So the tools and techniques don’t come around all too often mainly because I don’t usually think about my kitchen that way. There are many tricks that I use regularly and because they are habit I tend not to really notice them.
Recently I was hanging out with my friend Jon visiting from Toronto and – as we often do – we talked about consuming food. With consumption often comes waste. Jon went on about how much he hates wasting food and that there are some ingredients he just won’t buy in order to avoid a potential waste. I applaud his actions as I too, hate wasting food. I rather stuff myself than to leave food on my plate. I try to maximize every ingredient in my kitchen and pantry, and have come up with a couple of tricks to do just that.
Using his words “What the hell am I supposed to do with a huge bunch of cilantro when all I need is one cup?” My answer: “Why not make a batch of chimichurri? Freeze it in a jar or in ice-cube trays.”
Well, have no fear, Kristel’s Kitchen is here!
Let me share a few tips on how to maximize the use of your ingredients and minimize your waste:
Ice-cube trays! It’s convenient to have at least one ice-cube tray unused, that way you can easily portion out leftover ingredients and freeze for later use. Here are some examples:
- Tomato paste or sauce when you do not need to use the full amount; use individual cubes add depth of flavor to sauces, soups or
- Pesto, any kind. Pesto essentially just means to pound, crush to make a paste. Use basil, parsley, cilantro, arugula… basically anything that comes to mind or that may be lurking in your fridge.
- Fruit: purée and freeze, great for smoothies; or, cook down with sugar for a quick dessert topping.
Make soup! Often my soup creations spur from whatever is left in the fridge and pantry. The last creation was a Mexican influenced vegetable soup. From the fridge: the remainder of a bag of carrots and celery, an onion, a leftover ¼ cabbage from a previous dinner and shredded zucchini. From the pantry: a can of diced tomatoes, an ancho pepper (whole), a handful of coarse cornmeal and a handful of red lentils. All combined in a pot, topped off with water, seasoned with salt, pepper, cumin and coriander seeds, simmered for a about 40 minutes or until vegetables are tender.
Stale bread? Make breadcrumbs or croutons! Make sure the bread is hard and stale. Cut it up into smaller pieces then grind into crumbs using a blender or food processor. Store in the freezer. For croutons, toss with spices, garlic or parmesan (whatever you like), drizzle with olive oil and bake in the oven until brown. Store in an air-tight container.
Fresh ginger, always on hand! It is always convenient to have around for many recipes and marinades or even to spice up some tea, but like any fresh produce it doesn’t have the longest shelf life. When I bring home some ginger (and I am not talking about my better half here), the first thing I do is peel it and store it in a container in the freezer. Whenever I need some I just take it as is – frozen – and using a grater I shave off the needed amount.
Start composting! Contact your city, local borough office or Eco-quartier to find out what services are available to you. If you have the space for it, set-up compost bin in your yard. For Montrealers, get in touch with the nice folk at Compost Montréal to find out how you can get a compost pick-up service set-up for your residence, condo complex or even apartment building.
There’s a lot more where that came from. The key is to try to be a little creative, to think out of the ice-box when you’re looking at the leftovers you fear may be wasting away their shelf-life. Do you have your own tricks for minimizing waste? Please spread the word, share your comment on this post and help all of us make better use of our food consumption economy.
I know, I know… I’ve been bad, I haven’t been keeping up with my regular postings but I have an excuse! The office has kept me particularly busy for the past month and normally I would say “come on, give me a break, busy is not an excuse!” The office has not only kept me busy but it has also kept me out of the kitchen since I’ve had to travel to meet with an array of clients and consultants. Keeping me out of my kitchen means that my creative juices aren’t flowing the way they usually do. I’m not thinking about what I am going to cook since it is not something that is on the work-travel agenda.
But here I am, back home with the holidays upon us and not exactly on vacation – yet! This is the last haul until I get to decompress with my love, with nothing on the agenda but rest and our choice of outings at our own pace.
Since we have been so busy for the last while, we kept pushing back our holiday dinner party which was first scheduled for Thanksgiving, then to American Thanksgiving, then to the first day of Hanukkah, to finally the last day of Hanukkah, the weekend before Christmas. So, this coming weekend is when we will be celebrating Chrismukkah! Before I get into the likes of prepping for the holidays, we still need to eat in the meantime: since Sunday was the first weekend day in a long time we had to ourselves, we went ahead and simmered a lamb curry for the week and whilst it simmered we decorated our Chrismukkah tree.
Although it requires a long simmer time, this recipe is so much fun because it is incredibly versatile and one of those make ahead meals that you can eat throughout the week or freeze for another busy day!
Make -it-your-own Curry
- The following ingredient list is what I would recommend as a base to start with:
- 3 tablespoons of curry powder
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 3 garlic cloves, chopped
- 3 carrots, cut into bite size pieces
- 1 large potato, cut into bite size pieces
- 1 turnip, cut into bite size pieces
- 1 can chopped tomatoes
- Choice of meat, preferably bone-in (this adds flavor to the curry)
If you’re making a vegetarian version, then just skip ahead to the next point. For the meat lovers out there, you’ll want to begin by searing the meat, which just means cooking it until the sides are brown and then removing it from the pot. There is no need to cook it through entirely since you will be returning the meat to the pot and simmering it for a couple of hours. Lamb is one of my favorite meats, but it is also an expensive meat. For this kind of dish I like using lamb shanks. Not only are they less expensive than say lamb chops, but hey give a lot of flavor and the slow cooking process makes the meat super tender and completely delectable.
Once you’ve removed the meat, drizzle the pot with some oil and sauté the onions and garlic. I took advantage of this dish to use up a yellow pepper from my fridge that was almost forgotten, sliced it in julienne and added it to the pot. When everything begins to brown, add the curry powder and stir to blend well. Add the can of diced tomatoes and an equal part of water. Add the remainder of your veggies, notably the carrots, potatoes and turnips. Feel free to add or omit anything you like or dislike, or even any vegetables that are leftover in your fridge. However, if you are using leftover vegetables that have already been cooked, then I would suggest adding those at the end just before serving simply to heat them through.
At this point give the mix a good stir, add your meat, bring down the heat to low and simmer for approximately two hours. After two hours the meat and all the vegetable should be tender. Adjust seasoning with salt, pepper, more curry powder and/or cayenne if you like it a bit spicier. You can also add a can of lentils or chickpeas (drained and rinsed) to make for a more consistent dish especially if you’ve chosen to make a vegetarian version.
Your curry is now ready to package for lunches, dinners or to preserve in individual portions in the freezer. Serve hot with naan bread, rice or anything side-dish you’d like!
I hear a lot of people talk about how they do not have time to cook and I can see how that can happen especially if these are people who do not particularly enjoy the act of cooking. However, I’m going to say that although stews, curries, soups and the like do require a long cook time, the prep time rarely exceeds 20 minutes (and that’s if you’re taking your time). After all ingredients are in the pot and simmering, you are free to do anything you want for an hour or two or three! Just don’t venture outside your home, your stove is still on! I usually like to take this time to do household chores. So go ahead and stay in the house for a few hours and do some simmering while busying yourself indoors. You’ll be able to free up any busy weeknight resulting from a long day at the office, your last minute holiday shopping or even for some extra quality time with a certain someone!
On my way from work Friday I decided to pick up some roast duck from a store in Chinatown to accompany the squash risotto I had planned on making for dinner. We had a whole roast duck for the two of us. Needless to say, we had too much. Seeing as Sunday was supposed to be a lazy Sunday, simply doing a few things around the house and running a couple of errands with my friend Jasmine, I planned on making dumplings with some of the leftover duck.
This was my second attempt at making dumplings – ever! The first time I used shrimps, mushrooms and scallions but I must have done something wrong because when I proceeded to cook them, the dumplings filled with water and just weren’t that tasty.
I was determined for this time to be different, I had a strategy:
One: make a test dumpling to check for taste, cooking time and overall holding power
Two: keep an egg yolk near just in case the filling doesn’t bind together
Three: keep some extra wrappers in case I tug too hard and the dough tears
At 11am, the sound system was turned on, the dumpling wrappers were thawed, my ingredients and tools laid out; I was ready to start making dumplings! I proceeded to mix my filling, bring my pot of water to a boil and carefully wrapped up my test dumpling. I plopped it into the boiling water and waited two minutes – as mentioned on the dumpling wrappers packaging. With a slotted spoon I took the dumpling out of the boiling water but noticed the edges of the dough still looked stiff, so I put it back in for another couple of minutes or so. I finally took it out of its bath and let it cool. The dough looked like it had perfectly sealed around the filling and there did not appear to be any water bubbles. The taste test came back positive: my filling was nicely bound together (no need for that extra yolk) and the dough was perfectly soft (a four minute cook time is ideal, as long as your filling doesn’t have any raw meat or seafood ingredients). I did add a bit of salt and pepper to the filling mixture but no other changes were made. I proceeded to wrap and boil more dumplings just as my phone rang. My friend Cammie wanted to drop off something for me before my trip, the book Julie and Julia which I haven’t read yet, nor have I seen the movie. So she stopped by with her husband, we chatted for a while over coffee and they left with a small care package. Just as they were leaving, my friend Laura calls and asked if she could stop by to pick up the extra cookie sheet she had lent me. While I wait for her to arrive, I continue with my dumpling making, sending a few more bundles into their boiling bath
Laura arrives, I put out a pot of tea and moments after, right on schedule, Jasmine knocks on the door. The three of us spend some time chatting and catching up. Mid-afternoon has rolled around and I still have a few more dumplings to finish up. Laura says goodbye and heads home with her cookie sheet and care package. I finish up the dumplings I had left to do and out the door I go, along with Jasmine to run our errands at 4pm on a Sunday afternoon.
At the end, I never managed to do all the things I had planned to do on this so-called lazy day. However, I did manage to make forty dumplings, spend a few hours catching up with friends, sending them home with their respective care packages. In any case, what’s the point of cooking if you can’t share it!
Duck and Zucchini Dumplings
- About one cup and a half of cooked duck, chopped
- About one cup of zucchini, shredded (using a cheese grater is easiest)
- About ¼ cup of scallions, chopped
- Salt and pepper to taste
- About 40 wonton wrappers (most grocery stores sells frozen packages, just remember to thaw them ahead of time)
- Egg wash (one egg whisked with one tbsp of water)
Combine the first three ingredients in a large bowl. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Lay out a clean dish cloth on a cookie sheet and dampen another clean one to cover the dumpling wrappers so that they do not dry out.
Take one dumpling wrapper and place it in the palm of your hand. Spoon a small amount of the duck mixture into the center, squeezing the filling to make sure there aren’t any air bubbles. Dip the tip of your finger into the egg wash and moisten the dumpling wrappers around its filling. Gently wrap the dough around the filling making sure to push out any air bubbles. Seal the dough by pressing it tightly together. Proceed with the remainder of the filling and dumpling wrappers. Bring a large pot of water to boil and gently drop in the dumplings. You do not want to cook too many at a time, or else they may stick to each other. They need enough room to swim around. After about 4 minutes of cooking (only if you’re using a precooked filling as I have here), take them out with a slotted spoon and put them on the towel covered cookie sheet to absorb the extra water. Cover the dumpling with a damp cloth to ensure they do not dry out. If they’re still hot you can serve them right away with a dipping sauce of your choice. If you’re making them ahead, you can easily store them in a plastic container until ready to eat. To heat them up you can steam them or boil them again – just long enough to heat through. Or you can, as I suggested to my friends, heat up some broth of your choice, add an assortment of veggies to the broth, and right before serving drop in the dumplings to make an Asian style dumpling soup.
After the holidays, come the leftovers! No matter how much we give away to friends and family, we always tend to be left with more food than we know what to do with. Since our family meal just this Saturday, I had turkey sandwiches on Sunday, warmed up risotto, turkey and Brussels sprouts on Monday; another turkey sandwich on Tuesday for lunch, but by then I had to come up with something creative. Following with the theme of leftovers, here is the breakdown of my week of meals:
Tuesday Dinner: Mexican Soup
A few years ago I came up with what I call a “Mexican” soup. I put a few ingredients together but hadn’t really thought it through. Turned out to be souperbe! I tried to recreate it a few times but just couldn’t get the same flavors to mix together just right. Bottom line, it is simply a tomato vegetable soup with a Mexican twist. So here is how it begins:
Content of my fridge: extra leeks, carrots, parsnip, red bell pepper, onions, garlic, turkey meat and broth.
From my pantry: dried ancho pepper, cumin, oregano, coarse corn meal and a can of diced tomatoes (usually I have some type of beans that I would throw into the pot as well, but not this time).
Needed from the store: an avocado.
Cut up your vegetable into even pieces. In a large pot drizzled with olive oil, sauté the chopped garlic, onions and leek. Add the rest of your vegetables, one teaspoon cumin, ½ tablespoon oregano, the dried ancho chili (or any dried chili of your choice) and the can of tomatoes. Stir to mix and add the measure of two cans of broth to the pot. Add salt and pepper to taste and simmer for about 30 minutes. At this point the pepper should be soft. You can add about ¼ of a cup of coarse corn meal and let it cook for another 20 minutes until the corn meal has completely swelled up. Right before serving remove the pepper and add your leftover turkey. You can use chicken, beef or no meat at all. Serve hot with pieces of avocado on top. I didn’t quite nail it like I did that first time but I’m starting to think it was simply a figment of my imagination…
Wednesday Lunch: ate out at Pranzetto for a friend’s birthday.
Wednesday Dinner: Turkey Enchiladas with Mole Sauce
Can anyone else other than me sense there’s a theme going on here? I always wanted to try making these at home. With all the leftovers, I had the perfect chance!
Content of my fridge: turkey, squash, onions, mushrooms, cheese and broth.
From my pantry: soft tortillas that I always keep around to make wraps.
Needed from the store: a jar of mole sauce.
Start by cutting the squash into small cubes and then steam until cooked through. In a pan drizzled with olive oil, sauté the onion and mushrooms. Add the turkey to heat through. In a large bowl, combine the onion, mushrooms, turkey, squash and a small handful of shredded cheese. Put some of the mixture in a tortilla, roll up and place seam down in a baking dish. Make as many as you’d like.
For the mole sauce, follow the directions on the jar and pour over the rolled up tortillas. Top with shredded cheese and bake in the oven at 400ºF until barely bubbly. I served this with my leftover mushroom stuffing, candied yams and a simple green salad. Like the recipe above, you can also use chicken, beef or veggies.
Thursday Lunch: Leftover Mexican Soup
Thursday Dinner: Turkey Curry
From the fridge: onion, garlic, cabbage, turkey, pineapple
From the pantry: a can of coconut milk, curry spices
Slice the cabbage into thin shreds, cut the onion in half and slice it, chop the garlic and in a pan drizzled with oil sauté together until barely soft. Add about a tablespoon of the curry powder / spice / paste of your choice and cook for a couple of minutes until the flavours melt into the other ingredients. Chop about ½ of a cup of pineapple and add it to the pan. Add about one cup of the leftover turkey and half of a can of coconut milk. Adjust seasoning with more curry, salt and/or pepper. Simmer for about 10 minutes and serve with rice or nan bread. This basic recipe is incredibly versatile: use leftovers or fresh ingredients, use any vegetables you want, any protein you want and any fruit you want (however, I would not recommend harder fruits like apples).
Friday Lunch: Leftover Turkey Enchiladas with Mole Sauce
Friday Dinner: Spaghetti with a Mushroom-Leek Wine Sauce
Well, it’s Friday. Although it has only been a four day work week it definitely was a busy one, well worthy of a bottle of wine that I picked up on my way home to accompany dinner: C’est La Vie, Sauvignon Blanc – don’t you just love the name?
From the fridge: garlic, leek, mushrooms, turkey
From the pantry: spaghetti pasta, Dijon mustard, thyme
Cook the spaghetti until al dente, following the instructions on the box but making sure your water is well salted. Meanwhile, in a large pan drizzled with olive oil, add a square of butter. When melted, add the sliced leek, chopped and mushroom. Season with salt, pepper and a large pinch of thyme; cook until leeks are slightly browned. Add the rest leftover turkey, just enough white wine to covers the vegetables and two heaping spoonfuls of Dijon mustard. Stir to combine and let simmer for a couple of minutes to let the flavors melt into each other. Add the cooked spaghetti to the pan, with a ladle or two of pasta water. Stir and serve. This was a pretty good first try but the recipe needs a bit of tweaking… more on that later. Suggestions anyone?
Saturday Brunch: Pancetta and Brussels Sprouts Hash Topped with a Fried Egg
From the fridge: pancetta, Brussels sprouts, onion, eggs
From the pantry: potatoes, paprika
Steam or boil a potato and a few Brussels sprouts. Once cooked, cut them into smaller pieces and slice a small onion. Chop the pancetta and sauté in a pan. Once it starts to crisp add the onions and cook for a couple of minutes. Bring down to medium heat and add the potatoes and Brussels sprouts. Season with a pinch of paprika, salt and pepper, allow mixture to brown. In another pan fry an egg to your liking. Serve the hash in a plate and top with the fried egg. It is a great start to the rest of your weekend!
After six days of leftovers, the turkey is finally all gone and none of it went to waste! With the exception of a few carrots and an acorn squash, all the fresh ingredients in my fridge were used up.
I must admit that finding something creative and versatile for Thursday and Friday was more of a challenge than I would have thought, but there you have it, a full week of leftovers with only one trip to the store. Now, it is time for me to head back to the market to fill up my fridge!