Tools and Techniques – Start Minimizing Your Waste

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.

Catering Leftovers

IMG_4025A few weeks ago I successfully catered my first event for M. Karim Boulos’ Campaign Launch. Seeing as it was indeed my first time and I was worried about not having enough food, and big surprise, I ended up with too much food! Some leftovers stayed behind as snacks for volunteers and some came home with me, namely the roasted red pepper dip and chimichurri that I had made immense quantities of. After using them on sandwiches, grilled veggies and meat throughout the week, like most people I became bored of having the same thing over and over. 

I was at that point of revisiting the essence of Kristel’s Kitchen and realized that so far I hadn’t been keeping true to the idea of sharing my credo of reduce, reuse and recycle in my kitchen. Yes I recycle – quite diligently in fact, but that’s not what I’m referring to here. We’re talking leftovers and going beyond the “oh no not that again” feeling we often tolerate from the desire to not waste food. As a way to liberate myself from the repetitiveness of sandwiches and whatever was left in my fridge, here is what I came up with: 

Roasted Red Pepper Spaghetti with Sautéed Veggies

  • Leftover roasted red pepper dip
  • Whole wheat spaghetti or any pasta of your liking (enough for two)
  • Any leftover veggies in your fridge
  • Garlic
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper

Cook the spaghetti according to the instructions on the box. While the pasta is cooking, heat up about a tablespoon of olive oil in a pan, add your garlic and veggies. Add salt and pepper to taste and sauté until tender. In my fridge I had leftover tomatoes, spinach, asparagus and leek. Once the pasta is cooked, reserve about ½ cup of the cooking water, then strain and transfer back into the pot. Add the leftover roasted red pepper dip and thin out the mixture with the reserved pasta, water as needed. If you happen to not have enough roasted pepper dip to coat the pasta, do not panic. I recommend always keeping a small can of tomato paste or sauce in your pantry. You can open the can and simple add as many extra spoonfuls as needed to coat the pasta. *Got some leftover in the can? To keep for next time, transfer the remainder into an ice tray and freeze. Once frozen you can store the tomato cubes in resealable plastic bags or plastic container. Serve onto plates and top with the sautéed veggies. Nothing’s simpler and nothing goes to waste!

Chimichurri Seared Scallops

  • Leftover chimichurri
  • Large scallops
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper

Scallops seem oh-so-very decadent, and they most definitely can be. They can also be enjoyed more casually. Sure they are individually expensive but if you get one each it can be a nice little treat on top of a salad as an appetizer or on top of the pasta as I have done here. 

You want to start by rinsing the scallops and patting them completely dry with a clean dish towel or paper towel works too. The reason scallops need to be prepared this way first is because if they are not dry enough when you put them into the pan, they will boil rather than sear and hence will become rubbery. Nobody wants to eat a rubbery scallop. Add salt and pepper to both sides of the scallop and place into the hot pan. Scallops take no time at all to cook so you need to act fast. You want a nice caramelized color on the bottom before flipping it over and the flesh to be more opaque less than half-way up its sides. At this point, flip the scallop and add a spoonful of chimichurri to the already seared side while it finishes cooking. Remove immediately from heat and place onto your dish.

The Politics of Catering – Part Three

Tortilla Española

Tortilla Española

Kefta Meatballs / Roasted Red Peppers

Kefta Meatballs / Roasted Red Peppers

Grilled Bavette / Chimichurri

Grilled Bavette / Chimichurri

Japanese Crudité Bundles / Soy Sesame

Japanese Crudité Bundles / Soy Sesame

Black Olive Tapenade / Flat Bread

Black Olive Tapenade / Flat Bread

Event day! My boss graciously allowed me to leave the office early in order to do some last minute prepping and setting up. The campaign office doors are supposed to open at 6 pm. At precisely at 6 pm sharp and not a second later, supporters start filing in while I’m still setting up.

The trays and platters are filled a placed in the reception area, the menu and ingredient list displayed, napkins laid out and extra toothpicks ready at one’s fingertips. Little by little people start crowding around the food table, shaking hands with the man of the hour – M. Karim Boulos, and mingling amongst them.

Around 8 pm the crowd starts to dwindle and the trays become emptier. With this event I not only had the opportunity of meeting many interesting people but was showered with compliments. *blushing* 

120 tortilla cubes, 180 meatballs, 100 bavette skewers, 100 crudités bundles and 25 hours of labour later, the event can be deemed a success!

The campaign office doors opened, people were fed, people met, posters went up… the campaign is officially underway! 

An immense thank you goes to everyone who supported and helped me over that week, especially my better half who himself was busy with his own campaign prep. Most importantly, thank you Karim for giving me my first catering gig!

The Politics of Catering – Part Two

Sit back, relax and grab a glass of wine because this is going to be a long one, quite representative of how my prep week felt.

Wednesday at 5 pm, the night before Karim Boulos’ Campaign Launch event, I am rushing out of the office and over to the grocery store to pick up the last of the ingredients needed.

At 5:30 pm, I’m flaring up the BBQ to char the red bell peppers, roast the garlic, sear the bavette and cook the kefta meat balls.

Two hours later, help finally comes to the rescue! Together we start chopping, mixing, blending and skewering the various ingredients.

At 10:30 pm, the kitchen looks like a huge mess and we finally take a moment to sit and relax while the tortillas cook in the oven. Wine in hand, tired and exhausted from being hunched over cutting boards, blenders and food processors, we sit back and proudly glare at the result of our labour neatly packed in their respective plastic containers, ready to be prepped onto their serving trays. By 11 pm Layla heads home to catch some well deserved sleep but if she hadn’t offered to lend a hand (and a sandwich) I would have been up much later than I was.

At 11:15 pm, there is only one thing left to do: cut up the cucumbers, carrots, yellow bell peppers and scallions into juliennes, to have them ready to be wrapped in nori just before the event.

At 1 am, I’m lying in bed exhausted yet restless… still planning how the event will unfold later that day….

Tortilla Española, makes one

  • Eight eggs
  • One onion, chopped
  • Two potatoes, peeled and cut into small cubes (about 1 cm)
  • One chorizo sausage, cubed (about 1 cm)
  • ½ tbsp paprika
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper

Begin by steaming or blanching the cubed potatoes until barely tender. You want the potatoes to hold their shape. If they start to break up they are overcooked. Strain, pat dry and allow to cool.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs, the paprika, salt and pepper.

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Drizzle some olive oil in a medium oven-proof skillet and bring up to a medium heat. Add the onions and sauté until soft and translucent. You do not want the onions to brown. If they start gaining color, turn down the heat. Add the chorizo and potatoes, sauté a couple of minutes. Combine into the bowl containing the egg mixture and pour into the skillet. Cook until the bottom barely starts to set. Transfer skillet to the oven and allow the tortilla to cook through, about 30 minutes.

Remove the tortilla from the skillet by flipping it onto a plate (plate the plate over the skillet, then flip). This can be served hot or cold, in pie slices or cubes. Makes a great brunch or aperitif!

For this event, I needed to make three and I chose to serve the tortilla cold in bite-sized cubes, no dip necessary.

Roasted Red Pepper Dip, makes four cups

  • Eight red or yellow or orange bell peppers
  • Two tomatoes, blanched, peeled and cored
  • One head of garlic
  • ¼ cup olive oil + a few extra drizzles here and there as needed
  • Salt and pepper 

On the grill or in the oven on broil, roast the peppers whole until skin is completely charred. Remove from grill or oven, put in a large bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Allow to cool before removing the skin and seeds. 

Slice the top of the heads of garlic, place on a piece of aluminum, drizzle with a little olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Wrap it all up with the foil and throw it onto the grill or oven. Let the garlic cook for at least 30 minutes or until the cloves sweeten and caramelized. Remove from grill and allow to cool. 

Bring a medium pot of water to a boil. Score the bottom of the tomatoes with an X and drop into the pot of boiling water. Blanch for two minutes. Using a slotted spoon remove the tomatoes and immerse them into a bowl of ice cold water. At this point the skins should peel off easily. Remove also the core and put into the food processor. 

Place the skinned and seeded peppers into the food processor, squeeze out the roasted garlic from its skin into the food processor, add the olive oil, salt and pepper. Blend until smooth. If the mixture appears too thick, feel free to add more olive oil. Thickness of this dip depends on how you like it. You can also make it extra thick and use it as a spread. 

For this event, I used this recipe as a dip for my Kefta meat balls.

Chimichurri, makes about two cups

Let’s take a little trip down south, to a small place called Argentina. It the condiment used for all types of grilled meats. Used as a dipping sauce or a marinade, chimichurri is at the epicenter of Argentinean asados – aka. barbecue. After a few trial and errors I have come up with my own combination for chimichurri, one that is reminiscent of my many culinary experiences in Latin America.

  • One bunch parsley, about 2 cups
  • One bunch cilantro, about 2 cups
  • Three garlic cloves
  • One red hot pepper, finely chopped
  • One lemon, juiced (about one tbsp)
  • One cup olive oil
  • Salt and pepper

In a food processor, mix together the parsley, cilantro, olive oil and lemon juice. You want the mixture to create a smooth blend. For the hot pepper, I recommend finely hopping it by hand so that it doesn’t get lost into the mixture. Don’t forget your latex gloves for this part!

Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper to taste. This mixture can be stored in the fridge for a couple of days but don’t forget to let it come to room temperature before serving since olive oil tends to congeal when cold.

For this event I grilled up some flank steak simply seasoned with salt and pepper, thinly sliced it and skewered bite size pieces onto a toothpick. I served it cold with the chimichurri as a dipping sauce. Chimichurri is great as a marinade or condiment on just about anything: beef, pork, chicken, shrimp, veggies…

Japanese Crudités Bundles

Crudités are always a staple snack food for any sort of event. There is a reason they have stuck around for so long, they are crunchy, healthy and foolproof, but who says you have to stick with the old fashioned carrots and celery with ranch dip. In an attempt to make things more interesting without adding too much complexity I decided to give it a Japanese twist.

For this recipe use a variety of raw vegetables that can be easily julienned into about 3 inch strips. Combine a variety of colors to maximize visual appeal. Create bite-size bundles and wrap it together with a strip of nori – seaweed paper normally used to make sushi. Mix up a dipping sauce and you’re ready to serve! Although this requires a little prep time, it is still a very simple dish that brings a lot to the table. People will be impressed, I promise.😉 Here are the ingredients I used to put this dish together:

For the bundles: carrots, cucumbers, yellow bell pepper and scallions, all julienned and wrapped in a strip of nori. The nori is delicate and susceptible to moisture so try to work with dry hands, moistening your finger only to make the end of the strip wrapping stick together. You can use clean and dry scissors to cut the sheets of nori into strips. Play around with different sizes to see what works best for wrapping. Unfortunately these bundles cannot be prepared too much in advance or else the nori will get gummy and unpleasant.

For the dipping sauce: four parts soy sauce, one part sesame oil, one part mirin, hot pepper sliced horizontally (use as much or as little as you want), a few pinches of sesame seeds. Mix all ingredients together.

Black Olive Tapenade, makes one cup

  • One can of black olives
  • One garlic clove
  • ¼ tbsp anchovy paste
  • One small bunch parsley
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • Pepper to taste

Strain the olives but preserve the liquid, it will come in handy if the mixture needs to be thinned out. Combine all ingredients in a food processor and mix until coarsely blended. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Adjust thickness of the tapenade by adding some of the preserved liquid. Serve with crackers or any type of bread.

Don’t forget to check the cans of olives at the grocery store and make sure you’re buying the pitted kind. Or else you will end up like I did on Wednesday night at 9pm, spending over 30 minutes removing the pits from each individual olive. Thanks to my lovely friend Layla who generously offered to help with the catering prep work and provided Boustan sandwiches, we got a dis-assembly line thing going and finished in no time.

If ever you are faced with the unfortunate task of having to remove pits from olives, grueling as it sounds, there actually is a trick to doing this easily. Using the flat part of a chef’s knife (it’s the large one with a wide blade), press down on the olives. This should slit the olives and enable the pit to slip out easily.

An immense thank you goes out to Layla for not only helping with the prep work, but also for providing good conversation, great company and lots of fun!

The Politics of Catering – Part One

This is the part I like to refer to as “What the hell have I gotten myself into?!?!?!”

In the past couple weeks I have been volunteering – aka supporting my better half – in the municipal electoral campaign for M. Karim Boulos as City Councilor for the district of Peter-McGill. In the midst of helping with translations, doing door to door drop offs of reusable shopping bags for a “plastic bag free Montreal” and simply lending a hand here and there, the discussion of the Campaign Launch event came up. On a whim, the words “I’ll cater your event for you!” slipped off my tongue before my brain realized the implications of what I said. 

Before I know it my inner planner kicks in to high gear and I’m sending out menu items for a cold cocktail buffet. With the menu feedback I am also given the following parameters: there will anywhere between 60 to 100 people attending, the cocktail is this upcoming Thursday at 6pm, less than 6 days away, and there is no available budget. At this point, the inner planner slips into near-panic mode. I have never ever performed anything even close to this kind of reception. I’ve had prepared many 5 course dinner parties for 10 or more people, I have prepared eggs Benedict for more than 15 people for Jon’s birthday, but this kind of magnitude was way beyond my experience. I had no idea how much to prepare, how many dishes to present or how to manage with zero budget. 

I decided to set a menu with items I was comfortable with and had previously prepared on more than one occasion. Of course, my creative side likes to show its colours in these types of situations so I came up with a different take on the fool-proof and oh-so-boring crudités platter and ranch dip: julienned veggies wrapped in nori served with a soy sesame dipping sauce – aka. Japanese Crudités Bundles. 

Hell bent on getting this accomplished properly, I armed myself with my menu, ingredient list, shopping bags and headed to the market for my first round of shopping. Cucumbers, carrots, bell peppers (red and yellow), hot peppers, lemons, parsley, cilantro, scallions, garlic, 3 kg of Kefta meat = $45. Next stop is the dollar store for supplies. Napkins, toothpicks, tongs, plastic serving platters = $11.85. Final stop is the grocery store to pick up the menu’s staples. Eggs, potatoes, onions, chorizo, bavette (or flank steak), nori, sesame oil, soy sauce, black olives, anchovy paste, olive oil = $72.37. 

Total cost so far is $129.22. Whoohoo! Mission one accomplished! I must keep reminding myself that I am not feeding a meal to these people, simply providing a little something to nibble on while they mingle, and assuming only 60 people show up then $2.15 a head is not a bad deal! 

In any case, after the food prep frenzy I will have a better idea of what individual portions will look like. 

Here is the final menu that will be featured at Karim Boulos’ Campaign Launch event, this Thursday, September 17th, 2009

Tortilla Española

(eggs, potatoes, chorizo, onions, paprika, olive oil, salt and pepper)

 Kefta Meatballs / Roasted Red Peppers

(Halal Kefta meat / red bell pepper, tomato, garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper)

 Grilled Bavette / Chimichurri

(beef / parsley, cilantro, hot peppers, garlic, lemon, olive oil, salt and pepper)

Japanese Crudité Bundles / Soy Sesame

(nori, cucumbers, carrots, bell peppers, scallions / soy, sesame oil, hot peppers, sesame seeds)

Black Olive Tapenade / Flat Bread

(black olives, anchovy paste, garlic, parsley, olive oil, salt and pepper / courtesy of Arouch)