27 September 2012

How to Reduce Food Waste, and an Easy Autumn Supper

After reading some good advice on how to reduce food waste, I now wash and/or prepare almost all my vegetables as soon as I get back from the market. Because of this one change,  I waste almost zero fresh food and eat more vegetables. Plus, I find that simple meals like this one come together much more quickly and with less expenditure of my waning end-of-day energy. 

Some people think vegetables will spoil more quickly if you wash them days in advance. Well, I keep all my washed vegetables in airtight plastic or glass snap-ware in the refrigerator, and they don't seem to spoil any more quickly than dirty vegetables. The only vegetables I don't wash in advance are mushrooms because I fear their turning slimy. 

This autumn meal for 2 is very simple, attractive, easy, and quick. Plus it's comfort food!

Meal Components:
1 stone fruit like peach or plum, washed and sliced
1 can vegetarian baked beans, warmed on stove or in microwave
1 recipe of Joy of Cooking's buttermilk cornbread
1 bunch collards, stemmed, torn into bite-sized pieces, and washed

The cornbread mix comes together in about 3 minutes and bakes for 25 minutes. The collards should simmer in salted water for 12 to 25 minutes, depending on your preference. Drain the collards and press out the excess water with the back of a wooden spoon.
On each plate arrange one slice of cornbread, a heap of collards, and a fan of fruit slices. Add a small pretty bowl to the side of each plate with some warm beans.
Enjoy with iced tea or a mug of cider.  Offer seconds of everything.

21 September 2012

Skillet Pizza

"Kid tested, mother approved!" 

How many times have I heard that slogan? So annoying. (Thanks a lot, 1978 Kix cereal ads.) And I don't believe that slogan for a second. I don't believe there exists a single cooked or processed food that the children in my neighborhood like AND I consider healthy.

So when 11-year-old Hannia told me she liked my skillet pizza—as long as she picked off the zucchini first—I knew she liked it because skillet pizza is unhealthy. Is it as unhealthy as most of the pizza you can buy around here (Costco, Papa John's, freezer aisle pizza)? No. But it's pizza. So will your kids or the Kid-In-You enjoy this recipe? Definitely. But try not to make it a weekly staple.

This recipe makes two small pizzas. You can just make one pizza, refrigerate half the dough in a ziplock bag, and make the second pizza the next day. I did it, and I quite liked the results.

Some people don't like ricotta. Fine, just add a bit more mozzarella. Other people don't like zucchini on pizza. Feel free to cook some mushrooms or open a jar of olives or whatever and add that instead. Some people don't like vegetarian pizza. Well, Buddy, the lemur's out back, he's all yours, but I'm warning you: he's quite a fighter.

Thanks to Vegetarian Times, Mark Bittman, George, and Hannia for their input.

Skillet Pizza

Special Equipment: 
food processor
An 8 or 10" cast iron frypan, or equivalent oven-safe fry pan
A rolling pin
An oven
A large wooden or bamboo cutting board

1 1/2 Cups bread flour
1 Cup whole wheat flour
1/2 Cup stone-ground cornmeal
2 teaspoons instant, bread machine, or rapid rise yeast (same things)
2 teaspoons good quality coarse salt (kosher or sea salt)
3 Tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 to 1 1/2 Cups water

2 tsp. vegetable or canola oil per pizza
a small jar of prepared refrigerated pesto or low-sodium, high-quality tomato pasta sauce
less than 1 Cup grated low-moisture, part-skim mozzarella
a few Tablespoons low-fat ricotta cheese
half of 1 peeled zucchini, sliced into 1/4 inch rounds


  1. Combine flour, yeast, and salt in a food processor. Turn the machine on. Add most of the water and 2 Tablespoons of oil through the tube while the machine whirrrs.
  2. Process about 30 seconds until the dough wads into a ball around the blade. It should be slightly sticky. If it seems too wet, add a little more flour. If it seems too dry, add a little more water. Then process until it's all copacetic.
  3. Dump dough into a large plastic or metal bowl. With well-floured hands, knead a few times until the dough comes together into a smooth ball. Pour 1 Tablespoon olive oil over it and turn the dough until it's evenly covered with oil. Cover the bowl with a damp cloth and let sit in a warm, moist location to rise for 1 to 2 hours, until doubled in size.
  4. Preheat the oven to 500ºF and set the oven rack in the lower third of the oven.
  5. Divide the dough in half. On a lightly floured board, roll out 1 ball of dough evenly until it is roughly the size of your fry pan. 
  6. Heat the vegetable oil on high heat in the fry pan. When it's sizzling hot put the dough in. Cook 3 minutes until brown and crisp on the bottom. Turn off the heat and, using two spatulas, flip the dough over in the fry pan. 
  7. Spread the nicely browned dough with pesto or tomato sauce. Sprinkle mozzarella evenly over the surface. Top with dollops of ricotta spaced apart and place zucchini slices around the ricotta. 
  8. Bake in the oven for 8 to 10 minutes until the cheese is melted and bubbly. Drizzle pesto/sauce over the zucchini slices. Cut the pizza into 4 wedges and serve hot hot hot!
  9. Repeat with the other half of the dough.
Serves 4 to 8 people, depending on a bunch of factors.

02 September 2012

Moong Bean Tomato Soup

Doug and I eat a lot of bean soups. After all, why not? Bean soups answer every need: cheap, healthy, filling, and comforting in the winter. Also, practically no one is allergic to them. The only problem is that bean soups bore the palate after a while, especially if you eat them for dinner every single night. Doug varies his bean soups by adding canned pumpkin or Italian sausage.  I like to revolve through a variety of beans. I make a tamarind-sour red lentil soup, a lemony split pea soup, a curried brown lentil soup, an eye-watering kimchi tofu and rice soup, and most recently a cozy moong bean soup.

The Indian people display a special genius for the legume family. I've never eaten a dal I didn't like. So when you grown bored with American-style beans, head over to an Indian grocer. Check out the rainbow of dals, both split and whole, that line the shelves. You may feel inspired to start making Indian bean soups. (Indian beans are still quite cheap.) If you don't live near an Indian grocer, order some Indian beans online. Dried beans travel well.
Some places online to buy Indian beans:
Indian Foods Co.
I Shop Indian
Indian Blend
Desi 911
Patel Brothers
Desi Mart

This particular soup was inspired by three fancier recipes created by Mark Bittman, who is not Indian and therefore tends to use more accessible ingredients in his recipes. I was able to make the entire soup in an hour. It won't take as long if you use split moong beans. I used whole. Whole moong beans are olive green in color with a tiny white stripe (see above).

Serves 4 to 8, depending on who's counting

Moong Bean Tomato Soup

1 Cup whole moong beans (dried)
1 large or 2 medium tomatoes, washed
6 Cups or 48 fluid ounces of vegetable broth (I use Imagine No-Chicken)
salt and pepper

Equipment: 1 medium pot, 1 small pot

  1. Wash the moong beans, being careful to pick through and make sure there aren't any small stones. 
  2. Put moong beans and the vegetable broth in the medium pot. Heat on medium-high heat until boiling. Lower to a bare simmer, cover tightly, and cook 1 hour.
  3. Meanwhile, fill the small pot with water. Bring to a boil. 
  4. Cut a small X in the bottom of the tomato. Blanch it in the boiling water by immersing it for 30 to 60 seconds. Take it out, let it cool a few minutes, and then peel off the skin with your fingers. Chop the tomato into small pieces.
  5. Add the tomato to the moong bean soup—it doesn't matter where in the cooking process it is.
  6. When the beans finish cooking, have a sip. Don't double-dip the spoon! Add salt and pepper to taste. Enjoy hot.
Optional additions: fresh-squeezed lemon juice, cayenne

01 September 2012

Alternatives to Soda and Juice

Apparently, drinking sweet beverages ruins your teeth, makes you obese, and gifts you with diabetes. With any scientific discovery that a certain foodstuff or drinkstuff hastens death, you have to decide, "Am I content to live 10 years less, as long as I fill those 60 to 70 years with delicious glasses of iced guava and pineapple juices?" The jury is still out on that one, for me.

People are wracking their brains trying to find healthy alternatives to sweet beverages, especially to serve at school lunches. Well, I have compiled a list of delicious un-sweet drinks for you, a list that does NOT include milk, since a lot of people suffer from milk allergies or lactose intolerance. Also, I have heard rumblings that milk may not be as good for you as the dairy industry promises it is. Who woulda thunk it? I used to drink that stuff by the gallon.

The recipe for almost every beverage on this list requires you to steep some of the ingredient in a pitcher of filtered—i.e., tasty—water, possibly overnight in the refrigerator or over-day by a sunny window.

Lime Water
Every beer ad I see these days is for "XYZ with lime." Lime is in. But those tiny limey wedges may not do the trick. I've discovered that one of those jumbo limes will produced enough juice for four tall refreshing glasses of cold lime water. Squeeze some of half a lime into the bottom of a glass. Fill the glass with cold filtered water. Serve immediately, or chill and serve in a hipster glass so as to feel with it. Pucker-licious.

Cucumber Water
You can pay more than $100 to go to a fancy pants spa that will serve you this drink in the waiting room…or you can make it at home by picking a cuke from your dinky backyard garden. Peel the cucumber, slice it lengthwise, use the tip of a spoon to scoop out and discard the seeds, and then slice thickly. Add cold water, refrigerate for 1 hour and you have cucumber water.

Barley Tea
Translate from the Japanese, "mugi cha." Every casual restaurant in Japan (and Korea too, I hear) serves iced barley tea as a complimentary service in the summer. Because barley is a type of grain, barley tea has a soothing effect on the stomach, and the mild flavor doesn't interfere with any kind of food you might eat. You can buy bags of Barley Tea at an East Asian grocer, or you can buy a bunch of whole barley. With tea bags, you steep a few in cold water in the refrigerator overnight and voìla, barley tea. With the whole barley, it's better to boil and simmer the barley in water, then strain. I love both hot and cold barley tea. Plus, barley tea is probably the cheapest kind of tea in the world.

Sun Tea
Somehow iced sun tea always tastes a little better than the boiled version. Buy some loose leaf tea (green, brown rice green tea, black tea, hojicha, kukicha, rooibos, pu-erh, white tea, or oolong). Pack it into a tea ball or fold it into 2 ocha packs, sold as pretty much any tea shop I've ever patronized. Put the packed tea into a tall glass pitcher with a lid. Fill with purified water and close the lid. Leave the glass pitcher outside or in a sunny window for several hours until the tea has taken on a deep hue. Then refrigerate the tea and serve it cold over ice with optional lemon or orange slices.

Seltzer or Club Soda
Let's say you just can't resist that delicious 100% juice despite health concerns. You can simultaneously dilute it and fancy it up by filling a glass 1/3 with juice and 2/3 with seltzer or club soda. You can squeeze fresh lemon or lime juice in. Or you can just enjoy seltzer plain, or over ice. It feels nice in the mouth and might settle your stomach or aid in a belching contest.

Ginger Tea or Green Ginger Tea
This tea will invigorate you. I learned how to make this from a Korean friend. You wash a fresh piece of ginger, slice it into a few thin segments, then pour boiling water over it and steep a few minutes. Ginger goes really well with banana bread or muffins. If plain ginger tea tastes a bit harsh for you, you can steep only one or two pieces of ginger with two bags of green tea. Just make sure not to steep the green tea until it's bitter.

Got any favorite unsweet beverages of your own? I'd love to hear about it.
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