French Toast: How to make white bread exciting again.

As I’ve mentioned before, Husband and I work at a food pantry. We were leaving the other week and the leader of the pantry, L, came up to us and said “We defrosted these loaves of bread, can you take them? We don’t want them to go to waste!” I dislike food waste, but I also don’t eat a lot of plain, white sandwich bread. We took it home, but I worried we’d let it languish without consuming it ourselves.

On Saturday, though,  I decided to whip up one of my breakfast favorites that I rarely make when there’s no bread in the house. I mixed about a cup of whole milk, three eggs, two tablespoons of brown sugar, and a dash of vanilla and cinnamon with a whisk, then dipped slices of bread into the mix and fried them on a griddle with butter on it. I left the first pieces soaking too long, so they fell apart, but after that, I dipped slices in quickly and fried them, adding extra cinnamon if one side looked particularly sparse. Whereas Egg in a Basket is savory, this was a tasty, sweet twist.

Husband prefers his french toast with honey and I preferred mine with butter and jam. We made about half a loaf of bread’s worth, and the leftovers kept in the fridge and were nice to reheat and eat the following morning.

I remember that there was a little hippie restaurant near where I went to college that, for special occasions, would be where my friends and I would get breakfast. Their best dish, in my opinion, was french toast layered with sweetened cream cheese and strawberry preserves, usually served with a side of home fries just to vary up the textures and flavors. It makes you feel well-fed to eat something with such heart, but still full of sweetness. I might be able to use up those extra loaves of bread yet. 🙂

Turning Leftovers into Freezer Meals

I’m still working on two or three dishes I cooked up during Husband’s last trip – when I am at home alone, half as much food gets eaten and twice as much gets cooked because I start thinking about all the things I have in the kitchen, and all the recipes people have sent me, and I just make things until the fridge is full. I have my pick of things to eat, but they inevitably become leftovers.

One tactic I’ve seen a lot of people do is freeze things almost immediately after making them, anticipating how they will not really want that food for multiple meals in the same week. I, however, begin with optimism that we will eat, for instance, chili for days on end. Husband is pretty good about it, as I’ve said before, I love the luxury of eating something different every day. So it appears that I need to practice freezer meal prep!

Pinterest has a few links about it, but I’m especially intrigued by meals that, when reheated, retain the same awesome flavors and textures they had when first made; any freezer meal recipes out there that don’t taste like freezer meals? I’d also love to get better at packaging up more freezer meals, i.e. “meal prep” ahead of time, but for now, I think I have to stick with just doing a better job of not letting leftovers get old and then get thrown out. I want to be able to cook a lot and experience variety, but I also really want to avoid trashing any real food.

There is nothing like spending all summer to try to grow just a few buckets of tomatoes to make you appreciate every grain of rice and lump of stew that you sadly throw out because it’s gotten too old in the fridge. Time to use my freezer to save food. 🙂

Following the Ingredients to… Macaroni and Cheese

I am not a recipe writer; I’ve been learning a bit about food blogging lately and that seems to be the most daunting of the aspects of it: what if my recipe works for me but fails because I forgot some detail I needed to tell the readers? Perhaps this is why I like trying other people’s recipes and tweaking them, because it is easier than writing my own.

Lately though, since I started daily posts, I’ve found that I don’t get around to enough new recipes a week to keep the blog full up on only completely new recipes. For instance, we were quite tired the other night, so I did something I call “following the ingredients” – I start with one thing I know I want to eat, then add things that I think will be good until a food emerges.

For me, it started with some pasta shells. They looked like they were aching for some cheese, so while they boiled, I scrounged in the fridge. I found a smoked gouda spread that we were given a long time ago; since we don’t sit down with fancy crackers and cheese spread very often, it really hadn’t found a home, but I had a hunch it would make a good cheese sauce, if I added (consults fridge) the last of this block of cream cheese!

When the shells were finished, I put some leftover cream from when I made liquid truffle, and began dissolving the two kinds of cheese into it. In went my go-to spices for italian food: oregano, garlic, sea salt, cracked pepper. The bowl of recently-picked cherry tomatoes stared up at me accusingly, reminding me that there was no vegetable matter in this dish. I sliced them all up in halves and threw them in with the pasta on the side. The cheese sauce smoothed out, and a few leaves of basil later… something was born.

Husband loves cooking this way, just throwing in what we have, not worrying too much about recipes or whether the flavor mixes are perfect, but personally? It feels like a one-off – when I’m a little lazy, it’s great, and I’ll tell you – smoked gouda cheese spread doubles as a killer mac and cheese sauce. Recipes still are my favorite though: getting to be a part of that difficult, long-term creation process starting with originator of the idea and coming all the way through a bunch of grandmothers and mothers and food bloggers and pinterest-pinners all the way down to you. It’s pretty special.

Squash Fritters (with Zucchini, Potatoes, and Onions)

We bought so much squash and zucchini, folks. I had to do something.

So I searched the internet for recipes related to squash, and found many that had the same premise: shred squash or zucchini, mix with onion and spices and egg, and fry it up in butter. This sounded LOVELY. I wanted to be a part of it.

I tried to dry the zucchini, potatoes, and squash that I wanted to use on a towel, but my house was pretty muggy so I think they didn’t get quite as dry as would have been ideal for the job. Still, I moved forward. In went two eggs, some garlic powder, sea salt, black pepper, and a whole diced onion. I mixed and I heated up butter in a pan, and…

well, it didn’t coalesce. The mush got browned on high heat, but only in a small area, while the rest clumped up and then fell apart then clumped again. It was more like a pan of overly soggy hash browns, which was fine, but wasn’t my goal. The second batch had to be better. I looked at my cabinets and what did I find but… CHICKPEA FLOUR.

I knew that fried falafels are delicious, and I wanted to keep the “healthy-ish” nature of this food by not adding in a bunch of wheat flour… so in went an indeterminate amount of chickpea flour. It helped it to clump and, once in the pan, the clumps stayed beautiful! They were flip-able and when they came out, delicious. I will say, the hash was also super tasty, just not nearly as solid and easy to eat. Also mushier. So yes, add the flour when you try this. This and the recipe we used for saag paneer have me convinced that chickpea flour works wonders.

 

Walnut-Spinach Pesto on Quinoa!

I read a post online called How to Make Pesto out of (Almost) Anything and got very inspired; my basil crop has been lackluster (this is what I get for growing four kinds of herbs in one badly-drained bucket) but I had a box of spinach/spring mix that was almost bad when I put it in the freezer. This is what I do with greens that are a tad slimy, and I was intrigued to see if I could mix up a pesto that would mask the greens with delicious flavors.

I started by saut̩ing the greens with a lot of garlic Рtwo enormous cloves that volume wise were more like three normal cloves, sliced. The greens got a quick splash of olive oil too, so that the garlic would brown up a little. While this was happening, I roasted some crushed walnuts till they made the whole house smell nutty.

In my darling three-dollar food processor I whipped those two together with salt, pepper, and 1/3 cup of parmesan cheese. I didn’t know why but I went with the advice to put a generous squeeze of lemon juice in from my trust lemon-shaped squeeze bottle of juice, and then added a little bit more olive oil. I had to get into the processor and scrape everything off the walls once, add just one more tablespoon of oil, and then voila!

I made the quinoa in the normal way (boil 1 cup quinoa with 2 cups water, let simmer 15 minutes with the lid on or until the water was gone), and then cut in half about 12 cherry tomatoes because the crop is about to completely take off and I don’t want them piling up. I mixed the quinoa, all of the pesto, and the tomatoes, and when I served it, Husband declared it a success! He said it had a lot of flavor, which isn’t something he often says about vegetarian dishes. Shout out to E for being the first person to teach me that quinoa is a wonderful meal (she mixed cut cucumbers, raw tomato chunks, and feta with quinoa… SO REFRESHING.) and to N for always showing me new ways to use the old favorite. I also am so happy that I have a way to make something pesto-flavored that is disguising a whole box worth of sautéed greens, not just basil… Wonderful!

Spiced Veggie-Packed Sauce

So, I recently made an amazing discovery: with a bunch of veggies, some spices, and a secret ingredient, I can make a sauce that is super savory, convinces me that it’s creamy, and makes rice, toast, other veggies, chicken, you name it taste wonderful. You need a food processor to work this magic, but I assure you, it’s worth it.

General Directions for the Veggie-Packed Sauce

  1. Salute your favorite (or cupboard clean-out!) veggies together with just a tablespoon or so of olive oil. I used a can of tomatoes, a bag of spinach that was almost to the point of going slimy, an onion, and 3 cloves of garlic. If you don’t use at least one canned veggie, you may need some broth or water, because it should not be dry.
  2. While the mixture cooks, add a substantial amount of spicing: I used a tablespoon of a spicy stir-fry mix I’ve got, but curry would work, or if you like hot-hot, use some chipotle or red pepper flakes. Make sure you use quite a bit because your sauce will be on top of other things.
  3. Put the mixture, after it’s fully cooked, into the food processor. Pulse a few times, then add some CHICKPEA FLOUR. This flour, along with the little bit of oil, will help your sauce hold together and seem smooth and not just like a veggie paste. I don’t know how much flour I used, but I would estimate I started with a 1/4 cup and added another 1/4 cup later.
  4. Taste and add things as you need them: a bit more flour, a bit more oil, or a bit more spices. If you love chunky sauces, you can stop after a few pulses, but I really like this as a smooth sauce: very flavorful but doesn’t make you feel like you are eating something “healthy.”

Serve over rice, flatbread, chicken, on toast… anything! Obviously, this is too vague to be a mantra in itself, but the principle of sautéed veg+oil+chickpea flour+spices seems to be working for me lately. I added just a little shredded pepper jack to mine, though it was tasty without it so you can totally keep it dairy-free!

While I didn’t make this as a curry, I was inspired by the way that curries and other Indian sauces are so flavorful that you can use them to flavor other, more bland parts of the meal, like the bread or the rice. I am quite happy to be able to add so much nutrition to my rice and take it to work with me!

Surprising Place to find Food Waste

I spent this morning volunteering at a food pantry. While I did a few different things – sort out toiletries and organize food for different purposes, carefully layering canned goods on the bottom and dry goods on the top to keep the boxes from being overburdened – the biggest thing I did was… throw away food.

Let me back up for a moment: recently, there was a large, city-wide food drive that brought in thousands and thousands of pounds of food. It’s been an incredibly successful initiative, and everyone is psyched that, at a lean time of the year, a ton of food is coming in. I personally am also psyched, and was more than thrilled to come in and help sort the food at the warehouse where it’s being held and then distributed to the individual pantries where it will get to the people who need it.

However.

Some people, probably including me, didn’t go to the grocery store and buy up whatever was on sale in the canned goods aisle. Instead, they looked at their pantry or some shelves in their basement and grabbed things they’d had for a while that no one seemed to be eating. This seems like the opposite of waste at first: you take things that you already paid good money for and give them a new life.

The problem with this became apparent to me when I was instructed to sort food with far-off expiration dates, food with dates in the next 4 months, and food that had already expired. The far-off dates will be given to the local pantries; the next-4-months food will be specifically allocated to places that can move it immediately; but the rest? I was instructed to chuck it in a bin, along with anything that came open in transit or was dented.

A well-reputed food bank has to deal with a lot of pressures, and while I’m sure that individual people who are hungry may make the decision to eat expired can food (after all, the date does just say “best by” not “will hurt you by”), they cannot afford to have someone furious at them over a bad meal out of an expired can. I realized as I heaved can after can of food into the trash that what I normally do (donate food I have gathering dust in my pantry) is a terrible idea for two reasons: firstly, anything expired will go from “maybe eaten in my household, when I feel like risking it” to “definitely in the trash”, and secondly, I make the job of sorting that volunteers and hardworking non-profit coordinators do that much longer, more tedious, and frankly a bit saddening.

This is not to talk bad about people who donate to food banks – honestly, that group of people are already pretty wonderful just to be taking time out of their day to help. Still, I thought that food waste was an important thing to consider, and it made me want to check my own cupboard as I work on my “cupboard cleanout” to make sure I use up the near-to-expiring goods. I’m aware of that with veggies and meats, but rarely with canned goods.

So here’s my question, food friends: what do you do to prevent waste in your kitchen? I’m a novice and fresh from an experience of throwing lots of food away, and I’m ready to be a part of the solution, even though I bet there’s more food waste in my life than I ever thought. Together, maybe, we can start habits that help us overall waste less, which benefits our community as much as any of our recipe-sharing and storytelling does.