Sunday, January 30, 2011

Winter Veg Trash Hash

My good friend Jill visited over the weekend and in preparation for a spectacular festival of three of my favorite things (Beer, Bourbon, and Barbeque), a carby breakfast base was in order.  This hash seemed to do just the trick since we made it home in one piece after 4 hours of unlimited tastings.

I'm calling this a hash even though it is a vegetarian dish since it's a hodge podge of ingredients with fried potatoes and eggs - perfect for breakfast and so so easy.  I like grating the beets to make it nice and colorful and to mix up the texture a bit (also this way they don't really need to be peeled).  Adobo seasoning is a nice salty and flavorful kick to counter the sweetness of the potatoes and carrots though you can use chili powder or just salt and pepper if you prefer.  A bit of spicy sausage certainly wouldn't be out of place if you're not already prepping for an afternoon heart attack.

Check out this New York Times trend piece for other ideas for how to make your own $2 versions of some swanky $15 city brunch hashes.

Winter Vegetable Hash

Serve 2-4 (depending on how hungry you are)
Total time: 20-30 minutes (Active time 15 minutes)

  • 1-2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 medium sweet potato, scrubbed and diced (the smaller the chunks, the faster they cook)
  • 2 small carrots, scrubbed and diced (ditto above)
  • 2 small beets, scrubbed and grated
  • Adobo seasoning or chili powder (or a clove of garlic, big pinch of salt and small pinches of black pepper, cumin, and oregano)
  • 1/2 bunch of greens (kale or beet), tough ribs removed
  • 2-4 eggs (as many people as are eating)
  • Cilantro or green onions for garnish (optional)

Saute onions in melted butter over medium heat in a heavy skillet.  While onions are cooking up, dice the sweet potato (leave the skin on), add it to the pan, and give it a stir.  Cover the pan to keep the heat in while you prep the rest of the vegetables. 

Chop the carrots and add to the pan, along with 1/4-1/2 cup water.  Grate and add beets, adding more water if the mixture looks too dry or starts to get excessively brown.  Cook for 5-10 minutes after the beets are added, or until the sweet potatoes and carrots are tender.  Season to taste with a few shakes of adobo or other spice mixture.

Slice your greens into thin ribbons and mix in when other vegetables are finished cooking, adding more water if the mixture looks dry.  After 2-3 minutes when greens are just cooked, make 2-4 small dents in the hash and crack an egg into each.  Cover the pan and turn heat to low.  Cook another 5 minutes or so until the whites are set but yolks are still runny.  Serve with cilantro/green onions and goat cheese on toast for a touch of class.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Basic Trash Lentil Soup

Lentil soup is for those days where you want something healthy and filling for dinner, tons of lunch leftovers, but don't want to stuff around with a trip to the store.  Brown lentils (or any kind really, but brown are typically cheapest) are a great pantry staple since they last forever and you are a straight-up fool if you pay more than $1.50 for a pound.

This recipe is infinitely adaptable and in The Trash Salad style is sort of half-based on the recipe on the package and half-based on things I had lying around.  The only unskippable minor ingredient is the vinegar or lemon juice which makes all the difference between a delicious soup and a bland pot of brown.  The acid makes the lentils have a satisfying meaty quality, which is really what you're aiming for when cooking vegetarian food (or in this case, vegetarianish).

Now, this soup is quick in the sense that it only takes maybe 10 minutes of chopping and throwing things in a pot followed by 30-45 minutes of beer-drinking downtime waiting for the lentils to simmer.  If you were clever and prone to planning ahead, you could cook them in advance and keep them in the fridge or freezer and then you'd be able to really make some magic.  Some recipes suggest that you rinse and pick through your lentils before cooking, but this is a massive waste of time.  In the interest of full disclosure, I have had a couple of pebble soup incidents over the years (only from bags, not the bulk bin lentils), but the ~5% chance of this happening does not outweigh the 15-20 minute time savings.

Tonight's version was a simple affair featuring bacon grease, smoked tofu, and spinach served with Franks hot sauce and a poached egg with a side of arrugula-based trash salad topped with sriracha mayo (oh, but more on that later).

Lentil Soup

Serves 6-8
Total time: 45 min-1 hour (Active time 10 minutes)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons fat (bacon grease, butter, olive oil, whatever)
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 ribs celery, diced (OR the skinny core of the celery bunch, leaves included)
  • 2 skinny carrots, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 10 cups (2.5 L) water
  • 2 cups (or a 1lb bag) of brown lentils
  • 2 bay leaves (optional but I really like them)
  • Extra bits to add during cooking*
  • 2 tablespoons vinegar (any kind, or 3tbsp lemon juice)
  • salt to taste (start with 1/2 teaspoon)
  • Extra bits to add during the last few minutes of cooking**
  • Extra bits to add when serving***
Heat fat over medium heat in a large soup pot.  Saute onions (add first as you chop the rest), carrots, and celery for 5-10 minutes while you get your bits ready.  Add garlic and stir for another minute.

Add lentils, water, bay leaves, and your first lot of extra bits and stir.  Bring to a boil then cover and turn the heat to low.  Simmer for 30-45 minutes until lentils are as soft as you like.

Fish out your bay leaves (if using) and add vinegar, salt, and the second lot of extra bits and stir.  Taste, and reseason if desired.  Add more water if soup is too thick for your liking.

Serve with your third dose of extra bits.

Extra bits suggestions

*During cooking:  1-2 teaspoons dried herbs (oregano, basil, thyme), 1 teaspoon paprika, 1 tablespoon chili powder, 3-6 slices of diced cooked bacon or ham, half a block of tofu diced, 1 diced chipotle chili with 1 tsp adobo sauce, 2 tablespoons tomato paste (or ketchup in a pinch), 14 oz can of crushed tomatoes (you'll want to reduce the water if you do this), or substitute some or all of the water for broth or stock.  Extra winter veggies are also good, especially potatoes and butternut squash.

**Last few minutes of cooking:  fresh diced tomatoes, 1-2 cups of thinly sliced spinach or kale, frozen edamame, chopped fresh cilantro or basil

***Serving:  a poached egg, cooked rice, few tablespoons of greek yogurt or sour cream, salsa, garlicky croutons, flavorful crumbled or shredded cheese, hot sauce, chives, green onions, chili flakes, french fried onions, sliced avocado

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Food Waste, an Introductory Rant

An American family of four's average monthly food waste.  Via The New York Times.

Food waste.  My number one king of kings pet peeve above all others.  I actually don't even know if I have any other ticks, except maybe the anthropomorphizing of diseases in pharmaceutical commercials. 

My most depressing days are when I have to clean out the fridge to make room for beer or something, only to realize that "ugh, I cannot believe I forgot about those jalapeno peppers," or "how DID that half empty can of tomato paste disappear behind the pickles for so long without me noticing?"  Yes, occasionally things slip by me, but I like to think that one of my more remarkable qualities is my constant mental inventory and indefatigable awareness of refrigerator and pantry contents.  I'm certain that this has irritated every single past and present roommate of mine.

I've been a bit riled up about this issue lately since reading reports which state that Americans throw away around 30-40% of all food just at the consumer level.  Not even talking about restaurants or grocery stores which are even more wasteful and profit-driven.

What's the reason for this?  For starters, America produces enough food for everyone to enjoy 3,800 calories per person per day, which is close to twice what we actually need.  Increasing demand begets an increasing supply, and with prices and subsidies being what they are, we can all probably afford to be at least a little picky about what we will and won't consume. 

But putting perfectly good food into the waste stream is a habit that can literally throw away thousands of dollars every year, not to mention the wasted energy expended during production and transportation.  If America just cut its food waste in half it would lessen our total impact to the environment (in reduced emissions, landfill use, soil depletion, pesticides and fertilizers) by 25%.  That statistic just blows me away.

Fortunately it's becoming somewhat trendy these days to rally against wasting food as what I imagine to be part of a throwback to old timey DIY that's making a resurgence with the more hip among us.  Food waste is of course an exclusive problem of the post-industrialized first world, with the UK, Japan, and US being the worst offenders.  Were our great-great-grandparents buying boneless skinless antibiotic enormous chicken breasts in styrofoam packages?  No, animals were raised and slaughtered locally with a great amount of effort so it was only natural that all parts would be put to good use.  This is an attitude which is virtually nonexistent in our society where it's easier to buy in bulk again and again than to stop and think about what's actually needed.  Celebrity chefs in the UK seem to be starting the conversation about increasing waste awareness, though I'm still waiting to see the Food Network jump on board.  With the rising popularity of excess-based shows, I'm not holding my breath.

I would say that my family members are among the original champions of this cause.  Some of my earliest memories involve devouring discolored chocolates or expired chips at my grandparents' house, or setting aside that jug of milk for Dad because it's justthisside of funky for everyone else.  My little sister told me once that her roommates always waited until she wasn't home to clean out the fridge to avoid her glaring consternation; that was a proud proud day.

This family tradition of sorts saves us untold amounts of money, and also challenges our meal planning creativity to use whatever is available without excess trips to the store.  I should also mention that though the USDA would probably frown on some of my methods, my immune system is iron clad and I've never ever had a case of food poisoning.  I don't think that these two points are unrelated.

I could go on and on.  There really are no downsides to minimizing waste, food or otherwise.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Fail: Pavlova

This is really more of an aesthetic/structural fail than a problem taste-wise.  Every last bit of the pavlova was scarfed when the topping was added to create a spot-on combination of crunchy sugar, barely sweetened cream, and tart fresh fruit to round things out.  But as you can see, instead of the lovely light New Zealand meringue cake resembling a ballerina's tutu, we have a completely fallen marshmallowy pancake.  I used this basic recipe sketch from Joy of Baking and felt super confident up until the point where I heard cracking and shattering about 10 minutes into the cooling process.

I thoroughly cleaned my utensils and bowls of all grease.  No yolk was to be found.  Egg whites came to room temperature before beating.  Delicately folded in the starch, acid, and vanilla.  Piled inside a perfectly drawn circle.  Baked at a nice low temperature.  And then splat.

Suspected reasons for fail:
  • Using arrowroot powder instead of cornstarch.  I don't think this was a problem since Joy of Baking told me I can do this on a 1-1 basis, and elsewhere it states that arrowroot can contribute to a glossier appearance and be otherwise beneficial in baked goods.
  • No salt.  Other recipes have salt.  What does this do?  No clue.  According to this website, salt can actually increases protein coagulation and makes it more difficult to beat air into the whites and hold the structure of the air bubbles.  So also probably not the culprit, but I might try this next time to see if it tastes better.
  • No cream of tartar.  In theory, vinegar does the same thing since they are both acids added to help stabilize the air bubble formation, but a pinch of this added after the eggs are beaten to foamy might help things stay put.
  • Adding an extra egg white on the same size base.  Possibly caused
  • Rushing the cooling process.  I'm almost positive this is what happened since I decided that it would be a great idea to cook pavlova (at 275F) and ciabatta (at 475F) in the same oven on the same night.  In theory this should have been no problem by cooking the bread first, but as that turned out to be a nearly six hour process, things didn't quite go as planned and the "open crack" that was left in the oven door might have been a bit larger than it should have been to get the cake out and on with.

Next time I will:
Pavlova of my dreams.
Image via

  • Add a pinch of salt and cream of tartar.  For experimentation's sake.
  • Use the rim of my 9 inch spring form pan, lined with parchment and oil-sprayed.  The goal is height and fluff people, and this might help to keep things from expanding outward and coax it upwards.  And make it look more like this:
  • For the love of pete, not open the oven.  Not once.  Just looking through the door to check progress.  Cool very slowly overnight.  No peeking!
Well, off see what Harold McGee has to say about this.

Friday, January 14, 2011


Yeast breads scare me, what with their finicky temperature sensitivities and climate water/flour ratio adaptations.  They also take forever to finish, require tons of gluteny counter cleanup, and lots of muscle for kneading, so I generally don't think these breads are worth the time and effort considering you can get a delicious, day-old, pre-sliced loaf for less than $2. 

But having said all that, some recent kitchen gadget acquisitions have inspired me to experiment more.  If you've got a lazy weekend ahead of you, this recipe for ciabatta from the New York Times Baker's Apprentice blog is really not labor intensive in the slightest, though it does require lots of rising time and makes the counter into a doughy mess.  The awesome smell coming out of your oven should make the cleanup process just a bit more pleasant.

The recipe recommends using a heated pizza stone to bake these, but lacking this I improvised using parchment paper and the back of a cookie sheet.  Next time I will either use a jelly roll pan, or stagger the baking since my attempt to fit three loaves on the back of a regular sized pan led to some sad looking ends where the dough drooped off the sides.  Or bite the bullet and buy a pizza stone since the loaf bottoms were really not as dark and delicious as the tops.

I also reduced the salt and the amount of cornmeal base mixture (I was scraping it off the bottom of the finished loaves), and simplified the directions a bit.  The loaf that didn't fit on the first go in the oven seemed to have the best rise and overall flavor, so I would steer towards the high end of the time estimates.  For my next trick, I want to try subbing in whole wheat flour and some seeds for texture, though I almost don't want to tempt fate since the bread turned out so fantastic this time around.

Adapted from The Baker's Apprentice

Makes 4 small loaves (3-4 x 8 inches)
Total time: 4-5 1/2 hours (Active time less than an hour)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
  • 1 3/4 oz hot to the touch water (3.5 tablespoons at 100-115F, or about as hot as the tap will go but short of burning your finger)
  • 16 oz unbleached bread flour (about 3 1/4 cups)
  • 13 oz room temperature water (1 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons iodized salt
  • olive oil (for coating the bowl)
  • cornmeal (for sprinkling on your base before baking)
Sprinkle the yeast on top of the 1 3/4 ounces of hot water in a small bowl to let it dissolve, and set aside.

Add the salt to the bread flour in a large bowl and stir to incorporate. Make a well in the center of the flour/salt mixture, and add the cool water little by little.

Give the yeast mixture a stir to ensure it has dissolved in the warm water, then add it to the large bowl.  Stir everything until just mixed, then stop and let it sit for 30 minutes covered in plastic wrap (you can save this for repeated use).

After 30 minutes, sprinkle flour on your work surface, then scrape the dough out onto it.  Flour your hands and form the dough into a rectangle.  Fold one of the short edges to just beyond the center, then fold the other side over the center to make another rectangle.  Fold the other two sides of the dough over the center the same way, then turn it over and dust off the flour. Place the folded dough in a a bowl slicked with olive oil (about a tablespoon) and let it sit for 30 minutes, again, covered with plastic wrap.

After 30 minutes, turn out your dough on a floured work surface and fold again, using the same method as above.  Place the dough back in the oiled bowl (make sure it doesn't have any dough residue from the last time), covered with plastic, and let it rise until it has doubled in volume, 1 to 2 hours.

After the dough has doubled in volume, sprinkle a little more flour onto your workspace.  Scrape the dough out onto the counter, flour your hands, and gently flatten the dough into a large, even rectangle.  Use a bench scraper or a knife to cut the dough into 4 equal pieces.  Fold the sides of each piece over the center in the same manner as above.  Place each folded piece seam-side down on the floured counter. Cover with oiled plastic wrap and let it rise for 30 to 60 minutes, or until the dough has doubled in volume.

Preheat your oven to 475F and put a baking stone on the middle rack (if using) and an empty pan for water on the bottom rack.  Take one ciabatta piece at a time and stretch it very gently to lengthen.  Sprinkle 1-2 tablespoons of a mixture of half cornmeal and half flour on a piece of parchment paper.  Turn each stretched ciabatta piece upside-down and place on the cornmeal covered paper (you may have to bake in two batches if the loaves won't fit on one surface).  Reform the loaves very gently if they get warped in the transfer.

Transfer the parchment paper to the preheated stone or the back of a baking sheet and place on the middle rack of the oven.  Pour water into the pan on the bottom rack in order to make steam and close the oven door.

Bake until loaves are a very dark brown, approximately 20-30 minutes. Let the bread cool completely before cutting into it.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Trash Mac and Cheese

Image via Whole Foods

Every so often I forget that it is a bad idea and stop at the supermarket before I've had dinner.  This inevitably leads to ridiculous purchases that I wouldn't think to make with a normal blood sugar level.

Most recently, this purchase was a box of 365 Organic Shells and Cheese.  I hear you. "Ew! No! Over-processed crap!"  That may be, but the list of ingredients wasn't too appalling, and I later learned that this particular brand had triumphed in several internet taste tests.  Apparently the zeitgeist of late 2009 was processed mac and cheese comparisons.

The best thing about this purchase was all of the flashbacks I had to my college cooking days where everything was "make more with less in less time."  You can gussy up prepared mac and cheese from a box with any number of extra bits you have lying around in no time at all, which generally can serve to assuage your guilt over eating it in the first place.

Some of my favorite trash boxed mac additions include:
  • sliced roasted red pepper
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 1/2 bunch of sauteed greens with a few cloves of garlic and red chili flakes
  • halved cherry tomatoes
  • can of water-packed tuna
  • few tablespoons of capers
  • diced scallions
And some themed trash mac options:
  • for some south of the border flair:  few tablespoons of sliced black olives, 1/2 a diced green chile, with 1-2 tsp chili powder, dollop of salsa
  • for added brightness:  zest of a lemon and fresh herbs (basil, coriander, chives, or parsley)
  • for when you're not entertaining:  cut up hot dogs or sausages, few tsp mustard, tablespoon of ketchup
  • for a taste of Scandinavia:  1-2 oz smoked salmon, fresh dill
  • for a restauranty meal:  1/4-1/2 cup of a strongly flavored cheese (like sharp cheddar, gorgonzola, or blue), crumbled cooked bacon, topped with 1/4 cup of breadcrumbs and baked until browned

Last week's dinner variation included frozen peas, kale, capers, cloves of mushed roasted garlic, a scallion, and red chili flakes.  I probably could have gotten away with at least three fewer ingredients, but why only go halfway?

I should mention that you really need to use the kind with white and not yellow cheese if you want your dinner to look more delicious and less like vomit.  Unless you are going for the hot dog/mustard/ketchup combo in which case all bets are off anyway.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Fact or fiction: Negative calorie foods

Image via The Daily Green

After hosting several get togethers over the holidays, I've found myself with an abundance of cut up vegetables in the fridge without any leftover dip.  I generally view crudites as vessels on which to carry tasty dairy-based spreads from bowl to mouth, so a look in the veggie drawer left me with an empty feeling not unlike visiting the Tall Ships only to find them filled with chubby tourists instead of, you know, sailors.

But thinking of chubby tourists, I was curious whether I could use the bags of celery, broccoli, and cauliflower to my advantage to counteract some of the bacon-wrapped glory of the past few weeks.  Some reports indicate that the energy expended while digesting (not just chewing) cruciferous foods may actually be greater than the caloric value of the vegetable itself. 

At around 9 calories per stalk, celery is made up of 95% water with the remaining 5%  being mostly undigestible cellulose instead of fat, protein, and carbohydrates that can be absorbed and used by the body.  So if you eat an entire bunch of celery, you might absorb 100 calories worth of energy, but would end up burning 120 from all the work your digestive tract is doing to process the bulk - resulting in negative 20 total calories. 

Lest we go thinking that this is a cure all for cookie season, there is not really any hard evidence for this, though I can't imagine the celery lobby is very powerful at getting their studies funded.  Even if the calorie deficit business is true, by my imaginary baseless math you would have to eat 5 bunches of celery to counteract a small cookie and 175 total bunches of celery to lose a single pound.  And that's a best case scenario for all negative calorie foods since celery contains the highest ratio of cellulose/absorbable energy.

Some ways to burn 20 calories that are easier than eating a bunch of celery:
  • Sit still for 12 minutes
  • Walk one block
  • Prepare a snack for 10 minutes (do not eat snack until time is up)
  • Play with silly putty until bored
  • Do one lap of a shoe store
  • Check and update facebook twice
For those of us (okay, just me) with chronic "need to constantly snack in cubicle" syndrome, at the very least these veggies can have some benefits in keeping those chew muscles busy.  Potential downsides to this include driving your coworkers crazy with crunching and high levels of, um, indigestible cellulose.

Monday, January 3, 2011

The Trash Salad

The concept of the Trash Salad was born in October 2010 when my dear friend, having witnessed what I was eating for second breakfast, declared that it looked as though someone's picnic leftovers had been tossed in a rubbish bin, mixed up, and dumped in my bowl.  This was a near-perfect description of my meal which from memory consisted of ripped up hot dogs rescued from the previous day's barbeque, crumbled up cheese slices, cold grilled summer squash, jalapeno olives, and crushed chips over spinach and drizzled with creamy horseradish sauce and mustard. 

This salad was obviously delicious and continues to haunt my dreams, but I also make other more conventional things to eat, some of which require recipes and even utensils to prepare.  Often these more technical pursuits get lost among the everyday eat-down-the-fridge meals, hence The Trash Salad aims to keep things organized and document some successes and failures along the way.

The goal of this little project is threefold:
WV Doubledown Extravaganza
  • to learn a little something about web design.  This seems to be a useful and marketable skill that I have maintained active ignorance about since the olden days of livejournaling.
  • to pressure me to take more photos.  I have a nice camera that has been used on fewer than 10 occasions since it was given to me almost 2 years ago.  As an example of how terrible I am at this,  the only photograph I took during a memorable trip to West Virginia last year ->
  • to keep track of things I cook in a searchable format.  I once dreamt of using a cute little spiral-bound notebook to write down recipes with modifications and illustrations to have in one place and eventually pass on to my kids like good mamas do.  Unfortunately, handwriting things takes an unreasonable amount of time and any blank white surface in my kitchen is a prime target for red wine/tomato sauce/rogue bacon grease.
As a notorious starter but not keeper upper, I don't have high hopes of maintaining a regular posting habit, but we'll see what comes of this.  Other interests of mine include unnecessary food wastage, DIY everything, and deciphering food science and policy so I will probably be getting on my soapbox time and again.  And as a serious cheapskate working in New York City, I'll also be sharing tips on how to not go broke when all you want to do is spend money on awesome things and restaurants.

Incidentally, Park and Sixth Comfort Food in Hoboken, NJ has a Garbage Salad on the menu which sounds like it's filled with great veggies and may require further research.  But no hot dogs unfortunately.