Sunday, October 1, 2017

Kitchen hacks that make cooking easier and waste less food


Kitchen hack #1: Plan your meals

When I found out my husband (then boyfriend) only bought food that he had a specific plan to use in the next week, I thought, who lives that way?  What a restrictive and hard way to live!  I believed I could never live like that - that the advance planning would take the fun and spontaneity out of life.

I can report that, 11 years later, cooking and life is actually just as enjoyable when you plan your meals in advance.  Surprise! As a bonus, we waste a lot less food and eat a more balanced diet.

Each week we look through cookbooks for recipes we're interested in and add the ingredients we need to the groceries list in the app Our Groceries.  We have a separate list called "meals this week", where we list the recipe name, the cookbook abbreviation, and the recipe page number.  We plan everything down to the exact number of onions we'll need for that week.  Why can I do this but am unable to get birthday cards mailed on time?  A good question.


Kitchen hack #2: Hang your measuring spoons

If you're tired of sifting around in a drawer for the right size measuring spoon, get yourself some inexpensive command hooks and hang them all up!

Measuring spoon hooks

Kitchen hack #3:  Onion Goggles

I have super sensitive eyes, so when either I, or anyone near me chops an onion, it hurts.  I bought these onion goggles years ago, which have a seal around your face to prevent the fumes of the onion from reaching your eyes.  They still work perfectly.  I love them.

I'd also like to note the 2 bag system we have for garlic.  We have newer garlic in the bag to the right, and then the older garlic in the bag to the left.  This is good for when you have garlic from last week and newer garlic and you want to know which one you should use first so you don't end up letting old garlic get past its prime.  The largest bag is for onions and potatoes and looks kind of gross and stained, but it's really useful.  The stretchy nature of these three bags allows us to store more stuff in them than you would think possible..

Garlic and onion storage

Kitchen hack #4: Freeze veggie scraps for vegetable stock

We'd heard of storing veggie scraps in the fridge, and yes, we've tried it.  What is the result?  A bowl of slimy, rotting veggie scraps judging you for not getting around to making vegetable stock in time.  The solution?  Freeze 'em.  What is a suitable veggie scrap?  Pieces of onion, garlic, mushrooms, carrot peels, leek stems, sweet potato peels.  What is disgusting?  Beet peels, kale stems, or putting in too much onion and garlic.  The freezer doesn't keep these scraps good indefinitely, but it keeps them good long enough for us to get around breaking out the Fagor plug-in electric pressure cooker to make stock.

Frozen veggie stock scraps

You can freeze the resulting vegetable stock in 2-3 cup containers for later use in recipes.

Kitchen hack #5 Freeze unused pastes and sauces

Hot pasta is draining in the sink. You grab that half used pasta sauce from the fridge before the pasta starts sticking together, only to discover it's growing mold.  Yep, we've all been there.  But not anymore!  The minute you use the first half of the pasta sauce, break out your ice cube tray (go buy one for crying out loud), and pour the second half you're not using into the tray.  Once they are frozen, remove them and place in an air-tight tupperware. You're not done yet!  Now grab a rubber band, masking tape, and a sharpie.  Wrap the masking tape around the rubber band, and then write "pasta sauce" on the masking tape, and put the rubber band around the tupperware.  I've tried lots of methods of labeling my frozen cubes, and this one works out the best.

Frozen things

What half-used things should you be making ice cubes out of?

  • Pasta sauce
  • Tomato paste
  • Thai curry paste
  • Dijon mustard
  • Diced ginger (moisten diced ginger slightly to get a better ice cube)
  • Chipotles en adobo
  • Applesauce (for baking purposes)

Things which have not worked out so well are: lemon zest (get too dried out and tastes like nothing), lemon juice (I don't know why, we just can't seem to remember it's in there). For a while we had a whiteboard on the fridge listing what we had, but the magnets broke and we haven't replaced it.


Kitchen hack #6: Don't let your cilantro go bad!

You don't have to buy some silly plastic container that holds hardly any cilantro like I've seen in some kitchens.  As long as you have a coffee mug, a knife, and a plastic bag, you got this.

Make sure you're buying decently fresh cilantro - no yellow leaves, no rotting leaves, no black areas.  Yuck.  This only keeps good cilantro good, it's not making zombie cilantro out of your half rotting cilantro.

Moving on.  Take your just-purchased green and healthy cilantro and chop the very ends off.  This ensures that if the ends have hardened and can't take in water anymore, you're removing them and leaving a stem which can absorb water.

Fill a mug halfway to 2/3 full with water, and put the cilantro stem down into the water.  Make sure the cilantro stem ends reach the water and have a little leeway in case of evaporation.  Cover the mug and cilantro with a plastic bag, and put in the fridge.  Yes, I said put in the fridge.


Cilantro bag
Your cilantro will stay better so, so much longer.  You'll eat tacos or baingan bharta, and everyone will be happy.

Kitchen hack #7 Cook on the couch
Feeling too lazy to do all of the chopping and prep work for a nice meal? Rather than giving up, move the washed veggies to peel & chop to a cutting board on a coffee table in front of your couch. Sit on your butt and chop while watching Netflix or listening to music or chatting or something, then head to the kitchen with everything pre-chopped. You feel like you're on a cooking show with everything all ready to toss in!

Monday, July 10, 2017

Review of new vegan (non-dairy) Häagen-Dazs ice cream

OK, so this week Häagen-Dazs dropped four new vegan ice cream flavors, and I couldn't find any reviews online. So we decided to give then a try. Sadly the locator page on their web site is misleading, it found three stores that should have had them but didn't (none of the staff had even heard of the new flavors) and failed to show the Target down the street that did (I heard that Target is the only place selling them other than Häagen-Dazs stores. But eventually we picked up all four flavors: coconut caramel, peanut butter chocolate fudge, chocolate salted fudge truffle, and mocha chocolate cookie:
New vegan Häagen-Dazs Ice cream (1/2)
New vegan Häagen-Dazs Ice cream (2/2)

OK, so what was the verdict? The key thing is that this is really intense, rich, sweet ice cream. Compared to most other vegan brands it just has a much denser and heavy feel. But they are delicious! The mouthfeel is better to me than the new Ben & Jerry's (which feels a bit more crystalline), but it's also so dense it's almost a bit chewy (especially the coconut caramel). I think So Delicious and other brands incorporate more air or something for a smoother and less intense flavor. But if you are the kind of person that likes chocolate lava cake or triple chocolate mousse / cake /etc. this should be right up your alley.

My favorites were the chocolate truffle (very fudgy and intense) and the peanut-butter chocolate (also very intense, but the PB and chocolate made for more balance). I also liked the mocha cookie quite a bit but the texture of the chocolate pieces in the truffle was way better to me. Coconut caramel was OK but to me was too sweet (similar to So Delicious Dulce de Leche, while the chocolate truffle was like their old Purely Decadent flavor with chocolate swirl and chunks, but even richer).

Vegan Lady liked mocha and PB&chocolate best, then truffle, and coconut last. Our neighbor and her daughter came over and liked the coconut best followed by mocha, but also liked them all.

So I'd say that if you like ice cream, give these a try, but be sure to find some people to split them with, as if you eat the whole pint you will be in pain!

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Nicoise salad with collard green seed pod "beans"

We let our collard greens flower and go to seed this year, and have been curious to try eating the "beans" which are good and tender if you get them when they're still small:
Collard "green bean" seed pod

We ended up putting them on top of a Nicoise salad, which was tasty:
Nicoise salad

Monday, May 8, 2017

Soil Horizons Cake for Earth Day

How better to celebrate Earth Day than with a soil cake? We didn’t just want a boring chocolate “dirt cake” with gummi worms in it; we wanted a proper soil profile with the different horizons represented (see the printout at the bottom of the photo below). In the end we discarded some of our more fanciful ideas and went with a relatively design involving 3 layers plus toppings. Here are the components prior to assembly:
Soil cake preparation

For the bottom layer (E horizon) we wanted “rocks” of different sizes so used the health food store equivalent of cocoa rice crispies and cocoa pebbles in a vegan marshmallow base (basically heterogeneous vegan rice crispie treats), shown at left in the photo above.

On top of that we wanted sort of a tan cake for the leached B horizon, so after considering mocha or spice cake we kept it simple and went with a vegan vanilla cake recipe and just added 1.5 Tbsp of cocoa powder. The cake recipe was terrible though, so this layer came out fairly dry, and next time I’d use a tried and true vanilla recipe before mixing in a bit of cocoa. We put basic powdered sugar icing (with a bit of cocoa to match the color) above and below this layer to help bind it to the other layers (top cake in photo above).

The top layer was a mocha cake (the bottom cake in photo above), lighter than a pure chocolate cake but still a nice rich brown for the A horizon. Then we put a mocha ganache on top of that to hold the oreo crumble on top (we used oreo thins with chocolate filling), and topped with a few sugar cookie “leaves.” We also planned to have pretzel stick “twigs” but the dog got into the bag of pretzels the night before so had to give up on that.

Here’s how it looked once assembled:
Soil cake preparation


Once it was assembled we cooled it in the fridge before cutting the edges flush for a neater look:
Soil horizon cake

Here's an oblique shot from above:
Soil horizon cake

Sadly the time in the fridge dried out the cake a bit, so we had to serve it with vegan Breyer’s cookies and cream, and poured some of the new vegan Bailey’s Irish cream on the cake as well.  But that's not an awful worst case. We had some of the leftovers in glasses as a trifle and it worked pretty well.

We also wanted to make roots / mycorrhizae out of white cotton candy which we could jam into the cake, but couldn’t find it. But a simpler idea would have been to bend up a hangar into a jagged shape, poke several sinuous holes in the cake from above, and fill each with thin white icing, so that when you cut into it you can see the roots. Next time!

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Vegan goat cheese (chevré), round 2

It's been a while, so I decided to make the goat cheese recipe from VegNews (a modified version of the one in Miyoko Schinner's book) but without the herbs de provence. It turns out making it in summer is pretty different; it ages a lot faster but thickens more slowly! I decided I wanted a different flavor profile so changed up the herbs. Here's the last of the final product (it was too tasty to wait to eat):

Vegan goat cheese

You need to plan about a week in advance of when you want to eat the cheese.

First, make some rejuvelac:
To make 2 cups of rejuvelac (enough for many cheeses): soak 1/2 cup whole grains (i used quinoa, which makes for a less disgusting flavor than rye or barley or wheat) in 2 cups of water for 8-12 hours. Drain it and fill with more water, changing it 3 times per day, until the grains begin sprouting, then drain again. put the grains and 2 cups of fresh water in a jar and cover with a towel or cheesecloth. Let it sit for 2 days or so, until the liquid turns white, then strain out the grains to have your rejuvelac.

Then soak the cashews (2 cups, raw) for at least 3-4 hours, or overnight.

Then blend until very smooth (I use a vitamix, and even with that it requires a lot of patience and pushing them down, you could also try a food processor):
2 cups raw cashews, soaked
1/4-3/8 cup rejuvelac (I use 3/8 to make blending easier, but if you want it thicker use 1/4)
1/2 tsp salt
1 small clove garlic

When smooth, either add these whole and blend for a bit, or chop them up and mix it in. If you blend them all together you will have green cheese which will skeeve people out, otherwise you have nice green flecks as shown above:
~1/4 cup fresh basil leaves
1 Tbsp fresh rosemary leaves
whatever other herbs / spices sound good

Put it in a bowl, and let it sit out for ~ 24 hours; if it's cool weather you might need 2 days. You want it to start tasting a bit sharp and funky, but not too much. If it looks like this, your bacteria are going nuts (producing those little gas pockets) and you need to move on to the next step:
Vegan goat cheese culturing

Now, mix it together with:
1 Tbsp nutritional yeast
1 tsp lemon juice
more herbs if it's not tasty enough, but it should be already

Now you're supposed to shape this into a log using some parchment paper, but if it's hot and humid, you will find that it got funky fast, but didn't thicken up much. In that event, just spoon it into a rough log shape on parchment paper, smooth it out, and sprinkle on about 1/4 tsp of salt (ideally powdered in a spice grinder first). Alternatively, put it in the fridge for a day to get thick before proceeding. Finally, let it sit out for about 2-3 days until it has thickened a bit and is super tasty. The end!

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Thanksgiving!


Thanksgiving 2015 For thanksgiving, between my sister and law and we made (left to right, bottom row first):  stuffing (or dressing), fried tom tofu, "forager's roast" from field roast, two kinds of fresh cranberry sauce (one sweet with bourbon and shallots, one tart with orange and ginger), garlicky collard greens, mashed potatoes, gravy, salad, squash soup, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce from a can, brussel sprouts, roasted squash, salad, roasted asparagus, sugar cookies, sweet potato pie, spicy cinnamon pecans.

 Recipes for the stuffing, cranberry sauce(s), tom tofu, sugar cookies, and spicy cinnamon pecans are at http://food.sciencejon.com

Happy belated holidays!

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Vegan brie-off

OK, should you spring for the extra $ involved in buying a commercial brie kit from Druid's Grove (still requiring preparation at home, but it's pretty easy), or spend the extra time required to make it from scratch? It depends! Here are the two contenders:

Commercial brie (we made this twice, once with coconut oil and once with deodorized cocoa butter: Vegan brie from druids grove Homemade brie:Homemade vegan brie
Homemade brie in proper context (on homemade foccacia with broccoli and veggie sausage sautéed in red wine. Damn.): Broccoli and veggie sausage on homemade vegan brie and bread

So, the commercial brie has a clearly superior texture and look. It is super smooth and melts in your mouth. Flavor is very mild, no one who knew what brie tasted like thought this cheese tasted like brie, or even like much of a cheese at all. But it was really good on crackers nonetheless.

The homemade brie (I went with the variant that maximized flavor and let it age extra time to really compare with the milder commercial one) was also good, and had more flavor (closer to real brie, but still distant), but not as smooth a texture. I will say that as it continued to age in the fridge it got a really nice sharp taste, and was good in several dishes. Oh, but the cashews do give it a bit of a sweet taste which is uncool.

Ultimately given the ease and texture, we would go with the commercial brie. But at $20?! We will instead focus on homemade cheeses that came out better at home like the gruyere and gouda (also from Miyoko Schinner's book). One downside of both bries is that they are extra-fatty since they have coconut oil in them for texture, and having it in your fridge is definitely encouraging.

Hopefully sometime soon we will have commercially available premade vegan cheese that actually passes both texture and flavor tests. There are a few aged vegan cheeses on the market, but none of them are great, and they're all pretty expensive. Stay tuned!