Friday, November 21, 2014

Zero-waste week day 4: Leftovers from leftovers and What YOU’VE been up to!

On day four (yesterday), I had lots of leftovers from the week’s meals: Extra ricotta mixture from ravioli making, plus lots of leftover pasta, sauce, and meatballs.

I combined them all! I crumbled the meatballs and mixed them with the pasta, ricotta, and sauce. Chloe got her own mini-dish starring a crumbled lentil ball instead of meatballs. Next, I spooned the mixture into a greased casserole dish, grated the last Parmesan nub over the top, and baked for 30-40 minutes at 350 degrees until heated through.

These ugly fellas became a yummy dinner.

Yum! The best meal of the week!

I was also so excited when my friends and family sent me pictures of their OWN no-waste week dinners! Check them out:

From my Auntie Jodi:
"Baked mac and cheese. Used all my leftover cheese and spices.
Yesterday sausage patties in buns from way back in the freezer,
and Monday spaghetti and meatballs."

From my friend Rosie:
"On the menu for tonight: 3 half-empty boxes of different kinds of pasta,
1/2 container of ricotta, Parmesan cheese, shredded string cheese in my food processor
in place of the mozzarella cheese, and hamburger bun garlic bread."

From my friend Brianna:
"I had wild rice, farrow, and barley sitting in the back of the cupboard.
The meatballs are made from ground sausage and crushed stuffing mix that was going stale,
carrots, onions, and garlic from the fridge, chicken stock from the cupboard,
and kale from the freezer! Garlic bread from a loaf that was past its prime as well."

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Zero-waste week day 3: Beer-brined pork chops and English muffin stuffin’

On day three, I realized: “Crap! I don’t have anything for Chloe to bring to school for snack!”

Then I remembered: We had popcorn kernels! So I popped a ¼ cup of kernels with a teaspoon of oil in a sauce pan (HINT: Put the salt right over the oil and kernels before you pop it. Makes the salt stick better!), and sent her off to school happy as a pig in…no that’s an inappropriate thing to say about your little girl. As happy as a kid in popcorn.

On the dinner menu that night: Forgotten, defrosted pork chops and a winging-it stuffing.

First I made a brine for the pork chops in the middle of the afternoon because I work from home. But it would be easy for someone to do it before work. A brine is like a marinade but not. Don’t ask me the difference. I don’t know. But I know they’re really forgiving, and just need salt. In fact, you could really make a brine out of just salt and water, if you needed to. But more flavors are better, so you could use apple juice, vinegar and water, or beer, like I did here.

I dug through the fridge and cabinets and came up with this brine:

A couple of brine ingredients

  • A can of Sam Adams Octoberfest beer
  • About 1 cup of apple cider vinegar (I bought the raw organic kind last month because I’d read it was a witch-doctor-ish cure for kidney stones. Guess what? It’s not.)
  • A couple of smashed garlic cloves
  • A tablespoon of honey that I’d warmed in the microwave so it could be stirred into the cold liquid
  • A few sprigs of fresh thyme and sage
  • ¼ cup of salt

I poured the brine over the chops in a large zip-top bag and put it in the refrigerator to do its magic for a few hours.

Try to squeeze out as much air from the bag as you can
When dinnertime rolled around, I got busy making the stuffing out of rescued leftovers:

  • Slice in half and cube 3 almost-stale English muffins
  • Toss the cubes in a pan with a tablespoon each of butter and olive oil and a chopped onion
  • Stir until the muffin cubes get crispy edges and the onions are soft
  • Add chopped fresh sage and thyme and about ½ cup of dried cranberries
  • Cook another minute
  • Add ½ cup of chicken broth a little at a time, letting the bread drink up little bits of broth until it's all added
  • English muffin stuffin'


  • I put the stuffing into a cooking-oil sprayed loaf pan
  • Drained the chops of their brine and seared them over medium-high heat
  • Baked the chops and the stuffing in a 375 degree oven (the chops for 10 minutes, the stuffing for 20)

I also steamed some leftover carrots and made rice to round out the meal. Ms. Vegetarian Chloe had all the veggie and grain sides with an egg salad sandwich.

The result? Decent. I really like the stuffing, but thought the chops were overcooked. At least the brine gave them a nice flavor.

Also, as an aside, I woke up many, many times last night, and each time it was from the same dream: I was making the stuffing again and writing this blog post. I guess I was pretty excited about it.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Zero-waste week day 2: Pasta and ‘balls’

On day two of our use-it-or-lose it cooking project, I defrosted a pound of ground beef that's been in the freezer since the summer and made meatballs for the two omnivores in the house. I got creative and made lentil-balls for our little vegetarian, Chloe.

After staring at a bag of dried lentils for a few minutes like a cat staring blankly at a sink drain, I decided to experiment and make “meatballs” out of cooked and pureed lentils.

First, I boiled ½ cup of lentils in water for about 25 minutes until they were soft, then drained them and buzzed them smooth in a food processor.

Treating the lentil puree exactly as I would ground beef, I added all of the secondary ingredients from my go-to meatball recipe: About 1 cup of panko-style breadcrumbs, 2 tablespoons of grated Parmesan cheese, an egg, ½ teaspoon of garlic powder, ½ teaspoon of Italian seasoning, and about a tablespoon of olive oil. I mixed it all together; scooped and shaped the mixture into balls; and baked them on a cookie sheet for 10 minutes per side at 350 degrees.

Lentil balls, before baking
I had no spaghetti, (no grocery shopping allowed, remember?) so I used veggie elbow macaroni that I had on hand.

I had no spaghetti sauce either (sigh), so I made that, too, by simmering for about an hour the contents of a 28-ounce can of crushed tomatoes in heavy puree (why did I ever buy this? I don’t remember buying this.); 2 tablespoons of tomato paste; ¼ cup of red wine (which I somehow always have on hand); ¼ cup of olive oil; 2 tablespoons of brown sugar, a tablespoon of salt, and some garlic powder.

Although Brian and Chloe don’t eat tomato sauce on pasta, we all agreed that the varied balls had a better taste and texture after simmering for a little while in the sauce.

The verdict? It was all a hit! Especially the lentil balls, which got an enthusiastic seal of approval from all three of us. For real...I’m as surprised as you are, to be honest. I’ll definitely make the lentil balls again. It’s a (MUCH) cheaper and healthier alternative to meatballs, and I never would have discovered it without our little project.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Zero-waste week: Day One

The first day of our use-it-or-lose it cooking project brought an ear infection for Chloe and homemade ravioli for dinner.

After rushing around to meet my two Monday article deadlines and bring Chloe to the doctor, I finally finished my work and headed to the kitchen. It was about 4:00 pm, which left me plenty of time to make homemade ravioli.

As I’ve written before, making homemade ravioli isn’t particularly difficult, but it is rather time consuming, mostly because you have to let the pasta dough rest twice in between kneading it and rolling it out.

The rolled-out dough.

I used that time, though, to make the ravioli filling, which consisted of what was left of an already opened tub of ricotta cheese (about 2 cups), some grated Parmesan cheese (I used the rest of a half-used block for about 1 cup of grated cheese), about 10 fresh sage leaves (about 1 teaspoon, chiffonade), and the rest of a box of baby spinach, chopped (about a cup unchopped).

The filling

I stuffed the ravioli, sticking the edges of the dough together with an egg wash (a beaten egg with a teaspoon or two of water). Then, I placed them on a baking sheet in the fridge to firm up while we waited for Brian to get home. They weren’t gorgeous, but they tasted good.

The finished product, before cooking

Digging into the fridge also revealed two packages of long-forgotten chicken sausage, which I must have bought in bulk because of a sale (lesson learned!). Happily, the use-by date was still six weeks away, so I threw those into the oven, too.

Brian, inspired by the week’s mission, whipped up some homemade garlic bread out of hamburger buns that surely would’ve gone stale otherwise (I had to buy 6 buns for a 4-pack of Chloe’s veggie burgers). Brian softened some butter in the microwave, spread it on each of the bun halves, sprinkled them with garlic powder, and crisped them up in the toaster oven.

Yum! It was a feast that didn’t feel like we were eating leftovers at all.

Now, I realize that many people don’t have the time or inclination to spend 90 minutes making homemade ravioli. But that ricotta filling could have easily gone into stuffed shells, lasagna, or baked ziti. And spending a couple of hours on a Sunday doing meal prep for the week using what’s on hand is not only doable for anyone; it’s also a weeknight time saver.

Oh, and in case you're wondering, "what the hell is chiffonade?," this is how the hell to do it:

Stack the leaves, roll them up, and slice into thin ribbons.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Zero-waste week OR Use it or lose it OR Stop before you shop

None of the above headlines really captures what I’m trying to do this week: Reduce our family’s food waste by cooking with foods that are already in our fridge and cabinets.

I don’t know about you, but we waste a buttload of food up in this house. Whether it’s unfinished meals that we scrape off our plates into the trash, forgotten leftovers, or ingredients that I bought for a single recipe and never used again, I’m ashamed to admit how much we throw away.

I recently cleaned out our cabinets and tossed so much food, from a bag of faro that everyone hated and I never cooked with again, to expired boxes of noodle soup and saltines that I bought when one of us was sick. I clean out the fridge about once a week, and throw away a lot from there, too.

And we’re not alone: The Environmental Protection Agency says 20% of what gets dumped into municipal landfills is food, adding up to a whopping 35 million tons of food in 2012, says a new NPR article.

Not to get all “starving kids in Africa,” but seriously…there are starving kids in Africa. And America. And everywhere.

Still unmoved? OK, let’s say you’re a heartless megalomaniac and don’t give a shit about starving kids. Think of your wallet, then: If you spend $100 a week on groceries, that’s $20 a week you’re chucking in the trash…and $1,040 a year.

Our waste-not week begins with a refrigerator/pantry audit. We have (among other things):

  1. A mostly unused tub of ricotta cheese leftover from our broken noodle dish
  2. Carrots and onions leftover from making chicken pot pie and chicken noodle soup
  3. Half a box of baby spinach leftover from making spinach and artichoke pizza
  4. Several nubs of Parmesan cheese from various recipes, since I’m forgetful and often forget that I already have Parmesan cheese
  5. A box each of fresh sage and fresh thyme, leftover from making chicken pot pie and chicken noodle soup
  6. Chicken broth leftover from making chicken pot pie and chicken noodle soup
  7. A bowl of cooked rice
  8. Half a spaghetti squash
  9. Eggs
  10. Cherry tomatoes, apples, a banana
  11. The usual pantry staples: Rolled oats, rice, pasta, flour, baking ingredients (like sugar, spices, peanut butter chips), canned tomatoes, olive oil, breadcrumbs, vinegar, etc.
  12. Cans of salmon (Chloe’s vegetarianism doesn’t extend to fish).
  13. Sandwich bread
  14. In the freezer: Mostly frozen meat, including a pound of ground beef, and some cuts of pork from a pig that my cousin and his wife raised.
As you can see, there’s a lot of food just hanging around in this house! This is all without doing the week’s grocery shopping. Without much thought, I already see a few dishes shaping up:
  1. Homemade raviolis stuffed with ricotta, Parmesan, spinach, and sage
  2. Pasta and meatballs with homemade sauce from canned tomatoes and meatballs from the frozen ground beef
  3. Pork chops in a vinegar-thyme brine and served with rice and cooked carrots
  4. Peanut butter oatmeal cookies
Admittedly, this is a lot of cooking from scratch, and I don’t know about you, but I’m not exactly swimming in time. I have a full-time job and a kid (who happens to be home sick right now). But it’s a challenge that I want to take, and I’ll spend the week blogging about it.

Wish me luck!

Monday, November 10, 2014

Kidney stones, broken noodles, and tablets in the kitchen

Brian’s been going through something that I will refer to only as the Wretched Ten-Week Kidney Stone Saga, which should give you enough information to know that:

  • It hasn’t been pleasant
  • You don’t want to hear anything else about it. Trust me.
Suffice it to say we’ve been at the doctor a lot, which is often part of our lives anyhow, because of Chloe. So…things have been even more hectic than usual around here.

Which is why a beautiful Samsung Galaxy Tab, sent to me by the good people at Verizon Wireless* for kitchen-test-driving purposes, has been sitting untouched in the FedEx box it arrived in for quite some time.

Until now. Chloe was doing her homework and didn’t need help with it. Brian was busy convalescing. The dishes were done, and the floor was clean (-ish). I had a rare moment of nothing to do. So I opened the box and pulled out the tablet.

After a couple of embarrassing minutes trying to get it connected to our wireless internet (I might have accidentally taken a picture of the desktop, which made me feel like I wasn’t far from needing one of those evening community college computer classes for old people), I found the fabulous library of recipe apps that the Verizon Wireless folks had loaded onto it for me.

Even though there were hundreds of recipes at my fingertips, I was skeptical about finding something that we’d all like. My family isn’t the easiest to cook for. Chloe is newly vegetarian again, and Brian’s list of absolutely-will-not-eat-it foods include tomato sauce, chocolate, fish, and any meat that is still on the bone (yes, I take apart and cut his meat like he’s my giant man-baby, so what? I love him). He also has trouble digesting dairy. Fun.

Anyhow, I clicked on a recipe that sounded promising: Broken noodles.

Because I like noodles and I break a lot of shit.

The first, enticing words in this recipe’s introduction: “Not even enough time to boil water?”
Yes. This is a machine that knows me.

The Martha Stewart recipe called for broken bits of papardelle to be cooked right in a pot of boiling marinara sauce that’s been thinned with water. It’s served with a dollop of ricotta cheese on top. So easy, so fast. I’m ashamed that I never thought to cook pasta in the sauce before. It’s the ultimate in yummy laziness.

Of course, Brian doesn’t like marinara sauce. But I do, and papardelle is my pasta weakness, so I waited for the day when the kidney-stone saga finally came to an end to make it for myself and Chloe. (My man-baby likes to eat a McDonald’s cheeseburger and fries when he’s feeling under the weather. So what? Want to start something?)

I used an entire jar of Newman’s Own brand marinara sauce, which came to a boil in just a few minutes; much faster than water. Although I had to cook the noodles longer than the recipe called for, and the noodles stuck to the bottom of the pan without pretty regular stirring, the recipe truly was easy. Start-to-finish—from dumping the sauce in the pan to spooning the meal onto the plate—took about 20 minutes. Not bad!

The resulting meal was a thick and rich pasta dish where the sauce was much more a part of the noodles than it would have been if you’d simply poured sauce over cooked noodles. It reminded me of a casserole, in fact. The addition of ricotta cheese made it even thicker and heartier.

I really loved it, but Chloe? Not so much. Turns out, she’s inherited her dad's hazel eyes, his appreciation of The Three Stooges, and his deep dislike of marinara sauce.

Nyuck, nyuck, nyuck

“Why can’t I have plain noodles with butter?” she wondered, like she usually eats when I make pasta. Seriously, kid? Oh well.

Since this post is dedicated to how well the tablet functions in the kitchen, here's a pro/con list:

  • Much easier to use than a cookbook, since there are no pages that flap shut mid-recipe
  • Much easier to browse recipes via apps than in cookbooks, thanks to the search functionality and easy sorting by things like ingredients, chef, etc.
  • Better to use than my smartphone (which I often use to read online recipes during cooking) because all or most of the recipe fit on the entire tablet screen. Also, the font is larger than the one on my phone.
  • Was big enough to stand upright on a cookbook stand 
  • Easy to select and bookmark favorite recipes
  • The tablet screen kept turning dark during cooking for energy savings. I’m sure there’s a setting to make this stop happening, but I was too lazy to look for it.
  • I was very nervous about messy sauce bubbling onto the expensive device. But there are special, plastic tablet covers designed to solve just this problem. (Or just stick the tablet in a gallon-sized plastic bag, as CNET suggests).
Overall, I'd recommend the tablet for cooking, without a doubt.

I would recommend the broken noodles recipe to marinara lovers.

And I wouldn't recommend the kidney stones to anyone.

*Note: Verizon Wireless sent me a tablet to borrow, test, and return. I received no compensation for this post, and all opinions are my own.

Friday, September 5, 2014

3 DIY cucumber spa ideas for when you're sick of eating them

It’s late summer, which means that cucumbers are sprouting faster than chin hairs on an old lady. I’ve pickled them, sliced them up for salads, and served them as simple appetizers with olive oil and salt every damn day for weeks. And now, I’m sick as fuck of cucumbers. So here are three things to do with cucumbers besides eat them (no, not that, you pervs), all of which will make you feel prettier, too. 
  • Slice them up for spa water: Slice a cuke into ¼ inch rounds and put them in a pitcher with several cups of water. Let it steep in the fridge for a few hours, and tada! Refreshing, cucumber-infused “spa water” that you can serve to your pals. Wicked fancy and wicked tasty, especially for those who regularly reach for flavored bottled water. Other additions might include lemon slices or sprigs of mint.

  • Slap a few slices over your ojos: Ojos means “eyes” in Spanish for all you uncultured slobs. I’m allergic to my cat, and every so often he makes my eyes turn into red and watery puffs of ickiness. I mean, I look truly scary. This happened to me a few days ago, so I placed a cucumber slice over each eye for a few minutes, and felt the swelling go down. “Can you eat them after you take them off your eyes?” my five-year-old, Chloe, asked. Ummm, I guess you could, but they’d be all warm and allergy-ish, so that’s pretty freaking gross.
  • Make a body scrub: A quick Google search yields tons of recipes for homemade scrubs that consist of little more than pureed cucumber, sugar, and a few drops of oil. Although some of the scrubs call for fancier oils, like grapeseed oil, I’m thinking that olive oil would work just as well.

Happy home-spa day!

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Nutritional what?

Let’s cut to the chase on nutritional yeast. Holy gross name. Holy gross-looking. And in a showing of true nastiness, its package has a recipe on the back for something called “yeast cheese,” which sounds like a condition your lady doctor would prescribe a cream for, not something you’d spread on nachos.

Let’s be serious: I wrote this blog post so I could say “yeast cheese”

I’ve been hearing rumblings from my vegetarian friends about nutritional yeast for a few years. They say it’s so awesome! And tastes so cheesy! You’ll totally love it!

Although this “cheese” comparison is supposed to endear me to nutritional yeast, it actually makes me trust it even less. If there’s anything that can make me mistrust a food, it’s describing it as “cheesy” when it’s so clearly not cheese. I’ve been down that road, vegans. Your soy slices are not cheese and aren’t fooling anyone. You know what I say to that?

And yet, nutritional yeast is often compared to cheese by crazy vegans who’ve obviously forgotten what actual cheese is supposed to look and taste like. Nutritional yeast is not cheese. It’s a big sack of yellow flakes.

So anyway, a couple of months ago, I spent an entire blog post hating on kale and ended it with a sincere plea to my friends and readers (who, let’s face it, are really all the same people): Don’t tell me how awesome kale is. I don’t want to hear it.

Well, ya’ll bitches didn’t listen, and instead, my Facebook page was deluged with recipes from friends who promised that kale is “amazing” in soup and smoothies, and whatnot. And I admit: I actually tried one of the recipes in spite of myself. It was from my friend Corinne, who had enough good sense to move to Hawaii that I thought I should trust her culinary choices.

OK, Corinne, you win: Your terrible, punishment-worthy sounding suggestion of sprinkling kale with nutritional yeast is worthy of the “amazing” moniker. Her recipe is a lot more involved (and probably tastier and healthier) than what I did, which is just rub kale leaves with olive oil, and sprinkle them with roughly 1/3 cup of nutritional yeast, ¼ teaspoon of garlic powder, and salt to taste.

It really is yummy. But it's still not cheese.
I eat it right out of the bowl, although I think some people might bake it into “chips.”
If you want that recipe, you’re on your own.

And if you want to know how Hawaii Corinne eats her kale, here is the recipe, in her own words:

Pull kale off the stem and break up into big bite sized pieces. Wash and dry well and put into a large bowl. On the stovetop in a sauté pan heat a couple of tablespoons each grapeseed oil and sesame oil (if you don't have one or both of these, seriously any other oil will do in a pinch) when the oil is super hot and rippling throw in a big old handful of pumpkin seeds. I LOVE the Ayurvedic kind from the bulk bins at Whole Foods because they are already nice and spicy and seasoned. Toast until lightly browned, should only take a minute or so. Pour this hot oil/pumpkin seed mixture over the kale and let sit for a minute or two until the oil is not too hot to touch. Get in there with your hands, and massage the crap out of that stuff, getting the warm oil into all the nooks and crannies. At the end add a dash of soy sauce and a heaping helping of nutritional yeast for a cheesy salty kick and viola! This is so good I can eat nothing but two bunches of kale done this way for dinner.

I was so surprised that kale with nutritional yeast tasted good that I went out and bought a blender so I could make a berry-yogurt smoothie with just a little bit of kale in it. Not only was the blender a piece of crap that caused this to happen…


…but guess what the smoothie tasted like: Fucking kale!

I’ll never trust you lying liars again.