bad for the wallet and the waste log. Stick to your list, and you’re good to go.

That’s not to say that you can’t or shouldn’t snag something that looks great when you’re there – Just be judicious in that vein. The reason we waste so much produce is because its pretty, and stores do a great job of presenting it. That’s fine, and it’s stuff you should eat, but if you go getting all crazy in that department, thinking you’re going to use all this stuff before it spoils, nine times out of ten, you’re dead wrong – Pick a thing or two at most, and make sure you use it. If it floats your boat, add it to your list downstream. If it doesn’t, then move on.

A lot, and I mean a lot of folks snag stuff because they’ve heard of it, seen it on Iron Chef, or something along that line – The question is, do you know what Jicama tastes like? (It’s great, by the way – Sorry…) This being the 21st century, whip out the ol’ smart phone and do a quick research on what it is that’s got your attention. You may or may not like turnips, Chinese long beans, or star fruit, and a quick check can give you enough of a clue to make a more informed decision than, ‘it’s so pretty.’

Finally, when you get your booty home, think about waste when you start to cook. What we throw away day in and day out isn’t always waste – A lot of it is food we didn’t use. Those NRDC quotes came from a piece NPR did with Massimo Bottura, a Michelin starred Chef who shows us how to think differently about what we throw away. He even got some friends together, like Mario Batali, Alain Ducasse, and Ferran Adrià, to name just a few, and wrote a cookbook aimed at reducing household food waste. It’s a spiral-bound gem titled, Bread is Gold, and you want it in your culinary library. Check out the NPR piece here.

To get you started, here’s the best potato stock you’ll ever make. It’s a great thing to make, divide into portions, and whip out to make amazing sauce, soup, or stews with.

Potato Peel Stock

5 Cups Water
Peels only from 6-8 Potatoes
1 medium Sweet Onion
2 Carrots
1 stalk Celery
1 Bay Leaf
1 teaspoon Sea Salt
1/2 teaspoon Fresh Ground Pepper

Rinse and rough chop onion, carrots, and celery.

Throw everything into a stock pot over high heat until it begins to boil.

Reduce heat to maintain a simmer, and cook for 2 hours.

Remove from heat, run the stock through a colander and discard the veggies

Allow to cool to room temperature, then portion and freeze, or use right away.

Where the last of your turkey needs to be
Where the last of your turkey needs to be

And finally, for the record, Kevin Rosinbum, a talented photographer and cook I know wrote this yesterday afternoon, above a picture of a glorious pot of homemade soup. “If you toss out your holiday carcass, you’ve already lost.” Truer words were never written.

We had that turkey dinner of course, followed by two rounds of stunningly delicious sandwiches, (I think I like them best of all). After that, what was left of the meat got pared off the carcass, and that got thrown into the oven to roast, and then into the slow cooker – Just the carcass and the aromatics it had cooked in – covered with water and left to do its thing for 8 hours. The result, strained once, is the most unctuous, fragrant, amazing stock you could ever hope for. With carrots, celery, garlic, leftover potatoes, and the rest of the meat, it’s now a pot of our own glorious soup, simmering away as I type.

Spare Ribs with a Citrus Fennel Glaze

We did up some ribs for dinner the other night, in honor of our middle son and his partner coming over for dinner. As we are want to do, we posted some pics all over social media, and as such, have had a bunch of requests for the recipe, so here goes – Spare Ribs with a Citrus Fennel Glaze.

Citrus Fennel Glazed Spare Ribs
Citrus Fennel Glazed Spare Ribs

The sauce is the star here, and for good reason. It’s a grade A example of the organic way M and I arrive at a dish, based largely on what we’ve got on hand, and often initiated by a single thing – In this case, a left over blood orange that had given up it’s zest for an earlier meal with our youngest kid.

Initially, we were leaning toward a Chinese style rub, but James is allergic to sesame, so we went off on a tangent. M found that blood orange and wondered aloud if we couldn’t do something with that. A short brainstorming session yielded what you see herein. This sauce could be used on a lot of things, from chicken or beef, to Brussels sprouts or carrots.

While this might seem like alchemy, I assure you, it’s not. Often, when we’re brainstorming things, I’ll whip out our copy of The Flavor Bible, a book that you aughta have in your kitchen, if you don’t already. You’ll find a wealth of parings and affinities therein that truly can and will spark your imagination and creativity.

And I can’t stress enough to be bold in endeavors like this – If you like stuff, and you think that stuff might go well together, then try it. If you’re at all nervous about committing to a full blown recipe, then cut off a little piece of this and a little piece of that,  pop them your mouth, and see what you think. If it’s good, go with it. If it’s not, search elsewhere.  That, in a nutshell, is how you build your own ideas into culinary reality.

We used a rack of spare ribs, but you can do any cut of rib you like, (Baby Back, St. Louis, Rib Tips, County Style, or beef ribs.)

Preheat oven to 250° F and set a rack in the middle slot.

Season ribs with sea salt and fresh ground pepper, (we use our go to seasoning salt for pretty much everything).

Wrap the ribs tightly in aluminum foil, fat side up and dull side of the foil facing out.

Set the package on a baking sheet, or the bottom of a broiler pan, and cook low and slow for about 2 hours, until the rib meat is very tender.

Citrus Fennel glaze is great for a bunch of dishes
Citrus Fennel glaze is great for a bunch of dishes

Citrus-Fennel Glaze

Juice from one fat and happy blood orange.
1/4 Cup Orange Marmalade
1/3 Cup chopped fresh Fennel bulb
2 small cloves Garlic
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon Tabasco chile flake, (Use any chile variety you like here)
1 Tablespoon butter
1 Teaspoon Arrowroot.

Remove ribs from oven, set a rack on a high slot, and increase temperature to 375° F.

In a sauté pan over medium heat, melt butter, then add fennel and sauté for a couple minutes until it has notably softened.

Add garlic and sauté another minute until raw garlic smell dissipates.

Reduce heat to medium low.

Add orange juice, marmalade, and chile flake, stir well to incorporate.

Cook, stirring constantly, for 2-3 minutes, until the sauce is quite liquid, (that’d be the marmalade relaxing a bit.)

Add half the arrow root and stir to incorporate. Allow the sauce to cook for another minute or so. Sauce will thicken slightly – Add the rest of the arrow root if you want things a bit thicker.

Unwrap the ribs, and flip them meat side up onto the pan. Baste or pour sauce liberally onto the ribs in an even layer.

Uncover your ribs and flip them meaty side up for glazing
Uncover your ribs and flip them meaty side up for glazing

Return the ribs to the oven on the high rack, and cook for about 10 minutes, until the sauce is bubbling and starting to caramelize.

Beautiful salad!
Beautiful salad!

We served ours with an gratin potatoes, a lovely green salad, and fresh, crusty bread. They were falling off the bone tender, and the sauce was a perfect foil to the richness of the meat.

Scaling, Converting, and Planning for Leftovers

Well, if you’re a regular here, you know we have a real passion for leftovers. It is damn near criminal to waste good food and it happens way too often. To some degree, this is our fault, ‘our’ being foodies and bloggers who exhort others to cook. I say that because a lot of what I find in out there are recipes offered in quantities that demand leftovers. And it goes without saying that restaurants in the US routinely offer ridiculously huge portions, the lions share which is thrown out as well.

So something needs to be done about it, right?

Right.

You can do your part by learning to scale recipes when they’re designed for more folks than you’re going to reasonably feed. Scaling is especially useful if a recipe is complex or involves expensive ingredients; in any case, most of the time, you just don’t need or want to cook at larger volumes. While it sounds easy, it isn’t always such, (I found this out taking a homebrew recipe to barrel volume…) Scaling definitely involves a bit of art in addition to straight math.

Take, for instance, a recipe that catches your eye, but is shown for 10 when you need it for 4.

Knocking it down mathematically is straightforward: You take the quoted measure of each ingredient and divide it down to where you want to be. So in this case, we’d divide 4 by 10, yielding 0.4; each of the stated measurements would then be multiplied by 0.4 to reach your goal.

Lets say the recipe calls for 4 cups of all purpose flour. Take the 4 cups, multiply by 0.4.

4 cups × 0.4 = 1.6 cups of flour for your 4 person conversion, and so on down the line of ingredients.

As a guitar maker, I can tell you that I spend a fair amount of time converting fractions to decimals, so don’t feel even a little bit bad for squinting at 1.6 cups for a second or two. Truth be told, for the vast majority of home cooking, eyeballing 1.6 cups is going to work out just fine. Yes, things like a teaspoon are gonna end up 0.4 but again, almost a half, more than a third; you’ll get the idea.

For any and all of this that seems to funky to do, drop over here to this handy Cooking Conversion Tool at About.com. For those of you who actually use your smart phone or tablet for cooking as I do, there’s a very decent app called Kitchen Calculator Pro that works great.

One of the things we do here is to test conversions for you. As I mentioned, scaling recipes isn’t always as simple as the math. Sometimes things have to be tweaked to come out just right. That said, this is often a case of personal taste; it’s nothing to worry about on the big picture view, but if you’re wanting to impress your new date with a great home cooked meal, you might wanna test that conversion first, right?

A lot of the secret of cooking well has to do with ratios; it could be reasonably argued that, next to good ingredients, nothing is more important. Author and Chef Michael Ruhlman has put out a few tools and books about this stuff. I own both his Bread Baking and ratio apps for iPhone and iPad, and I use them both. They’re good common sense stuff and a handy reference when you’re experimenting.

Now, all that said, there are times when you’re going to build food at larger volumes. You’ll notice that a lot of what we do here starts out fairly basic; consideration of multiple meals is a primary reason for that. We, like most of y’all, are not exactly wading in spare time, so prepping one primary meal that can become two or three saves work and is much more efficient.

When you’re doing that, you may well build dishes that are sized for much more than your one-meal needs. Of course quite a few things like soup, stew, chili, roasted or broiled meats, potato dishes and many veggies, really do taste better the next day. It makes sense if you think about it; good ingredients, well married, seasoned and cooked – It should taste better, right?

To close this post, we’ll give you a lightning round example of what we’re talking about.

Day 1; we’re both off, so we bought a big ol’ pork roast and paired it with gnocchi, seedless red grapes and a nice salad.

Day 2: Sky’s the limit; we could do cold sandwiches, Mex, what’ll it be? It was a bit nippy, so digging into the fridge, we found some great veggies, soaked and added some beans and made a wonderful soup. The prep for this took maybe 15 minutes, then we just stuck it in the pot to get happy. Paired with sourdough garlic bread and some more grapes, life is good.

Day 3: We sure could have soup again, but why not throw 30 minutes prep time into the mix and make a pot pie, right? Kitchenaid pie crust recipe, 15 minute rest, blind baked in a baking dish, thicken the soup with a little roux, and off you go…

There’s three distinct, easy meals from one pork roast. Efficient, fun, and delicious.

What are you gonna make tonight?

E & M

Cheese Rice Soufflé

Cheese rice soufflé

 

Had quite a few requests for the recipe behind this Instagram pic, so here it is. It's a simple cheese rice souffle, (and they really are simple.) Here's my spin on this classic.

The soufflé is generally attributed to Marie-Antoine Carême, a founding father of French grande cuisine. Carême's first iterations were made in the early 19th century, in stiff, straight sided pastry casings that are the inspiration for the modern soufflé dish.

Technically, a soufflé is a cake consisting of a cream sauce or pastry cream combined with beaten egg whites. Soufflé is actually a tense of the French verb 'souffler', to blow or puff,; an apt description of the cooking process involved. The base cream may be sweet or savory. The beaten egg whites, incorporating a lot of tiny air bubbles, provides the classic rise that defines this delicious dish.

Soufflés can be made in containers of all shapes and sizes, but the traditional vessel is a straight sided, white glazed porcelain soufflé pan, round with a glazed or unglazed bottom and fluted sides. The porcelain transmits heat quickly and well, the unglazed bottom anchors the dish, and the straight, glazed sides allow an unfettered rise in the oven.

The keys to a grey soufflé are;

a pre-heated oven,

Eggs at room temperature,

Very gentle folding of the beaten egg whites.

You want as much energy as possible to go toward the rise of the soufflé, as opposed to heating ingredients, so the preheated oven is a big help, as are eggs at room temp. Very gentle folding of the egg whites ensures that all that air trapped in the egg white matrix is available to the soufflé – again, that's the fuel behind the rise, and rough handling kills it quickly.

I've made this with all kinds of rice; I get the best results with long grain or wild. It's easily the most elegant use of leftover rice I can think of.

 

Cheese Rice Soufflé

2 Cups cooked Rice

1 1/2 Cups Extra Sharp Cheddar

3 large Eggs

1 1/2 Cups whole Milk

2 Tablespoons All Purpose Flour

2 Tablespoons unsalted Butter

1 Tablespoon minced Shallot

1 teaspoon Lemon Thyme

1/2 teaspoon ground Grains of Paradise

1/2 teaspoon Sea Salt

Dash of Tabasco Sauce

 

Have eggs at room temperature before starting.

Preheat oven to 350° F.

Crack and carefully separate eggs whites and yolks into two mixing bowls.

In a heavy sauce pan over medium heat, melt butter. Add flour and whisk to combine.

Allow roux to cook for 2-3 minutes until lightly browned.

Slowly add milk in small amounts, whisking each into the roux.

Incorporate all the milk without breaking the roux; in other words, it should start out as thick as mashed potatoes and end up as a fairly thick cream sauce, never being allowed to separate into liquids and solids. Slow and steady incorporation is the key.

Add rice, shallot, lemon thyme, salt, grains of paradise, (pepper is Ok), and Tabasco. Whisk to combine.

Remove from heat and transfer to a large mixing bowl.

Whisk egg yolks with a teaspoon of water, until they've thickened slightly and are nice and uniform.

Add yolks to cream and rice mixture and blend thoroughly.

By hand or with a whisk attachment for an immersion blender, beat egg whites until stiff peaks form; you want to be able to flip a bit of the whites it's your whisk and see them stand pretty much straight up and stay there.

Check the temperature of your cream and rice mix. You want it warm, but not hot enough to start cooking the eggs prior to baking.

Working in thirds, gently fold the beaten egg whites into the cream and rice blend. Use the side of a spatula and take your time. The batter should look and feel quite light when fully blended.

Chose a pan sized such that the batter will fill it about 2/3 way up the sides.

Carefully pour the batter into an ungreased soufflé pan.

Bake uncovered for 45 to 55 minutes. Don't open the oven – Let it work!

Soufflé top should be nicely risen and golden brown.

Serve immediately with a nice, crisp salad. Sparkling dry cider is a great accompaniment.

 

 

Smoked Chicken Stew

So, from last nights butterflied, grilled chicken, I saved the carcass and made stock and stew therefrom. If you’re not doing this kind of thing on a regular basis, you really need to be reading this blog more often.
Here’s how.

For the stock,
1/2 sweet Onion
1 Carrot
1 stalk Celery
2 Bay leaves

Rinse, trim and then chop veggies to uniform rough dice. Note: Can’t tell you how often I see home cooks throw out celery tops with leaves on them, or how wrong that is. Especially when using celery for mirepoix, making stock, etc, you want those leaves; they pack beautiful, delicate celery flavor, and impart it to other foods better than the stalks do.

Glean any appreciable meat from the chicken and reserve for lunch, (we didn’t have any left, frankly, and we’ll be using breast meat for the making of this stew anyway…)

Everything goes into a stock pot over high heat with enough water to cover well, about 3/4 gallon. As soon as things start to simmer, reduce heat to just maintain that, and let it go for at least 2 hours and up to 4. As you lose water to cooking, gradually add more. Ideally, you want to end up with about 8-10 cups of lightly colored and flavored stock. That is rather light as stock goes, but we’re making a robust stew that will pack its own flavors; this is just the canvas…

Remove from heat, discard all the big chunks by straining through a colander. Chill the rough stock in a large bowl in the freezer until most of the fat has risen to the top. Skim that off, then clarify the stock once or twice by running it through a chinoise or strainer.

Return stock to a stock pot over medium heat.

For the stew,
2 Carrots
2 stalks Celery
3 Red Potatoes
1 Tomato
1 Lemon
2 cloves Garlic
1/4 sweet Onion
2 sprigs Cilantro
Extra virgin Olive Oil
White Wine
Black Pepper
Smoked Salt

Rinse and trim all veggies. Cut carrots, celery, potatoes, tomato, onion and cilantro to a fairly uniform rough dice, about 1/2″ pieces. Mince the garlic and cilantro and toss everybody but those into the stew pot.

Heat a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil in a sauté pan over medium high heat. Toss in onion and sauté until it starts to go translucent. Add garlic and sauté about another minute. Add a splash of white wine and continue sautéing until the raw alcohol is burned off. Toss all that into the stew pot. This step, done with strong aromatic veggies like onion and garlic, adds a nice richness to a soup or stew, and helps tame the raw heat they can pack.

For the chicken, you can smoke it over your grill, barbecue or smoker with a bit of smoking wood, pellets, what have you, or you can cheat like I did. If you’re a regular here, you know how much I love Butcher & Packers hickory smoke powder. As advertised, it gives a pure taste of hickory smoke and nothing else. I’ve fooled Texas BBQ snobs with this stuff. Saves a bunch of time and sacrifices nada in the process; try it. They also make chipotle powder, and powdered mesquite, which are equally fabulous. 

Dirty Rotten Cheater’s Smoked Chicken,

2 Cups Chicken Breast
1/2 Cup Whole Grain White Flour
1-2 teaspoons Smoke Powder
1/2 teaspoon Smoked Salt
1/2 Teaspoon ground black Pepper
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil

Cut chicken into roughly 3/4″ dice.

Add 2 tablespoons of oil to a large sauté pan over medium high heat.

Combine flour, smoke powder, salt and pepper in a paper bag, (amount of smoke is up to you). Add the chicken and shake until all the chicken is thoroughly coated. Remove the chicken and tap/shake off excess dredge.

Add chicken to pan and allow it to cook long enough to sear well on all sides. You want to develop a genuine, caramelized crust, so don’t play with it too much or turn it too often. Keep a close eye on it so it doesn’t burn.

Once the chicken is well seared, transfer it to the stew pot and stir it in well. Turn heat down until you’re at a nice low and slow temperature, with no signs of simmering.

Let the stew cook for at least two hours. Slice the lemon into quarters. Add the juice from half to the stew, reserve the others for service. Adjust seasoning with smoked salt and pepper. Stir regularly, taking care to make sure stuff isn’t sticking to the bottom. The regular stir helps release the dredge from the chicken and combine it with fats, which is what is going to thicken your stew. If you like things thicker yet, microwave an extra Yukon potato, mash it with a tablespoon of butter, and stir that into the stew as well.

Serve with crema, sliced lemon, our jalapeño-cheddar cornbread, and a nice, cold Negro Modelo.

One Hour Minestrone

OK, so a good few of y’all have asked for the zero-to-minestrone in an hour recipe, so here goes.

There is much leeway in this wonderful soup. You can make it with meat or vegetarian. You can add whatever veggies are in house with confidence. In other words, there are few rules. That said, what I’ll propose as the single non-negotiable point is this: the base stock should be veggie and include white beans, (AKA Great Northerns). As I’ve said numerous times here, try it this way first and then go forth as you see fit thereafter…

So, let’s say that like me the other night, you got a hankering for soup, it’s 5 pm, you have no stock on hand and nothing prepped. Ready?

Open and lightly rinse a can of white beans. Pour them into a sauce pan and add,
2 Cups hot water
1 small Shallot, minced
1 Bay Leaf
Sprig of Parsley, minced
1/2 teaspoon Italian Oregano
Shake Sea Salt
Twist of ground Pepper

Get that up to a simmer and reduce heat so it barely perks along.

Preheat oven to 400 F.

Choose 1 medium sweet onion, then choose carrot and celery for size so that you get roughly 50% onion and 25% each celery and carrot, then rough chop. Toss those on a sheet pan, drizzle with olive oil and shove them in the oven for 15 minutes.

Set a stock pot over high heat with 10 cups of hot water and bring to a boil.

When the veggie timer goes off, pull them out of the oven and throw them into the boiling water. Allow them to boil freely for 15 minutes, then strain or scoop all the veggies out and toss ’em in your compost. Toss the bean pan contents into the stock pot and there’s your speed stock.

Dice 2 or 3 potatoes and a carrot, then throw them in the microwave for a minute or two until just fork tender; add them to the pot. If there are any other root veggies you have or like, do the same with those.

In a sauté pan over medium high heat, toss 1/2 diced sweet onion and a stalk or two of celery until they start to soften and sweat; throw those into the pot. If you have the leaves and tiny shoots on your celery,so much the better, just use that.

Begin scavenging the fridge and shelves. I found fresh frozen corn, peas and green beans as well as canned tomatoes we’d preserved earlier in the year and threw a handful of each into the mix. If you’ve got leftover pasta or rice in the fridge, in it goes; this is how and why minestrone has been made for many moons, capiche?

Now you can make this a broth soup or you can make it stewier if you like. If thickening appeals to you, the simplest way is to just purée some of the soup and add it back; that’ll give you slight thickening and will honor the flavor you’ve chosen exactly, of course. If you want thicker still, use a slice or two of day old bread, or a scoop of some of that rice or pasta you found in the fridge, or even leftover mashed potatoes. Take that chosen thickener, toss it in your blender or processor, add two or three ladles of soup and let ‘er rip, then return that to your stock pot and viola.

Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper to taste, then allow your minestrone to simmer for 15 minutes or so. Take that time to use your preheated oven and make some quick corn bread, or rub slices of baguette with a split clove of garlic and a brush of butter.

Serve hot and bask in your ingenuity.

Enjoy!

New Years Fondue

Few dishes are more festive than a great fondue. The method invites the creative use of leftovers, so dive into the freezer or fridge. Fondue is also a great ‘Hobo Stew’ dish, so invite your guests to bring their favorite dippers, or an alternate fondue to expand the fun.

Cheeses for fondue need to be varieties that melt well and yield a smooth, creamy consistency. The noble Swiss variants used here are famous for their good behavior in a fondue, and their light, nutty flavor. Cheddar and Jack also do very well, so experiment and find your favorite.

Bread is the traditional primary dunk, but by no means the end of the road! Venison, pheasant, meat balls, and sausage tortellini are great treats, as are crisp apples, grapes, broccoli, roasted potatoes, and snap peas. The sky and your taste buds are the limit!

Classic Cheese Fondue
3/4 pound each Gruyère and Emmentaler cheese, grated
3/4 cup dry white wine
1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tablespoon flour
1 tablespoon butter
3 Tablespoons tart Cherry Juice or Kirsch
1 small clove fresh garlic
Sea salt, Black Pepper and Smoked Paprika to taste

Pour wine and lemon juice into a non-reactive sauce pan over medium heat and bring to a simmer. Add the cheeses slowly and stir constantly until each batch melts and incorporates thoroughly. Reduce heat to medium-low and stir occasionally.

Melt butter in a small pan, then add flour and incorporate, then add cherry juice and thoroughly blend to a smooth paste.

Add the paste to the cheese mixture and blend thoroughly. Press garlic, and add salt, pepper and paprika to taste. Reduce heat to warm and stir now and then until ready to serve.

A fondue pot is best for service, but not necessary, ’cause its gonna go quick!

Cube bread, slice fruit and veggies and arrange on a tray. Thoroughly cook meat, poultry or pasta through and keep warm until served.

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M and I wish y’all a wonderful, prosperous 2013 filled with great food, family and friends!

“Drop the last year into the silent limbo of the past.
Let it go, for it was imperfect,
and thank God that it can go.”
Brooks Atkinson

Quick and Easy

So, you’re on our way home and your mate calls, says, “What are we doing for dinner?”

You blink a couple times, “Uhhhhhhhhh…”

Sure, you could slurp soup from a can, slap together a sandwich, sling a salad, but…
Why not take a minute and build something good, semi-homemade, fast and easy?

A quick stop at Trader Joe’s for pizza dough, pineapple, Italian sausage, and fresh mozzarella, you’re good to go – The rest should be at home in a decent pantry, meaning you should have canned tomatoes, (Any style will work; always cruise that aisle and pick up a can or two when they’re on sale – Same with beans, etc), fresh garlic, dried or fresh herbs, good oil and vinegar.

This super simple recipe takes maybe 15 to 20 minutes of prep time.

Casa Calzone

Fast Pizza/Calzone/Pasta sauce:

1 22 ounce tomatoes
1 6 oz can Tomato Paste
2 cloves fresh Garlic
1 teaspoon Oregano
1 teaspoon Basil
1 Tablespoon extra virgin Olive Oil
Dash Balsamic Vinegar
Salt & Pepper to Taste

In a glass or stainless bowl, blend or motorboat tomatoes to an even consistency. Crush or mince garlic, add tot tomatoes along with all other ingredients, blend thoroughly. Allow to sit at room temperature for 15 minutes. You may simmer your sauce for 15 to 20 minutes for a more focused flavor note, but it’s not necessary for great results.

Fillings:
Whatever you like! Go simple for the sake of speed and ease of prep; two or three major notes is plenty and delicious. Leftover chicken, pork, beef. If you do something fresh like our sausage, then saute until cooked roughly 3/4 through and set aside.

Just fresh veggies are wonderful too; you can do them straight away, sauteed lightly, or roasted prior to filling; each little change will yield a unique and lovely taste.

We went with classics:
Ham & Pineapple
Italian Sausage & Roasted Red Pepper

Preheat oven to 475 F. and place a rack in the upper-middle position.

Roll pizza dough out to a circle or square; dough should be roughly 1/8″ thick. Transfer carefully to a baking sheet or pizza stone.

Spread an even layer of sauce roughly 1/2″ thick over half the dough, then add generous amounts cheese and toppings. Lightly wet the edge of the uncovered dough with a little water.
Gently fold the dough over to completely cover, and seal the edge by rolling it back on itself a couple of turns while pressing together.

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Cook for 10 to 12 minutes, remove from oven and let rest for 5 minutes prior to cutting and serving.

Garnish with grated hard cheese, fresh herbs, or good olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

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Toast a job well done!

Sensible Salmon Leftovers

Last time around, M and I did our Seattle re-immersion dinner with some killer local salmon.

We bough the whole fish, got it filleted, and froze half, but even after seriously porking out, we had a pretty good hunk of leftovers, so what to do?

Cold salmon with lemon? Salmon salad? Salmon and scrambled eggs? All winners, but after looking over our fish, we thought it was a bit dry; the skinny end was left, strangely enough, and with a new stove we aren’t used to, we’d hit it a bit hard. That helped lean our recipe decision toward something moist and rich. here’s our variation on a classic Alfredo

Salmon Alfredo

3 Cups whole Milk
2 Tablespoons Unsalted Butter
2 Tablespoons AP Flour
1 1/2 cups flaked salmon
1 Cup diced vine ripe Tomato
1/2 Cup fresh grated Parmigiano Reggiano
Juice of 1 small Lemon
1/2 teaspoon Lemon Thyme
Sal de Mer & Grains of Paradise to taste

Melt butter in a 4 qt sauce pan over medium heat, and allow to brown slightly.

Add flour and blend thoroughly, allowing to heat through until it starts to bubble.

Slowly add milk, taking care to maintain blend; in other words, don’t break the roux. Heating a mixture of flour and butter takes advantage of the elastic nature of the bonds created therein, and is truly the heart of a good roux. Done classically, you heat, stir and add with painful slowness, and truth be told, that’s what it takes to create and hold the fantastic variations made from this simplest of combinations. When done right for home work, the flour-butter mix will look and feel like a batter, and as you slowly add the milk, it starts to look like mashed potatoes, or maybe thick custard. Add a little milk, let the mix heat through, add a little more, and with care and patience, you’ll have a lovely cream sauce.

Once the basic sauce is done and heated through, it’s time to add your goodies. Note that for the cheese, M went with the grated Parm and some rind too, since it’s a fave of ours. Cheese is added first and allowed to melt through.

Now throw in the salmon and tomato, and finally the seasonings, and adjust to taste.

Turn the sauce down to low and allow it to blend for a bit while you prep the pasta. We went with locally made, dried fusilli, since it has nice surface area and little grooves in the outside surface that are really great at holding sauce. Boil well salted water, add a bit of olive oil and throw in your pasta. When it’s on the chewy side of al dente, pull it off the heat and drain, but don’t rinse. Throw hot pasta into a bowl along with a tablespoon or two of the pasta water, then add your sauce and toss.

We served ours with a nice little salad of local greens and sourdough toast points, and you can too!