Tag Archives: cookbook

Glorious Food Waste

For decades, I have been gently chided, and occasionally mocked, for my kitchen frugality. A drawer filled with wilting produce sets off a visceral reaction leading to aggressive cooking. I don’t think it’s cheapness, as much as it’s a deep-seated concern about waste. Over the years, cooking teachers have denigrated the big, re-purposed Ziplock in my freezer chock full of plant scraps and leavings; apparently only pristine produce is good enough to make vegetable stock or fruit sauces. But still I persisted because, frankly, that just didn’t make any sense to me. And, besides, I just can’t empty that seemingly still good food into the trash or compost heap.

A short while ago, I stumbled on a wonderful “cookbook” Scraps, Wilt + Weeds written by Mads Refslund and Tama Matsuoka Wong. Refslund was a co-founder of world-famous Danish restaurant, Noma, and, shockingly, shares my visceral reaction to wilting, near-rotting produce! But he goes many steps beyond just making vegetable stock, dry-roasting just-past-prime produce, stewing less than perfect fruit into sauces and, of course, freezing very ripe bananas for breads and smoothies. Mads Refslund has elevated waste to haute cuisine.

        

The concepts are invigorating and inspirational – with stunning photographs that make near garbage extraordinarily beautiful.  I use the word concept advisedly – to me the recipes are more conceptual than standard “multi-user-tested” ones. This is relatively new turf and the reader needs more guidance as to when, for instance, a tomato is near rot or just plain rotten. Even though I am a fairly accomplished home cook and long-time rescuer of wilted produce, I often had questions. For instance, a couple years ago I made carrot-top pesto from gorgeous, young CSA carrots and it was so bitter, it was inedible – why wasn’t his?

On the other hand, he encourages flexibility – use what you have (less, more or sub something else) rather than create more waste by buying to meet the specific recipe requirements. Other chapters focus on buying “ugly” produce, foraging for “weeds” and even using discarded fish parts. All told, it is a glorious paean to the minimization of waste and as I reluctantly released my non-renewable library copy, I concurrently added it to my Amazon list.

Mads Refslund has vindicated my kitchen frugality while he introduced others on whose shoulders he stands; those who have been long proselytizing waste reduction but who did not have his bully pulpit**. He has made reducing food waste sexy and chic. What a stunning, unbelievable accomplishment!! This is a book to own – a reference to stiffen our spines and alter our perceptions when we are about to sweep the leavings into the Waste King or the compost pot.

Why is this book so important? Every year, roughly 30% of all the food raised on the planet for human ingestion is literally wasted. If you just look at first world countries that number is even higher with the U.S. leading the pack at over 40%. According to the World Economic Forum, our global population is projected to reach 9.6 billion by 2050 – raising the leading question: how do we feed everybody? The United Nation’s FAO (Food & Agriculture Organization) posits that we already grow enough food, we just have to figure out how to save that 30-40% that we are currently wasting – which represents about 28% of the earth’s agricultural land. A whopping 25 percent of that waste is imperfect produce left in the fields to rot and 15% comes from tossed out, perfectly edible, food. (An additional, crucial, benefit would be to save the carbon footprint of all that wasted food –according to the EPA, landfills account for 34% of all U.S. methane emissions.)

** I am reading some of the author’s references and will share reviews and content in future posts.

Whole Protein Vegetarian – Delicious Plant-Based Recipes with Essential Amino Acids for Heath & Well-Being

Whole Protein

By Rebecca Miller Ffrench. The Countryman Press 2016 $27.95 (Amazon $18.50/ Kindle $14)

Ms. Ffrench approaches recipes and daily menus from the very particular perspective of amino acids – in other words protein. There is a mantra in the plant-based world that it’s impossible not to get enough protein. That we actually consume too much protein and the invariable question from the canivores “how do you get your protein?” is mock-worthy.

But the author demonstrates that that might not be as true as we had assumed I was surprised when taking a hard look at the protein counts of some of the pulses and vegetables that we normally consume. If adequate protein is a concern, then this might be a useful reference.

It’s a handsome, hard covered book with bleed and full-page photos of about half the recipes. The recipes themselves are not particularly adventuresome or noteworthy – assuming you are steeped in current plant-based culinary arts. If you are not, then this is an excellent primer. I prepared a couple and they were fine family-dinner fare – but not guest material.

Our Seven-Day Juice Cleanse

juice cleanse   Primal Essence ginger primal essence Chai

We just finished a 7-day cleanse! Our guide throughout was “The Juice Cleanse Reset Diet” by Lori Kenyon Farley and Mara St. Clair. It was a successful experience for both of us – we lost our vacation weight and a bit more. Hopefully the trend will continue. But more important, we hope that it’s given our bodies a rest and perhaps allowed them to start healing some long-time issues. Time will tell, but we both feel pretty good with some increased energy. And it was a real education.

For a week, we ate and juiced only organic produce (except for the Clean 15) so just finding it all at some kind of reasonable price was a bit of a project. Whole Foods, CostCo, Trader Joes and Stop & Shop were our go-to resources. We bought and juiced through most of: six pounds of apples, eight pounds of carrots, four pounds of pears, two pounds of kale, three pounds of mixed baby greens, a pound of baby spinach, two pounds of strawberries, a pound and a half of blueberries, two pounds of sweet peppers, eight cucumbers, ten kiwis, seven mangoes, seven large beets, six heads of romaine, four bunches of celery, a pineapple, a bunch of lemons and limes – and bananas for the smoothies (should have taken a photo of the kitchen counter covered in gorgeous food). I haven’t added up the cost yet, but it was pricey – albeit clearly less than buying these from a juice bar or delivery service, and a lot less than a spa :).

Part of the plan is to drink 16 oz. of water seven times a day and 16 oz. of juice about six times. So if you really don’t like plain water – and I don’t – that was a problem. Coincidentally, as if on cue, UPS delivered a gift – three small pumps of Primal Essence’s super teas (primalessence.com). Each a different flavor. The instructions said just pump a couple of squirts into a glass of water; instant flavor from organic whole plant-extracts! Tasty and healthful. During our cleanse, I switched around among Ginger Zing, Classic Chai, Peppermint Splash and a squeeze of lemon. It really made drinking that much water a lot easier, more pleasant (and even more healthful). When we were going out, I just dropped one in purse for instant interesting water. Each little bottle contains 225 pumps. These are a real find for people who find water just too boring to drink – I want to try the other flavors: Tumeric Tulsi, Vanilla Chai and Lemon Ginger (especially the latter).

We also learned more than we wanted to know about our venerable Omega 1000 juicer that has been sitting on the shelf for, perhaps, a decade. Toward the end of this severe workout, it started showing its age. Trying to control it as it wobbled all over the counter at 3600 rpm was just a little scary. Yet, even out of warranty Omega was there for its customers: we just sent in the broken arm for a free replacement and a tech walked us through the process of re-balancing and explained some of the finer points of cajoling this particular unit. When it’s time for a new one, it’ll definitely be an Omega. Our Vita-Mix performed admirably as usual for the smoothies and also for some of the greens that we had trouble juicing.

Bottom line: a very satisfactory week. We weren’t really hungry. We looked at this as a project and “went with the flow.” But it was a lot of work and we ducked outside engagements as much as possible although we both went to the gym for our usual class and workout. But we definitely both agreed that we will do it again – probably twice a year (or maybe even more). One word of advice for a half a couple trying to do this alone: try to engage your partner. I can’t imagine cleansing while living with someone eating regular food. It just wouldn’t be much fun either.

 

 

Simple Green Suppers – A Fresh Strategy for One-Dish Vegetarian Meals

Simple Green Suppers

by Susie Middleton- Roost Books April 11, 2017 $24.95 (Amazon $14)

This is, as the title promises, a book of vegetable forward family dinners that strives for the unctuousness of meat-meals, the delciousness of deeply layered flavors, and the freshness of right from the garden produce. It is a beautiful tome, with lots of enticing full-page bleed photos from Randi Baird, that makes you want to dive in and start cooking

Ms. Middleton approaches the organization of her one-dish family suppers from an unusual perspective; each chapter focuses on a specific, but varied, base to which veggies are added: noodles, grains, beans, leaves, toasts, tortillas, eggs and broths. And each of those bases covers the whole landscape of, for instance, noodles – soba, udon, rice noodles, pasta, couscous, somen, egg. If you “go with” this horizon-broadening perspective, it can really step up the nightly dinner grind – and add some fun to the shopping and prep. Each chapter is preceded by a couple pages of useful “Tips and Strategies” – including prepping your larder. These aren’t ten minute projects and the ingredient lists can be a little bit daunting, but most can be executed well within an hour – and the results are far from fast food. There are some new concepts and fresh, upgraded re-works of old favorites.

But be aware this not a totally plant-based book. There is a chapter, as noted, on eggs and some dishes in other chapters include cheese and dairy. But most of  these ingredients are, IMO, easily substituted with vegan replacements since they are not center stage – or simply skipped. The egg chapter may be doable with the new Follow Your Heart VeganEggs (if you don’t have an issue with a primary ingredient – algal).

Note that the number of servings varies from two to three to four. So that means doubling or halving depending on your situation. As an empty-nester, I welcome recipes for two since I often find myself cooking the whole recipe for four –  and then there are often no leftovers!  The scale speaks.

I am looking forward to cooking my way through this lovely book and will post some of the results – especially when I’ve used dairy or egg replacements.

Essential Herbs and Spices – Discover Them, Understand them, Enjoy Them

Essential Spices

By Christina Nichol  – Rockridge Press 2015 $18.99 (Amazon $15.82 Kindle $4.99)

While not talking specifically to the plant-based cook, Ms. Nichol provides a useful overview of these critical components for all food preparations – not just for enhanced deliciousness but also for health promotion (almost all have “antioxidant, antiviral,  antiviral, or anti-fungal properties”), ceremonial rites, preservation and, historically, that biggie: covering up the taste of foods on the verge of rot. Herbs and spices figure prominently in the age of exploration – when, ounce for ounce, some were as valuable as gold. And the discovery of others changed the flavor profiles of major cuisines.

What are herbs and spices? They are all some kind of plant. If used for medicinal purpose then the entire plant is referred to as an herb. But for culinary uses, the leaf (fresh or dried) is the herb and the stronger, more pungent seed, root, berry, bark, and flower are the spices. Herbs are at their best fresh and tend toward “bitter astringent, tart or savory” while spices are better dried with “earthy, nutty, warm” and pungent profiles.

The author makes a good case for knowing more about the history and contemporary usefulness these small bottles of big flavor stacked in our pantries. She focuses on a selection of 50 popular herbs and spices as well as ten useful blends – helping the cook triage if s/he isn’t ready to stock them all. Each is described along with its history,  kitchen methods, healing uses, what foods it complements and what other spices and herbs it pairs with followed by a couple of concrete recipes.

Exploring the magic that these condiments can exert over the most plebeian dishes, may make the temptation to take the plunge to stock them all irresistible. Ms. Nichol also lists the critical herbs and spices of major cuisines: Cajun, Caribbean, Chinese, French, Indian, Italian, Korean, Mexican, Middle-Eastern, North African, Thailand and Turkish. I found this particularly useful when cooking without recipes – just pick a favorite flavor profile then pull out the particular jars that deliver it. Then play.

I have a spice cabinet containing well over a hundred herbs and spices and a pullout with two dozen ethnic mixes – but I still learned a lot from this book:

Whole spices can last up to 4 years, most ground spices up to three years and dried herbs up to two – contrary to prevailing myth to toss all at the one year mark. But always smell and taste your spices first to be sure. Then toast them

Red pepper spices increase in intensity during cooking! Beware

Asafetida is a vegetarian gift with a taste blend evocative of garlic, shallot, onion and leek that imparts that meaty, umani flavor. Love it but never knew why! It’s the dried sap of an herbaceous plant from the fennel family and also a wonderful gift for those with a sensitivity to the allium family.

 

The Banh Mi Handbook – Recipes for Crazy-Delicious Vietnamese Sandwiches

by Andrea Nguyen. Ten Speed Press 2014. $16.99 (Amazon $11.43, or $4.99 Kindle)

BAnh Mi Handook

Banh Mi sandwiches have been the subject of so many articles and restaurant reviews that they have certainly captured my imagination and my salivary glands. But they are so meat-centric that I just couldn’t figure out how to replicate this described deliciousness within the confines of even a flexible plant-based diet. Nguyen’s small, hard-cover book helped me figure that out. This is by no means a vegetable-forward book; the bulk of the recipe chapters cover all of the main meat, poultry and seafood categories. But, there is a chapter on vegetarian fillings, two on breads and other “holders,” and, probably most important, one on mayonnaise, sauces and pickles which form the flavor profile that makes Banh Mi sandwiches so addictive. So you might find it worth the investment in a Kindle version for the Baked Maggi Tofu, Edamame Pate or the four other vegan fillings or for the flavorings of her meat pates that could be reinterpreted in a mushroom or bean pate.