Your Sustainable Kitchen – Planning and Stocking

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Imagine this scene… There is food in the refrigerator that needs to be cooked, but you are too busy. The one night that you can make time, you look in the refrigerator and the pieces don’t quite add up to a meal so you order take-out. When the weekend comes around and you actually have time to cook a big dinner, your lettuce is wilted, the sweet potatoes have gone soft, the greens aren’t green, the garlic sprouted… You have been thinking about starting a compost bin, but you haven’t yet, so it all goes into the garbage and you start again.

Does this sound familiar (or is it just me)? But then some weeks are the opposite:

On Sunday you make a grocery list and shop. When you get home from shopping you take some time to prep your vegetables so that they are ready to be quickly thrown together for lunch or dinner. You make a big pot of something that can be used throughout the week (chili, stew, beans and rice or a whole chicken) and put that away, even freezing some for those rushed evenings when something unexpected comes up. You cook Sunday supper. You’ve planned your dinners for the week and pack lunches at night, and everyone gets fed and nothing grows green fur in your crisper drawer.

How is all this planning ahead and stocking up making your kitchen (and you) more sustainable?

  1. You plan ahead and don’t waste any food.
  2. You buy items in bulk, saving money and packaging.
  3. You go to the farmers market and buy local, in-season vegetables that are cheaper (because the farmer has them in abundance), have little or no pesticides (because of the farmer’s growing practices) and you support your local economy.

Planning out your week feels really good – for your health, your pocketbook, your planet, your farmer – and it tastes amazing!

How can you make it happen every week? Easy!

Planning

  • Pick a weekly day/time to sit with a few cookbooks or your favorite recipe blogs (like our Real Food Right Now series)
  • Write out meals for every night of the week and note when you can use the leftovers or make a double batch (use a meal planning app or print a meal planner like this one from KrisCarr.com)
  • Make a list for your shopping trip (always check out what you already have on hand, and keep a list on the fridge to add to during the week –  find a cute one and print it out. Like this grocery list from Palmettos & Pigtails. It makes planning more fun!)

Stocking

  • Be sure to have staples on hand – rice, pasta, nuts, beans, spices (check your stock and add items to your shopping list periodically)
  • Shop at your favorite markets – farmers’ markets, a grocery store with good deals, your local coop

Action

  • Prepare/clean ingredients ahead of time
  • Cook/freeze dinners nightly
  • Pack up left overs for lunches
  • Keep the most perishable foods visible – consider moving older items to the top shelf
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Your Sustainable Kitchen Makeover

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Have you ever watched a food show where they go into someone’s kitchen and open up the refrigerator and cupboards for everyone to see? They always look so neat and tidy – there is no way that was a surprise visit! These shows make me think about my own refrigerator… what is in it right now? Leftovers? Vegetables that I need to eat? And working at Sustainable Table, of course I also wonder – how sustainable is my food? Where did it come from? What if someone wants to look inside, am I ready for my TV debut?!

Even if you shop at the farmers’ market or the healthiest grocery store in town, how sustainable do you think your kitchen is? There is a chance that chemicals, additives, pesticides, GMOs and many other unsavory toxins are lurking in your refrigerator, cupboards and under your sink.

Let’s take a look and see how to make some sustainable improvements. If you know what to look out for, you can start creating a healthier and more sustainable kitchen with each shopping trip.

Get started!

#1. Peek inside the fridge and cupboards… take a quick inventory. Get a sense of what you usually have on hand – veggies, dairy, meat, condiments, breads/grains, processed foods, etc.

#2. Tackle this makeover slowly… one item at a time. Don’t start throwing things out (see all about food waste in the new GRACE food waste section!) but as you run low on an item that you want to upgrade, start to think about alternatives.

#3. Pick which item you want to makeover (Carrots? Milk? Crackers?). On your next trip to the grocery store or farmers’ market, come armed with questions and be ready to read labels to make the best new sustainable choice.

#4. Enjoy the newest sustainable addition to your kitchen! Notice the flavor difference and think about the health implications for you, your family and the producers – relish in the fact that you are contributing to a sustainable world.

#5. Pick the next item. Repeat #3 – #4.

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Freeze The Last Vegetables For The Cold Months Ahead

It’s that time of year. The growing season is winding down, but there is still quite an abundance of local fruits and vegetables at all but the northernmost farmers’ markets and coops (even here in NYC after Hurricane Irene did so much damage). I’m still eating like it’s summer (well the end of summer) and hoping that it will never end. But there is a way to extend the bounty, even into the cold and snow that will be here before we know it. Preserve, preserve, preserve!

I know that preserving can be intimidating, so I’m going to show you how easy it can be done. How can it be easy you ask? I’m not talking about canning (which Leslie really did do and swears canning is easy, if a little time-consuming) – I’m talking about an often overlooked but solidly tested form of preserving, freezing! Anyone can do this, all you need to do is boil some water for blanching and open your freezer door. I went to my local coop and bought all the local and organic produce that I could carry. Right now it is cheap and at the height of its flavor. I got eggplants, carrots, peppers, corn, yellow zucchini, green striped zucchini and 5 pounds of tomatoes. The tomatoes, which are a beautiful red and summer sweet, were only $1/pound! Not only will I get to enjoy actual vine ripened  tomatoes in December, but I paid a very low price and will actually save money.

The whole process took me a couple of hours. Schedule an evening or afternoon and just settle in. I find it meditative to peel, chop and get these amazing vegetables ready for freezing. Taking the time now will provide you with great benefits later – easy dinners, saved money, healthy foods at your fingertips and delicious flavors!

General “Recipe”:

Prepare the veggies for freezing by washing, peeling (if you want to), cutting into the size that you want. Blanch each batch of vegetables and then cold dunk them in a big bowl of ice (lots of ice!) to stop the cooking process. Drain the extra water from them and freeze.

Blanching Times:

Eggplant, 4 minutes
Summer Squash, 3 minutes
Corn, 4-6 minutes
Peppers, 2-3 minutes
Carrots, 2-5 minutes
Tomatoes, 1 minute – just to remove skins!

Suggestions:

  • Find detailed instructions for all kinds of freezing and other preserving on the Pick Your Own website. They even have pictures to follow!
  • Freeze the vegetables in one layer on trays so that they don’t stick together. After they are frozen put them into freezer bags. You can also put pieces of wax paper between the vegetables to keep pieces from sticking (for example if you want to keep your eggplant rounds separate).
  • Pack a variety of veggies (broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, peppers – for example) into one bag for an easy meal. Portion them for single or family size servings.
  • Use a straw to suck out the last bit of air in the zip-lock bag if you don’t have a vacuum sealer. It works great!
  • I needed way more ice than I had on hand and ended up going to the gas station by my house at 10pm so that I could finish this process. Ice is important!

Money Spent:

Striped Zucchini, 5.53
Yellow Zucchini, 4.00
Red Peppers, 2.33
Frying Peppers, 1.51
Chantenay Carrots, 2.72
Eggplant, 3.47
Corn (IPM), 2.08
Tomatoes, 4.71

Total 26.35

My freezer is full and I’m going to do what I can to keep my hands off of it until at least December. If I do, I’m guessing I will get about 10 meals out of this batch. Just add some pasta, brown rice or quinoa and protein – in my case beans, tofu or tempeh, but you could add some sustainable meat and these frozen veggies will go a long way!

Seasonal Food: Rooting for Rutabagas as Winter Winds Down

One of the last vegetables hanging around your local farmers’ market in March is likely to be the rutabaga. Not always first on people’s minds, but aren’t you getting bored of carrots, parsnips, beets and potatoes? Maybe your grandma cooked rutabagas, frying them up in some butter? Even if your memories of these old-timey root veggies aren’t that appealing, give them another try. They are a surprisingly tasty and nutritious, cruciferous treat.

Looks (outside): Weird! White, purple, bulbous. Like a big turnip.  They do have green tops that –sadly — don’t often make it to the market (they just don’t last as long as the root does!).

Looks (inside): Soft yellow color, dense flesh, beautiful contrast to the gritty outside.

Smell (raw): Like a turnip – sweet and earthy.

Smell (cooked): Sweet, like dessert.

Taste (raw): Delicious! Similar to turnip mixed with cabbage, but sweeter. Not spicy like a turnip can get. They are tasty with just a little salt.

Taste (cooked): Sweet and savory, a little bitter.

Texture (raw): Again, like a turnip, but denser, not as watery. Crispy and refreshing.

Texture (cooked): Smooth, smooshy, like mash potatoes. And because they aren’t as watery to start, more creamy than cooked turnips.

Nutrients: High in vitamin A carotenoids, vitamin C, folic acid, fiber and phytonutrients (phytonutrients are linked to the bitter flavor).

Super Easy Roasted Rutabaga and Sweet Potato Soup

(adapted from Swede Potato Soup with Fried Spaghetti Squash and Toasted Pepitas from VeganYumYum)

Roasting the Vegetables

5 Garlic Cloves
1 Medium Rutabaga, peeled and diced
1 Medium Sweet Potato, peeled and diced
1 Tbs Olive Oil
Salt
Pepper

Preaheat oven to 400º F. Coat the garlic, rutabaga and sweet potato in oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake for approximately 40 minutes until everything is golden, soft, and well-roasted.

Making the Soup

1 Small Onion, chopped
Roasted Sweet Potatoes, from above
Roasted Rutabaga, from above
1/2 Cup Cashews
2 ½ Cups water, more if needed
1 Tbs Olive Oil
½ tsp Nutmeg
1 tsp Dried Thyme
Salt to taste
Pepper to taste

Saute onion in olive oil until for about 5 minutes, add the spices, then saute for about 5 more minutes until the onions are very soft and caramelized. Blend all of the above ingredients with an immersion blender until smooth. Add more water as desired to get preferred thickness. Enjoy!

Newest Newsletter – Healthy Bites #2

Here we go, a little excerpt:

I hope you enjoyed last month’s simple tips for spectacular health! It was fun for me and I would love for you to send feedback and/or health questions for to me to answer in future editions of Healthy Bites. If you missed a newsletter or would like to read my blog posts (and more), you can track them all down at the new Healthy Bites blog.

Now on to our easy tips for improved health and fearless cooking!

Here we go into quinoa, mushroom bourguignon, inspiration, and questions answered…

Read the full newsletter here!


What to Eat: Warming up to Winter Squash

Everyone is a-twitter about winter squash right now; ‘tis the season! But some fainter-hearted cooks are overwhelmed with the thought of cutting into this exceptionally sweet but hefty and tough-skinned vegetable. As a CSA member, a vegetarian and an adventurous cook, even I have avoided the at-times Herculean task of peeling and cutting. As soon as the season starts, my CSA squash start to pile up in the kitchen, looking more like decorative gourds than the tasty treats they really are.

Recently, I found a simple recipe for a  vegan (you heard me) Alfredo sauce – and the main ingredient was acorn squash. Of course I had one lying around, so I decided to give it a try.  The cooking instructions were incredibly uncomplicated – cut the acorn squash in half,

grab your biggest knife and a stable surface – or try Kim O’Donnel’s method “Whack it on the floor once and slice in half with a sharp knife”

scrape the seeds and then fill a roasting dish with about an inch of water, put the squash cut side down and roast at 400 degrees for about 45 minutes or until you can puncture the skin with a fork. At that point the skin peeled off, or you could have simply turned it over and scooped out the flesh. Easy!

I’ve roasted squash before, but this method was effortless! I skipped oiling the pan and/or the squash, and the flesh still didn’t stick to the bottom of the dish. Since I made that dish, I’ve applied the cooking method to other types of winter squash – butternut, kabocha, and what I think might have been a red kuri squash (another CSA leftover), all with great success. The water roasted flesh is ready to eat without any additional ingredients, or you could simply puree it and add some stock to make soup, mash it with some olive oil, salt and pepper as a side dish – or use this cooking method to satisfy the instructions for any number of recipes that include squash.

If you want even easier (because even the laziest of home chefs should learn to cook winter squash), just eat the skin! I love to eat the skin of Delicata squash and just read that because of its thin skin, the Delicata has only recently come back into fashion; it wasn’t sturdy enough for long distance travel as industrial agriculture started taking over. Not only is the Delicata squash small and easy to handle, but its thin skin is tasty to eat. To prepare it, just cut it in half, scrape the seeds, and prepare as mentioned above. You can eat the skin of any squash… it’s just that some are thinner and tastier. One of my favorite restaurants in NYC serves kabocha squash steamed with the skin on – delicious.

So get out to your closest farmers market and take advantage of the winter squash season, you will be happy you gave it a try. As for my vegan Alfredo sauce, while it wouldn’t fool anybody, it was very tasty and healthy too. But I think next time I’ll just call it what it is… winter squash sauce!

Season: Fall and winter, but some are available year-round! Different varieties are available at different times. Check out this wonderful page from What’s Cooking America to read about the different varieties – for each type they tell you the season – with photos and additional cooking instructions.

How to buy: Buy the heaviest squash (for its size, I mean – the denser, the better). Be sure to lookout for blemishes, bruises and soft spots – these will go bad quickly.

Storage: Winter Squash store from 1- 6 months in a cool storage area.

Cooking tips: If you have to peel and cube your squash, check out this wonderful tutorial.

Health Benefits: An excellent source of vitamin A, vitamin C, potassium, dietary fiber, and manganese. It’s also a good source of folate, omega-3 fatty acids, thiamin, copper, vitamin B5, vitamin B6, niacin and copper. Get an in-depth nutritional profile on the WHFoods website.

Recipes: There are delicious recipes for winter squash everywhere – cookbooks, blogs, websites. Here is a tasty roundup of butternut squash recipes from the readers of Food52. They all look amazing and in many of the recipes you could switch out the butternut squash for other varieties.