Nose-to-Tail Eating, Vegetarian Style

Over the past few years I’ve read the tales of those who embark upon “nose-to-tail” eating with the kind of interest one usually reserves for looking at dissected frogs in Biology class. I like the idea in principle, but I just can’t get excited about eating entrails and organs. However, in the past 2 years I have embraced what I call nose-to-tail eating vegetarian-style. It began with my habit of snacking on the food I’m preparing. Nibbling on broccoli leaves, for instance. Other times I would find a recipe that intrigued me like pickled nasturtium seed pods (taste like capers!). I have found that it has broadened my view of what can be eaten and allows me to waste even less food.

We Americans waste approximately 40% of our food. It is truly appalling. I do everything I can to avoid wasting food. However, I know I can do more. So, with that in mind, I am sharing one aspect of what I do to reduce waste in my home.

What follows are some of my most useful (and fun!) discoveries.

Carrot greens can be used in a number of ways. I have used them in place of basil when making pesto. Because I find making pesto tiresome, I cram as many carrot greens as I can in my food processor so I don’t have to make it very often. To streamline the process further, I use almond butter instead of nuts and I don’t bother with the cheese. If I want it later, I can just add it then. Next, I freeze it in blobs on a piece of tin foil, peel the blobs off and keep them in a zipper bag in the freezer. They are great for tossing into a pot of cooked orzo for an easy flavor blast. Another place to use carrot top pesto is slathered on roasted vegetables. This is rather like icing on the cake as roasted vegetables are already so fabulous. The addition of the pesto is so good you will not believe it.

Carrot Greens
Carrot Greens

Carrot greens can also be used in place of parsley. Nothing annoys me more than a recipe that calls for a sprinkling of parsley as garnish. And what am I supposed to do with the rest of the bunch of parsley I had to buy? If I am buying carrots with greens anyway, I can just use those! Last summer, a friend recited for me a recipe that is an old stand-by for her: smoosh up some anchovies in a large bowl. Add lemon juice, olive oil (or oil from the anchovies), and pepper. Chop up a couple of bunches of parsley (here’s where you sub the carrot greens) and place them in the bowl with the anchovies. Toss until the greens are well-coated and serve. Anchovies are very nutritious (chock full of omega-3s) and, since they are smaller fish and have a shorter life span, they are near the bottom of the food chain so they add far fewer toxins to your body than larger fish.

Carrot Green & Anchovy Salad
Carrot Green & Anchovy Salad

Now, you might wonder, where am I going to get all these carrot greens? I started out using ones I had grown in my garden. The carrots were pretty puny, but the greens were quite luxuriant! Later, I learned that a good way to be sure carrots you buy are fresh is to choose ones with the greens still attached. Once they get wilty, supermarkets cut them off so that is a good sign that the carrots are getting older and are not as nutritious. I was eating lots of carrots so we ended up having quite the bonanza. It got to the point that my son and I started taking some of them to some chickens we helped take care of as they thought they were quite a treat.

Another under-utilized part of a vegetable is the leaves and stems of broccoli. I started out just peeling and slicing the stems of broccoli that I bought and steaming them with the florets. Then I realized they could be treated like vegetable sticks and served with dip just like carrots and bell peppers (call them “batons” make them sound more elegant). Next, I noticed that a large proportion of recipes published that purported to be “quick,” called for broccoli slaw. I very rarely buy convenience foods like that, but I was curious so I checked out what it was the next time I was at the grocery store. Well, if you haven’t figured it out, what it is is merely the shredded stalks cut off of all those pre-cut broccoli florets people buy, except they jack up the price. What I do is save the stems from a bunch of broccoli and then peel and shred it in one go in my food processor. Then I use it as a salad or in a stir-fry.

The tender broccoli leaves near the florets are also edible. Then can be steamed alongside the stems and florets or sliced and sprinkled on top of a salad.

I have also found that steamed artichoke stems can also be as good as the heart. Simply trim the end, peel the stem, and allow it to be steamed along with the rest of the artichoke. Sometimes it will be a little stringy or bitter, but I have found that to be the anomaly and if you don’t try it, you’ll never know.

Nasturtium Salad
Nasturtium Salad

If you grow nasturtiums (a very easy flower to grow and, so far for me, deer do not appear to like them), almost all parts of the plant can be eaten. The leaves can be torn and added to a salad. The same with the flowers. Both are a little spicy so I wouldn’t use them as the only green in a salad. Near the end of summer, gather the seed pods and pickle them by putting them into a jar and then filling the jar with pickling liquid. You can just use leftover pickle juice. After a few months, the seed pods will be pickled and can be used in place of capers.

Sour Cherry Marzipan Cookie with Chocolate Drizzle
Sour Cherry Marzipan Cookie with Chocolate Drizzle

A year and a half ago I had a bonanza of grapes harvested from some friends’ farm. I used many of the grapes to make jelly. After extracting the juice from the grapes I had a mesh bag full of grape skins. Because I was curious, I ate a couple and was struck by how tasty they were. I was thinking they would be good in muffins in place of something like raisins or blueberries. However, my husband was the one who identified that they taste like sour cherries. Sour cherries are pretty pricey (I’ve paid $5/lb at a u-pick!), but make superior pies. Using grape skins is much more economical and easier as they don’t require pitting. With the grape skins, I made 3 delicious crisps which I froze to have later.

Chocolate Shards
Chocolate Shards

Over Christmas, I made cookies and I used the trick of placing melted chocolate in a plastic zipper bag and then cutting off the corner so I could drizzle the chocolate out. When I was done, I could see there was still a fair amount of chocolate in the bag that wouldn’t come out easily. So, I popped it in the freezer. Later I took it out and peeled off the plastic to reveal beautiful chocolate “shards.” They would be prefect on top of a cake or cupcakes or on top of ice cream and now that chocolate wasn’t getting wasted.

With the lessons I’ve learned, I would encourage anyone to taste new things and see what he or she discovers. Re-purposing food that is getting old or would otherwise be thrown away is not a new concept. Bread that is going stale has long been made into croutons, stuffing or French Bread (in France called “pain perdu,” literally “lost bread.”) A hambone in a split pea soup is divine and turkey carcasses are wonderful for making soup. Also, a cooking error doesn’t need to be tossed. When you burn something, call it “blackened.” If you over-boil vegetables, puree them. Mushy carrots sounds nasty, but how about pureed carrots with cardamom and a drizzle of olive oil? Just think, if you were in a fancy restaurant, you’d probably think it was something very elegant!

If you have any culinary discoveries you’ve discovered that allow you to reduce waste, please let me know.  I’d love to hear about it.

Caveat: Please note that not everything that grows is safe to eat. Sometimes one part of a plant is safe while another part is not. A good example is rhubarb. The stalks are perfectly edible while the leaves are poisonous. So, if in doubt, check first!!

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Bacon Makes Everything Better

It is warming up here in the Pacific Northwest and everything looks beautiful. One of the things I cook a lot throughout the year is soup. About a month ago I created a two-for-one meal that is super easy and features soup. Now, it probably makes a little more sense to prepare these when it is colder, but as a veteran of the Pacific Northwest, I already know that the warm and wonderful weather we are experiencing right now could flee at the drop of a hat and we could go back to cool and dreary until July 5th (people who have lived here a long time say you can’t rely on good weather until after the 4th of July—and sometimes not even then!). These meals can be vegetarian, or even vegan come to think of it, but because I love bacon they aren’t in my house.

Roasted Squash served with Rosemary-Scented White Beans and a BLT Salad with Bacon-Infused Croutons

2 butternut squash
1 T. brown sugar
½ t. ground ginger
Salt and pepper

4 c. canned white beans of your choice (navy, cannellini)
3 stalks fresh rosemary
2 large cloves of garlic, smashed
Salt and pepper

Lettuce
Tomatoes
4 slices bacon
Stale bread
Salad Dressing (I usually use a basic oil and vinegar, but a mayonnaise one would probably be good)

Night One:
Preheat oven to 425°F. Slice squash lengthwise and place it cut side down in a large baking pan. Fill pan with water to a depth of about ½“. Place in oven and bake for about 30 minutes. Remove from oven, drain out water, and place squash cut side up in pan. Combine brown sugar and ginger and sprinkle on top of the squash. Sprinkle some salt and pepper on them too. Return to oven and roast till almost squishy.

Meanwhile, rinse beans and place in a large saucepan. Add water to cover, rosemary, garlic, salt, and pepper to taste and bring to a gentle simmer.

Cube your stale bread and, if it is soft, place on a baking sheet and toast in the oven for a few minutes (you don’t need 2 ovens. Use the same one that has the squash in it). Remove bread and place bacon on baking sheet. Return to oven and let bacon roast for 10 minutes. Depending upon the thickness of your bacon, it may be done. If it is a thicker cut, it may require more time to crisp up. Drain bacon on paper towels, let cool, and then break into small-ish pieces.

Meanwhile, place bread cubes on baking sheet and toss with the bacon fat. Taste and add salt if you think it needs it (I use garlic salt which is probably un-cool, but I like it). Place baking sheet in oven and toast up the bread cubes for about 5 minutes.

Wash lettuce and place in a salad bowl. Slice tomatoes and add them. Sprinkle with bacon pieces and bacon-infused bread croutons.  If you don’t eat meat, then I guess you’d better make a different salad.  I always like one with dried cranberries, chevre, and toasted pecans.  Or sliced pear, blue cheese, and toasted walnuts.

Drain beans and remove rosemary and garlic. Slice squash into 1” wide crescents. Serve the beans and squash with the salad.Bacon Croutons

Night Two:

Spicy Coconut Milk Squash Soup

Hopefully you have leftover squash and beans. For my family of three I would definitely have leftovers. You may need to adjust the amounts of the first night dinner when you are preparing it so that you do have leftovers.

Cooked butternut squash
White beans
Coconut-Almond milk beverage (or the more common light coconut milk in a can)
Green vegetable of your choice (I would probably do another salad)
Crusty bread (I make the famous no-knead bread that Jim Lahey invented and Mark Bittman published in the New York Times. If you haven’t made it, I highly recommend it. It is the easiest bread recipe I’ve ever seen and the best—how often does that happen?)

Peel squash and cut into chunks. Place squash, about 1 cup beans and 1 cup coconut milk beverage in a blender. Whirl until smooth. I like spiciness so I would also add a sprinkle of cayenne, but others may want to omit it. Add more coconut milk or vegetable broth to get a soupy consistency. Heat gently and serve with your vegetable and crusty bread.

Note on the Coconut-Almond Milk: Most of the time I use Almond Breeze.  However, I have tried Califia’s Coconut-Almond Milk and it is tastier.  I don’t buy it on a regular basis as it is pricier and not available in the shelf-stable boxes.  But it really is divine and is superior for making things like caramel sauce (yes, it is possible and it tastes great!)

Note: I have started cooking my own beans these days instead of using canned ones. I do this for a few reasons. First, because I am trying to avoid the BPAs used in most canning processes (some organic canned or boxed beans are BPA-free but they are dreadfully expensive). Second, I can control the consistency of the beans that way. Sometimes I want them firm, sometimes I want them squishy. Third, I can add flavor while cooking them and reduce the presence of the sugar in beans (oroligosaccharides) that causes gas. If you would like to try doing the same, see below:

Rinse dry beans in water and then set to soak in a pot with a couple of inches of water to cover. Let sit overnight. Drain and rinse beans. Return to pot, cover with water by a couple of inches, and add any seasonings you might like (e.g. rosemary sprigs, cloves of garlic) and a pinch of epazote (this is your magic herb that reduces gas!). Bring to a boil and then lower the heat so it simmers. Different beans take different lengths of time to cook. If they are older they will take longer. Usually 1 hour is a good bet. Drain, discard epazote, and the beans are ready to be served or used in some other recipe.

Note on epazote: I had a dickens of a time getting a hold of this. Once, my friend Katherine Kagel who owns Cafe Pasqual’s in Santa Fe was coming to visit and she asked what she could bring. So I asked her if she could get me some epazote. She delivered! I thought she might be able to since she lives in bean-cooking country and she is a goddess. Now I know that you can get it at Spicely and probably lots of other places if you look on the internet, but I wanted to be sure to get the real deal as I wasn’t looking for it just for taste purposes, but also for its special “carminative” properties. Otherwise, what’s the point?

Oops–I screw up and poison a guest

So, yesterday we had a family of five over for brunch and the mom and one of the kids can’t eat gluten.  I thought I had made it clear that my gluten cooking was not the best and asked if she could bring a muffin type thing that was gluten-free, so when we were serving ourselves (buffet-style), I did not mention that my scones contained gluten.  Usually, I would have and I have no idea why I didn’t.  Maybe because there were a bunch of kiddos around and it felt a bit chaotic (trying to beverage everyone etc).  We’re all eating the last few tidbits on our plates and an animated conversation and I notice that the mom has a half-eaten scone on her plate.  I say, I hope you didn’t eat that?  And that’s when I learn that she didn’t know it contained gluten and, of course, had taken one and had already eaten half of it.  I feel terrible!  I’ve always had this secret worry that I would somehow poison someone inadvertently.  We have people over for meals fairly often and I’m always super careful and, as far as I know, it has never happened (till now!).  As an aside, I once had a soy-based whipped cream that was on a pie when a guest brought it and I was up all night horribly sick to my stomach so I know how uncomfortable it can be.  So, I have certainly learned my lesson about alerting guests about what is okay and what is not okay to eat if they have something they need to avoid.

Otherwise, I think it went well.  The family has 3 boys and the eldest seems intellectually precocious.  And the younger ones are nice kids and everyone seemed to play well together.

If you like scones, and can eat gluten, here’s the recipe.  It is pretty easy and tasty too.

2014_0217Scones

Scones:

2 c. flour (can use half whole wheat pastry and half all-purpose)

3 T. sugar (sometimes I sub part xylitol)

1 T. baking powder

½ c. butter or margarine (I use Earth Balance because I’m allergic to cow dairy and goat butter costs an arm and a leg and isn’t always available)

1 c. dried fruit (good choices are currants, dried cranberries, golden raisins, chopped dried apricots)

1 egg, lightly beaten

½ c. milk (I use a mixture of goat milk and almond milk.  If I’m using dried cranberries, I might use half orange juice for my liquid or a Tablespoon of orange juice concentrate)

1 t. vanilla

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350°F.  Prepare a baking sheet by either lightly greasing it or place a silicone may on it.  I use a Silpat.

Whisk together flour, sugar and baking powder in a large bowl.  With a fork or pastry cutter, cut in butter until it resembles coarse meal. Add dried fruit.

Combine milk, egg and vanilla in a measuring cup.  Pour into bowl with dry ingredients and stir until just moistened and still pretty lumpy.  This is important.  If you stir too much, the scones will be tough.  I have a hard time with this, but I have learned.

With a large spoon, scoop out large lumps of dough and place them on the baking sheet with at least one inch between them.  I usually get about 9.  If loose bits are falling off, just push them back on their pile.  They will stick together once they are baked.

Bake for 15-20 minutes, till bottoms are starting to brown, lightly.  Let cool on a rack.  They are best eaten on the day made so I freeze leftovers.