Wasteful Cooking

November 26, 2012 § Leave a comment

J: We are presently entering what is, at least in the United States, the most food-heavy time of the year.  Because of this, I think it is appropriate to get on my soapbox a little bit and try to make everyone more conscious of certain inclinations we have as shoppers.  Specifically, I’m referring to wasteful cooking and wasteful food purchasing.  Don’t go navigating away yet, thinking that you are not wasteful and not to blame — it is a bigger problem than you might realize.

I have long been aware of a tendency in American consumers (and probably some other cultures, though I’ve had most occasion to observe Americans) to be extremely picky about the food we buy and use.  I myself am guilty of this, and I often spend a few minutes pawing through the produce bins looking for the prettiest and least-bruised pepper, tomato, etc.  However, I recently stumbled on a show called “The Big Waste” on the Food Network, and it astonished me how many tons of food are wasted every year in this country.  Bakeries, restaurants, butchers, farms, and supermarkets literally just throw away foods that they know they will not be able to sell: bruised tomatoes, corn from stalks that have been broken, chickens with bones that were broken in processing, flour that can only be used in certain pastries… the list goes on.  This food is not diseased, expired, or otherwise inedible; in many cases, it is simply not aesthetically pleasing.  The trend here is stunning.

This show mentioned a group of people called “freegans,” whom I hadn’t heard of before.  They essentially go dumpster-diving for food, and while that may sound disgusting to many people, it is nigh unbelievable how much perfectly edible and tasty food they can find.  Although I am not quite willing to do that for my food, I propose a more minor lifestyle change.  Next time you are at a grocery store, consciously choose some produce that is not perfect — maybe a slightly bruised apple, or snow peas with some discoloration.  Recognize that if you go to a good-quality grocery store, they probably err on the side of extreme safety, and will throw out food that is even remotely unsafe.  Those marks are not going to hurt you, and once your produce is cut up and cooked, you will not even be able to taste a difference.  And if you are really uncomfortable with cooking produce with blemishes, you can use a small paring knife or vegetable peeler to do some localized surgery and remove the blemishes yourself — most of them are only skin deep.  This wastes so much less food than discarding an entire item because of a few marks.

It will probably not make a difference in the long run, but even if it only results in less food being thrown out from your particular supermarket at the end of the day, that’s something, and we could all use a little less wastefulness, especially at this time of year.

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Arayes: Lebanese Meat-Stuffed Pockets

August 6, 2011 § Leave a comment

J:  One night recently, as we so often do, Erik and I were trying to figure out what we were going to make for dinner that week.  Ideas were hard to come by, so we turned to a resource we knew would probably yield a couple ideas: the Food Network website.  We ended up settling on a recipe by Aarti Sequeira, of “Aarti Party” fame, for Lebanese “meat-stuffed pitas,” or arayes.  We made a few minor changes and additions, but mostly this was quite a tasty (and really quite easy) recipe.

One of the bigger changes we made was substituting ground turkey for the ground beef as the meat, since we don’t eat a whole lot of red meat.  This was perfectly tasty, but we lost a bit of the hearty earthiness that the ground beef would have imparted.  Fortunately a few add-ins compensated for that: if you go the ground turkey route as well, try adding some barbecue sauce and/or some grated cheese (go with something fairly strong and earthy; we used a combination of cheddar and asiago).  Heck, even if you do go with ground beef, you can try adding those things as well!  And let us know how it turns out for you.

meat pocket!

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7 Days of the Food Network: Day 7, Ina Garten

April 7, 2011 § Leave a comment

J:  So, we conclude our feature with the Barefoot Contessa herself.  Ina Garten is a master of comfort food, and so I decided I would make one of her lasagnas to really indulge my craving for creamy cheesy noodle-y goodness.  This lasagna uses a white sauce and portobello mushrooms instead of the usual tomato sauce and ground beef, and it is oh so rich that you will simultaneously want to eat all of it and feel sick at the thought of doing so.  I finally finished the leftovers yesterday and I miss it already!

A quick note before we begin: Erik and I made this together, and it was probably a very good idea that we did, because there is kind of a lot going on with this dish.  It could certainly be done solo — I’m sure Ina can do it alone! — but it’s easier and more fun with two people on the job.

look at those layers!

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7 Days of the Food Network: Day 6, Alton Brown

April 4, 2011 § Leave a comment

J:  Okay, y’all should have seen this one coming from a mile away.  How could we do a Food Network feature and NOT include Alton Brown?  He’s a prominent personality both on that channel and elsewhere in the food world, and for good reason: the guy is batsh*t insane, in the best possible way.  He always makes me laugh (sometimes uncomfortably so), and he does know his stuff when it comes to food.  So, I went through his recipes and chose this one, curried split pea soup.  I first tried split pea soup in middle school, I think, and it was my favorite kind of soup for years (until I discovered broccoli and cheese soups like this one!).  I had never made it from scratch, and I thought that adding some curry powder would give it an extra little layer of flavor, which it certainly did.  I grated some cheese on top as well, just to give it a bit more saltiness and to contrast with the warm mellowness of the soup, and that was pretty excellent.  The verdict?  An all-around win for Alton on this soup!

the weather is never too warm for split pea soup

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7 Days of the Food Network: Day 5, Michael Symon

April 2, 2011 § Leave a comment

J:  I will admit this with no shame: I have a ridiculous foodie-crush on Iron Chef Michael Symon.  He’s an incredible chef, always creative with the dishes he manages to pull out on ICA, and as Erik remarked at one point, it’s amazing how delicate he is with his plating considering that he looks like such a tough guy.  It always looks like he’s having so much fun with his cooking!  Also, it doesn’t hurt that the guy is kind of gorgeous.

…anyway, in picking out chefs to include here, it was a given that Michael Symon would be among them.  I chose to do his spaetzle with smoked ham and poached celery hearts, because spaetzle was a dish I had a lot growing up.  My parents are both of German heritage and so a lot of the food I had as a child was very much in the German/Austrian tradition: very hearty, meat-and-potatoes (and chocolate!), etc.  Because of some combination of poor planning and laziness, I ended up with monster spaetzle instead of the normal, more delicate noodle-dumplings you usually see, but they still tasted awesome.  I also substituted chorizo for the smoked ham, because I had leftovers from this dish, but it was honestly a little overpowering in this context, so I’d probably recommend sticking with smoked ham or using some other less-intense meat.

homemade spaetzle!

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7 Days of the Food Network: Day 4, Nigella Lawson

March 31, 2011 § 1 Comment

J:  Nigella Lawson is, quite simply, a goddess of the kitchen.  Some of the chefs I chose for this feature were ones I didn’t know a lot about, but I knew right from the outset that Nigella (along with the three remaining chefs; you’ll see who they are in the coming days!) would have a recipe included here.  It was difficult to choose just one, but I picked this one, chicken with chorizo, kale, and cannellini beans, because it is (relatively) healthy, and pretty darn easy to throw together.  And it was just so pretty!

chorizo + beans are hiding under the kale

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7 Days of the Food Network: Day 3, Cat Cora

March 29, 2011 § 1 Comment

J:  As I’ve mentioned before, a lot of people seem to be kind of scared of risotto for no good reason.  It does require a bit of babying and attention, but it’s really not much more than stirring a pot of rice continuously for half an hour.  Hard?  Not so much.  I’m also pretty much always up for trying new risotto recipes, and this one from Cat Cora (one of the Iron Chefs!) was awesome, with sweet corn and herbes de provence giving it a distinctive and fresh taste.  Bizarrely, I could not find herbes de provence in my local grocery store, so I improvised with what I had on hand, using approximately 1 1/2 tsp thyme, 3/4ish tsp basil, and 3/4ish tsp rosemary instead.  If you can find herbes de provence, I’d recommend using it, but if not, the risotto still tasted pretty yummy with my herb substitutions, so feel free to give that a shot.

light, creamy, flavorful risotto

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