Sustainability

The Whole Tomato by Anne

tomatoes.stockThe less food I waste, the better I feel -- it's more economical, and it is better for The World At Large.  Saving energy by buying less.  It's so difficult, though!  It takes strength of will, organization, and some ingenuity to keep yourself from buying too much.  Whole corporations are built to strategize how to get us consumers to purchase more food.  Those tricks sure work on me.   What a weird problem we have in this country--so many of us have so much food we don't know what to do with ourselves, or it. I'm by no means an expert conserver-of-foods, but it gets better the more I work at it.  Someday I will be the proud owner of a fridge with no science projects lurking in the crisper.  At the moment, though, I've still got things like the tired lime wedges, some mopey moldy strawberries, and the leftover oatmeal that "could" become fodder for future pancakes.

So, here we are, at the end of fresh tomatoes for the year.  On one of the last warm days of fall, I celebrated with a round of gazpacho.  The heirloom tomatoes from Billy's Gardens at the farmers' market were way redder and readier than my own garden's, so I bought a bunch of seconds and got to it.   As I blanched and peeled the tomatoes, though, I started thinking about the tomato tops and skins.  They were beautiful and gemlike, in their various colors. Sure, they would go into compost, but what if I could do something with them?

This time, I put them into a vegetable stock to see what would happen. I used chopped carrots, celery, onion (including the toughest-yet-edible outer shell of a red onion), thyme sprigs, and yes, the tomato tops and skins.  The tomato flavor definitely dominated the stock, probably because there were so many of them, but maybe sometimes that's okay, depending on the stock's purpose.  I could use the stock in a tomato based soup, for example, or maybe in a pasta dish or risotto that had lots of related flavors. 

At any rate, it felt good to use the whole thing, and the leftover cooked parts will compost all the quicker. 

Last week in school our teacher taught us about making proper stocks, using the best part of fine ingredients.  He said, "If you want to make garbage stock, then make stock with scraps."  That really made me think.  It's a good point, especially for a restaurant.  Meanwhile, back here at the house, I'll go with the modified philosophy of, If I would eat it anyway (and I usually do eat tomato skins), then it's good enough for a home stock. 

Next I'm going to try to make tomato-skin powder.  Apparently you take your just-peeled tomato skins and either put them in a food dehydrator or a low-heat oven until they are dry and crumbly.  Then grind them up with a spice or coffee grinder.  I've never had this powder before, but it sounds like it would look and taste wonderful.  Tell you later if there's anything to report on that.

tomatoes.green.to.red

What to Do with Leftover Pork Chops by Anne

bbq pork sandwich For me, this new month of October is so full of awesomeness that I don't even know what to do with myself.  First of all, tomorrow is my first day of culinary school.  I am giddy with excitement and might be up late tonight.  After years of teaching school, I forgot what it's like to be on the student end of the business, having no idea of what is in store for me.  It's a wild feeling, like sitting on a surfboard anticipating a really gorgeous and gnarly wave.

The other excitement in October is the Opportunity To Be A Better Person. With Unprocessed October we get to eat healthier, greener, and probably cheaper.  I've made a good menu.   And by good, I also mean that I took seasonality into account, along with keeping everything as local as possible. 

Wow.  I am (and probably you are) wondering: when school starts, am I going to be able to be this intentional anymore?  That's one of the great things about Seattle Culinary Academy, though.  Their mission includes sustainable practices.  These people walk their talk.  So hopefully, it will be a breeze to walk right alongside them and feed the family well in the meantime!  This is what I'm hoping for, and I'll definitely keep you posted.  Green, healthy, frugal, busy?  What has to give? Does anything?

One sustainable practice, of course, is to avoid wasting food.  Here's where the leftover pork chops come in.  On Friday I tried a new recipe for spice-crusted pork chops that had an intriguing-sounding combination of spices.  I will not share this recipe with you, because it was, in a word, gross.  Did the recipe writer even taste this dish? Ever?   It reminded me of a potluck, where you put too many different flavors on your plate, and, while chatting and plate-balancing, you accidentally take a bite of several people's contributions at once.  Hmm.  I detect notes of kitchen sink.

Meanwhile, though, I had a couple pounds of good pork that had been cooked and crusted within this gross-kitchen-sink combo.  What to do? 

Sunday night I tackled the problem with pork fried rice.  I trimmed the outer layer off the pork, sliced it thinly, and sauteed it on high heat with onions, garlic, ginger, soy sauce, mixed veggies and a batch of cooked rice.  At the end, I added a couple of beaten eggs and stirred them in, frying everything some more.  The secret to good fried rice is to not stir too much.  The crusty bits are mighty fine, especially after you add the egg. 

After dinner I realized that I had not used all the pork.  "Are you kidding me?" I asked the tupperware dish.  Tupperware does not kid.  Having used all my big containers to freeze items for Unprocessed October, I had split the large pork chops in two small, unfunny containers. 

So, tonight I trimmed the pork outsides again, rinsed them off, and really shredded them up.  I threw the bits in a slow cooker and added my mom's barbeque sauce.  With a few hours of cooking, a Tall Grass Bakery baguette, and salad greens from our garden, suddenly we were living large and not eating gross leftovers. 

So.  What to do with leftover porkchops?  In a nutshell, cover the previous flavors with strong elements like soy sauce and barbeque sauce.  Feel grateful and don't waste stuff.

Easy Polenta Squares Using Piggyback Cookery by Anne

butternut squash polenta squares Can you get "slow food" out of quick steps?  Turns out, yes.  Three nights in a row we ate really well, even though I was feeling deeply lazy. The only thing keeping me from ordering pizza delivery on Saturday was that something was about to go bad in the fridge. 

Monday's polenta squares started as Saturday chicken guilt.   

Saturday

The "use or freeze by" date was upon us.  I cleaned and rubbed the waning chicken with lots of rosemary, thyme, sea salt, and peppercorns.  It went into the mini-rotisserie (or a low-heat oven would have been fine) for an hour and a half.  Nestled on top of some fresh greens, that chicken was mighty fine, considering the amount of hands-on cooking time was about 10 minutes. 

After dinner we threw the bones in a pot with chunks of onion, carrot, celery, parsley, and bay leaf, with enough water to cover.  I brought the pot to boil while cleaning up the kitchen, and let the pot simmer until it was time to go to bed. 

When we strained the stock into a bowl, we tasted it.  It was a rockstar quality stock, though a mite salty.  I knew it would become a science project if I didn't use it up quickly, because I would be too lazy to find the right dish to freeze it in. 

Sunday

I was late getting home.  The quickest stock-using solution I could think of was to peel a butternut squash, shred it in the cuisinart, and boil it with the stock, along with some nutmeg, honey, and white pepper.  The cooking was quick--about 10 minutes--because the squash was in small shreds. Rinsing the cuisinart during boiling time and using it to puree the soup added almost no time to the whole deal.  We had butternut squash soup, along with bacon sandwiches (bacon prepared on a cookie sheet in the oven).  Dinner took about 15 minutes to make. 

After dinner, we had lots of leftover soup, which I was sure would become next week's compost if we didn't morph it into something new, ASAP.   So it became two other things:  the base for a lunchy lentil soup (Easy! Boil rinsed lentils in the soup with some extra water for a little over half an hour),  and the liquid for cooking polenta.  

While Michael gave Rosalie a bath I made the polenta, washing dishes in between polenta stirrings.  When it was ready, I spread the polenta in a flat layer on a greased jelly roll pan, covered it with wax paper, then slid it into the fridge.  I was feeling super smug at that point.  Most of the work was done now!

The next night, a tired Monday night, all I had to do was cut the smooth, flat polenta into squares, dip it in egg and bread crumbs, and fry the squares in olive oil with slices of onion.  I served the squares with tomato sauce, the fried onions, and Parmigiano-Reggiano.   These little squares were crispy on the outside and full of butternutty, corny richness on the inside.  We ate so well and so happily.  I felt truly recharged by this accidentally thoughtful meal.

Is there a cookbook out there that shows how you can do this on a regular basis?  Using part of one night's meal to make the next night's meal  is not just efficient; it's bringing love and luxury into your day.  It's the gift of time that you somehow stole, the pleasure of slow food by staggering or layering your meals.  You get something slow out of something quick!  Magic.

Finally! Yogurt from "Scratch." by Anne

yogurtYes, for me, success comes in the shape of a white blob.  How many months ago did I read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and think, "Wow, I really want to try to make cheese this week, or at least yogurt" ...?  Well, I lost count after a dozen months.  But now I reign victorious and have broken the mental roadblock of intimidation.  It's that dang thermometer again.    

Over the holidays, my father-in-law, who had recently given us a yogurt maker (essentially a plug in low-heat incubator), showed me in no uncertain terms how easy the task is.  You heat a quart of milk with 1/3 cup nonfat dry milk for added richness.  You cool the milk down to a certain temperature range.  You add 1/4 cup plain yogurt (I used Greek style yogurt).  Stir, incubate overnight. Refrigerate.  It's done.

I'm not giving specifics on heating and cooling because the details I saw online are different than the ones my father-in-law told me, so I need to experiment more before I go and toot that horn. 

The point is, you can make yogurt with a few ingredients and no official equipment (besides a thermometer).  I used the yogurt maker for a few jars of yogurt, but I also experimented with keeping a bowl of the mixture covered and on a heating pad and got equally good results.  It sounds like you can use other heat sources, such as a previously heated oven or even a crock pot.  

I like that I can control the thickness and acidity.  I also love that making yogurt costs about half as much to make it than to purchase it.  Next up: Cheese.  Yes.  This will happen.  It will happen before a dozen months from now.  I've used the thermometer, and I've made something from a culture...there's no turning back!

Gazpacho Andaluz by Anne

gazpacho.andaluz
gazpacho.andaluz

If I had a nickel for every time I said, “Today is the hottest day in history,” I would have a nickel.  Yep, today is predicted to be the hottest day in Seattle’s recorded history.  This sounds pretty hot.  But really, for those who live in other places, 101˚ F is uncomfortable, but still do-able.  For the inhabitants of this temperate city, however, it’s hard to think of anything else today.  Most Seattleites do not own air conditioners, because the weather does not generally require it.  At this moment there are many new air conditioner owners in Seattle now. I know this because the entire city is sold out of air conditioning units.  There is a reason I know this, of course.  You guessed it.  Feeling crafty this morning, I showed up with Rosalie at Sears, anyway.  New deliveries happen all the time, right?  We walked in and asked a customer service rep in Tools how to get to the appliance department, and he replied in a bored and automatic voice, “Second floor on the right.” 

“You’ve been getting this question a lot this morning?” I asked.  He nodded, even more bored.  Nobody was buying tools, for some reason. 

You know those long, sad lines at the airport when several flights are cancelled, the security check is understaffed, and the airport is about to shut down because of some weather calamity?  This is what the scene was like on the second floor at Sears, except instead of luggage, giant boxes perched next to impatient and slightly manic-looking people as they stood in a terrifically unmoving line with one person at the register.

As I had hoped, a new truckful of air conditioners had just started unloading.  A guy with a hand truck emerged from the swinging doors with another few boxes, and people grabbed at the boxes impulsively, not even looking at what kind of units were inside.   “Is that a 1500 or 1000?” someone asked.  I had no idea of what he was asking the hand truck guy, but it was clear that people were attempting to purchase the largest units they could get their hands on.  A couple of people rushed around like frantic spiders in a sink, trying to get their hands on a box. 

I stood there for a second, stunned, trying to figure out if these people had ordered them ahead of time or not.   Was I supposed to wait in one of these lines, or did I need to muscle through with my heavy kid in one arm and somehow claim an enormous box with the free hand?   One lone woman called from a corner, “There’s a small one over here.”  People ignored her.   Rosalie and I came over and looked at it.  It was a unit made to cool one room, such as, say, a bedroom.  This is all we had needed, anyway.  Why else have a kiddie pool? 

When we were walking away from the scene, I heard a guy call out, “That’s all we’ve got.” A voice on the intercom suggested pointedly,  "All available employees please come to the second floor to assist people with air conditioners to their cars.”   That cracked me up.  Usually you hear general requests like "Second cashier, please, " not the more specific, "Holy crap, help me with the crazy people and their air conditioners! There's only one cashier!  Why are you not already up here??!?"  As we were exiting the store with our box perched in a shopping cart, a friendly, sweating man was just approaching the door, and asked, “Are there any more left up there?”  Sadly, it was likely that the swarms had already swept them all up.   

If you happen to live in Seattle and are as unprepared for history-changing as I am, I think the hand truck guy said more units are coming in this afternoon. 

If you can’t get your hands on an air conditioner (and even if you can), I’ve got another cure for the historically-significant-heat blues: gazpacho.  When we were living in Spain in the summer of 2006, I first tasted Gazpacho Andaluz on a day probably hotter than today.  It left an indelible mark on my psyche and palate.  I was moved to write about it, so to quote myself from back then:

Gazpacho Andaluz, the kind made with fresh tomatoes, seems to cool the body several degrees after the first spoonful. When the ingredients are right, you can taste sunshine and rainshowers in it. I’ve been reading articles about gazpacho every day since I had it in Salobrena last week. They served it blended smooth and ice-cold, with a separate saucer mounded with diced tomatoes, sweet onions, green peppers, and cucumbers. This way I could add whatever combination I wished to my soup. Naturally I dumped the whole contents into the bowl and a few bites later felt like I’d fallen into a swimming pool of refreshment. I kind of stopped talking.

Several days and many bowls later I’ve read that gazpacho was originally a peasants’ dish and also one that Roman legions ate while traveling throughout the empire. It didn’t originally contain tomatoes, since that ingredient came later to Spain and Europe. The key components of the ancient mixture were stale bread, olive oil, salt, garlic, and vinegar. There are so many types of this cold soup, and so many versions of its history that it’s hard to keep track. It has a possibly Arab-based etymology meaning “soaked bread” or “fragments,” but even that is debated. In school I teach the sixth graders about the concept of cultural diffusion. One day maybe I’ll show up to class with vats of soup.

Another type of gazpacho, ajo blanco, is made with the above key ingredients, but rather than the tomato/pepper/onion/cucumber-type medley, it’s made with crushed almonds and fresh grapes or melon! Totally intriguing. As I experiment with good gazpacho recipes, maybe I’ll branch out to ajo blanco.

Since writing about it that summer, I have put together a recipe that represents my favorite version of gazpacho, the kind of Gazpacho Andaluz I first tasted. 

If you are not growing tomatoes this year, you can use the “seconds” tomatoes at the farmers’ market—the kind that are on their last legs and need to be used immediately.  They’re perfect because they are cheap, ugly and intensely tomato-y. 

You can add a little extra bread if you want a thicker, more sustaining cold soup, or you can minimize the bread a bit for a lighter, more refreshing treat that you drink from a glass.  It's great both ways.  In heat like this, floating an ice cube in the soup is more than a novelty—it’s a necessity to maintain that refreshing coldness that will cool down your body and spirit like a fresh wind. 

Gazpacho Andaluz

For the soup:

  • 3 lbs fresh tomatoes, peeled* and chopped coarsely (about 6 cups)
  • 1 cucumber, peeled and chopped
  • 1 small garlic clove or ½ large garlic clove
  • 1 cup chopped onion (do not overdo onion—it can overpower)
  • ½ of a bell pepper (either green or red; green tastes just wonderful, although red adds a great color)
  • 2 T Sherry vinegar (or Balsamic will work in a pinch)
  • 1 slice of white bread, such as a baguette or other crusty artisan loaf, torn into chunks (should be about 1 ¼ cup after torn), soaked in about ½ cup cold water. Stale bread is fine.
  • 1 tsp salt, or to taste—having enough salt is important
  • 1 cup extra virgin olive oil
  1. In a blender, combine all the vegetables and garlic and purée until smooth. 
  2. Add the vinegar, the bread with soaking water, and the salt, and puree until fully incorporated and smooth.
  3. Add the olive oil at the end.  The additions of the bread and oil will probably lighten the color of your gazpacho.
  4. Chill in the refrigerator about an hour or more until ready to serve.
  5. In each glass or bowl, drizzle with olive oil and/or a touch of vinegar.  Serve with garnish (below), if desired, and an ice cube, if the day is hot—or if you cannot wait for the chill time to start eating it!

*I usually peel tomatoes by blanching a few at a time in boiling water, then plunging them in ice water to keep from cooking the tomato.  The skins slip off effortlessly. If they don’t, try blanching for a few seconds longer on the next ones.

For the garnish:

Optional but wonderful—you serve these on the side and give each person a chance to add some as desired.

  • 1 to 2 tomatoes, diced
  • ½ to 1 cucumber, peeled, seeded, and diced
  • 1 green or red pepper (usually I saw green pepper when in Andalucia), seeded and diced
  • ½ onion, diced

Arrange all four ingredients on a plate and serve with bowls or glasses of soup.  Alternatively, you can offer a small individual saucer for each person.